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Back before more modern forms of entertainment became mainstream, kids across the world enjoyed more analog games. Many of these games center around a simple objective that required skill and even some strategy to accomplish. One such game is pick-up sticks, which remains a fond classic for many adults today.
In fact, this game remains popular enough that some parents want to teach their kids to play it now.
If you’re one of those parents or even just someone curious about this stick-based game, you’ve come to the right place. This guide will take you through the basics of playing pick-up sticks, including the game’s primary interactive mechanics. Herein, you’ll also find some playing strategies so that you’ll always be at the top of your game – regardless of how the sticks lay.
What Are Pick-Up Sticks?
Many adults today will recall playing pick-up sticks when they were younger. But interestingly enough, pick-up sticks were originally popular with a more distant generation. In fact, they may have first become popular in the US after being brought to the country by Hungarian immigrants.
Their game, known as “marokko”, evolved into the American game “mikado,” which serves as the most basic form of pick-up sticks played today.
Though the “mikado” name is not widely used today because it was once a branded producer of the product, pick-up sticks still utilizes the same basic mechanics. In this game, a bundle of 17 to 20 cm colored sticks are dropped on end. From there, players take turns trying to remove sticks from the lay without disturbing any others.
If they do, they earn points based on the stick’s color or pattern. If they bump a stick, though, they lose their turn without earning points.
How to Play Pick-Up Sticks
Let’s dive deeper into the game’s mechanics.
Step 1: Gather Materials and Set a Goal
In order to play pick-up sticks, you’ll first need to gather a few materials together. Naturally, this includes a complete set of pick-up sticks. Though specific sets will differ, a standard set will include 15 red sticks, 15 green sticks, 5 orange sticks, 5 yellow sticks, and 1 black stick.
Though you don’t need every last stick to play, doing so allows for longer rounds and better competitive play.
Next, you’ll need to gather a pencil and paper to keep score. This can be done by making two columns, with one for each player. Speaking of which, you won’t be able to start playing until you have someone to compete against. As such, be sure that your partner is ready to play once you have your materials in hand.
With your partner, you’ll also need to decide on a goal for your game. In other words, you’ll need to mutually agree upon a set number of points at which point someone may be declared the “winner.”
A standard round of pick-up sticks may be played to a 200 point goal. Alternatively, you can play just a single “drop” and compete to see who has the most points after that round.
Step 2: Hold and Release Sticks
With all of the preparations made, you or your partner should grab all of the pick-up sticks and bunch them together in a single hand. If necessary, the sticks should also be tapped on end to make them even. From there, the sticks should be released from a reasonable height and allowed to fall where they may.
Once the sticks all come to a rest, you are ready to begin play.
When dropping the sticks, keep in mind that part of this game’s challenge comes from the way in which the sticks land on top of one another. As such, a drop from too high may cause them to spread out excessively. This, in turn, may make that round a bit easier than expected.
Step 3: Begin Play
With the sticks laying in their jumbled pile, you or your partner may begin the game by attempting to pick up a single stick without moving any others. If this is done, those points are added to that player’s column on the scorecard.
They are then permitted to try picking up another stick in the same manner. This continues until a stick is accidently moved, at which point the player’s turn ends without earning points for only that stick.
As noted, you should keep track of each stick’s point value as it is pulled from the pile. Under standard gameplay, these are the point values that should be awarded upon prizing any of the game’s sticks:
- Red – 2 points
- Green – 3 points
- Orange – 5 points
- Yellow – 15 points
- Black – 25 points
Step 4: Use the Mikado
Depending on the lay of the stick pile, you may have the opportunity to free the set’s single black stick (traditionally known as the “mikado”). In addition to earning a substantial number of points, you’ll also gain a useful tool that you can use for the remainder of the round.
Namely, you’ll be able to use the black stick to move other sticks without penalty. Only one stick can be moved at a time, though, so this asset should be used judiciously.
Step 5: Continue Until Completion
Continuing playing against your partner until a win condition is met.
Afterwards, when a winner is declared, the loser may re-challenge the winner to another round. In this way, rounds can be combined together to create a competitive match.
Mistakes to Avoid, Tips & Tricks
Pick-up sticks can take some time to master, as with other skill-based games. But in this game, there’s one great way to gain a quick advantage – target the black stick as soon as possible.
The black stick can make it far easier to work through a crowded stick pile without committing too many faults.
At the same time, don’t let your ambitions in this game cause you to get in over your head.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a few low point sticks in a row rather than targeting a single high-value stick. After all, those low-value sticks can really begin to add up. Also, with enough of them removed, you may open up a clear path to your desired high-value stick.
With the basics now firmly in mind, you’re ready to play pick-up sticks.
Don’t be fooled though – this game isn’t always as easy as it sounds. In many ways, your fortunes in this game depend on the lay of the sticks, not to mention the skill of your opponent.
In any case, be sure to have fun and enjoy the challenge as you take on this timeless game.