MEMO: The Best Card Game for Travelers
MEMO: The Best Card Game for Travelers

MEMO: The Best Card Game for Travelers

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'Memo' (aka 'Go', and many other names) is a game of memory, strategy, attention... and often drinking🍻. Perfect for medium to large groups of travelers and friends. Several variations exist, this just happens to be my favorite.

How I came to play Memo

I first came across Memo or, as I learned it at the time, Go in Chiang Mai, Thailand. At the time, I was 5 weeks into my southeast asian adventure. More importantly, only 3 weeks had passed since I broke my foot in Pai, Thailand.

Lesson learned: without feet, backpacking becomes challenging.

So that's how I found myself in Suneta Hostel, just outside the East Gate of the Old City. It was there that I would find an amazing group of friends to slowly hobble around the city with me and explore. But how did we break the ice and form as a group? Cards and a big table!

Armando (third from the left) gathered everyone in the common area around one afternoon and taught us the game. It was the perfect blend of luck and strategy. For us though, the real kicker was that it was simple enough to become a drinking pass time in a hurry and easy to add newcomers into the game.

Before anyone knew it, we were hooked.

Playing Memo with new friends at Suneta Hostel in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Playing Memo with new friends at Suneta Hostel in Chiang Mai, Thailand
View from my card table in Perhentian.
View from my card table in Perhentian.

Playing down the Pandemic

Of course, this was only 10 days of play in Chiang Mai. What really clinched this game in my mind as one of the great group card games was my 3-month stint, stuck in the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia during COVID-19.

New friends become close friends in a hurry when you've got that kind of time to spend with each other and the local tourism industry is in shambles as a result of the pandemic.

What do new friends do to kill a ton of time?

Play cards, smoke Indonesian knock-off cigarettes, go scuba diving, cook fish, repeat.

Our self-proclaimed 'Neighborhood Watch' played a truly exorbitant amount of Memo, and we loved every minute of it.

Without further ado, here's how to play this amazing game...

Basic Setup

Deck – 52 Cards (add additional deck for more than 7 players)

Players – 4-7+

Direction of Play – Clockwise

Rounds of Play – 5

Cards Dealt - 4 to each player, faced down

Object of the Game

The goal of the game is to call 'Memo'. This is done when a player has less than 5 points in their hand and is confident that they have the lowest score.

The goal of each turn is to reduce the number of unknown cards and total points in their hand.

To win, focus on knowing all of the cards in your hand, piling on to discards to reduce your total number of cards, and swapping out cards to minimize your total points.

The Deal

  • Deal clockwise, face up until the first black jack appears. That player will be the first dealer.
  • Each player is dealt 4 cards, faced down. They may arrange them however best suits them, most commonly in either a 2x2 grid or one line of 4.
  • Place the Deck in the middle and form a discard pile next to it.
  • In the event that the Deck is expended before the game ends, shuffle all but the top card of the discard pile and continue.
  • After each round, tally up and record each players' score.
  • The deal passes each round to the player sitting clockwise (left) of the previous dealer.
  • Play 5 rounds

Gameplay

Each player may look at and memorize 2 cards at the start of the game before returning them faced down in front of them.

The game begins with the player immediately clockwise of the dealer picking up a card from the deck and beginning their turn.

Your Turn

  • Each turn will begin with picking up and looking at a card from either the Deck or the Discard Pile.
  • A player may either discard that card or swap it for one of their facedown cards.
  • Once a player picks up one of their cards to replace with a drawn card, they must play it.
  • After a card is discarded any player may pile on cards of the same value
    • Example: a 5 is played and 2 other players discard a 5 on top
  • If special cards have been played, the turn will end once their abilities have been exercised.

Special Cards

There are 8 cards in the deck that provide special benefits to the player who discards them: Queens and Jacks.

Card Values

CardSpecial Abilities
♠️♣️♦️♥️ Jack
Switch any two cards without looking when played. Can be switching your own card with someone else's or switching two other players' cards.
♠️♣️♦️♥️ Queen
View any one card when played. Can be your own or another players'.
♦️♥️ Red King
Best Card - 0 points!
♠️♣️ Black King
Worst Card - 20 points!

Piling On

If another player (or you) plays a card that you have in your hand, you may play that card on top of the discard pile before the next player picks up a card to begin their turn.

For example, if a 10 is played and you have a 10, you can throw it on the pile to get rid of a card in your hand.

Related Rules

  • Card must be thrown before the next player picks a card up
  • If a player throws the wrong card (it doesn't match the original discard), the card will be returned to the player along with an additional card from the deck. They cannot look at the additional card before placing it in their hand.
  • Special Cards – If a Jack or Queen is played, their abilities will be used according to the order in which they were played. First turn will go to the original discarder and so on.
  • Multiple Cards – All 4 cards of any denomination can be played while piling on. This includes if one player has multiple of the same card to discard.
  • Kings – Though Black and Red Kings have different point values, they can be piled on interchangeably.

Endgame: Calling Memo

The endgame is triggered when a player calls 'Memo' at the beginning of their turn.

A player will choose to do this when they are reasonably confident that they have the lowest total points of any player in their hand (less than 5 points).

'Memo' may be called at any stage of the game but is far riskier to call at the beginning.

NOTE: it must be called a the beginning of their turn prior to picking up a card. If not, it is null and the game goes on as normal.

After Calling Memo

  1. The Hand of the player who called 'Memo' is locked – no special cards can be used to alter the hand, nor can the player swap their card.
  2. The player who called may only pick up a card from the deck and discard it immediately (others can pile on).
  3. Every player will have one more turn before the round ends to jostle for positioning.
  4. The final action of the game will be the player who called memo picking up a card from the deck and discarding – one last chance to pile on for the rest of the players.
  5. Tally up the scores and pass the cards on for the next round.

👑 Scoring

Each round is scored based on the cards in each player's hands at the end of the game and the result of calling 'Memo'.

The winner of the game is the player with the lowest overall score after 5 rounds.

For The Player Who Called 'Memo'

When calling 'Memo', the player is successful if they have the lowest score of any player or are tied for the lowest score. They are unsuccessful if that is untrue.

✅ Successful – Score equals the value of the cards in their hand minus 10 points.

Note: -10 points is the best possible score for a round.

❌ Unsuccessful – Score equals the value of the cards in their hand plus 20 points.

Card Values

CardValueSpecial Abilities
♠️♣️ Black King
20
Worst Card - 20 points!
♠️♣️♦️♥️ Queen
12
View any one card when played. Can be your own or another players'.
♠️♣️♦️♥️ Jack
11
Switch any two cards without looking when played. Can be switching your own card with someone else's or switching two other players' cards.
♠️♣️♦️♥️ 10
10
♠️♣️♦️♥️ 9
9
♠️♣️♦️♥️ 8
8
♠️♣️♦️♥️ 7
7
♠️♣️♦️♥️ 6
6
♠️♣️♦️♥️ 5
5
♠️♣️♦️♥️ 4
4
♠️♣️♦️♥️ 3
3
♠️♣️♦️♥️ 2
2
♠️♣️♦️♥️ Ace
1
♦️♥️ Red King
0
Best Card - 0 points!

Template Scorecard

This game is most often scored on paper. But, for those extra nerdy folks, here is an example of a scorecard. Lowest points wins!

♠️

Duplicate the page to use this scorecard for yourself!