British car numberplates are a fairly simple method of describing a car's age and its place of origin, as well as providing a way by which it can be uniquely identified by the DVLA1. More than this, though, they also provide a great game that you can play when driving in your own car, when being driven in someone else's car, when out walking, or indeed in any instance when you are likely to see cars.
The principle of the game couldn't be more simple. Up until very recently, a British car numberplate took the form of Xnnn ABC or ABC nnnX - where X is a letter denoting the year of the car's manufacture; nnn is a number between 1 and 9992; and ABC is a series of three letters, which contain information about the place where the car was registered after manufacture.
So, to start the game, you spot a car numberplate whose number is simply '1'. For example, T1 GAU. Then you move on to '2', and so on up to '999'.
The Backwards Variant
As simple as the basic version, above, except that here you start with '999' and count down to '1'.
The Specific Numbers Variant
This involves waiting until you spot a car bearing a specific number (for example the same number as your own car) in its numberplate.
The Bingo Variant
To introduce a competitive edge to the game (although the basic version can be played competetively), this variant involves multiple occupants in a car all choosing their own number, and then shouting 'Bingo!' when they spot that number.
The Combinations Variant
Rather than spotting numbers sequentially, one variant involves awarding points for various combinations of letters and numbers. Known examples of this are:
5 points for a double number/letter
10 points for a triple
15 points for two consecutive letters/numbers
20 points for three consecutive letters/numbers...
... and so on.
Famous Names Variant
An oddity, as this uses letters rather than numbers. Use the first and last letters of the ABC section of the numberplate as the initials of a famous person. For example, in the registration plate G258 TAB, the famous person could be 'Tony Blair'. The car whose numberplate you use for this must (according to the rules) be driving in front of you and in the same lane. Fictional characters are permitted.
The French Variant
French numberplates have a number on them signifying the 'department' (administrative area) from which they come. The challenge here then is to spot a numberplate for each department. There are around 90 to collect. The one from Corsica, for example, is rare in mainland France.
Abridged Alphabetical Variant
This variant is intended to handle the recent change in numberplates, as discussed below. The variant seeks to locate sequential letters rather than numbers, working from A through to Z. Given that the ABC element of the new numberplates is randomly selected this variant is best played by using the last letter in the sequence. Neither I or Q are used in this random selection, but all 24 other letters are fair game, making for an ideal 'short-journey' variant using new car numberplates.
Alternatively, use this version with pre-2001 numberplates using the first letter on the numberplate.
It is advantageous to minimise arguments if certain complicating issues are agreed before starting the game.
These can confuse matters slightly - not least because some of them don't include numbers at all, but it has to be said that in most cases where they do include numbers, they fall between 1 and 999, and therefore count as valid for the game. Those which fall outside this range are not valid, and are indeed rather pointless within the parameters of the game3.
Some include numbers that go over 999. Of those that do fall within the 1 - 999 limit, the question has to be, do they count? There is no hard-and-fast ruling on this issue, but it would be the opinion of this Researcher that they do (particularly if they contain the number you're looking for at any given time).
Recent numberplates have broken away from the old format; instead of the Xnnn ABC or ABC nnnX patterns described above, the new plates read XXnn ABC4. The numbers available in the new format numberplates are at present 01, 51, 02 and 52. It can be seen that as newer cars are introduced, and older ones disappear to the breakers yard, this will skew things in favour of these numbers.
At present, it isn't a major problem, apart from making some numbers up to 100 far simpler to get. However, in a few years from now, the game will become increasingly difficult to play. So the advice would have to be: strike while the iron is hot and play for all it's worth right now! Otherwise, start using the Abridged Alphabetical Variant.
Another complicating factor arising from the new numberplates is, does '01' count as '1'? It all depends on whether you're being literally pedantic or not. Numerically they're the same thing, so that seem to be what counts.
Do cars seen in films, on television, and in photographs count? According to the standard rules, they wouldn't, but some variants allow for their inclusion.
Although so far this discussion has been limited to cars, DVLA registration plates are in fact affixed to a variety of vehicles, such as motorbikes, mopeds, buses, lorries and vans. In the standard rules, and most variants5, these vehicles all count. It's the numberplate that matters, not the vehicle.
Let Play Commence!
So now you know the rules, you are fully equipped to play one of the simplest, most straightforward travelling games that exists. No pens, paper or dice are needed, no silly 'magnetic' pieces that end up falling down the back seat of the car - just an observant eye. So, have fun.
Please bear in mind that in order to make the game far faster and easier, a trip to the long-stay car park of your nearest major international airport is recommended.