Sunday, August 5, 2018

Exemplify: An oral word game for friends and family

For some years now, my big kids and I have occasionally played a game we call Exemplify. It works great for three people on a walk. The basic idea is that we each contribute an adjective (e.g., “slurping”, “slimy” and “absurd”, or “chunky”, “soft” and “stinky”), then we each contribute a substantive that goes nicely with all three (or as many as one can) of the adjectives (e.g., “Jabba at DQ” or “cheese”), ideally in a funny and creative way, and then we each vote which of the others’ contributions is best, with the winner being the one that has the most votes. It’s fun.

When I was inventing the game, I was influenced by Dixit and Apples to Apples.

Rules (version 1.01)

The following rules are for three or four players.

Each round goes as follows:

  1. Each player independently thinks of an adjective and announces when they have thought of it. The adjective must be a single unhyphenated word of English.

  2. Once each player has an adjective, all adjectives are disclosed. No player is allowed to change their adjective once the disclosures have begun.

  3. Each player independently thinks of a substantive and announces once they have it. The substantive can be one to three words of English, with hyphenation counting as a word break (“horse-shaped” is two words). Proper names and acronyms that are normally usable in speech (e.g., “USA”) are allowed.

  4. Once each player has a substantive, all substantives are announced. No player is allowed to change their substantive once the disclosures have begun.

  5. If two or more players have the same substantive, they automatically lose the round.

  6. Each player independently thinks of a vote for a substantive by one of the other players (not a duplicate that resulted in an automatic loss) and announces once they have it. The voters are recommended to use these criteria: humor, creativity, distance from the actual world (more realistic is better) or from the actual world’s works of fiction, number of adjectives matched, and brevity. There are at least two ways the substantive can go with the adjectives: either the adjectives can be expected to apply to the thing described by the substantive (Jabba at DQ can be expected to be slurping, slimy and absurd) or else the adjectives and the substantive can form a fairly natural unit (“chunky, soft and stinky cheese” seems a natural unit).

  7. Once each player has a vote, all votes are announced. No player is allowed to change their vote once the disclosures have begun.

  8. If one player has more votes than any other player, they get two points. In that case, the player or players in second place in the voting each get one point. If no player has more votes than any other player, then the players tied for first place in the voting each get one point. But players who have lost by dint of duplication get no points.

The game continues to a set number of points, by default 10. Each player keeps track of their scores.

Additional required rules:

  1. No substantive discussion of the adjectives, substantives or votes, respectively, is permitted prior to all the players having made their decisions.

  2. The adjectives and substantives cannot be disambiguated or clarified except by their spelling.

  3. Players may request for repeats of adjectives and substantives as many times as they wish.


  1. If the players are not fully trusting, or in a serious competition, the adjectives, substantives or votes are secretly written out and then revealed to prevent changes in response to others. Scores are written down.

  2. With two players, scoring is not possible, but one can still have some fun.

  3. With four players, one can either play according to the above rules (and thus have the challenge of four adjectives), or have one of the four players omit an adjective each round, rotating which player that is in a fixed order (by default, alphabetically by bibliographic order—last name and first name). One can similarly extended to more than four players, by omitting enough players each time to reduce the number of adjectives to three or four, using a more complex rotation rule if need be.

  4. For simpler score-keeping, one can award one point only to the player who got the most points (if there is such a player; otherwise, no points are awarded).

1 comment:

Philip Rand said...

Use the game as a one method to demonstrate the non-existence of a private language.

Point this out to your family when you play the game.