Where is the Poison? [In the Lab]

Where is the Poison?
In my local game group, we have this running joke that pops up in most games. None of us has a really good poker face, so when we draw a good card or get a good roll, we'll be very obvious about it. Thus, someone will mockingly say, "I think I'll bluff!" I'm sure it's from a show or something, but I've forgotten the origins by now.

On that note, here's a bluffing game that seems too elegant to not have already been designed by someone. You tell me, okay?

Intrigue at a wine tasting! You and the other players each have two cups. One of your cups is poisoned. Only you know which of your cups is poisoned. You don't know which of the other player's cups is poisoned.

A poison tracker with six spaces, a separate track for each player. Each player also has a white meeple and a black meeple. The white meeple tracks how many times you have been poisoned. The black meeple tracks how many players you have poisoned.

Deal a poison and non-poison cup card to each player face-down. One of these cups is poisoned. You may look at your cup cards, but keep them secret. Only you may know which of your cups is poisoned.

Give a supply of drink chips for each player. The number of chips you get is equal to the number of players, minus one.

Deal a role card for each player with specific victory conditions to achieve by the end of the game. These are randomly dealt to each player face down. You may look at your role card, but keep it secret.
  • ____ win by being the least poisoned player.
  • ____ win by poisoning the most players.
  • ____ win by poisoning the fewest players.
  • ____ win by being the most poisoned player.
  • ____ win by triggering the endgame.
  • ____ win by having your meeples in the same space.
  • ____ win by having the greatest distance between your meeples.
Victory conditions are not mutually exclusive. Some, none or all the roles may win at the end of the game.

Example Setup

The player who was most recently poisoned takes the first turn. Subsequent turns proceeds clockwise.

On your turn, decide which of each player's cups you'll drink from. All the players may negotiate, coerce and otherwise debate with you regarding your choice. Bluffing is encouraged.

When you make a choice, put one of your chips down on the cup you choose. Then proceed to the next player's cups and repeat the process. Continue until you are out of chips.

The round ends when everyone has made their choices and placed their chips.

Example of players choosing their cups.

At the end of each round, each player reveals their cup cards.

Move your white meeple forward as many spaces as you were poisoned this round.

Move your black meeple forward as many spaces as players you poisoned this round.

Example of scoring: Player A was poisoned three times and poisoned three players. Player B was poisoned once and poisoned two players. Player C was poisoned twice and poisoned one player. Player D was not poisoned and poisoned three players. Player E was poisoned three times and poisoned two players.

When one or more players white meeples reaches the skull space, the game is over. Reveal your role cards and find out who won!

The chips can have heads/tails sides. There is a whole deck of poisoned and non-poisoned cup cards, each with special effects that are triggered for players who choose that cup with a head's up chip. These special effects are things like "Move your white meeple +1 space." "Move your black meeple -1 space." and so on.


  1. Seems like with only 2 cards, this would be a little too easy to figure out which card is poison and which is not. Maybe deal out 3 poison and 3 non-poison and each player puts one of each down. Make it a little harder to figure out which cards are poison (since the player could / would presumably 'shuffle' the cards in their hand to hide which are poison).

  2. I am definitely eager to see how it turns out! Some folks have actually said that the game is too luck-driven, that there is no way to learn information as the game proceeds. If there are several cups in front of each player, and only one is revealed each round, that could be interesting.

  3. Maybe N-1 cards (with at least 1 poison and 1 non-poison card) and keep the trackers secret so you don't know who has been poisoned and who hasn't. You only know if you've been poisoned and if you've poisoned someone.

  4. Daniel -

    There is an older German children's game "In Teuffel's Kuche"(?) where each player had a series of positions, one of which had poison (Milk) that could injure one of their devil pieces. The bluffing was based on the potential for grabbing your own hidden pieces from the other player as they attempted to return them across the board. A fun, light game.

    I think your game could be enlivened by moving drinks around the table via actions (perhaps even "reshuffling" them in some smart way?) To create a crazy variant on the Princess Bride game.

    So, each player would have 2 glasses, one poison, one not, that could be passed to another player, relabeled and passed again. In a series of rounds?

    Or do a variant of Werewolves where everyone has a cup, only one of which is not poisoned?

    Fun idea for a party game. Gotta keep it short so there are a lot of rounds.

  5. Re: Cup switching: Perhaps at the beginning of each round, each player may switch one of their cups with another player?

  6. Or each player has a set of actions that they can only take 1 time each per round:
    1. Swap cup positions.
    2. Shuffle cup pair (relabel 2 cups with new labels either swapping them or not).
    3. Drink.
    4. Rotate all cups 1 left.
    5. Rotate all cups 1 right.
    6. Swap "seats" (switch both cups in front of a pair of players to the other player in the same position).
    7.. Drain a cup and replace it with a new one (the question of how to introduce or hold poison becomes an additional wrinkle). If this was added, each player would have a dose of poison that they could at start: Place in cup 1, place in cup 2, or hold for later (and if you haven't distributed it, you have to drink it).

    Perhaps the key here would be a variable duration for the game.

  7. I love all these ideas. Thank you! I could see a separate Character card which has its own special ability that is public to all the players, like the character cards in BANG!

  8. Hi,

    I love the theme. But my first thought when I saw your picture was "wow - a lot of chips and a lot of cards". Personally, I don't like playing a game where memory is too much needed, or there is too much variables to deal with, it's difficult to have a clear view of the game. It's too hard to play when you're tired. If you had roles and special goals above that, I'm afraid it would be a real chaos of secret and public objectives, and all deduction would be only for Mensa gamers. I would suggest to simplify the whole thing. What about that : give only one card per player at the beginning of the game; each player look at his/her card, and all cards are put in the center of the table (you have just one clue). A cup can accept only a limited number of "drink" chips, after what the cup is revealed. When it's done, you poison - or not - people, one poison token per poison chip (no track). Each cup revealed is more info, until the end of the game. The less poisoned guy win.

    It's just a couple of ideas, maybe there are traps inside, it needs to be tested, but in the idea it would be a simple game.;)

  9. The trick would be making it distinct from "I Drank What?" http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/37267/i-drank-what

    In that game, it's basically Russian roulette with round-by-round player elimination.

  10. Didn't know this one... yeah, it's a bit close, indeed. :/

  11. Hmm, this opens up some interesting avenues. You could use real glasses, opaque ones, and the player would have to actually poison a glass at some point by dropping a chip into it. The player is free to palm the chip or try to hide the action in any way they can, but the glass has to stay on the table. The glasses stay close to each other, so that the clink as it falls in doesn't tell everyone for certain which has been poisoned.

    Or something like that... basically adding a physical element to the game, one that's heavily affected by your social ability (to distract, and/or note when people are paying attention to other players). You can play the game very slowly over the course of an entire evening, during which you're having conversations where folks may become naturally distracted, or have to run to the bathroom, etc.

    Then a player can call for a toast, at which point everyone has to place their tokens to indicate which they drink. Maybe each player can do this once. Or other rules to moderate how often toasts can be made. The player calling for the toast has to make an actual toast, of course.

    Just riffing now.

  12. So when are you going to launch the Kickstarter? :-)

  13. Ha! I'd need way more playtesting first and I have so many other games in the pipeline that are much more polished.

  14. Hey Daniel - here's a poison cup idea for you, based on some of your ideas, just 22 cards (all cards have the same backs):

    8 Role Cards (4 say you want the poison close, 4 far)

    5 Special Cards:
    * Switch Glasses (x4)
    * Immunity to Poison

    9 Wine Cards
    * 4 Wine Cards
    * 5 Poisoned Wine Cards

    1. Take an equal number of close and far Role Cards (equal to or more than the number of players). Shuffle and deal one to each player.
    2. Take 1 Poisoned Wine card and add it to the special cards. For more than 2 players, also take 1 Wine card and add it to the special cards. Shuffle and deal one to each player.
    3. Take an equal number of Wine and Poisoned Wine Cards (equal to or more than the number of players). Shuffle and deal one to each player.

    1. Look at your cards, and look at others' cards:
    * 2 players, look at 1 of the other player's cards
    * 3-4 players, look at 2 cards of the player to your right OR your left
    * 5-7 players, look at 2 cards of the player to your right AND your left
    2. Everyone place a wine card face down in front of you.
    3. Play one of your switch cards, if you have one, and if you want to. Choose another player, and switch a wine card with that player.
    4. Select any wine glass by placing your hand on it, one player at a time. All players flip at the same time.

    You get one point for not being poisoned, and one point for having a poison cup in front of you for "close" roles or a poison cup not in front of you for "far" roles.

    (The close and far roles are obviously from the Princess Bride battle of wits, and the cards could have quotes from that scene.)

  15. Ha! This is very much what I was thinking about! Less of the large party structure and more about a small set of wine glasses that are jostling around between the players, plus victory conditions based on your preferred game-state. What I was thinking of had a touch more Resistance+Bang in its DNA, but it's pretty close to what you have here. Testing will show how well it works!

  16. I think I avoided Bang because I used a lot of that in the Boardroomers competition. What I have a really hard time coming up with is a binary system (on/off) that makes for a compelling game if there are only 2 players.

  17. Boy, I wish I had the energy to submit to more game design contests. I'm already stretched to the limit managing all of the games I already have in the hopper. But I think I can squeeze in time for this Poison idea in a week or two. Maybe I'll put out a prototype then!

  18. A variation on the above, that is more in line with the actual scene from the movie, but I think would end up with a game that's not as fun:

    Each player gets three far/close cards, and the majority is what they're aiming for. The dealer gets to look at one of each player's cards, then hands out the poison cups, so the dealer knows where the poison is, and has some idea of what the players want. The players then have to choose, based on what they know that the dealer knows, whether the dealer would have put the poison in front of them or not.

    Each player gets to exchange glasses with one other player. (perhaps the players each get to look at 2 far/close cards of the players to the right and left, or the same card the dealer gets to see)

    I'd love to see what you come up with!

  19. The thing is, to model the stalling and back-and-forth of the original scene, I imagine there needs to be a strong pacing mechanic. In order to be a more interesting game, it also ought to last longer than a single duel of wits. Here's a thought: Two games of short-term and long-term deduction overlapping each other.

    Players have two small decks: A deck of five cup cards, three of which show poison on their face. A hand of action cards numbered 1-3. Each player also has one immunity card. So, each player has 9 cards total.

    Between the two players lies an implied linear track with seven spaces big enough for the cup cards. To start the duel, one player places two of his cup cards in the middle of the track. Then the duel begins:

    Each player takes turns revealing an action card from his hand and moving a cup of his choice forward or backward that many spaces along the track. The duel ends when a cup reaches the end of the track or when the sum of all action cards equals 9 or higher.

    Then, the player who has a cup closest to him has the opportunity to play an immunity card. (If both are tied, both have this opportunity.) A player can only use his immunity card *once* for the whole game. Once used, it is discarded.

    Then, that player must reveal the cup card closest to him. If it is poison, he must take that card and keep it face-up in front of him. Otherwise, the cup card(s) return to their original owner and a new duel begins.

    In the next duel, the other player chooses from his own hand of cup cards.

    The game continues until one player has been poisoned three times. The player who survives wins!

  20. I certainly think it has promise for a 2-player game. It does the pacing well, but this specific counting scenario...if the dealer places the poisoned cup farthest from him, I don't see how he can lose:

    Opponent moves poison 3 toward dealer; dealer moves it 3 back; opponent moves poison 2 toward dealer; dealer moves it 2 back. Same if opponent tries to move the unpoisoned glass towards himself.

    If the end sum is changed to 8, the opponent gets last move - then it might become more of a question as to where the dealer placed the poison? But then I'm not sure what added value the moving part of the game has, since you could just do that from the get-go.

    What you could do is start with more numbered action cards, and say the last action card played by each player goes out of the game each round (poisoned out of them), so you have to make a decision about whether to spend your big card now or save it for later (and deduce what your opponent might do).

    What if each numbered card also has an objective? (I keep coming back to that near/far). And the numbered cards come from a shared deck, totaling a few cards more than needed to play. Then as they play out their numbered cards, they can be moving the cups further/closer to their objective, while selecting their objective (cards still in hand), and giving their opponent more information about what their objective is (the cards not played).

    I'm still stuck on players finding out more information about each other's hands to eventually try to deduce where the poison is.

  21. I think if it is to be a game about gradual revelation of information, it will have to have different mechanics and possibly deviate further from the source material. That's not a bad thing in itself, but makes it less of an adaptation. Here's a way to do it based on Resistance and Bang, which I've heretofore not explored so deeply because it's so far removed from the source material.

    For a 2-10 player game, each player takes on specific roles, the equivalent of roles in Bang, each with their own goals. The goals, as described in the OP are variations on being or not being the most poisoned by the end of the game.

    Imagine the role cards in a full 10-player game of the Resistance changed to cup cards. The red cards are poison. Blue cards are safe.

    The game involves one player selecting a subset of those cup cards for another player to drink. This is effectively the equivalent of the Resistance Leader recruiting his team. The other players may debate about whether or not to allow this player to drink from this cup, but it's ultimately up to her to decide. She reveals the cards one by one, each red card counting as a poisoning.

    Play ends after a certain number of rounds? Or some other condition.

    Then all roles are revealed and victories are determined. Shared victories are possible.

  22. You're right! I had been using information reveals for near/far in my ideas above, but not gradual reveals over time...and I haven't thought of a good way to work that yet.

    Your game idea I think works very well, but you're right that further from an adaptation.

    What if each player is dealt 1 wine/poison card they can look at and 3 near/far cards (numbered 1, 2, and 3 from decks 1, 2, 3)...each turn you either look at 1 of any player's cards (request 1, 2, or 3), switch a wine with another player, or choose a wine to drink. Once you drink, no one else can drink that wine (but I'm not sure if that freezes the wine you drank or the wine in front of you from being switched).

    2 points for not being poisoned, 1 point for winding up with the wine in front of you correct for the near/far cards.

  23. In the above scenario, there would have to be a way for some players to find out some of the other wines/poisons, to start the switches. So maybe you just have 4 cards in front of you on the table, wine and 3 others, splayed so that someone can know which cards they've already looked at?

  24. Ah! and you don't get to look at your own wine to start.

  25. I want to back up a minute and take a look at the larger picture. I'm trying to come up with a list of all of the possible decisions to be made, and all the possible deductions to be made in a poison cup game. Then perhaps by choosing the most interesting decisions (or those closest to the source material), and the appropriate deduction difficulty, it'll all come to fruition.

    Looking over your posts and the comments so far (and some of my ideas), I see the following decisions:
    1. Choose the non-poisoned cup from 2 in front of each player.
    2. Choose one of the non-poisoned cups from 1 in front of each player (1/2 poisoned).
    3. Choose the single non-poisoned cup from 1 in front of each player (1 in the game).
    4. Choose the single cup that you are immune to from 1 in front of each player (each player is immune to 1 poison, all cups are poisoned - further from source material).
    5. Choose which cups to switch.
    6. Choose when all players drink.
    7. Choose when only you drink.
    8. Choose when to gather more information about a player (to help with deduction).
    9. Choose whether to place a poisoned or a non-poisoned cup.
    10. Choose where to place your poisoned and non-poisoned cups.
    11. Should I go for more points by trying to get the correct cup in front of me, or just drink a non-poisoned cup as soon as I find it?

    And the following deductions:
    1. Where did the dealer put the poison?
    2. Where did each player put the poison?
    3. Did that player have poison in his cup? (if the dealer selected where the poison was, or if the player selected, or if that is determined by the cards and you have gathered enough information)
    4. Did a non-poisoned cup get switched?
    5. Is that player immune? (whether to all poison or to a specific poison)
    6. Where is a non-poisoned cup for me?
    7. Where is a cup of the right kind to move in front of me?

    What am I missing?


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