However, I did sign up for what amounted to a Pairs seminar with James Ernst at this year's Rincon. He ran through four different games that you can play with the Pairs deck as well as some variants. And by the time he was done, I had a much better opinion of the Pairs deck as a game system.
The Pairs deck is a triangular deck. It doesn't have suits, only ranks one to ten. And each rank has as many cards in it as its rank. So there is only one one card but ten ten cards.
All the Pairs games I played were light, quick games. Pub games that would be good for figuring out who pays for the next round. The games I learned included elements push-your-luck and bluffing. And I know you can use the deck to play climbing and trick taking games since Cheapass has all but admitted that they started with a Great Dalmutti deck to create the Pairs deck.
The actual Pairs game was one of the ones I learned, which is a very simple push-your-luck game. In fact, I'd say it was the weakest game I learned. So instead of being a deck of cards that you can theoretically play other games with, I would buy the deck specifically to play the other games. It really is a legit game system.
The Pairs deck isn't the first triangular deck I've played with. I'm pretty sure that was the Great Dalmutti, which goes up to twelve. I didn't realize how much losing those twenty three cards (11+12) tightened up the odds in the Pairs deck until I had a chance to play with it.
The games I got to play were on the serious casual side. They were lighter than what we play when the toddler is in bed and we are exhausted. But they'd be great at restaurants or parties or bars. And great with folks who'd never play something like Love Letter. And I wouldn't be surprised if there are deeper games that I just don't know yet.
Nothing is going to beat the standard deck of cards as a game system. It has had literally centuries of development and refinement and playtesting. And the best alternative I've found is the brilliant Decktet with its multi-suited cards. The Pairs deck is still pretty flexible and fun, though. And, since all three take up less space than some paperbacks, there's no reason not to own all three.