How to Play Taboo

By James Holloway

The classic word game Taboo calls on the players to guess words based on clues given by their teammates. However, there's a twist: The most obvious clues for each word are "taboo" or forbidden. Because of this, the clue-giver must use unfamiliar clues to suggest words to the rest of the team. Success in Taboo demands creativity, lateral thinking and speed.

Setting Up the Game

The game contains a deck of clue cards, a deck holder, a notepad and a timer. In addition to these items, most editions contain a noisemaker of some kind, such as a buzzer or a horn. Choose two teams of players; each team should nominate a member to be its first clue-giver. Decide which team will go first, and have the first team's clue-giver take the deck holder. The clue-giver should sit so that her team cannot see the cards in the deck holder but the opposing team can.

Choosing a Clue

The clue-giver draws a card from the top of the deck, places it in the lid of the deck holder and starts the timer. Each card has a word at the top, with a list of taboo words in the lower section. For instance, a card with the word "Amnesia" at the top will have "Forget," "Memory," "Remember," "Head" and "Bump" as taboo words. The clue-giver has to give her teammates an idea of the word without using the taboo words. She might, for instance, say "if you don't know what happened to you in the past, you have ...". If the clue-giver uses any of the taboo words, the opposing team sounds the noisemaker and the card is discarded, scoring a point for the other team. In addition to avoiding the taboo words, the clue-giver cannot use any part of any of the taboo words. Gestures, sound effects, abbreviations, initials, "sounds like" and "rhymes with" are also forbidden.

Continuing Play

If the clue-giver's team guesses the word, they score a point and the clue-giver draws a new card. The clue-giver can choose not to play a card, but doing so earns a point for the other team. This repeats until the timer runs out, at which point play passes to the other team. When every member of both teams -- or an equal number of members, if the two teams don't have the same number of members -- has had a chance to be clue-giver, the game ends. The team with the most points wins.

Rule Variations

Although most editions of Taboo have the same fundamental rules, there are some slight differences. Some newer editions include a "game-changer" die which imposes a random new rule on the next turn, such as allowing both teams to play or extending the available time. In other editions, two words are printed on each card, allowing for more words in the deck.

About the Author

Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.