Update: Surprisingly, this is one of the most popular and controversial posts I have at my website. Apparently many Mao enthusiasts believe that the first rule of Mao is that you do not tell anyone the rules. Whoops! I was never told that rule. I have been warned and threatened. I have been told that tribes of Mao zealot geeks will not sleep until they have brought my website down. Well, as far as I can tell, my website has not experienced any down time due to my flagrant disregard of these warnings and threats. Ultimately, there are countless versions of Mao. If you prefer a version where the rules are never spoken of, read no further. This is just the version I have come to know.
I first posted my Mao page several years ago. I may have been the first to put the rules out there for the public. However, now a search for “Mao card game” on Google results in over a million hits–the Mao assassins have their work cut out for them. I was number four when I checked so I guess I shouldn’t get too lax with my personal security–I won’t lay my body guards off just yet. I can recommend the Wikipedia article for anyone interested in more information about the history and origins of the game. Mao may not have originated at CBS on Catalina Island, but that is where it came to me and so I still owe a debt of gratitude to the staff at CBS who introduced it to me. It is a distinct possibility that the Catalina Island variant of Mao may be the most popular version because I was certainly among the first to risk their lives and post these rule online.
Overview: Mao is played essentially like Uno or crazy eights, the object is to get rid of all your cards. But the truly excellent Mao player is the one who can keep his or her cool and play by the rules.
Starting the game:
- Each player is dealt 7 cards
- No player may touch his cards until the dealer touches his cards
- The remaining cards are placed in the center of the table as the “draw pile”
- The dealer flips the top card and places it next to the draw pile. This is the “discard pile”
- The dealer chooses any player to go first and the direction
Playing the game:
- The first player discards any card that matches the SUIT or VALUE of the top card on or about the discard pile
- Play continues this way until a player has no cards remaining in his hand
- When a player plays his second to last card, he says “Last Card”
- If a player cannot play any card in his hand, he simply draws one card from the draw pile. If this card can be played he may play it and play continues. If he cannot play it he says “pass”, some similar idiom, or in some way gives the nod to the next player
Winning the game:
- When a player discards his very last card, he MUST say “MAO!”
Additional rules (this is the FUN part):
- Violations of any rule of the game require the rule breaker to draw one card from the draw pile
- When you get a card for breaking a rule you must say “Thank You”
- “Call a spade a spade.” You must call your spades. Example: a player plays a six of spades, he says “six of spades”
- The Ace of Spades is a special case, the player must say, “Snoopy flying the Ace of Spades”
- No delays or hesitating
- No flinching or playing out of turn
- No quibbling. Just take the card and say thank you. On the other hand only call clear violations of rules. Remember this is fun; its a game
- Once play has begun, no player may ask any question except during a “Point of Order”
- No player may straighten the deck except during a point of order
- No cussing or name calling (even during a point of order)
- You may never say the name of the game, except when you play your last card.
The Point of Order:
- Any player may call a point of order at any time (except during a point of order) simply by saying “Point of Order”
- Points of order are often called to straighten the deck, clarify who’s turn it is, or what direction play is proceeding, or just to “chill out”
- During a point of order no one is permitted to look at or straighten his cards, all hands should be turned over and placed down on the table
- Only the player who calls the point of order may end it by saying “End Point”
Giving Credit Where Credit is Due:
I first posed these at least as early as 2001. I may be the first person to post these rules on the Internet. I can’t take credit for inventing this game. I have no idea who did. I can tell you where I learned the game–by these rules–to the best of my recollection. I learned the game on the island of Catalina, at Campus by the Sea–a camp owned and operated by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and one of the more beautiful places on Earth. In the 1990s, I learned the game from a group of camp staff. This was another time. A time when you played card games with your free time and didn’t just just look at your phone. I haven’t been to Campus by the Sea in ages, and I wonder if things haven’t changed. I wonder if they have eschewed WiFi and if their valley is untouched by cellular service. Back then, for sure, there wasn’t much to do once the sun went down. If you are intenet on hunting down the source of this game, I don’t know that any leads will remain on Catalina Island or Campus by the Sea, but, as far as I’m concerned, I wouldn’t mind visiting that island again.