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.