Inoki – The Poison Word Game

On a trip recently I came up with a simple game that takes no equipment. It is designed as a two player game, though the addition of extra players seems pretty straight forward – and I will take a stab at this after describing the basic version.

Players agree on a poison word or phrase. Choose a player to be the maker. Subsequent games the winner becomes the maker. The maker is responsible for choosing the poison word. After a word is agreed upon the game begins. There are two ways to win a round of Inoki, either say the poison word so that your opponent hears it but doesn’t notice, or notice when your opponent says the poison word. The game may end in minutes or it may take days to complete. An integral part of play is the players being off guard – and therefore susceptible to the opponent slipping the word into conversation unnoticed, or tricked into saying the word. When claiming victory a player says “Inoki!”

A few examples of play will make it clear:

Orange is the poison word.

Player A: Can you peel an orange for me?
Player B: (Not Noticing) Sure!
Player A: Inoki! (Winning)


Player A: What fruit do we have?
Player B: (off guard) Two apples and an orange.
Player A: Inoki! (Winning)


Player A: Do you see that orange cat over there?
Player B: (Noticing) Inoki! (Winning)


The choice of word will have a large impact on how the game is played. You can choose common or uncommon words, and each has its’ own charm – though you will likely want to avoid super common words like ‘the‘. It is possible with tricky words and cautious players that no one makes a move for an unacceptably long time – in which case players can agree to end the current game and choose a new poison word.

One final detail, you probably want to allow the non-maker to be able to give feedback or even veto the maker’s word. This is a casual game and all players should buy in to the poison word. The game doesn’t officially start until the non-maker says ‘begin’. This prevents you from losing a series of games like I did where my opponent mumbled the poison word, then when I asked for clarification repeated the word then claimed Inoki moments later. Such trickery!

The thing that interests me most about this game is the way it bleeds into real life, things that happen to you and around you, conversations you take part in – they are all part of the battlefield on which you are playing. In this small way it reminds me of the game Assassin.

To play with more than 2 players, I would make it so that the maker must get buy in from all other players, who each must say “begin” before the game starts. When a player says the poison word so that any player can hear but doesn’t notice, they can call Inoki, and win the round. If any player notices and calls Inoki first all players other than the player who used the poison word wins the round. On subsequent rounds, the player who called Inoki is the maker. This could be unsatisfying, particularly with larger groups of players, since a particular player may lose or win the game while not even being around, but for small groups in reasonably close quarters – a car trip or a dinner party for example, it should work fine.

I think sharing the victory when catching a player saying the poison word (intentionally or otherwise) will keep it from becoming a speed game. The alternative, of course, is to rule that the first player to call Inoki wins – and that will probably be better for some groups.





7 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Duncan,

    Did you design the Gotcha! Mechanic in unhinged? Because those cards create a minigame while playing magic nearly identical to this.

  2. Jesper,

    How about making it a game of elimination for playing with multiple people?

    Saying the poison word so that a player(s) hears it but does not notice it eliminates the player(s) who did not notice the word. Noticing another player saying the poison word eliminates the player who said the word. The player who survives the longest wins the round and becomes the maker for the next round.

    Of course this would require all players to follow the honor system and actually remembering which players have been eliminated but it could potentially be played without having all players present at one time.

  3. Telmo,

    I found the internet gem that is this blog last month and have listened to each podcast twice. I can’t believe awesome game designers like you guys would take time to do something like this. Unreal!

    Also wanted to ask if the blog is dead or are you planning on more podcasts/blog posts?

    Anyway, thank you so much for what you’ve done so far! It really means a lot to an amateur game designer to listen from the greats!

    • Hi Telmo – thanks for the feedback, we have been on…hiatus…for a while but we are not abandoning this site. We have two podcasts ‘in the can’ and I am working on a third – expect a full length podcast fairly soon and then a few game glimpses.


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