Dec 3 2010

Game Poem 35: Warriors of the Celestial Emperor

Dragon Phoenix Tiger Tortiose

For centuries, the earth-bound warriors of the four celestial clans have fought each other to gain the favor of the gods. This battle will continue for many years to come, each element defeating the one before it, and defeated in turn by the next, as the great martial cycle wheels on through eternity.

This is a quick fighting game for two to four players, each taking on the role of a warrior from one of four ancient clans of warriors, vying against each other for the favor of the Celestial Emperor. This fight is but one of many, each victory bringing their order of martial artists to final victory.

To play, you will need a regular deck of playing cards. Each player will take the thirteen cards from one of the suits in the deck, as each suit represents a different school of warriors:

  • Diamonds: Dragon Clan, from the East. Represents the element of Wind. Their color is Green, and their season is Spring.
  • Hearts: Phoenix Clan, from the South. Represents the element of Fire. Their color is Red, and their season is Summer.
  • Spades: White Tiger Clan, from the West. Represents the element of Metal. Their color is White, and their season is Autumn.
  • Clubs: Tortoise Clan, from the North. Represents the element of Water. Their color is Black, and their season is Winter.

Each clan has a distinct fighting style. Dragon Clan warriors are swift and precise, and are said to sometimes be able to focus their energies to move the air itself against their foes. Phoenix Clan style is volatile and explosive, and adepts of this school can burn their opponents with a touch. Fighters of the White Tiger school are aggressive and relentless, and are skilled in the fabrication and deadly use of all manner of weapons. Finally, the Black Warriors of the Tortoise Clan have formidable defenses and a methodical fighting style that is bolstered by their power over water, both moving and still.

If there is a member of the Tortoise Clan present in this battle, they will describe the setting where the fight will take place. (If there is no Tortoise, then the White Tiger will detail the setting, or a Phoenix if there is no White Tiger.) Are the warriors meeting somewhere deep in a bamboo forest, next to a bubbling stream? Are they perched upon a cloudy mountaintop, or do they face each other in the moonlight atop the roofs of a village in the hills? Do they fight among the stones of a ruined temple, or in the courtyard of a palace?

Once your environs are decided upon, it is time to begin the fight! Dragon Clan warriors will always attack first, followed by each subsequent player in the cycle: Phoenix after Dragon, then the White Tiger, and then Tortoise, and back around to Dragon. It may be helpful for the players to sit in order, but it is not required.

To make an attack, the fighter will choose someone as a target, describe how they wish to attack that target, and place a card from their hand face down in front of them. Remember to be colorful and vivid in describing your attack, using any and all elements available to you, whether they be part of your Clan’s style or a piece of the setting. A Phoenix may lash out at their opponent with a whip of flame, or perhaps a White Tiger will slash their target with their dual Singing Jade Swords. A Dragon warrior might strike his foe with the legendary Coiled Cloud Fist, or maybe the Tortoise will maneuver his enemy towards a cliff that overlooks the sea, intending to send him over the edge, and onto the rocks below!

Whatever the attack may be, after the initiator has laid his card, their target will choose a card from his own hand and play it to the table as well. The players will then flip over their cards and compare the values. If the cards are of equal value, then the round is a tie, and both cards are discarded. The target of the attack may describe how the attack was nullified, but no advantage was taken by either side.

However, if one of the cards is higher than the other, the person with the high card wins this round of the battle. (Aces are low cards, and are beaten by every other card.) The victor describes how they either strike a powerful blow upon their enemy, if they were the attacker, or easily turn away the attack of their aggressor, if they were defending. After the victor describes their present success, the loser of the exchange then tells how they move away, into a different part of the setting, or alter or re-frame some part of the environment. So, for example, if a Dragon was successful in slamming a Phoenix warrior into the ground with a great gust of wind, the Phoenix may describe how they kick-spin up and run upstairs to the second story of the tavern, setting the room ablaze behind them, or they may blind the Dragon Clan fighter for a moment with a flash of heat, allowing them to run into the street outside. Perhaps a Tortoise Black Warrior sidestepped a White Tiger’s spear thrust, grabbing the weapon and neatly snapping it in two; the White Tiger may respond by flipping backwards and grabbing a pair of swords from the wall, or leaping up onto a chandelier!

After both sides get a chance to briefly describe the outcome of the attack, each player will take the card that the other player laid down and put it into their hand. After this exchange, each player will choose a card to discard from their hand – not necessarily the same card they just picked up – and place it on the table, face down. The winner of the attack will take these cards as a “trick” and place them in front of him to indicate that he has scored a victory. Neither player may look at the discarded cards.

When the round has ended, the next fighter in the cycle (Dragon -> Phoenix -> White Tiger -> Tortoise) will choose someone to attack, and proceed as above, describing their attack and playing a card, the target defending, and so on. Anyone may attack anyone else on their turn, until their hand has dwindled down to one last card. A player holding only a single card may neither attack nor be attacked, and must place their last card face-down in front of them to indicate that they are no longer in the fight. When no player is able to attack another player, either because they have only one card, or because there are no targets available with more than one card, the battle has ended, and it is time do determine the ultimate champion.

First, if there is a player left who has more than one card in their hand, they must discard down to a single card. However, each one of the cards that they discard counts as a trick for them! So, if the Phoenix won four rounds of fighting, and was the only one left at the end with three cards, they would discard two cards, down to one, which would give them six tricks total for the endgame. (This is a good reason to keep track of how many cards the other players have, and make sure that nobody is just standing by and not participating in the battle!)

Once every player has a single card left, everyone will reveal what their last card is. Each player will count the number of tricks that they have taken, and if there are one or more players whose final card is equal to or lower than the number of tricks that they have taken, the player with the highest card that is lower than the number of their tricks is the final winner of the fight! Ties are resolved by highest number of tricks taken, and then, if there is still a tie, by reverse order of play, beginning with the Tortoise, then the White Tiger, then the Phoenix. If no player has a final card whose value is lower than or equal to the number of tricks that they have taken, then the player who has the final card with the lowest value is the winner; ties here are broken the same way as above.

The ultimate winner may take a moment to describe how he has vanquished his foes, and then the other players may tell how they intend to return to fight again, continuing the warriors’ cycle.

Dec 1 2010

Game Poem 34: Purse Snatcher

Purse Snatcher

This is a game for two players, one man, and one woman. The male player will play the role of a female tourist who is traveling abroad, and whose purse was just stolen on the street. The purse contained her passport and all of her money. The female player will take the part of some authority figure, probably a police officer at a nearby station, who the tourist has come to for help.

There are two sets of rules, one for the male player, who is playing the female tourist, and one for the female player, who is playing the authority. The tourist will read their rules – and their rules only – first, then pass them to the police officer. Once the officer has finished reading their section of the rules, and both players are standing and ready, the game will begin.

Rules for the Female Tourist, played by the Male Player

You are a man playing the role of a woman. Attempt to portray a woman’s actions and reactions as genuinely as possible, without relying on stereotypes.

You are a female tourist traveling abroad, and your purse has been stolen on the street by a purse-snatcher. All of your money was in that purse, as was your passport. You are shaken, and desperate to have your purse found and returned to you, and you have come to a local police station to get help. You are afraid that you will not be taken seriously, but you are unfamiliar with the area and unsure if the authorities here are able or willing to lend you their aid, but you must try.

You will have a coin or some other token in your hand. If you do not have one now, find one while the other player is reading their part of the rules. This token represents responsibility for what happened. You should not leave until the other player is holding it.

You must attempt to do whatever the authority requests of you, within reason, and answer any questions that they may ask. It is probably a good idea to begin by addressing the policeman as “officer” or “sir”, but it is not necessary to do so throughout your interaction.

If the officer asks you questions about the robbery, give them as many details as you feel are necessary to demonstrate the gravity of your situation, and to help them find the criminal who stole your purse. The more details you provide, the better able they will be to solve this crime and return to you what is yours. Without your purse, your money, and your passport, you are lost and alone in this foreign country, so it is very important that you do not leave until you are completely satisfied that the authority has helped you to the full extent of their ability.

You will begin the game standing. At the beginning of the game, the officer will ask you to sit down; do so. During the game, you will be in one of three states: sitting, standing, or touching the other player.

When you are sitting down, you must do what the officer asks you to do, you must answer any questions to the best of your abilities, and you must respond to the authority as politely as possible.

When you are standing, you may begin to make stronger assertions, and make demands of the police officer who is attempting to help you. You must still attempt to follow any instructions given to you, but you are no longer required to be polite, and you may choose to refuse to answer any questions that may be asked of you.

When you are touching the authority, you must put one or both hands on their shoulders or arms. You may only make requests of the officer, never demanding action or telling them what to do, and you must behave deferentially to their authority. You may still assert your rights, but must still follow their instructions and answer their questions.

If you wish to escalate from sitting to standing, or from standing to touching, you must add some new detail to the theft of your purse that gives the crime additional weight or importance. Perhaps there was an object of great sentimental value in the purse. Maybe your tickets home were in there, and you are leaving tomorrow morning. It could be that the thief attacked you in another way in the process of grabbing your purse.

At any time, if you feel that the authority figure is not being helpful or respectful, you may challenge him. Meet his gaze, raise a fist, and close your eyes. He will say, “okay”. When he does, raise between one and four fingers, and wait for him to tell you to open your eyes. When you do, count the total number of fingers between the two of you.

If there are an even number of fingers, you win the challenge, and the officer must do one thing that you demand, or answer one question. If you win a challenge while you are touching the authority, however, they may ask something of you in return, and you must comply.

If the number of fingers is odd, you lose the challenge, and must either de-escalate your posture (go from touching the other player to standing, or from standing to sitting), or escalate by adding a detail as above and going from sitting to standing, or from standing to touching. If you lose a challenge while you are sitting, the authority may ask you to leave, and you must obey.

The player playing the police officer may not touch you at any time unless you ask them to, unless they are arresting you. If at any time they touch your shoulder and say, “you are under arrest”, the game is over, and you lose the game.

You may leave of your own free will at any time. If you leave while you are still holding your coin or token, you lose the game.

Rules for the Male Police Officer, played by the Female Player

You are a woman playing the role of a male police officer in a foreign country. You speak English well, and you will attempt to portray a man’s actions and reactions as you understand them, without reverting to stereotypes.

A female tourist has had her purse stolen, and she has come to you to make a report. You are very busy, and have many duties to attend to, you you are willing to help her by taking down her information. After the basics are covered, however, she should leave your office as soon as possible.

When addressing the other player, you will always refer to her as “ma’am” or “miss”. Attempt to be polite and efficient, but do not allow her to make unreasonable demands of you or your time. You have many other pressing matters to attend to, and you see robberies like this every day. You will ask for details about the purse snatching, note them down, make some attempt to satisfy whatever concerns she has, and ask her to move on. It is not your duty to track down her purse, her money, or her passport, nor is it to be her travel agent or counsellor. You will take down the necessary information to make a full report, and be done.

You will begin the game standing. At the beginning of the game, you will ask the tourist to sit down, and she will do so. Do not begin asking questions or anything else until she is seated.

At some point, the tourist may challenge you, and try to force you to do something or answer a question. She will do this by raising her fist and closing her eyes. When she does this, you may close your eyes, say, “okay”, and hold up between one and four fingers. After you have done this, tell her to open her eyes, and you will count the total number of fingers raised between the two of you.

If there are an even number of fingers raised, she wins the challenge, and you must do your best to accommodate her request, or to answer her question. After that, you are no longer required to do anything that the tourists asks, unless she wins another challenge. If she wins the challenge while she is touching you, however, you may ask anything of her in return, and she must comply.

If there are an odd number of fingers raised, you win the challenge, and she must either go from touching to standing, or from standing to sitting, or she must escalate her position by adding a detail to her story about the purse-snatching, and go from sitting to standing, or from standing to touching. If the tourist loses a challenge while she is sitting, you may ask her to leave the station, and she must do so.

You never have to do anything that the tourist says, or answer any of her questions unless you lose a challenge. As the authority in this situation, however, you have some special conditions that affect whether or not you may close your eyes during a challenge.

  • When the tourist is seated, you may choose whether or not to close your eyes during a challenge.
  • When she is standing, you must always close your eyes during a challenge.
  • When she is touching you, do not close your eyes during a challenge.

Since your eyes may be open during a challenge, you will be able to determine whether you win or lose by choosing the appropriate number of fingers to raise. Do not abuse this power to simply win every challenge; save your power for when it will benefit you the most. Most importantly, do not allow the tourist to know that you are watching her while her eyes are closed.

During your conversation with the tourist, you may move around the room as you see fit, as long as you can easily see her when she is initiating a challenge. You may never touch the woman unless she tells you to, unless you are arresting her.

At some point, the tourist will attempt to pass responsibility for the crime that she is reporting to you by passing a coin or some other token to you. Do not take it into your hand. If you do, you lose the game.

After fifteen minutes or so have passed, you will note that you have another urgent appointment to attend to, and you must bid the tourist good day. She may not stay in the office – she must leave, and if she does not do so of her own free will, you must make her leave. If you order the tourist to leave, and she does not do so, touch her shoulder and say, “you are under arrest”. She will then go to jail; this means that she loses the game, and you have another stack of paperwork to do now.

Dec 1 2010

Game Poem 33: Insomnia


This is a game for one player who wishes to sleep, and six other players who are the voices who keep them awake. If you do not have six people to play the roles of the voices, players can double up on the voices, but you should not play with less than three, plus the sleeper. You will also need a regular deck of playing cards, which the sleeper will shuffle and hold.

The voices will surround the sleeper, and they will each draw a single card from the deck. (If a person is playing the part of more than one voice, they should draw a card for both voices, and hold one card in each hand.) Each voice will look at their card, decide what it means to them, and choose something that their voice represents to the sleeper: a idea that won’t be given up, anger at someone or something that happened during the day, the sleeper’s fear of death, or anxiety about an upcoming task or event, a song that will not leave the sleeper alone, hunger for one more slice of pie, anything.

After the voices have all indicated that they have chosen what they represent by holding their cards to their chests, the sleeper signals the beginning of the game by drawing a card from the deck and looking at it. At this point, all of the voices should begin speaking at once, insistently and urgently, with as few pauses as possible. Each voice should express in detail and at length their purpose to the sleeper. Each voice should strive to be heard and understood, but there should be no shouting. The sleeper will have no rest as long as a single voice is still active, so they must begin trying to silence them.

The sleeper will have a card in their hand. The sleeper will show the card to one of the voices, and tell it clearly and forcefully why it should be silent.

“I have plenty of time to finish writing that story!”
“He was never interested in me in the first place!”
“Women in my family have always lived to a ripe old age!”
“They’ll never fire me – they need me!”
“I don’t care, none of that matters, anyway…”

The voice may pause for a moment while it looks at its own card, and responds. When the sleeper shows a card to a voice, and that card does not match the number and color of the voice’s card, the voice may respond with one of three things:

  • “Higher”, if their card is higher than the one that the sleeper shows them
  • “Lower”, if their card is lower than the one that the sleeper shows them
  • “Not Red”, if they have a black card and the sleeper shows them red, or “Not Black”, if they have a red card, and the sleeper shows them black.

Each voice may only say “Not Black” or “Not Red” once; after that, it is the responsibility of the sleeper to remember which color card that voice holds. (If a voice finds themselves in a situation where they must say “Not Black” or “Not Red” again, that is, if they have already said that, and the sleeper shows them a card that matches their number, but not their color, then they may repeat it, of course.) If a single player is speaking for two voices, the sleeper will point to the hand that holds the card for the voice that they are attempting to silence, and the voice will hold up that hand while answering the sleeper. After responding, the voice will continue its verbal onslaught, and the sleeper will draw another card, and attempt to silence another voice.

If, however, the sleeper shows the voice a card that matches both the number and the color of that voice’s card, the player will turn the card to show the sleeper that it matches. The voice will go quiet, and remain silent for the remainder of the game. The sleeper will then draw another card, and attempt to silence another voice.

The game continues until the sleeper has either silenced all of their voices, or they have run through the entire deck. If they have used all of the remaining forty-six cards without matching every voice, their alarm goes off, and they must begin the next day without any rest. If they have somehow managed to get all of the voices to go quiet, the sleeper may finally rest, if only for a little while. Count the cards that remain – each one is worth ten minutes of sleep. Is it enough? We’ll see, when the morning comes…