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The score is still Q to 12!

"That's two points for recycling! The girls' score is now the square-root of pi while the boys still have a crudely-drawn picture of a duck. Clearly, it's still anyone's game!"
Phineas, Phineas and Ferb

Calvinball is a game which we see characters play but whose rules we don't know. In some instances the rules may even be unclear to the players or even get changed while the game is being played. This allows authors to create games that are absurdly silly, complicated, or arcane. Such games typically fall into these categories:

  1. Games which don't have a codified ruleset In-Universe; the players aren't playing to win, but just to have fun, and they'll happily change the rules to make it more fun.
  2. Games which don't exist In-Universe either, but are rather pretext or have an ulterior motive; the players are making it up as they go along, without other characters' knowledge.
  3. "Nomic-style" games, which do have rules, but also have built-in mechanics for changing the rules during play; they're well-defined, but they're never played the same way twice, and they look baffling to onlookers.
  4. Games which aren't described in full because it's just funnier that way.

The key to Calvinball is that it allows the work to depict the game without having to take time out to describe it to the audience. It's particularly useful to show crazy or destructive characters wreaking mayhem in what looks to the audience like organized chaos. If any partial description is given, it's usually a list of Noodle Implements, and is often filled with Perfectly Cromulent Words.

If the basic rules are described to the audience in any way (or if the game already exists in Real Life) then it's not Calvinball. You may instead be dealing with The Points Mean Nothing (where the game is explained but the scoring is arbitrary); Moving the Goalposts (where the game is explained but characters try to change the rules to their own advantage); Gretzky Has the Ball (where the sport is real but the characters play it like Calvinball); Artistic License – Sports (where the sport is real but just inaccurately portrayed); New Rules as the Plot Demands (where the fictional game is technically defined but inconsistently portrayed); or Gameplay Roulette (where the rules are defined, but the game itself unpredictably changes them on the players).

When a sport doesn't exist in real life, but has defined rules that could be followed, it's a Fictional Sport instead. Likewise with a Fictional Board Game.

The Trope Namer is Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes, who has no patience for games with rules.


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    Alternate Reality Games 
  • Perplex City: #140 Mornington Crescent is based on a game of the infamous Mornington Crescent. The aim is to determine the winning move based on the moves previously played (the rules are, of course, not provided).

    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach: Apparently any time the shinigami try to do something for the New Year during filler, this happens.
    • In Episode 303, the shinigami play a New Year's karuta card game. It's originally supposed to be based on a real game, but Yachiru doesn't bother explaining the rules. Players get ejected on the basis of made-up rules, and things quickly degenerate into chaos.
    • In Episode 335, Kira Got Volunteered by Hisagi to host a New Year's divisional kite-flying bonding exercise, but Hisagi sabotages it to spice things up. Things escalate from gentle bonding to all-out war, until Kira's attempt to end it accidentally destroys Yamamoto's barracks. Yamamoto's Unstoppable Rage ends the chaos with the effectiveness of a Fantastic Nuke.
  • Bludgeoning Angel Dokuro-chan: Dokuro's various board games appear to be parodies of other board games. For instance, the first episode shows a game called Gothello, which appears to be a version of Othello that's played with five colors instead of two. Dokuro being Dokuro, she picks more than one color instead of a single one.
  • D-Frag! brings us the girls of the Game Development Club (temp), who specialize in creating board games that change layouts or rules depending on their whim.
  • In Dragon Ball Super, the exhibition matches before the actual Tournament of Power run on this trope as the only rule is that the match ends when either an opponent cannot move any more or Present and Future Zen-Oh are suitably thrilled at the fight. That means things like outside interference and ring outs, actions that would lead to disqualifications, are out.
    • The Tournament itself has shades of this. While it does have codified rules,note  the Zen-Ohs have final say and have been known to bend or override the rules on a whim. For example, Quitela protests Master Roshi's use of a jar as part of the Mafuba/Evil Containment Wave because it's an outside object, but the Zen-Ohs overrule him because they think it's cool.
  • Izaya from Durarara!! plays a game involving a Go board, chess pieces, Shogi pieces, playing cards, and matches (and eventually gasoline). It apparently corresponds in some way with the games he plays with the citizens of Ikebukuro. Other than that, only he knows. His hired secretary can't even fathom how it works.
  • In an animé filler arc of Fairy Tail, Cana is challenged to a competitive card game called Guild Wars by the Eclipse Version of Scorpio. While the game has a set basic structure and win condition as established by Scorpio, the cards and their effects drawn from each player's deck are completely made up by each player as they go, resulting in the cards becoming more and more powerful as they play. The last few cards have such ridiculously overpowered abilities that they'd certainly be banned from any real life version of the game.
  • The Gundam Fight in G Gundam actually does have a set of codified rules; however, in the Finals, the host nation (who is the defending champion) has carte blanche to alter the rules at will. Neo Hong Kong's Prime Minister changes all sorts of rules to screw with The Hero Domon, including a cage match with explosives (while holding Domon's Gundam in place with a giant horseshoe magnet); most scarily, he also suspends the normal Thou Shalt Not Kill rule.
  • Mazinger Z's "Brockenball" vaguely resembles soccer, but the only established rule is that everyone wins — except the ball, which is Count Brocken's head. And Brocken happens to be a Cyborg whose head and body can operate independently.
  • Nichijou brings us "Igo Soccer", a combination of soccer and Go. Daiku, the club's president, started an Igo Soccer club without even realizing that it was a real game. He can't make head or tail of the game itself when he sees it, other than that it involves bouncing a soccer ball and go pieces at the same time and striking very odd poses. Even his Emotionless Girl partner Sekiguchi is left in open-mouthed shock and confusion.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! centers around the game of Duel Monsters, which wasn't always clearly defined, especially in early story arcs before a more concrete set of rules was established. Even then, new cards are constantly introduced that change the existing rules, usually to help the protagonists win.

    Board Games 
  • There's a whole class of games where the rules can be changed, such as Nomic, Bartok, and Dvorak. Depending on the group playing the game, the complication and absurdity of the rules can quickly reach Calvinball-esque levels. The idea comes from a book about government, The Paradox of Self-Amendment, which posed the following question: If a government's laws include laws on how to change the laws, and those laws are used, is it still the same government?
  • Several Chess variants can seem like Calvinball, especially given the idea that the more complicated the variant is, the smarter you'd have to be to be good at it. The most complicated is probably "Ultimate Shogi", which has a 36x36 board and 200 different pieces. (And in standard Japanese chess, if a player makes an invalid move, he loses automatically.) This kind of variant chess is parodied in "How Chess Was Meant To Be Played".
  • Democrazy is about acquiring and scoring colored chips, but the players can vote on any new rules regarding how those chips can be acquired and scored. This means that a winning position can become a worthless one in one turn.
  • Steve Jackson Games' Knightmare Chess uses a deck of cards, from which each player draws with every move, to turn chess into Calvinchess. Typical card effects including blowing up pieces and rotating the board ninety degrees.
  • In 1979, the "Mad Magazine Game" was released by Parker Brothers, with the winner being the first person to lose all their money, an inversion of Monopoly: Players rolled the dice with their left hand and went around the board counterclockwise. If a player used their right hand to roll the dice, they were "fined" by receiving $500 from the other players. If a player moved clockwise around the board, they were called a nerd and not allowed to play the game (presumably until reinstated). "Card cards" included various instructions: changing seats or money with another player, good-looking players imitating their favorite animals and losing $2000, cackling like a hen and losing an egg and $500, acting like a rock, and a card that said "This card can only be played on Friday" (no other information was given). Board spaces included Start, with players losing $500 each time they passed it, moving one chair to the right or left, changing money with the player next to you, a "Tough Luck" space where you had to take the money accumulated there, and collecting a $1,329,063 note if your name was Alfred E. Neuman (otherwise, you lost a turn). If disputes or ambiguities came up regarding the directions, they could be resolved by majority vote; if questions arose about what constitutes a majority, the rules allowed it to be settled by majority vote.
  • Talisman: the Magic Quest Game, by Games Workshop, an expandable board game loosely based on the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 role-playing games. Much of the gameplay occurs through card wars like Magic: The Gathering, but with dice and boards. This led to a network of overlapping and shifting rules, and nobody's sure which rules take precedence, which leads to a Calvinball-like experience.

    Card Games 
  • A common card game (which goes by different names, such as "Asshole", "President", or "God") gives a single player the power to create new rules, which may or may not remain in effect when power transfers to a new person. Other variants (such as Kings) allow any player to create a new rule if they draw a King. Drinking is usually involved.
  • Blank White Cards is the closest we'll get to "Nomic with cards". The only rules are that the game ends when someone cannot play or draw a card, and the person with the highest score wins. Beyond that, the individual players can write or draw on the cards and have them do pretty much whatever.
  • Calvinball itself has been defictionalized in the form of Calvinball: The Chaotic Collectible Card Game.
    Winning: Winning a game of Calvinball, whether in CCCG form or in its original incarnation, is generally accepted to be a virtual impossibility.
  • Card: The Game has one basic rule: if it's card-sized, card-shaped, and has a number and/or picture on it somewhere, it’s a card. Play starts with each player putting down three cards, one representing their "character", one being their "mode of transportation", and the third being their "location". The idea is that the players improvise what those cards actually do based on what's on them; if they're even vaguely related, then that's what the card does.
  • Webzine Critical Miss gave us "Clique": the unplayable, uncollectable card game. The goal is to confuse as many spectators as possible.
  • The rules of the card game Fluxx start simple, but the players can play (and sometimes can't avoid playing) cards that change them frequently. This means that players can never be sure that a winning hand this turn will be one next turn. And there is no win condition until somebody plays a card that defines one, which can be overwritten by a new one. Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner explicitly called it a Calvinball card game on an episode of TableTop.
  • Mao is a card game defined by the phrase, "The only rule I can tell you is this one." The point of the game is to guess the rules; they will never be explained to players, so players have to learn the rules by unwittingly breaking them (and being penalized for them). The easier variant is called "Bureaucratic Mao", where you can discuss the rules outside the game (there are just too many to keep track of). The harder variant is called "Dictatorial Mao", where a single player has full control of the rules and enforcement and changes them at his whim. Another common House Rule is to allow the winner to add a rule for the next game.
  • Steve Jackson's Munchkin series states in the rules themselves that players are not required to follow the rules, and indeed, that players can even make their own rules up as they go along, with the stipulation that whoever owns the game gets the final say in the matter. The fact that there are numerous different versions of Munchkin (Munchkin Cthulhu, Munchkin Bites, Star Munchkin, etc.) and the fact that each of these versions have their own expansion packs, plus the fact that you are encouraged to combine decks, can result in very Calvinball-like games indeed. Then there's bookmarks and other swag (including a rare coin token) that go with the games, which have even more ridiculous rules than some of the cards themselves. Perhaps the most ridiculous mechanic, though, is the "Cheat" card, which allows you to play any card regardless of whether you would normally be able to, which could be construed to apply to any card from any game whatsoever.

    Comic Books 
  • One issue of Legionnaires features Triad and Bouncing Boy watching a game that looks almost exactly like Baseball, until you notice the Cricket wickets.
  • In Lumberjanes #49, Molly, Barney, Hes, Diane and Jo are invited to play a game of Emily's making called Panterra, a "multi-tiered, world-building and conquest strategy game". It's definitely the complicated rules variation (it took twenty five minutes to explain), and it can only be described as Settlers Of Catan taken up to eleven....thousand, out of a possible three. And it is awesome.
  • In My Little Pony: Fiendship Is Magic #1, Young Sombra and Radiant Hope play a version of an imagination game that Radiant seems to make up rules for on the fly.
  • In The Muppet Show Comic Book, not-Statler-and-Waldorf are playing a strange board game in the "Family Reunion" arc. It looks like chess, and the goal is apparently to create chaos by introducing new pieces, but beyond that, who knows.
  • The Sandman (1989)'s A Game of You — and, perhaps, this trope in general — may be summarized by the quotation prefacing the book:
    The distinguishing characteristic of a traditional folk game is that although it has rules, they are not written. Nobody knows exactly what they are. The players have a tradition to guide them, but must settle among themselves the details of how to play a particular game.
    One Potato, Two Potato: The Secret Education of American Children, by Mary and Herbert Knapp
  • X-Men crossover X of Swords is this. The contest of swords between Krakoa and Arakko was originally presumed by the Champions and the readers alike to be a series of sword duels to the death. But the person in charge of the contest has their own interests in mind and so only a few of the contests even involve swords at all, with the others being racing, armwrestling, dancing, eating, drinking and even a jiggsaw puzzle. Even then, the rules remain unpredictable: "a fight to the death" turns out to be "the first one to die wins" while a drinking game between two people on the same side means that they get a point no matter what but still feel the effect of the drinks during the next match.

    Fan Works 
  • In 3 Slytherin Marauders, Harry, his cousin, some friends, and a couple adults play water polo with a Frisbee instead of a ball and rules that were made up on the spot.
  • Chiaroscuro: Somehow ninja chess ends up involving playing cards and kunai. It's never explained how, we just get snippets of characters holding cards over a chess board pinned by kunais.
  • A ridiculously complex board game named "Cloak and Dagger" is significant in Batman: Melody for a Mockingbird. When Bruce hung out at the hospital where his father practised as boy, all the games in the lounge were missing pieces, so he and his friend Tommy used them to make up a new game. As an adult, Tommy styles his climactic clash with Bruce as a real life version of C&D, and brags how often he would beat him. Bruce shoots back that Tommy was always adding new rules to keep winning, which only shows what he was then and is now: A brat who crosses any line to get what he wants.
  • The Trope Namer is frequently played in Calvin & Hobbes: The Series.
  • In A Day in the Life, Ben finds a box of assorted trading cards, playing cards, tarot cards, game pieces, and other assorted game implements in DexLab's halls. Not wanting to further delay a visit with Dexter by bringing it to the lost and found, he brings it with him, and an impromptu game of ad hoc Duel Monsters breaks out between the two boys.
  • The Game the Princesses Play follows Princess Celestia and Luna playing a game they invented in which the rules must never be the same twice, which drives the ponies of the court absolutely batty trying to understand it.
  • Hoyle's Rules of Dragon Poker has 241 possible rule changes, some of which are vague specifically to cause arguments, and all of which stack. Good luck trying to play without a notepad by your side.
  • The Infinite Loops gives us Chaos, a game invented by a reformed Discord. It appears to be some kind of card game, and like its creator, it doesn't seem to make any sense. It also apparently has "expansions", including a sci-fi themed one seen being played by Captain Picard.
  • In The Legend of Total Drama Island, the first canon season's iconic dodgeball match takes on shades of Calvinball. When Chris briefs the teams before the match, he warns them that the rules might not remain constant throughout. When he decides that a game is going too quickly, he springs a new rule on the players and tells them he can restore the teams to full strength whenever he wants. He later changes the number of balls on the court, without bothering to call time out, to counter hoarding. The match is largely described in the style of a battle scene from The Iliad, and Chris' fluid rules parallel The Iliad's divine interventions.
  • Interlude 10 of My Family and Other Equestrians has Celestia, Luna, Discord and the protagonist's father play a game of Mornington Crescent (from I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, described in Radio below). Discord is apparently very good at it.
  • The Oversaturated World has Criffleball, which has utterly nonsensical terminology and rules. People who watch it are incredibly confused. Oddly, though, the group forum hashed out a perfectly comprehensible ruleset in Real Life.
  • In chapter 6 of Scordatura, an Ah! My Goddess fanfic by Davner, Urd is forced into an actual game of Calvinball against her sister Skuld in a sequence that parodies the Thunderdome sequence of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series often portrays the eponymous "children's card game" this way, mostly as a way of making fun of how complicated the game actually is, and how the original show clearly doesn't even use the same rules.
  • In Return of the Lawndale Militia, when Daria's classmates are being held hostage, Mack distracts the guards with a card game called "Flopputs", which auther Peter Guerin admits is a Homage to Fizzbin (see below).
  • Berk Dragon Racing seems to have shades of this in The Dragon and the Butterfly, which makes sense since the sport is fairly new. Despite the fact that they only show up at the end of a week's worth of racing, Hiccup and the Madrigal riders are allowed to participate in the ending race because Stoick lets them. At the end of the race, the Black Sheep is launched and after the various riders try and fail to win with it, it ends up in Antonio's lap in the bleachers. Despite not being a racer himself, Antonio wins the championship because he managed to run the black sheep to the goal.
    Antonio was now Berk's dragon racing champion, for the next year.
    It was unexpected, unaccounted for, and it probably broke a few rules.
    Just how the Berkians liked it.
  • Total Drama Do Over: In "Celebrity Manhunt Returns," Mel, Geoff, and B play a version of "Go Fish" where they make up a ridiculous new rule every turn. In Geoff's words, "It only gets funner as you play because if you forget a rule, you’re doomed, dude."

    Film — Animated 
  • In Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the animated animals play a game that's nominally supposed to be soccer. It's implied that the king makes up the rules as he goes along, and Hilarity Ensues. One thing the king insists on is that the game can't be played without a referee – for which David Tomlinson's character volunteers, and quickly regrets.
  • In Fantastic Mr. Fox, the animal school's official sport is Whackbat, an incomprehensible game similar to baseball and cricket played with a flaming pinecone. A sequence of the game in play features animals hitting the pinecone, running around in random directions, and spinning in place.
    "Basically, there's three grabbers, three taggers, five twig runners, and a player at Whackbat. Center tagger lights a pine cone and chucks it over the basket, and the whack-batter tries to hit the cedar stick off the cross rock. Then the twig runners dash back and forth until the pine cone burns out and the umpire calls hotbox. Finally, you count up however many score-downs it adds up to and divide that by nine."

    Film — Live-Action 
  • From the Fun with Acronyms Department comes TEGWAR, or The Exciting Game Without Any Rules. First seen in the movie Bang the Drum Slowly, it is a card game invented by professional baseball players for the sole purpose of winning money from gullible fans (who, for the most part, are just happy to play a card game with professional baseball players).
  • Baseketball starts this way — the protagonists invent rules on the fly to make it impossible for their competitors to win (all while pretending they were perfectly obvious). But eventually, the game gets codified rules and becomes a national phenomenon.
  • Death Race 2000: The Trans-Continental Death Race seems to have only two rules: make it to the finish line first (if at all) and get additional points by running over people. And which is the actual thing that makes you the winner seems to change as necessary. And so does the rules of what makes you ineligible for winning (such as running over the Deacon of the Bi-Partisan Church). When the "Calvin" of the tale is the government, all you can do is shut up and keep playing.
  • Dumb and Dumber has Harry and Lloyd playing "tag", or some bizarre version of it that includes quitsies, startsies, anti-quitsies, and erasies. An early draft of the script features this bizarre "game" in only one scene with an anti-climactic outcome, but it became even better in the final revision.
  • Although explained in depth in the novels, Quidditch from Harry Potter comes off like this in the movies. Some of the rules do seem to be different, especially fouls and the bounds of the field. On the other hand, even the books have a Calvinball-esque range of possible fouls.
  • In Play Misty for Me, Clint Eastwood's character plays a game of "Crybastion" with his barkeeper to get a woman to strike up a conversation with them.
  • In Space Jam: A New Legacy, the climatic basketball game "Dom Ball" functions as this. It's videogame-styled basketball with jump pads, power-ups, and "style points".
  • In The Whoopee Boys, the protagonists must learn to master "Cross Courts", a sport known only to elite socialites. They have trouble even grasping the arcane rules.
  • PG: Psycho Goreman: The film begins with two kids, Luke and Mimi, playing Crazy Ball, an inexplicable game that only makes sense to them. It involves throwing balls at and punching each other.
  • Top Gun: Maverick features Maverick inventing "dogfight football" as a team-building exercise. The full rules are not explained other than it having two balls, requiring both teams to play offense and defense at the same time. A Redditor attempted to create a full list of rules.

  • The Leary family in Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist invented a card game called "Vaccination", which after decades of refinements has become so convoluted that no outsider could possibly learn how to play it. Except for Julian, who marries into the family; when he learns the rules, lead character Macon Leary is so impressed he withdraws his objection to Julian marrying his sister.
  • Alice in Wonderland has the Caucus Race, in which everyone runs around at random for half an hour, after which it is announced that "everybody has won, and all must have prizes."
  • In Black Jewels books, Jaenelle and her coven invent a game called "cradle", played with cards and a board. It has twenty-six variations, which the players may switch between in the middle of the game. Their respective husbands and consorts suspect that they purposely made it up to frustrate the male mind, until Daemon, Jaenelle's consort, invents a twenty-seventh variation that allows him to beat Jaenelle.
  • In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, this is actually encouraged; because the world economy emphasizes constant consumption and production, the Controllers will only approve new sports or games if their creators can prove that playing it requires the consumption of more resources than currently-existing ones. Hence people enjoying elaborate and complex games such as "centrifugal bumble-puppy" and sports such as Escalator-Squash Racket, Obstacle- and Electro-magnetic Golf, and Riemann Surface Tennis.
  • Decoding Reality, by Vlatko Vedral, uses a story of a card game as a metaphor for the scientific process, which involves players sitting around a table, playing cards that feature random images. The only rule of the game prohibits context from being definitively established — the cards do not explain their own meaning, and the players are not allowed to speak to one another. The player is left to interpret the images on the cards and the facial expressions of the players, with the caveat that every time a new card is played, it could completely invalidate your interpretation. There is not even any indication that it's a game, because there are no defined rules. The players themselves may all be playing completely different games at the same table, and no one would ever know it.
  • Discworld:
    • The card game Cripple Mr. Onion is described as being incomprehensible, in spite of it being the most famous card game on the Disc. People have derived a playable game from it (although it requires eight suits like some European decks), but it's funnier when left to the reader's imagination.
    • The Patrician plays a puzzle game called “Jikan no Muda”, presumably a Shout-Out to Sudoku, which supposedly translates as “complete waste of time”
    • “Thud” may, or may not qualify. It’s apparently somewhere between chess and mah-jong, and like chess in particular, a lot of people are familiar with parts of the game but few can actually play it correctly, much less win. There was a licensed game with fairly simple rules, but complex strategy.
    • Discworld's gods have been known to play games to which no one knows the rules, sometimes even the gods themselves. We do know, though, that they consider games like Bridge and Chess to be so complicated as to be Calvinballs (Death is pretty good at chess, naturally, but even he's not quite sure how the horseys move). The game they play with the lives of men appears to be a form of Dungeons & Dragons, complete with encounter tables, although their favorite pieces have fought back against them before.
    • Snuff introduces two: "Crockett", a cross between cricket and croquet which takes all day to explain the rules; and "Pork Saddle", a combination of spillikins, halma, and brandy — its rules are entirely forgotten, and there is some doubt that there ever really were any.
  • The Zarathustrans in Figments Of Reality — a nonfiction book by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen that uses stories about these aliens to make a point occasionally — have a game called Octopoly.note  The same original game has been played for ages because no one remembered to set a winning condition, and it takes decades before anyone will even make a move. What we hear of the rules sounds like an incomprehensible mixture of different games, including board games and, well, Calvinball — though somehow the overall effect sounds like Cricket.
  • The 1943 Hermann Hesse novel The Glass Bead Game (Magister Ludi in early translations, Das Glasperlenspiel in its original German) revolves around an extraordinarily complex game whose rules are never explained. It's implied, however, to be a kind of Liebnizian symbolic model of philosophy.
  • The Goosebumps book The Beast from the East can be best explained as a book-long description of a game of Calvinball.
  • Quidditch from the Harry Potter novels has fairly straightforward rules, except when it comes to violations of those rules. It is mentioned that there are over 700 different fouls — and at the first Quidditch World Cup, every single foul at that time (plus some that were not yet declared fouls at that time) was committed. One of the rules of Quidditch is that players are not allowed to learn about the fouls. It might give them ideas. In Quidditch Through the Ages, the book's author was apparently given access to the complete foul list, and agrees that "no good could come of its release to the general public." And many of the fouls don't even require a wand (although they might require much Hammerspace and more than a few Noodle Implements).
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has Brockian Ultra-Cricket, which primarily involves smacking people with random sports equipment, then running away and apologizing from a distance. The only known attempt to collect all the rules resulted in a volume so massive it produced a black hole. There have been fewer games of Ultra-Cricket than wars fought over rule differences in Ultra-Cricket (which is good, because said wars tend to be less destructive than the game itself). The winning team is defined in the rules as "the first team that wins", and spectators aren't even allowed to watch it — because in their minds, they'll think any game they missed could have been the best game they'd ever see.
  • Russell Hoban's How Tom Beat Captain Najork And His Hired Sportsmen features three such games: womble, muck, and sneedball.
  • In David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, the students at the Enfield Tennis Academy play Eschaton, a game of nuclear geopolitics, which has become something of an Academy tradition. One of the tennis courts is intricately painted with a map of the Earth and all its nations for this purpose. True to the trope, all that is made explicitly clear is that nuclear strikes are represented by serving tennis balls onto the map; the rest of the rules are stated to be so complex that they can only be understood through total memorization.
  • Liv in the Future has the game of Z-ball, which is primarily based on baseball as it shares elements such as the scoreboard layout and positions like pitcher and batter. It also has an obstacle course that wouldn't be out of place on Ninja Warrior and according to Liv, has aspects similar to dodgeball.
  • In Cory Doctorow's Makers, a self-confessed game of "Calvinball" is played with an assortment of board games on the floor, and the rules are that "the rules can never be the same twice."
  • In the Malazan Book of the Fallen, Fiddler and the Bridgeburners will occasionally play a game akin to poker with the tarot-like Deck of Dragons, except they make up the rules as they go along. Because they are playing with a deck of cards used to represent their world's pantheon, the games end up being more than a little prophetic — as well as disconcerting to onlookers, as the Deck is actually dangerous to use, and playing with it is paramount to blaspheming against the pantheon.
  • Shent from Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is implied to be like this. Its complexity is increased by the fact that players aren't expected to play to win, but rather to create aesthetically pleasing situations.
  • The Myth series by Robert Asprin features Dragon Poker, which includes a massive list of arcane rules. The protagonist has given up on understanding them; he resorted to going all-in on the first hand of a high-stakes game to turn it into pure luck. That still wasn't enough to keep The Magic Poker Equation from kicking in. It turns out the dealer was fixing the game.
  • Azad in The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks is a non-comedic example of an absurdly complex game that is said to accurately model the actual running of an interstellar civilization. It involves at least three large boards and several smaller boards, as well as multiple side games involving cards, and pieces that are essentially capable of biological growth and adaptation. The entire empire is based around it; important government and military positions are determined by ranking in the Azad tournament and the winner becomes the next Emperor.
  • Quantum Gravity: It looks like literally every game played by the fey is a form of Calvinball. Specifically, Malachi is annoyed by human sports because they're so boring and "the rules never change."
  • Reign of the Seven Spellblades: In volume 6, Nanao proposes a game of "demons", what we would call zombie tag, to address Oliver feeling uncomfortable in his own skin due to the growth spurt he suddenly had as a result of having Cast from Lifespan during the Assassination Attempt against Enrico Forghieri. So the Sword Roses spend literally hours chasing each other around their laboratory and making up new rules as they go along by collective agreement. They decide to keep the "rule" about "free hugs on request" permanently even after the game is over.
  • Rihannsu: The Empty Chair takes fizzbin from Star Trek: The Original Series and runs with it to create "Tournament Fizzbin", a game where you make up the rules as you go along. The Enterprise crew creates it after their Romulan friend Ael t'Rllaillieu and one of her officers have trouble grasping poker and telling card suits apart. The goal seems not to win so much as to get drunk and have fun.
  • Gary Cohn's Rules of Moopsball, as the name suggests, describes the increasingly bizarre rules of a most unusual sport. The Tabletop Games setting GURPS Illuminati University makes Moopsball the most popular sport on campus. Cohn also worked on comics, and the game appeared in Legion of Super-Heroes as a Shout-Out.
  • Second Apocalypse has the strategy board game of Benjuka, in which the rules are changed by the moves players make. Players frequently reference how the changing rules of Benjuka mirrors the complexity of real life.
  • In John Knowles' A Separate Peace, Finny creates Blitzball, a game to which only he understands the rules.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe features the card game known as sabacc. It's something like a bizarre fusion of poker and blackjack, played with a Tarot-like deck in which some of the "major arcana" cards have negative value. The twist is that cards will randomly change into other cards when not face-up on the table. And just like poker, there are hundreds of variants that can affect the cards' values, the order of play, or even which hand is a winner. In one book, Han and Lando play for ownership of the Falcon and decide on "Random Sabacc", a version that switches between those variants at random intervals, refereed by C-3PO. Han lays out a winning hand, then a rule swap retroactively changes how it's scored, causing Lando to win the ship.
  • In The Time Traveler's Wife, Henry, Claire, Charisse and Gomez play a game called "Modern Capitalist Mind-Fuck", which seems to have rules based more closely on a stock exchange than Monopoly, despite the fact it use a regular Monopoly board and properties. Watching them play is one of the funniest scenes in the novel.
  • The novel Triton describes a game that is a fusion of "Risk, D&D, Chess, and Contract Bridge." Scoring is determined by calculus equations, which are ultimately meaningless.
  • Warbreaker features the game of tarachin, an exceedingly complex game that involves throwing balls of various colors onto a field, and scoring points based on a variety of factors, including distance and position relative to other balls. The main character doesn't know the rules and picks and throws balls at random. This causes him to win every single game.
  • In Welkin Weasels, the most popular game among mustelidae is called "hollyhockers". The game appears to be a bizarre mixture of poker and the I Ching, in which bets are placed on patterns that a thrown cupful of hollyhock seeds will fall into.
  • In Tom Holt's Who's Afraid of Beowulf?, two imps have spent the past thousand years playing "Goblin's Teeth". They're still on their first game. Descriptions of the gameplay suggest it contains elements of chess, Monopoly, Scrabble, and several others.
  • In You Are Dead (Sign Here Please), the city of Dead Donkey, Nevada is famous for its traditional sport, Muleball. Muleball involves neither balls, nor mules and has no stated rules. It consists primarily of "players" beating the crap out of other players (who needn't realize they are playing beforehand) and taking their valuables. It is distinguishable from simply mugging someone, although in what way is never established.
  • In the poem "Your Lead, Partner, I Just Hope We've Read the Same Book", Ogden Nash, decrying the proliferation of strategy guides for card games, invents a game called Amateuro. No one knows about it or understands it except him and his friends. The outline he gives of it is mostly just Inherently Funny Words, before concluding:
    I bet before my cuff-links are on the bureau,
    Some expert will have written A Guide to Amateuro.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One sketch from A Bit of Fry and Laurie shows 2 sportsman playing a bizarre game called "Bushwallyta", with commentary by Stephen Fry. Only one of the rules is clearly explained; when the referee declares "Boyayinha!", the players must create a functioning picnic chair out of whatever materials are currently available (the losing player is disqualified because he creates a flat-iron instead).
  • Penn Jillette has referred to The Apprentice as a Calvinball, claiming that winning is entirely dependent on the whim of its host, Donald Trump, especially where categories are entirely subjective anyway. Participants seem to accept that there are no rules.
  • Atlanta: At an Oktoberfest celebration Earn and Van play something called "Hootz-Kutz" which involves people sitting in a circle and passing ping-pong balls around and tossing them at a cup in the circle. No one ever explains to Earn how or why you're supposed to pass or shoot and he amazes the crowd by just leaning forward and dropping the balls in the cup (apparently something no one has ever thought of).
  • In Battlestar Galactica (2003), the pilots are often seen playing a card game known on the original show as "Pyramid", referred to on the reboot as "Triad" (conversely the ball game, which was "Triad" in the original show, is now "Pyramid"). The cards are six-sided with a variety of symbols and colors to designate suit and rank. The rules are not shown consistently and the actors more or less improvised them; fans have tried to put together a consistent ruleset, but it's been tough going.
  • The South Bend-area sketch comedy show Beyond Our Control did a parody of 70s game shows with a Calvinball-style game called How Do You Play This Game?, as shown here.
  • The Big Bang Theory:
    • "Counterfactuals" could easily be a Calvinball; it involves extrapolating an Alternate Universe from a single concept and answering a bizarre question about it (for example, "In a world where mankind is ruled by beaver overlords, what food does not exist?" has the answer cheese danishes). If you freestyled it, it could easily be a Calvinball because the possibilities are endless. In-Universe, though, it's usually played by Sheldon, who has a very rigid way of thinking.
    • Sheldon invented a bizarre chess variant by trying to invent a three-way chess gamenote  and ending up inventing a number of new pieces with interesting effects (such as Prince Joey, the King's well-meaning but klutzy brother, who has a one-in-five chance of accidentally killing himself every time he moves). The end result includes a catapult, transporter pad, golf cart, and time machine. Sheldon being Sheldon, he may just have been trying to invent something so complex only he would understand it (and win at it).
    • The guys can occasionally be seen playing the card game Mystical Warlords of Ka'a. The main mechanic appears to be to lay down a card on the pile and say its name.
  • An episode of The Bob Newhart Show features Bob and his poker buddies playing ever more outlandish card games such as Snee-Ho (where a player wins if he draws the "King of Snee") and Klopsky (which calls for four packs of cards and a banana).
  • Bottom has Eddie's card game "One Card Slam", in which Eddie flips out a random card from the pack, slams it on the table, and demands twelve quid from Richie, and "Birthday Charades", about which all we know is that it requires the women present to undress.
  • On one episode of The Burns and Allen Show, Burns makes up a card game called Klebob as he goes along to psych Gracie. This backfires when Gracie easily figures out the rules to the game — partly because she's a Cloud Cuckoolander, and partly because it's just like the game George made up last week.
  • In Community episode "VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing", Abed and Annie play "Pile of Bullets", a baffling VCR game that includes multiple tokens, various cards that interact with each other, frequent need to shout "Bang!" at the screen, and impressive amounts of multitasking. There are technically two other players, but they give up on trying to make sense of it almost immediately.
  • Dharma & Greg features a scavenger-hunt like game created by Greg and several of his law school friends at Harvard, where the goal is possession of a statue of a Glory Schnauzer dog, which must be claimed by secretly replacing it with a bust of Eisenhower. Steps to reclaim it after losing possession involve photographing the holder with the Jamaican flag or putting butter on a windowsill and filling a bathroom with a flock of ducks.
  • On The Electric Company (1971), Jim Boyd's inventor/salesman introduces Luis Avalos' game company executive, Mr. Overprice, to the game called "Pay". It involves hitting an enormous baseball with a cudgel and running around the bases (i.e., the office furniture).
    Mr. Overprice: I think you named it right in naming it "Pay", because you are about to pay for everything you've broken! (grabs the inventor in rage)
    Inventor: Ah, Mr. Overprice, you can't touch me while I'm standing on home base.
  • Even Stevens: In one episode, Louis and Twitty play a game called "Sweaty Sock Ball", whose convoluted rules seem to change depending on the whim of the participants.
  • FETCH! with Ruff Ruffman: In the fourth season episode "Blossom Bawls While Ruff Has a Ball of Balls", Ruff is trying to market "Ruffball," a brand new game that's supposed to sweep the nation! Unfortunately, Ruffball is interesting for only about six seconds. Sterling went to stadium to learn how to broadcast a baseball game on the radio while Talia and Liza went to meet with a physics teacher to learn how to make Ruffball a little more exciting. To make it even more fun, Ruff sends Brian, Bethany, and Isaac after a "Half-Time Quiz Show" to join the others into playing a great game!
  • Firefly:
    • The episode "Bushwhacked" opens with a spirited game of Calvinball in the cargo bay. It was some bizarre variant of basketball, and it was a team game, but beyond that, no rules were really discernible.
      Simon: They don't seem to be playing according to any civilized rules that I know.
      Inara: Well, we're pretty far from civilization.
  • In a sketch on The Flip Wilson Show, George Carlin and Joe Namath teach Flip a card game called "Carlotta". They started by winking at each other, letting us know the bewildering rules were a practical joke on Flip.
    Namath: You got Carlotta!
    Flip: All right! (Reaches for chips)
    Carlin: Carlotta loses! (Rakes in chips)
  • Friends has a number:
    • "Cups" is a card game Chandler invented for the sole purpose of allowing Joey to win money from him without recognizing it as charity. Beginner's Luck is a vitally important feature.
    • Joey auditions to be a host of a quiz show Bamboozled! which involves "Wicked Wango Cards" and "The Wheel of Mayhem". Chandler is skeptical when he helps Joey rehearse but by the end he declares it "The best game ever!". The executives decide it's too complicated for the audience to follow and decide to simplify it to a straight Q&A with the scores held up by girls in bikinis.
      Joey: Well, what's complicated? You spin the Wheel of Mayhem to go up the Ladder of Chance, you go past the Mud Hut through the Rainbow Ring to get to the Golden Monkey, you pull his tail, and boom, you're in Paradise Pond!
    • "Phoebe Ball", invented by Phoebe on the spot, appears to consist of Phoebe asking questions and arbitrarily awarding points for the answer closest to the description she was thinking of. The others last a single round before giving up in frustration.
    • Chandler and Joey play a number of dangerously stupid games of their own invention. One is "Hammer Darts"; beyond what can be intuited from the name, all we know about it is that it cost them their insurance and part of the wall. Another is "Fireball", which involves oven gloves, lighter fluid, and a tennis ball, and its variant "Ultimate Fireball", with a bowling ball and acetylene torch.
  • The Gillies Report has a Running Gag involving a reporter describing the results of the fictitious sport of farnarkeling. He would describe the game using bizarre terminology but acting as if it was commonly understood ("And he was soon arkeling the grommet from all points of the gonad").
  • In The Goldbergs, Barry and Adam invented a completely nonsensical game with a foam football called "ball-ball." The game mainly exists to be a sport Barry can win every time and feed his delusions of being a star athlete.
  • The Goodies had the game of "Spat", whose sole purpose was to assure that Bill always lost and suffered Amusing Injuries.
  • The British show Green Wing gives us Guyball, which features all the quirks of jai alai, basketball, and Eton College's Wall Game, plus a really funny hat. The only rule actually explained was "curbing the Matterhorn", which entails insulting your opponent as much as possible.
    Guy: Now remember, don't leave the parish; if you get to the maison, put your hand up and shout, "Maison!"
    Dr. Macartney: Maison!
    Guy: There are no hedgehogs, and no burrowing tactics. I won the toss, so sticklers are random. Have you got that?
    Martin: No, not really.
    Guy: Good. Go!
  • How I Met Your Mother:
    • "Bask-ice Ball" is a hockey-basketball hybrid played by Marshall's family. Marshall admits to Lily that there are no rules; it's just an excuse for everyone to whale on each other.
    • "Marsh-Gammon" involves a Candy Land board, poker chips, playing cards, a buzzer, handwritten "autobiography cards", a Twister spinner, and some dice. It also has nothing in common with backgammon, since Marshall hates everything about it except the name. This was featured in "Game Night", which reveals that Marshall is very good at games.
    • "Xing Hai Shi Bu Xing" is an unfathomable casino game which features poker chips, Mahjong tiles, changing seats with other contestants, a wheel of fortune, and a jellybean. Everybody is befuddled by it — except for Marshall, who can even give Barney game-winning advice. The game's title, by the way, is Mandarin for "Deal or No Deal".
      Marshall: Wait, I get it, I understand this game.
      Ted: you don't.
      Marshall: I totally understand the game, Theodore! Barney, split your tiles. You can triple your money if you find the jellybean.
      Barney: Marshal, please. Don't you think I know what I'm— [glances over the board] My God, you're right!
  • In the I Love Lucy episode "The Golf Game", Lucy and Ethel want to take up golf, and ask Fred and Ricky how to play. The men don't want their wives following them around the golf course, so they try to discourage them by inventing a set of crazy and overly complex rules.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
    • One episode features the game of Chardee Macdennis. The rule book is bigger than most phone books, and asking questions about the rules is penalized. Cheating is encouraged, but violators are made to eat a cake — in its original ingredients (i.e. a bag full of flour, eggs, salt, etc). Challenges ranged from getting darts thrown at your hand to having insults hurled at you for extended periods of time. The winner gets to smash his opponents' game pieces.
    • A Running Gag is "Nightcrawlers", a game played by Charlie and Frank. Its actual rules have never been elaborated upon, though it apparently involves crawling around with the lights off.
  • The "English Sports" sketch on the Dutch show Jiskefet: The main components of the game are shown to be rolling a ring across the lawn in different ways, moving coloured pegs on a board similar to a chess board, and sitting behind a door in the middle of the field. Meanwhile, the referee speaks nonsense stuff with numbers, and the commentators calmly comment on each throw or move in a way guaranteed to make no sense and sometimes containing incomprehensible mumbled terms.
  • In Kaamelott, Perceval knows lots of unplayable games that he alone can understand and play. Some of them involve 14 dice and artichokes. King Arthur seems to know the twisted rules of the card game "countersyrup" as well:
    "We need 14 dice to play that game. Anyway, we can play it with cards, that's not a problem. What matters is the announcements."
    • We see one of those games, "Robobrol", in The Movie, Kaamelott: Premier Volet. It's just as ridiculous to see in action as it is to hear the rules, Arthur is forced to play it and is absolutely clueless as Perceval tells him nothing comprehensible about it... and then he wins when Guenièvre simply knees an opposing player in the groin, which apparently is worth a lot of points.
  • French comedians Kad & Olivier invented a game called "Kamoulox", a Jeopardy!-like game show with a number of arcane and stupidly-named rules. Two players basically give nonsensical answers to nonsensical questions ("I'm picking the reluctant Machiavellian houseplant"); a referee, always named "John-Bob" regardless of gender, oversees the game and can penalize them for infractions of the arcane rules, and the winner is the first to say "Kamoulox" when the other player takes too long to come up with a reply. For added insanity, John-Bob can also add special rules or invalidate a Kamoulox whenever they feel like it.
  • The League of Gentlemen has "Go, Johnny, Go, Go, Go, Go", a sketch in which a novice player makes increasingly trivial mistakes and violations of the rules to the eponymous game.
  • Little Lunch: In "The Oval", Rory gets all of his friends to invent games to keep him out of trouble. When everyone gets bored and starts drifting away, he desperately attempts to combine all of the games into one game, which becomes a gigantic Calvinball.
    "It's not as confusing as it sounds."
    "It's exactly as confusing as it sounds!"
  • Malcolm in the Middle: The episode "Old Mrs. Old" begins with a Reese explaining the rather nonsensical rules involving hitting fire hydrants or cars while the other team tries to catch the ball and hit them back. And if they miss, it's a "Google", which he'll explain when they get there. According to Malcolm, Reese has made up at least 50 different games like these, all of which are fun.
  • On Married... with Children, Al and Griff are shown playing chess with elements of checkers, Simon Says, and dice thrown in. According to Griff, the game would be better if they knew how to actually play chess.
  • M*A*S*H:
    • One episode had Hawkeye and Trapper playing a weird game with many tabletop game items, but as a Drinking Game.
    • Double Cranko is played with a poker deck, a chess board, checkers, dice, and no rules whatsoever. Hawkeye almost always wins; when Colonel Potter finally turns the tables on Hawkeye, he proceeds to invent Triple Cranko.
    B.J.: Care to sit in for a hand, Radar?
    Radar: Uh, no thank you, sirs. Whenever I lose, I always like to know why.
  • The Middle Man gives us Shibumi, an exceedingly complex card game played by high-class villainous types. Each player is given a full deck of cards, over 300 verbal and physical challenges are involved, and the price for losing or cheating is death. And live bunnies are involved somehow.
  • On The Monkees' TV show, Micky Dolenz invents the game of "Creebage" for much the same reason as Kirk invented Fizzbin: to distract a captor and allow for a quick escape.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus features the quiz show It's a Living, the rules of which are so insanely convoluted and complex that by the time the presenter finishes explaining them, the show has finished. Part of it seems to revolve around how much the BBC has received in fees lately.
    • Similarly done on the album Monty Python's Previous Record on the cut "Radio Quiz Game." (The show was called "What Do You (sound of cuckoo clock)?" with rules so lengthy and complex that there was no time for the contest.
  • Muppets Now: The segment "Pepe's Unbelievable Game Show" has rules set out by Scooter, but Pepe prefers to have the contestants do whatever his whim decides instead.
  • In Mystery Science Theater 3000, this is what Australian Rules Football boiled down to. It is a real sport, but as it's only really played in Australia, the series treated it like a Calvinball (and a catch-all term for whatever wacky sport was being shown on screen).
  • New Girl has "True American", a Drinking Game with Candyland elements, in which the floor is lava. The rules involve crazy zones, yelling out the names of presidents, and alcohol (with cans of beer as "Soldiers of the Secret Order", and a bottle of bourbon as "King of the Castle"). If you take a break to have sex with a beautiful woman, everyone else wins. And everything you hear in True American is a lie. Fans were excited enough to adapt this into a real game, which can be seen here.
  • The British show Noel's House Party featured a game in the 1992-93 series called "Open the Cupboards", which had a very complicated ruleset.
    "You throw a six to start, the referee's decision is final, and deuces are twice as valuable as a pair of spades in your hand."
  • Our Miss Brooks: In the episode "Parlor Game", Miss Brooks invents a convoluted parlor game in order to annoy Mr. Conklin and, in so doing, convinces him to allow his family to go out for the evening.
  • In Parks and Recreation, Ben creates "Cones of Dunshire", a game which involves cones, characters with various abilities, rolling huge numbers of dice, trading resources, territory control, and requires eight to twelve players. One person is designated the "ledgerman", whose entire role is to wear a special hat and keep track of what everyone else is doing. Tellingly, it first catches on in a firm of accountants, though it later gains wider appeal.
    Ben: Gameplay Magazine called it "punishingly intricate."
  • Quizzlestick is totally simple and quite easy to figure out, unless it's not a general knowledge question.
  • The Savage Eye gives us a number of weird sports, like "Eel Wranglin" and "Potato Whispering". Perhaps the most violent, though, is a precursor of Gaelic football called "Whackadabollockin", where the object appears to be to hit someone's testicles with a hurdle.
  • The Scrubs episode "My Jiggly Ball" gave us "jigglyball", which was actually a hoax designed by the Janitor to maneuver J.D. into a position where the entire hospital got to throw tennis balls at him.
  • Season 9 of Shaun Micallef's Mad as Hell has a regular feature where he throws to Stephen Hall and asks what's happening with this week's contestants. Stephen proceeds to describe a scenario involving a mishmash of various Reality TV formats before interviewing a pair of contestants in bizarre costumes. At no point is the actual game seen (or even explained).
  • Shooting Stars, a UK panel show presented by Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, was a game like this. Despite having a scoring system, the answers are entirely the whim of the hosts. Sample question: "True or False: Richard Attenborough".
  • In Stargate Atlantis, Ronon introduces Sheppard to a "traditional Satedan sport" which is basically a sparring session where the rules change with every round. After picking himself off the floor a few times, Sheppard complains that Ronon is just inventing this as an excuse to kick his ass. He good-naturedly indulges Ronon though, possibly because he's used to it by now.
  • Star Trek has a number of strange alien games, a full list can be found here. Some of them, are:
    • Dom-Jot appears to be a cross between billiards and pinball, shooting a ball around an obstacle course with a spring-loaded cue. Certain races take it very seriously, as Picard discovers to his detriment (and at the cost of being stabbed through the heart).
    • Dabo is essentially space roulette, played at Quark's bar.
    • Tongo is a Ferengi game of chance and strategy, also played at Quark's bar. It involves spinning a wheel, paying latinum into a pot, and playing cards to exercise various options (Evade, Retreat, Confront, Acquire).
    • In one episode, Garak and Nog are shown playing a Cardassian board game called "Kotra". The rules are never explained, but it is described as a game that favors bold and risky decisions over defensive tactics, as shown when Nog loses decisively due to his strategy of hoarding his resources when losing.
    • "Fizzbin" from the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "A Piece of the Action", which Kirk invented to distract the guards and allow the crew to escape capture; it's basically poker with whichever rules Kirk feels like adding. Strangely, though, it may have picked up a codified ruleset, as Quark is shown playing a hand in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
    • The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Move Along Home" has Quark forced to play a weird and unnamed board game, with members of the station's senior staff as unwitting pawns, and progress through the game dictated seemingly at random.
  • In Swedish TV Christmas Calendar Sune's Christmas, the titular character and his friend would play a Calvinball-type card game with Sune's younger brother. The main purpose of the game was to force the little brother to run around the house wearing a lampshade on his head. This happened every time he broke a rule. Since Sune and his friend changed the rules whenever they felt like it, the little brother always lost — until their father joined in.
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look (and its radio predecessor) has the game show Numberwang, "the maths quiz that simply everyone is talking about!" It's portrayed as being so ubiquitous that its rules no longer need explaining, and seems to involve two contestants calling out random numbers until the host declares "That's Numberwang!", and they score somehow. The only discernible patterns are that Julie (played by Olivia Colman) nearly always loses and suffers some sort of humiliation, and that "Shinty-Six" and "Brazil" are supposedly numbers. In addition, the sudden death round is literal. What constitutes a "Numberwang" is never fully elaborated: the official Home Game includes two 400-sided dice and a 37-volume rulebook (each about the size of a dictionary), and a documentary about the history of Numberwang suggests that even the hosts cannot determine Numberwang without the help of Colosson, a supercomputer which has extreme views as to what should be done to things that aren't Numberwang.
  • The Upright Citizens Brigade has "Pro Thunderball", which combines Calvinball with Blood Sport. The game features baseball bats used as weapons, wild hounds wandering the field, a roving car, and a "gun circle" containing a fully loaded pistol that players are forbidden to use.
  • Puppeteer/comedian Marc Weiner had a bit where he and two volunteers from the audience would play a game called "That's Not Fair!", where no one ever gives the right answers and points are awarded arbitrarily.
  • The very short-lived 70s NBC game show Winning Streak wasn't designed to be a Calvinball, but it certainly came off as one — enough that even the host, the legendary Bill Cullen, admitted it "just didn't work". The page has all the detail you need to figure it out (hopefully).
  • Game show creator Jay Wolpert had a reputation for creating games that were often full of confusing rules and equally-bizarre themes. His first solo show, Whew!, is a good example — where two players swap roles in "charging" through a board of "bloopers" (meaning statements with incorrect bits the "charger" needed to correct) and "blocking" the charger from progressing (by way of secretly placing blocks on the gameboard), with the Bonus Round having the winner taking on the "Gauntlet of Villains", correcting more bloopers in hopes of winning $25,000.
  • The Wheel: Some of the mechanics aren't exactly brought up until they're needed (such as the bonuses), making the format of the show feel like this sometimes. The American version does have more of a Rules Spiel.

  • "Schnofeln", by the Berlin comedy troupe Die Insterburgs, describes a game vaguely related to soccer whose rules get more silly and pointless the longer the song goes. In the end, the whole game is cancelled by coin flip.
  • The sport shown in the music video for "New Lands" by Justice starts off as a baseball game, then adds lacrosse, football, and roller derby. By the end, it's utterly incomprehensible.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Calvinball's Trope Namer is the anti-game invented by Calvin and Hobbes. There were only two consistent rules: you couldn't play the same way twice, and you couldn't question the masks. Calvin just doesn't have the patience for games with rigid rules, hierarchies, and scorekeeping; the rules are made up as the players go along, and the main point seemed to just be to have the most fun (or annoy your opponent as much as possible). Although Calvin invented it, Hobbes is very good at it too, and Rosalyn picked it up quickly as well. Calvin also notes that virtually every real game he tries to play eventually turns into Calvinball (like his variant of baseball with over two dozen bases spread out around the whole neighborhood):
    Calvin: I mean, it's fun playing baseball with just you, because we both get to pitch, bat, run and catch all at once. We get to do everything.
    Hobbes: Mostly we just argue over the rules we make up! That's the part I like!
  • Frazz had a week dedicated to Bedlamball, which has no discernible rules. It's not surprising, especially considering the Epileptic Tree that Frazz is, in fact, an adult Calvin.
  • A Running Gag in Sally Forth (Howard) is Ted getting the Monopoly board out and describing increasingly bizarre and arcane House Rules, to the point that it barely resembles Monopoly anymore. Sally and Hil have usually given up by then.

    Print Media 

    Professional Wrestling 
  • This kind of thing happens every now and then in Professional Wrestling, usually when a heel tries to trick his opponent into accepting a set of rules he doesn't understand — which the heel just makes up as an excuse to beat the tar out of his opponent. At WWE Backlash in 2001, William Regal challenged Chris Jericho to fight under "Duchess of Queensbury rules" under this guise, and any time Jericho had the drop on Regal, Regal would arbitrarily declare his last move invalid for whatever reason.
  • The "rules" associated with defenses of Larry Sweeney's ICW/ICWA Tex-Arkana Television Championship could change at any time.

  • British radio show I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue gives us Mornington Crescent, a game centered around The London Underground; supposedly, you move around between stations, and the first to reach Mornington Crescent wins. The problem is that the rules are far from intuitive, it has many arcane stratagems and many more variants, and in fact much of what takes place consists of wordplay between the participants, or satirical Shout Outs to OTHER game shows such as Just a Minute.
    • It is in some respects a Shout-Out to a Game Theory problem called Finchley Central (also involving following a route to a tube station) which DOES have the purpose of analysing how to manipulate other players into creating the opportunity to win.
    • Many of the other rounds on Clue, such as "Boardo", a parody of every Board Game ever, or "The Game of Games" which does a similar thing with Game Shows, and has moments like this:
      Humph: Tim, question or nominate?
      Tim: Um, nominate Barry.
      Humph: No, the correct answer is "nominate Graeme".
  • Stephen Fry's Saturday Night Fry gave us the game of "Kick the Frog", in which Hugh Laurie was the frog and had to answer questions. If he got the answers wrong, Jim Broadbent kicked him. If he got the answers right, Phyllida Law kicked him. There was no mechanism to make someone else the frog. As the back of the box described it, "Kick the Frog is like life; it isn't fair." Hugh did manage to convince the others to change the rules, first leading to a democracy (in which only Stephen and Jim had the vote, and both voted that Hugh should remain the frog), then to a pluralist social democracy (where after long discussion, almost everyone agrees that it just makes sense for Hugh to remain the frog) to just not playing anymore (where they just kick him).
  • Netflix has a series of radio ads featuring contestants on a fictional quiz show with absurd questions and nonsensical answers, such as: "A dog goes ahead in time and bites his tail. When does he feel it?" "Yesterday." "Correct!"

    Stand Up Comedy 
  • The Stella comedy group performs a sketch in which one of them suggests they play a "logic game" in which the players take turns saying one of two nonsense words in a unspecified pattern. The second member quickly grasps the pattern and is able to play along, but the third member always guesses wrong. It becomes increasingly obvious that the "pattern" is completely random, and the third member will be deemed wrong no matter what he says.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Role-playing game designer Ron Edwards describes "Calvinballing" as where a player misinterprets the rules entirely to his benefit, at the expense of the game actually being fun or fair.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • "Kholiast" is an elven game played with "a deck of more than 1000 cards, a variable hand determined by a throw of dice, and a point-counting system that would drive even the most dedicated Candlekeep scholar completely mad."
    • Dragons have the Great Game, xorvintaal, the objective of which is to steal the other dragon players' treasure with the help of mortal chess pieces called exarchs. The game is a "tortured mess of contradictory rules and exceptions that only a dragon with centuries to study could understand," far beyond the comprehension of younger races. Narratively speaking, xorvintaal exists to fuel Excuse Plots, so if the DM needs dragons or the PCs to do something, all they have to do is call it a xorvintaal maneuver. To get a sense of how complex it is, the entirety of World War I would be an intermediate xorvintaal maneuver, with World War II being a good countermove.
  • Paranoia fits the bill, depending on how you see it. Only the GM is allowed to see any of the rules beyond the setting description and character creation guide; for the most part, they can make up whatever rules they want beyond that if it keeps the game interesting, especially as it anticipates many players will "cheat" and read the published rules anyway. In keeping with the spirit of the game, questioning the rules or demonstrating knowledge of them will result in painful death for the players.
  • Pyramid Magazine featured a campaign setting called LudiCROUS — The Sport of the Future!, about a sport where the rules could change from moment to moment — including the rules about how the rules could change. A good LudiCROUS team needs people with a wide variety of skills, from footballers to chessmasters, because the goal of the game could be almost anything.
  • Talislanta has "Trivarian", a game so complex that it can only be played by people with two brains.


    Video Games 
  • "Wolfball" in Battle Realms apparently involves a solid iron ball, a walled-in arena, and a pack of rabid wolves, and it's fatal to play for those not of the Wolf Clan. No rules are forthcoming, but it speaks volumes that one of the playing positions (the "hurler", who has a gigantic two-handed Atlatl) does double duty as a military unit in-game.
  • In Fallen London, in the Upper River, you can join the card game that the superstitious Evenlode constabulary play. Your character observes its nebulous rules and numerous odd little rituals and is mystified by them. The varying success text mentions players can cash out and bring in substitutes at any time, the rules sometimes change to Whist and sometimes to poker, card passing behavior changes at specific times and for specific lengths of time, and so on. There's a point during your game where the dealer accidentally destroys a pair of sevens and replaces them with an eight an a six, and no one even raises an eyebrow. You don't win anything playing with the constables; rather, you pick up on secrets the cops spill while spending time with them.
  • Tetra Master from Final Fantasy IX is a strange example. It's a card game that looks totally incomprehensible, even to those who play it, and you have to pick up the rules from watching the gameplay. The cards appear to play themselves somehow, and it's telling that even In-Universe, various characters try to figure out the rules of it with Trial-and-Error Gameplay. Square Enix apparently designed it with hexadecimal strength and weakness values, but this explanation was part of their online strategy guide that completely disappeared from the Internet circa 2003.
  • "Thrashball" in Gears of War is Blernsball as applied to NFL football rather than baseball; in many ways very similar to a familiar sport, but in many others bizarre and incomprehensible. There's a guy with shields in the backfield.
  • Halo's Forge Mode (included in virtually all the games since Halo 3) has a propensity to devolve into Calvinball unless a single person or dedicated group is trying to create something specific (thus keeping everyone on task). Without it, people start pointing gravity lifts everywhere and coming up with arcane, arbitrary, and ridiculous challenges. Such maps end up filled with whatever caught their occupants' fancy in their item spawn frenzy, and they're almost always deleted afterwards.
  • Kingdom Hearts III opens with and briefly revisits during the Darkest Hour a scene with a boy in white and a boy in black playing... what is called chess in Jiminy's Journal (in English, at least), but doesn't seem to match up to any known form of chess and largely seems to be symbolic of the conflict between light and darkness. For starters, the squares of the board are rotated 45° from a traditional chessboard (as in, the players are positioned at the points rather than the edges), although the array of the board still remains (as in, the player-most end does not consist of only one square), and the squares are at varying altitudes compared to each other. During the revisit, the boy in white is down to one piece and is surrounded by black pieces; he abruptly moves his piece back to his end of the board, and several more pieces just appear on his end. The final scene seems to suggest that the board and pieces are just a platform for games to be concocted by players, à la tabletop RPGs; with one game over, the boy in white shares a "new" game involving seven black pieces and...
  • The inhabitants of the Chaotic Stupid Chaosrealm in Mortal Kombat: Deception have a game called "Everybody Runs Around", where everybody just runs around with no win condition or rules.
  • One Running Gag in the Laurentia arc of Nexus Clash is Story Breadcrumbs about the city's fabled sports team, the Wolverton Wolverines. No matter how many times they're mentioned, we never find out what sport they actually played, and searching their former stadium offers no clues either.
  • Not for Broadcast: The sports segment in The Tempest level appears to have some very complicated rules, and feels like a sketch on Monty Python's Flying Circus. This includes everyone in the area, even people who weren't playing, winning.
  • Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal opens up with the titular pair playing a game that vaguely resembles chess:
    Ratchet: My Blargian snagglebeast devours your mutant swampfly! Oh yeah! I bet you didn't see that one coming! (Clank moves a piece) Hey! Uh, what are you doing?!
    Clank: Check, and mate!
    Ratchet: What? Bu-bu-but that's cheating!
    Clank: On the contrary. The Blargian snagglebeast has an allergic reaction to mutant swampflies that lasts two turns.
  • The Simpsons: Tapped Out includes a mini-game event called "Tap Ball", in which two characters square off and do a unique maneuver (e.g. Lisa kicks a soccer ball, Apu throws a bowling ball, the Comic Book Guy swings his nunchucks), to no real end. Not surprisingly, the sport was invented by Homer Simpson, and the rules make sense only to him.
  • Pokkaball, the primary sport of The Spellcasting Series. You can read about it in the school paper and watch a few matches, but it appears to be completely random and absurdly dangerous.
  • Many of the Zoq-Fot-Pik from Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters (specifically, the Pik, much to the annoyance of Zoq) are obsessed with Frungy, the "sport of kings". Naturally, the player is never given an opportunity to learn the rules of Frungy. When fans asked the developers how it's played, they gleefully replied, "With gusto!"
  • Ultima:
    • Chuckles the jester in Ultima VII is a champion of "The Game", whose rules he cannot explain without violating them. The objective appears to be to complete a conversation with him without using any words containing more than one syllable.
    • Ultima Underworld II has a game called White Rock Black Rock, with fairly simple rules: if you pick the white rock (by choice, not by chance) then you win, and if you pick the black rock you lose. However, the game's rules become very bizarre when you play it in the Ethereal Void later on: fish, limbo, and peas are somehow involved, among other things.
  • Subverted in The World Ends with You. It looks like Tin Pin Slammer is going to be something that just parodies Yu-Gi-Oh, but then you actually play it.
  • The Zork series featured Double Fanucci, a card game with fifteen suits and absurdly complex rules, which are never given in full. You actually have to play it in one of the games; thankfully, the only rule explained to you there is an Instant-Win Condition.
  • One of the background Alternate History elements in Hypnospace Outlaw is tennis somehow having been morphed into "trennis", which has three players, a circular court, and a "ball catcher". There's even a page you can find that describes how tennis is supposed to be played and that it was stolen by someone and became trennis. (They're put in the "Open Eyed" section, but unlike the others in that section, we know this one actually has an inkling of truth.)

    Web Animation 
  • Most of the sports featured in Homestar Runner are some sort of Calvinball; even the name "Homestar Runner" derives from a friend of the creators totally mangling baseball terminology.
    • Strong Bad was pointing out how ridiculous these games were as early as "In Search of the Yello Dello":
      Strong Bad: What the crap kind of freaked-up sport are you guys playing, anyways? I mean, you're on a football field, but you've got a basketball goal, and basketballs, and footballs...
      Homestar Runner: I know! It's America's pastime!
    • In the Strong Bad Email "army", Strong Bad mentions a dice-and-cards-and-board game called "Three-to-One Marny".
    • In the email "mascot", Strong Bad reveals that Crazy-Go-Nuts University has a "golf club" team, which seems to be an excuse for Strong Bad and his friends to hit stuff with a nine iron. The Cheat is seen taking on "Pile of Electronics State", and Strong Bad announces that next week they're playing "Homestar's Knees Tech".
    • The email "the show" has Homestar hosting a hybrid between a talk show and a game show. He first offers 500 points to the Poopsmith to share his "polictical views", before turning to Pom Pom and asking him, "For the block, do you agree?" and turning it into a bizarre version of The Hollywood Squares. Both leave without answering, to which he awards each contestant 162 points.
  • This short animation by Tom Fawkes reinvisions a Mario Party minigame being played by The Runaway Guys as a truly bizarre sports contest, involving a boomerang, multiple balls, collecting stars, and an assault rifle. It certainly paints this quote in a new light:
    Chugga: We have... somehow won.
    Jon: I don't know how we won that.
  • Two More Eggs gives us QblePon, a collectable card game whose cards feature bizarre, vaguely-Pokémon-esque characters and (due perhaps to the simplistic art style of the cartoon itself) no text and no stats besides a single rating of one to five filled-in boxes. According to Hector, it's "the best game."

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • BBC Comedy's video Extreme Amazing Super-Chess (mirror here). Suffice to say, it gets crazy very quickly.
  • Fallout Is Dragons gives us Faceball, which is played with a decapitated head, two teams of three, has unexplained rules for scoring based on how the head lands, and the losers are only executed in professional leagues.
  • The Death Scene Competition in Farce of the Three Kingdoms. The judges do at one point outline a scoring system, but they don't seem to stick to it very closely. It mostly boils down to points for style, with elaborate forms of suicide generally scoring high. There is, however, such a thing as trying too hard.
  • Whenever 4chan's /tg/ tries to play a game (usually Connect Four, chess, or Tic-Tac-Toe), it inevitably turns into this. Usually, the first few moves are okay. Then someone calls in reinforcements. Then someone else deepstrikes a team of Space Marines. Then someone else nukes the gameboard. Then someone else breaks out the trading cards. A picture near the end of one thread shows just how insane they can get. note 
  • The Gods Are Bastards has an unnamed card game between the gods Eserion and Vesk, "whose object appeared to be making up increasingly ridiculous rules and bullying or tricking each other into abiding by them." Among these rules are ones which involve "go fish" and "checkmate", converting an opponent's hand to "wave-function cards", the Seven Deadly Sins, and accusations of cheating which can lead to a "Penitent Jihad".
  • The Impossible Quiz, a Flash quiz game whose answers can range from a Moon Logic Puzzle to Trial-and-Error Gameplay. There's no rhyme or reason to most of the questions, hence why it's impossible.
  • Viking Secret Wildcard Poker in LoadingReadyRun's "Poker Before Dusk" appears at first to be an unusual variety of Texas Hold-Em. It gets a great deal sillier, incorporating cards from Magic: The Gathering and Clue.
    "Right now, Elway's going to have to decide if he should hold the knobs steady, cut the straight along his outside felch, or scrump all his grits in one trug and go ahead with the check."
    "I wouldn't be surprised if Lamont pulls a full under-crunch moonsault."
  • NationStates has the Trope Namer be an international sport a la FIFA.
  • Not Always Working has a story about a group of coworkers playing "tabletop-Calvinball", of which the only solid rule is that you have to find someone to take your place when your break ends, as the players are trying to keep the game going as long as possible.
  • The sport of Sideball from Qwerpline, which (so far) seems to be equal parts cricket, baseball, lacrosse and American football, contains such positions as punter and first and second turnstile, and allows up to six positions to be manned by non-humans (except for raccoons, which are specifically banned).
  • Reddit has r/scoreball, created in response to this nonsensical 6th-grade paper that describes it as Uruguay's national sport (maybe).
  • Grifball from Red vs. Blue started out this way; it was basically an excuse to whale on Grif. Then it became an actual game type, developed a concrete ruleset, and even has a series of special maps within Halo 3 for you to play it on yourself, but the goal is still to torture Grif.
  • From Rémi le Radis, Robotic Rock-Paper-Scissors features about 48 different moves, and explaining the broad strokes of its different rules and combinations took a little over three weeks. From what's seen of screen, the Statue of Liberty emancipates the scissors, the USB cable connects the chocolate fritter, and the TV remote destroys the manga. The latter move was used by the Techno-Cyclops during its duel against Rémi, but Rémi revealed he had placed a trap card inside the manga, which turned out to be a Fire-type Pokémon — and fire is super effective against TV remotes.
  • Rhett & Link sketch Risky Settlers, Knights and Allies of the Lords of Dominion of Earth: Pandemic Edition, the most complicated board game ever, which includes DNA swabbing another player and waiting 5 to 10 business days for the results, one player retrieving a blooming elderberry from the north-facing slope of a mountain... in real life, a Harlem Shake, and a player having a finger cut off after losing a game of musical chairs. And we only get to see the process of deciding who goes first.
  • Would you believe that one of these could be an SCP Foundation entry? Behold SCP-2206, "Maximum League Baseball," a phenomenally bizarre series of radio broadcasts that are apparently the results of baseball games in an alternate universe. The rules have little to no bearing on baseball rules from our reality, and permitted participants include a team of Aztec warriors who perform blood sacrifices before every game, actual ghosts, a collection of autonomous vehicles, clones, and a bunch of literal Red Shirts who die in droves every game. The rules include mentions of invocation of weather gods, mandatory steroid use, assassination attempts, Catholic clergy used as mascots, and Atlantis.
  • Skippy's List has examples that suggest that someone has tried this in the real-life military:
    142. "Calvin-Ball" is not authorized PT.
  • According to The Tim Tebow CFL Chronicles Canadian Football is this. Scoring a touchdown triggers bound-for-street play, where everything is inbounds and there's no end zone, and the only goal is to drive forward as far as possible (or for the defense to get the ball back into the stadium). Other teams can intervene in bound-for-street games. The football itself has a telescoping tail, and in "jav-out" configuration it can be used as a weapon, even during normal stadium play. (It doesn't help that the viewpoint character has zero prep time, and is learning the rules of Canadian football as he plays.)
  • In the Whateley Universe, there's Dis-chess, which is something like 3-D chess where the rules change every few minutes.
  • Wolf 359 has Funzo, a board game so complicated and bizarre, there's a warning about it in the survival manual:
    Hera: Guys! It's really not that complicated. You spin the wheel of ages until you have enough power tokens to get a part of the sunken idol. After that, you just keep going up the celestial steps, avoid the secret surveillance network, and make it to the Temple of Light with three crowns of wisdom.
    Maxwell: Unless someone plays a sabotage card.
    Hera: Unless someone plays a sabotage card.
  • This is a picture of WTFZee, which appears to be a completely random collection of different dice.
  • In 17776, football has become this in the distant future. The rules multiplied over the centuries—many of them conflicting or outright contradictory—and the readers barely hear about any of them.
    • The infamous Game 27 in particular is a Loophole Abuse-laden clusterfuck: as best anyone can tell, it started off as a traditional 21st-century-style game, until one team used a combination of obscure rules to claim part of the field as their legal property, and everything spiraled out of control from there. Now the field is divided into 58 different territories (some of them containing houses, high-rise apartments, or a restaurant), and no one knows where the ball is.
    • 500 has become a game where someone shoots a "football" that is 2 feet wide and weighs 120 pounds or more out of a cannon capable of reaching anywhere in the United States. The point system and the first person to get five hundred points becoming the new operator is still the same, however.

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball features "Dodj or Daar", a board game that Gumball and Darwin created, which involves rolling dice, then taking a card and doing whatever is says on it. The concept of the game is (very loosely) structured with a set of "rules", and the "rules" themselves are only there to ensure that sheer chaos results from playing it. At least one game led to the house being set on fire (and that's with the kids' dad joining in). The rules were fleshed out for real, though, in "The Game", but since the cards apparently literally create whatever hazards they claim to (like "the floor is lava"), it still results in total chaos.
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force:
    • One episode sees Shake challenging Meatwad to a game of Rock Paper Scissors. After several rounds, it appears to be going fine, then suddenly we jump cut to Shake using a condominium while Meatwad uses a hurricane (which apparently beats all housing).
    • The Bizarre and Improbable Golf Game in one of the show's spinoff videogames turns golf into a cross between Calvinball and Fallout. Complete with chainsaw fights against time-travelling robot turkeys, and that's before it gets ridiculous. There are courses on the moon and in Hell. All of this is apparently legal.
    • Carl teaches several Meatwads how to play Texas Hold'em Poker in "Multiple Meats"... with flash cards. One of Carl's winning hands is a full house AND a pair.
  • Big City Greens: The kids enjoy a game called “Critterball.” It seems to be like baseball, except using dodgeballs. Apparently, anything goes in critterball.
    Man: Man, I’ve been watching this game for about an hour and I still don’t get it. Go team!
  • Centaurworld: The eponymous game from "Bunch O' Scrunch" follows a complicated set of rules that seemingly requires every player do a completely unrelated task, resulting in a gameplay that’s incomprehensible for the audience. At one point, Ched is wearing a peacock headdress and Glendale is skating with clothespins pinched to her arms, all while Gebbrey is holding a glass container filled with mulch.note 
  • Chowder has a couple:
    • "Sniffleball" is baseball played with giant gloves on one's head, a ball of slow-moving green snot, and twelve bases that are located underwater, in the sky, and in Bowser's castle.
    • "Big Ball" is often referred to by its full Overly Long Name,note  if only because it's bad luck not to say the whole name. The goal appears not to actually win; doing so would cause Bowser to show up and trash the entire game.
    Mung: (after Truffles scores a goal) Now you've ruined the whole sport!
  • In the Codename: Kids Next Door episode "Operation: D.O.G.H.O.U.S.E.", the KND play a game of "cinder-ball", which involves launching a cinder-block with a BFG, hitting it with a giant tennis racket, bouncing off a launched trampoline, and running around bases and spinning.
  • In DuckTales (2017), during the episode, "Double-O-Duck in You Only Crash Twice!", Launchpad and Steelbeak play a game of Baccarat. But since they obviously have no idea just how the game is played, they pretty much make it up as they go along.
    Steelbeak: [laying down two circle cards] Go fish.
    Launchpad: [laying down two hearts] Old maid.
    Steelbeak: Uhh... [plays a double diamond card] Crazy eights.
    [Suspense Beat]
    Launchpad: [laying down entire hand] Checkmate.
    Steelbeak: [throws his cards in frustration] Well played.
    Dewey: It was?!
  • The Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "Urban Ed" opens with what intially seems to be the Eds getting Johnny to participate in one of these, rushing him to play a game consisting of seemingly random stunts without any time for explanation such as shooting peas through a straw to pop balloons, or throwing marshmallows into a tuba bell, but it soon becomes apparent that the whole "game" is a Bavarian Fire Drill to scam Johnny out of his cash when the last step turns out to be "put a quarter in the jar!" Unfortunately for the Eds, Johnny sees through the charade and walks off, saying "Nice try, Eddy."
  • The Fairly OddParents! shows Timmy and friends playing "Timmyball" (and later "Wandaball", which is the same but with a cinderblock):
    Cosmo: That's the first rule of Timmyball — Timmy wins.
    Wanda: I thought Timmyball had no rules.
    Cosmo: That's the second rule.
  • In the Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends episode "Bloo Tube", the gang plays "Farat Trap of Life", which is played on four boards similar to Monopoly, The Game Of Life, Mousetrap, and Pop-O-Matic Trouble.
  • Futurama has Blernsball, which is like baseball, but with so many new rules and gimmicks added — including the ball being attached to a bungee cord, a "multi-ball" mode, and a giant spider that runs the bases — that we can't tell what's going on at all. It's quite obviously a spectator sport, because it at least looks really cool. However the second time we see it in "A Leela of Her Own" it's a fully functional Fictional Sport that's basically just baseball with a bungee cord.
    Fry: Hey I'm starting to get the hang of this game! The blerns are loaded, the count's three blerns and two anti-blerns, and the infield blern rule is in effect, right?
    Leela: Except for the word "blern", that was complete gibberish.
  • On Garfield and Friends:
    • A U.S. Acres short involves Orson convincing the others to play a game of "pigball". We don't see how actual pigball is played, as Roy plays a joke by switching the actual rules with a set of increasingly absurd ones (like flipping a baked potato not only to see who plays first, but if the game is actually played at all), which instruct the players to score points by doing embarrassing and ridiculous stunts (like dressing in silly outfits or finding a live hippopotamus). They get back at Roy with a "game" called "roosterball", whose rules are to take the person with the most feathers and throw him in a mud hole.
    • In another short, Garfield finds himself trapped in a Western show, playing poker. The stakes get ridiculously high ("I'll see your horse and raise you..."), and then Garfield ends the game by declaring, "You had the old maid! I win."
  • The Ghost and Molly McGee: In "Let's Play Turnipball!", the eponymous game of Turnipball uses a raw turnip as the ball, a random assortment of sports equipment including golf clubs, croquet mallets and cricket bats, and puts some players on unicycles. Scoring seems to be completely random and arbitrary, and Ollie Chen (who's new to the game) is hopelessly confused throughout the entire episode.
  • In Home: Adventures with Tip & Oh, Oh shows Tip the Boov sport of Nuttypunny. Contestants are set out into a field of random trials with no real direction and are graded with "Compliances" or "Blunders" based on how they do. Oh reveals that the game is literally impossible to win and is just about having a fun time. When Oh and Tip play together the "right" way, they still get an equal amount of Compliances and Blunders, even getting a Blunder doing the exact same thing that was worth a Compliance earlier.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas!: "And they'll play noisy games like Zoo-zivver-karzay, a rollerskate-type of lacrosse and croquet"!
  • One episode of Jimmy Two-Shoes opens Jimmy and Beezy playing a game where they hurl themselves at a giant dartboard via catapult. Points are awarded based on where they land and the day of the week.
  • An episode of King of the Hill had a B-plot revolving around Peggy's attempt to develop a mock game show based on all the things people like most about TV game shows. The result is an incomprehensible game called "Spin the Choice".
    "On your turn, you can choose to spin, or you can choose to choose. If you choose to spin, you spin the Wheel of Choice..."
  • In The Mighty B! Bessie enjoys playing a game of Pineapple with her friends. While the rules aren't stated, all we know is that they're fairly inconsistent and involve someone dressing up as a pineapple.
  • Molly of Denali: In "Mollyball", Molly invents a game called Mollyball, where the players make up rules as they go.
  • The My Little Pony: Make Your Mark episode "The Jinxie Games" focuses on Bridlewood Forest Critter Field Day, in which pony/critter teams compete in a variety of bizarre events whose rules are never explained. Ponies can win events they're not even participating in, and a tree and a burst football somehow end up with trophies.
  • The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show has the eponymous duo go back in time to watch what is supposed to be the first game of baseball, but the inventor Alexander Cartwright is such a poor sport, he keeps changing the rules on the fly to make sure he wins. Eventually, it gets so bad that the game bears no resemblance to baseball, and even Alexander agrees it's become a mess.
  • "Ultrahyperball" from the Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero episode of the same name is so complicated, it can take thousands of years to play a single game, and trying to load the rules caused Sashi's computerized glasses to explode. The actual rulebook is extremely large and takes so long to read, players' eyes will fall out of their sockets long before finding out how to actually win (by popping the ball). On top of it all, the losing team has their planet destroyed while the winners have a pizza party.
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • This description of the "F Games" is a good indication of what you're in for:
    Phineas: That's two points for recycling! The girls' score is now the square-root of pi, while the boys still have a crudely-drawn picture of a duck. Clearly, it's still anyone's game!
    • "Let's Take a Quiz" is a game-show Calvinball whose only rule seems to be "answer quickly and answer often." Candace is quite baffled at first. The show's board game variant of this trope is called "Skiddley Whiffers", and Candace is an expert at that.
    • In "Tales from the Resistance: Back to the 2nd Dimension", Phineas and Ferb's dad gives them his sports equipment for them to play with after Doofenshmirtz is defeated and freedom and fun are restored to the Tri-State Area. They and the other kids are confused about how to use them and end up creating a game of Calvinball. The sports-playing montage ends with Ferb hitting a soccer ball with a golf club into a flaming hula hoop to score a touchdown.
  • The students of Third Street School on Recess play a couple of games like this. One is called "Battle Tag"; we don't see it played, but we do see all the kids on the playground sprawled on the ground afterwards with their clothes all ripped and covered with dirt. In another episode, the kids become hooked on a Pokémon-esque card game called "Ajimbo"; most of its rules are nonsensical and inconsistent, so much so that when Child Prodigy Gretchen works out a system to winning, it falls apart seconds after working perfectly to her confusion and aggravation.
  • In the episode of Regular Show "But I Have A Receipt", Mordecai and Rigby have to face off against a dungeon master in a D&D style fight where they have to use their imaginations. Needless to say, the game eventually turns into Calvinball, with rule changes occurring every half second, with it only ending when Mordecai summons an "Immunity Sword" which is immune to all rule changes. What makes the whole thing even more absurd is that Mordecai, Rigby, and the DM are fighting over a $7 refund for a game.
  • One episode of Rocket Power has the kids trying to invent their own sport, "Rocketball". Although it starts out very simple ("hit the ball into the trash can"), more people gradually join in, and, to make it "fairer", so many rules are added that it degrades into Calvinball.
  • One episode of Rugrats had a B-plot with the adults all trying out a board game called "Neurosis" that follows a long list of byzantine rules depending on the current state of the game, such as "Player One can only move counter-clockwise when all the other players are in the Penalty Zone." By the second or third time it cuts back to them, they're all bored and confused out of their minds, but for some reason, they still keep playing.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: In the episode "Protocol", the three recurring Horde soldiers - Lonnie, Kyle and Rogelio - get A Day in the Limelight when their transport is disabled by an acid storm, and they end up trying to figure out who should go out to fix it by playing various games. When the first one, a Horde version of rock-paper-scissors, ends in stalemate after stalemate, Kyle proposes a game that he is clearly making up as he goes along, deducting points from the other players for specious reasons, meaning that he's basically playing Calvinball for his life...and this being Kyle, he somehow manages to lose even though he's the one making up the rules.
  • The Simpsons:
    • "Ice Cream of Margie (with the Light Blue Hair)" shows Homer, Lenny, and Carl playing a chair-hockey game. They disagree not only on the rules, but also on what game they're even playing. Homer claims it's called "Cincinnati Time-Waste", and Carl pulls out an official Cincinnati Time-Waste rulebook.
    • In "The Old Man and the Key", Bart and Homer are playing a game of their own creation. It's a combination of Scrabble and Battleship, which also uses extra boards, one of which is for Monopoly.
      Bart: B6!
      Homer: You sunk my scrabbleship!
      Lisa: This game makes no sense.
      Homer: Tell that to the men who just lost their lives. Semper fi!
  • Orbot and Cubot in Sonic Boom have their own version of "Rock, Paper, Scissors" called "Rock, Donut, Thursday". Not even they can agree what beats what, and the rules are so much of a Logic Bomb that they defeat Nominatus. As he puts it:
    Logical reasoning impossible... Game incredibly stupid... Too stupid... Fatal error..
  • "Sarcastaball" from South Park was created as a response to growing football safety regulations. It's an ever-evolving inversion of the sport where players wear bras and tinfoil hats and toss a balloon across the field while hugging and congratulating nearby opponents.
  • The game of Bucket-Stick-Fruitball from Spliced is a Running Gag throughout the series. Peri and Entree are the only characters who can play the game without getting confused and injured. The game begins by launching a fruit into the air using a stick, at which point one of the players tries to catch it using a bucket. What happens after this is never made clear, but it involves a tricycle, a wig, and being covered in butter, among other things.
  • Sponge Bob Square Pants:
    • At the start of the "Squidward the Unfriendly Ghost", SpongeBob and Patrick are playing a game that involves bubble-blowing, moving pieces on a chess board with your breath, carrying rocks around, climbing a tree, and other craziness. At one point, Patrick triumphantly shouts "I lose!", until SpongeBob reminds him, "But it's not Tuesday, Patrick." When an annoyed Squidward asks them what they're doing, they sheepishly admit, "We don't know."
    • In "Patrick: The Game", Patrick decides to make his own board game after Squidward tells him games don't grow on trees, but are thought up and made by people. Spongebob, Sandy, and Squidward go to Patrick's house and play, with Spongebob getting a driver's license for a slot-car racetrack, Patrick landing on a "Snacks" space that dispenses snacks, and Squidward goes to jail, only to be caught in a Catch-22 Dilemma when he can't roll a 6 to get out of jail because players in jail can't roll the dice, and can only be released when someone says his name, which happens when he threatens to walk away and they say his name. Lampshaded when Squidward gets frustrated by the apparent absurdity of it all:
      Squidward: Could someone please tell me what we are supposed to be doing? What's the point? This entire game is completely random! It jumps from one thing to another, I don't know how you're supposed to win, and Patrick seems to be making up the rules as he goes along!
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks: In "Veritas", Q puts Humanity on Trial — again — by kidnapping the bridge crew of the Cerritos, putting them in chess outfits, and pitting them against playing cards with hockey sticks. Between football goalposts on a chessboard. With a dancing and singing soccer ball who spouts riddles.
    Captain Freeman: Well, he clearly wants us to play something.
  • Steven Universe: The episode "The Test" opens with Steven and the Gems playing "Citchen Calamity" (sic), a board game with rules so nonsensical none of the Crystal Gems understand it, with the possible exception of Garnet.
    Garnet: I am now the owner of the golden can opener... Yesss.
  • In Teen Titans, Cyborg and Beast Boy play Stankball, which apparently involves pegging the other player with a wadded-up ball of dirty laundry. By the end of the episode, the game has been upgraded to Extreme Stankball.
  • At one point in Total Drama Action, Heather, frustrated at one of Chris' last second rule changes seeming to screw her team out of a victory, accuses him of making the rules up as he goes along. Chris simply replies, "I love my job."
  • We Bare Bears: At the start of "Beehive", the Bears play football with Ranger Tabes. Much to her bafflement and frustration, their version of American football incorporates all sorts of other sports including golf, basketball, and even pro-gaming (with Grizzly waving around a video game controller while shouting about fighting game moves).
  • On Wishfart, Dez and Akiko's favorite card game is Flip-Flop Dungeon, but its absurd and confusing rules confound Puffin, who loathes it. It has a card that requires the opponent to do a silly dance, another card that expels stinky gas when drawn, and the "Hissy Fit Cadaver" card that instantly wins the game. Oh, and it has an expansion pack, which the King of the Underworld loves playing.

    Real Life 
  • Classic Mahjong is a reasonably complicated game on its own, but when it made its way to Japan, even more rules were grafted on in the general manner of Calvinball to create Riichi Mahjong. It is by far the densest and most convoluted gambling game the average person is likely to encounter.
  • During the filming of The Lord of the Rings, in a break between shots Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd started tapping each other while making noises. Their 'game' became elaborate enough that Elijah Wood came over and asked if he could play too, at which point Dominic and Billy started making up rules on the spot. Apparently it took months before Elijah figured out that the game had been entirely improvised.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Made Up Ruleset


SpongeBob and Patrick's Game

SpongeBob and Patrick play a game that involves bubble-blowing, moving pieces on a chess board with your breath, carrying rocks around, climbing a tree, and other craziness. When an annoyed Squidward asks them what they're doing, they sheepishly admit, "We don't know."

How well does it match the trope?

5 (26 votes)

Example of:

Main / Calvinball

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