I’m not sure when or how we got our Taboo game, but we have played it for many years, usually when the children visit, and invariably over a glass of wine or two. Officially, you need at least four players for Taboo (two teams of two) but sometimes that isn’t possible. So I have developed rules for 3-player Taboo, as follows:
Every player plays for himself/herself. The game consists of 12 rounds. In each round, one player gives the clues, the second player guesses, and the third serves as referee and controls the timer. If we name the players Alice, Bob and Chris, then the rounds proceed as follows:
Rounds 7-12 repeat the pattern of Rounds 1-6. Extra rounds may be needed to break ties, but I will talk about that later.
It is possible for each player (including the referee) to score in every round. The player giving the clues gets one point for every correct guess, but gets a one-point penalty for every word that is buzzed or passed. The player guessing the answers gets one point for every correct guess, but gets a one-point penalty for any word that is passed. There is no penalty to the guesser if a word gets buzzed — that penalty applies only to the clue-giver. Finally, the referee scores one point for every word that is buzzed — he does not score on a word that is passed.
For example, let’s say Alice is giving clues to Bob, and Chris is the referee. Bob has five correct guesses, Alice passes on one word, and Chris buzzes Alice twice for illegal clues. The scoring for that round is 2 for Alice (5 – 1 – 2), 4 for Bob (5 – 1), and 2 for Chris.
There is one other scoring twist not in the original game. In this three-player version, there is a better-than-even chance that you would not need to play the final round to determine the winner. Here, if either Bob or Chris are leading going into Round 12, that person could simply refuse to play and walk away as the champion. So to make things more interesting, I introduce the Skunk Rule:
If the two active players in a round do not have at least one correct answer, then the team has been skunked and both players are penalized. The penalty is either (a) two points are subtracted from the player’s score going into that round, or (b) the player’s score is reset to the lowest score of all players before the round was played, whichever penalty is worse for the individual player. The referee scores one point when a team is skunked.
Let’s say the scores going into Round 12 are Alice = 15, Bob = 16 and Chris = 19. If Bob and Chris are skunked, then the scores after Round 12 are Alice = 16, Bob = 14 and Chris = 15. Alice wins! This clearly provides incentive for every player to play every round.
If two players are tied for the lead after Round 12, they can either agree to walk away as co-winners or else play three “overtime” rounds (Rounds 1-2-3) to break the tie, with the scores being added to the current totals. This means that the player who is behind after Round 12 can come back to win the game if he or she scores enough points in overtime.
Note: This is one of the most popular blog posts on this site, based on search results.