May 20 2010

Game Poem 20: Monsieur Praslin’s Candy Shoppe


Kind old Monsieur Praslin is the proprietor of the greatest candy shop in town. This is not only on account of his superlative sweets, but because he is given to distributing free sweets to children who come to him with tales of what good little tykes they have been. That, and sometimes he is not as sharp-eyed as he used to be, and is not as quick to notice if little hands grab an extra handful or two! However, the finest and most coveted confectionery of all, the famous Praslin’s Praline, it sits upon the top shelf, and can only be obtained by the youngster who proves to be the most upstanding and precious among his or her peers – or the one who shows the most moxie and swipes more than their share!

This is a game poem for up to six players – the more the better! – who will play the parts of the children of the town. They have gathered at Monsieur Praslin’s Candy Shoppe, as they do every day, hoping to get their little fingers into his box of pralines. The children have no money, so they must ply friendly old Monsieur P. with their sweetness and good deeds. The candy is divided into four tiers: Praslin keeps the penny candy in the case up front, the finer sweets on the bottom shelf, the more elaborate chocolates and such on the middle shelf, and way up top is the shelf that holds his renowned pralines. For the game, these will be represented by four pools of different types of coins: a bunch of pennies for the penny candies, nickels for the bottom shelf, dimes for the middle shelf, and a single shiny quarter for the pralines at the top.

Play begins by one of the children turning to the person on his or her right – they will be playing the part of Monsieur Praslin for the moment – and telling them about something nice about themselves, or something good that they have done recently. Perhaps they were kind to an animal, or did well in school, or treated their siblings or parents especially nicely today. Whatever it is, M. Praslin will commend them for it – “What a good little girl!” – and let them take their choice of one of the penny candies. The player then takes a penny from the pile representing the front case and puts it in front of them. What kind of candy is it? Tell us! Now the person who just played Monsieur Praslin takes their turn – they tell the player on their right about their virtue and courtesy, and receive a penny for themselves. Play continues around like this until each of the children has spoken of their merit and received their first piece of candy.

Now, Monsieur Praslin may be a soft touch, but he is no fool. Once a little one has a bit of candy in their little hands, it takes a bit more to get him to hand out another. Again, going around the circle of children, each player may attempt to sweet-talk Praslin into giving them one more from the case of penny candy, but they will need their friends to back up their claims of goodness. For each penny that a player has in front of them, they must convince another one of the children to aver that the even greater worthiness that they claim is indeed the honest truth. So, if young Thomas has managed to get two pieces of penny candy already, and claims that he brought a hot meal to the old woman on his street who lives all alone, two of the other players – perhaps Fredrick and Yvette? – must raise their hands and swear that Thomas is in fact the little angel that he would seem to be.

But what of the better candies, the ones on the higher shelves behind the counter? What of the fudge bon-bons, and chocolate turtles, and maple snowmen, and sour spotted frogs? Well, as you might rightly guess, a child can turn in a number of lesser candy to “purchase” the greater ones. A player may turn in five pennies to the shop to receive their choice of sweets from the nickel shelf, they may trade ten cents worth of candy for something from the dime shelf, and if they manage to scrape together twenty-five cents worth of confections, they can achieve the apogee of treats, the Praslin Praline! The first child to do so wins the game, of course, but they may very well need more than the help of their friends.

Firstly, you will notice that with a maximum of six children – for that is all that can fit inside Monsieur Praslin’s small shop – even with the absolute cooperation of all present, a child may only be given up to six free penny candies, and even that seems like an unlikely proposition. And, of course, the same rules apply to the candies higher up on the shelves, only more so! If a child already holds one or more pieces of nickel candy, they must receive the testament of two of their little friends for each of them if they are to be given another! And if they are lucky enough to be given a sweet from the dime shelf, then four of their chums must back up their goodness to be presented with a second, and even then, they had better have a story of saving the local schoolhouse from burning down, or something of that magnitude!

So what is a hungry child with a sweet tooth for molasses and pecans to do? Well, as we all know, children are often not as honorable as they claim, and if they sneak an extra piece of candy now and then, what’s the harm? In short, players may steal candy from the good-natured old man. Any time that Monsieur Praslin turns or bends over or climbs his little ladder to get to a shelf of his wares, each child may attempt to help themselves to a bit from that shelf or lower. To do so, a player declares which shelf they are trying to pilfer from, and then throws all of the coins that they have collected. If there is at least one head showing on one of their coins from that shelf, then they may take a new piece of candy from that shelf! (Clearly, if they have no coins from a given shelf, they may not steal from it.) However, if no heads turn up on a coin from their declared shelf, they must discard every coin – of any kind! – that came up tails, and put them back into the piles. And, of course, suffer the disappointment of Monsieur Praslin, as he had thought you so honest and true.

Play continues around the circle, with the children spinning taller and taller tales of their benevolence and munificence, telling tales that verge on the heroic, all the while filling their pockets while the kind old shopkeeper has his back turned. The moment that someone has collected twenty-five cents worth of coins, they may declare that they have bought the coveted Praslin’s Praline! At that point, all of the children pour out of the front door of the shop, only to return the next day for more complimentary treats.

Don’t eat the pennies!

May 19 2010

Game Poem 19: Gotcha Covered

This is a game poem for at least three players – it should work well with up to six or seven. As a group, choose some kind of fictional large-scale issue that you’d like to resolve together. Something like rebuilding a village after a natural disaster, funding and building a museum, getting a group of fourth-graders ready for a big concert, or overthrowing an oppressive totalitarian regime. Something that would make a great feel-good summer movie. You’re going to be trying to accomplish that thing, helping each other out along the way.

Everyone should be sitting in a circle, roughly, either on the floor or around a table, and everyone should be able to reach all the other players. If you have to stand up or move around to do so, that’s fine. All the players should put their hands down next to each other, so that they create a big ring of palm-down hands. Anyone can start the game by moving one of their hands out into the ring, tapping the table or the floor, and saying, “I’m going to start by…” and stating what they are going to try to do, what small step they are going to take to start solving the large issue in front of the group.

Things are not that easy, however. Now, another player must say why that action is difficult or dangerous. For example, one player may put their hand out and say, “I’m going to start helping out the village by digging a well.” Now another might reply, “Unfortunately, the ground here is dry and rocky, and it is difficult to dig.” When an obstacle is presented like this, the first person should say something like, “Well, I guess I’ll need some help, then.” and turn their hand over, so that it is facing palm-up.

To overcome the difficulty that has been presented, another player must come to the first player’s aid. They do this by knocking softly on the playing surface, and placing one of their own hands palm-up on top of the hand of the player in need of assistance. They then say what they do to overcome the problem that is preventing the completion of the task – “No problem, we can build some digging machinery, and use animals from the village to drive it.” – and then turn the two hands back over again, palm-down on top of each other. Progress has been made!

Continue this way until there are no lone hands left on the table. There should be a good tangle of two-hand stacks right now; take a few moments to sit quietly and contemplate the good work that you have begun.

From here on out, things become harder. Stacks of two or more hands may be used to attempt an action that will help resolve the overall problem, just as single hands did in the first part of the game. A person who has their hand on the bottom of a stack may announce that they are doing something larger to that end, like, “I’m going to try to convince the people in town to help build a wind farm!” Again, another player must say why there might be a problem with that – “But there are oil interests in the area that have resources to oppose a wind power operation.” – at which point the entire stack turns over, so that the initiator is on the top, palm up. And again, someone must announce that they will help by taking their hand off the top of another stack, knocking, putting their hand palm-up on the others, and offering their solution: “We convince the oil companies to buy shares in our windmills, so that they profit either way.” Then the whole stack flips over palm-down again, one deeper, with the new helper on the bottom.

Now, this leaves a lone hand out on the table (or ground) again. This is no longer an active, helping hand. From this point on, when someone leaves the top of a stack to help a palm up stack (or to resolve a block, explained shortly), that lone hand becomes a fist, or a “stone”, some very concrete thing that blocks the progression of the players’ efforts. As long as there is a stone on the playing field, the large-scale issue will not be able to resolved. When your hand becomes a fist, narrate a very strong impediment to the players’ goals, and leave your “stone” out for everyone to see until someone takes care of it.

The only way to make a blocking fist go away is for someone at the top of a palm-down stack to sacrifice themselves to do so. At any time, a player may remove their hand from the top of a stack and cover the fist with it, saying how they dissolve the block. So, if someone becomes a fist, and says that “An unexpected hurricane crashes ashore, knocking down towers and further befouling the water supply.” someone may peel off the top of another stack and respond, “The disaster attracts the attention of neighboring peoples, who were not as badly hit, and are able to help rebuild.” (Keep in mind that if you jump off of a two-hand stack to resolve a block like this, the hand that you leave alone will become another block itself.) Once the “stone” is taken care of, both the fist and the resolving hand are removed from play – place them behind your back, and carry on.

Play will continue in this manner, helping each other by building larger stacks and taking care of blocks when they arise, until there is only one large stack of hands remaining, with no unresolved fists in the play area. When this happens, the overall issue is finally taken care of, once and for all. The person with their hand on top of the stack “wins”, and they have the opportunity to speak for a short time and describe how the village is saved, or the performance goes splendidly, or the evil duke is toppled, or whatever goal you have set for yourself is completed decisively. After the initial wrap-up, they take their hand off the top of the stack, and then each player with a hand below them gets to add a smaller detail as they remove theirs, until the stack is gone, and the story is ended.

However, if there are only fists remaining, and there are no stacked hands left to take care of them – or nobody is willing to resolve them! – then the larger matter is left unsettled, and the players as a group have failed. The players with fists on the table may open them one at a time, describing how their failure has caused a ruinous end, until there are none left. Better luck next time.

May 18 2010

Game Poem 18: First Impressions

First impressions, indeed...

This is a game in which you play fantasy adventurers at a speed-dating style dungeon party hookup event. Everyone is looking to form up with a party to go adventuring, ransacking some old ruins, storming a wizard’s tower, rooting out a goblin encampment, what have you. Going out to kill monsters and take their stuff. You can’t do that kind of thing alone, of course, and hanging out at Ye Olde Tavern has become a drag, so here you are. First Impressions is ideally played with an even number of players, but if you have an odd number, one player will just be sitting out for a couple of minutes before jumping back into the rotation. All you need to play are a timer, some paper and writing implements, and a bunch of counters or tokens, like pennies or glass beads.

Give each player pen and paper, and a number of counters equal to half the number of players, rounded down if necessary. So, in a game with six or seven players, each player should have three tokens. Next, sit down together, and have each player  quickly fill out a character sheet. Write down your adventurer’s name and gender at the top of the sheet – it can be anything, so don’t think too hard about any of this! Okay, now everyone needs to write down what class they are – everyone choose one from the following list, each class may be used exactly once, no duplicates:

[ Warrior | Priest | Wizard | Rogue | Hunter | Knight | Barbarian | Shaman | Monk | Bard ]

If there are more than nine players, make up some more! (And get comfortable, because you might be here a while…) Next, everyone write down what race you are. It’s okay if people duplicate here, but there should be a good mix of fantasy races in the group. Choose from the following standard list, or have fun and create new ones:

[ Human | Elf | Dwarf | Hobbit | Half-Orc | Dark Elf | Gnome ]

To finish up making your character, quickly make up and write down three last things: where your adventurer hails from (Amanoth, Garraton, Bloodmoor, Glenvale, Derbyshire, whatever), a special item or ability that your character possesses (the flaming sword of legend, a seat on the duke’s council, the ability to drink an ogre under the table, etc), and a great deed that you have done or something that you might be known for (banished a demon lord back to hell, swindled the thieves’ guild, led the king’s army to victory, kept last season’s crops from blight, and so on). Again, these can be anything, so don’t take too long to write these down. It should take less than a minute or so for everyone to make their characters, so just throw down the first thing that springs to mind, super-cool or not, and make with the speed-matchups!

Okay, so here’s how the dungeon crawler speed-dating works. Form up in two lines, so that everyone is paired up with another random person. If there’s an odd adventurer out, they can make themselves useful by keeping time for now. Depending on how many people you have, set the timer for two minutes or so; if you’re short on folks or feel like a longer game, go longer – with a whole mess of people, keep it around a minute. When the timer starts, go! Say hello, introduce yourself, and get to know each other. Ask the other person what kind of quest they’re looking to get in on, what their favorite weapons or spells are, how they like to split up the treasure, where they got that fantastic longbow, do you have a nemesis? Be as charming and interesting as useful-sounding as possible. You might want to jot down a few notes while you’re talking, but try to focus on the person you’re speaking to. You only get one chance, and it doesn’t last long! When the ending timer goes off, thank your partner, and move one person to the left. If you’re the one sitting out, rotate in – if you’re moving out to the oddball slot, grab the timer and start it a-tickin’.

Once every player has had a chance, however brief, to get to know everyone else, the speed-dating part is over, and it’s time to make judgements and see who gets to go delving with who. Remember those counters that you got at the beginning? Find the adventurers that you felt the best connection with, and give them one token each. You can only express interest in about half of the other players, so choose wisely! Once everyone has split their professional affections among the other adventurers, go around and see who has the highest number of tokens – that is clearly the new party leader! If there’s a tie among two or more, co-leaders are totally kosher. The new head honcho may then select adventurers to join the party at their discretion, one at a time. If they choose to join up, great! If not, move on. Once you have collected a number of adventurers equal to half of the total players (rounded down, again), you’re done! Go forth and start plundering!

And for the unwanted leftover players, I hear that there’s a shady-looking elf sitting at one of the tables in the back of the Green Dragon Inn…

Super Exciting Bonus Throw-Down Alternate Ending!

Sometimes, you don’t find adventure – adventure finds you! Before you can see who has how many tokens and who is the prom king or queen of this adventure squad, the door bursts open, and a bunch of bad guys swarm in! Take like ten seconds to quickly decide as a group what kind of adversaries you’re now faced with – rampaging orcs? disgruntled dragon-men? drunk and/or surly bandits? a gang composed entirely of the characters’ nemeses? – and get to brawling!

Each round of combat goes like this: Everybody picks a partner super quickly, like one-two-three-go. If there’s an extra person left out, sorry, you fall to the intruders. Take a sentence or two to narrate your demise and quietly bow out. If you’re paired up, compare the number of tokens that you each hold.

If the two players hold different numbers of tokens, the person with the lower number is taken down by the bad guys – again, take a moment to tell the entire group how you go down fighting. The player with the larger number of tokens survives, but at a cost – remove a number of counters equal to your partner’s number, and describe how you battle on. (So, say, a wizard with five tokens allies with an archer holding two. The archer is devoured by flying monkey-gators, and the wizard fire blasts them out of the air, but is left with only three tokens afterward.) If, however, you and your partner have the same number of tokens, you are well matched, and both survive the round. Tell the others how you kick ass, and the two of you will go on to the next round as a single monster-stomping duo, with a strength as a unit that is equal to each player’s individual strength. (So you’ve got a barbarian and a bard both holding three tokens; next round, they’re treated as a single character (a bardbarian?) holding three. Get it? You will.)

After each group has figured out who lives and who dies, start another round, and continue going on like this until there is only one character left, or you’ve wound up with an elite super-group of baddie beater-uppers. Pay your respects to your fallen comrades, and try not to step on their bodies on the way out the door – to adventure!

May 17 2010

Game Poem 17: Turtle, Turtle, What’s My Name?

“Turtle, Turtle, What’s My Name?” is a light game to be played when four dear friends have gathered in the parlor for an evening’s entertainment. Each of you will play the part of a character from the beloved children’s books of the celebrated author, Timothy Roberts. Do not fret; it is not necessary that any or all of you have intimate familiarity with his stories or the delightful talking animals that dwell therein. Simply follow the instructions herein carefully, set out some tea and sandwiches, and you and your party guests will be ensured a grand time.

Select three of the players to portray the characters from “A Splendid Day Out With Flopsy and Mopsy”. These three players will pretend to be the turtles from the story! One of you will be Flopsy, one of you will be Mopsy, and the third will play the remaining turtle, the discovery of whose name comprises the entire point of this game. The remaining player with take the role of Banger the rabbit (from “Banger Makes A Hash Of It And Other Tales”), the mischievous hare who plays the trickster, making trouble for everyone else and getting in their way.

As stated above, the essence of this game is for Flopsy and Mopsy to discover the name of the third turtle, while Banger endeavors to prevent the same. To begin, the player who has taken the part of the unnamed turtle must choose an appropriately whimsical name for himself or herself, and write it secretly on a slip of paper. You may now commence to play!

Each of the turtle players must abide by certain rules, and behave as they imagine that a speaking tortoise might. Their speech is slow and deliberate, but exceedingly polite. Be sure to turn your head carefully towards the person whom you are speaking and look them in the eye thoughtfully before making your statement. Statement, indeed, for as a tortoise, you may never ask a question! Turtles may only make simple statements or declarations, one which you might conclude with a period, if you were to write it down. Turtles speak in a plain and straightforward manner, saying what they have to say in the most brief and direct way possible. They may address each other by name, when known, and offer the usual pleasantries when appropriate.

As noted previously certain additional rules and restrictions apply to the manner of speech of certain of the characters. The turtle whose name is not known to the players at the beginning of the game may never speak his or her own name under any circumstance! The other players may not simply ask their name, but must deduce it through cleverness and persistence – qualities that are surely to be admired in any proper gentleman or lady. Further, the characters of Flopsy and Mopsy are quite respectful of one another, and must speak in turn, one after the other, even if another character has spoken in the meantime. That is, after saying their sentence, the players who speak for Flopsy or Mopsy may not talk again until the other has had their turn. What good manners!

As all of the characters being played are already well acquainted with one another, the conversation may begin as any meeting of companions might. “Good morning, Flopsy.” “Good day to you, and you, Mopsy.” “I expect we will have lovely weather today.” “Indeed, I believe you are correct.” “Perhaps we will picnic in the buttercup field this afternoon.” And so on. But what of Banger?

Although charming in his own naughty way, Banger the rabbit does not display the same good behavior that our turtle friends exhibit. No, indeed! The player who takes the role of Banger may speak whenever he or she wishes, and may even rudely interrupt one of the turtles while they are saying something. Banger may say anything that he or she pleases, within the compass of common propriety, naturally. Whenever the mischievous bunny does something to be a pest, or disrupt the civil intercourse in which the others are engaging, or otherwise befoul the intentions of the other characters – all in the interest of fun and playfulness, of course – the three turtles may collectively sigh and exclaim together, “BANGER!” After being so admonished, the rabbit player must remain silent for a short period before engaging the others in conversation once again. Remember that all of these animals are the best of friends, and while he is a rascal, Banger does not intend any harm or ill will towards the others. It is simply in his nature to be a scamp!

Keeping all of these things in mind, continue play-acting as your chosen characters. The turtles should take their time in slowly unraveling the mystery of the anonymous tortoise’s name, Banger should continue to make a nuisance of himself, and everyone should take care to make sure that everyone is included in the conversation in a way that brings them enjoyment. One player, presumably the host, should keep an eye on the clock or take note of his timepiece, and begin to lead the other players towards the end of the game after fifteen minutes or so. As the animal friends bid each other a good day, if they have deduced the name of the third turtle, they may say it as they part company. “Good morning, then, Flopsy!” “It was a pleasure as always, Mopsy.” “We will see you this evening, Marmalade.” If the turtles have not figured out the name, or have guessed the wrong one, the player may show the others what they have written on their slip of paper, and everyone will have a hearty laugh at their confusion. Lastly, as always, Banger the rabbit should make one final smart quip, at which everyone will exclaim in exasperation, “BANGER!”, and laugh together once again.

May 7 2010

Game Poem 16: Time Flies Like A Banana

This is a game-within-a-game, or perhaps an instance of a kind of meta-game, or a sense-of-a-game-layered-on-top-of-a-game, or maybe something less interesting than that. Maybe it’s just fun.

You’ll need at least three players, and probably not more than five. The simple game that you will be playing is called “Five” It is simple, and I’ll tell you all about it here. The other things that you will be doing are less simple, and I’ll tell you what they are here, but I won’t tell you how to do them. Each time you play may be different – you may want to try several times to get the hang of it.

The simple game consists of several rounds. In each round, the players will count one-two-three-GO! On the “go”, each player holds out their right hand with one, two, three, four, or five fingers extended. The player who is holding out the lowest unique number of fingers wins a point. So, if you throw a two, and the other players throw a two and a three, your two is not unique, so the three will win a point. Clear? Keep track of your points on your left hand. When someone gets their fifth point, they will yell “FIVE!” and win the game.

That’s it for the game of Five. You may want to play it once or twice to get the hang of it.

Now, to play this game, you will all be playing the same game of Five, but only one player will be playing it in real time. If you have three players, one will play at regular speed, one will be playing at half-speed, and one player will play the game at double speed. If you have four players, have the extra player decide whether they want to play fast or slow, and they will play even faster or slower than the half- or double-speed player. With five players, have them play on the other end of the spectrum, even slower or faster again. With more, it’s totally up to you.

This is going to get a little bit crazy. All of the rules still apply, just at different speeds. If you’re playing fast, make sure that you’re still playing with everyone else, not just throwing numbers by yourself. And don’t keep playing when you finish the game before everyone else! Do whatever you’d normally do when you’ve finished, and everyone else is halfway through or so. Likewise, slow players, don’t stop until your game is done! It will take you twice as long to complete your game, so make sure that you play the whole thing.


Apr 30 2010

Game Poem 15: The Pitch

....and Chewbacca, for some reason.

The Pitch is a game for at least four players. (It should accommodate up to eight or so fairly well, and may even work with two or three.) Players will take the parts of employees of a company who are attempting to sell a particular product or service, and their clients or potential clients who will be deciding whether or not to buy what they’re selling.

To start, decide what you’ll be pitching or deciding to pay for. A long-term insurance policy? A remodel of a house or building? A new sports car? An advertising campaign, building a web service, or developing a new image? A collection of antique brass keys? A camping trip? A new kitchen gadget? Partnership in a communal living arrangement? It could be anything at all, as long as everyone thinks it’s okay, and it sounds a little fun. Don’t worry about picking the perfect thing – just throw out some ideas, and talk about it for less than a minute or so before grabbing something that sounds good.

Now, split up the players into the pitchers and the clients. The sides should be the same size, if possible. It’s better to err on the side of more clients, so if you have an odd person, make the extra player a client. Now find yourself somewhere to play – have the clients and pitchers sit across a table from each other, if you can. Oh, you’ll need a regular deck of playing cards, too. Grab some, shuffle them up, and have a seat.

There are two things to set up before you start playing. First, each player draws a card from the deck, and does not look at it. Do not look at your own card! Show it to the other players, and then put the card somewhere on your person where all the other players can get a good look at it while you’re playing – on your forehead, in your hat band, poking out of a shirt pocket – but where you are not able to see it at all. This first card is an indicator of how important you are to the rest of the group, and they will behave accordingly. So, a two or three is pretty low on the totem pole – maybe you’re an intern, or if you see that a client is a two, you don’t care about their business at all, or maybe the guy trying to sell something to you is a three, and you’ve already blown them off in your mind. Likewise, someone showing a face card is fairly high status – a king might be the CEO of the company, or a very rich, very influential client that you’ve been courting for a long time, or maybe just someone that you’ve had a crush on since high school. Try your best to keep your card visible to everyone else throughout the game, to give the other players a constant reminder of how important – or unimportant – you are.

The second thing you need to do before you begin is to draw a second card – this time, you will look at the card, and make sure that none of the other players see it. This is your motivation, or objective during the game. Look up the value of your card on the following list, and use the corresponding item to inspire you during the negotiations:

* Ace: You actually genuinely care about this product or service, and whether you’re a client or a pitch man, you really want this deal to work out as well as possible for everyone involved.

* Two: You are extremely attracted to one of the other players. Look around and choose someone now! You will do everything in your power to get them to go out, make out, or sleep with you.

* Three: You are sick and tired of the company or team that you’re part of now, and you want to leave and join the other side as soon as possible. Don’t let your current partners know, though – you don’t want to hurt their feelings.

* Four: You just want this meeting to be over with. You want to get out of here and get home. Maybe your kid’s soccer game is starting right now, maybe your wife is taking the day off and waiting for you, or maybe it’s just a beautiful day out.

* Five: All you care about is money, having money, and taking it from other people. If you’re a client, you basically want whatever they’re selling for free. If you’re pitching, you will squeeze every last dime out of these suckers, and then some.

* Six: You are very, very, very hungry. You didn’t eat breakfast, you skipped lunch to get here on time, and all you want to do is fill your belly with tasty, tasty food. There is no food at the pitch meeting, unfortunately, unless someone brought some.

* Seven: You are extremely religious, and enjoy proselytizing deeply. You would very much like to convince someone in this room to change their religion to yours. It doesn’t matter if they’re on your side already or not.

* Eight: You have to go to the bathroom very badly, but can’t leave the room until the meeting has been concluded.

* Nine: You are in a terrible mood for some specific reason. Something that someone here did, perhaps? You will turn down anything that anybody suggests to you, and won’t be happy until everyone else is as miserable as you are.

* Ten: You really don’t care if this deal goes through or not. What you do care about very much is whether or not every single person here likes you. You want to be everyone’s best friend, and vice versa.

* Jack: You just got an offer from a competitor this morning, and you jumped on it. You haven’t signed the papers yet, but if this deal goes badly, your new gig will benefit greatly. Don’t blow it, but don’t tip your hand too soon.

* Queen: You aren’t especially concerned about the business side of things here at all. What you are concerned with is making sure that everybody with a stake in this deal feels okay about everything that happens.

* King: The most important thing in the world, whether the deal happens or not, is that everybody in your presence recognizes what a smart and intelligent person you are. Much, much smarter than they are, in fact.

Once everybody has taken a look at their objective card and had a moment to think about it, and has also had a chance to look around at the relative importance of all the other players, it’s time to get going! Set a timer for ten or fifteen minutes, and let the pitchers begin their spiel. Interact normally with each other, and try to behave as if the status cards and your motivations are real and compelling. Whatever is said by the players should generally be accepted as truth during the game, so try not to cancel out or invalidate something that someone says without a very good reason.

When the timer goes off, the meeting is over, and you must immediately decide if the deal is off or on. Take a minute or so to come to a decision, shake hands, and wrap up. (After everything is settled, take a look at your own status card, and see if you were able to figure out how important you were, based on how the other players were treating you!)

Apr 19 2010

Game Poem 14: The Next Round

This is a game for a small group of friends to play together. To prepare for the game, gather your friends and have everybody put in earplugs. Have everybody sit at a table together. The host will turn on some music – preferably some music that you don’t particularly like – and make sure that it’s fairly loud. The music should end abruptly (ideally at the end of a song) after somewhere between twelve and fifteen minutes.

You will all play the parts of friends who have been hanging out together at a bar for a few hours. Each of you has had more than a couple of drinks, and now everybody’s glasses sit empty in front of them. It is time for somebody to buy another round of drinks. That person must be you.

To begin the game, one player must move to stand up and announce that they will buy the next round of drinks. They might ask what everybody is having, or just assume that they’ll have another of the same. However, nobody can actually get up to leave the table until everyone has agreed unanimously on who is actually buying the next round. When someone makes to get up, someone else must stop them, and insist that they buy the next round of drinks instead, and explain why. Anybody may attempt to get up at any time, but nobody may allow anyone else to buy the next round. Each player has very strong reasons why they much be the ones to buy next, and they will make sure that everybody else understands them as well as the circumstances allow.

Try not to come to blows.

Soon, the music will stop, and whoever set it up must announce “Last call!” (If you were unable to manage the music setup properly, just keep an eye on the clock, and turn off the music by hand.) All the players should stop talking for a moment and take out their earplugs. The decision must be made right now, or everybody leaves without getting their last drink in. You have about thirty seconds to decide, and then the game ends.

Apr 12 2010

Game Poem 13: In|Compatible

In|Compatible is a game about romantic relationships for three players.

To set up, find yourself a regular deck of playing cards. You will be building four decks that represent your potential partners in the relationships that you will be playing out over the course of the game. Each deck starts with six cards of a single suit; so, begin with a deck of six hearts, a deck of six diamonds, a deck of six clubs, and a deck of six spades. (The number values on the cards no not make a difference.) After building the first half of the decks, shuffle up all the remaining cards, and then deal out six more cards onto each of the decks, so that you wind up with four stacks of twelve cards, and each stack will be at least half all one suit, and a good mix of suits for the other half. Don’t look at the two (hopefully) left over cards! Put them face down to create a discard pile somewhere in the middle of the play area.

Now that you’ve created the four decks that represent the four romantic partners, you will assign a name to each one. If you’re playing with two or three female players, you will all be playing men in the game, so you should give each deck a female name. Likewise, if you’re playing with two or three male players, you will all be playing women in the game, so you should give the partner decks male names. (If you feel like mixing it up or challenging the heteronormativity of the setup or anything, feel free to mix up the genders of the players and partner decks any way you like, as long as all the players are okay with it.) Shuffle up each of the decks really well, mix them up in a random order so that you don’t know which one is mostly which suit, and place them near index cards or pieces of paper that say what their names are.

Once the partner decks are constructed and named, each player will secretly choose a suit that represents their own personality. It’s totally okay – good, even – if more than one person chooses the same suit! Write down your suit, and if you want to think about what that suit might mean to you, personality-wise, cool. Once you’ve done that, each player will choose a random deck to start with; this deck represents the person that you’re in a relationship with at the beginning of the game. There will be one “single” deck left over, so put that in the middle where everyone can see what’s going on with it.

The game is played in twelve rounds, each of which will represent some amount of time that you have to deal with being in (or out) of a relationship with one of the partners represented by the decks you’ve just built. Each round will be scored, and when the twelve rounds are over, the player with the most points wins! Begin with the player who’s been in a relationship the longest, or if none of the players are currently with someone, begin with whoever has been in a relationship most recently. Give the start player a coin or token of some kind to note who they are.

Here’s how a round goes. First, turn over the top card on the “single” person’s deck, just to show everybody what they’re missing out on. Then, the starting player will describe some kind of event where there is potential for conflict in their relationship. If it’s early on, it might be deciding what movie or restaurant to go out to, or whether to stay in or go out at all. In the middle stages of a relationship, the conflict can be more serious, with higher stakes – maybe an argument over friends, or jealousy, or job or money issues – and later on, you might be talking about whether you should move in together, get married, think about children, and so on. Whatever you choose, make it brief, and make sure that there is a clear point of decision. When you reach that point, turn over the top card on your current romantic partner’s deck, and compare it to the suit that you have chosen for yourself. (Clearly, after the first comparison, it will no longer be a secret to the other players.)

If the card that you’ve revealed is the exact same suit as your chosen suit, that’s great! Take a couple of sentences to narrate how things were resolved perfectly, with the best possible outcome for you and your partner. If your mate’s card is the same color as your own chosen suit, that’s still pretty good – the person on your right will describe how they reacted positively, or how the outcome of the situation came out fairly well for you. However, if the card you’ve turned over is one of the two suits that is the opposite color from the suit that you’ve chosen (black for hearts or diamonds, red for clubs or spades), then things have gone very poorly. The player on your left will describe in detail how things went terribly wrong, and decide just how very badly the conflict went for everyone concerned. However the incident was resolved, hang on to the card that you’ve turned over. Put it somewhere safely nearby, and let the next player have a go.

The players will continue around setting up a situation, revealing the top card on their relationship partner’s deck, and either describing the outcome or having it described for them, until all three players have gone. Once everyone’s done their thing for the round, you all have the opportunity to decide whether to stick with the relationship you’re currently in, or end the relationship, and swap your current deck out for the single person’s deck in the center. If things are looking bad enough, a player may even choose to break up with their current partner, and remain single for a round or two! (In which case there would be more than on single deck available to the other players…) Starting with the beginning player, each of the players will make this decision, either keeping their current partner deck or trading them in for a new one, and once everyone has done so, pass the start player token to the left, and begin the next round.

Once all twelve rounds have been worked through, each player should have had the opportunity to make a dozen decisions through a dozen beats of their love lives, and act as the starting player four times. Once that’s all done, each player can take the opportunity to narrate a short ending to their relationship story, and then calculate their scores for the game.

Scoring works like this. At the end of the game, each player should have a stack of twelve cards, chronicling the events of their relationships. (Fewer, if they chose to remain single for a round or more.) Each card that is the exact same suit as the suit that you chose at the beginning of the game is worth three points. Each card that’s the other suit of the same color as the suit that you chose is worth one point. Each card that is the opposite color of your suit is worth negative two points – subtract two from your final score for each of these! Add up all your cards, and then, if you stuck with the same relationship partner deck throughout the entire came, double the number of points that you have. Whoever came out with the most points wins at life. Congratulations! Or, better luck next time, as the case may be…

Apr 7 2010

Game Poem 12: The Azoné Butterflies

The Azoné are a tribe of fantastic hunters and warriors, and they have lived at the edge of the jungle since their reckoning began. Each season, as their young men and women approach adulthood, they prepare for the ceremony of Stála, in which the youths demonstrate both their worthiness as defenders and providers for the tribe, and their attractiveness to prospective mates. The Azoné value equally skill in deadly combat, and the ability to construct and wear battle garb of exquisite beauty. It is the balance of these two traits that make the Azoné “butterfly warriors” (or “Tyriá”) truly great.

Each player will take the role of a young man or woman, between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, who is preparing themselves to take part in the coming of age ceremony, during which they will create their own exotic clothing and weaponry, and then venture to the place of Stála, in a clearing near the edge of the jungle. There they will strike the great wooden bell that hangs there three times, and face the beasts that emerge from the wilderness. If they survive, and return to the village, they will have their choice of partners, depending on how fine their battle raiments were, and how bravely they fought.

First, you will create the beasts that your Tyriá will do battle with. Each player will create three creatures by writing numbers from one to nine on three slips of paper. The number will determine the strength of the beast, and all three numbers should sum up to thirteen. They may all be about the same strength, or there may be a mix of very strong creatures and very weak ones – you will not know until the ceremonial bell is rung. If you wish to write down one adjective or attribute that describes the beast on each slip of paper – “talon”, “red”, “moaning”, “woolen”, etc. – you may. Then put all of the slips of paper in a bowl, mix them all together, and strike the bell to begin.

Each player will face three creatures during their trial, in three rounds. To start a round, a player will write down two numbers between one and nine: the first is how beautiful and elaborate they have made their battle gear, and the second is how deadly the gear makes them in combat. The two numbers will add up to ten, so you may choose five and five, one and nine, or anywhere in between, but always, the more beautiful you make yourself, the less effective you will be in fighting the jungle beasts, and vice versa. You may change the numbers between rounds, as you change your ceremonial battle garb, but you should not tell the other players what you have chosen until everyone has decided.

Now it is time to fight. Each player will draw a slip of paper from the bowl, and, beginning with the oldest, reveal the numbers they have chosen, and describe how they have outfitted themselves for the fight to come. For every three points of beauty you have chosen for yourself, you may describe something about your battle garb that is exquisite or beautiful. A peacock-feathered cloak, jewel-colored leggings of knotted silk, a long knife made from the pressed petals of the scarlet glass-flower, or any other thing that you can imagine. Likewise, for every three points of deadliness you have chosen for yourself, you may describe something about your equipment that is particularly effective for defeating the jungle beasts. An iron spear with a jagged obsidian hook-head, your elder brother’s spiked and beaded bamboo chest-plate, a net made of thick vines with tiny barbs woven throughout, and so on.

Then, look at the number on the slip of paper that tells you how strong the beast is that you must fight. In a single short sentence, give an impression of what the creature looks like, and how it approaches you from the jungle. Now compare the beast’s number with your own, and determine the outcome of your battle. If your deadliness is higher than the strength of the beast, you defeat it easily. Narrate your victory, and mark down points for both your deadliness and your beauty. However, if your deadliness is less than the creature’s strength, you lose the fight, and are wounded. You do not mark down any points for this battle, and if you are wounded a second time, you will be killed. Take the time now to briefly describe how you are defeated. If your deadliness is exactly equal to the creature’s strength, you will just barely defeat the beast – you are not wounded, but you only mark down points for your deadliness, not your beauty. You may again narrate your victory, but describe what you lose during the fight. (Are your clothes or weapons destroyed? Is your skin scarred? Did the beast die under an ill omen?)

After each player has fought their beast, they may choose a new set of numbers for their beauty and deadliness for the second round, which proceeds as before, drawing new creature numbers and fighting again, oldest to youngest. After the second series of battles, the surviving players may choose new numbers again, and fight the third and final round of creatures. When the last jungle beast has been dealt with, the newly mettled Tyriá return to the village, and determine their fates.

Each player totals the points for their beauty in battles that they won against the creatures of the jungle. The player with the highest overall attractiveness wins the game, and has their choice of mates from the Azoné tribe. Take a moment to narrate how you are received, the greatest of the new Tyriá warriors, and describe the mate that you have chosen for yourself. The other surviving warriors may briefly do the same, in order of descending beauty, each receiving rewards from their people slightly less glorious than the ones before them.

The last thing you must do is determine the fate of the village. The first duty of the Tyriá is to defend their people from the beasts of the jungle, and it is said that if they have not proven themselves to be capable enough warriors, then the wilderness itself will reclaim them. Total up the deadliness scores from all of the warriors’ successful battles. If the total score is at least ten times the number of players – so, forty for four players, for example – then they have performed their duties well, and the village is safe for another year. Celebrate! However, if they did not prove to be deadly enough, then the beasts of the jungle will overrun the village and destroy the Azoné people. If this is the case, describe the terror and sadness that befalls your tribe, and vow to protect them at any cost, next time.

Mar 31 2010

Game Poem 11: Awakening

Gather a number of players. The players are asleep. A reader will guide their awakening.

Reader, read the following text aloud in a strong, calm, clear voice. Be gentle, take your time. Players, just listen, and do as the reader says.

Everybody close your eyes. Be still. Breathe. You are asleep now. You have been asleep for hours and hours, and you are dreaming.

Your dream is a very pleasant one, and you are enjoying it greatly. Your sleep is a deeply satisfying one, and your dreams bring you happiness and comfort. With your eyes closed, still sleeping, you are completely aware that you are in your dream world, and you are able to imagine and recognize every specific detail of your  that brings you enjoyment. Is the dream constructed of your own memories, or is it entirely created anew from pure fantasy? What are the people, places, objects, and feelings in the dream that make it so pleasant for you? Are you bodily present in the dream, or observing it from a distance? Sit for a few moments and be with your dream, knowing that you will wake in a few moments, and appreciating the dream while it remains.

(Reader, pause for a moment, maybe thirty or forty seconds, then continue.)

Stay with your dream for a few seconds more, but you are feeling the pull of wakefulness now. Your body is beginning to stir, drawing you from the dream world, and back into the waking world. Still calm and happy, you begin to emit a few sounds, a low murmur of incoherent words that describe some elements of your dream. Whisper, mumble, let the soft, indistinct vibrations of the sleepy mind out into the air. You know that morning has arrived, but you want to hold on the your dream for just a little bit longer before letting it slip away.

(Pause again for twenty or thirty seconds.)

Soon, you are hearing not only your own murmurs, but the stirrings of the other players, and the sounds of their dreams start to seep into your own. Let your dream be affected by their words for a few moments, incorporating their thoughts into your own until the elements merge in such a strange manner that they jar you just enough to tip you into waking slightly.

Your dream-talk stops, and the images fade from your mind as you return from sleep.

Slowly, very slowly, with your eyes still closed, your body begins to stir. Your head rises from where it had fallen, you begin to sit up and feel life return to your body, and you stretch a bit to allow your blood to flow through your limbs again. Stretching, and slowly waking up. As your body comes to life again, maybe a sound comes out of your mouth – a yawn, a groan, or perhaps one last word from your dream, reminding you of the images that you were immersed in just a moment or two ago. Peek one eye open, just a bit, but do not focus on any person or thing just yet. As the world comes into view, squint and squish your face a little, and force the other eye open, not looking around, just just relaxing and staring softly into the space in front of you. Your dream has almost entirely slipped away, but your mind is still fighting to hold on to a snatch of it, something that stood out especially, setting this dream apart from others.

As the world begins to come into focus, you slowly realize that the other players are there with you, and recognize that they are also waking, and that their dreams have escaped them as well. Meet the eyes of another sleeper, another dreamer, and silently acknowledge that you have both returned to the waking world. Smile at them and nod, maybe with a touch of sadness, because you both know that your dream will fade away completely, perhaps only resurfacing for a moment sometime in the future, maybe days or years from now, when your mind is drifting.

Say to your waking partner, “Good morning.”

As you hear the other players say the same, look around, stretch and yawn one more time, and greet the rest of the sleepers in the same way. If you feel like you are able to share a piece of your dream while the last remnants are still fresh in your mind, still lingering, hanging on for one more moment, now may or may not be the right time to do so. Perhaps your dream is best kept secret, tucked away in the back of your mind until you return to it again. However, if you feel that it wants to be shared, say, “You know, I was just dreaming about…” and give an impression, a detail, a sense for the dream world that you just left. Nothing too deep or complicated, just enough to convey the general feeling of your dream.

After everyone has fully awakened. The game has ended, and everyone may get up and go about the business of their day.