One rainy Sunday when the kids had too little to do and I didn’t have the energy to chase them around the house, we came up with a game that they enjoyed but allowed me to relax. We call it the Gemstone Game, and it has become one of our favorites.
Number of Players: 1–4, or more if you have a big enough play area
Ages: 4 and up
Time to Play: 5–15 minutes. Really as long as you want.
- Twenty or so “gemstones.” We use little colored glass beads about 1cm in diameter, but marbles would work too.
- One smallish throw pillow per player
- Hiding Places: sofas, stacked sofa cushions, recliners, upturned tables (nicely padded with pillows and blankets), blankets strung across the room
Object: To place the most gemstones onto your pillow before the gemstone pile is empty.
Choose a play area, either in a living room or den, or outside in the yard. The area should be reasonably large—we usually play in our living room, which is about 25’x20’—and as clear as possible of hard surfaces and sharp corners.
One player—typically the lazy grownup—is “The Watcher” and sits at one corner of the play area facing outward, away from the play area. Line up each player’s throw pillow a few feet behind The Watcher. Put “hiding places” all around the play area. These can be sofas and solid chairs—padded ones that you can’t see through. Players will hide behind these hiding places, trying to avoid being seen by The Watcher, so the obstacles need to be reasonably wide and tall. You can string up blankets to make good hiding places. Overturned coffee tables can work well if you pad them with blankets and pillows.
Now, at the far end of the player area, behind one of the hiding places, lay down a pile of 20 or so “gemstones” (marbles or the like).
How to Play
Players start at the pile of gemstones. When The Watcher is ready, he says “Alabama Closed,” turns away from the play area and closes his eyes. Now each player picks up one gemstone (only one!) from the pile and attempts to carry it across the play area to place it onto her pillow. You must place the gemstone, not toss it.
At any moment, The Watcher may say, “Mississippi, Mississippi, Mississippi, Mississippi OPEN!,” turn toward the play area and open his eyes. If he sees any players, he calls that player’s name. That player loses one gemstone from off of his pillow and has to go back to the pile.
When The Watcher is ready, he says, “Alabama Closed,” turns away and closes his eyes again. He continues to alternate between “Mississippi… OPEN” and “Alabama Closed” until the players have moved the pile of gemstones onto the pillows near The Watcher.
When the game is over, each player counts the number of gemstones sitting on her pillow. Stones that have rolled off onto the floor don’t count! The player with the most gemstones wins!
Notes and Tips
- This game can be dangerous! Players run, dive for cover, slide into hiding places, and try to move quickly among obstacles. If there’s anything hard or sharp in the area, players can get bumped, scraped, or cut. We only use sofas, soft chairs, and pillows for our games, so we haven’t had many injuries. But players can still bump into each other. So be warned: This game is not safe. We’re okay with that in our household—we think the chance of a hospital-caliber injury is low—but if you’re not, don’t play.
- It’s generally wise for players to agree that they’ll always move either clockwise or counterclockwise around the play area. If everyone moves the same direction, it helps avoid head-on collisions.
- For older kids, it’s fun to make the game get harder as it goes on. The Watcher can warn, “I’m going down to three Mississippis starting next time!” Then say, “Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi OPEN!” before opening your eyes. We eventually go down to two Mississippis, though I say them pretty slowly.
- This game is a great workout for the kids. They laugh while they play, and get great exercise moving quickly around the play area, getting up to run, getting down to hide. We have to take breathing breaks every few minutes.
- It’s also great relaxation for lazy adults. Reclining on a bean bag and turning around every few seconds—anybody can do that. I like this game because it’s a great way to spend quality time with my energetic kids without wearing myself out.
- You can vary the length of the game by starting with a bigger or smaller pile of stones.
- You might think of using bowls rather than throw pillows as destinations for the stones. Don’t. It’s too tempting to toss gemstones into a bowl. Because throw pillows tend to be domed-shaped, players have to be careful of how they place the stones, else they’ll roll off.
- If your kids are any good at the game, there’s an eerie thrill to be had here. When your eyes are closed you hear all this giggling and movement. But every time you open them the room looks empty. The experience is pleasingly horror-film-like.
The game was vaguely inspired by the old Atari arcade game, I, Robot.