February 17 2015

QUANTUM – a word game


One day, back in High School, someone (probably my best friend Daniel) explained Quantum Physics to me with the idea that everything is connected to everything else. Now, I have no idea about Quantum Physics, but from that basic idea I developed my own little word game, which I called “Quantum”. Back in High School I really liked word games. I was particularly into the game called “Word Morph” where you have to get from one word to another by just changing one letter at a time (if you’ve never heard of this game, check it here).  Quantum is similar to Word Morph, in that you have a starting word and you have to try to get to a finishing word, but it is different in that you use conceptual links to change the words, rather than simply changing letters. It is also different in that it is not a solo game. It can be played with as many people as you like, but it best works with two people. This creates the most fun and challenging part of the game as you each compete to link to your word without knowing what the other person’s word is.

I have made many games over the years (Mega Church, Treasure Island, Royal Rescue, Please Finalise Your Purchases, Back Story, Nukes Spies & Propaganda, Paparazzi, Whoever Has the Four of Clubs Wins). Some of these have worked well and some of these have failed miserably. Quantum is definitely a game that has worked. Even today, over 20 years after inventing the game, I still play it quite often with my wife when we go on road trips or are killing time waiting for something. I thought I’d write up the rules here so that you can enjoy it too.


The aim of the game is to be the first player to create a legitimate link to your winning word.

All players think of (or are secretly given) a word that they will try to get to. This is their winning word. A starting word is chosen and then players take turns saying words that link to the previous word. So player 1 says a word that links to the starting word, and then player 2 says a word that links to the word that player 1 just said. Each player is trying to pull the game towards their winning word, but neither player knows which word their opponent is trying to get to. Thus the game involves using multiple tactics to both get to your word and avoid the other player guessing what you word is.

In Quantum, words are linked conceptually, meaning the linking word must have some understood relationship to the previous word. Common relationships between words may be things like:

  • They are commonly together in use or just in how people know of them (eg. “bacon” – “eggs”)
  • They are similar (eg. “cry” – “weep”)
  • They are opposites (eg. “hot” – “cold”)
  • They go from general to specific (eg. “job” – “accountant””)
  • They go from specific to general (eg. “cow” – “animal”)
  • They have some other relationship that is understood (eg. “vampire” – “scary”, “ninja” – “Japan”, “beans” – “flatulence”, etc.)

If you suggest a word that is not a good enough link, the other player may contest its legitimacy. For example, if after the other player said “fish” you tried to link it with the word “Christmas” because you always have fish at Christmas with your family, the other player could dispute it. At which point, you can either try to convince them of its connection, or you can more productively, just suggest another word.

No matter how lame the connection is though, the other player has the option of accepting it and playing on. They would do this naturally because it served their efforts to reach their own word. For example, if your opponent’s winning word was “Holiday” they may be very happy with your offer of “fish / Christmas”, as it will allow them to say “Christmas / “Holiday” and go on to win the game.

This is how a game may play out…

  • Player 1 and 2 each secretly think of a word. P1 chooses “tree” and P2 chooses “snow”. They do not tell each other what their word is.
  • One of the players (let’s say, P1) chooses a starting word. To be fair, they try to choose something that is not an easy link to their own word. They decide the starting word is “fish”.
  • The player who didn’t choose the starting word (P2), then begins the game. They firstly say the word they must link to and then they say a linking word. They say, “Fish – Water”. They choose the word “water” hoping that it may eventually lead to allowing them to link to their winning word, “snow”.
  • P1 accepts the link by playing on. The new word they must link to is “water”, and so they say, “Water – Nature”, hoping this will lead to something to do with their winning word, “tree”.
  • At this point P2 contemplates going straight from “nature” to “snow” as snow is a part of nature, but they worry this might be seen as not a strong enough link and they don’t want to give away what their word is. Remember, they would only win the game if the other player accepts their linking word by playing on. They decide to go with something half way. So they say, “Nature – Weather”.
  • P1 continues with “Weather – Wind”, thinking that may somehow connect with the wind blowing through the leaves or something.
  • P2 then says “Wind – Blizzard”, trying to get it back to snow.
  • P1 is at this point wondering how on earth they might get from “blizzard” all the way to their winning word, “tree”. They muse to themselves, “I reckon I might be able to get from blizzard to Christmas, with the whole white Christmas cliche and Santa in the North Pole. And if I can link to a Christmas tree I could get to my winning word.” And so, without any idea what P2 winning word is, they say “Blizzard – Winter”.
  • P2 then puts on their best poker face and says, “Winter – Snow”.
  • P1 naturally accepts this and continues with “Snow – Snowman”, hoping this will push it towards Christmas.
  • P2 then smiles and declares, “My word was ‘Snow’!” And with that P2 wins the game.

The above description shows a lot of the thinking behind each word, but this is how the game would sound:

  • P1: The starting word is “fish”.
  • P2: Fish – Water
  • P1: Water – Nature
  • P2: Nature – Weather
  • P1: Weather – Wind
  • P2: Wind – Blizzard
  • P1: Hmm… Blizzard – Winter
  • P2: Winter – Snow
  • P1: Snow – Snowman
  • P2: My word was “snow”
  • P1: Wow. I suck at this game.

Now, this is a very short example. It can be this quick, but usually, the game goes a fair bit longer and involves various attempts by each player to get close to their word before someone finally gets it.

The more complex or unique the word, the harder it will be to get to, so effectively you can choose the level of difficulty of the game by the word that you choose. Choosing the word “car” may be fairly easy, whereas choosing the word “chlorophyll” may be really difficult.

Also, think about how many ways you might be able to get to your word. If your word is “nail-clipper” you may be quite limited in getting to your word, but if your word is “bill” you could get to your word through, “electricity” or “restaurant” or “name” or “money” or even, “duck”. Even though all these words get to “bill” in a different way, they are all legitimate links.

If on the other hand you want to choose a completely random word (or you find it hard to just think of a word off the top of your head) you can use cards from a game like Taboo or Pictionary, or if you have your smartphone, you can go to wordgenerator.net and get a random word from there.taboo-cards

In choosing the starting word, you can employ any of these techniques as well, but if you don’t have those games cards handy and you don’t want to look up a website, you could ask a friend who is not playing the game to think of the starting word. Alternatively, you could think of some creative way of choosing a starting word, like the first word that you see on a car’s bumper sticker or the word you put your finger on when you randomly open up a book off the shelf. The starting word can be unique or complex and it won’t be a problem, so have fun with it! If you just have one of the players choose a starting word (like in the gameplay example above), they must try to choose a word that has no obvious link to their winning word, and the other player starts the game, to try to make it as fair as possible.

The game is won when your winning word is said and accepted as a legitimate link. This can happen by your opponent suggesting your winning word as a linking word, although this is quite rare. More commonly, you will say your winning word as a linking word. You only win if your opponent accepts it as a legitimate link, and they do this by linking another word to your winning word. Once this has happened, instead of taking your turn, you declare yourself to have won.


  • Trust
    • The game relies on trust. It is very easy to cheat or just pretend that you have won by saying, “That was my word!” at any stage. Play by the rules and don’t be a douche and you’ll have fun.
  • Numbers of players
    • The game works best with two players but can be played with more people with no change of the rules at all. The only problem is that the more people you play it with, the less your turn will influence it in your direction. Any more than three players and the game becomes more about luck than strategy.
  • Game length
    • The game will take as long as it takes. It could be as quick as 2 minutes (like in the gameplay example given above) or it could take a whole day (yes, I have actually played it for a whole day once when I was in High School). Generally though, once you get the hang of it, an average game goes for around 5-15 minutes, which makes it great for a road trip, as you might get in a few games by the time you reach your destination.
  • Sounding the same but different.
    • In Quantum, with every link the meaning of the word could change. For example, if P1 said “Vacation – Break”, P2 could say “Break – Destroy”, even though the meaning of “break” was different for both players.
    • This is even allowed if the spelling of the word is different, but it sounds the same. For example, if P1 said “Vacation – Break”, P2 could legitimately say “Brake – Accelerator”. Even though “break” and “brake” are spelt differently, in this verbal game, the change of the word’s meaning is allowed as they sound exactly the same.
    • This does not apply if the word sounds similar, but not exactly the same. For example, P2 could NOT say “Brick – Wall” just because “break” and “brick” sound similar.
  • No repeats
    • You may not repeat a word that has been accepted in the game. This would create an annoying loop in the game. If a word was offered but then rejected as an illegitimate link, it could be used at a later stage as long as the link was legitimate.
  • Random direction strategy
    • There are many strategies you may discover while playing Quantum. Primarily, you must think of what words you need to get your opponent to say so that you could possibly link to your winning word, and you have to think of creative ways to push the game in your favour. But there is also something else you are trying to do at the same time – namely, prevent the other player from reaching their winning word.
    • If you sense your opponent is getting close to reaching their word, feel free to throw the game in a completely random direction. You can do this by employing the rules mentioned above about linking words that have a completely different meaning to the word offered by your opponent. Changing the topic of the game from “Vacation – Break” to “Break – Destroy” may totally throw off your opponent’s strategy and open up new opportunities for you to get the upper hand. Basically, the point to remember is, you can say a word for a strategic reason to work towards your word, or to prevent your opponent from reaching their word, or for no reason at all. As long as the link is legitimate, it is allowed.

So that’s it! Hope those rules made sense. Try it with a friend and tell me what you think!

In fact, if you record a game of you playing it with a friend and send me the YouTube link, not only will I post it on this blog (if you want me to) but I’ll also let you know the EXPANDED RULES for Master Quantum players!

Have fun playing and I’ll leave you with a video of me and my very generous wife playing a couple of games, so you can see it in action!
(Sorry, the sound and video goes out of sync after a while. Cat wants a rematch to do the video again, so stay tuned!)


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Posted February 17, 2015 by Simon in category "Game", "Life

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