Game Night Blog Carnival: Jenga

Welcome to the new Game Night Blog Carnival!  This is a recurring feature Roving Band of Misfits is running once each month with numerous roleplaying game blogs.  Visit their site for more information about the blog carnival initiative. The previous entry into the series can be found here discussing Wise and Otherwise.

This month, I present some additional mechanics to spice up a game that is enjoyable enough already – Jenga. Jenga is played with 54 wooden blocks. Each block is three times as long as it is wide. To set up the game, the included loading tray in the Jenga box is used to stack the initial tower which has 18 levels of three blocks placed adjacent to each other along their long side and perpendicular to the previous level (so, for example, if the blocks in the first level lie lengthwise north-south, the second level blocks will lie east-west).

Create houserules to enhance Jenga experience.

Once the tower is built, the person who built the tower moves first. Moving in Jenga consists of taking one and only one block from any level (except the one below the incomplete top level) of the tower, and placing it on the topmost level in order to complete it. Only one hand at a time may be used to remove a block; either hand can be used, but only one hand may be in contact with the tower at a time. Blocks may be bumped to find a loose block that will not disturb the rest of the tower. Any block that is moved out of place may be left out of place if it is determined that it will knock the tower over if it is removed. The turn ends when the next person to move touches the tower or after ten seconds, whichever occurs first.

The game ends when the tower falls in even a minor way—in other words, any piece falls from the tower, other than the piece being knocked out to move to the top. The loser is the person who made the tower fall (i.e., whose turn it was when the tower fell).

So far, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. But below I will present alternative rules and mechanics to take an ordinary session of Jenga and make it a game-night extravaganza!

Our group of friends transformed Jenga years ago into more of a group “get to know you” experience rather than a simple game of dexterity. The mechanics below can be used to have a fun time with a group of friends or family.

First, take out the wooden blocks from the Jenga box and write numbers on one side of each block from 1 to 14. Repeat the labeling of the blocks 1 through 14 so each Jenga block has a number. Once you are finished labeling the blocks, you should have the following – four blocks each with the numbers 1 through 12; three blocks each with the numbers 13 through 14.

Next time you stack the Jenga tower, make certain that all of the numbers are facing down so they cannot be seen by the players around the table. The game is played with the same rules mentioned above – as Jenga is always played – but the numbers on the blocks create a new twist.

Before the start of the game, you and your fellow players can decide what each numbered block means. In other words, you create up to 14 additional rules for the game of Jenga. The specific number on each block corresponds to a rule that has been created by the group of players. The party could decide to create goofy rules or turn Jenga into a drinking game. Since I do not want to appear to be promoting binge drinking or any related substance abuse, I will present some casual get-to-know-each-other rules for the game.

If you want to spice up Jenga, then scroll through the rule suggestions below, and add or modify the rules to your tastes:

  1. I Never – The player who pulled the block must make a statement such as, “I never went to France.” Everyone, including the player, who HAS traveled to France must raise their hand.
  2. Categories – The player that pulls the block decides on a single category such as “Beatles songs” or “Sneaker brands.” For example, if the player started a “Beatles songs” category, they would state the title of a Beatles song and then the next person would have to name a different song in the Beatles catalogue. This continues around and around the table until someone either cannot name another Beatles song or repeats a song that was already mentioned in the Categories sequence . . . or if you make a mistake and include “Live And Let Die,” which is by Wings, and you get a lifetime of shame from the players at the table! (Who has two thumbs and did this years ago? This guy!) The player who makes the first error ends the minigame, and feels shame from the other players at the table!
  3. Truth or Dare – Person pulling the block can engage another player in a Truth or Dare minigame. The other player must select Truth (answer one question without lying) or Dare (engage in some stunt or activity).
  4. Question – Person pulling the block must ask a question of any of the other players. The player that is asked the question must in turn ask someone else at the table a question. Then that person must also ask a question of someone at the table. The first person that responds with something other than a question, takes too much time or laughs loses the minigame. This may sound clunky, but with a group of close friends, it usually leads to some hilarity as the questions can become rather sarcastic and biting.
  5. Make a Rule – Person who pulls the block can make any new rule related to the block numbers or anything else related to the party. For example, a player could make the rule, “No one is allowed to say anyone’s name. Anytime you say a person’s name, you have to say a prayer aloud to Pelor.” The player-generated rules can be silly or hold more “serious” consequences.
  6. Actors & Actresses – The person who pulls the block starts the game by saying a name of an actress or actor. For example, the player might say, “Brad Pitt.” The next player must say an actor or actresses name that starts with the letter P (as in Pitt). The next player could say, “Penélope Cruz.” The next player must say an actor or actresses name that begins with the letter C (as in Cruz). This minigame continues until a player cannot think of an appropriate actor or actress. We have typically played with only living actors and actresses. The only other wrinkle is names with double letters reverse the order of the rotation among the players. For example, saying “Helen Hunt” or “Danny DeVito” would reverse the rotation around the table for the minigame.
  7. Doppelganger – The player who pulls the block must give their best impression of another player at the table.

The person that knocks down the tower loses and suffers the shame of being the one that ended the game. Of course, the rules above are just suggestions to get you started; they can be modified to adapt to the interest of your group. This form of Jenga could also serve as a quick icebreaker for other games that you are planning to play that night. Let me know what you think!

Follow the Blog Carnival at the next stop, Undergopher Central.

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About The Id DM

The Id DM is a psychologist during the weekdays. He DMs for a group of fairly loyal and responsible PCs every other Friday night. In the approximate 330 hours between sessions, he is likely anxious about how to ensure the next game he runs doesn't suck.
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4 Responses to Game Night Blog Carnival: Jenga

  1. Awesome blog post, I will have to go pick up Jenga and give that a try next time I have some Non-DnD gamer friends over… Also i will add drinks!

    • The Id DM says:

      My first draft had a list of various rules for more of a drinking game, but decided it wasn’t the proper tone for the article series. However, a Google Search will get you a nice sampling of rules to choose from if that is the direction you want to take the game.

  2. Brian says:

    Hi! Just discovered your blog through Flagons & Dragons. Just checking: Are you aware there is a horror roleplaying game called Dread that uses a Jenga tower as its randomizing mechanic?

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