Apr 12 2011

Game Poem 41: Scavenger

This is a game for any number of people. To play, you must find and bring together the following items:

  • Two coins.
  • A recording device.
  • One or more business cards.
  • An incandescent light bulb.
  • At least three colors of fingernail polish.
  • An empty DVD case.
  • Several pieces of fruit.
  • Three postcards from other cities.
  • A screwdriver.
  • An empty eggshell.
  • Twelve buttons.
  • A dog collar.
  • A long strip of thick cloth of any color.
  • Two action figures or miniatures.
  • A small handful of sand.
  • A writing implement that is not a pen or a pencil for each player.
  • One person that none of the players knows.
  • An address book.
  • Three small bags, clear plastic or brown paper.

Once they have been collected, take all of these items to an outdoor location and play the game. Make an audio or video recording of your play, and post it in a public location.

Mar 10 2011

Game Poem 39: EDP

EDP is a game poem for a handful of players, somewhere around four or five.

The term “EDP” is an acronym, generally used by law enforcement officers. It stands for “Emotionally Disturbed Person” and refers to a situation involving someone experiencing a severe emotional disturbance.

The play will be set in an institution, or in a questioning room in a police station, or someplace similar. One player will be designated the EDP. The character played by this player is entirely sane and rational, and must convince the others of this fact. The other players have brought the EDP to this place because they are convinced that they are seriously mentally ill, and must be held for their own protection, or the protection of others.

Each player, including the EDP, begins with one coin or token. These tokens will be used at the end of the game to determine the winner.

To begin, the interrogators will ask the EDP to tell them once again if they know why they’re there. The EDP will describe the circumstances that led them to be taken into custody. This could be some kind of scene or public arrest, or perhaps the authorities just showed up at their home one afternoon and brought them in without telling them why. It is entirely up to the EDP to provide these details, and the interrogators must accept whatever they say as true.

The disturbed player must continue to convince their captors that they are balanced and stable, but their examiners will attempt to twist their testimony into a light that shows how completely deranged they truly are. Every piece of evidence that the EDP might be of sound mind should be reframed to demonstrate their insanity. The interrogators, however, may not fabricate facts or details from whole cloth; they must turn their clearly unstable detainee’s assertions against them. The more that they insist that they are sane, the crazier they must be shown to be.

If, however, at some point, one of the interrogators begins to believe that the EDP is, in fact, in their right mind, they may declare them sane, and excuse themselves from the questioning. They will hand the EDP their coin or token, touch them on the forehead, and become a voice in the head of the disturbed person. Whatever they say from that point on will only be heard by the EDP, even though they say it out loud.

The EDP still believes that they are sane, but now they have a new voice inside their head telling them things, telling them what to do, telling them how much trouble they’re in, telling them that everyone is against them, telling them to behave normally, telling them that they’ve got to escape, telling them that it’s no use, telling them that their captors intend to torture or kill them, and so on. Press them hard. It is the duty of the EDP to respond as if these voices are truly coming from inside their own mind, but to continue to convince the interrogators that they are fine, and they should be released.

When the disturbed player has a voice in their head, they may release it by giving them all of their tokens, touching that player on the forehead, and dismissing the voice aloud. The dismissed player is no longer able to speak or interact with the scenario, but keeps the tokens they’ve collected for scoring purposes. If there are more than one voice in the EDP’s head, only one may dismissed in this manner at a time; if the EDP has no tokens to remove a voice with, they must wait until another player declares them sane to do so.

The game ends after a predetermined amount of time, or after all the interrogators have declared the EDP sane. If time runs out before the EDP can convince everyone else that they are truly not deranged, they will remain in a facility for the foreseeable future, and the non-disturbed player with the most tokens wins. If, however, the EDP manages to talk all of the interrogators into believing that they are sane, they win the game, regardless of how many tokens they have. They will, of course, have some extra psychological problems now, but those can be sorted out next time…

Mar 1 2011

Game Poem 38: Memoir

Memoir is a game poem is played by a single person. You. Over the course of the game, you will be remembering and discovering the diaries of your future self.

To begin, you will need to gather a few of your own personal artifacts, like photographs of yourself with friends or family, a few objects that you might find around yourself, mundane or significant or anywhere in between, and so on. These are the things that others might pick up and immediately know that they belonged to you, or things that invoke certain feelings or memories for you, even if they have no meaning to anyone else.

You will also need to collect a few items that do not belong to you, and do not have any familiarity or bearing on your present day life. These might be photos of someone who looks similar to you, but is much older, some objects that you’ve never seen before, or that mean nothing to you, or any random thing that you might find that does not immediately resonate with you, and make you say, “this is mine.”

The game also requires that you have somewhere private to write. This may be an open text document on your computer, or a fresh notebook or pad of paper, or whatever you feel most comfortable with. You will also need a timer of some kind, that will be set for fifteen minutes.

Settle down someplace quiet, and place the items and photos that you have assembled in front of you. When you are ready, close your eyes, and envision what you would imagine your life might be like in five years – or ten, or twenty, or forty. Only take a few moments to do this. Breathe. Open your eyes.

Write a date at the top of your diary entry, a date some number of years from now. Breathe. Look at the objects set out before you. Let them tell you what has happened in the years between now and the time ahead. Now, start the timer, and write an account of your future self’s life. Write as yourself, in the first person, as if what you are writing is absolutely true, as you remember it. Write without stopping for fifteen minutes, without thinking, just get the words down.

When the timer ends, you will finish your current thought, and be done. Close the document, or put away your notebook, and let it sit for a while before going back to read it again.

You may obviously play this game as many times as you like. If you wish to collect the pages of your future memoir together in some way, be sure to save them and keep them somewhere safe. When the time comes – or when the date that you have written at the top of each entry rolls around – take them out and read them again, and think about how the person who wrote them has lived their life.

Feb 9 2011

Game Poem 37: We Are True Men

We Are True Men is a game poem for two or more male players. You will need something to drink, and a glass for each player. The beverage may or may not be alcoholic, but it is strongly recommended that it is.

The players in this game will play the roles of soldiers from an ancient empire. They may choose to be Romans, Macedonians, Vikings, Egyptians, Persians, Mongols, Samurai, Carthaginians, or men of any other well-known imperium, whether from the real world, or entirely fictional. Whomever they serve, they will be great warriors who have served together for many years, fought in and won many battles, and who know each other better perhaps than they know themselves.

The soldiers of the empire are gathered together tonight, the evening before their greatest battle. Although you have never seen defeat before, this will be a fight like none other, and it is very likely that you will die on the field tomorrow. The players will identify their enemy, and decide they are fighting, and why the battle tomorrow will be so great and terrible. The enemy may be historical or fictional, but they must be named. The dangers that you will face in the morning must be described in detail. This is an enemy greater than any other, and you have all survived many years of war, and you know that even though you may die, your death will be a noble and glorious one.

At the start of the game, the soldiers are gathered in their camp on the night before the fray to come, drinking and telling stories of your past triumphs in battle, bonding with your brothers in arms before facing the carnage that will surely follow the next day. When all of the players have come together, drinks in hand, the boldest of them will come forward and raise his glass in a toast to the greatness of the assembled company, and their valorous triumphs past. He will point to another player, name them, and describe a specific moment of significance of theirs from a previous battle. Perhaps he showed great bravery in the face of overwhelming odds, saved the lives of his fellow warriors, or lead his men to certain victory; perhaps he is simply a masterful soldier, who has slain his enemies in some spectacular fashion.

Whatever the great deed may have been, after the tale has been told, all present will cheer their comrade, raise their glasses to join in the toast, and drink heartily. The player who received the honor of a toast must then approach the one who gave him the accolades, and make some physical sign of brotherhood with him. A clasped arm, a strong hand on the shoulder, a sportive blow to the chin, a manly hug, whatever seems appropriate. They must then declare, “WE ARE TRUE MEN!”, which will be met with another cheer from those present, as they make a bold statement relating the praise that they have just received to how fate will treat him in the coming battle. He may describe the manner in which he will defeat his adversaries, or how they will die with honor, or how he will throw himself on the sword of an enemy, trading his life for that of one of his brothers here.

That player will then turn to another, singling them out, calling them by name and similarly describing a heroic act that they have performed in a previous battle. Again, all present will cheer, toast their comrade, and drink. Again, the player who was toasted will make some physical act of fellowship with the one who toasted him; this act must be somehow greater than the previous ones. It must be more forceful, more intimate, or showing that the two men are closer to one another than they were earlier. This is important: each sign of brotherhood must be physical, and they must escalate in some way as the game progresses.

After the physical act, the player who was toasted must again declare “WE ARE TRUE MEN!”, lead a cheer, and relate their commendation to the coming day. After their boast, they will call out another player, toast them, and the game will continue around in this fashion until it has reached its end. As the game progresses, as the warriors drink and toast each other, their behavior will become more intense. It is possible that previously unspoken rivalries will be aired; it is possible that garments will be pulled aside to display wounds from past conflicts; it is possible that the men will simply embrace, drink, and sing together songs of victory – or grief for brothers lost.

This circle of boasting and tribute and rugged bonding will go on through the night, becoming more ardent and enthusiastic until the sun comes up, or until all of the warriors have run out of drink. (If you wish to continue playing, you may always refill your cup as many times as you like, of course.) When the evening ends in whatever way it may end, hail your brothers in arms once more with the cry, “WE ARE TRUE MEN!”, put out the campfire, and return to your tents. If there is any thing that you wish to do or say to your fellow soldiers before you go to do battle in the morning, now is the time to do so, for tomorrow it is very likely that you will die, and the things the need to be done or said will be left undone and unspoken for all time.

Jan 4 2011

Game Poem 36: Office


Welcome to Office! Office is a game for three or four players at the very least, but it will support arbitrarily large numbers, so feel free to play and experiment. To begin, pick one player – let’s say the oldest – to be the Manager. All other players will be Employees.

The Manager is in charge of setting up everything that is needed to play Office. They will need to find a whole bunch of coins or tokens, at least a dozen or so per player, and a bowl or some kind of container in which to hold them. The Manager will also need to assemble a stack of index cards or slips of paper, and several writing implements. The manager will also want to assign the role of Human Resources to one of the Employees, and put them in charge of distributing two tokens to each Employee. The manager begins with no tokens.

While HR is distributing the initial paychecks, the Manager should take a few moments to write down a bunch of initial assignments on the paper or index cards, at least one for each Employee to begin with. These are the tasks that the Employees will be performing in the course of their work day, and should be relatively simple, straightforward, and easy to verify. Each assignment should take a minute or less to complete, and take up mental space and processing power, but require no special or unusual skills. You will probably want to keep a variety of materials around to ensure the possibility for an interesting collection of tasks.

Here are some sample assignments to get you started, but feel free to make up your own:

  • Write out multiplication tables for the numbers one through ten
  • Write a list of animals, or male and female names, one for each letter of the alphabet
  • Write a list of two or three dozen countries or U.S. States
  • Write out the first thirty numbers of the fibonacci sequence, or the first thirty powers of two
  • Put a shuffled deck of cards in order, Aces to Kings, Hearts to Spades
  • Write out a sequence of times starting at noon, every eighteen minutes, to midnight
  • Count the frequency of letters in all the Employees’ first and last names
  • Draw a series of shapes according to your instructions
  • Write out the words from a short paragraph in alphabetical order
  • Drawn two dozen simple faces with different expressions
  • Write out a list of two dozen movies that are currently playing
  • Sort out a jar of coins into piles of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters
  • Write out your full name twenty-five times
  • Draw one hundred circles
  • Make a list of your thirty favorite songs
  • And so on…

Assignments must always be written down on an index card, not communicated to the Employees verbally. They may be discussed very briefly, but the assignment must be completed exactly as written, and must be written in such a way that they may be verified for correctness likewise.

Once the Manager has created the initial set of tasks, they will distribute them to their Team, one per Employee. When the last task is assigned, the Manager will start a timer for fifteen minutes or so. As soon as the timer starts, the day’s work has officially begun; when the timer goes off, the work day is done, and the game is over.

During the work day, the Employees may do a couple of things. They may work on their assignments, and when they are done, turn them in to the Manager. When a task is turned in, the Manager will give the Employee that completed the task one token, and also take one token for themselves. The task should also be verified for correctness; if it was completed properly, the Employee earns an extra token, and a bonus token will be awarded to either the Manager or the Employee, at the Manager’s discretion. Once they’ve collected their pay, the Manager will assign them a new task, and send them back to work.

An Employee may also decide to malinger and shirk off their assignment for a while, instead of working. To do this, they just need to go talk to another player for a bit about sports or television or politics or what they did over the weekend or their hobbies or anything that isn’t work. While they talk, the player that is being distracted may not work, but must count slowly to ten, and when they reach ten, they must give the slacker one of their tokens, and they can both go back to work. Or go forth and slack some more, somewhere else.

It is clearly in the Company’s interest to minimize goofing off, so the Manager or the Human Resources representative may interrupt someone who is distracting another player. If the malingerer is interrupted before their target counts to ten, they don’t take a token, and must go back to work without wasting any more of the Company’s time. Keep in mind that the Manager must also be continually coming up with and writing down new tasks for their Team, so they must split their focus between keeping an eye on the Employees while making sure that there’s always work to be done.

Employees may always feel free to complain to their Manager at any time if they think that the Manager is doing a bad job, rewarding them unfairly, giving them tasks that are too hard or too simple for their abilities, or ignoring the inappropriate behavior of the other Employees, or whatever comes to mind. There is no mechanical reward for this beyond the airing of the complaint itself.

Eventually, the timer will go off, and the work day will end. The Employees may turn in any tasks that they have just completed, but if the Manager says that it’s time to go home, then no more work may be turned in, and the game is over. Each player will count up their tokens, and the one who generated the most value for the Company wins! (If there is ever a tie, the Manager decides the winner.) This will very likely be the Manager, so you will also want to see which Employee has the most tokens – that player will be awarded the title Employee of the Month, and may play as Manager next time!

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…

Oct 18 2010

Game Poem 32: The Invaders

The Invaders

This is a game for an even number of players, around six to twelve, but more should work just fine. (If you wind up with an odd number of players, that’s not an insurmountable problem; one player will just sit out in each round.) You’ll need a number of index cards, one for each player. One of these cards will have a black spot or mark of some kind clearly drawn on it. Shuffle up the cards, and hand one to each player; the players should not know which one of them received the card with the spot. The player who received the mark is the first Invader. Their minds have been corrupted by an alien presence, and they will attempt to similarly infect the other, still human, players.

Each player will write three true things about themselves on the card, in order: Something that should be immediately obvious upon first meeting them, something that would be noticed about them after watching them or talking to them for some time, and something that describes something about their internal life, such as a belief or personal preference. The Invader will do the same, but they will also mark the last item (the internal trait) with an X. This represents their corruption, which will spread through the players as the game progresses.

The game is played as a series of short conversations, just a minute or two each. To begin a round of conversations, someone should set a timer for a minute or so, and the players should break into pairs. Conversations should be held discreetly, so that other players are unlikely to eavesdrop on their content or outcome. Clearly, it is preferable to mix up the conversations thoroughly, so the players should always choose to talk with someone that they haven’t talked with before, if possible. Start the timer, and begin chatting with each other.

There are just a few rules about the conversations. If something related to one of the items on your cards comes up, you must talk about it honestly, as written. However, if one or more of the three statements on your card has an X next to it (as the initial Invader will have) then you must actively try to bring that up in the conversation, and you must lie about what you have written; you are forbidden from telling the truth about that item, and must in fact attempt to mislead the other person as well as possible, no matter how ridiculous it might seem.

So, for example, you may have “I love chocolate!” in the third position, and it is marked with an X on your card. In the course of your conversations, you must make it a point to assert how loathsome you find chocolate to be. Likewise, if you’ve noted down that you’ve never pierced your ears as your second statement, you must be sure to talk about your favorite earrings, even though it may be clear that it’s quite unlikely that you’d be able to wear them.

When the timer sounds after a minute or so, quickly wrap up your conversation, and one person must end with the phrase, “Are you okay?” How the players respond to this question depends on whether they have been infected by the Invader or not. (If a player has one or more Xs on their card, they are now an Invader.) Both players will respond with a gesture at the same time, either an okay sign, or with their index finger pointed like a gun. Humans will make these gestures with their right hands, Invaders with their left.

If you’re a human, and you make an okay sign with your right hand, that means that you think that the other player is still uninfected. If both of you are still fully human, and you both do this, you each get to put a check mark (*not* an X) next to one of the statements on your cards that came up in your conversation, affirming your humanity. If none of the statements on your card came up in conversation, you may not check any in this way. An okay sign has no effect on an Invader other than letting them know that you are human, and think that they are okay.

If a human points their finger like a gun at their conversation partner, that means that they think that they are infected by the Invaders. Pointing at an Invader will force them to remove the topmost X from their card; if they no longer have any items with an X next to them, the corruption has been completely removed from that person, and they are human once again.

However, if they point their finger at another human, they suffer for their false accusation! The human player who points their gun-finger at another human player must cross off one of the statements on their card, and may no longer use that statement in conversation in any way. Additionally, if there were check marks associated with that statement, they are lost as well. If a human player is ever forced to cross off an item that has no check marks next to it, they are immediately removed from the game! Attacking other humans is dangerous business.

If an Invader uses their left hand to point their index finger at the other player, they are attempting to corrupt their conversation partner. Their target marks the lowest unmarked statement on their card with an X. They are now an Invader as well, and must be actively dishonest about that item in future conversations. If the target winds up with all three of their statements X’d out, they have been fully transformed, and may not be corrupted or attacked further. A transformed Invader must reveal themselves as such at the beginning of their conversations; they may discuss the nature of the Invaders with their human partners, taunt or threaten them, or simply continue to creepily pretend to be human, although they are clearly nothing of the sort.

If an Invader chooses to make the okay sign with their left hand at the end of a conversation, they are simply activating some kind of protection. Invaders who do this are not affected by a human pointing at them. This clearly has no effect on other Invaders, other than affirming that you are, in fact, infected with the alien corruption.

The game will continue over a number of rounds equal to the number of starting players. At the end of the game, get together and reveal everybody’s cards, totaling up the check marks for humanity, and the Xs for the Invaders. if there are twice as many check marks at Xs, the humans have enough wherewithal to drive out the Invaders’ corruption. You may briefly narrate how this happens. If, however, there are twice as many Invaded players as there are humans, the Invaders are able to round up the humans like cattle, and bring their alien schemes to completion. Of course, if it is clear at any time there are no longer any Invaders, or that there are no uninfected humans, the appropriate side may be declared winners then and there. Otherwise, play it out to the bitter end, and see which side prevails!

Aug 14 2010

Game Poem 31: Bear Season

This game requires around four to six players. Together, you will play the part of a bear in its natural habitat, each of you taking on a different aspect of the animal. Each player selects a part of the bear to embody, no two choosing the same. One player may portray the teeth of the bear, another the claws; one may choose to speak for the bear’s nose and sense of smell, and someone else may take the part of the bear’s eyes, and tell what it sees. Someone may choose to be the bear’s hide and fur, or its stomach, its hunger, driving it towards food and prey, or the bear’s heart, its courage and instincts, or its fear and wariness towards mankind.

Oh yes, there is also a hunter out there somewhere. Perhaps he hunts the bear, or maybe he is after some other game, and has merely wandered into the bear’s territory. Will they cross paths, and if they do, will one pose a threat to the other, or will they find a way to pass each other without a confrontation? Choose an object, a marker to show where the hunter is in the circle of players. If you can find an arrowhead, or a spent shotgun shell, or something similar to represent the hunter, excellent. If not, any kind of stone or metal marker will do.

Select one player to hold the hunter’s marker to begin. The player on their left will begin the bear’s story by taking on the role of Nature, and set the initial scene that the bear finds itself in. They will describe the season, what time of day it is, and the bear’s surroundings. The bear may find itself swatting trout out of a rushing stream on a sunny summer day, or curled up sleeping in a hollow, waiting for the last winter snows to melt away. It may be rummaging in leafy underbrush of the forest, or climbing a tree to find a meal of tasty fruits and acorns, or snuffing around after a mate in the spring.

Once the stage is set, the Nature player may add a detail or two, something that might interest or intrigue the animal. In turn, the other players will describe how their aspects of the bear would react to the the setting and the details presented. If the bear finds a burrow, its nose may smell a litter of baby foxes, its claws may wish to dig it out, or its sense of curiosity may simply growl into it, to see what happens. In a winter storm, the bear’s fur may simply wish to seek shelter under a snow drift, but its stomach may wish to press on to fill the bear’s belly before settling down.

The one restriction on the aspects’ descriptions is this: if a player holds the hunter’s token, they must incorporate an element of danger into their part’s bit of narration. Does the nose smell a human nearby? Perhaps the ears heard the crack of gunshots in the distance. Or is that the howl of wolves? The hide may be reminded of an old scar, or the heart may remember being bested by an older bear in a scrap last season. Whatever it is, the additional narration must potentially pose some kind of direct or indirect jeopardy to the bear.

When all the other players have described what their aspects sense or desire, the Nature player chooses one of them to focus on over the others, and tells the brief tale of how the scene is resolved. Does the bear eat its nuts and berries and fall asleep peacefully under the oak tree? Does it find a place to hibernate through the winter, or find a mate in the spring? Is it bitten on the snout when it goes digging recklessly into a badger’s den, or clumsily fall into the river while fishing? Or was that indeed a pack of wolves howling into the night, harrying the bear until the dawn?

Normally, when the scene is ended, the player who holds the hunter’s marker passes is to the player on their right. However, if the Nature player chose the description that held additional danger, the one described by the player holding the hunter’s marker, the hunter’s marker will immediately pass to that player who took the role of Nature. The player on their left will then become the new Nature player, and set a new scene for the bear to experience and react to.

One thing. If the player who is playing the role of Nature begins their turn describing a scene, and they also hold the hunter’s marker, they must incorporate the hunter himself into the scene. The hunter’s presence must by physical and immediate. All of the bear’s aspects must directly address the hunter’s sudden appearance in their reactions. When choosing an outcome, the Nature player must resolve the conflict between the hunter in the bear in some way. The scene will not necessarily end with the demise of the bear or the hunter, but if it does, the game will end when that scene ends. If both the bear and the hunter survive the confrontation, pass the hunter’s marker and the role of Nature as usual, and continue until one of them kills the other, or until you feel that the bear’s story has been fully told. If both carry on through this story, it is entirely possible that one or both of them will appear the next time this game is played.