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 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…

Jun 11 2010

Game Poem 24: The Knight, the Rogue, the Princess, and the Dragon

The Knight, The Rogue, The Princess, and the Dragon is a quick little story-telling game for four players. Take the face cards and aces from a deck of regular playing cards, and distribute them to the players, so that each player has the Jack, Queen, King, and Ace of a suit. Each player should shuffle their four cards and place them in a pile face-down in front of them. For the purpose of this game, we will refer to the cards as the Knight (the King), the Princess (the Queen), the Rogue (the Jack), and the Dragon (the Ace).

Starting with the youngest player, take turns flipping over the top card of your stack until someone turns up their Knight. That will be the starting player. If any of the other players have not turned over a card yet, they should do so now, so that everyone has at least one face-up card showing. The starting player begins the story by holding up the Knight and saying something like, “Once upon a time, there was a brave (or rich, or young, or ambitious, or proud) Knight…” They may describe the Knight however they like, telling the other players what he looks like, how he behaves, or what he thinks. Just take a sentence or two to do this, and then hand the Knight to one of the other players. That player puts the Knight card that was given to them face-up under their draw pile, and continues the story.

To continue the story, the new storyteller takes the card that they have turned face-up in front of them, and proceeds to tell how the Knight encounters or interacts with that new character. For example, the Knight may know the Princess that the new storyteller has in front of them – describe her as beautiful, or as a tomboy, or generous, or vain, or lonely, or how she loves cupcakes, or perhaps she is the Knight’s sister. Or, if the new storyteller has a Dragon in front of them, they may tell how the Knight heard an old tale about a rich dragon sitting on a pile of gold in his cave, or he may meet a tiny baby dragon stuck in a tree, or he may have to defeat a dragon to rescue his King, or the dragon may be his steed, or anything! A Rogue may be incorporated into the story by having him try to trick the Knight somehow, or rob him while he sleeps, or maybe he wants to become a knight himself somehow. The new storyteller’s card may even be a second Knight, in which case they may either further describe the original Knight, or tell more of his past adventures or his motivations or who he serves, or it may be another actual knight in the story who he meets, or who he has fought with, or who is is friend, or his captain, or his rival. Any of these things – or anything else the new storyteller may think of – are wonderful ways to continue the story.

Once the second player has added their piece of the story, and how their card connects with the Knight at the beginning, they then take their character’s card and give it to another player, just as the first Knight was given to them. The new storyteller takes that card and puts it face-up underneath their draw pile, and if they don’t already have a card face-up in front of them, they must turn over a new one now, and continue the story in the same way. The Princess told him this, or the Rogue attacked the Dragon sneakily, or the Knight challenged her to a game of chess, or the Dragon flew off with something valuable, or anything that you can imagine. Play continues this way, with each player adding a new bit according to the card that they have showing, giving that card to the next player, until every player has used all four of their cards in the telling of the story. (Make sure not to pass your character card to a player that has already used all four of their cards!) Eventually, all the players will wind up with a pile of face-up cards that have been given to them by other players, and there will be one player holding a character card, with nobody to give it to after they have added their bit to the story.

This last player should place their final character’s card face-up in the middle of the table. You should have a relatively involved little story spun out now, but how to end it? Well, as the final card is played to the table – this will become the “story pile” – that player may begin to wrap things up, telling how that character has succeeded in whatever they need to do to get what they need in the story. Maybe it’s a Knight card, and he has retrieved the queen’s necklace from the Dragon’s swamp. Or perhaps the Princess has finally trained the Dragon to be her new pet, or the Rogue has become the new king. Maybe the Dragon has even managed to eat all of the other characters at this point!

But this is not the end! All of the players may now look at the card on top of their face-up pile of cards that they have received from the other players, and if they can play a card on top of the story pile that beats the card that’s currently on the top of the stack, they may add something that allows their card’s character to reverse their fortune and achieve their desires instead! The cards beat each other in the following manner:

  • Knight slays Dragon
  • Dragon captures Princess
  • Princess charms Rogue
  • Rogue deceives Knight

These are not necessarily strictly the actions that happen in the story when one card beats another, but they are just a handy way to remember which card beats which. Of course, if you want to use those elements in the story as the end twists and turns, please, feel free to do so!

Eventually, there will come a point where none of the players are able to play one of their cards onto the story pile. Or perhaps all of the players decide that they like the ending as it stands, and do not wish to play another character card, even though they are able to. The player who laid down the last card on the story pileĀ  may finish up the story with a sentence or two, wrapping it up with a moral or a happily aver after if they wish.

Of course, that may not be the true end of the story, but just the beginning of the next one…

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 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…

Feb 17 2010

Game Poem 4: Behind Their Back

This game requires an even number of people – at least six, but no more than ten or so – a deck of regular playing cards, and someone to be the dealer and referee for the game. If there aren’t the enough people to choose a referee, have the most trustworthy person available act as the dealer for the game.

To set up the cards, go through the deck and pick matching pairs of unique numbers, one card for each player. (That is, do not pick the same number for two pairs, so that all four suited cards for that number are in play.) So, for example, for a group of eight players, the dealer might choose the cards: twos of hearts and diamonds, jacks of spades and hearts, threes of clubs and spades, and eights of hearts and spades. The dealer should choose the cards as randomly as possible, maybe by secretly dealing out a card, then going through the shuffled deck in order until they find a matching number, and repeating the process until all the cards are chosen. Or, if they’re feeling wicked, picking a set of cards that will ensure optimal mayhem. It is completely up to the dealer, but a random selection of card pairs should be totally fine. Regardless, the actual cards selected should be kept a secret from the rest of the players. Dealer, be a decent person and try not to commit the chosen cards to memory, as well as you can.

After the cards are selected (and the dealer has done their best to forget what they were, if possible), put the rest of the deck away, shuffle the selected cards and deal one to each player. Everyone now has a mate – the person who has the other card that matches their number – and at least two people will have one or more secret lovers – the person (or persons!) who match their card’s suit. Players should announce their number, find their mate, and join them. At no time should anyone show anybody else their card, not even their mate, or say what their card’s suit is.

(It should go without saying that “mates” and “secret lovers” are assigned and accepted without regard to gender. But I’m saying it, anyway.)

Each mated pair should privately decide on some casual physical signal of intimacy that they will use to show their devotion to each other. It may be silently mouthing a certain endearing word or words to the other person. It may be touching your fingers to the other’s arm, shoulder, neck, or ear. It may be making a specific funny face at each other. It could be a playful sock to the jaw, or a tweak of the nose. Whatever it is, spend a minute or so establishing the signal and making small talk with your mate. After everybody is settled in, the dealer will say, “mingle!”, and each person should find someone else to talk to – preferably, not their mate.

You may now be talking to your secret lover, or you may just be chatting with a pleasant stranger. You have no idea at this point. You must find a way to subtly indicate your suit through normal conversation, without being too obvious, or stating it outright. Maybe you talk about your jewelry, or golfing, or valentine’s day. Maybe you tend to alliterate the starting letter of your suit a bit more than you would normally. Whatever you do, you must make sure that nobody else could possibly overhear what you’re trying to tell (and find out) from your conversation partner. If you do happen to overhear someone else being crass and obvious about their suit, you are well within your right to pause in your chit-chat, tap them on the shoulder, and explain to them gently, but clearly, how embarrassed they should be about speaking of private matters so openly.

After a minute or so – maybe more, maybe less, according to the number of players – the dealer will again call out “mingle!”. Everyone must find a new partner to talk with. The dealer will continue to encourage the players to mingle, until everyone has had a chance to talk with everyone else at least once, and this may go on for fifteen minutes or so. When the dealer thinks that everyone has had their fun, they may say, “mates!”, at which point everyone should find their mate, and attempt to make their signal of intimacy once again.

Attempt? Oh, yes. In the course of mingling and attempting to allude to your true nature – the suit of your card – you may very well run into someone who shares your suit. This person is your secret lover, and you must try to express your covert relationship with them. If at all possible, when you find a secret lover, you should attempt to share your signal of intimacy with them, and if they recognize that you are doing that, they will try to share theirs with you, as well. If you happened to notice what the original couples were doing with each other in their initial conversations, you may be able to recognize this immediately. Once you’ve done this, attempt to discreetly establish a new, secret signal of intimacy with your lover. This should be something that will be recognizable across a room, but only to the two of you. Inevitably, you will be separated, but you may try to reconnect as many times as is feasible in the brief course of the game.

Public intimacy between secret lovers is not without its dangers, of course. While mingling, people should be aware of who their mates are talking to, and what they’re doing. If they see that your mate is sharing your private intimacy signals with someone else, it’s a good chance that they’re carrying on behind your back! Do not say anything. Maybe it was nothing. Maybe you should try to reconnect with them the next time mingling is called for. Are they going back to the same person? Are they acting funny with them now? Be cool. Wait until the dealer calls “mates!” – if they try to use your private signal with you now, after they’ve done it with someone else, you are well within your right to brush them away or glare at them, to let them know that you’re on to their shenanigans.

After allowing the couples to check in with each other, the dealer should ask for pairs of people to turn in their cards. If your partner has discovered your perfidy and brushed aside your intimacy, you’d probably be best off turning in with your secret lover, if possible. If you’ve been cuckolded, you probably don’t want to turn in your card with the person who’s been sneaking around behind your back. Maybe you’ve got a secret lover of your own – you may turn to them, and see if they’d like to turn in with you. Unless they haven’t been caught out by their mate, of course. Then it might be best to just exchange your secret signals, swallow your pride, and go with the one who brought you. You may not win as hard as the pairs that remained true to each other, but at least you won’t be turning in alone.