List of games with concealed rules

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Games with concealed rules are games where the rules are intentionally concealed from new players, either because their discovery is part of the game itself, or because the game is a hoax and the rules do not exist. In fiction, the counterpart of the first category are games that supposedly do have a rule set, but that rule set is not disclosed.

Actual games[edit]

Discovery games[edit]

  • Eleusis: A card game in which one player secretly decides on a rule which determines which cards may be played on top of each other. The other players then use deductive logic to work out the secret rule.
  • Gestalt Number Theory: A game in which one or more objects are positioned so as to represent various numbers between zero and ten (or possibly eleven). Other players attempt to deduce the number system and correctly state the number indicated by a given object.[citation needed]
  • Inspector: A pseudo-hoax game in which the principal player believes they are playing a game with one set of rules, whereas in fact a separate rule applies. A new player who does not know the rules is elected as 'inspector', and is told they will be presented with a crime scene, and that they must deduce the crime by asking yes/no questions of the other players. The inspector is then asked to leave the room while the other players construct the crime narrative. Once the inspector has left, the other players will agree to the following rules: All questions ending in a consonant are answered 'no', all questions ending in a vowel are answered 'yes', and all questions ending with a y are answered 'maybe'. The inspector will be allowed to ask questions until he deduces the pattern, gives up or breaks character.[citation needed]
  • Mao: A shedding-type card game where the winner of a round adds a concealed rule of their choice to all subsequent rounds.
  • Paranoia: A tabletop role-playing game in which the rules are considered "classified" and demonstrating knowledge of the rules is considered treasonous. Only the Gamemaster has full knowledge of the rules, while other players must deduce them by trial and error as they proceed through the game.
  • Penultima: A chess variant in which the spectators make secret rules governing how the pieces move and capture. The two players are unaware of the rules and must discover them by inductive reasoning.[1]
  • Scissors: A party game in which a pair of scissors is passed between players, with the passer declaring that they are being passed "open" or "closed" based on an individual and secret rule. The other players must use observation to deduce the rule each player uses to make the declaration.[2][3]
  • Whose Triangle Is It?: A party game in which one player points to three people or objects, forming an imaginary triangle, and then asks "Whose triangle is it?" The triangle belongs to whichever player is first to talk after the question, but this rule is not told to new players, and the game is for new players to figure out what the rule is.[4][5]
  • Snaps: Another party game in which one player thinks of a word and the goal is for the other players to guess it. A hint for each letter of the word is given in turn. If the letter is a consonant, then that consonant is the first letter of the first word of a sentence the player recites. If the letter is a vowel, then the vowel is expressed as a series of snaps: 1 for A, 2 for E, 3 for I, 4 for O, 5 for U.[citation needed]

Hoax or joke games[edit]

  • 52 Pickup: A card game in which dealer scatters the cards on the floor and non-dealer must pick them up.
  • Mornington Crescent: Originally a round in the BBC Radio 4 comedy panel game I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue.[6] The game consists of each panelist in turn announcing a landmark or street, most often a tube station on the London Underground system. The apparent aim is to be the first to announce "Mornington Crescent", a station on the Northern Line. Despite appearances, however, there are no rules to the game, and both the naming of stations and the specification of "rules" are based on stream-of-consciousness association and improvisation. Thus the game is intentionally incomprehensible.

Games in works of fiction[edit]

Games with undisclosed rules[edit]

  • Calvinball: In the comic series Calvin & Hobbes Calvinball is a game regularly played by the main characters. The only consistent rule of Calvinball is that "Calvinball may never be played with the same rules twice".
  • Cripple Mr Onion: This game is referred to in various books in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. It is a card game whose rules are never directly specified, but are very complex.
  • Double Fanucci: Featured in the computer game Zork Zero, Double Fanucci has mind-bogglingly complex "rules". Legal play can depend on things like the phase of the Moon and the ancestry of the players.
  • Dragon Poker: A fictional card game by Robert Asprin in the MythAdventures series. The rules change depending on weather, seating position, time of day, and other undisclosed modifiers. However, a playable version has been created by fans, based on the rules and play that are presented in the books.
  • The Glass Bead Game, from the novel of the same name by Hermann Hesse.[citation needed]
  • Guyball: On the British sitcom Green Wing, the game according to Guy consists simply of "putting the ball into the basket". The basket in question is part of the toppmeiler, a special helmet worn by one or more of the players.
  • Seahorse: In the novel Seahorse: A Novel by Graham Petrie a complicated game is played by island natives using cards depicting grotesque themes and colored stones, whose rules are never disclosed.
  • Skiddley Whiffers: a board game in Phineas and Ferb[citation needed]
  • Xing Haishi Bu Xing: In the episode "Atlantic City" of How I Met Your Mother, Barney plays a game entirely in Chinese. The game is highly confusing and involves a deck of cards, Mahjong tiles, switching places, dice, a roulette wheel and a jelly bean. Marshall, however, figures out how to play the game, giving Barney clues as to how to play. Barney wins by going all in, spinning the roulette wheel, and choosing the girl who is holding the Jelly Bean. He shows this victory by declaring "Ying le".[citation needed]
  • Several invented games feature in Star Trek episodes. For instance, throughout The Next Generation, repeated references are made to Parrises Squares, a game that is never explained but is apparently quite dangerous.
  • In Fallout 2 the player is able to play a game called 'Tragic: The Garnering' (a pun on Magic: The Gathering[citation needed]) that uses ridiculous rules that alter gameplay depending on factors such as the day and position to dealer. The rules of the game are in fact a reference to the Fizzbin game invented in Star Trek.[citation needed]
  • In Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist, the Leary children invented a card game called Vaccination—which as adults they still play—The game is so incomprehensible that nobody else can play it, and which it is possible they are still making up as they go along: "In fact, more than one outsider had accused them of altering the rules to suit the circumstances."[citation needed]
  • "Stars and Comets", a game that is briefly mentioned in many of Andre Norton's science fiction stories.[citation needed]
  • Blernsball in Futurama is kept intentionally confusing and overly-complicated. The game is described as a "jazzed up" version of baseball, with a tethered ball, the potential for multiball, and other strange addenda.
  • A chess variant with strange pieces (such as "Ape" and "Parapet") and exotic rules is featured in Haruki Murakami's novel, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.[citation needed]
  • MAD Magazine published an article outlining 43-Man Squamish, a college sport designed to be unplayable. The sport features a pentagonal field, silly-sounding terms and a dummy on each team.
  • In season 3 of the Upright Citizen's Brigade's television series, numerous references are made to a sport similar to baseball called "Thunderball", which includes three balls and a "Gun Circle" in which a loaded handgun, which players are not allowed to touch, is placed ten yards behind second base.[citation needed]
  • In the book Consider Phlebas by Iain M Banks, one of the main characters plays a card game called Damage, which is played with living "tokens" and only in places where the social order is breaking down.
  • In the book, The Player Of Games by Iain M Banks the entire government of the Azadian Empire is determined by one's ability to play Azad, described as the most complex game in existence.[citation needed]
  • In the TV series The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon Cooper created a complex variant of chess that included a board for three players, and new pieces with abilities such as flight and teleportation.[citation needed]
  • In the TV series New Girl, the residents of the loft play a drinking game called 'True American' with convoluted and cryptic gameplay involving yelling the initials of presidents, and rules named after little-known Tariff Acts.
  • In the "Friends" episode "The One with the Baby Shower", Joey auditions to host a TV game show called "Bamboozled". The tagline description of the game is "You spin the Wheel of Mayhem to go up the Ladder of Chance. You go past the Mud Hut, through the Rainbow Ring to get to the Golden Monkey, you yank his tail and boom - you're in Paradise Pond!"

Hoax games[edit]

  • Clique: The online satirical gaming magazine Critical Miss featured rules for a card game called Clique, a parody of collectible card games that used printed cards and spurious spoken rules to confuse onlookers.[7]
  • I Win!: In Big Daddy, Nazo (Rob Schneider) attempts to play cards with Julian (Cole and Dylan Sprouse). Whatever card combination Julian has, he declares, "I win!" A frustrated Nazo asks Julian what the name of the card game they're playing is. Says Julian, "I win!"[citation needed]
  • Jiggly Ball: In the Scrubs episode "My Jiggly Ball" the main character J.D. is lured into playing the apparently popular game Jiggly Ball. The "Game" consists of him standing in a circle while his colleagues throw balls at him.[citation needed]
  • Kleebob: In the very first episode of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (1950) George tries to trick Gracie with a made-up card game called "Kleebob".[citation needed]
  • Pai Tai: In The Bob Newhart Show, a group is playing poker, and Howard never wins a hand. When it becomes his turn to deal and call the game, Howard announced they are going to play Pai Tai—Chinese poker. He deals each player a different number of cards, and explains that no kings are allowed in Pai Tai, and if any player has kings, they must be thrown away. If this leaves a player with no cards, they cannot fold and must sit in place until they lose. There are no raises and no bluffing, everyone bets, then reveals their cards, and whatever cards Howard was holding turned out to be a "Pai Tai" and won. Jerry then deals and announces a game of "Klotski", or Polish poker, for which every player needs a banana.[citation needed]
  • In the Young Ones, Rik, Mike and Vyvyan play a card game where Rik consistently loses as "people with an R in their name are only allowed one card".[citation needed]
  • In an episode of the second series of Bottom, Richie asks Eddie to suggest a card-game, and Eddie suggests "One-Card Slam"; he immediately slams one card down on the table, and says "Ooh! 12 quid!". Demonstrating extraordinary gullibility, Richie pays up, promising that one day he'll discover the rules.[citation needed]
  • In the sixth episode of the sixth season of Friends, Chandler makes up an impromptu card game that he names "cups", and plays it against Joey with the sole intention of making him accept money to pay the rent without hurting his pride. Each player draws two cards, and Chandler invariably explains Joey's cards beat his.[citation needed]
  • Fizzbin: In the Star Trek episode "A Piece of the Action", James T. Kirk created this game while he and Cmdr. Spock were being held prisoner. They "taught" the game to the guards, improvising the rules until their captors were sufficiently distracted, then overpowered them and escaped.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fryers, Michael (1998). "Penultima". Variant Chess 3 (28): 164–166. 
  2. ^ "Two Jolly Games, A Noisy Play Imported From Peru and 'The Spider And The Fly'". Los Angeles Times. October 15, 1899. Retrieved March 24, 2009. 
  3. ^ Hofmann, Mary Christina (1905). Games for Everybody. New York: Dodge Publishing. 
  4. ^ "Mind Games". Yarps. 
  5. ^ Outbound Training. "Team Building Games & Activities". Slide Share. 
  6. ^ "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue: A History". BBC. Retrieved July 31, 2007. 
  7. ^ "Clique: The Uncollectable, Unplayable Card Game". Retrieved September 5, 2007. 

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