Grab a deck of cards for this playing cards gift exchange and get ready to play what is bound to be your new favorite gift game. Watch your favorite gifts go around the circle as you hope to draw a lucky card that will allow you to walk away with the gift of your choosing.
This deck the cards gift exchange game can be played with any sized group and with any ages, making it the perfect gift exchange game for a holiday party!
And I know what makes gift exchanges fun, since I’ve spent the past ten years coming up with brand new gift exchange games for millions of people to play every holiday season!
People love gift exchanges but get bored doing the same ones over and over again. So I say mix it up and try out different gift exchange ideas every year!
So this year our new game is what I like to call Deck the Halls gift exchange, a super fun gift exchange game you can play with a simple deck of cards. It’s fast-paced and competitive with just the right amount of luck.
What You’ll Need to Play
One of the best things about this game is how few supplies it takes to play. Don’t let the simplicity fool you, this game will become an instant favorite once you play it.
- Wrapped gifts – this game requires that you have one wrapped gift for everyone playing. I highly recommend wrapping these with wrapping paper. The presents get moved a lot and you don’t want one falling out mid pass but gift bags are okay if that’s what someone brings!
- Printable card guide – this is optional but handy to have. When the game is going it gets easy to forget what each card means, this free printable helps keep everyone on track. Simply print it out at the bottom of this post and place it in the middle of the circle so everyone can reference it as needed.
- Deck of cards – you’ll want a standard deck of 52 playing cards with the jokers included, regardless of how many people are playing. You could even do a jumbo size of deck of cards to make it more fun!
Using a regular 52 card set of playing cards (plus the two jokers) makes it more fun because people don’t know exactly what cards are left! There’s no need to count out exactly enough cards for two rounds of your group – just use the entire deck and any cards that don’t get played, don’t get played.
Set Up the gift exchange
- Prep enough presents so that everyone playing has one gift. Each player can bring their own wrapped gift or the host can provide all the gifts.
- Have the players pick one gift and sit in a circle with that gift on their lap.
- Grab a deck of cards, including the jokers, and shuffle them thoroughly. Hand the deck of cards face down to one player in the circle.
- Determine how many rounds you are playing and let everyone know before you start playing. Also, hand out the card guide or have it around for people to see.
For large groups, two rounds is enough but for smaller groups three or more may be more enjoyable. A round is completed when the cards make it around the entire circle.
How to play this gift exchange
The basic idea of this game is that gifts are exchanged, stolen, and unwrapped based on playing cards. It’s a really fun alternative to a normal white elephant gift exchange or even a dice gift exchange (if you’ve done one that one before).
Before you begin you will want to take time to explain what each card means, using the printable I created makes this really easy. Once you’ve explained the game, here’s how you actually play!
- The person holding the deck of cards will pull the top card off of the deck and do whatever the corresponding action is for the card they flipped. It could be an action they only take, an action between them and someone else, or an action that everyone has to complete (such as passing the gifts to the right or left).
- RED 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 9 – everyone in the circle passes their gift to the RIGHT the number on the card. For example, a 5 of hearts means everyone passes their gifts to the right five times.
- BLACK 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 9 – everyone in the circle passes their gift to the LEFT the number on the card. For example, a 5 of spades means everyone passes their gifts to the left five times.
- 7 of any suit – the player who pulls the 7 switches spots with someone else in the circle. This can be used to get closer to a gift you want, to put yourself closer to the end of the game, or even to get another turn if you are hoping for a joker. Your gift goes with you wherever you go.
- 10, Jack, Queen or King of any suit – player who pulled the card can unwrap their gift or choose someone else to unwrap their gift (if their gift is already opened or they just want to see what something is).
- Ace of any suit – the player who pulled an ace can switch their gift (aka steal) with anyone else in the circle. The second time a gift is stolen, the gift is frozen and the player who stole it the second time leaves the circle with their gift.
- Joker – the two jokers are the best cards in the deck and are considered “wild” cards. They have the choice to 1) keep an unwrapped gift they currently have and leave the game, 2) trade their gift with anyone else and leave the game with the gift they traded for, or 3)unwrap the gift they currently have and leave with it if they want or stay in the game.
- Once the action is complete, the first person should discard the card and pass the card deck clockwise.
Make a point of discarding the cards after they’re played rather than just letting people hang onto them. From my experience, if people hang onto the cards and they’re not put somewhere specific to discard, they often find themselves back in the deck, which can totally mess up the game.
- The next person flips a card. That player will draw the top card, the group will complete the corresponding action, discard the card, and that player will pass the cards clockwise again.
- This repeats until everyone has had a chance to flip one card, and this completes a round.
If someone steals a gift the second time or uses a joker to steal and keep a gift, they should remove themselves from the circle along with their gift. This makes it much easier for everyone else so they don’t have to remember whose gifts are frozen as well as making it easier to pass from person to person.
How Does the Gift exchange end
Keep going around the circle exchanging and opening gifts until the pre-determined numbers of rounds have been played.
If there are unopened gifts at the end of the final round, the gifts can be opened and kept by that player. Players can also trade amongst themselves after the game ends.
Tips & tricks
- Keep the game moving by wrapping things easily. Avoid bags that the gifts can fall out of but remember this is a game and no one cares if the gift is wrapped perfectly when they are tearing into it.
- You do not want to deal out the cards ahead of time. Otherwise, you eliminate the chance of getting an extra turn by switching spaces with someone who hasn’t had their turn that round yet.
- Don’t bother sorting the deck so that there are the right amount of cards for players. Instead, let it be completely random and use the full deck even if that means having fifteen extra cards that don’t get used at the end. That’s part of the fun of it so people can’t count cards!
The gift exchange ends when the last person finishes the final round. For example, if you choose to play three rounds and Bob is the person sitting to the right of the starting person, when Bob finishes his third turn the game is over.
This game is not set up for players to win multiple gifts. The idea is that everyone brings one gift and goes home with a different gift.
On the slim chance that a player ends up with their own gift, allow trading at the end of the game. If multiple people end up with their own gifts, have them create a small circle and pull one final card for just the small group to do so their gifts get mixed up.
Unwrapping your gift (or someone else’s gift) doesn’t mean that you get to keep the gift. It just means the gift is now unwrapped so everyone can see what is being passed, stolen, and frozen!
The type of gifts that people should bring depends on a number of things including what type of celebration are you having? If it’s a girls night, everyone could bring gifts that a woman might enjoy. If it’s an adults only Christmas party, gifts that anyone would like are best! You choose the theme and let everyone know the type of gifts to bring.
More Gift Exchanges
If you love gift exchanges like I do, try out one of these fun gift exchanges at your next Christmas party!
- Dice gift exchange – this fun game has been played by thousands of people around the world and only needs a die!
- Santa’s Helper Gift Exchange – this one is kind of like a secret santa and gift exchange combined, it’s a personal favorite!
- Scrooge your neighbor – if you do gift exchanges with the same people every year, you have to try this one!
- Heads or tails gift exchange – grab a coin and try out this fun gift exchange!
- Christmas never have I ever exchange – combine the classic never have I ever game with a gift exchange!
Download the Printable Card Guide
Enter your first name and email address in the form below to get the printable PDF. I recommend printing this on white card stock and laminating so you can keep for future years!
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The file will come with:
- Printed out card guide (like the one you see below)