The Genius: Rules of the Game


The Genius: Rules of the Game is a South Korean reality TV game show that pits players against each other in various games of wits and strategy.  The show debuted in April of this year, so it’s still super fresh, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is into smart TV.

The game starts off with 13 players, some are fairly well-known celebrities, others are simply bright minds, but all are selected for their particular talents and skills which might be useful in the game.  Each episode focuses on a different game, in a segment called the Main Match.  Many of these games focus on logic, reasoning, chance, and game theory, but all of them eventually boil down to effective cooperation and collusion with other players.  The end of each Main Match game results one player being marked for elimination.  This player gets to choose their opponent from the remaining players, and the two compete in the Death Match to determine who gets eliminated.



The main motivation for the players is the prize money, which is distributed throughout the game in the form of “garnets,” each worth 1,000,000 KRW (roughly 950 USD).  Players earn garnets by performing well in the Main Match, and any player that survives a Death Match receives all of their opponent’s garnets once they are eliminated.  In the end, only one player will walk away with all of the remaining garnets.  Garnets can be freely traded and can sometimes be exchanged for a slight advantage in a game.  Things really get interesting when players start using garnets as bargaining chips in negotiations with each other.  Loyalty is bought and sold, sometimes behind closed doors, and sometimes blatantly to the highest bidder.


The games are always unique and interesting, and it’s fun to watch the players find creative ways to get what they want.  While nearly all of the games rely to some extent on game theory, don’t expect to be able to pause the show and figure out the winning strategy.  Alliances between players with long-term survival in mind take the games beyond mere logic puzzles (and make a more interesting show, in my opinion).  The show also prevents you from making any accurate outcome predictions by selectively showing what’s going on between the players.  Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, some new footage will reveal a double-cross at a critical moment, or an action that wasn’t what it seemed.  This element of surprise through strategic editing was something I really enjoyed about the The Genius, and the editing in general seems to have been fine-tuned for maximum entertainment.


I think the mixing of strong celebrity personalities and generally clever people was a great casting choice.  Admittedly, as a non-Korean-speaking person without any existing knowledge about the celebrity personalities, it was a little difficult to keep track of all thirteen players at first.  But after a few eliminations, it became easy enough to remember all of their names, professions, and personalities.   (Pro-tip:  Learn about Korean kinship terms before watching to reduce confusion.)  It’s definitely worth getting invested in the players as it is their actions which drive each episode, and one player’s actions toward another player can have long-term consequences.

My favorite thing about The Genius by far is the visual design.  Holy smokes!  This show is a feast for the designer’s eyes.  There is this great branding based around the garnets which carries through across all visual elements of the show.  Anything that needs an icon, symbol, or pattern in the show is marked with the familiar hexagonal shape and the letter G (which serves as a double abbreviation for both “garnet” and “genius”).  Likewise, red and gold make up the main color palette of all visuals and help to reinforce the brand.  This level of consistent and clever theming is totally inspired and rarely found in western reality TV.


Another area where The Genius excels visually is in its animation sequences.  The games played on the show are often quite complex and the rules can be difficult to explain, especially to the viewer at home.  At the beginning of each game, a sleek instructional segment is shown, using simple, but polished, graphics and animations to describe the flow of the game and explain the rules.  These segments have a unique look and feel, are enjoyable to watch, and do a great job of explaining the complex systems used in the game.  This is all especially helpful for foreign viewers like me.  They even go so far as to animate explanations for players’ strategies as they describe them during the game.  Every episode also kicks off with a killer opening sequence that uses some pretty terrific imagery and has maybe definitely made me tear up a few times with its perfection.



And to extend that thought on visual design, I want to briefly mention the physical design.  I am so in love with the way the garnets are represented as physical artifacts — red acrylic cubes with a gold accent.  The in-game currency could have easily been cards or poker chips, but these translucent red cubes feel expensive and luxurious and somewhat otherworldly.  They make you feel like the players are really in this strange, mysterious realm where they deal in something greater than mere cash.  Something that tangible seems to give the proper weight to an item worth nearly $1k, so much more effective than just a piece of paper.  This expression of value is crucial for a game where the players are expected to strategically give and take to get ahead.


Every other physical item in the show is also just as thoughtfully designed, including the set and all props needed for games.  Gold embossing, velvet-lined boxes, and crisp dealer’s uniforms — every object feels carefully crafted to exude the feeling of an exclusive, luxury casino.  The physical is so, so, so important for imparting the feeling and atmosphere of an experience, and The Genius is an inspiring example of design done very right.

And lastly, I can’t write a post about The Genius without mentioning the music.  The unexpected combination of Yoko Kanno, Daft Punk, and Skrillex somehow embodies the show’s theme perfectly, and the background tracks are used in a way that really ramps up the excitement and suspense of key scenes.  Now I can’t listen to Robot Rock without anticipating a surprising twist!  (I’ve even made a short playlist of the tracks I recognized during the show.  Let me know if you catch any more!)

I’ve only heard a few fellow puzzlers talking about this show (thanks to Myles and Alex for the recommendations!), and it doesn’t seem to be very popular on the internet.  I can’t explain the lack of buzz.  The Genius is super engaging, extremely well-made, and all of the episodes are readily available online in HD quality.  I really recommend checking it out.  Smart, entertaining, and nice to look at — what more could you ask for?

And hurry up, because the next season, The Genius: Rule Breaker, airs this month!

“The journey and the result…
The group and the individual…
Beautiful defeats and ugly victories…
Test your ability in The Genius game.”

9 comments on The Genius: Rules of the Game

  • Chris

    I love this entire post to pieces!

    Might I please put you in touch with the good folks at the game show web site Bother’s Bar where there was copious discussion of the first series and discussion of every little snippet of the second series as it arrives? 😀 (There are already trailers and snippets for the first episode! Roll on Saturday, and fingers crossed for a fansub soon…)

    The first series discussion also covered quite a lot of the soundtrack. There was a lot of Extreme Ways by Moby – listen to the first two notes and you’ll be transported there at once. There’s also a great deal of use of the work of the band Idiotape: Melodie is the show’s theme song, Toad Song is the bed for rules explanations and Sunset Strip is a fantastic tune used from time to time. I dearly hope the second series soundtrack is at least as spectacular.

    • clavicarius (author)

      Thanks again for the links to Bother’s Bar. It’s great to be keeping up with the new season with other people who are watching and excited!

      Idiotape was the big missing piece of my playlist. What a great sound! I thought for sure that the theme and other tracks were custom-made for the show, but I guess not. Even though they draw from a lot of different artist and genres for the rest of the show, the distinct sound of Idiotape fits in great with the branding of the entire package.

      The show really is doing an amazing job using music for dramatic effect (like your comment about Extreme Ways).

  • herb

    I watched all of this!

    It’s like a real life version of the manga Liar Game. I love this show so much. I wish we had something similar in North America but it probably wouldn’t do well. The casting is fantastic too! The show could have been pretty boring to watch, but they find players like Gura

  • Jenny

    I first watched the entire season some months ago, and re-watched just so that I could decipher some of the nuances and reasoning.

    I’m also bewildered by the lack of buzz over such a brilliant show. The only reason I could think of was that this was aired on a (paid) cable channel instead of free-to-air public channel, hence the smaller viewership.

    The second season will start airing this weekend, and I can’t wait for it!

  • Ema

    It’s indeed a great and entertaining show.I enjoyed the first season and now i’m watching the second one.
    The first season was super popular on the internet in Korea and the ratings were high for a cable channel, I think it’s the same with the second season.

    A song I’ve heard countless times in the 1st season it’s Tank! by The Seatbelts (cowboy bebop ost) and of course, Extreme ways by Moby.

  • Jane

    I loved this show and thanks for the song list.

  • TK

    To pipe up on the music, “Supremacy” by Muse gets a lot of play in the second season as the background for “The Genius is…” and the review of eliminated players.

    • clavicarius (author)

      Thanks for this! I used to keep up with Muse but haven’t heard their latest work and had no idea this one was by them. Looks like it’s going to forever be a Genius song in my mind instead =)

  • G0dtec

    Kong, the Icon of the genius!!

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