The Spirit of Giving

A card game of presents and pride by @TheJonAGill

It's the holiday season, and that means that you get to shop for presents for all of your friends. Unfortunately, it also means that your presents have to be at least as good as the ones they give you, lest you come across as a cheapskate! Will you discover the True Spirit of Giving, or will you forever be branded a stinge and a Scrooge?


4-6 — (3-4 with the Merry Little Christmas rule variant)


Have the most cards in your Present Pile at the end of the game or discover the True Spirit of Giving.



The Spirit of Giving is played with a regular deck of 52 playing cards. The various types of cards have different roles in the game:

Present cards

Number cards represent a Present. The number on them is their value as a present — higher values are better than lower values. The suits are meaningless. A pair of two Presents is considered Equal in Value if they have equal or consecutive numbers on them. (For instance, 5s are Equal in Value to 4s, 5s, and 6s).


Each Ace is a Homemade Present. You can't tell if it is the most thoughtful, heartfelt present of all time or the cheapest and laziest. As such, whoever gifts an Ace can declare whether it is worth 1 or 11 when it is paired with an unequal present. An Ace is always Equal in Value to 2s and 10s as well as other Aces. — (Regardless of whether it is played as a 1 or 11!)

Naughty cards

Naughty cards can be played at any time during the Discussion, Goodwill, and Wrapping phases and resolve in the order in which they are played. (In the case of a dispute, resolve it peacefully. It's the holidays!) Naughty cards are discarded when used and ignored for the rest of the game. Draw another card from the deck after playing a Naughty card.

Jack — "Peek at the List"

You may look at another player's hand.

Queen — "The Ol' Switcheroo"

Swap the Gift Tags on any two wrapped Presents under the Tree. You cannot swap the Tags on a pair of Presents that are matched with each other.

King — "Best Frenemies Forever"

Declare that you and another player are Frenemies for the rest of the game. Playing another King on your Frenemy will not reverse the effect — once Frenemies, always Frenemies.

Gift Tags

The sticky notes are Gift Tags. You will use these to address Presents when you wrap them. Take them back when your gifts are unwrapped and use them to keep track of which players you have already given Presents to.


Arrange a play area on a flat surface: table, floor, comically oversized Yule log, etc. The center of this area is called Under the Tree. This is where you will put Presents when you Gift them. Each player should claim a space around the Tree. This area is your Present Pile. Presents get placed in your Present Pile when you unwrap them.
Have each player draw a hand of cards and place each card face-up on the table. The number of cards you draw and the number of rounds that you will play for varies on the number of players:
  • 4 players: draw 4 cards, play for 3 rounds
  • 5 players: draw 5 cards, play for 4 rounds
  • 6 players: draw 6 cards, play for 5 rounds
Your hand represents everything you're willing to put into this holiday season — how nice the presents you're willing to buy are, how Naughty you'll let yourself be, it's all there.
Once every player has drawn a hand face-up, each player has one chance to mulligan. Select any number of cards in your hand, shuffle them back into the deck, and then draw your hand back up to its original size.
Turn your hand face-down once every player has finished mulliganing. You cannot show another player the contents of your hand for the rest of the game.
Give each player a stack of sticky notes. These represent Gift Tags.


Rounds are broken into four phases: Discussion, Goodwill, Wrapping, and Unwrapping. The game ends after the number of rounds listed for your current number of players.


This is a loose phase, during which you can discuss what Presents you want with other players or tell them what you are thinking of giving them. Be as truthful as you want (or not), but you can never show another player the cards in your hand. Proceed to the Goodwill phase when all players agree that they are done discussing.


Everyone must pass one card from their hand to another player. You cannot pass the card given to you by another player this round. In the first round, pass the card to the player on your left. Next round, pass it to the player on their left, and continue so on through the players each round until the game ends.
(In the Merry Little Christmas variant, you will eventually loop all the way around the table. However, you will never pass a card to yourself in the Goodwill phase — skip from passing a card to the player on your right in one round to passing a card to the player on your left in the next.)
Move on to the Wrapping phase after every player has passed a card.


Everyone must select one Present to give to another player. Address a Gift Tag with an accurate
'To: ___ From: ___' message, attach the tag to the back of the Present, and place that Present face-down Under the Tree.
You can only give each other player one Present per game — check your Gift Tags to see who you've given Presents to already! You must give a Present card each round if you have one in your hand to give.
Once every player has placed a Present under the Tree, take a moment to see if anyone wants to play a last minute Naughty card, then proceed to the Unwrapping phase.


Match up any pairs of Presents under the Tree. A pair of Presents is any two Presents given by two players to each other. As you match each pair of Presents, flip over each card and score the pair as follows:
  • If the Presents are Equal in Value, each player takes the present she was given and puts it face-up in her Present Pile. (Remember that Aces are Equal in Value to 2s, Aces, and 10s.)
  • If the Presents are unequal, the player who gave the higher-value present puts both presents in her Present Pile.
  • However, if the presents are unequal and the two givers are Frenemies, then the player who gave the lower-value Present takes them both for herself and puts them in her Present Pile.
The Unwrapping phase ends after all the pairs have been unwrapped. If there are more rounds left to play, begin the next round with another Discussion phase. Otherwise, the game ends.

Ending the Game

Discard your hands, then take any Presents that didn't get paired and unwrapped out from under the Tree, flip them, and place them in the giver's Present Pile before taking the final score and declaring a winner.


The True Spirit of Giving

If any player has an empty Present Pile and has given a Present to every other player by the end of the game, she has discovered the True Spirit of Giving and wins immediately.

Counting Presents

If no players discovered the True Spirit of Giving, whoever has the most Presents in their Present Pile is declared the winner. Settle ties with a vote — who do you think was the best gift-giver? — or simply let the tie stand. After all, the holidays are for sharing!

Rule Variants

Merry Little Christmas

These rules are perfect for a more intimate group of 3-4 friends. Draw cards according to the following table when setting up the game:

  • 3 players: draw 5 cards, play for 4 rounds
  • 4 players: draw 7 cards, play for 6 rounds

In this mode, players are allowed to give two presents to each other player, so make sure to keep track of those Gift Tags! You cannot wrap another Present for a player if you already have a wrapped Present to them under the Tree. Players who are Frenemies become friends again after unwrapping Presents from each other.

Score the end of the game following the base rules. However, players must have given every other player 2 Presents and still have an empty Present Pile to discover the True Spirit of Giving.

All Through the Night

Feel like making The Spirit of Giving an integral part of your next holiday party? Try playing a game over the course of a whole evening!

Set up the game as usual, but set a timer to half an hour and leave the table at the start of the Discussion phase. (Make sure to remember where you were sitting!) Carry your hand with you as you mingle — you'll need to reference it as you conspire and carouse with your fellow players. Feel free talk to other players in private, but remember that you still cannot show them your hand. In All Through the Night, you are not allowed to play Naughty cards during the Discussion phase.

Once the timer rings, return to your seats and play through the Goodwill, Wrapping, and Unwrapping phases as normal. After completing the round, reset the timer and go back to mingling for another Discussion phase. Play in this way until the game ends.

If you want to really raise the stakes, try offering some actual presents as prizes for the victors!


A game by Jon Gill — @TheJonAGill
Title font: Usual Day One by imagex
Header font: Cardenio Modern by Nils Cordes
Handwriting font: Annie Use Your Telescope by Kimberly Geswein