Caught Red Handed | Designing Games for Kids

Caught Red Handed | Designing Games for Kids

I collaborated with Erin Finnegan and Song Hia for the first game that we designed in Designing Games for Kids class. The name of the game is “Caught Red Handed” and it is designed for 4-6 year old kids. It is a playground game that can be played with as many kids as space allows.

It’s a mix between a children’s version of “Mafia” and “Duck Duck Goose”. The gameplay and the rules can be found bellow.

Game Rules


A (preferably) lightweight object that will be “the treasure”, roughly the size of a tennis ball. A small-ish foam ball is ideal, but something as simple as chalkboard eraser, small balloon, or even a hat, will do.

Number of Players

We’ve found a minimum of five is ideal.  The game has not yet been tested with a group of over eight people.  It may be possible to play it with a large group (25 people?) and more than one treasure.

Phase 1 – “Night Time”

  • The game starts with everyone in a circle, sitting down.
  • Jail is in the middle of the circle.
  • The first thief (oldest player) starts the phase by shouting: “Night night go to sleep! It’s time for thieves to creep!”
  • Everyone opens their hands, and closes their eyes.
  • The thief hands off the “treasure” to someone
    • Recommended Play:  Being sneaky and walking the circle multiple times after handoff to throw off their trail, pausing in front of various players.

Phase 2: “Day Time”

  • The old thief starts off this phase by shouting: “Hide your hands and open your eyes. Who did it?”
  • The round starts, everyone hides their hands and opens their eyes.
  • The thief asks “Who did it?”
  • Everyone is an accuser (except the old thief) and points to who they think has it!
    • Optional: larger groups get more than 1 guess, more dynamics can emerge here, bluffing, accusations, persuasion, etc.
  • All of the accused people have to show their hands.
    • Optional:  For groups of very young players, everyone reveals their hands.
  • If none of the accused has the treasure, the new thief reveals him/herself, the round ends, and they get to pass the treasure off to another thief.
  • The person holding the treasure reveals it, and stands up.
  • Anyone who correctly guessed the new thief also stands up.
  • The thief then throws the treasure.  He or she must run clockwise around the circle back to their seat and sit down without being tagged.
  • The players who guessed the thief correctly run after the treasure, and  must tag the thief with the treasure before they get back to their seat.
  • The accusers may throw the treasure to each other, but they have to tag the thief with the treasure in hand.  That is, do not throw the treasure at the thief.
  • If the new thief gets back to their spot before getting tagged, they get to pass off the treasure during the next round.
  • If the thief gets tagged, they get sent to jail and sit out the next round. The person who tagged the thief gets to pass off treasure during the next round.

Resolve at the end of every round:

  • The old thief rejoins the group.
  • Anyone who was in jail during the current rounds gets to rejoin the group.

The next round starts.

We play tested the game in class and here are some notes:

-Transition between the reveal and the chase is awkward

-Mitigate the need for a specific game leader

-Account for the possibility of players opening their eyes before all players have hidden their hands

Possible solutions:

-Remove the delay between being caught red handed and trying to escape (i.e. have the discovered thief book it as soon as they are caught)

-Simplify the rhymes, make them instructive and easy to remember, have players say them simultaneously to cement rules

-During night phase, have players hold hands behind their backs to make it easier to transition to day phase without being accidentally spotted

-Explore other ways to make a smooth transition between the reveal of a guilty party and the chase