I’m fascinated with the origin and design of drinking games. Where do different types of games come from, how were they conceived, and how did they evolve to take on the many varying forms they have today? Why do certain kinds of people gravitate to certain kinds of games? How does a game experience change with varying numbers, personality types, physical resources and space, and party vibe?
There are so many questions! To keep down the scope of this article, today we are going to focus on one game: Flip Cup.
The Strengths of Flip Cup
Flip Cup is great for a lot of reasons – it’s easy to learn, flexible in numbers, accommodating to sudden personnel changes between rounds, doesn’t require a long commitment (like a bad game of Pong might), allows for varying levels of skill and competitiveness, and is fast-paced and exciting.
The social aspect of Flip Cup is also very dynamic. I have seen it used between a small group of close friends to get the party started, I’ve seen it used upon the first explosion of party attendance to get a bunch of strangers mobilized and feeling included as part of a”greater cause”, and I’ve seen it used as a late-party game for people who want to send themselves or others over the edge.
It’s no wonder that it’s a staple of the college party experience!
Flip Cup’s Weaknesses
I have found two key issues with the Flip Cup experience:
- Disconnected Games: Each game of Flip Cup is a self-contained victory. It doesn’t seem to matter much if one team is significantly better than the other.
- Degree of Victory is Arbitrary: There is a limited and fleeting joy that comes from a “strong” victory (completing significantly faster than the losing team). If Team A wins the first three games in a row by two cups, and then Team B wins the fourth by a whopping 7 cups… how the teams stack up?
You could solve both of these problems by adding a scoring system, based either on team wins or on the number of total cups flipped, but I wanted something less abstract. So I came up with a little variation called Flip Cup Sumo!
Flip Cup Sumo
Flip Cup Sumo is a straightforward variation of Flip Cup Classic, with some important twists!
- Players: 6-16, 2 even teams
- Given a rectangular flip cup table, draw a long line (“axis”) across its length, parallel to the lines of cups.
- Along the axis, draw an odd number of smaller lines (“notches”), such that each line is perpendicular to the axis. The notches should be symmetrical, meaning there should be a CENTER notch.
- At each end of the axis, draw a circle to be the”goal zone”. Each team picks a goal zone to protect. Place some sort of object (“marker”), like an unopened beer can, at the center of the table on the center notch. The end result should look something like this:
- Progression of Play:
- Pick a player on each team, facing each other, and play a round of normal flip cup.
- The moment the round finishes (the last person on a team has finished flipping their cup), everything stops.
- Count the number of unflipped cups (or unfinished players) on the losing team. Take the marker and move it that many notches towards the losing team’s goal zone, as if the winning team PUSHED it in that direction.
- Designate a new set of players to start a new round, and repeat.
- Resolution: If the marker is ever pushed into a team’s goal zone, the game ends and the opposing team is declared the victor. If the marker is an unopened beer can, then you could add a rule where a member of the losing team must shotgun/funnel it as punishment.
There are a few reasons I like this game. First, the game gives players a long term goal, which strings together the individual flip cup rounds into a larger game. Secondly, a strong victory has a much greater effect on the movement of the beer can, and is thus more rewarding. Saving your team from near-death or finishing off a team with a strong victory should be very satisfying.
It also could use some tweaking. A long table is typically used for flip cup, but teams stand on the long sides. This means that the axis is parallel to the team formation, making it difficult to tell which goal belongs to which team, and why. Perhaps it would help if the single “marker” was replaced with two little colored objects – such as sumo wrestler action figures – facing each other. In this case each team could choose a matching color, and loss state is triggered when that color’s marker is pushed backwards into a goal zone.
Flip Cup Sumo+
To increase strategy (at the risk of accessibility), try the following rules:
- When a round ends, the marker should be moved N+1 notches towards the losing team’s goal. This extra point helps move the needle for small victories, so they aren’t completely undermined by a single strong one.
- If a team has finished flipping all of their cups in a round, the last person yell DONE to end the round. However, they may also optionally choose to loop around to the first person on the team and flip more cups to score additional points. However, victory is risked each time a person starts flipping, since a player can only call DONE if they have just successfully flipped a cup and the next person has not yet started.
These rules probably take it too far. After all, Flip Cup derives much of its strength from its casual nature; it wouldn’t be very fun teaching these rules in a party setting.
Anyway I’d love to try these out, or get some feedback from someone else who gets a chance. I hope it’s fun!