Rules & Materials for Ceremony of Surprise

This is a self-commissioned party game explor­ing per­form­ativ­ity – the idea that games can dir­ectly act on the world. For more back­ground read the blog announce­ment. For the game rules, read on.

At this time, 21st cen­tury cul­ture is more pop­u­lar then ever before. Recent tran­scrip­tions of ancient inform­a­tion net­works have provided more insight into those excit­ing years lead­ing up to the end of man­kind. In this sim­u­la­tion you will exper­i­ence how it was to live in those thrill­ing days. You will par­ti­cip­ate in one of the most pop­u­lar but mis­un­der­stood rituals of ancient human­ity: “The Surprise Party”.

Scholars still debate the pur­pose of the Surprise Party. It is a com­plex cere­mony in which the par­ti­cip­at­ing humans had to “sur­prise” one per­son. To con­duct this event, humans cre­ated a com­plex sys­tem. By fol­low­ing the instruc­tions below, you can sim­u­late this won­der­ful ceremony.


Before you can exper­i­ence a Surprise Party, pre­par­a­tions have to be made.

  • Recruit five to nine par­ti­cipants who from this point onwards will be referred to as “players”.
  • Bring one con­sum­able item that is large enough for all the play­ers. You can choose any­thing, as long as the food is desir­able by all par­ti­cipants. The ancient humans seemed to prefer sugar coated dough dec­or­ated with light bulbs.
  • Every par­ti­cipant of the cere­mony should bring two objects from his/her home which can be of use dur­ing the cere­mony. Simple dec­or­at­ive objects such as paper flags and inflat­able rub­bers were very pop­u­lar dur­ing the 21st century.
  • Humanity used to demol­ish their oxy­gen pro­du­cing life­forms and ground them to flat sheets which they called paper. On paper humans would use a remote com­mu­nic­a­tion tech­nique known as writ­ing. To organ­ise this sim­u­la­tion you will have to fol­low a sim­ilar pro­ced­ure. Copy the inform­a­tion in the attached files to sev­eral sheets of paper. Use a sharp object or sim­ilar device to divide all the sheets in nine indi­vidual pieces, also called cards. There are three dif­fer­ent files: ‘name cards’, ‘action cards’ and ‘vote cards’. Make sure that every par­ti­cipant gets one name card and two vote cards (one yea and one nay). One copy of the action cards is enough for up to nine play­ers.1

Beginning the ceremony

  • Explain the rules and the object of the cere­mony (see below), then dis­trib­ute the empty name cards amongst the participants.
  • Each par­ti­cipant writes its name on a name card. Put these on a pile, shuffle them and take out one without look­ing at it. Place it out of reach. This is the sur­prisee, also known simply as “it”. Add the wild card. Shuffle the deck again and hand each par­ti­cipant a card.
  • Shuffle the deck of action cards. Hand out two action cards to each participant.
  • Hand a pair of vote cards out to each player.

Performing the ceremony

  • Participants take turns nom­in­at­ing an ingredi­ent and describe how it will fit in the party cere­mony. Then the par­ti­cipants either vote for or against the inclu­sion of the ingredi­ent. Use your vote cards, and reveal them simultaneously.
    • If a major­ity voted for the ingredi­ent, every par­ti­cipant that voted for the ingredi­ent gets an addi­tional action card. This ingredi­ent is now part of the party.
    • If it is not elec­ted, the item is dis­carded and can’t be nom­in­ated again. In this case, all those who voted against get an action card.
    • The pro­poser votes too. Use the proposer’s vote to break ties.
  • Participants can play action cards whenever they wish dur­ing the ceremony.
  • Players are not allowed to show their name cards to each other, unless the use of an action card spe­cific­ally tells them to.
  • When no more ingredi­ents remain, or all the name cards have been torn up, the endgame begins.

Ending the ceremony

  • Stand in a circle.
  • Count back from five to zero.
  • At zero, point to the par­ti­cipant you think is the sur­prisee and shout “surprise!”

Dividing the cake

  • If the sur­prisee guessed itself, then it gets the whole cake.
  • If not, the cake is divided amongst all the par­ti­cipants who guessed the sur­prisee correctly.
  • If no one guessed right, the cake is fed to a lesser life-form, as all humans used to have these around to do their both­er­some tasks.



Designed by: Kars Alfrink & Tim Bosje.

Tested by: Wilma Bakker, Hessel Bonenkamp, Zuraida Buter, Carla Gerritsen, Sjanine Hendrikx, Joost Houtman, Julius Huijnk, Wytze Kamp, Simon van der Linden, Janneke Peelen, Richard Ram, Michael Schmidt, Matthijs Verbree & Dennis Zoetebier, our friends at the Dutch Game Garden and Local Multiplayer Picnic attendants.

With thanks to the human inform­a­tion net­work known as “the web” for card imagery.

Creative Commons LicenseThe Ceremony of Surprise by Hubbub is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

  1. Please note that the provided images were found on ancient human inform­a­tion net­works. They are believed to be authen­tic rep­res­ent­a­tions of human­ity as it per­formed the Surprise cere­mony. []