Canasta Game Variants
Perhaps it’s due to the fact that Canasta history is only a little more than seventy years old, there are a huge number of Canasta variations still in play since they have not had time to phase out of popularity. Some of these Canasta variations are fairly minor and probably will not survive the Canasta conversation for long. Some of them, however, are genuine enhancements to the game which make it more fun (or at least fun in different ways), more challenging, and sometimes just different enough to be interesting.
Of course, the best thing to do is get good at plain, classic Canasta. Once you’ve done that, you will be ready to tackle these Canasta variations with the confidence of a seasoned Canasta player. All you have to do is choose which of them is right for you. To do that, you probably need a list. Below are some of the more common variants, their rule differences, and some thoughts on how they change the Canasta experience.
Modern American Canasta
Modern American Canasta gets mentioned as one of the Canasta variations because it was the official version of the American Canasta Association, which no longer is active as an organization. This game is rarely mentioned as an official variant, but it is important to Canasta history.
There are lots of rule changes in Modern American Canasta, but the major differences are summarized here. First, each player is dealt thirteen cards instead of eleven and no cards are turned face up to start the discard pile. In addition, a set of four cards and a set of three cards are dealt face down after all players receive their cards. These sets are called talons, wings, or bonus cards. The talons are given to the first player to meld for each team.
Also interesting in Modern American Canasta is that there are special hands. For instance, you can have a meld called a straight which is one of every card from the two through the Ace. Trying for a straight is actually one of the few times you can keep a three in your hand, which you should always play if you draw it. There are also pairs when you have two of every card but the Jokers or threes or a hand with pairs with twos, sevens, and aces. There is also a hand called garbage which is two three of a kind, and two four of a kind. These hands are worth between two thousand and three thousand points each. Speaking of points, Modern American Canasta is played to 8500 hundred points.
Samba Canasta is a Canasta variant that pays homage to the rummy roots of the original game because it allows you to build straights in addition to melds. A straight must be at least three natural cards (no wild cards or threes) in a row all of the same suit. Straights can be laid down like normal melds. They can also be played off by your partners.
Another interesting thing about the game of Samba Canasta is that it is suitable for anywhere from two up to six players. If there are four or six players, players will be arranged into partnerships of two and three players, respectively. If there are two, three, or five players, it is every player for himself. When playing with less than six players, every person is dealt an initial hand of fifteen cads. If there are six, thirteen cards are dealt.
Other than that, Samba is fairly similar to Canasta as Canasta variants go. Play is pretty much the same, though there are some rules governing when discards can be picked up and played on another straight. Also, Samba is played to 10,000 points instead of 5,000.
Hand and Foot Canasta
Depending on who you talk to, hand and foot canasta may or may not be considered one of the canasta variations. Some people consider it a rummy game all on its own, though frankly, the rules are almost exactly like regular Canasta with a few notable exceptions. First, hand and foot canasta is played with five decks and instead of each player being dealt one hand, everyone is dealt two hands of thirteen cards each. One is called the hand, the other is the foot.
Play progresses pretty much like regular Canasta except that players may draw two cards instead of one, while only one card is discarded. Also, when a player runs out of cards in his hand (either by melding all his cards or by discarding his final card) he can then pick up his foot and start playing those cards.
One other small change is that canastas are called piles, unless one is playing Saskatchewan Hand and Foot, though that is a topic for a different article.
Pennies from Heaven Canasta Variant
Pennies from Heaven is a game that probably came after Hand and Foot because it borrows a lot of rules from that game, though it still considers itself one of the Canasta variations. In Pennies from Heaven, everyone is dealt a hand and a foot, just like Hand and Foot. However, a hand is thirteen cards while the foot is eleven cards.
That is not the only difference with the foot. Instead of waiting to access the foot until you’ve gone out, you can grab the cards in the foot as soon as you complete a canasta. This means that in a normal game you may have access to your foot and the cards therein much earlier. It also means that in a few rare games you will never get access to the foot because someone else will go out really quickly. This is actually not very common and should be less likely than in a game of Hand and Foot.
In terms of the game play, Pennies from Heaven is close to Hand and Foot. For instance, in both games, during play, two cards are drawn off the stack and only one is discarded. Unlike Hand and Foot, there is an added twist to the game. In Pennies from Heaven sevens take on special importance. They cannot be discarded until both teams have a canasta (a seven card meld) of them. Also, having a canasta of sevens earns extra bonus points.