A 2-player board game using a standard deck of playing cards

The Red Ants and Black Ants are at war! Each side marches from their respective anthills, ready to do battle. The mission: capture the opposing Queen! Army Ants is a simple game with a good level of strategy. Setup is easy and play is fast, with most games lasting about 15 minutes.


You need a standard deck of playing cards. Remove all the Tens, Jacks and Kings, as well as one red Queen and one black Queen. Then separate the remaining cards into a red pile of Hearts and Diamonds (now known as the Red Army) and a black pile of Spades and Clubs (the Black Army). Each player takes one pile. The numbered cards represent groups of army ants, one ant per spot. The Queen represents the leader of each army. Card suits have no relevance in the game; only their numbers and colors.


Each player shuffles their respective deck and deals their cards face-up in the pattern indicated in the image to the right. The dashed line represents the center of the table. Each player places their first card face-up on the “1” position, the second on the “2” position, and so forth until all 19 cards are dealt.

Players can decide to lay their cards in “portrait” or “landscape” orientation – whatever works for the players or the table space. For the purpose of these rules the cards will be displayed in “portrait” orientation.

Note the empty space in the center of the last row of each side.

The aggressive Red Ants take the first turn.


Before the battle begins, the players spend the first five turns of the game rallying their troops, alternately shifting their armies to better position their side for battle. Starting with the Red player, each player may take one March!, Move Out! or Swap! command (see below), alternating turns between each player. Once the players have each taken five turns, the Battle begins as indicated below. Note that no player may move cards into enemy territory during this time (no crossing the dotted line in the setup image above), and no player may perform an Attack! command (see below).

The Queen’s Favor
If your Queen is dealt into the first row (positions 1 through 5) of your army, you may skip your entire Rally Troops phase and simply move your Queen to the empty space in your back row. You may not perform any other actions, and your opponent performs their remaining Rally turns at once. The Queen’s Favor is optional – you may still choose the five Rally turns even if your Queen is dealt into the front row.


Once the Rally Your Troops phase is complete, the battle begins! Starting with the Red player, players take turns performing one of four commands with their army ants. Once a player has resolved a command, the other player performs a command, and so on until one Queen is captured, ending the game. Note that you may only perform commands with your own cards, never your opponent’s cards. The commands a player may take are:

  • March!
  • Move Out!
  • Swap!
  • Attack!

General Command Rules

The following rules apply to each of the commands below:

  • You may only move cards orthogonally (horizontally or vertically) around the board. Never diagonally.
  • You may move cards in any of the four directions, even backwards toward your side of the table.
  • The entire board is always accessible to all cards. If, during the course of play, cards no longer occupy any of the original rows or columns, they are still available and accessible. In other words, the board always retains its orignal 5 x 8 spaces, which do not displace.
  • Cards may never jump over other cards.
  • The Queen may perform all commands except Attack!


When you perform a March! command, you take a group of more than one of your cards and slide them one or more open spaces. The following rules are in place when marching:

  • All cards must be in a single horizontal or vertical group and connected, with no spaces in between. That group is locked together for the duration of the March! command.
  • All movement must be through and into empty spaces.
  • You may move the group any number of spaces.
  • The cards must all move the same distance horizontally or vertically. You may not break up the line.
  • The cards you move may NOT turn corners.
March! Example #1
The Black player performs a March! command, moving a line of three cards to the left. (The Red side of the board is not displayed). Note that the 4-ant spade may not continue moving into the empty space next to the Queen, because it is locked to the two 9’s during the entire March! order.
March! Example #2
The Red player marches their middle column of four red cards three spaces forward. Note the Red player did not have to move the entire column. They could, for example, have moved just the two 8’s forward while leaving the 6 and 4 behind.

Move Out!

When you perform a Move Out! command, take one of your cards and slide it one or more open spaces horizontally and/or vertically as many spaces as you’d like. The following rules are in place when moving out:

  • Only a single card may Move Out!
  • All movement must be through and into empty spaces.
  • The card may turn corners (but it may also just move in a straight line). In fact, the Move Out! command is the only one in which a card may turn corners, and it is always limited to a single card.

Move Out! Example
Continuing the second example above, the Black player performs a Move Out! command, moving a 6-ant card into enemy territory to threaten the opposing Queen.


When you perform a Swap! command, you have one of your cards trade places with one of its adjacent friendly cards. The swapped cards must be adjacent, with no spaces in between.

Swap! Example
We continue from the Move Out! example above. The Red player’s Queen is threatened by the Black player’s 6-ant spade, so Red spends the turn performing a Swap! command with the Queen and the adjacent 1-ant diamond, protecting the Queen.


When you perform an Attack! command, you attack one enemy card with one of your cards. The following rules are in place when attacking:

  • Your Queen may never attack, but it may be attacked by any opposing non-Queen card (even a lowly ace).
  • Move your attacking card onto any enemy card of equal or lesser value. A card may not attack a higher-numbered card.
  • The attacking card may attack an adjacent card or a distant card in the same row or column.
  • If attacking from a distance, you may move the attacker any number of spaces to the target. All movement must be in a straight line through empty spaces. The attacking card may not turn corners.
  • If the value of the attacking card is greater than the target’s value, the target is removed from play and the attacking card takes its place. The value of the attacking card is not affected; it remains at face value.
  • If the value of the attacking card is equal to the target’s value, both the attacking card and the target card are removed from play. Note that the only way to remove a 9-ant card from play is to attack it with another 9-ant card (eliminating both cards from play).

Attack! Example #1
Continuing our example from above, the Black player performs an Attack! command, sending their 6-ant spade to attack the adjacent Red 1-ant diamond. Since 6 is greater than 1, the Red card is destroyed and the Black 6 takes its place, once again threatening the Red Queen.

Attack! Example #2
The Red player counters on their turn, also performing an Attack! Command. They move the 9-ant heart in a straight line to attack the Black 6, defeating it. The Red Queen is now very well protected.

Had the Red 9 actually been a Red 6, both cards would have been destroyed, as they would have equal values.

The Black side is not displayed in this example, but looking at the image to the left, you can see that the Red player really had no other option. The Red 2 heart above the Black 6 is not powerful enough to attack, and the Queen could not Swap! with the 9 above it, because that would open up the Queen to capture by the Black 9 further up the line.


A Queen is captured if it is attacked by any opposing card, even a lowly 1-ant ace. If you capture the opposing Queen, you win the game! Note that because Queens may not perform Attack! commands, a Queen is never able to capture the other Queen. In the extremely unlikely event that all the numbered cards from both armies are eliminated, a stalemate occurs, and the game is a draw.


Red Aggression
If the players continue to make the same succession of moves to avoid a change in game state for a total of six player turns (for example, the players continue to move two pieces back and forth to prevent a capture, effectively creating a “loop” and preventing the game to continue), the Red player loses the game.

Alternative Setup #1 – Minor Deployment
Instead of dealing out your entire army randomly, each player secretly draws one row of cards at a time, and places those cards face-down in any position along that row that they wish. Once both players have drawn and placed their first-row cards, they draw 5 new cards for their second row, and so on until all cards are placed (note the empty space must still be in the center of the back row). Then players turn over their cards and the Rally Your Troops phase begins as normal. The Queen’s Favor option may still be taken, if applicable.

Alternative Setup #2 – Total Deployment
Instead of dealing out your entire army randomly, each player places all of their cards at once. Cards are placed face-down in any position on their side that they wish (note the empty space must still be in the center of the back row). The only exception is that your Queen may not be initially placed adjacent to either of your 9-ant cards. Then players turn over their cards and the Rally Your Troops phase begins as normal (and the Queen may end up adjacent to one or both 9-ant cards as a result). The Queen’s Favor option may not be taken.

Have Fun!

Game Design by Bryan Winter
Army Ants ©2020 I’m Board LLC