May 20 2010

Game Poem 20: Monsieur Praslin’s Candy Shoppe


Kind old Monsieur Praslin is the proprietor of the greatest candy shop in town. This is not only on account of his superlative sweets, but because he is given to distributing free sweets to children who come to him with tales of what good little tykes they have been. That, and sometimes he is not as sharp-eyed as he used to be, and is not as quick to notice if little hands grab an extra handful or two! However, the finest and most coveted confectionery of all, the famous Praslin’s Praline, it sits upon the top shelf, and can only be obtained by the youngster who proves to be the most upstanding and precious among his or her peers – or the one who shows the most moxie and swipes more than their share!

This is a game poem for up to six players – the more the better! – who will play the parts of the children of the town. They have gathered at Monsieur Praslin’s Candy Shoppe, as they do every day, hoping to get their little fingers into his box of pralines. The children have no money, so they must ply friendly old Monsieur P. with their sweetness and good deeds. The candy is divided into four tiers: Praslin keeps the penny candy in the case up front, the finer sweets on the bottom shelf, the more elaborate chocolates and such on the middle shelf, and way up top is the shelf that holds his renowned pralines. For the game, these will be represented by four pools of different types of coins: a bunch of pennies for the penny candies, nickels for the bottom shelf, dimes for the middle shelf, and a single shiny quarter for the pralines at the top.

Play begins by one of the children turning to the person on his or her right – they will be playing the part of Monsieur Praslin for the moment – and telling them about something nice about themselves, or something good that they have done recently. Perhaps they were kind to an animal, or did well in school, or treated their siblings or parents especially nicely today. Whatever it is, M. Praslin will commend them for it – “What a good little girl!” – and let them take their choice of one of the penny candies. The player then takes a penny from the pile representing the front case and puts it in front of them. What kind of candy is it? Tell us! Now the person who just played Monsieur Praslin takes their turn – they tell the player on their right about their virtue and courtesy, and receive a penny for themselves. Play continues around like this until each of the children has spoken of their merit and received their first piece of candy.

Now, Monsieur Praslin may be a soft touch, but he is no fool. Once a little one has a bit of candy in their little hands, it takes a bit more to get him to hand out another. Again, going around the circle of children, each player may attempt to sweet-talk Praslin into giving them one more from the case of penny candy, but they will need their friends to back up their claims of goodness. For each penny that a player has in front of them, they must convince another one of the children to aver that the even greater worthiness that they claim is indeed the honest truth. So, if young Thomas has managed to get two pieces of penny candy already, and claims that he brought a hot meal to the old woman on his street who lives all alone, two of the other players – perhaps Fredrick and Yvette? – must raise their hands and swear that Thomas is in fact the little angel that he would seem to be.

But what of the better candies, the ones on the higher shelves behind the counter? What of the fudge bon-bons, and chocolate turtles, and maple snowmen, and sour spotted frogs? Well, as you might rightly guess, a child can turn in a number of lesser candy to “purchase” the greater ones. A player may turn in five pennies to the shop to receive their choice of sweets from the nickel shelf, they may trade ten cents worth of candy for something from the dime shelf, and if they manage to scrape together twenty-five cents worth of confections, they can achieve the apogee of treats, the Praslin Praline! The first child to do so wins the game, of course, but they may very well need more than the help of their friends.

Firstly, you will notice that with a maximum of six children – for that is all that can fit inside Monsieur Praslin’s small shop – even with the absolute cooperation of all present, a child may only be given up to six free penny candies, and even that seems like an unlikely proposition. And, of course, the same rules apply to the candies higher up on the shelves, only more so! If a child already holds one or more pieces of nickel candy, they must receive the testament of two of their little friends for each of them if they are to be given another! And if they are lucky enough to be given a sweet from the dime shelf, then four of their chums must back up their goodness to be presented with a second, and even then, they had better have a story of saving the local schoolhouse from burning down, or something of that magnitude!

So what is a hungry child with a sweet tooth for molasses and pecans to do? Well, as we all know, children are often not as honorable as they claim, and if they sneak an extra piece of candy now and then, what’s the harm? In short, players may steal candy from the good-natured old man. Any time that Monsieur Praslin turns or bends over or climbs his little ladder to get to a shelf of his wares, each child may attempt to help themselves to a bit from that shelf or lower. To do so, a player declares which shelf they are trying to pilfer from, and then throws all of the coins that they have collected. If there is at least one head showing on one of their coins from that shelf, then they may take a new piece of candy from that shelf! (Clearly, if they have no coins from a given shelf, they may not steal from it.) However, if no heads turn up on a coin from their declared shelf, they must discard every coin – of any kind! – that came up tails, and put them back into the piles. And, of course, suffer the disappointment of Monsieur Praslin, as he had thought you so honest and true.

Play continues around the circle, with the children spinning taller and taller tales of their benevolence and munificence, telling tales that verge on the heroic, all the while filling their pockets while the kind old shopkeeper has his back turned. The moment that someone has collected twenty-five cents worth of coins, they may declare that they have bought the coveted Praslin’s Praline! At that point, all of the children pour out of the front door of the shop, only to return the next day for more complimentary treats.

Don’t eat the pennies!

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.

Jan 6 2010

Game Poem 1: Stone and Feather

The game begins with three to six players sitting in a circle, or at a table. In the center, there is a single feather, and one small stone for each player. (If a feather or stones cannot be found, feel free to substitute as needed.)  Whoever has flown most recently will begin, and describe in one brief sentence what type of bird they are. What color are you? What are your eyes like? Are you large or small, sleek or clumsy, predator or prey? The only restriction here is that the bird must be able to fly.

Once everyone in the circle has described themselves briefly, the first player will take the feather from the center and describe his or her nesting place in a sentence or two – high in a tree? in a crag by the sea? deep in the desert? a post in the hunters’ camp? – and then tells the others what it is like to take to flight, to leave the nesting place and to go in search of something. You may be searching for food, a mate, someone to play with, a place to stretch your wings in the sun and wind, anything. After a moment, this bird will take a stone from the center and put it in front of themselves, and then pass the feather to another player who does not yet seek something. They will describe taking off in the same way, until every player has done this.

When every player has taken a turn describing taking off in search of something, the feather may next be passed to anyone who has a stone set in front of them. Any bird who receives the feather this way will then describe what they see below them as they fly. Take a few sentences and describe the landscape, or the sea beneath you, the quality of the air, the weather, the sensation of the wind flowing over and through you. Do you see people? Animals? Natural or man-made structures? Nothing? Nobody? Do you have a sense of what it is you seek yet? If you remember something that another bird described, or the one who passed you the feather, and that affects your description, marvelous. If not, that is also fine. After a moment, this bird will pick up its stone, and pass the feather to another player who still knows that they seek something by the stone in front of them. They will describe their flight in the same way, until every player does this.

When every player is holding their stone, the bird who holds the feather places it back in the center, and pauses for a moment. Look around at the other players, and choose one to place your stone in front of. That bird will take a couple of sentences to briefly describe what ends their flight. Do they find the thing they sought after? Do they return to their nesting place, or is their flight interrupted terribly? Do they find something new to search for, or are they contented? If they remember something that another bird described, or the one who passed them their stone, and that affects their description, wonderful. If not, that is also fine. After a moment, that bird’s story is over. They look at the other players, and choose one who still holds a stone in their hand, but has no stone in front of them, and places their stone in front of them. They will describe the end of their flight in the same way, until the every player does this, and every player has a stone in front of them again.

Take a moment, and one by one, each player will choose to return their stone to the center alongside the feather, or keep it with them. If they wish to take a sentence to explain their choice, they may, but it is not required. When everyone has chosen, give the feather to one player. They will begin the next game, next time. Leave the stones where they lie.