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Designer: Holly Gramazio
Players: 8-28
Stuff required: Six flags, in three different colours, for example two black, two white, and two red. Slips of pre-written paper. Notepaper for the players.
Crew required: One game-runner
Preparation: Some
Time required: 30 minutes
Place required: A large room or a largeish space outdoors, ideally with two levels
Activities: Deduction, listening, acting, teamwork.
Discuss this game
This is a playable game - it's finished, tested and ready to play.
This game is made available under an Attribution-Noncommercial Creative Commons licence. (What does this mean?)

A game of silent, coded communication for two teams.


Before the game, you need to prepare a list of messages for the teams to communicate, each on its own slip of paper. All of these messages will be types of behaviour, and the player with the flags will be trying to describe this behaviour to the rest of the team. Examples from previous games of Semaphoria are:

  • Turn around
  • Hide behind something
  • Wave your hands
  • Pretend to be zombies
  • Sing Aha's "Take On Me".

These tasks should get progressively harder. You'll need to make one copy of six easyish slips - three per team - and then two copies of six harder slips - at the end of the game the teams will compete directly against each other on the same message.


Separate the players into two teams, and give each team three differently-coloured flags. Pieces of coloured paper could be used if necessary, though if you can stick each one to a spoon that would probably be more fun.

The object of the game is for each team to develop its own coded language, which can be communicated only through the movement of flags. The rest of the team can shout questions and ask for clarification, but the flag-holder can only wave flags in response. It's entirely up to the players how they create their language - whether they want to go for an alphabetic cypher, a coded series of abstract concepts, a simple way to give yes/no answers to questions from the team - but you should give both teams some examples of the sorts of things they'll be trying to communicate.

Give the teams paper and pens, and then ten minutes to come up with their language - they're allowed to take as many notes as they like, and carry those with them into the game.

Once the ten minutes is up, each team nominates a signaller. This signaller will change several times over the course of the game.

First Rounds

To start off with, the signaller for one team receives an instruction. They then have two minutes (or however long you like) to communicate this to their team. The team members are allowed to shout questions, but the signaller can only respond with flags - so it's useful to have dedicated signals for "yes" and "no", for example.

Once a team has performed the action demanded of them, they receive a point. However, if the opposing team manages to decipher the secret language and perform the action first, then they get the point instead. It therefore pays not to make your language too easy to understand...

After the first team has had their go, the second team's signaller receives their instruction slip, and does the same thing.

This repeats three times, so that each signaller has received three slips.

At this point the signallers rejoin their group, and each team chooses a new signaller.

Second Rounds

For the final three instructions, both teams receive a copy of the same instruction, and they signal simultaneously; the first team to perform the action, as before, gets the point.


The team with the most points is the winner.

Flickr gallery

(These are the ten most recent Flickr photos of Semaphoria. To add your own, just add the "ludocity:game=semaphoria" tag to your Flickr photos.)


Try to match the difficulty level of the different teams' instructions, if you can.

It can be nice to represent each "point" won with a flag (in a special scoring colour) which you pass to that team.

Play history

Semaphoria ran at Sandpit #8 and Sandpit #9.