How to Play Mao

Three Parts:Fixed RulesChangeable RulesVariations

Mao is a card game in the Crazy Eights family in which the objective is to get rid of all your cards. It has similarities to games like Eleusis and Zendo in that the players have to contend with unknown rules that they aren't allowed to discuss. So if this is your first time playing, try to learn the rules from your fellow teammates in the traditional style of Mao! If you just want to brush up on the basics though, go ahead and check out the steps below.


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    Recruit players. If a new player asks how to play Mao, you have to tell them it's a frustrating card game and that you can't tell them the rules; they have to find out the specifics themselves. There is no limit to the number of players in a game, but you'll want a deck for every 4 to 5 players, maybe more if you have new players or complicated rules and are likely to need a lot of penalty cards.
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    The dealer has a special role in Mao. He or she has the authority to initiate the game, choose what rules to use, judge and resolve disputes, and deal with any unusual complications that might arise.
    • Since the dealer may be the only player who knows all the rules from the beginning of the game, it is critical that he or she enforces them consistently and fairly.
    • Some groups prefer to have a second player who also knows the rules so that the two of them can call penalties on each other.
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    The dealer deals several cards to each player. 5 to 8 cards per player is typical, but the exact amount doesn't matter as long as everyone gets the same number. Place the remainder of the deck in the center of the playing area to be used as a stock of penalty cards, then flip one card over and place it next to the deck to start.
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    Before play begins, the dealer will typically initiate the game by making an announcement stating who begins play and in which direction play proceeds.
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    Remember: There is no standard set of rules. They vary with every game. Look below for guidelines to figuring out rules for each particular game of Mao.

Part 1
Fixed Rules

These rules are standard to almost every game of Mao. A player who violates any of these is required to draw one penalty card and add it to their hand.

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    No discussing the rules. In fact, no talking at all except when required by another rule, to call a point of order, or when in the middle of a point of order.
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    Some games require you to thank the dealer when you take a penalty card. Counterintuitive as this seems, you have to do it when mandated or else you'll receive another penalty card.
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    When you only have one card left, you have to call out "Mao". The game is similar to Uno in this respect, because you have to alert all the other players that you're close to winning, and if you don't you can be penalized.
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    No delaying the game. Additionally, no playing out of turn or trying to call a penalty on another player if that player hasn't broken any rules--if you're going to disrupt the game, it's better not to play at all. If a player unintentionally inflicts a penalty on another player because they themselves do not fully understand the rules, any other player except the one penalized can inflict a penalty card on the first player for "inflicting an incorrect penalty".
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    A player who cannot legally play a card to the discard pile, may instead draw a penalty card. They will then end their turn by adding this card to their hand.
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    Utilize points of order. A point of order occurs when the game comes to a halt so the players can confer and discuss to clarify certain things about the game, although they still cannot talk about the rules directly. Points of order are an important part of the Mao process, and come with their own rules, which are:
    • Do not refer to the point of order directly by name (you can get around this by calling it "P of O", for example, or simply "point order", eliminating the "of")
    • Players must not look at their cards during a Point of order. If they are still holding their cards after someone calls a Point of order, they can be penalized.
    • The point of order ends when someone calls "point of disorder", "point taken", or even just "pick up your cards"
    • In some variations, only the dealer can start and end points of order; however, you can allow anyone to do so in your game
    • In another variation, point of order must be said before and after you speak during play. Players who do not do so will be penalized for "speaking out of turn."

Part 2
Changeable Rules

These rules can affect all other aspects of the game and are limited only by the creativity of the players designing them and by their ability to accurately enforce them. Most of these can be described in terms of a trigger and an effect; essentially, you can make it so that whenever a certain thing happens, another thing happens as a consequence/result. The trigger is any element of the game state that causes the rule to take effect.

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    Common triggers are:
    • Playing a certain card, suit, or rank
    • Certain combinations of cards on the discard pile
    • The number of cards remaining in a players hand
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    Common effects are:
    • Requiring a player to say or do something
    • Changing the order of play by skipping players, reversing direction, or other methods.
    • Requiring a player to draw penalty cards
    • Changing which cards can be legally played to the discard pile
    • Requiring a player to make a choice (such as specifying the value of a wild card).

Part 3

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    Choose some or many of the following possibilities to form a part of your game. It's up to you!
    • Musical Chairs. A Four of Clubs forces everyone to get up from the table, run around once and sit back down in their original spot. The last player to make it back to their spot draws a penalty card.
    • Deuces. A Two requires everyone to touch their middle and index fingers to the table. The last player to do so draws a penalty card.
    • Have a Nice Day. A seven requires the next player to draw a penalty card. Sevens can add up, requiring players to draw 2, 3, 4, etc. penalty cards when multiple 7's are played in a row. Whoever plays it must say "Have a (Very) (Very, Very) (etc.) Nice Day.
    • Royalty. A King requires a player to say "All Hail the King (of spades)". A Queen requires the player to say "Neeumph" (Queen of Spades).
    • Manners. A person must say "Thank You" when dealt a penalty card.
    • Soap. Any cursing results in a penalty card.
    • Holiday. A six requires a player to say "Merry Christmas".
    • Jacks. A Jack allows a player to change suits (wild card).
    • Spades. Spade cards must be named when played.
    • Aces. Aces cause the next player to skip their turn.
    • Reverse. An eight causes the turn order to reverse.
    • Rhyme Fest. A nine causes the person who played it to say a word and all other players must say a rhyming word in turn without stating a previously said word. If a player says a non-rhyming word, takes too long to say a rhyming word, or says a previously stated word, he draws a penalty card.
    • Chauncey. If two identical cards are played in succession, everyone must say "Chauncey". The last player to do so draws a penalty card.
    • Diamonds. If any card with a suit of a diamond is played, the person who played it must say "Shine bright like a diamond".
    • Change of Suit. If a person plays a card with a different suit, but the same letter or number as the previous card played (Thus changing the suit), then the person who played the card that would be changing the suit must knock once on the surface of which the game is being played on (Such as a table).


  • When playing with new players, sometimes it is best to be specific with your penalties so they have more hope of figuring out what they did wrong. For example: a person knocks when placing a card, because they believe it is a rule, when in actuality it is not. You would say "Penalty for knocking at an incorrect time." That way the person new at playing understands what they did wrong and can correct it for the future.
  • Don't make rules that conflict with each other unless you can easily resolve the conflict. For example, if one rule states that an ace reverses play and another says that a heart skips the next player, what happens when someone plays the ace of hearts?
  • Avoid having too many rules that require drawing penalty cards. If players draw cards faster than they can get rid of them, the game might never end.
  • Don't make rules that are too complicated. If you can't figure out how you're playing, what hope do new players have on picking up on the rules?

Things You'll Need

  • 3+ players
  • Multiple decks of cards
  • Your Mind

Article Info

Categories: Card Games