BrainPlay Wiki
Purloin the Pearls
Purloin the Pearls - Image1
Posting Details
Country of origin United States
Created by Heather Browning, Alexei Othenin-Girard, Josh Lee
Posted by Heather Browning, Alexei Othenin-Girard, Josh Lee
Date first posted February 10, 2014
Game details
Game genre Physical
Game summary Purloin the Pearls is a team game that will have players running up a sweat while thinking up a storm! In PP, teams of merfolk will attempt to discover and retrieve pearls hidden all over a large field, while preventing their opponents from doing the same.
# of players 2 teams of 5+ players
For ages 6+

Other details

Game Designer / Creator[]

  • Created by Heather Browning, Alexei Othenin-Girard, Josh Lee

Game Summary[]

Purloin the Pearls is a team game that will have players running up a sweat while thinking up a storm! In PP, teams of merfolk will attempt to discover and retrieve pearls hidden all over a large field, while preventing their opponents from doing the same. To win the game, players have to be more than fast runners – they must be able to change team-wide strategies and individual roles on the fly, switching between defending their own territory and infiltrating their opponent’s. Teams that can execute big plans, rapidly communicate their status, and track the constantly shifting state of play will be successful, while teams that can’t will wind up stuck in a deep sea cavern or stumble onto the OCTOPUS!

Players / Moderators[]

  • Ages 6+
  • Two even teams of 5+ players; maximum team size depends on field size.
  • One or more referees.

Game Set-up and Construction[]


  • 1 field or large playground area, about 20 sq ft per player.
  • Markers for field boundaries (chalk lines, etc.)
  • 10 oysters (e.g., traffic cones)
  • 4 pearls (flag markers, can be any object that fits under an oyster)
  • 2 octopus markers (flag markers, must be visually distinct from pearls and fit under an oyster)
  • 2 cave markers (e.g., alternate colored cone)
  • 1 seaweed tag per player (e.g., necklaces, felt badges, flag football flags, etc.)
  • Twice as many number of ink tags (e.g., a different color of: necklaces, felt badges, flag football flags, etc.)


The playing field should be large enough to allow all players to run without crowding, a good approximation is about 20 sq ft per player, less for younger players. The field is split in half, with a clearly marked dividing line. Each team claims one side of the field as its home territory.

Each team is given five oysters (cones), two pearls (flags), one octopus (different colored flag), and one “cavern” jail marker(different colored cones). Each team sets up their cones (oysters and jails) on their side of the field, and hides the pearls and octopus underneath them. Pearls, Octopus, and cones are placed at the team’s discretion. Oysters must be 10-20 steps apart, depending on the size of the field. Multiple pearls and the octopus may be placed under the same oyster.

Once the game begins cones, pearls, and the octopus may not be moved at all, other than to pick up the oysters to look under them. The pearls may only be moved by members of the opposite team. If cones get knocked over they may be readjusted.

All players start the game in their own territory. Each player is given one seaweed tag at the beginning of the game. Ink tags are held by the referee until later in the game (see “Tags” and “Octopus” below).


To capture both of the opponent’s pearls by finding them and bringing them back to your territory.

How to Play / Game Rules[]

Basic Game Cycle:

  • Players infiltrate the opponent’s side of the field, attempting to determine which oysters have pearls under them. Players who are not carrying tags pick up those pearls and carry them back to their own side.
  • Players carrying tags attempt to tag invading opponents, planting a tag on them and sending them to jail.
  • Jailed players can be freed by any teammate, returning to their own side of the field with tags that they then tag opponents with.
  • The first team to carry both of the opponent’s pearls to their own side wins.


Every player starts the game with a seaweed tag. During gameplay, a player may have as many tags as they can acquire, or none at all.

Tags represent players ability to tag and put an opponent in jail. Without a tag to transfer a player can not send an opponent to jail.

A player with tags may: transfer tags; move into opposing territory; lift oysters to see what’s underneath them; and release teammates from jail. They MAY NOT pick up or carry a pearl.

A player that is not holding any tags may: move into opposing territory; lift oysters; release teammates from the undersea cavern jail; receive a tag transfer from their teammate; and pick up and carry an opponent’s pearl. A player holding no tags MAY NOT tag opposing players.

Players can be tagged whether or not they have any tags.

There are two ways to transfer a seaweed tag:

  • Tag an opposing player in one’s own territory by touching them with a hand. Tackling and other

rough contact are not permitted.

  • Hand the tag off to a teammate. Both teammates must be in their own territory for a handoff.

There is only one way to transfer an ink tag:

  • Tag an opposing player in one’s own territory by touching them with a hand. Tackling and other rough contact are not permitted.

When a player is tagged in opposing territory, the tag is transferred from the tagger to the tagged player, and the tagged player is sent to the undersea cavern jail (see undersea cavern jail below). A player must be holding a tag in order to tag an opponent.

Ink tags may not be traded between players, but may only be transferred by tagging an opponent. Ink tags are introduced when players discover an octopus (see “Octopus” below).

Oysters and Pearls:

When a player picks up an opponent’s pearl, they should attempt to carry it back to their own territory. If they carry the pearl into their own territory without being tagged, the pearl is purloined. The first team to purloin both of their opponent’s pearls wins the game.

If the player carrying the pearl is tagged by a defender before reaching their own territory, they must drop the pearl immediately; the carrying player is tagged and jailed as normal. The dropped pearl is not returned to its original position; a team may not touch its own flags (pearls or octopus) after initial setup.

A carrying player may pass or hand off the pearl to a teammate, but the pass has to be completed for the pearl to move, otherwise the pearl returns to the position from which it was thrown.

Pearls may not be thrown from one territory to the other; it must be carried into friendly territory in order for it to count as purloined.

After an oyster is raised, players should replace it to re-cover any revealed pearls or octopus. Players may not change the oyster’s location, and may not transfer a pearl or octopus to another cover’s location.


Each side has one octopus under an oyster. When the octopus is uncovered by an opposing player, it sprays ink. When this happens all players who see this yell, “Octopus!”

The bomb affects all players who are both:

  • on the team that set off the bomb; and
  • on the side of the field containing the bomb.

All affected players immediately go to jail, and all jailed players are given an ink tag (including players who were already in jail).

Undersea cavern jail:

A player who has been tagged immediately goes to the undersea cavern jail. Jail is marked by an object that at least one jailed player must be touching at all times. Every jailed player must be touching the jail marker or another jailed player. Jailed players may form a chain that stretches out from the jail marker.

Players in jail are freed when any player in jail is touched by any non-jailed teammate. All jailed players then must quickly return to their own territory. Freed players are out of play until they reach their own territory. The player who released them from jail is not immune and may be tagged, they are also not required to return to their own side.

Additional Rules and FAQs:

Tags may not be hidden. Each player must clearly display all their tags.

Tags must be transferred in a timely manner, but there can be some leeway. If a player has three tags they may tag up to three people in quick succession. In the heat of the chase the tagger does not have to immediately transfer tags between each time they tag someone. But they may not tag more people in a row than they have tags, and they must transfer tags in a timely manner.

If a player is carrying both seaweed and ink tags, they may chose which tag to transfer when tagging an opponent. Players may not move their team’s pearls or octopus once they have been set. An octopus sprays ink off every time it is uncovered.

Players may not be in their own jail.

Players may not be in the zone around their own cones(oysters and jails) for more than 5 seconds. This zone should be a 10-20 feet (depending on field size) radius around each cone.

Templates / Diagrams[]

Purloin the Pearls - Image1

Purloin the Pearls - Image2

Purloin the Pearls - Image3

Field layout, note that teams can choose where to put their caverns and oysters.

Purloin the Pearls - Image4

Artist rendition of oysters

Related Web Links[]

  • NA

Other Details[]

A good game should demand a wide variety of cognitive skills from its players. It should test players’ abilities to plan strategies effectively, approach problems logically, and communicate clearly. We wanted to make a game that capitalizes on the relational complexity of a changing strategic environment to develop these skills in players. We wanted to make this game as easily implementable and as accessible as possible. We used mechanics that both teachers and students would already be somewhat familiar with and only used equipment that schools would already have access to. We decided to build on elements of Capture the Flag; the familiarity of the basic rules means that players will be immediately comfortable playing, while our additions and modifications introduce deep strategic and cognitive potential into a simple rules set. Additionally, we did not use any custom materials so that schools will easily be able to find the materials to play.

In Purloin the Pearls, we optimized play to build relational complexity by having many factors that all players must be considering. Players must keep in mind their tag resources and the distribution of these, they must also keep in mind who their fast players are and how many of them are available (out of jail and without tags.) Players are required to consider both the current situation (distribution of tags, attempts on their own pearls,) and developing strategies for future contingencies in order to succeed. By building a tag/player relationship, the game encourages them to formulate plans that take several iterations of play into consideration. We built in elements of task switching by having players move from defense to offense by giving up tags. Hidden pearls promote communication and logical investigation, in order for the team to get the most out of each runner’s attempts on the pearls. As attempts on pearls or jailbreaks succeed or fail, players must assess and adjust those strategies on the fly, all while maintaining an awareness of the team’s defensive as well as offensive needs. By seamlessly combining these variable aspects of play, Purloin the Pearl encourages players to develop a wide spectrum of cognitive building blocks.

Purloin the Pearls is designed to encourage group decision making as well as individual tactics. All players start out with one tag, rather than the team starting out with one tag per player. This prevents any player from being able to run for the pearl and requires that teams communicate and work together to exchange tags in order to optimize their distribution and plan their plays. This initial need to communicate sets the tone for the rest of the game, and players continue to work in a coordinated manner for the rest of the game.

Photo Credit- Jeremy Fancher