King’s Cup

Background Information: I came across the game King’s Cup at a party, and was immediately intrigued by how elaborate it was. I also noticed that different people were talking about different ways they had played it before, in different places or states, and this caught my attention. I interviewed Jack Runburg and Kevin Litman-Navarro, who are two college seniors. Jack learned to play the game during high school in Utah, where he grew up, while Kevin came across it at the beginning of college.

K: The game Kings cup is a game of skill and a game of luck… It requires a deck of cards, a group of people between four and eight, uh, a large… receptacle, in the middle of the table – a chalice, a goblet, whatever you’d like, and a beer for, uh, for each player. The game is played by fanning out the deck of cards around your goblets… your grail, if you’re into that… and they take turns pulling cards, and each card has a different rule assigned to it. So it’s like a bunch of mini-games within the larger game of King’s Cup

A: It has to be a beer?

K: It typically, if you wanna play the game properly, everyone has to be drinking the same thing, because at different points of the game you’re going to be pouring your drink into the large cup in the center, and drinking it all at the end.

A: Is it different playing it in high school and here? Since you’re from Utah, Jack?

J: Yeah generally like the first ten minutes of playing the game is trying to like, rectify, different people’s sets of rules, and choosing which ones to obey for that particular game.

A: Do you have any examples?

K: Jack, what was your typical rule for Queen?

J: Ok so, in high school I played Queen as Question Master, it’s different from the usual Question Master – it’s if, someone doesn’t speak in questions, meaning that if someone asks you a question and you don’t respond with a question, you lose.

K: Conversely in my version of Queen, it’s called Queen Mean, so when you pull Queen, everyone insults you.

A: Do you guys like the game?

J: It’s not really like a big party game, more of like a kickback… You need a small group, fewer than eight people… It’s fun because it’s dynamic, and not really repetitive.

A: Have you ever heard any stories or anything about where the game might have come from or something?

J: I have a sister who is ten years older than me, and I know that… well she grew up in San Diego and I grew up in Utah, and when I became of the age where I started to drink, she asked me, like ‘Oh, do you guys play King’s Cup?’ And I said yeah we do, and she said ‘What are your rules?’ And the only rules we differed on were Jacks and Aces, so it was cool that someone in like a completely different geographical area who was ten years older than me had like the same rules… I think it’s just been around for like really long.

Thoughts: I am very interested in how the game seems to transcend boundaries of both space and time within the US. Drinking games seem to serve an important function at parties, especially at college, where many might be seeing new faces or attempting to meet new friends. In these situations, games serve as a means of breaking the ice. King’s Cup adds another layer of complexity because of the variations, similar to the idea of oikotypes that we learned about in class – a piece of folklore having multiple regional and cultural variations. Playing King’s Cup perhaps adds a stimulus for conversation as well, as players discuss where they are from, and how or why their versions of the game might be different.