The Prisoner's Dilemma Drinking Game
The Prisoner's Dilemma Party Game
Derived from a post here.
This is based on the well-known game theory
exercise known as The Prisoner's Dilemma.
Briefly, it works like this: two players are arrested and interrogated
separately, and each has two options: keep quiet, or sing like a bird in
hopes of getting a deal -- without having any way of knowing what the
other is doing. The results depend on their choices:
There are various ways this penalty matrix can be set up, but that's the
- If each keeps quiet, they are set free for lack of evidence (or convicted of a lesser
- If one snitches and the other keeps quiet, the snitch is granted
immunity and the other goes up the river for a long time.
- If both snitch, the book is thrown at each
The drinking game aspect is simple -- rather than time in prison, the
penalty is taking drinks. The most obvious way to do this is to have the
"loser" take the drinks him/herself; but for reasons explained below, it
may be preferable to allow the "winner" to distribute the drinks among
other players (e.g. even those that were not part of the "interrogation").
These rules assume that you're using a standard 52-card deck, though
using cards specific to the game could provide greater flexibility.
- Sort the deck by suit, and create three piles:
- The Diamonds and Spades will be the Pairing Deck; shuffle it.
- The Clubs will be the Penalty Deck; shuffle it.
- The Hearts will be the Decision Deck; leave it sorted.
- Deal one card from the Pairing Deck to each player (if
there are more than 26 players, use another deck). Players should keep
their card secret.
- Those who were dealt the Aces step forward; one card from the
Penalty Deck is dealt to each of them face-down, and a third is
dealt face-down in the middle. The players may inspect their own
penalty card, but may not tell the other player what their card is.
The card in the middle remains hidden.
- These players are each given two cards from the Decision Deck
-- one representing 'Keep Quiet' and the other representing 'Snitch'
(one way to do this is even/odd; another is to use face cards -- say,
the Jack is the Snitch and the Queen is silent, though the advantage
to using multiple cards is it becomes harder to recognize 'marked' cards)
- Each player places the card corresponding to his/her decision and
places it face-down on the table.
- After both players have played a decision card, they are flipped
over, and all of the penalty cards are revealed.
- "Scoring" takes place as follows:
| ||Player A Snitches||Player A Keeps Quiet|
|Player B Snitches||Double Loss||Single Loss - Player A|
|Player B Keeps Quiet||Single Loss - Player B||No loss|
- On a Double Loss, both players drink the value of their own
card plus the value on the middle card.
- On a Single Loss, that player drinks the value of his or her own penalty card,
and the other player may distribute the drinks on the other two penalty cards to any player.
- On a No Loss, neither player drinks.
- Play continues from step 3 with the pair of players dealt the Twos
from the Pairing deck, then those with the Threes, and so on.
- Once the last pair has faced off, re-shuffle the pairing deck and
deal it again.
The number of drinks corresponding to each penalty card is left as an
exercise, as it should depend on the players' tolerance, the drink, the
duration of the game, etc.
For example, you may want to just remove everything over 5, or you may
want to divide the numbers by two, or do something like setting a
maximum number of drinks any single player can get at once (so a 'winner'
may be able to distribute ten drinks, but not all to the same person).
The face cards allow for some creativity -- for instance, the Queen may
correspond to an Apple-tini,
the King to the King of Beers,
and the Jack to, well, Jack.
The reason for playing sequentially (e.g. first the Aces, then the Twos,
on down) is to allow players to observe how other players act, so that
they can adjust their strategies accordingly; the pairs are kept secret
to prevent players from discussing their strategy with one another
beforehand (although one variant would be to allow this -- of course,
with the understanding that lying is not only allowed but expected). The
first round, it's basically a game of rock-paper-scissors, as no one
will have seen their opponent play in the past (though they may know the
player's personality), but it's likely that in subsequent rounds,
snitches will be more likely to be punished (leading, perversely, to
- Known penalty. The middle penalty card is face-up.
- Quick game. Pairs face off simultaneously rather than sequentially.
- Alternative pairs. Rather than Aces facing eachother, Twos facing eachother, it becomes
more like a bracket -- first, the Aces face each other, then they each
face the player with the Two of the same suit, who then faces the player
with the Three of the same suit, and so on. This allows players to
develop individualized strategies faster
- Random pairs.After each match, re-deal all of the pairing cards;
the players with the Aces are always the ones to play. This works even
if there is an odd number of players, and decreases the likely wait before
players start showing up again.
- Modified penalty matrix. For instance, perhaps a No Loss
allows the players to distribute the "blame" (drinks) to other players.
- Teetotaler version. There's no reason that you need to
use drinks as the punishment -- it could just as easily be the
"Prisoner's Dilemma Party Game". You can play with poker chips, with a
peg board, with a Candy Land board,
hot peppers, whatever --
it just needs to be something that will incentivize players to want to win.
If you have any feedback (such as strategies, rule fixes, variants, whatever),
or have played this and have a game report that you want published, I want
to hear about it. Send an electronic mail message to milton[no-space]manfried[at]rocketmail[dot]com.