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…