Several set cards arranged on a table with one card featuring the word Set prominently

Set, The Card Game: A Rich Classic Review


  6 years & up
1 or more players
  20 minutes
Games, Card Games
  Rich Classic
  Mensa Select
  Pattern Recognition
  Spatial Orientation
  Time Pressure

Set is the paragon of what a learning game should be. It’s fun, gives your brain a great workout, and is easily adapted for all ages. Set is inexpensive and very portable, so bring it with you often. We’ve given Set our Rich Classic award because it deserves a place in every home’s game closet. Want to see numerical summary ratings? Skip to the conclusion for our detailed criteria breakdown and final review score.

What’s included & how to play Set

In the box you’ll find:

  • 81 Set cards
  • a plastic case for the cards
  • instructions on how to play

The purpose of Set is to find as many “sets” of matching shapes while your opponents, all looking at the same 12 cards as you, do the same. The cards have symbols that vary in number, color, shading and shape, so you’re looking for different combinations of these variables to form your set.

Set is the paragon of what a learning game should be.

So How Do I Make a “Set”?

To pick up a set of 3 cards from the 12 on the field, you have to see either 3 of the 4 symbol properties that are the same with 1 difference, or ALL the properties have to be different. For example, consider the 12 cards below:

Set game where one criterion is different
The cards marked in black have 3 properties the same and 1 that’s different

There’s a set marked with black boxes in the image above. The 3 shapes in this set share 3 criteria in common, with one that’s different. Can you see which of the 4 properties (number, shape, color, shading) are the same? All shapes are purple, all are diamonds, all have solid shading. The number of shapes on each card is different, so this is a set. If only two of the properties were the same and two were different, that wouldn’t be a set. However, all of the properties can be different to make a set, as shown in the example below:

Set card game with images that are all different
The set shown in black has shapes that differ in ALL their properties

I’ve rearranged the cards in this second example, but they are identical to the ones in the first example. Can you see why this new set I’ve marked is a valid set? Each card has a different number of shapes, different shading, different color and different shape. All properties of the cards are different, which makes these 3 cards a set.

However, there are even more sets in the image above! See if you can find them on your own. Hint: there are six sets total, so you’ll need to find four more.

Is Set fun and educational?

Set is very educational and can be quite fun, in a mentally challenging way. In the Quick Stats section I listed a litany of Rich Skills that Set teaches (shown with the target icon), so let’s break them down one by one:

  • Pattern Recognition is obvious for Set. You have to see the shapes and in your mind process how they fit together to form a set.
  • Logic comes into play when you begin thinking about what makes a set and what kind of card you’re looking for to complete a set with two candidate cards you’ve already selected.
  • Problem-solving is the extension of logic as you try various solutions and eliminate impossible cards that don’t complete the set. This process of logical deduction mixed with trial-and-error is a skill that will serve you well in a variety of disciplines. Playing Set can be a good stress reliever for students you know who are studying for the SAT, ACT, or any standardized test that evaluates logic, math or geometry skills.
  • Spatial Orientation comes into play because you can’t physically pick up the cards to compare since other people are playing as well. In your mind, you will need to move and orient the cards so that you can compare and arrange them as needed. Starting out your littlest kids with the solitaire rules of Set would be a good way to let them concentrate on finding sets. If you’re playing alone, you can rearrange the cards all you want without the mentally-taxing spatial orientation.
  • Concentration and Time Pressure are usually polar opposite skills, rarely found in the same game. Concentration requires you to mentally dig-in, allowing your brain the luxury of unpacking a variety of variables to sort out what’s going on and how to make the set. Set allows you to do this to a significant degree, especially if your opponents are at roughly the same skill level as you are and they give you the chance to study the sets for a while. You can even agree on a minimum time allocation that gives everyone a few minutes to study and then call out their sets at the end. Figuring out how to break ties when multiple people call the same set will be your biggest blocker if you use this technique. Or, for maximum time pressure, you can play the traditional way and everyone can call out their sets immediately and interrupt the flow of concentration in the other players, similar to a game like Spot It or Blink. Set therefore provides a unique chance to hone deep concentration skills while still rewarding the fast-draw thinking that takes your opponents by surprise.

Complete Insanity, CandyChess, and Time2Play

You would assume that in a game entitled “Set” it would matter quite a bit that you keep the cards together as a complete, well, set. Nope. Instead, our Complete Insanity score for Set is a 5 out of 5, meaning that you can lose a significant portion of the deck without affecting gameplay at all. If you lose too many cards, you’ll have shorter games and you may need to add additional cards to the playing field more often. But as long as you have more than half the cards, you’ll be able to play games of Set quite well.

Our CandyChess Strategy Score, at 4 out of 5, means that Set is quite similar to chess, but with a small component of luck as you randomly deal out the cards. Strategy and skill are very important in Set, but you won’t be able to write lengthy strategy books or plan moves like you would in chess or another strategy game like Go.

…Set is quite similar to chess, but with a small component of luck…

With a Time2Play metric of 20 minutes, Set can be a quick game before dinner or used as a waiting-for-the-bell distraction at the end of a long school day. As a Solitaire game, you can play Set for as long as you’d like, and a whole deck would generally take me an hour by myself. There’s no fixed objective or goal, so you can put in place arbitrary boundaries (e.g., first to get 3 sets wins) and time limits without affecting the game. Set is wonderfully flexible and simple, without being simplistic. Hopefully, you can tell how much I love Set and can easily see why it’s our go-to game for vacations and evenings, especially when we don’t want to drag out a complex board game with pieces, dice, tiles, etc.

What ages of kids will enjoy Set?

Histogram showing the ages that will enjoy SetOur DistribuFun histogram for Set is a close match for Set’s recommendation of “6 years & up.” We like the fact that younger players can begin playing Set alone, eliminating time pressure. The game itself comes with the shaded cards separated out, allowing simplified group play. When your class or family is ready for the full complexity of finding sets along four different properties, just shuffle in the shaded cards.

Alternatives to Set that teach similar skills

ThinkFun’s Swish card game mirrors Set in its flexibility and mental challenge. It adds in a layer of 3D thinking as you must stack the transparent cards to reproduce the target image. If you like Set, you should pick up a copy of Swish. Another option for younger kids with a more visual appeal is Spot It. It’s faster-paced games with pictures instead of geometric shapes, so please read my review of Spot It, which, like Set, earned our Rich Classic award.

Value, durability, and longevity: Is Set a good buy?

Set can be picked up for $10 or less, so it’s a very simple decision–buy it right now if you don’t have it. It’s a fantastic value at this price, and would also make a great gift if you know the recipient loves visual puzzles.

The durability of the simple paper cards is enhanced by the included case, but you’ll eventually wear through them if you play it a lot, like we do. No worries, it will still last years with even a modicum of care. For longevity, there’s no storyline to finish or questions that could repeat–the gameplay is always the same, but since the cards are shuffled, it’s also perpetually fresh.

Conclusion & Overall Score

Fun for kids & adults
Value, durability, longevity
Rich Skills
Complete Insanity


Set earns a well-deserved Rich Classic award and our highest Richly Recommended rating. It's widely fun for a wide variety of ages and should be a staple in every educational game repertoire.

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