Originally created in the 1930s in Uruguay and becoming a hit in the United States in the 1950s, Canasta is still a popular card game to this day. With how popular the game is it isn’t surprising that there have been quite a few spinoff games created over the years. One of those games is Canasta Caliente which was created in 2000. Despite being so popular I have to admit that I have never played Canasta before. I am not exactly sure why but it might have something to do with the fact that it is one of those games that is generally considered an “old persons” game. I decided to finally try out the game to see why 80 years later the game still has such a following. Canasta Caliente fails to bring much to the original Canasta which is itself a game that is past its prime.
How to Play Canasta Caliente
- Choose whether you are going to use the caliente cards. If you aren’t going to use the cards, remove them from the deck. If you are using the cards make sure to read the rules at the end of the how to play section which detail what the cards do.
- Choose which player will be the dealer. The dealer will shuffle all of the cards and deal eleven cards to each player. The rest of the cards form the draw pile.
- Each player checks their hand to see if they were dealt any bonus cards. If a player is dealt a bonus card they must play it out in front of themselves and draw a new card.
- The top card of the draw pile is flipped over to start the prize pile. If the card that is flipped over is a wild or a bonus card, it is turned sideways to show that the prize pile is frozen. The next card in the draw pile is then flipped over.
- The player to the left of the dealer starts the game.
Playing the Game
On a player’s turn they will take three actions:
- Either take the top card from the draw pile or the entire prize pile (if they meet the requirements).
- They can create melds or add to melds they or their partner have already created.
- Discard one card face up from their hand to the discard pile.
If a player draws a bonus card they must play it in front of themselves immediately and take a new card.
If a player wants to take the prize pile they will have to take all of the cards in the pile. In order to take the prize pile a player has to meet certain conditions:
- The player has to be able to use the top card from the prize pile in a meld. It either has to be used in a new meld or added to a meld already belonging to the player or their teammate.
- If the player or their teammate have not yet made their first meld, they will have to combine the top card with at least two other cards of the same number (cannot use wilds) from their hand to create a meld above the point requirement for a first meld (see below).
- If the prize pile is frozen the player can only take the prize pile if they can use the top card to make a new three card meld without using any wilds.
Creating and Adding to Melds
After a player has taken a card(s) they have the opportunity to make new melds or add to melds they or their partner have already created. A meld is a set of three or more cards of the same number. Players can use wild cards in a meld but at no time can there be more wild cards in a meld than natural (number/face) cards. When a player forms a meld they place the cards face up in front of them. For each partnership to form their first meld the total point value of the meld has to reach a certain point threshold based on how many points they have scored in previous rounds:
- Negative Points: Any three card meld
- 0-1495: 50+ point meld
- 1500-2995: 90+ point meld
- 3000+: 120+ point meld
Once a partnership has formed a meld both players can add additional cards to the meld. They can add natural or wild cards to melds already on the table. When adding wilds though the players have to make sure they don’t have more wilds in a meld than natural cards.
Discarding a Card
A player ends their turn by discarding a card onto the prize pile. Depending on what card a player discards, something special may happen.
- Discarded natural cards have no special actions.
- If a stop card is discarded, the next player cannot take the prize pile on their turn. The only other way to get rid of stop cards is to create a meld of three or more of them and play them as the last cards in your hand.
- If a wild card is discarded the prize pile is frozen. The wild card is turned sideways to indicate that the prize pile is frozen until a player is able to meet the additional requirements to take from a frozen prize pile.
End of Round and Scoring
A round can only end when two requirements are met. A team is unable to end a round before they create a canasta. A canasta is a meld consisting of seven or more cards.
After a partnership has created a canasta, the round can end when one of the players in the partnership gets rid of all of their cards. Before going out a player can ask (they don’t have to) their teammate whether they should go out. If their teammate says no, the player is unable to go out even if they want to. Once one of the players gets rid of their last card the round ends and the players total up the points they scored.
If none of the players go out before the draw pile runs out of cards, the players keep taking the top card in the prize pile until someone passes or one of the players gets rid of their last card. If the prize pile is frozen you cannot pass if the top card can be added to one of your melds. Otherwise if a player can’t use the top card for a meld or chooses not to take it, the round ends. If the round ends with no one getting rid of all of their cards, neither team gets the bonus for going out.
Each partnerships’s points will be tallied as follows:
- Add up the value of each meld. The value of the meld is equal to the points printed on each card.
- Subtract the value of the cards still in each player’s hand.
- Add in any bonus points that your team earned.
- 100 points if your team ended the round by going out.
- 100 points if one member of your team got rid of all of their cards in one turn with no cards being melded on a previous turn.
- 500 points for each natural canasta formed. A natural canasta is a canasta that does not use any wild cards.
- 300 points for each mixed canasta formed. A mixed canasta is a canasta that includes wild cards.
- 100 points for each bonus card played as long as your team has formed a meld.
- -100 points for each bonus card played if your team didn’t form a meld.
- 400 points if your team played all four bonus cards and formed a meld.
If neither team has reached 5,000 points, another round is played. The player to the left of the previous dealer will become the dealer for the next round.
End of Game
The game ends when at least one of the teams scores 5,000 or more points. The team that has scored the most points wins the game.
Canasta Caliente Variant
If you choose to use the two caliente cards you will need to follow these additional rules.
If a player has a caliente card in their hand they can choose to use the card instead of taking a card from the draw or prize pile. The player will then continue to draw cards from the draw pile until they have eleven cards in their hand.
Instead of playing the caliente card to draw cards, you can discard it. When discarded the caliente card is treated like a stop card.
When it comes to scoring, if a caliente card is played it is worth -100 points. If a caliente card is stuck in your hand at the end of the game, all of the other cards in your hand are worth twice as many negative points. If you have both caliente cards in your hand when the round ends, the cards in your hand are worth three times as many negative points.
My Thoughts on Canasta Caliente
While this review is technically for Canasta Caliente, it can also be seen as a review of the original Canasta as the only difference between the two games are the included caliente cards which you don’t even have to use.
With how popular Canasta is and the fact that I have always liked set collecting games, I had high hopes for Canasta Caliente. Unfortunately after playing the game I was left with the impression that Canasta Caliente is past its prime. Canasta was probably quite good for a 1930s-1950’s game but in my opinion it has not kept up to the times. The main problem is that it is a really basic set collection game and there have been many better set collecting games made after Canasta was first released.
Basically the whole premise behind Canasta Caliente is the idea of collecting cards of the same number. You and your partner try to acquire as many cards as you can of the same number. This is done in two ways. You can either luck into drawing the right number from the draw pile or have the right card discarded to the top of the prize pile. This relies on quite a bit of luck as you have next to no control over what cards you will be able to pick from. While the other team can see which melds your team has already formed, they don’t know what cards you have in your hand. You pretty much need to get lucky and either draw the card you need or have the player before you discard a card that you need. This reliance on luck continues with the bonus cards that give you free points for nothing other than being lucky and drawing them from the deck.
While there are some problems with the mechanic, I actually found the idea of the prize pile to be pretty interesting. A lot of games allow players to either take the top card from the draw or discard pile but few games let you take all of the cards from the discard pile. You would think taking a lot of cards in a game where you are trying to get rid of them wouldn’t be a good idea. In most circumstances though you want to take from the prize pile as often as possible. Being able to take cards from the prize pile is the fastest way to build up the size of your hand which gives you more opportunities to build melds. It also forces players to be cautious about what cards they discard as they will likely be taken by another player at some point. You don’t want to discard a card that another player will eventually pick up that will score them a lot of points.
I like the idea of the prize pile but it is one of the contributing factors behind one of the biggest problems that I had with Canasta Caliente. Too often one of the teams will downright decimate the other in a round. If one team is able to play a lot of melds pretty early in a round, they are likely going to run up the score on the other team. As they already have melds out on the table, if the prize pile is not frozen the team with the melds will usually be able to take the prize pile which will give them a large card advantage over the other team. They will then use this advantage in order to build an even larger lead over the other players/teams. At times I think it is too easy to take cards from the prize pile where someone will likely take it every couple turns.
While I think Canasta Caliente relies on a lot of luck, I could see the game having some strategy under the surface. The problem is that it is one of those games that you have to spend quite a bit of time with in order to really see the game’s underlying strategy. If you want to put in the work this is not really a problem. Unfortunately I didn’t find the game to be intriguing enough to put in the work to understand the strategy behind the game. Canasta Caliente has some interesting ideas but I just found it to be kind of boring.
In addition to the reliance on luck, I also didn’t like that Canasta Caliente is one of those games that is more difficult than it needed to be. Once you get used to the game Canasta Caliente is actually not that difficult to play. The mechanics are pretty straightforward as you basically just pick up cards, play cards of the same number together and ultimately discard one card. The problem is that due to a bunch of nitpicky and unnecessary rules, the game is more convoluted than it needed to be. I am guessing the first meld rules were put in place to help teams that have fallen behind catch up. The problem is that the mechanic makes no sense and just adds unnecessary complexity to the game. These nitpicky little rules aren’t an issue for people that already know how to play the game but it does make the game less accessible and harder to teach to new players.
So lets quickly talk about the only difference between the original Canasta and Canasta Caliente which are the two caliente cards. The caliente cards basically act like an additional risk/reward mechanic for the game. Getting a caliente card can be both a good and bad thing depending on how you use them. Playing the cards and getting the opportunity to draw up to eleven cards can give you the opportunity to create several melds or expand on melds already played. This could help a team that has fallen behind catch up quickly. The ability comes at a cost though as playing it will lose you 100 points. That is quite a few points so you need to be sure you use it at the right time. If you don’t want to play the card for its’ ability it basically becomes a card that you try to get rid of as quickly as possible. In general I like the idea of the caliente cards as they add a little more variety to the game. If you don’t care for them though you can easily remove them and just play normal Canasta.
As far as the components are concerned it is ultimately going to depend on which version of the game you purchase. For this review I used the 2008 Winning Moves Games version. I really don’t have a lot to say about the components as a whole. The artwork is fine and the card quality is solid enough that they should last. The biggest problem with Canasta Caliente’s components is the simple fact that you could pretty much play the game with two standard decks of playing cards. I think the special Canasta Caliente deck makes the game more accessible to people that don’t know how to play the game but if you already have standard decks of cards lying around you can save some money.
Should You Buy Canasta Caliente?
I have to admit that I was a little surprised that I didn’t enjoy Canasta Caliente as much as I would had hoped. I generally like set collecting games and Canasta has been popular for quite a few years. Unfortunately there was just something with the game that kept the game from really standing out. While I can see Canasta Caliente having some strategy beneath the surface, it is one of those games that you have to play a lot in order to really figure out the best strategy. Without this knowledge the game relies on a lot of luck as you have to hope that you draw the right cards or the other players discard the cards that you need. The prize pile adds some interesting things to the game but too often it leads to one team dominating the other in a round. The caliente card introduced in Canasta Caliente does give players a few more options in the game but I can see it not being for everyone. At the end of the day I just feel like Canasta Caliente is a game that is past its prime. When it was first created it was probably quite original but today there are quite a few better set collecting games.
I didn’t really care for Canasta Caliente but that does not mean that others won’t enjoy the game. If you don’t like simpler card games or set collecting games in general, I don’t see Canasta Caliente being for you. If you already own a Canasta set I would only pick up Canasta Caliente if the caliente cards really interest you. Otherwise if the game sounds interesting to you it might be worth picking up if you can get a good deal on it.