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King’s Cup Rules: How to Play the Classic Drinking Game

Learn these standard King’s Cup rules for your next party.

King’s Cup, also known as Ring of Fire, Circle of Death and Waterfall, has been a classic drinking game for years and for a good reason.

It’s a great icebreaker for a group that doesn’t know each other well but it’s also just as fun for tight-knit friends too.

It gets those who participate in it a nice level of drunk and helps the group learn a little about each other’s wild sides.

Over the years many of the rules and methods of playing king’s cup have shifted, but we’ll go through the classic way of playing.

These are the king’s cup rules that most people will know and recognize, even if they’ve played a slightly different version previously.

Plus, you can’t go wrong playing the traditional version – it always guarantees a fun time. But we also provide some alternate rules and variations when you want to mix things up. 

Ready to get tipsy? 

Kings Cup Cards

How to Set Up King’s Cup:

Setting up king’s cup is pretty easy. When it comes to equipment, all you need is:

  • A deck of cards
  • A cup
  • Alcohol
  • Willing participants

To set up the game, evenly spread a deck of cards face down around the cup.

All cards much touch the cards on either side, creating a ‘chain’ of cards.

Then, any number of players can gather around the cup, ready to play. This game works well with a larger group. 

Other classic drinking games to learn:

Essential King’s Cup Rules

The basic rules for any game of King’s Cup, whether it’s known as Ring of Fire, Circle of Death, Waterfall or just “Kings”, are essentially the same. 

To play king’s cup, players must take turns picking cards, going around the circle clockwise.

Each card in the deck corresponds to a specific action, which we’ll go through in the next section.

If you break the chain of cards, you must chug whatever drink is in the king’s cup in the center – we’ll get to that a bit later.

As the concoction of alcohol in the king’s cup may be a very unpleasant mixture, one of the main aims of the game is to avoid breaking the chain!

But even if you do break the chain, this doesn’t end the game.

King’s cup only finishes once all the cards are used up.

Now let’s get onto the fun part – the king’s cup rules of the cards (scroll down for full explanations and variations)

King's Cup Rules Infographic

Ace = Waterfall

This is one of the universal king’s cup rules. If you pick up an Ace it equals ‘waterfall’.

This starts with everyone chugging whatever drink they have – whether that’s beer, wine, or a spirit and mixer.

The person who picked the card has full control of the round and can stop drinking whenever he or she chooses.

Once they’ve stopped drinking, the next person clockwise to them can choose when to stop, and so on. So you must always wait until the person to your left has stopped before you can stop.

As you can imagine, the last person to stop drinking can end up getting pretty plastered! This rule also gives great opportunity to poke fun at those who can’t handle chugging their alcohol.

Two = You

Two is fairly simple and is the classic ‘you’.

This means you can pick one person to take two drinks, or two people to each take one drink. 

Three = Me

Another easy one.

Three is ‘me’, which means you must chug two fingers of your own drink.

Four = Whores

The four card involves the ladies by telling them they are ‘whores’ and they all must drink. Not one of my favorites among the traditional king’s cup rules, so here’s a variation:

Alternate Rule = Give 2, Take 2

If you get a 4, give out 2 drinks and take 2 drinks.

Five = Bust a Jive

Here’s a fun one. Five is ‘bust a jive’, meaning the person that picks up the card must break a dance move. The next person must then copy the dance move and add an extra spin to it. This carries on until someone messes up the dance and has to drink.

Drunken uncoordinated dancers, what’s not to love?

Six = Dicks

Six is ‘dicks’, so all the guys in the game must drink. Again, let’s offer up an alternate version here.

Alternate Rule = Thumbs Down

If you get a 6, it’s Thumbs Down. This means you put your thumb on the table and the last person to do so drinks.

Seven = Heaven

Meaning, when the person who picked the card is ready, they must reach for the sky with both arms, with the rest of the players following suit.

The last person to reach must drink.

This is a great card to catch people out who aren’t paying attention, especially if the picker doesn’t use the card immediately.

Alternate Rule = Hell

Feeling a little less virtuous? You can also point down to the floor, and the last person to do it drinks.

Eight = Mate

Eight is ‘mate’. That means the player can choose anyone in the game to partner up with them, meaning when one of them drinks, they both must.

It’s the perfect way to show your crush that you’re interested in them or just to try to pick on someone to get them drunk.

Nine = Bust a Rhyme

Nine is ‘bust a rhyme’ and depending on how creative the group is, this card can be a lot of fun.

The idea is that the player who picked the card must say a word, and everybody goes around the circle saying a word that rhymes with it.

For example, a super-simple word would be ‘tall’ and other players could say ‘mall’, ‘wall’, or ‘call’.

This goes on until somebody can’t think of a new word, or until someone repeats a word. Then, as you guessed, they must drink!

Alternate Rule: Truth or Dare

Some players like to add this one into the mix instead. Challenge someone to truth or dare. If they decline, they  must drink. 

Ten = Categories

Here’s another creative card. Ten is ‘categories’ meaning the player who chose the card must pick a category. Then each player must choose something that fits into that category.

For example, the player who picked up the card may choose ‘types of fruit’ and the rest of the players will have to pick fruit, such as a lemon or strawberry.

Whoever can’t think of anything or makes a repeat must down two fingers of drink.

Jack = Never Have I Ever

Jack is arguably one of the most exciting cards to pick as it allows you to learn some of the sordid secrets of the players.

Jack represents the game ‘never have I ever’ and after picking up the card the group must play one round.

If you’re not aware of ‘never have I ever’, the game starts with everyone putting up five fingers.

Then the person who picked the card announces something they haven’t done. If you have done it, you must put a finger down.

Then the next person will state something they haven’t done, and so on. The first person to have five fingers down must chug two fingers of their drink.

The ‘never have I ever’ statements can be as racy or as tame as you like, but, of course, it’s more fun to choose something juicy.

It’s a great way to get to know people better, call out friends on their ridiculous tales, and dig deeper into people’s secrets.

Alternate Rule 1 = Guys Drink

If the Never Have I Ever rule is too tedious, you could also just make the guys drink on this one, especially if you opted to do something different with rule 6.

Alternate Rule 2 = Make a Rule

You get to make a rule for the game (example below), and if anyone breaks it , they drink.

Queen

Queen is ‘question master’ and whoever picks up the card takes on that role. That means that if any of the other players answer a question asked by the question master, they must drink.

It’s a great way to get creative and try to trick people out without them realizing. For example, the question master can direct a question to a player and ask, ‘is it your go yet?’.

The question master will remain question master until someone else picks up a queen, then they will take the crown.

Alternate Rule 1 = Girls Drink

Instead of the traditional rule 4, here’s a better way to say now all the Queens (ladies) get to drink. 

Alternate Rule 2 = Queasy Creation

If you pull a Red Queen, you can combine any three drinks from the table into one shot; then pick someone to take it. 

King = Make a Rule (and pour some booze in the middle cup)

Finally, we get to the king! The player who picks a king has the power to make a rule for the game.

This can be anything relating to the game and if it’s broken, that player must drink.

If you’re stuck, one popular rule is ‘no first names’.

That means anyone who uses anyone’s first name must drink.

As you can imagine, this is an easy one to forget, especially when everyone’s a bit tipsy.

Another part of this rule is that whoever picks up a king must pour some of their drink into the king’s cup in the center.

The last person to pick up a king is the unlucky one who must chug whatever mixture of alcohol is left in the center cup!

Usually, it will be a blend of three different types of alcohol and isn’t pleasant to drink, making it all the more fun to watch.

Ready to Play King’s Cup?

While king’s cup is a fairly complex game to pick up – especially when the players are intoxicated – it’s definitely one that isn’t boring and gets everyone involved.

After a round or two, it’s easy to start remembering the King’s Cup rules.

Once you get more used to the game, feel free to tailor and shift the rules to suit your group. Have fun!

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