Game Poem 27: Achilles’ Heel

Achilles’ Heel is a game for two players – one will play a super-powered hero, the other their nemesis. Choose who will be the superhero and who will be the supervillain, and quickly choose names for your new personas – Captain Fantastic and Doctor Midnight, for example. Find ten cards or slips of paper to write on, and fifteen pennies or tokens of some kind. The hero will quickly write down ten things on the slips of paper, numbering them from one to ten. (Obviously, the players may collaborate on the ten things if the hero is having difficulty coming up with them.) The things may be objects, actions, places, emotions, anything. Two of these things will be the only weaknesses that the hero possesses – otherwise, they are completely and totally invulnerable.

Place the ten slips of paper into a hat or a cup or some container where they may be pulled from randomly. Both players will take four pieces of paper from the container, note down the numbers of the items that they pulled, return them, and mix them up well. The things written on the two slips of paper that were not chosen represent the hero’s vulnerabilities. Everything else will be useless as a weapon against the hero, but each player only knows what four of those things are, so the vulnerabilities still remain largely unknown.

Once the setup is complete, the players will engage in a series of five “episodes”, which will culminate in a final battle between the hero and his nemesis. In each episode, the villain will randomly draw two of the slips of paper from the container, and present a brief scenario where the hero must choose between two situations or outcomes that involve the elements drawn. So, for example, if the villain drew “radiation” and “fear of birds”, they might describe a scenario where they must disable a nuclear reactor that the villain has rigged to blow, while the nearby city is being attacked by mutated crows. Alternately, they may combine the two pieces – the reactor may be protected by the giant, twisted birds.

Once the scenario is laid out, the villain will take a number of coins from the supply and divide them between the two elements. In the first episode, they will only take one, in the second they will take two, three in the third, four in the fourth, and five in the fifth. So, in the initial episode, one slip of paper will have one token next to it, and the other will have none; in the final episode, they will have zero and five, one and four, or two and three. The hero will then choose one of the situations indicated by one of the slips of paper to attempt to resolve.

If the thing on that paper is one of the ones that either of the players chose during setup, the hero is invulnerable to that thing, and they succeed in saving the day all around! The hero takes the coins from that item, and the villain takes the coins from the other. The superhero may now quickly describe exactly how they thwarted their arch enemy’s diabolical plans. For the purposes of narration, assume that the hero has whatever powers necessary to do what needs to be done – flight, super strength, laser eyes, telekinesis, whatever. The day is saved!

If, however, neither player has the chosen element noted down, the villain has discovered one of the hero’s weaknesses, and the hero fails to foil their evil deeds! The villain takes all the tokens from both pieces of paper, and narrates how they used the hero’s vulnerability against them, incapacitating them long enough to execute their nefarious plan – this time! The hero is not completely defeated, though, and will return in top condition to fight the forces of darkness once again in the next episode…

After all five rounds have run their course, both players will have a number of coins in front of them. There will be one final episode that will decide the fate of the two mortal enemies once and for all. Decide together how and where this ultimate battle between good and evil will take place, and then, starting with the hero, each player will put forward one token and narrate an action, either telling how they attack the other player or defend themselves or react to the last action. Eventually, one player will run out of tokens – that player will be defeated, and the victor will describe how they put an end to their adversary for good. Will Captain Fantastic stop his fearsome foe’s fiendish machinations for all time, or will Doctor Midnight extend his shadow across the entire world? Only you can decide!

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