Games in which the player, at first, doesn't know how to play the game?
August 25, 2014 7:24 AM   Subscribe

In some video games, the player's first task is to figure out what they should be doing. So the first part of the game is learning how to play the game. Are there any non-video, non-digital games like this?

The only one I can think of is Nomic, but that's more like making the rules of the game as you go along. (More suggestions for games like that would be welcome too!) Any ideas?
posted by Ollie to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Fluxx pops immediately into my head. However, there ARE rules when you start a game of Fluxx, so you don't have to figure out what you are doing, per se. The rules just change throughout the game.
posted by tckma at 7:34 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

There's the card game Mao:
The game forbids its players from explaining the rules, and new players are often told only "the only rule you may be told is this one". The ultimate goal of the game is to be the first player to get rid of all the cards in their hand. Specifics are discovered through trial and error. A player who breaks a rule is penalized by being given an additional card from the deck. The person giving the penalty must state what the incorrect action was, without explaining the rule that was broken.
posted by bcwinters at 7:36 AM on August 25, 2014 [12 favorites]

Iain M. Banks' Walking on Glass consists of three interleaved stories, one of which recounts two characters who are forced to play complex games without any knowledge of the rules. They play until they discover, by chance, how to play and one of them beats the other. None of them are games you can play yourself, but it's an interesting spectacle to witness in the context of your question. And it's a diverting book.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:02 AM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Not so much a game as a puzzle, but Petals Around the Rose comes to mind.
posted by bondcliff at 8:13 AM on August 25, 2014

The Mage Knight Board Game has an interesting rulebook that tells you how to set up the game (which is itself a task), explains some core concepts, and then instructs you to start playing. The rest of the book is read on-the-fly as particular things are revealed on the map. As you encounter things, the game gradually adds in all of the mechanics so you aren't overwhelmed with systems at the start.

It has a second rulebook that is an extremely detailed breakdown of every rule, and isn't designed to be read straight through. It's only there to resolve complicated rules questions.

Other games include sample games, but this is the only one I can think of that uses a sample game as the primary method of teaching the rules, not as a supplement to the rulebook.
posted by a dangerous ruin at 9:08 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

The game "Green Glass Doors" only has one rule, so I'm not sure if it counts, but just thought Id throw it out there.
posted by Yowser at 9:39 AM on August 25, 2014

The game sometimes known as "I Pass The Scissors" comes to mind.

Also LIFE.
posted by mskyle at 10:14 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

You just lost The Game.
posted by bondcliff at 10:41 AM on August 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Snipe hunting?
posted by missriss89 at 12:55 PM on August 25, 2014

Mornington Crescent.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 4:03 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Magic Show Book isn't a game, per se, but it is a book that performs magic tricks as you turn the pages. On the last page are two answer books: one that tells you how everything was done, and one that gives you specific instructions on how to reset the book without spoiling the secrets.

It's pretty cool.
posted by tacodave at 4:29 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

but that's more like making the rules of the game as you go along. (More suggestions for games like that would be welcome too!)

I think it only clears this lower bar in your question, but I believe the tabletop RPG Universalis has rules for modifying the rules as an action within the initial rules.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:07 PM on August 25, 2014

Tragedy Looper may fit that criterion:
This game pits an evil Mastermind character, hellbent on causing tragedies to occur, against one to three Protagonists, who have a strange time travel device that they use for good, looping back in time over and over again to prevent tragedies from happening. At the start of the game, the Protagonists know nothing about what will happen for the next two hours. They just know they don't want to lose. They don't know how they can win. They don't know how they can lose. They have to figure it all out. If they lose, they will get at least one more chance (depending on the scenario) to travel back in time and try again.
posted by Paragon at 5:11 PM on August 25, 2014

posted by goo at 8:10 PM on August 25, 2014

Back in college there were a few drinking games of this form. One I remember was called "One up, one down". Play would circle the room, with each player saying one of four phrases: "one up" "one down" "two up" or "two down". If they said the correct phrase, play passed to the next player, if they got it wrong they would have to take a drink first. People who knew the secret rule would judge.

Some would figure it out pretty quickly, but others would take a while until those in the know would take pity on them and start exaggerating their actions. Spoiler: the phrase needs to match the location of the speaker's hands at the time of speaking to be correct. Many people who did not get it were looking for a up/down/one/two pattern instead.
posted by fings at 9:36 PM on August 25, 2014

Black Magic, an old camp game.
posted by Poppa Bear at 6:46 AM on August 26, 2014

And here is a (surely incomplete) list of games with concealed rules on Wikipedia which will have a few more examples for you.
posted by Poppa Bear at 6:50 AM on August 26, 2014

"The Finger Pointing Game" - we spent an entire class period in senior AP English class playing this.
posted by SisterHavana at 1:03 PM on August 26, 2014

Bang! Who's dead?
One-rule game, similar in spirit to one up, one down and green glass door, in that the goal is to figure out how to play.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 10:55 AM on August 27, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! These are all really great and I'm going to try to play all of them.
posted by Ollie at 5:58 PM on August 27, 2014

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