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A Bluffer's Guide to Adapting a Card Game

by Stephen




I love an activity that can get the whole class into action quickly and easily. I think that an easy-to-comprehend activity that is infinitely adaptable is the key to minimal teacher talk time. I pride myself in being able to get a class that knows me well into an activity with only seconds of explanation. To do this I design tasks and activities to have a minimal amount of what I call and thens. What I mean is that I like to think about how many times I am going to have to say ‘and then’ to explain an activity or task to a class.

For this reason I love card a game with simple rules that I get a whole class of students playing in no time at all. One that, if explained right, can be done with minimal teacher talk time and maximum student participation. We have tried to make sure all Tanuki games are like this. Today I’d like to introduce a favorite game of mine that has great gameplay with minimal rules: Cockroach Poker.

Cockroach poker is a game for three to six players in which everyone is competing to not be the loser. It has very little to do with poker except for the fact that the game revolves around a very simple bluffing mechanic. Each player is trying to lie their way into giving cards full of disgusting creepy crawlies (spiders, bugs and cockroaches) to other players while avoiding receiving them themselves.

How to play from BoardGameGeek:

On a turn, a player takes one card from his hand, lays it face down on the table, slides it to a player of his choice, and declares a type of critter, e.g., "Stink bug". The player receiving the card either

• Accepts the card, says either "true" or "false", then reveals the card. If this player is wrong in her claim, she keeps the card on the table in front of her face up; if she is right, the player who gave her the card places it face up before him.

• Peeks at the card, then passes it face down to another player, either saying the original type of critter or saying a new type. This new player again has the choice of accepting the card or passing it, unless the card has already been seen by all other players in which case the player must take the first option.

The game ends when a player has no cards to pass on his turn or when a player has four cards of the same critter on the table in front of him. In either case, this player loses and everyone else wins.

It is such a simple game but it really fun, easy to teach, and, most importantly for an English Language classroom, the use of language is intrinsic to the game. Admittedly,the language required to play the game is very simple: ‘This is…’, ‘Yes, it is’, ‘No, it isn’t'. However, fortuitously for teachers, because of its simplicity, the game can be adapted to almost any vocabulary and yes/no question pattern.

This blog contains one of the many varieties I have made. In this version people have to pass ailments to each other using ‘I have a headache; I have a sore throat’.

I personally like to keep the games shorter. Instead of waiting until someone has four of the same card to declare a loser, I just play until three. Also, I sometimes use  the house rule that if you have five different cards you are also a loser. This means students can play multiple rounds in the same class. I guarantee they will want to play multiple times.

It is great how a game with essentially one rule can create such interesting game play. Luckily for teachers, its simplicity means it is easily adaptable. Once students know how to play they will want to do so with whatever grammar / vocabulary combination you can think of.

Enjoy the medical version of the game I have made here. The original is widely available, so please support it if you like the game. If you need to see more, here are two videos on the game.

If you make your own version of the game please email us here - we’d love to share or promote it.




Click on the image below to download the PDF of the game:





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