Mao Card Game Rules and How to Play 

How to explain a game that intentionally remains a mystery for its players? Well, the Mao card game rules are invented on the go, creating a crazy original challenge.

Mao (you may also know it under the name ‘Mau’) is a card-shedding game similar to UNO (see classic UNO rules) or Big 2 (see Big 2 rules). The goal is to eliminate your hand, card by card, faster than your opponents. 

But beware that this game, with its name borrowed from the infamous Chinese leader Mao Zedong, will test your guessing skills, requiring you to follow rules you don’t know.

Key highlights of this Mao card game rules guide:

  • What is the Mao card game?
  • Mao card game rules
  • Mao scoring 
  • Mao rules in pictures 
  • How to play Mao (Video tutorial)

Read on for step-by-step instructions on how to play the Mao card game.

What is the Mao Card Game?

Mao Card Game Info Image

Players in this game play their cards on the cards of the same suit or ranking to get rid of them. 

Besides that, they try to decipher a secret rule created by the previous round’s winner. If they break it, they must face penalties. 

Number of Players: 3+ (ideally 4 to 8)

Ages: 6+

Difficulty: Easy 

Length of Play: 20 – 45 minutes

Type of Game: Card-shedding game

Similar to: UNOCrazy EightsBig 2

Main Objective: Get rid of all your cards while deciphering the secret rules.

Our take: This game is so adaptable and original that it is impossible to get bored with it. 

What You’ll Need to Play the Mao Card Game

If you want to play Mao, you’ll only need the following:

  • Decks: 1
  • Number of Cards: 52
  • Cards Omitted: Jokers (optional)

Tip: If you’re playing with more players, you can use two identical decks of cards. 

Mao Card Game Rules

If you’re new to Mao, some of the elements of this game might confuse you – especially the fact that you must figure out the rules on the go. But, like other aspects of this game, this can be adjusted. 

Starting the Game

First, name a dealer (also called Mao, Chairman, or the Grand Master) who is responsible for enforcing the game’s rules. It should be the most experienced player. 

Next, shuffle the deck and deal an equal number of cards to each player (3, 5, 6, or 7 cards; typically, people deal fewer cards to more players and more cards to fewer players).

The remaining deck of cards forms a penalty cards draw pile. Place the deck in the center of the table, flip the top card, and put this card next to the pile as a discard pile.

The Gameplay

This is how the game proceeds:

  • The first player (usually the dealer himself) plays a card that matches the card on the table, either with rank or suit.

Example: If the card is 9 of hearts, Player 1 can play any nine or any card of hearts suit.

  • If the player does not have a matching card, the player draws one card from the penalty deck (you can pick alternative penalties)
  • The next player to the right tries to match the new top card, and so on. The game continues around the table. 

Besides this, players must also comply with a secret rule/rules of the game decided by the dealer (and later by the previous rounds’ winner). 

If some rule is broken, anyone can award a penalty card, but they must explain why it was awarded (I will describe the most common optional rules below).

Point of Order

If a penalty causes a dispute among the players, anyone can announce a “Point of Order.”

Following the announcement of the point of order, all the players put down their cards, pause the game, and discuss the situation. 

However, you are not allowed to talk about the game’s rules directly and cannot touch your opponent’s cards.

When someone calls “Point of Disorder,” the game resumes. 

Example of Variable Mao Rules

No talking – With Exceptions…

Games starting with such an agreement among the players should not allow players to talk to each other. The standard exceptions are:

  • Thank the dealer for a penalty card.
  • Call out “Mao!” when you have one card left. 
  • Say “Have a nice day” to the next player after playing 7 (or another chosen card)
  • Give all or some cards special names that must be called whenever they are played during the game (e.g., seven’s name is apple; any club card is a coin, all face cards are folks, etc.)

Reverse Play

One of the most common versions of the Mao game allows reversing the gameplay when card number 8 (regardless of the suit of this card) is played (clockwise to counterclockwise and vice-versa).

You can also spice things up by choosing a card of another face value to work this way.


Another practice is to skip the next player’s turn in Mao when a player plays Ace (or some other card).

Change Suit

One of the popular advanced rules of this game allows a player to call out a new suit of their choice in Mao when playing a Jack – or any other card.

End of the Round

The round ends when one of the players has used all their cards and thus won the round

Once the round is over, the person who won creates a new secret rule and tells it to the dealer (secretly, of course…). A new round of Mao can then begin.

Mao Card Game Scoring 

There is no scoring in Mao. Players play as many rounds as needed until one of them wins three times and becomes the winner of the game.

Mao Card Game Rules in Pictures

Step 1 

For the best experience with this game, play it with 4+ players. Start with as many cards as you wish. Just make sure that all players have the same number. 

Mao card game rules 1 image

Step 2

The remaining deck of playing cards in Mao forms a penalty draw pile. Flip the top card and place it on the side as a discard pile.

Mao card game rules 2 image

Step 3

Starting with the dealer, players in Mao take turns discarding cards that match the previous card played with rank or suit. 

Mao card game rules 3 image

Step 4

The dealer/winner of the previous round creates secret rules. It can be, for example, reversing the direction of the gameplay when a card number 8 appears…

Mao card game rules 4 image

Step 5

…or skipping the next player when any person plays Ace, etc. Breaking the secret rule results in a penalty (+ 1 card). Players cannot discuss secret rules directly.

Mao card game rules 5 image

Step 6

Whoever gets rid of their cards first wins the round. A player who wins three rounds becomes the winner of the entire game.

Mao card game rules 6 image

How to Play the Mao Card Game – Video Tutorial 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can two players play Mao?

No, two players cannot play Mao. The game centers around guessing secret rules, requiring at least three players. Ideally, play Mao with four or more players for the best experience.

Are Mao and Mau-Mau the same game?

Mao and Mau-Mau are not the same game, but Mao was most likely derived from Mau-Mau, an older European card-shedding game. 

Do you use Joker cards when playing the Mao card game?

Yes, you can use Jokers in Mao. Like many things in this card game, using a Joker card is entirely optional. If you use them, they can serve, for example, as wild cards.

Other Similar Games to Mao (Our Guides) 

If you enjoy Mao, check out our guides to a few similar card-shedding games:

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Read all the articles (121) written by Lucia Fajnerova