The Addictive Chinese Card Game “Level Up” Readopted For Language Learning

Level Up is a card game that almost all Chinese adults know how to play, they can play this for hours and hours deep into the night. To make it even more exciting many also play it with small amount of cash as the wager. Nevertheless, I find this game addictive even without any financial incentive. Once I started playing, I just can’t stop before any party actually wins the game.

The game has an excellent mixture of elements suitable to make it into a entertaining learning game. However, as I’ve pointed out in the very first post, the goal is really to play the game for fun. So here is how I imagining this for language learning materials.

The cards

Use a set of words as cards. Each card contain one word. Ideally, a word should appear at least 2 times per deck of cards and no more than 4 times.

The goal

The goal of the game is to reach the highest level / rank as a team. When with odd number of persons, each player can play for themselves. At the beginning, each team are at level 1. Your team will gain a level after winning a game.


Depending how you divide the words’ categories. They could be nouns, adjective, verbs and all the rest. The categories can also be made with the length of the words: a = 1, it = 2, the = 3 …. content=7 etc. Which way to choose depends on how much time is there to reach the final level. You can define the category 1,,2,3,4 for the first approach, or just 1 to the highest number of letters from the longest word as in the second example.

Winning condition

You win a game if the total number of points collected by your team is more than that of the opponents. Some cards can have points which can be decided based on the required learning goal. For instance, if the goal is learning new set of vocabulary, then cards with these new words should have points, ideally corresponding with the number of letters the words contain. If the learning goal is simply making longer sentences then every cards should have just 1 point so that at the end the player with the most cards/point wins the game.

Ranking of played cards

Played cards with highest rank wins a round. The rank is simply the number of letters on the played cards. The played cards can only have a rank if the player can make a meaningful sentence out of the words on these cards. They can supplement the sentence with extra words that are not on the cards, but for computing the rank, only the amount of letters on the cards are counted. (For Chinese, consider using the number of strokes i.s.o. letter counts!) Two of the same cards can be used as one word but counted as double the amount of letters. Higher multiples of the same cards will multiply the letter-count accordingly.

For the convenience of counting the points, the words on the cards should have a fixed count regardless of the way they’re used in the sentences like plural forms or past tense.

Major cards (optional, but you really want to include them)

You can decide to assign some cards the status of major card(or the dominant suit in the case of Level Up) and assign special properties to them. Just like some cards with points, the major cards (can) have those too. You can even count these as double the number of letters of the major cards. A common practice is also to rotate the major cards statuses. We can assign major status to cards that belong to the current level. If the current level is 1, then all cards that belonging to this level will have points equal to 2x the number of letters of the words on them.

In addition to above, major cards can also be called by a player when the game is in dealing phase. See below.

How to start

A game starts by dealing/drawing the cards to all the players. All cards should be dealt to players unless we adopt the rule for picking the last few cards on the deck (see section “The right to pick the last cards”.

It’s during the dealing of the cards, any player can call for a category to receive the major status. A player can only do this though if he/she has a duplicate set of cards for that category. To overthrow one players call, another player must have a duplicate set with higher number of letters from another category. Have a major category called is useful when a player have many cards from that category. At the end of dealing, all players should have the same amount of cards.

The right to pick the last cards (optional)

The regular Level Up has a rule that gives the team members that won the last game the option to inspect the last 8 cards and swap those freely with the drawn/dealt cards in their hands. Depending on the number of players and the cards in the deck, any number of 4-10 seems to be okay here.

During the game

A round consists of each player playing the same number of cards one after another (e.g. counter clockwise). The player who can make a sentence with the highest number of letters on the played cards (thus with the highest rank) wins the round and takes all the points from the played cards of that round. The team immediately loses the game if a player can’t come up with any sentences with the cards played by him/herself; not all cards needs to be included though, so at least one (this can also be agreed upon).

The winner of the last round can start the next round. The person who initially picked the last cards from the deck can play the first card(s) in the game (see above). Or when there is no card picking at the end, the player who called the major card can start. And alternatively the player who started with the dealing can start. The game ends with all the cards being played.


For the sake of certain learning purposes, you can require players to make predefined sentences with certain cards and that these predefined combinations will be jokers so that when they’re played by a player, he/she always wins the round.

Attack and defend (optional)

Like the Level Up game, teams can have an attack and defend mode. So when the previous game was lost, they should win a game first in order gain a level in the next game if they win that one too.

Other possibilities

There are many more variations of this game and you should try out different methods to see what works better at which stage. For beginner courses, you may want to supply a set of rules for applying basic grammar on the words and maybe simpler game mechanics should be adopted in stead of the full rule set of the game.

I can also imaging this game to be applied on other areas like math and chemistry. All these above could be the future topics of this blog.

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