I periodically record the instructions for silly games that I came across, usually in the setting of a youth group.

This game is called “Empire”. Each player starts off as the “Ruler” of their Empire (which consists of only them at the start), and tries to add other players to their Empire by correctly guessing their secret identities. But if another person else guesses theirs, then they and their entire Empire gets subsumed into that other person’s Empire! The winner is the person who has all the other players in their Empire.

It works best with between 8 and 20 people.

To start, every player will need a pen and a small piece of paper. They chose the name of a famous person (alive or dead, real or fictional) who they will “be” for the purposes of the game, and write it on the piece of paper. All the names then go into a hat (or other suitable container).

The organiser then reads out all the names which have been submitted – e.g. “Lady Gaga”, “Harrison Ford”, “Pooh Bear”, etc., and the game begins.

The first player – say Alice – points to a person – say Bob – and asks them if they are a specific person? For example “Bob – are you Lady Gaga?”.

If Bob isn’t “Lady Gaga”, i.e. Alice guessed incorrectly, then play passes to Bob to make the next guess.

If, on the other hand, Alice guessed correctly (so Bob did write down “Lady Gaga”), then Bob moves over to sit with Alice. Alice’s “Empire” now consists of her and Bob, and she can make another guess. Bob plays no further active role in the game, except to advise Alice on her guesses, and to move with her.

If another player subsequently correctly guesses who Alice is, then both Alice and Bob move over to become part of that person’s Empire, and they can make no further guesses.

The physical movement is important, as it shows who is in which Empire, and how big they are. When you’re doing to 2 or 4 active players, people are usually having at rack their brains for which names haven’t been guessed.

The only other rules are:

  • The list of names is only read out once at the start of the game – the players have to remember all the names.
  • The names should be of people that all the players could reasonably be expected to have heard of and be able to remember.
  • If there are duplicate names, there are 3 options:
    1. Start again, with everyone writing down the names again, but the people who had a duplicate have to choose a different name
    2. Play with the duplicates – so “Harrison Ford” has to be guessed twice.
    3. Treat the duplicates as one person, so as soon as “Harrison Ford” is correctly guessed, both “Harrison Ford”s join the guesser’s Empire
  • It doesn’t have to be people – it could be films, books, meals, places. Any subject where the players are likely to choose different options from one another.
  • With younger or less reliable players, they could also have to write their own name on the paper, so the host can resolve disputes.
  • The host doesn’t usually play, as they have the advantage of seeing the handwriting.

This is a game of memory and psychology – especially if you play more than one round! Subsequent rounds can start with the winner of the previous round.