How SET Works

How to Play the Card Game SET

A 12-card SET game puzzle containing six SETs.
The cards in the rightmost column are not a SET because two are single-symbol cards and one is not; the cards in the leftmost column are a SET because each variable is different. Can you find the other five SETs in this puzzle?
Cards and game © 1988, 1991 Cannei, LLC. All rights reserved. SET® and all associated logos and taglines are registered trademarks of Cannei, LLC. Used with permission from Set Enterprises, Inc. Photo by Casey Pegram/

To improve at SET®, a player needs to practice concentration, pattern recognition and quick-thinking skills -- three things the game bolsters every time it is played. Practicing SET builds connections between the right and left sides of your brain as both hemispheres partner up to evaluate, sort and match the images on the cards [source: Felt]. You don't even need a partner to train because SET can be played solo.

However, multiple people also can play SET simultaneously, racing to make the most SETs in the least amount of time. Some mathematics club meetings are organized around the game, and teachers use it in the classroom from elementary through high school to encourage students to whet their thinking skills -- and gain hands-on understanding of mathematical theory. Using the cards, students can work through set theory and its operations, such as union, intersection, complement and symmetric difference [source: Macula].


To play SET, deal a 12-card spread. If the spread does not contain any SETs, three additional cards may be dealt (it can take up to 21 cards to find a SET). All players try to find SETs -- when a player finds one, she points it out, the SET is removed and three new cards are added from the deck. If a SET cannot be made, three more cards are added. Play continues until the deck of 81 cards is depleted and all possible SETs are made. (There may be six or nine cards left over that do not form a SET.) To determine a winner among multiple players, one point is awarded per SET found (and one may be subtracted for each invalid SET pointed out); the player with the most points at the end of the game wins [source: SET Game].

Whichever way you decide to play SET, one thing's for certain: You'll get a mental workout -- whether you realize it or not.

Related Articles


  • Davis, Benjamin Lent. "The Card Game Set." University of Warwick.
  • Felt, Susan. "Simple Card Game Challenges All Ages." May 21, 2005. (July 24, 2011)
  • Macula, Anthony. "Set Theory Using the Game SET." (July 24, 2011)
  • Mathematical Association of America. "Ivars Peterson's MathTrek: SET Math." Aug. 25, 2003. (July 24, 2011)
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  • Zabrocki, Mike. "The Joy of Set." York University. (July 24, 2011)