Verbal games

A game where you want other people to say your secret word

So I dreamed another game last night — not a larp, more of a cooperative parlour game kind of thing.

The way it works is — you go around the circle of players, each person in turn says a noun and performs some corresponding physical action, and together they make up a story.

So for example:

Person A: “Awakening” [stretches arms upwards, silently yawns]

Person B: “Coffee” [mimes sluggishly pouring cup, sipping, neurons firing]

Person C: “Commute” [hands on imaginary steering wheel]

… and so on, continuing around the circle. No noun should be used more than once.

What is the point of this? Well, before the start, each person secretly chooses a noun. If at any point during play another person uses that noun, then the chooser is out (they no longer take part in play).

They should not say anything at that point about being out — just, when it next comes to their turn, indicate that they are passing. (This could be changed, but it feels to me more fun this way.)

The communal aim is to get all but one of you((because once it gets down to one person, it’s not possible for them to get out, as one isn’t allowed to say one’s own secret word.)) out as quickly as possible, by choosing one’s own nouns so as to shape the story so as to encourage other players to use one’s secret word naturally during the course of the narrative.

Sadly I don’t think this would work as a game on general release, because it’s only enjoyable if everyone plays in a fair spirit — and this can’t be enforced by the rules. What I mean is: it’s not desirable if a player introduces a massive derail that weakens the story in order to steer it back towards their own word, but in practice it would be impossible to write a rule that codifies how much of a steer is ‘a fun new direction’ and how much is ‘breaking the story’.

The acting out of the noun is just for fun really: it’s not intended to be charades, just something that’s suggestive of the noun and hopefully entertaining to perform and to watch.

People might prefer to have everyone write down their secret word on a secret piece of paper at the start, to guard against cheating/forgetfulness.

That excellent game designer (and excellent person generally) Rei England suggests that a general theme for the story could be agreed in advance, to give people an idea of the kind of realm in which they should be choosing their secret words. I like this because hopefully it would also remove the temptation to massive derails.

There is also plenty of scope for rules-lawyering. I would say that (1) variations on your secret word (eg. plurals, inflections) are close enough; (2) a ‘noun’ is anything that can be plausibly and routinely used as a noun (which, in English, is very wide) — the main restriction on weird-ass nouned adverbs or whatever is probably the need for it to be accompanied by a corresponding physical activity.

Anyway so, welcome once again to the fertile world of my dreamscape. In the dream it was fun to play, but who knows if it would be in real life: I can imagine that it might go on forever with no-one ever hitting each other’s secret words. There might need to be a fallback for that.

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