When people bring up the game Mao, those who know of it have flashbacks to low-stakes yet high-stress rounds of working to piece together what invisible rules, with vicious punishments, have been made in secret. The good folks at Wiggity Bang bring back all of those memories in a more organized fashion with Quao [pronounced "cow"], the Ultimate Dictatorship Card Game.
There is a little backstory to the game. It paints a picture of a horrific wasteland ruled by an unquestionable, yet insane, cow. It is unclear how she rules specifically (whether through violence, shaming, social pressure, torture, etc), but it is very clear that she is able to force her people to do as she says. This tale gives the game a setting with all kinds of hilarious names describing different styles of cards with amusingly spelled names such as “Quak,” “Cheata,’” and “JaQuas.”
Like its predecessor Mao, Quao is a shedding game: the players’ goal is to empty their hands as quickly as possible. Each player is dealt five cards in the various “suits,” which each have their own style of being played. “JaQuas” cards are the “Truth” part of Truth or Dare, “Quak” forces hilarious actions to perform like reciting five words from five different languages, and “BullyQ” tags rules onto other players who must perform them for the rest of the round or draw a penalty card. “Cheata’s” are special actions that affect the mechanics of the game and the “JoQuer” is a get-out-of-jail-free card for failing to obey the queenly Quao’s unseen command. Cards are played one at a time until someone runs out first and wins the round.
Black Quao cards are set in the middle of the table next to the draw and discard piles. At the beginning of the round, the Quao (the winner of the last round or the one chosen if the first round) draws one, reads it silently, and then may punish anyone who, for example, asks “whose turn is it?” with a penalty card. It is up to the players to determine through inductive reasoning what the Quao’s rules are. Quao cards add up as the rounds are played, so players must pay close attention to avoid a tidal wave of punishment cards.
There are a limited number of Quao cards, meaning replay may suffer (or improve, depending on the viewpoint) by players remembering old rules. Witty Bang has additional Quao cards for free download, which may help. Players can also create their own, though that may cause the disorganized imbalance seen in some of the more frustrating games of Mao.
Quao is a great game; the versatility of its actions has something for everyone, with the Cheata’s rules-lawyers, the Quaks for performers, and the BullyQs for vindictive players. There is no specified number of rounds for victory, so the game can go for a few minutes or a few hours as players like. It is recommended for three to six players aged teen and up and very reasonably priced for the hours of entertainment held in the little box.