Standoff (card game)

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Standoff (card game)
Designer: Kevan Davis
Year: unknown
Players: 5 to 13.
Stuff required: Some numbered cards; playing cards are perfect. Some sort of money tokens. Optional water pistols.
Crew required: One narrator.
Preparation: Five minutes.
Time required: Ten minutes upward.
Place required: Enough room for everyone to stand (or sit) in a circle.
Activities: Bluffing, deduction.
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?)
For the hands-only folk game, see Standoff (hand game).

You robbed the bank and made the cleanest of getaways, but should maybe have agreed in advance how to split the money. As the police sirens approach, it's a time for snap decisions, persuasive arguments and unflinching water-pistol standoffs.

Narrator instructions

You'll need a set of numbered cards, running from one to the number of players. If you've got a deck of playing cards, that's perfect - just separate out one suit, and cut it down to the number of players (with aces low). If you haven't, then index cards or scraps of paper will work fine.

If you've got water pistols or other fake firearms, give everyone a gun. It's up to you whether they're loaded or not. If you haven't got any props, players can just use finger-guns.

Get some tokens to represent money; poker chips, pennies, Monopoly money, or anything. Separate the money tokens into piles of twelve - each token represents (say) a thousand dollars, and each round will have a $12,000 haul. It's up to you how many rounds you want to play, but six or seven seems enough.

Each round, you'll put $12,000 out on the floor or table, give everyone a random card, and let them start discussing how to split the money and who to shoot. It's up to you to announce the end of each round at a dramatically appropriate moment - if the players are deep in discussion, leave them to it, but if they're getting out of hand, becoming listless, or all seem to be frozen in steely-eyed determination, then call the end of the round. You can either call a sudden end ("Bang!"), or give them a few seconds' warning to make their final decisions.

When the round ends, call out the numbers in turn to see who shoots who, divide up the money to the survivors, and then collect everyone's cards back for the next round.

Player instructions

Standoff proceeds through a series of rounds, each round representing a successful heist. You've made your getaway and parked up in an abandoned warehouse, and have to decide how to split up the suitcase of money. You're all still carrying your guns, and you're all hoping to come out of this with a little more money than everyone else - whoever has the most cash at the end of the game is the winner.

You've been given a card with a number on it. This represents your reaction speed during this round of post-heist negotiations, and determines the order in which you shoot. If you've got the ace, you'll shoot first. If you've got the seven (in a game of seven players), you'll shoot last.

The round starts with players discussing how to split the money. At the end of the round, the money will be split between everyone who's still still standing in the warehouse. If anybody wishes to lend a little more force to their argument, or maybe increase their share of the loot by reducing the number of people who are splitting it, they can pull their gun and point it at someone. If anyone feels that the situation's going badly for them, they can make a run for it by leaving the playing area (or if you're playing around table, putting their gun down, which they can't pick back up) - they won't get any money, but they won't get shot either. (Once you've fled, you can't come back until next round.)

The narrator will look on, and at some point will announce that the round is coming to an end. A few seconds later, they will shout "Bang!" (or "Fire!", or sound a horn, or whatever you like).

At this point, everyone gets to fire, in the increasing order of their card numbers. The narrator calls out each number in turn - if the player with that number is pointing their gun at someone, their target is shot, and must fall to the ground, or step back. If you get shot, then you're out for the rest of the round, and don't get to fire. (If you fled the warehouse, you don't get to fire, but can't be fired at either.)

When all the numbers have been called, one or more players will be left standing. The $12,000 is split equally between everyone who wasn't shot and didn't flee (any leftover notes go into the haul for the next heist), and the round ends.

In the next round, anyone who was shot has to sit the round out - they are recovering from their wounds, and did not attend the heist.


Some possible rule tweaks to try out:-

  • Vary the cash each round, to reduce the strength of an early lead - possibly assign a player as the "mastermind" at the start of each round, before cards are dealt (either at random, or in clockwise order, skipping anyone who's wounded). They get to pick the size of the cash pool, from $1,000 to $12,000 (thematically, they could also announce the target of the heist, from a grocery store to a high-security bank).
  • Use more cards than there are players (discarding the leftovers after dealing), to blur the odds and to make a self-confident ace slightly rarer.
  • Force the survivors of each round to play a mini-round (and again, and again) until either one player is left standing, or they've agreed on how they want to split the cash.
  • Shuffle together all four suits, and give each player a hand of four to choose a card from each round (with identical numbers firing simultaneously). Players can choose which card to use, either at the start of the round, or when "bang!" has been shouted. That card is used up; after four rounds, deal them all out again.

Flickr photos

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Play history

  • Standoff first ran at Sandpit Games at Duty Free in July 2008, with empty waterpistols and counterfeit thousand-dollar bills in the back alleys of Stoke Newington.
  • The game ran again several times at Sandpit #6 in Brighton, in August 2008.
  • The game has now become a common, unscheduled staple at all Sandpit events.
  • Standoff ran at the 2009 Hide&Seek Weekender's "Beyond Werewolf" night.