Non-competitive games

We’re running our Peace Experiments program, in which we try to give kids a positive experience of peacefulness through activities like meditation, stories, conversation, songs, learning to ride unicycles — and this week we’ll be playing non-competitive games.

Actually the games are not precisely non-cometitive. They can be very competitive, there’s just not a clear binary distinction between winner(s) and loser(s). Our society tends to train us to perceive the world in terms of winners and losers. So what happens when you mess with that perception, by playing games where winning and losing are redefined? That’s what we’ll be experimenting with this week.

Below are 9 different tag games, all of which mess with the binary distinction between winners and losers.


1. Triangle tag

Divide into groups of four. Three people in each group hold hands to form a triangle. One of those three people volunteers to be the target. The fourth player stands outside the triangle as the chaser.

Once you’ve got the triangle set up, the chaser tries to tag the target. And the players in the triangle move around, cooperating to protect the target from being tagged by the chaser. Some obvious rules:
— the target cannot be legally tagged on the hands or the arms, or from across the triangle
— the chaser cannot go under or through the triangle, and cannot try to break up the triangle
— the people in the triangle have to keep holding on to each other’s hands


If you have 7 people, try having 2 triangles, each with a target, and 1 chaser. And with 10 people, try 3 triangles, each with a target, and 1 chaser.

For a really active game with 11 people, try having 2 chasers and 3 triangles (or with 14 people, how about 2 chasers and 4 triangles). Now the chasers can cooperate as well!

2. Clam free

This is one of those tag games that needs boundaries, so set some boundaries.

One person volunteers to be the nuclear reactor, and they get a brightly colored foam ball — this is the radioactive nuclear core, and it activates the nuclear reactor. But — oh, no! — something goes wrong, and the nuclear reactor starts chasing clams!

Everyone else is a clam. Clams are happy, and should smile a lot.

The nuclear reactor runs around and tries to tag the clams with the “radioactive” foam ball. When a clam gets contaminated by being tagged with the radioactive ball, they are frozen and can’t run any more.

If two other clams join hands around the frozen clam and shout “Clam free!” then the frozen clam gets defrosted.

If two or more defrosted clams join hands, they automatically become immune to the nuclear reactor. And if four defrosted clams can join hands around the nuclear reactor and shout, “Clam free!” then the nuclear reactor shuts down and the game is over. By the way, the clams are more likely to win if the boundaries are smaller.

3. Blob Tag

One person is the Blob, an outer space alien from a B-grade science fiction movie. The Blob has a special super power — when they tag a human, that human becomes a part of the Blob!

Everyone else is a human. Set up boundaries, and the humans cannot go beyond them. (Since the Blob comes from outer space, part of it can go beyond the boundaries, as long as at least one part of it remains within the boundaries.)

When a human gets tagged by the Blob, they must join hands with the Blob. Now they are a part of the Blob, and if they tag a human, that human must become a part of the Blob.

The Blob may divide. The way the Blob divides is that one of the players in the Blob shouts, “Blob divide!” When the Blog divides into two Blobs, there must be at least 3 players who are part of each new Blob. When every human gets caught, the Blob might want to experience ultimate unity, and rejoin into one alien outerspace being.

4. Dragon tag:

Players form a dragon by lining up, and holding on to one another’s waists. The person at the front is the dragon’s head, the person at the back is the dragon’s tail. An adult serves as the Referee. When the Referee says, “Go!” the dragon’s head tries to catch the dragon’s tail.

Younger children will need to be carefully instructed that they can’t let go of waists.

Variation: Double dragon tag

Divide the group into two teams. Each team forms a dragon by lining up and holding onto one another’s waists. Each dragon’s head must try to catch the other dragon’s tail without letting the body break apart.

If you’d like to inject a fantasy element in this game: Before starting, each team should decide on the gait, voice and personality of their dragons.

5. Chaos tag:

Anyone can tag anyone else. When you are tagged, you have to squat down, and are out of the game. When the person who tagged you gets tagged, then you are free again. If two people tag each other simultaneously, you both have to squat down (N.B.: there are other variations on this rule).


6. Rochambeau or “Ro-Sham-Bo” (a.k.a. Rock Paper Scissors)

You need three parallel lines, two goal lines and a center line, which you can mark with pieces of rope on the ground, or with cones, or whatever. The lines should be spaced evenly apart, with at least 20 feet from the center line to each goal line.

Divide the players into two teams. (You may want to have a Referee to get things organized, and do the chant — it’s up to you.)

For each round of the game, each team goes into a huddle by their own goal line. As a group, they decide whether they will throw Rock, Paper, or Scissors. They should also decide on a back-up.

Then each team lines up at the center line. Then, just the way you’d play Rochambeau one-on-one, each team chants “Ro! Sham! Bo!” (or “Rock! Paper! Scissors!” depending on how you play it in your area), pumping their fists in time with the chant. The third time, everyone on each team throws the sign that their team decided on. Then whichever team wins the throw starts chasing the other team.

Just to remind you — rock blunts scissors, scissors cut paper, and paper wraps rock.

Variation: Bear Salmon Mosquito

Same basic game as above, except each teams decides whether they are Bears, Hunters, or Ninjas. Then line up BACK TO BACK at the center line, and chant, “Bear! Salmon! Mosquito!” As soon as the chant is done, everyone spins around to face the other team, taking on the pose of whatever they decided on: if you’re a bear, you growl and stretch your hands up like claws; if you’re a salmon, you make a fishy-face and move your hands like fins; if you’re a mosquito, you make biting motions with your mouth and flap your arms as wings. Bear eats Salmon; Salmon eats Mosquito; Mosquito eats Bear.

7. Lemonade

Two teams. A play area split by a clearly defined line (rope, sidewalk, etc.).

The two teams huddle at separate ends of the room. One team, Team One, decides on a job or profession they will act out. Then they decide on a place that job or profession is associated with, e.g.: lawyers and Washington, D.C.; corn farmers and Iowa; garment workers and New York City; etc.

When both teams are ready, they line up at opposite ends of the play area.

While taking a step towards the center line, team one calls out, “Here we come!”

Team two takes their own step towards the center line, and responds, “Where ya from?”

Team one takes step, says, “Washington! [or wherever the place is that they’ve chosen]”

Team two takes step, says, “What’s yer trade?” [in the Boston area, say “what’s ya trade?”]

Team one takes step, says, “Lemonade!”

Team two takes step, says, “Well show us some if you’re not afraid!” At this point, both teams should be lined up face-to-face on either side of the center line (so take big steps in a big space, smaller steps in a smaller space). Members of team one begin acting out their trade; members of team two try shout out their guesses as to what that trade might be. When a member of team two guesses correctly, team one runs madly back to their starting line, while team two tries to tag them.

All those who get tagged before getting back across the starting line are now part of team two. And now team two huddles to decide on what profession or job they will act out.


8. Go Tag:

This game can be difficult to learn, but once you get into it, it can be pretty fascinating.

Players form a line, squatting down, and facing alternately left and right. Establish a running track around the line of players — use a rope, draw a line in the dirt, or just imagine a track about 3 feet wide and right next to the line of players.

To start, one player becomes the runner, and one player becomes the chaser. Both the runner and the chaser must stay on the track. The runner may go in either direction around the track. But once the chaser has started running in one direction, they must keep running in that direction (e.g., if the chaser starts running clockwise, they must keep running clockwise).

The key to this game is the “Go Tag” maneuver:

The chaser may at any time shout “Go!” and touch the back of any player who is squatting down FACING AWAY from them. The player who is squatting then become the chaser — they must stand up in the direction that they are facing, and start chasing the chaser. They become the new chaser, and the former chaser squats down in the same place. Once the new chaser starts running in one direction around the track, they must keep running in that same direction. When first learning this game, practice the “Go Tag” maneuver a few times, until everyone understands it.

The basic strategy for anyone who is a chaser is to try to get in a position where you’re on the opposite side of the line of players from the runner — and then tag a squatting player just as the runner passes by so the new chaser can tag the runner. The quickest way to catch a runner is to use the “Go Tag” maneuver frequently.

When a chaser tags the runner, here’s what you do: The runner squats down at one end of the line of players. The chaser becomes the new runner. And the person at the other end of the line from the former runner becomes the first new chaser.

9. Foxes, Rabbits, and Leaves:

Another fairly complicated game, but once kids learn it, they will play for half an hour or more.

One person is the Referee. The Referee divides the group into Foxes, Rabbits, and Leaves. With a group of ten, have 4 rabbits, 3 leaves, and 3 foxes. Here’s how to tell the creatures apart:
— Leaves stand still with hands up at shoulder level (as if about to give a high-five)
— Rabbits have tails (pieces of white cloth to stick into back pocket, like flag football)
— Foxes have no distinguishing characteristic

The play area is a big circle. Rabbits have a Warren (a square of felt on the ground). They are safe from predation by the Foxes as long as they are touching the felt.

To begin each round:
— The Rabbits are all touching the Rabbit Warren
— The Leaves form a broad circle around the Rabbit Warren, standing with their hands up at shoulder level or higher
— The Foxes stand in the circle with the Leaves

When the signal is given to begin a round:
— Rabbits must try to leave the Rabbit Warren to “eat” Leaves by giving one Leaf a high five
— Leaves cannot move, except that as soon as a Rabbit eats them, they must put their hands down
— Foxes try to catch and “eat” Rabbits by pulling off their tails

During each round:
— Leaves just stand there, waiting to be eaten.
— Rabbits are safe and cannot be tagged when they are touching the Rabbit Warren OR when they are frozen in a crouched position. This means that Rabbits may not move or get Leaves unless they are standing up. However, Rabbits must eat in each round, or they will die from hunger. Rabbits may eat only one Leaf in each round.
— Foxes must eat in each round, or they will die of hunger. Foxes may eat only one Rabbit in each round.

A round lasts 3-5 minutes. At the end of the round, the Referee calls out “End of Round!” and all action stops.

At the end of each round, the Referee helps all the creatures figure out what they will be in the next round:
— If a Leaf is eaten by a Rabbit, s/he becomes a Rabbit in the next round.
— If a Rabbit is eaten by a Fox (whether or not s/he has eaten a Leaf him/herself), that Rabbit becomes a Fox next round.
— If a Rabbit has not eaten a Leaf in that round, s/he dies, rots away, turns into compost, and becomes a Leaf in the next round.
— If a Fox has not eaten one or more Rabbits in a round, s/he dies, rots away, turns into compost, and becomes a Leaf in the next round.

Play at least three to five rounds.

The educational purpose of this game is to model how a surplus of predators in an ecosystem leads to starvation of predators; a surplus of herbivores can lead to a shortage of plants; etc. Or it can just be a fun game!

Note that there are two ways the ecosystem can crash. If all the Rabbits die off one round, then all the Foxes will die off in the next round, and then everyone will be a Leaf in the round after that. If all the Foxes die off in one round, over the next round or two the Rabbits will proliferate until they eat all the Leaves, at which point they will then die off the next round.

Variation: Humans, Foxes, Rabbits, and Leaves

If you have 12 or more players, you can introduce a Human into the game. The Human can kill and eat any other creature (Leaf, Rabbit, and Fox). The Human cannot be killed by any other creature. The Human can kill as many creatures as s/he wants during any given round. With this rule, the ecosystem can crash incredibly quickly, so Humans may wish to come up with a strategy to keep the ecosystem from crashing.

2 thoughts on “Non-competitive games”

  1. And if you are into board games, there are a whole bunch of cooperative/non-competitive games out there. Ones where everyone wins or everyone loses, and working together is the only way to succeed.

  2. Dan asked me to post some of the cooperative board games and where to get them. Most of them are available through Amazon or through your local gaming store. Another options is to look them up on (They give ratings and reviews and descriptions of the games and also list prices on ebay and other on-line sources.)

    Forbidden Island – play adventures trying to find treasure and get off an island before it sinks.
    Forbidden Dessert -assemble a solar powered ship and escape a desert before a sandstorm buries everyone.
    Legendary – deck building game, play heroes from the marvel universe and defeat the master villain
    Sentinels of the Multiverse – generic comic super heroes band together to defeat a villain
    Swords over Camelot – knights of the round table accomplish quests (one player may be a traitor)
    Betrayal at the House on the Hill – explore a haunted house defeat the evil within (one person may be a monster)
    Eldritch Horror – adventures work to defeat minions of Cthulhu before time runs out
    Warhammer Quest – adventurers delve into dungeon to complete a quest (out of print, unfortunately)
    Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Raveloft – fantasy heroes fight undead monsters for treasure

    these are just the ones I know of and have played– I’m sure I could think of half a dozen more if I tried. Ask your local game store staff about what cooperative games they have and for what age groups.

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