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. []