July 31, 2008
This game was originally called Mexican Poker, but to avoid confusion with other games with the same name I have renamed it to Knockout Poker. Like Indian Poker, it has very little to do with Poker! It was designed for one simple purpose: to be played while queuing up for rides at a theme park, and originally played more than a decade ago at Alton Towers, the UK's biggest theme park. It has the benefit of not requiring any materials other than the deck of cards and players (most card games require at least a table) and is a great time waster for when you are waiting in line with a lot of friends. It's a game of simple negotiation, with excitement, relief and schadenfreude being the primary emotions of play.
How to Play
The basis of Knockout Poker is to survive each round of play by having the group agree to a value that is between the two cards you have been dealt. It requires at least 5 players, and is better the more players you have. The maximum number of players is 26, but 7-9 is optimal.
Here's a step-by-step description of the order of play:
- Deal two cards to each player. Your goal in each round is to steer the group towards agreeing a number between the values of your two cards, or equal to one of their values, e.g. if you are dealt a 4 and a 10 the round number must be 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10 for you to survive. A is high, and 2 is low, so if you are dealt an A-2 you can't lose, while if you are dealt 7-7 you will only survive the round if the agreed number is 7.
- Players then negotiate verbally to agree the number for the current round. Negotiations end when half of the players (round up) agree to the same number, so with 7 players you need 4 for consensus, and with 6 players you need 3. See below for tips on negotiating.
- Once the number is agreed by the required number of players, those players reveal their cards immediately to confirm a consensus has been reached, and to end the round. Everyone then reveals their cards. Anyone whose card range include the number chosen survives the round - everyone else loses a life. (You can use a three letter word for lives, so the first time you use a life you gain a "d", say, then an "o" then a "g" at which point you are knocked out).
- Repeat from step 1, bearing in mind that when you lose a player the number of players required for a consensus will change.
- The game ends when there are only two remaining players - both these players win.
Tips on Negotiating
How do you negotiate for the number? Well there are no rules about this other than the negotiations ending when half the player agree and then reveal their cards. Here are some useful tips.
- It's good to start vague, so you can begin by saying things like "something high, I think" or "perhaps we should go low". This encourages other people to make vague statements which will clue you in to the general state of play.
- You obviously want to form a consensus that will allow you to survive, so you need to pay attention to where everyone else is aiming and see where the power block is. Sometimes you will see the momentum is against you and there will be little you can do, but often you can influence the negotiations slightly.
- You may find yourself in a situation where survival is impossible. In this situation you can either try and cause the players with the most remaining lives to lose, or you can try and cause as many players as possible to lose lives. If you can find other players who are in your predicament, you may be able to form a "spite consensus". Aiming for A or 2 is usually the best bet in this case, as few people will have the highest or lowest card in their hand.
- Bluffing is an important part of the game. Once you have noticed that people are negotiating against you (especially when you are well in the lead in terms of lives) you can trick them by trying to negotiate for a number you don't actually want - e.g. suggesting a high number when you really want a low number. Carefully played, you can bluff your way through to surviving a round.
- While it is dirty play to actively bribe players, or to threaten them, you will catch more flies with sugar: be nice to the other players and they will be more likely to co-operate with you.
This game is so simple to learn, and easy to remember, that you can teach it to anyone. Bring a deck of cards the next time you're going somewhere with a large group of friends and expecting to be in a long line and give it a go. Have fun!
Sounds like fun! If I knew 7 to 9 people and was planning on going anywhere with them, I would try it ..... Hehe. Maybe at the next family christmas get together
Posted by: dj i/o | July 31, 2008 at 05:19 PM
I played this for the first time with 4 players before we started playing 'ping'.
It played a lot better with 4 than I expected it to, the lives and people's inclinations helping ensure everyone 'went out' at around the same time.
An exceedingly pure political game. Thanks for sharing.
Posted by: Behrooz 'Bezman' Shahriari | January 26, 2009 at 05:00 PM
P.S. Upon more careful recollection, I've realised we actually had 5 players in total. I think this is the minimum for the political angle to work, since once it reaches 4 players, it was almost like a game of snap - the first pair of players to agree on a number and place their cards on the table being the winner.
Posted by: Behrooz 'Bezman' Shahriari | January 26, 2009 at 05:04 PM
Bezman: thanks for letting me know you tried this! And yes, it really requires at least 5 players, as 4 players can split into camps. I'll update the text to reflect this.
Posted by: Chris | January 28, 2009 at 07:29 AM