The Schelling Game (or Coordination Game) is a simple but fun party game that seems to have been independently invented several times. (One might even say it represents a Schelling point in game-space...) I have played it both with LessWrong meetups and with other groups; good times were had by all. This article describes the rules of the game as I've seen it.
The purpose of the game is to discern Schelling points among the group. You should have at least 4 players; there may be an upper limit at which the game becomes unwieldy, but I've never seen it get that large. (The most I've seen was about 15 players, and that seemed to work fine.) No materials are required, although paper-and-pencil are helpful.
On each turn, play proceeds as follows:
A round is completed when every player has given one prompt. The number of rounds should be set in advance, usually such that there are 10–20 prompts in total. (The game tends to get boring if it goes on much longer.) At the end, whoever has the most points wins.
If all players give the same answer for a prompt, then under the basic rules everyone would get the same number of points, so the turn is effectively a wash. To discourage this, and encourage more interesting prompts, you can say: If everyone gives the same answer, then everyone gets 0 points, except for the prompter, who loses 1 point.
If, at the end of the pre-set number of rounds, multiple players are tied for first place, you can enter a "sudden-death round" to determine the winner. Take turns giving prompts in the same order as before, but skip any player involved in the tie. All players should answer the prompt, but only the first-place contenders are eligible to earn points. The game ends as soon as the tie is broken, regardless of whether the turn order has completed.
Under the most strict rules, all players must be silent after the prompt is given and before the answers are revealed (since anything said aloud might create a new Schelling point). You may find that this makes the game less fun, so you can relax this restriction; but in any case, players should not blurt out answers while others are still thinking. If this happens, you can declare that answer to be excluded.
It's the prompter's job to determine when everyone has come up with an answer, and to tell everyone when to reveal them.
It may be tempting to say "Just mentally commit to an answer; we trust you not to change it after hearing other answers." I would strongly discourage this: even if everyone's being honest, it's easy to subconsciously rewrite one's own memory of what one's answer is. Rather, there should be some tangible evidence of the precommitment. You can write it down on paper; or, if paper is lacking, the prompter can count down and have everyone say their answer at once, and then go around the circle to repeat the answers one at a time. Even if the simultaneous shouting is indiscernable, the act of physically speaking the answer will prevent any subconscious memory-rewriting.
The game is also suitable for playing in online chats. You can set up an editable-by-all Google spreadsheet like this:
On each turn, each player should enter their answer in the corresponding cell, without pressing Enter. This will make the cell turn gray for everyone else, indicating that some text has been written into the cell but not yet revealed. When it looks like everyone has written something, the prompter should confirm that everyone has settled on their final answer, and then count down "3, 2, 1, go!" whereupon everyone presses Enter to reveal their answer.
Determining whether two answers are "the same" may be subjective, but you can usually resolve this by consensus (unless, I suppose, you're playing for a cash prize, but I've never done this myself). You don't really have to read this section before playing, but you can refer to these heuristics if questions arise:
I've also played a cooperative version of this for two people, which we called Contact. It's entertaining for long road trips.
In theory, you could extend this to more than two people, but my guess is that it would become significantly more difficult in a larger group to get everyone to match.
Heh, I also know a road trip game called contact which, though similar in style, is quite different.
I also know a word game called Contact, different from both of those (but very similar to Yoav's) and not very suitable for road trips.
There's too much state to keep track of easily on a road trip. It works better in online chat.
There's some scope for varying how exactly words need to match when another attacker declares contact (and the defender passes), or when the defender says "my word is not X"; the main thing is to be consistent between these.
I've played a variant like this before, except that only one clue would be active at once - if the clue is neither defeated nor contacted within some amount of time, then we'd move on to another clue, but the first clue can be re-asked later. The amount of state seemed manageable for roadtrips/hikes/etc.
In the version I've played, any word that fits a clue is sufficient to rebut it (even if it's not the attacker's intended word). The attackers can then make a more specific clue for the intended word.
What counts as "fitting" the clue? ("My" version permits clues to be literally anything and in actual play they may be very obscure or indirect; in particular, they are very often not straightforward definitions.)
In my version, clues are normal sentences/definitions. In edge cases it's up to the group to decide whether a word fits the clue.
Fair enough. In "my" version, a contacting attacker, or a defending defender, has to figure out the specific word the clue-making attacker has in mind (or "essentially" the same word; e.g., if what's known is that the defender's word begins GA and a clue is "Eppur si muove", clearly GALILEO and GALILEI and GALILEO GALILEI are all equally good answers).
Again, I think the game works about equally well with any convention for how close you have to be, so long as you apply the same convention to attackers and defender.
The Schelling Game seems spiritually very similar to a game I helped implement, Listorama: https://oneword.games/listoramaIn Listorama's Threefold mode, everyone lists out 3 entries for a particular category (e.g. "Movies"), and earn points based on how many others put down the same word. If you enjoy the Schelling game, give this one a try too!
(There are two other modes, too: Forgotten Four, where you earn points for putting entries that nobody else put; and One on One, where the goal is to match exactly one other person)
Thinking more about this:
Is it possible to get good at this game?Does this game teach any useful skills?
I don't think there's a generalized skill of being good at this game as such, but you can get good at it when playing with a particular group, as you become more familiar with their thought processes. Playing the game might not develop any individual's skills, but it can help the group as a whole develop camaraderie by encouraging people to make mental models of each other.
Dixit, which has similar gameplay, does develop group-independent skills - though in-group references often dominate skill.
Heh. specifically, max point scoring Dixit play involves explicitly referencing an in-joke known by some of the group, and unknown to others.
I'll definitelly give this a try.
If you like the Schelling Game, you might also like my favorite party game: Just One. It is sort of an inverse Schelling Game. One Player is given a secret (to him only) word which he has to guess. The other players each give a clue, but the clue can only be a single word. Before the clues are presented to the guesser, duplicate clues get discarded, so everyone tries to avoid the Schelling point.
Works well with 6+ players, had more fun with something like 10 players, but not yet played with siginificantly more.