Preface: I first heard about this game from Greg Frock. He said it came from Japan. We asked him what it was called, and he said he didn't know, but that he figured it would be some Japanese word that translates into something akin to "Inn of the Sixth Happiness." I mis-remembered this and started calling it "Temple of the Sixth Happiness", which was then shortened to simply "Temple." Later I realized it's basically the same as a game I'd heard of a few years before, called Asshole. I've since heard of others who've played it under the names Social Class and Capitalism.
At some point, Richard Garfield ran into it, and after his success with Magic: The Gathering, he decided to tinker with the rules a bit and publish it under a new name: The Great Dalmuti (also available now as Corporate Shuffle). While Richard was still tinkering with the rules for Dalmuti, Kristin got a chance to play it with him, and she subsequently gave him the rules to Temple (below) that I'd written down a year or so before. He liked something in there (I forget now just what) and that's why Kristin's name appears in the credits for Dalmuti.
Anyway, despite all the different versions of the game they tried before settling on the rules for Dalmuti, I personally think the original game played better. And you don't even need to buy anything to play it, it uses a regular deck of cards.
Overview: Temple is more of a role-playing game than a card game. Each round lasts only a few minutes, but the game can go on for hours and hours, since the game ends only when everyone is sick of playing it. There is no "winner" in the typical sense; the object is to become the Emperor (or Empress), and then to stay in power for as long as possible.
Deck requirements: A standard 52 card deck, plus 2 jokers.
Number of players: 4 is the minimum. More than 7 are probably undesirable but can be accommodated.
How the game is played: All of the cards are dealt out to the players, and the object is to rid yourself of all of your cards faster than the other players do. Social standing within the context of the game is determined by when you run out of cards.
To get rid of a card, you must be able to match and exceed the pattern and number of the card or cards played by the person who played before you. The following types of patterns are allowed: Single, pair, three of a kind, four of a kind, plus straight runs.
For example, if the most recent play was a pair of fives, then you could play any pair of cards higher than fives, i.e. a pair of eights or a pair of queens or whatever. To play on 3 fives, you need 3 sixes or better. You must exceed the number on the played cards (i.e. you can't play a pair of fives on a pair of fives) and you must match the pattern (you can't play a pair of fives on a singleton 4).
To play a run, you need at least 3 cards of the same suit, such as the 3, 4, and 5 of spades. To beat such a run, you need a numerically greater run, such as the 5, 6, and 7 of hearts. If someone plays a 4 card run, you must match it with a 4 card run to beat it.
Play proceeds around the table in a clockwise fashion. When it is your turn to play, you may either play on the existing pattern or pass. You need not be unable to play in order to pass - passing for strategic reasons is quite common. If everyone passes on a given play, then the cards are removed to the discard pile and the person who made that play starts the next pattern with whatever card or set of cards that he or she chooses.
The first person to run out of cards becomes the Emperor in the next round of play. The second person to run out of cards becomes the Prince, and so on, until only one person is left in the game. This person becomes the poor man. (Since we were told this was originally a Japanese game, these are terms we traditionally use; however, other terminology is also acceptable. You can, for example, start with the president and vice president and end with a bum if you wish.)
This is where the role playing aspect of the game comes in. The Emperor may make virtually any reasonable demand of the other players in the game while he (or she) is on the throne. The less exalted (but still high ranking players) may also make demands of those of lower rank, as long as these demands are not counter to (or vetoed by) the Emperor. The lower classes must follow these instructions and will ideally bow and scrape and act obsequious while doing so. "Reasonable demands" include asking for the best chair and making the other players move to suit him, being brought drinks or other refreshments, and dictating who must shuffle and deal and so on. (The definition of an unreasonable demand will need to be determined by the players, but the bottom line is that the power should not be abused. No one should be asked to do anything that would make them feel uncomfortable.)
One demand the Emperor must always make concerns seating arrangements. The order of play should run from most important player to least important player. This means that at the beginning of a round, everyone must change places as needed based on their new social standing as determined by the previous round. The Emperor announces where he will sit, and then the princes sits at his left, and on around the circle, so that the poor man ends up sitting at the Emperor's right.
Another edict that the Emperor will always implicitly make concerns taxes. In Temple, the lowest class players must pay taxes to the highest class players. The poor man must give his or her highest valued card to the Emperor. After receiving the taxes, the Emperor gives a card back to the poor man. Note that while this will usually be the Emperor's lowest card, it doesn't have to be, as the Emperor might prefer to give away a four rather than split up a pair of threes.
The tax brackets expand with the number of players. With 4 players, only the Emperor and the poor man will exchange cards. The other 2 players are considered middle class and do not pay taxes. However, in a 5 player game, the poor man must give his TWO highest cards to the Emperor. The second poorest player pays a one card tax to the second highest player, and the middle player again does nothing. And in a 7 player game, the Emperor receives 3 cards in taxes, with the second tier exchanging 2 cards and the third tier exchanging 1 card.
All of this begs the question of what happens during the very first round of play. In the first round, there is no social standing. Everyone is considered middle class until the second round. Thus, no one pays any taxes at all during the first round. Also, since there is no Emperor yet who can take the lead, some other system must be used to determine who goes first. The system we use is to have the player who has the three of clubs make the first play. This first play must use the three of clubs, but the player can use it in any way that's legal, i.e. he or she may lead with a pair of threes, instead of breaking up the pair to play the three of clubs on its own.
That's pretty much everything, except for several special rules. First of all, confusing though this can be, the highest card in this game is the two. Aces are high, and twos are higher than that. (The lowest card, then, is a three, which is why we use the three of clubs to start things off instead of the traditional two.)
Secondly, nothing beats a two. When a two (or a pair of twos, or whatever) is played, there is no need for everyone to explicitly pass on it, as nothing can beat it.
Third, Jokers are wild. This of course means that a Joker can be used as a two, or to complete a pair, or whatever. But it also means that Jokers do not need to be given over in tax payments. The tax rule requires that the HIGHEST card or cards be surrendered, not the BEST card. Thus, a joker can be momentarily thought of as a three when paying taxes, and thus not be the highest card. Similarly, it should be noted that if a taxpayer is holding an Ace and two Kings, and must pay two taxes, then he or she must give over the Ace and one of the Kings, even though it could be said that the pair of Kings are more valuable than the Ace/King combo.
Fourth, if after the cards are dealt, a player has both Jokers, he or she can choose to reveal them and thus declare that no taxes will be paid this year. Naturally, only a person in the lower classes will choose to do this, as it usually ends with a major upheaval in the class structure.
Lastly, the number of players can change as the game progresses. At the end of any round, new players may jump in. They always start as middle class, and if several join at once, the ranks of the middle class may be fairly large, since no one should pay any taxes until they've determined their social standing. For the purposes of figuring out the amount of taxes to be paid in a round, just pretend that there is only one middle class player, regardless of how many there really are.
Also, any player who wishes to may drop out at the end of any round. Note however, that it's uncool for someone who's stuck at the bottom to drop out and immediately re-join as a way of moving up to the middle class.
That's it. Play until exhausted.