How to Play Jenga

chee Seng choi/iStock/Getty Images

Anyone who has ever played Jenga remembers the terrible moment of tension as a wooden block comes sliding out of the tottering tower. This game of skill requires steady nerves and steadier hands; although it's easy to know what you need to do in a game of Jenga, actually doing it can be a much tougher challenge.

Setting Up the Game

Using the loading tray to hold them in place, stack the game's 54 wooden blocks into a tower. Each level of the tower should consist of three blocks laid side by side at right angles to the level below. Once you've placed all 18 levels, carefully remove the loading tray. Whoever took the trouble to build the tower gets to take the first turn as a reward.

Building the Tower

Players take turns removing one block from the tower and then placing it on top. Players may only use one hand to remove blocks and may not remove them from the top row. Some blocks will be easier to move than others once play starts; players are allowed to touch the tower to test which blocks will move. If a player moves a block out of place but doesn't choose to remove it, she must gently push it back into position. Once the tower begins to grow, players may only pull blocks from below the highest full row. If the tower still stands 10 seconds after the new block is placed, play passes to the next player to the left.

Winning the Game

Eventually, no matter how carefully each player adds and removes blocks, the tower will come crashing down. When this happens, the player who last successfully added a new layer -- that is, the player before the player who knocked the tower down -- is the winner. The player who knocked the tower down sets it up again and will take the first turn of the next game.

Adding More Complexity

The fundamental gameplay of Jenga is very simple; the game depends on coordination and a little basic engineering. Playing solo and seeing how many levels you reach can help you learn how a tower feels when it's about to collapse. To add complexity to the game, some variants -- such as Space Invaders or Donkey Kong Jenga -- add extra rules. In Space Invaders Jenga, for instance, each player controls a block which they must attempt to move toward the top of the tower, while instructions printed on other blocks add restrictions or special effects. Jenga Ultimate features color-coded blocks; each turn the player rolls a die to determine which color he must remove.