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Collection representing players' current resources of a certain type of game elements.

Games where players have several different game elements of the same hand in their possession but not in actual play have Hands. While some games have as winning conditions that players should have emptied these Hands, others use them for temporary storage or for places to collect valuable collections.


Contract Bridge, Poker, and Whist are all traditional Card Games that all use Hands. Mahjong, Scrabble, and Tien Gow are similar examples of Tile-Based Games. Bohnanza is a Card Game where the order of cards in a player's hand is important, as the players have to play the cards in a specific sequence. San Juan and Race for the Galaxy make use of Hands not only as storages of possible actions for players but also as their money resource. Players draw new Hands for each turn in RoboRally, Dominion, Thunderstone and can in the two latter influence the contents of future Hands by purchasing new cards.

Memoir '44, Pandemic, Ticket to Ride are all examples of Board Games which make use of card Hands. Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game does this as well, but has both Hands of skill cards to overcome challenges and (small) Hands of loyalty cards that determine winning conditions.

Examples of Card and Tile-Based Games that do not make use of Hands include No Thanks! and Carcassonne respectively.

Using the pattern

While Hands requires something to fill them with, Cards or Tiles most commonly, the basic design questions when using Hands is their size, how they should be constructed, and whether game elements should be replenished when used (see the Cards and Tiles patterns about the actions that can be provided by the elements in the Hands). As the Cards or Tiles used to create Hands typically come from Decks, the use of Hands is often a way of affecting how Decks are used in a game.

Having an initial set of elements that shrinks as gameplay progresses makes these elements into Non-Renewable Resources while keeping Hand sizes constant or letting them fluctuate requires the consideration of what game actions refill the hand. Hands are typically replenished directly after game elements have been removed from them as part of gameplay actions; Rummy shows an example where the replenishment is done before the actions. The new Cards or Tiles can either be taken from Drawing Stacks or Discard Piles, in some games (Rummy again) players can make a choice between both of these. Cartagena provides an example when players need to perform an action with associated Penalties (moving their pieces backwards on the game track) to receive new Cards to their Hands. Race for the Galaxy uses Cards in Hands to represent Money besides possible actions, making the sizes of Hands in this game vary widely. Regardless of if Hands constantly decrease in size or can grow, they are usually Limited Resources by having a maximum number of elements that may constitute the Hands.

Hands are typically constructed through Randomness although this can be combined or replaced by Drafting. The Hands may be created before "actual" gameplay begins through (this is the case in Contract Bridge and Whist) or during gameplay (e.g. in Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game, Go Fish, Magic: The Gathering, and Poker). Players of Dominion and Thunderstone draw entirely new Hands after each turn and can indirectly construct their future Hands by Investments in new Cards for their Drawing Stacks (some Cards in these two games further allow players to manipulate which Cards will be in their next Hand). Where one draws Cards or Tiles from quite naturally affects which Hands one can get. Most games use Drawing Stacks but some also allow Hands to be replenished from Discard Piles (sometimes as Privileged Actions).

Some specific gameplay actions become possible due to the use of Hands in a game. Collecting Sets in often goals or winning conditions in games with Hands - this can be found in both Mahjong and Poker, and Texas Hold'em shows that the Sets can be combinations of Hands and commonly shared resources. Another specific action is having the Privileged Ability of being allowed to look at other players' Hands (e.g. Gaius Balter's one-time ability to look at another player's loyalty Cards in Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game). In Collectible Card Games, Hands play to role of providing the actions possible for a player at any given moment.

Hands typically give players a Freedom of Choice between several different actions, e.g. which element to place when doing Tile-Laying. Bohnanza is a rare exception in that players must play the bean Cards of the game in the order they were taken (unless gotten rid of through Trading).


Hands are Containers of Cards or Tiles that assign players Ownership of these. The main reason for providing players with these Containers is to let them have a Freedom of Choice which of the game elements to use and which to save for future actions. The sizes of Hands are often limited, making their contents into Limited Resources. Since these represent Actions in most cases, this also makes Hands represent a Limited Set of Actions. Since Pre-Customized Decks and Deck Building affect heavily what Drawing Stacks consist of, they also affect what Hands are possible to have.

Typically, Hands are secret to other players so games with Hands tend to have Asymmetric Information and Secret Resources. Being able to deduce other players' Hands, or being able to look at them through some Privileged Ability, does in most cases offers strategic advantages and this makes Hands give players Gain Information goals.

Hands can guarantee Limited Gameplay Time and more Predictable Consequences the longer the game has progress in games where the Hands shrink constantly during gameplay (e.g. Contract Bridge and Whist) due to their contents being Non-Renewable Resources.


Can Instantiate

Asymmetric Information, Containers, Freedom of Choice, Gain Information, Money, Ownership, Limited Resources, Limited Set of Actions, Secret Resources

with Non-Renewable Resources

Limited Gameplay Time, Predictable Consequences

Can Modulate

Cards, Collectible Card Games, Decks, Tiles, Tile-Laying

Can Be Instantiated By


Can Be Modulated By

Deck Building, Drafting, Drawing Stacks, Investments, Non-Renewable Resources, Discard Piles, Pre-Customized Decks, Privileged Abilities, Sets, Randomness

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



An updated version of the pattern Card Hands that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.