Diner Chess

Release Date: 
Thursday, May 15, 2003
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Play Duration (new players): 
Play Duration (experienced): 
Minimum number of players: 
Maximum number of players: 
Minimum Age: 

by Jonathan Leistiko


Figure out the secret rules that govern how the other players move pieces on their turn.

You Need

  • An area with diverse items that you can group in general categories. A table with four place settings at your local late-night diner should do nicely.
  • Paper and pencil for each player.

Setting Up

Before the game begins, agree on what is in game, like “The surface of the table and everything on it.” The players automatically count as “in game”.

Make up a rule and write it down. This rule dictates how you move pieces when it’s your turn.

Some examples of rules:

  • I may not touch a piece that the last two players touched.
  • I must place a piece so it is about two inches from another piece.
  • I may only move pieces that share a color with my shirt.

Once everyone has a rule written down, start the game.


On your turn:

  1. Move a piece in accordance with your secret rule.
  2. Ask another player a yes or no question about his or her rule. Your target must answer publicly.
  3. You may write down what you think a player’s (does not have to be the person you just asked) secret rule is and show it to him or her. If you are correct then score 1 point. Your target scores points as follows: First rule = 1 point // Next to last rule = 1 point // Any other rule = 2 points

When your rule has been guessed correctly, show everyone what your rule was. No other player may attempt to guess it.


The game ends when all rules but one have been guessed. If your rule remains unguessed, then you lose 1 point. The player with the most points wins.


I Take My Joe Black: Don’t play for points. Just play. The original version of Diner Chess didn’t have points; they’re only there to keep you from making your rules too easy or hard. If you’re all on the same wavelength, it’s more fun to ingore the points and just play.

Origin and Credits

Ever hang out at a diner with friends and pretend to play Chess with the water glasses and ketchup bottle? Five years ago I spent many late nights hanging out at diners with LARPers. I decided to create a game that we could play almost anywhere with a flat surface and lots of distinct objects. These rules, less the point system, evolved pretty naturally after the third or fourth game. Over the years I’ve played this game with Ben’s oil and acrylic paint set, in many diners with utensils and condiment dispensers, and with an Icehouse set (which worked very nicely indeed).