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Mao (game)

Mao (also sometimes called Dictator) is a card game of the Shedding family (also called the Stops family) in which the objective is to get rid of all of the cards in your hand. Generally speaking, this is the only thing about the game which a new player should know. Mao's distinguishing feature is that players must discover the rules of the game as it progresses, by observing the behavior of other players that have played before and who have therefore deduced most of the rules already, or by playing the game themselves. A player that breaks a rule is penalized by being given an additional card from the deck. The person administering the penalty must declare what the culprit incorrectly did or failed to do, but not why the player was supposed to behave in this way. Also, as you might suspect with a game of this nature, there are many variants of Mao in exsistance. Rules will vary from variant to variant.

Some Rules of Mao (Wikipedia contains spoilers)

Ideally, you will learn the game from another the way it was meant to be learned. Only read on if you are interested in creating your own Mao variant.

Mao is very similar to the card game UNO. Each player is dealt an initial hand with an equal number of cards; the exact number of cards dealt varies, but is generally either five or seven. The size of the deck also varies; it is good to have approximately one 52-card deck for every two or three players, but missing or extra cards are not terribly important to gameplay. (Two Decks combined is common; matching card backs aren't important, either.) Once the cards are dealt, the remaining cards are placed face down in a stack in the middle of the table, and the top card from the stack is turned over and placed next to it. In some variants, play commences with the player to the left of the dealer and proceeds clockwise; in others, the dealer chooses who begins and which direction it proceeds.

A player may play any card in his hand which matches either the value or the suit of the card currently lying face-up on the table. The card played must be placed overtop of this card, and the next player will have to play a card that matches the new one. If the player has no cards he can play, he must instead draw a new card from the top of the stack lying face-down and, in most variants, say something such as "Pass" or "Penalty Card". Usually, his turn is lost and he cannot play after he draws a card.

There are several special effects caused by specific cards being played. An ace often causes the next player to miss his turn. A two or an eight often cause the direction of play to reverse (e.g., if it was proceeding clockwise, it now goes counterclockwise). If it is a seven, the player who played the card must announce "have a nice day" and, in some variants, the next player must draw an additonal card (or 2 additional cards) before playing his turn. If the next player also plays a seven, he must announce "have a -very- nice day" and the player after him would draw two (or four) cards before playing; this progression continues with one additonal "very" until a non-seven card is played. If a spade is played, the player must verbally announce the name of the card (eg, "six of spades"). Sometimes other suits are announced as well, depending on the variant. Finally, if a jack is played, anyone can call out the name of a suit and that jack is treated as if it was of that suit.

During the game, no speech is allowed other than that required by the rules in many variants. The exception is that any player may at any time announce "point of order," at which point all players must put down their cards while discussion takes place. This time can be used to go to the bathroom, discuss a ruling, or to ask who's turn it really is. The point of order ends when the player that called point of order announces "end point of order," at which point the cards are picked back up and play resumes. There is a time limit of five seconds for each turn; if exceeded, the player gets a penalty card and either loses their turn or gets another penalty every five seconds thereafter. A player with only one card left must call out "last card," and a player with no cards left must call out "Mao" to win. Most times a penalty is called, one card is given to the offender. If the call was wrong, the caller of a penalty can be given the card back with a reason of "bad call".

There are often many additional details and rules involved in a particular game of Mao, as the game lends itself quite readily to mutation. When playing multiple rounds of Mao, it is customary for a player (often the winner of the previous round, sometimes the next person to deal) to add one new rule to the game; after many rounds, many new rules will accumulate. Naturally, only the person who created the rule will initially know what it is. Some Mao players insist that 2 players know the new rule, so it can be consistently enforced. In that case, the winner tells the player with most (fewest?) cards about the new rule, or the dealer.

Keep in mind that these rules apply to only some variants; The game of Mao has mutated into a wide variety of possibilities, and each version will be unique in some ways and similar in others.

The rule-changing nature of Mao makes it a relative of Nomic, especially Imperial Nomic[?].

History of Mao

Mao is possibly descended from the German game Mau-Mau, which has similar principles. Alternately, the name may be a reference to Mao Zedong; this theory proposes that the game of Mao is a parody of Communist China, where nobody knows the laws until they break them and are penalized. Mao began gaining popularity in colleges around 1975, though it was probably first invented some time before then. The Mao Page (http://www.pagat.com/eights/mao ) at John Macleod's card games site also points out an interesting link to a passage from an Arthur Machen short story written in 1899.

Another story (probably false) is that Chairman Mao played this game with his prisoners, but instead of penalty cards, they lost a finger when violating the rules.

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