The game of Mao

Mao is a cardgame, best played with 3 to 6 players (but there are no real limitations). Each player gets dealt a number of cards, one card is turned face-up to start the pile, and the rest of the cards form the pack. On your turn, you either play a card on the pile, or draw one card from the pack. The first player to lose all his/her cards wins.

That doesn't sound very interesting, does it? However, there is a catch. A BIG catch. Every player also thinks of a personal rule, which all players should follow. The problem is: you don't tell the other players what your rule is, only when they break it.

Rules of Mao

For this game you need about half a deck for every player in the game. Two 52-card decks suffice for 3 or 4 players, for a game with 5 or 6 players you need 3 decks.

Start of the Game

Dealer deals five (or some other agreed amount) cards to each player, and each player will think of a personal rule. When they have decided what their rule is, they write it down on a piece of paper, and only now do they pick up their cards. When everyone has come up with a personal rule, the dealer turns over the top card of the deck to start the pile, and the player left to the dealer starts the game.

Point of Order

During the game (e.g. after dealer turned over the first card) one is not allowed to talk. When you want to say something, for example to clarify something, you have to say "Point of Order", and then what you want to say. Other players can respond to this until the talking is over, which will be announced when someone says "End Point of Order". You are not allowed to look at your cards during Point of Order.

The Play

On your turn you either play a card face up on the pile, or you draw one card from the deck. Normally the order of play is clockwise. You can say "Pass" at any time to announce it is not your turn.
Anything of the above can be changed by a personal rule. When someone breaks a standard or personal rule, there is a penalty. There is no penalty when the violation is not announced.

Personal Rules

As said above, every player has a personal secret rule. This can be anything, as long as it is a simple rule, which means no "and" or "or". Examples of good rules:
  • Skip a turn on the play of an eight.
  • Name a town starting with the letter "n" on the play of a heart.

    The general form is "cause -> effect". In the first example the play of an eight by the previous player was the cause, and the effect is that you have to skip a turn. Several classes of rules can be used:

    (*) If there are two or more of these rules, they might interfere and a neutral arbitrator should be present. If there is no way to find out whose turn it is, both rules are discarded.

    (**) If one or more of these rules cause the game to block, these rules will be discarded. A good guideline is to have more cards allowed at any time than the number of triggercards.
    Example: a rule saying you have to switch colour (red - black - red - black - etc.) will eventually block, but if you restrict this to apply only to the spot cards, there is no problem.

    Announcing Violations and Penalties

    When you notice that someone breaks a rule, you can announce a violation. Below is a list of all the possible announcements, what they mean and what the penalty is (draw two cards, one card for talking).

    In general, your turn ends immediately after you violated a rule, so if you play more cards after another and someone calls a violation that applies before your play of the second, the second card has to be taken back.

    Drawing penalty cards is not cumulative, except for talking.

    Personal rules can never be personal, meaning that you cannot make rules about the players themselves, only about the cards or the way they should be played, arranged, etc.


    Because this is just for fun, don't make unfair rules. Note that rules like "One can play as many cards as desired" won't work (you are bound to break someone else's rule somewhere).
    When your rule required some special action, demonstrate it a couple of times, to give others a fair chance to get an idea.

    End of the game

    The game ends when someone is out of cards. The player without cards has won. The game also ends when the deck is out of cards (e.g. when all cards but one are in the player's hands). Then the player with the fewest number of cards wins.

    Final comments

    If you think of any good rules, or have any comments or questions, please let me know! I have played this game many times, and every time we get new kinds of rules. Some examples of fun rules:
  • You have to play red cards with your left hand (for this game we had no left-handed players).
  • When playing a card one rank higher than the previous one, donate one card to an opponent of your choice. This did not work out because when the others got the point they all gave ME cards. But it was fun while it lasted :)
  • When you play a deuce, you will split your hand into two piles, from now on you will be two players (of course you've only won if you got rid of BOTH piles! Another effect is that if one of your players plays a deuce, you will have ANOTHER player!)

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