You are free to use these rules as you will, even to adapt, modify, or commercially market a physical game based on these ideas, but please tell me when you do. I may wish to adopt your changes myself! Or buy your game!



An Argument Game For Eloquent People

Number of Players

3-13 players, (odd)

Time to Play

The playing time varies with the number of players and the rules the players choose to play by. By the default rules, the following lower bounds apply:
  • 3 players - 36 minutes
  • 5 players - 40 minutes
  • 7 players - 70 minutes
  • 9 players - 54 minutes
  • 11 players - 1 hour 17 minutes
  • 13 players - 1 hour 44 minutes


To play this game you will need two pausable timers and some standard playing cards. Consult the following list to know how many:

  • 3 players - 1 deck
  • 5 players - 3 decks
  • 7 players - 4 decks
  • 9 players - 3 decks
  • 11 players - 3 decks
  • 13 players - 4 decks
Alternatively, one could construct the required cards by writing numbers on a large pile of index cards, which would permit larger (odd) numbers of players.

This game also requires a way to choose topics to debate. Different methods of doing this will require different additional materials. Here are a number of ways to do so:

  • Pull a selection of red cards out of a game of Apples to Apples. Teams will each select a card and argue that the thing on that card is better than the thing on the other.
  • Put a set of Rory's Story Cubes in a bag. Each team randomly selects a die and rolls it, then declares what they are interpreting the revealed symbol to mean. Both teams argue for the thing they named against the thing the other team named.
  • Hand out 5 index cards to all players before the game, and each writes a noun on each card. A number equal to twice the number of rounds in the game of these cards is selected by unanimous choice of the players. General rule of thumb is that everyone should know who or what the cards are referring to, and the nouns should not be very emotionally charged. (It is hard to argue that AIDS is better than sunshine, unless your friends are very strange.)
  • The judge selects a sentence from a random page of a book, then assigns one side to argue for it and one side to argue against. Good sentences would be ones that express a fact or opinion about the world that is neither readily obvious nor easily testable by anyone present. For instance, a book on quantum physics might be good for a crowd of English majors, and a book on the critical approach to music theory might work for a bunch of engineers.
  • The judge selects words at random from a dictionary and assigns them to teams.
  • The judge selects a quote he do not feel strongly about (or understand) and assigns one team to support it and one to refute it. Good example: "The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution." --Igor Stravinsky
  • The judge makes up a fact about a numeric quantity for which he does not know the actual value. E.g. "Mexico produces 22 million tons of maize annually." Then, he assigns one team to argue that the value is actually lower, and the other that it is actually higher. Of course, it is forbidden with this play style for anyone to actually do the research.
If you have any other ideas for how to select things to argue about, please send me a message.

Number of Rounds of Debate In A Game

The 3 player game goes for twelve rounds, so that each player participates in 8 debates. The 5 and 7 player games go around twice so each player judges twice and participates in 8 and 12 debates respectively. The 9,11, and 13 player games go around once, so each player judges once and participates in 8,10, and 12 debates respectively.

Set-Up for the 3 Player Game

Each of the players chooses a suit and removes one card of that suit and places it face up in front of them. Remove the suit that was not selected from the deck. Sort the remaining cards into a cycle. E.g. {clubs,hearts,spades,clubs,hearts,spades,...}. The player whose suit comes third in the cycle will be the first judge. The player whose suit comes second in the cycle will be the first to speak.

Gameplay For the 3 Player Game

The game proceeds in rounds, of which there are twelve.

At the beginning of the round, the judge will draw the top two cards from the pile. The other two players will choose (or be assigned) their topics of debate as described above.

The judge will set the timer for one minute and start it. The player who was most recently the judge will speak first. After at least 30 seconds have passed, the player may stop and cede the rest of their time, or request that the rest of their time be spent after the other debater has spoken.

If either of these conditions occurs or time runs out, the judge resets the timer and allows the second player to speak. The second player may also choose to cede up to 30 seconds of their time or, if the first debater has already taken this option, save it for a rebuttal.

If any rebuttals are to take place, the judge resets the timer to the amount of time the player set aside for this, starts it, and listens to the rebuttals.

After all arguments have been heard, the judge mentally selects a winner of the debate, shuffles the card with that player's suit into the winner pile face down and shuffles the other card face down into the loser pile. The judge may optionally choose to take the cards behind his back before selecting one so that the other players truly don't know who the winner was.

Finally, the debater who spoke second becomes the judge for the next round, with play continuing until the card pile is exhausted.

Set-Up for the n Players Game

From each of the decks of cards, remove all cards with a value greater than n (Aces are 1, Js are 11, Qs are 12, Ks are 13) and set them aside, as they will not be used. From one of the (truncated) decks, remove an entire suit and distribute these cards to each of the players. The players attach the value (A,2,3...) of this card to themselves somehow, perhaps by pinning or taping the card face outwards to their shirt, or writing the value on the back of their hand with a marker. This value will be their assigned value. Separate the remaining cards into piles by suit (each pile containing n cards, one of each value), and distribute these piles evenly among the players. Any leftover piles after everyone has one or two piles in front of them can be removed from the game. Each player then removes the card of their assigned value from their pile(s). Player "Ace" will be the first judge.

Gameplay for the n Players Game

The judge picks up (one of) the pile(s) before him, shuffles it, and removes n/2 cards, turning them face up. The n/2 players assigned these values are on the same team and will speak first. Players can get up now to sit closer to their teammates.

Topics are chosen or assigned, and both teams can spend the next minute discussing their strategy and picking talking points. When the judge says the minute is up, the debate starts.

Here's how the debate works: Each team gets 30 seconds of time for each player on that team, but they can decide how to distribute this time. They choose who will go first, second, etc.

When the judge starts the timer, the first speaker starts talking, talks for a bit, then calls "Done!" whenever they want. The other team's first speaker immediately takes over, arguing their side and rebutting the first debater's argument. When this player calls "Done!", the first team's second speaker begins. A team is finished when their collective time runs out or their last speaker says "Done," as no player may speak more than once.

The judge places the two (equal) piles face down in front of him, and remembers to which side he placed the pile belonging to the winning team. In games where each person judges twice, the judges should put both winning piles together. Note that every player on the winning team will be declared a winner, even if some of them choose not to, or get no chance to speak.

The position of judge passes in ascending order of assigned value.


After all rounds have been completed, all winner piles are combined. (They have already been combined in the 3-player version.) The winner pile is shuffled, and then turned face up. The player whose assigned value (or suit) appears most often is the winner.

Ties are not only possible in this game, but probable. They can be broken by a vote of the non-tied players, possibly preceded by a short debate between the tied players on the subject of "why I should be the winner." But really, what's wrong with a tie?

Variants for an Even Number of Players

The easiest way to deal with an even number of players is to have two players not debating each round.

This could be done by having both be judges who either work together (discussing in private to make a unanimous decision about the winner) or independently (by using twice as many card decks, and giving each their own pile for each round). It could also be that one player is judge and the other the timekeeper. In either case, it is sensible to have the judges be those with adjacent assigned values, so that each player serves as judge twice in a row (or judge once and timekeeper once) before returning to the debates. In the four-player game, one could set this system up by including all four suits in the cycle (C,H,S,D,C,H,S,D...) and drawing three cards for each round. The top card of the three will give the assigned suit of the second judge/timekeeper and the other two will denote the debaters (with third being the first to speak).

It is also possible to choose who will not debate randomly (by having the judge select a card at random from their pile) and giving this person additional abilities. One possible such ability is that this player can, after listening to the debates, cast her lot for the team she expects to win. The judge places her card on the pile belonging to that team. Thus, even the player who is forced by chance to sit out has the possibility of scoring, and the judge has the non-controlling opinion of an indifferent player to help with his judgment.

Other Variants

This section may be expanded as more ideas are generated in test sessions.

Defecting Version: In the n Players version, at any time during a debate before a debater has spoken, that debater may choose to defect to the other team by declaring her intention to do so unless someone else on her team has already defected. This action removes fifteen seconds from the remaining time allowed the team receiving the defector, but the judge must move the defector's card into the other team's pile.

Time Judgment Version: Instead of using a clock, the judge has a bell which he rings to interrupt a particular speaker and move on to the next. The judge can pass to the next speaker for any reason, including noticing the speaker has nothing more to say, boredom, the belief that the speaker has just made a very strong point, or the belief that the speaker is rambling on forever without making any real points. (In an even-playered game, the odd man out can ring the bell instead.)

Win By Voting Version: After the judge has selected a winner, each player is openly polled as to who she believes won the round. The judge separates the cards into those picking team A and those picking team B. The pile corresponding to the team the judge picked is the winner pile.

Broca's Version: Debaters are prohibited from using meaningful sentences, though they may gesture, draw pictures, or say the same word or nonsense syllable over and over again. This version is recommended for improv actors.

Win Without Your Team Version: The judge picks a single person, whom he believes stated his argument most effectively. This player's card is immediately (and secretly) added to the collective winner pile. Alternately, the judge selects one player from each team. Or, the judge selects as many players as he likes from either team, as long as he doesn't select all of them.

Teamless Quick Change Version: Instead of having two teams, each player starts off arguing for the same side of the argument. The judge selects who speaks at any given time, and gives them a minute of time. At any point, during their speech, the judge can shout change! and the debater must start arguing for the other side of the argument (optimally revising her previous sentence so it becomes an attack on the thing it supported). The judge may call for a change as many times as he likes, but not so much as to be annoying. The judge finally selects one or more auto-debaters as winners.

Request for Comments

Only the 3-player version of this game using the story cubes has been play-tested. It was very successful, but ended early because one of the testers really hates to talk. Please try this game out and send me comments, or post a write-up here giving a summary of your session, what you think could be improved, and what worked really well. Furthermore, if, after reading this, you have any ideas that just seem like they could make the game more interesting, please let me know and I will add them to this write-up.

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