A great activity for everyone


Unleash the power of teamwork, strategy, and quickness in this thrilling card game!

By Jon Zajac

What is Kemps?

The Kemps icebreaker is a fun and engaging card game that promotes teamwork, strategy, and quick thinking. The purpose of the game is to form pairs and work together to collect four of a kind in your hand. Once you have four of a kind, you must use a secret nonverbal signal to silently communicate with your partner and get them to yell “Kemps!” without being caught by an opponent.

The game involves dealing out cards to each player, as well as in the center of the table. Players can quickly grab cards from the center of the table and replace them with cards from their hand, creating a fast-paced and exciting atmosphere. The goal is to collect four of a kind, signaled to your partner without speaking, all while avoiding detection by opponents.

Kemps is an excellent icebreaker for groups of all ages and can be played with a standard deck of 52 playing cards. It’s not too messy, making it a great option for indoor settings. The game requires teamwork, quick thinking, and communication, making it an enjoyable way to build relationships and foster collaboration among participants.

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Rules for Kemps

  1. Form pairs and create a secret nonverbal signal.
  2. Have an even number of players.
  3. Sit in a circle with partners across from each other.
  4. Meet briefly with partner to come up with a secret signal.
  5. Shuffle the deck of cards.
  6. Deal out four cards to each player and ensure no one can see their cards.
  7. Place four face-up cards in the center of the table.
  8. When the round begins, players can quickly grab cards from the center of the table and replace them with cards from their hand.
  9. Players may not have more than 4 cards in their hand at a time.
  10. Once no players want any of the four cards in the center, remove the cards and deal out four more face-up cards.
  11. When you successfully get four of a kind in your hand, silently perform the nonverbal signal to get your partner to yell “Kemps!”
  12. If someone calls “Kemps,” their partner must reveal their hand.
  13. If the player has four of a kind, the team wins a point. If not, the team loses a point.
  14. If you believe another player has four of a kind, yell “Stop Kemps!” and point to that player.
  15. If you are correct, your team earns a point. If not, your team loses a point.
  16. Your team wins the game when they earn 5 points.

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Materials needed for Kemps

  • Standard deck of 52 playing cards: This is the only material required to play Kemps. It will be used to deal cards to players and to form the center pile that players can grab cards from.

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Setting up for Kemps

To set up for the Kemps icebreaker activity, you will need an even number of people between 6-10. Form pairs and have each pair sit across from each other in a circle, with all players facing toward the center. Before starting the game, allow time for each pair to meet briefly and come up with a secret nonverbal signal that is not too obvious but can be clearly seen. Once secret signals have been prepared, return to your seats on opposite ends of the table. The cards will be dealt in the center of the circle, ideally on a table. Make sure all players are able to access the cards once the game begins.

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How to play Kemps

  1. Form Pairs and Create a Secret Signal: I pair up with another player, making sure we sit across from each other in a circle. We take a moment to come up with a nonverbal secret signal that is subtle but clear. Examples include tugging an earlobe or sticking out our tongue.
  2. Set Up the Game: I shuffle a standard deck of 52 playing cards and deal four cards to each player, keeping our hand hidden from others. Four more cards are placed face-up in the center as shared cards.
  3. Start the Round: The dealer says “3, 2, 1, Go!” and I quickly grab cards from the center while replacing them with cards from my hand. I ensure I never have more than four cards in my hand at any time.
  4. Collect Four of a Kind: My goal is to get four cards of the same rank in my hand without drawing attention. Once I achieve this, I secretly signal my partner using our pre-determined nonverbal cue.
  5. Call “Kemps”: When my partner notices my signal and correctly yells “Kemps,” we reveal our hands. If we indeed have four of a kind, we win a point; if not, we lose a point. Alternatively, I can call “Stop Kemps!” on another player if I suspect they have four of a kind, potentially earning or losing points depending on whether my suspicion is correct.
  6. Win the Game: My team wins when we accumulate 5 points throughout multiple rounds. A more challenging version involves creating our secret signal during gameplay rather than deciding on it beforehand.

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Benefits of Kemps

  • Builds Teamwork: Playing Kemps requires you to work closely with a partner to come up with a secret signal and then use that signal to communicate during the game without speaking. This helps to build trust and cooperation between partners.
  • Improves Quick Thinking and Decision Making: The fast-paced nature of Kemps requires players to think quickly and make decisions on the fly. This can help improve your critical thinking skills and ability to react to unexpected situations.
  • Encourages Nonverbal Communication: The secret signal in Kemps is a nonverbal cue, which emphasizes the importance of nonverbal communication in teamwork. This skill is valuable in many real-world settings, such as group projects or presentations.
  • Promotes Strategic Thinking: Players must constantly evaluate the cards on the table and in their hand, strategizing to get four of a kind while also trying to prevent other teams from doing the same. This type of strategic thinking is valuable in many areas of life.
  • Fosters a Fun and Social Environment: Kemps is a fun and engaging game that encourages interaction between players. It’s a great icebreaker for getting to know new people or building relationships with colleagues. The game can be played with all ages, making it a versatile option for any group.
  • Encourages Focus and Concentration: With the fast-paced nature of the game, players must stay focused and pay close attention to what’s happening in order to succeed. This can help improve concentration and focus in other areas of life as well.
  • Provides a Low-Cost and Accessible Activity: Kemps only requires a standard deck of 52 playing cards, making it a low-cost and accessible activity that can be played almost anywhere. The game is also easy to learn, so players can jump right in without a lengthy explanation or rules.

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Skills built with Kemps

  • Teamwork: Kemps is a partner-based game that encourages teamwork as players need to work together to come up with a secret signal and then rely on each other to recognize when it’s time to call out “Kemps” and win the round.
  • Communication: Although the game involves nonverbal signals, it still requires effective communication between partners. Players must pay close attention to their partner’s actions and react accordingly.
  • Strategic Thinking: Kemps requires players to think strategically about how they can get four of a kind while avoiding detection from opponents. They need to make quick decisions about when to grab cards, when to call “Kemps,” and when to accuse other teams of having four of a kind.
  • Observation Skills: Kemps involves keen observation as players must be aware of their opponents’ actions and card exchanges in order to detect potential cheating or winning combinations. This helps develop the skill of paying attention to details.
  • Quick Reflexes: The game is fast-paced, requiring players to have quick reflexes when grabbing cards from the center of the table. This can help improve hand-eye coordination and reaction time.
  • Self-Control: Players must exercise self-control in order not to give away their secret signal or reveal that they have four of a kind too early. This helps develop emotional intelligence and impulse control.
  • Adaptability: The ability to adjust strategies on the fly is crucial in Kemps. If opponents catch on to a team’s signal, for example, they may need to come up with a new one or change their approach entirely. This fosters adaptability and resilience.

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Why I like Kemps

As someone who enjoys bringing people together through fun and engaging activities, I find the Kemps icebreaker to be incredibly effective. The game fosters teamwork, quick thinking, and strategy, making it suitable for all ages, which is always a plus when trying to engage a diverse group.

What I appreciate most about Kemps is the emphasis on nonverbal communication. The need for partners to come up with a secret signal that isn’t too obvious yet can still be easily recognized adds an exciting layer of strategy and collaboration. It also helps participants pay attention to each other, thereby building stronger connections.

Moreover, Kemps provides several opportunities for interaction and engagement among players. The fast-paced nature of the game encourages quick decision-making and keeps everyone on their toes. At the same time, the possibility of calling “Stop Kemps!” adds an element of suspicion and intrigue that keeps things interesting and fun.

Lastly, I like how Kemps can be easily adapted for different skill levels or contexts. For instance, allowing partners to create their nonverbal signal during the game adds a layer of complexity that can challenge more experienced players. Overall, Kemps is an excellent icebreaker that promotes social interaction and builds connections through engaging gameplay and nonverbal communication.

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Tips for making Kemps more inclusive

  • Tip: Consider cultural differences when choosing a secret signal. Some nonverbal gestures may have different meanings in different cultures, so it’s essential to ensure that the chosen signal is understood and appropriate for all players.
  • Tip: Make sure everyone can see and understand the signal. The signal should be easy to see and interpret from a distance, and all players should be aware of what each signal means before the game begins.
  • Tip: Encourage communication about accessibility needs. If any players have visual or hearing impairments, accommodations may need to be made so that they can fully participate in the game. This could include using signals that are based on touch or sound rather than sight.
  • Tip: Be mindful of cognitive abilities. Some players may have difficulty remembering or executing complex signals, so it’s essential to choose a signal that is simple and easy to remember. Additionally, consider whether any players may need additional support or accommodations to fully participate in the game.
  • Tip: Foster a positive and supportive environment. Encourage players to be kind and respectful towards one another, and create a safe space where everyone feels comfortable participating. This can help ensure that all players feel included and valued throughout the game.

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Reflection questions for Kemps

  1. What was your experience with creating and using a secret signal during the game? This question can help participants reflect on their teamwork and communication skills during the game.
  2. How did you approach grabbing cards from the center of the table while also monitoring other players’ moves? This question can encourage participants to think about strategy, quick thinking, and observation skills.
  3. What was your strategy for getting four of a kind in your hand and signaling your partner without being caught? This question can prompt participants to reflect on their problem-solving skills and ability to adapt to changing situations.
  4. How did you balance the need to collect cards quickly with the risk of revealing too much information about your hand? This question can encourage participants to think about managing risks and making decisions under pressure.
  5. What was challenging or frustrating during the game, and how did you handle those challenges? This question can help participants reflect on their resilience, perseverance, and ability to adapt to unexpected situations.
  6. How did your teamwork and communication skills evolve throughout the game, and what could have improved them further? This question can encourage participants to think about how they worked with their partners and how they might improve those interactions in future games or other contexts.
  7. What did you learn from observing other players’ strategies and behaviors during the game, and how might you apply those insights to your own gameplay or other areas of life? This question can help participants reflect on the value of observation, empathy, and learning from others’ experiences.

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About the author

Jon Zajac

Jon Zajac

Founder & Chief Icebreaker

I started Icebreaker Spot because I truly believe that strong connections are the foundation of successful teams. I wanted to create a platform that would make it easy for people to find and share icebreakers and team building activities, empowering them to build trust, foster collaboration, and ultimately, achieve greatness together.

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