FaceTime Games: Hand and Foot

My neighbors and I, before COVID, met at each other’s houses weekly to play games, but now we’ve had to come up with ways of playing from our own homes, over FaceTime.

The first game that brought us together was Hand and Foot, the most popular variant of Canasta.  We play with 4 people, in partnerships of two.  We have found a fairly easy way to play partnerships across FaceTime, and we play this game (and a couple of variations) often.

This article assumes that you already know how to play Hand and Foot, and shows you how to adapt to playing it over FaceTime.  There are many variants of Hand and Foot itself, but these instructions are easily adaptable to your particular set of game play rules, as the focus is on discarding and managing the open and closed books of cards.

Equipment:

Each player needs 3 decks of cards, including Jokers.  Hand and Foot requires a lot of cards to complete a game (when we play in person, we share a 6-deck stack among 4 people), and we found that 3 decks per person over FaceTime works best.

Our ‘secret’ to playing Hand and Foot over FaceTime is the use of folded card-stock tents, showing the values of the cards that are played on the table during the game.  For Hand and Foot, you will need tents for 4 through Ace, as shown (Jacks shown standing upright), and you will need two different sets of tents:  one set of white tents representing the Red/”Clean” books and one set of black tents representing Black/”Dirty” books (containing wild cards).  Each tent measures 1 ½ inches wide by 5 inches long, so that when folded are 1 ½ inches wide by 2 ½ inches tall.  A 3×5 index card cut lengthwise will make two tents.

Place the card value on both sides of the tent, so that both you and your remote players can clearly see the value.  You’ll note that I use a combination of homemade tents and ones that were made by my talented, crafter-neighbor.  Fold each tent in half so that it stands on its own.

Setup:

If possible, position your FaceTime device on a stand with the camera facing down towards the table in front of you, so that other players can see both you and the cards you’re playing.

Play:

In Hand and Foot, you draw 2 cards to begin your turn and discard 1 card to end your turn.  Over FaceTime, everyone will be drawing from their own draw pile and discarding on their own discard pile.  Announce your discard to end your turn.

Picking up Discards:

When playing in person, the person following a discard can pick up that discard – and additional cards in the discard pile – by having two of that card value in their hand so that all 3 cards can be laid on the table.  Over FaceTime, you can’t physically do that, so we do this instead:

1.  Pick up your entire draw pile, and starting from the bottom of the pile, find a card matching the value of the discarded card, and take it in lieu of the remote, discarded card.  Put the draw pile back in place.  (Start from the bottom of the pile so as not to alter the order in which you would have drawn cards from the top of the draw pile in normal play).

2.  Pick up the top card from your discard pile.  We do this since, in an in-person game, you will always pick up the last card that you discarded when picking up discards.

3.  For the remaining quantity of cards that you’re obligated to take from the discard pile, draw that number of cards from the top of your draw pile.  For example, if your version of Hand and Foot requires you to take 7 cards when picking up the discards, you’ll take 1 card from near the bottom of your draw pile (matching the discard), the top card from your discard pile, and 5 cards from the top of your draw pile.

Managing Open and Closed Books:

When you meld cards on the table to start a book, place the equivalent tent in front of you so that the remote players can see it, and so that your partner knows which books your team has open.  Whenever your partner starts a new book, place that tent in front of you, too, so that you’re not totally reliant on the FaceTime screen to remind yourself of your team’s open books.  For red books, use white tents, and for black books use black tents.  Having both partners place tents in front of them also allows you to confirm that you and partner are in sync as to what books your team has open.

When it’s your turn and you add cards to an open book, announce it to your partner so that you can collectively track the number of cards in the book between the two of you, in case it can be closed or in case the number of allowed wild cards in the book needs to be verified.

If, during game play, a book changes from being a Red book to being a Black book, replace the white tent with the equivalent black tent.

When a book is closed, move its tent off to the side, but still in view of your remote players if screen space allows.  It’s more important to use your screen space for the open books, however. In this example, my team has open Red books of 4s and 5s, open Black books of Jack and Ace, a closed Red book of 6s and a closed Black book of 10s:

Note that I place my tents in left-to-right descending order, as a courtesy so that my remote partner will see the card values in ascending order.

If your version of Hand and Foot allows for a new book to be started with the same value as a closed book, you may find that the tent you need has already been set aside for a closed book.  In such case, take the tent of the opposite color and lay it on its side, to denote that it is of the opposite purpose for which it would be normally used (e.g., a white tent on its side denotes a Black book, and vice versa).

Variants of Hand and Foot

We also play a couple of variations on Hand and Foot that require additional tents.  In both Hand, Foot and Elbow and Hand, Knee and Foot, you are required to collect Special Books in order to go out:  a Red/Clean book of Fives, a Red/Clean book of Sevens, a Red/Clean book of some other value, a Black/Dirty book of some other value, and a book of only Wild cards.

We use yellow card-stock tents to visually track the closure of these Special Books, as well as an additional black “W” tent to denote an open book of Wild cards.  When a book is closed that qualifies as one of the Special books, place the yellow tent with your closed books instead of the in-progress tent.  For the closed Clean and Dirty special books, place the yellow C or D tent atop the in-progress tent so that you can remind yourself later, if necessary, what that closed book consisted of.

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