Mao is named after Mao Tse Tung, the one-time Communist dictator of China. It's a card game with a simple premise: The players (except the dealer) are not allowed to know the rules of the game before they play, and the players are punished for not knowing the rules.
Kind of like life in China, really.
The dealer can't win the game. The dealer is the only person who knows the rules when play begins, and players must learn the rules by being punished when they break those rules. If you're a good player, you strive to learn from other people's mistakes.
It's a great party game. There are thousands of varieties, with new ones cropping up all the time, so that players who've played before can still enjoy (if enjoy is the right word) Mao. Varieties exist which are drinking games, stripping games, sex games, or all three, though the basic version of Mao involves none of these things.
Just in case you want to inflict this game on those you know and love, here's the variant we played:
Mao is a card game; typically, you should have at least one decks of cards, plus one additional deck for every four players. There are two kinds of rules: the general game rules and card-specific rules.
General Game Rules
For the purposes of these rules, the dealer is considered a "player." The dealer can not win the game.
The object of the game is to be the first player with no cards left.
Jokers are removed from the deck. The dealer then begins by dealing the cards counterclockwise around the table until each player has 5 cards. He then turns the card atop the remaining deck face-up. Play begins with the player to the dealer's left.
The player must place a card from his or her hand atop the face-up card. The card placed from the player's hand must be either the same rank (for example, a 7 on a 7) or the same suit (for example, any club on a club). If the player has no cards of the same rank or the same suit, the player must draw cards from the deck, adding them to his or her hand, until he or she draws a card of the same rant or the same suit.
Now here's what makes it interesting:
- Players may not break any of the general rules below or any of the card-specific rules. A player who makes a rule is punished by being given a card from the top of the deck, which is added to his or her hand, and having the rule named.
-Anyone who observes a player breaking a rule may punish that player, but a player can't be punished twice in the same turn for breaking a rule (eg, if I punish you for breaking a rule, another player can't punish you at the same time for breaking the same rule--but may punish you if you break that rule again!)
-There is a one-turn statute of limitations on being punished. If you break a rule, nobody notices, then the next player takes his turn, you can't be punished.
- Players may not ask any questions of any kind, even hypothetical questions, of anyone--the dealer, another player, even a bystander. A player who asks a question is punished by receiving a card.
- Players may not answer any questions. Any player who answers any question, even if the question has nothing to do with the game, is punished. Even if the question is asked by a non-player!
- Spectating is not allowed. If a spectator watches the game, he is punished by being given a card. (This means that people walking by a Mao game tend to get roped in to playing.)
- Players may not quote Monty Python, on pain of being punished. You'd be amazed how often this rule is broken by people who play Mao. :)
- A player with only one card left must announce "One card!" Failure to do so means punishment. (Someone trying to watch a Mao game is often given a card for spectating, then given a card for failure to call "One card!", then given a card for asking a question when he says "What the hell?"...you see how it goes.)
- Players must not say the word "Mao" during a Mao game.
- Players may not "miscard"--attempt to punish someone for breaking a rule if that person did not actually break a rule. A player who miscards someone gets both the card he tried to give the other player and another card from the top of the deck.
-Players will be punished for taking too long to make a play (more than about 30 seconds is call for punishment) or for playing out of turn (and since some cards reverse the order of play, players should not make assumptions about who goes next!).
- Players may not explain any rules to any other players (or to anyone else)
- Points of Order: At any time, a player can say "Point of Order." Play immediately stops, and all players must lay down their cards. During a Point of Order, questions may be asked and answered, and rules may be explained, with no penalty. However, players may not say "Point of Order" (except to end a point of order) or touch their cards; any player doing either will be punished. The Point of Order ends when the player who called it says "End Point of Order."
The Card Specific Rules
Certain cards have certain actions associated with them, or cause the order of play to change. Thes card-specific rules tend to change dramatically from one game of Mao to the next. Here's the rules I used:
- Whenever a player plays any Spade, anyone involved in the game may call out a different suit. Form that point on, the play proceeds as though the card was that suit. Only the first person to call out a suit counts. For example, if you play a three of spades and I say "Hearts!" play continues as if the top card on the discard pile were a three of hearts--the next player must play either a three or a heart.
- Whenever a player plays an ace, he or she must call out "Praise Bob!"
- Whenever a player plays a two, the next player's turn is skipped.
- Whenever a player plays a three, he or she must say "Give me Slack or kill me!"
- Whenever a player plays a seven, the next player must ALSO play a seven, or draw two cards from the deck and add them to his or her hand if he or she does not have a seven.
- Whenever a player plays a six, he or she must turn to the last player who played and call that player a bitch.
- Whenever a player plays an eight, the order of play is reversed.
- Whenever a player plays a Jack, he or she must name one thing that cows eat.
- Whenever a player plays a Queen, he or she must name one thing that cows ignore.
- Whenever a player plays a King, he or she must name one thing that cows run away from.
As you can tell, the card-specific rules offer a tremendous opportunity to turn Mao into a completely chaotic game. Versions exist in which playing certain cards is cause for disrobing (or for other players disrobing), versions exist in which cards have different actions depending on the time of day, and so on.
It's a great game. Trust me!