It’s another catch-up entry. This time, I’m going to focus on my entry for Game Chef 2018, “Cardenio.” I was delighted to see that it made it to the finals. I’m going to repost it here in its entirety, but this time it’ll have director’s commentary.
First, what is Game Chef? (No connection to Uranium Chef)
From their website:
History – Game Chef is an annual design competition for “analog” (non-electronic) games, challenging participants to write a playable draft of an original game in just over one week, based on a theme and a set of “ingredients.”
This was this year’s theme:
2018 Theme: Lost Stories
People have been telling stories for as long as our species has been around, but the vast majority were not recorded, and have been lost to us. For example, Aeschylus’s play Psychostasia (Weighing of the Souls) was popular when it was performed in the fifth century BCE. But today, only three words (blunt, speedwalking, and sheepskin) remain. Games are a major source of lost stories today. A single game may generate thousands of stories as it is played by different groups. But the adventures of the characters at the table usually disappear as they happen unless the players make a special effort to record their session.
This year, we ask you to think about the concept of lost stories as you design your game. Why are some stories lost, and others are not? How are we affected when stories are lost? Might losing certain stories be a good thing? What would happen if we recovered a story we had thought was lost?
2018 Ingredients: blunt, speedwalking, sheepskin, weigh
And now, the entry:
by Dave Seidman-Joria
DJ: If the name looks slightly different, it’s because I recently got married.
A game of choosing sides for 4-12 players
Premise – Players will be crafting a Shakespeare-inspired play one scene at a time. In any given scene, one player will be restricted in what answers they provide.
Backstory – Of all the plays Shakespeare wrote, only 37 have survived. However, scholars are delighted by the recent discovery of a chest containing the script to Shakespeare’s 38th play: the missing work Cardenio.
DJ: This is actually based on a real story: there was a lost play called Cardenio, which at least one publisher attributed to being co-written by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare. Scholars have no idea what the plot is, but a. Cardenio is the name of a character in Don Quixote, b. Fletcher liked stealing plots from Cervantes, and c. Shakespeare liked stealing plots from… well, everyone… it could have been the TALE OF DON QUIXOTE RETOLD WITH SHAKESPEARE’S WIT. To find out more, read the Wikipedia page. Also, to read a fictional account of what it might have included, Jasper Fforde included some snippets in his novel, “Lost in a Good Book” (I can’t recommend the series enough.)
However, it is not a complete script; the chest contains only a selected number of “sides” (i.e. the lines for a specific character). The surviving sides were written for the notoriously picky actor Devin Twinshire, who insisted that all his sides be written on durable sheepskin parchment (while all the other sides, written on paper, have since crumbled). Devin was a versatile actor; he seemed to have played a number of characters in multiple different scenes, and thus we have the lines for at least one character per scene.
DJ: Devin is fictional. I don’t know for a fake if sheepskin/vellum is more durable than paper, more of a sneaky way to include the “sheepskin” ingredient. However, in the days before mimeographs, to save time, the production time would give actor papers that had only their own lines and cues. So, the idea that only ONE actor’s part would survive is not unheard of. This was also an anti-theft tactic, as copyright laws were law or nonexistent at the time. Case in point, the Quarto 1 edition of Hamlet is a paraphrased mess, likely pirated with the help of the actor playing Marcellus (as his lines are the only accurate ones in the piece!)
- Writing utensils
- Safe, Blunt Weapons (ex. foam swords)
- Costumes / Props / Hats
- An area of free space (designated as “the stage”)
Before starting the game, prepare the document that one of the actors will be reading from; this is called the Sheepskin. To create this, do the following:
Make a set of cards with, the following:
- 3 x “Yes, and…”
- 1 x “Nay, because…”
- 1x “I propose…”
- 1 x “Let me be blunt…”
DJ: In improv fashion, you want to have more “Yes” than “no”; if you had equal number of yes and nos, the action would constantly be one step forward, one back. “I propose” gives the Sheepskin holder a chance to act instead of merely react. “Let me be Blunt” is a vague one that gives the performer more flexibility, but also leads easily into a revelation, an insult, or the closing of a scene, any of which can make the action move along.
On a sheet of paper, write 1 on the first line, 2 on the second line, and so on, until you reach 19.
Shuffle the 6 cards, and reveal the top card, and write what it says on the first line. (Ex. If the first card you draw says, “Nay because…”, write “Nay because…” on line 1 of the sheet.)
Continue drawing the six cards and writing out the lines until the stack of cards is depleted (which should be after line 6). Next, shuffle the cards, and continue drawing and transcribing (writing lines 7-12). Shuffle again after line 12, transcribe 13-18.
On line 19, and write the stage direction “[Speedwalking],” and add the phrase, “Make haste, for…”
As an example, here is a premade script.
- I Propose…
- Yes, and …
- Yes, and …
- Let me be blunt …
- Nay, because…
- Yes, and…
- Let me be blunt …
- I Propose…
- Nay, because…
- Yes, and…
- Yes, and…
- Yes, and…
- Yes, and…
- Nay, because…
- Let me be blunt …
- I Propose…
- Yes, and…
- Yes, and…
- [Speedwalking] Make haste, for…
DJ: If you only have note cards and no long sheets of paper, I theorize you could do it with only 6 notecards Personally, I would want it to be a bit more organic; once you’re in the flow of the story, you don’t want to shuffle cards around. Also, it’s easier to gauge when the scene is over, and to pace yourself.
Lastly, create a small set of scene cards. These consist of a Beginning Scene card, an Final Scene card, and any number of middle scene cards.
Beginning Scene: In which someone complains about a problem.
Final Scene: In which someone is married or someone dies.
We encourage players to create their own middle scene cards, even so far as penciling their own 3 seconds before a scene. Here are some suggestions:
- In which a bond is formed / bond is broken.
- In which a new problem is introduced / old problem escalates.
- In which a plan is created.
- In which an existing plan is executed or people try to thwart a plan.
- In which a lie is told.
- In which 2+ people fight over something they both want.
On a separate sheet, have players collaborate on a cast of 5-10 characters (at least one per player, with a few spare). Each character consists of a Name and a few words of description (ex. attitude, status, connection to another character). Here is a premade sheet:
- Cardenio – Mercurial son of a noble
- Hossberry – Cardenio’s greedy servant
- Lucinda – Innocent and beloved maiden
- Don Fernando – Young Duke and rival for Lucinda’s affection
- Theodora – Don Fernando’s pragmatic ex-fiancée
- Don Xavier – A senile but virtuous old knight
- Sadwell – Don Xavier’s lazy peasant squire
- Signor Claudius – Cardenio’s loving but ambitious father
- Servant / Messenger – Any number of servants, messengers, and various nameless helpers.
DJ: Cardenio, Lucinda, Don Fernando, and Theodora are all straight out of Don Quixote, along with their mixed up love triangle. Don Xavier and Sadwell are my nods to Quixote and Sancho, albeit with their names changes (as Willy Shakes would likely do). Hossberry and Claudius are new characters, based on stock characters Shakespeare used a lot.
(If players want, they can create name tags for each character as they switch in and out – a notecard and a binder clip is often all you need. Alternatively, assign a specific costume piece, like a character or a scarf to each character.)
Gameplay is taken one scene at a time. A scene consists of one two or more players each picking a character and acting in that scene as that character. In any given scene, one of the players uses the Sheepskin (we recommend that Cardenio carry it in the first scene). This player is called the sheepskin-holder.
Using the Sheepskin: Players who are not holding the sheepskin may act and talk like normal, acting out the scene as their character without restrictions. (They are not required to speak in full Shakespearen verse, but the occasionally “thee” and “thy” does spice things up.)
The sheepskin-holder will act the scene with them, but is restricted in what they say; each of their lines* must start with the same words as the corresponding line on the page.
[*Note: For the sake of this game, a “line” consists of a sentence of any length, and any immediately following sentences. A line ends when the speaker pauses for a period of a few seconds, or another player says something.]
- Ex. If the first line on the sheepskin is, “1. I Propose…,” the player must start their first spoken sentence with, “I propose,” and continue on with the sentence. After they are done talking, the sheepskin-holder moves their finger to the next number on the sheet; it says, “2. Yes, and ….” The next time the sheepskin-holder speaks a line, they must start by saying, “Yes, and…”
It is important that the sheep-skinner holder doesn’t just say “Yes, and” and stop abruptly. They are required to continue the line to best of their ability. This happens in several ways, depending on the line.
- “Yes, And” – If the line starts with, “Yes, and…” they must add something new, such as a new idea or an escalation of the current idea.
Ex. Player 1: The duke is the worst.
Cardenio: Yes, and… we should rise up against him!
Player 1: Woah! Are you mad?
Cardenio: Yes, and… will be intentionally drive myself madder still, so that the duke will be afraid to face me!
- “Nay, because…” – The character will reveal why they are against a notion. (Although, it is best if the player can include in their line a condition which, if met, they would agree to.)
Ex. Player 1: Are you going to propose to Lucinda?
Cardenio: Nay, because… there is no way she would agree to marry such a man as I, without any fortune.
Player 1: Hmm. What if I told you there was a fast way to make you rich?
- “I propose…” – The sheepskin-holder must do their best to introduce a new idea. (Or in the case of a romantic scene, they might literally propose to another character!)
- “Let me be blunt…” – The sheepskin-holder’s character must reveal their true feelings. This may, of course, risk of offending another character (this is actually recommended, as hurt feelings lead to interesting scenes!)
ENDING A SCENE
The scene continues until the sheepskin-holder reaches the last line on his sheet, #19.
- 19. “Make haste, for…” – At this line, they explain where people are going, why they must hastily leave (speedwalking), and what they will attempt to do between the scenes.
Ex. “Make haste, for … we have only hours before the wedding starts, and we must prepare our disguises!”
Starting the next scene:
The players will then return to the stage and present another scene. The sheepskin is handed off to someone else.
- No player should have the sheepskin two scenes in a row.
- No character will have the sheepskin two scenes in a row. (I.e. if players are switching characters).
- The player either starts again on Line 1, or picks a random line between 1 and 4 to start with.
Other rules to keep in mind when starting the new scene:
- If some players sat out during the first scene, make sure to trade out as many players as possible.
- Be sure to switch out or add a new character from one scene to the next.
- It is recommended to have only 2-4 characters in a scene at time (unless you are presenting the Final Scene, or players are representing a mass of people, like an angry mob or a pirate crew).
Improv Rules Apply – Improv Theatre rule applies, particularly:
- Once a fact is established, it is true; other players cannot deny it or instantly remove it (Ex. If a character declares another character is sick with the vapors, the other character truly has the vapors.)
- Players should work together to further a cooperative story, rather than focus on their own ideas argue or “waffle” over story directions. (The only one allowed to say “no” to ideas is the sheepskin holder, who is sometimes required to by the script!)
- And most importantly, RESPECT SAFETY AND CONSENT – Even if you are in character, respect other players before grabbing or touching them. Even when fighting with blunt, foam weapons, be careful of people’s faces. If any player calls to stop, all players should immediately stop.
Q1. Can the sheepskin-holder skip lines?
A1. No,* they must read through each line. If it makes no sense (i.e. they argue to something, and then disagree, and then agree again), then it is best to play it off as indecision, or via asides (see below).
Q2. Can the sheepskin-holder telegraph what their next line is?
A2. No!* It’s more fun if the scene partners have no clue what the sheepskin-holder’s next response will be.
*The Exception – The only times that sheepskin-holder can skip lines or telegraph lines is with the LAST line in the scene, i.e. “19. Make haste, for…”
- Skipping – if the sheepskin-holder feels like the scene is over (i.e. something interesting has happened that furthers the story, and there’s a lag in the conversation), they can skip to last line, “19. Make haste, for…”, bringing the scene to an early close.
- Telegraphing – if the sheepskin-holder has reached the end of the sheet, but the scene is still continuing, they can give the other players a sign to wrap up the scene. The sheepskin-holder should give the other players about a minute to finish their thoughts and wrap up any loose ends before providing the, “Make haste, for…” line, officially closing the scene.
Switching Characters – Players are allowed to switch characters out in-between scenes (and even during them, sometimes). However, we recommend that once a player portrays a character in a scene, no other players can portray that character for the rest of the scene (without that player’s insistence).
Sarcasm – The Sheepskin-holder has to agree with every line in the sheepskin. It is possible that a player may want to use sarcasm, (i.e. saying, “yes, and…” but in such a way that they really MEAN “no.”) This is definitely allowed, but we encourage players not to rely on this too heavily; part of the fun is going with the crazy script, rather than undermining it. A good way to regulate this is the “Sassy Friend” rule below.
- The Sassy Friend rule – if a character ends up using sarcasm a LOT in a scene (ex. for at least a third or a half of their lines), allow them to officially add the description “Sarcastic” to the character’s description. (Ex. “Lucinda – Innocent and beloved AND SARCASTIC maiden”). This allows the character to use sarcasm without any restriction. However, the number of players/characters who are allowed to be “Sarcastic” is limited; this can be capped at one Sarcastic character per player, or 2-3 Sarcastic characters total. Once the cap is reached, no other characters can use sarcasm at all.
Note: Only the sheepskin-holder is cautioned against using sarcasm. The other players may use as much as they want.
Asides – The sheepskin dictates what the character openly agrees to during the scene; however, it doesn’t always dictate what the character is actually thinking. We recommend that the holder of the Sheepskin be encouraged to speak to the audience, providing thoughts that the other characters cannot hear; this is called in theatre and “aside.” In an aside, a character can explain their true feelings, and explain away any discrepancies in the character’s objectives and the dialogue.
- Ex. The duke Don Fernando proposes to Cardenio that they murder Cardenio’s father (and Cardenio loves his father dearly). Cardenio notices his next line is “Yes, and ___”, which the actor feels doesn’t make sense. Before Cardenio reads off the next scripted “yes” and offers to go along with the plan, Cardenio says in an aside to the audience, “I’ll play along with them for now, until I know more of their plot.” Players can also give asides AFTER a line, to justify retroactively.
- Note: Any player may give asides, not just the sheepskin-holder.
Combat and Death – Characters can die in the middle of the play (that’s what the blunt weapons are for!) However, the following rules apply:
- All fights must begin with a declaration, such as, “Have at thee,” or a similar call to action. The challenger must give the challenged player ample time to obtain and draw a weapon. Any character who attacks another without such a challenge (Ex. stabs someone in the back) can still emerge victorious, but their character will be brandished a coward and a treacherous knave by all other characters.
- Players should talk while fighting with foam weapons. Combat is over once of the players mutually decide which should be injured; this is normally signaled by a player intentionally leaving themselves open to an attack for an extended period, or “piercing” themselves on their opponent’s blade.
- If players disagree over which character should die in a fight, have them play rock-paper-scissors to decide who lives and who dies. If a fight goes on for more than a minute, any player (not just those fighting), can proclaim, “Finish it,” forcing the players to move to rock-paper-scissors.
- Players can kill each by other means (such as poison), but they must declare they have poisoned an item in an aside BEFORE someone consumes it. Players can only consume a poisoned item with their consent (NO FORCE FEEDING).
- Multiple characters may die in a single scene. However, each PLAYER may only initiate one death per scene (except for the Final scene). Similarly, we recommend capping the total number of deaths to a total of X, where X is the number of players, at least until the Final scene. (This does not include nameless servants, who can die by the droves).
- If a character is poisoned or mortally wounded, they are not required to stop talking; they can talk, just like any healthy character, until the end of the scene or until they choose to die, whichever comes first.
- If a player has one of their character’s die (outside of the Final scene), they may create a new character. Before starting the next scene, take a small break to give time for the player to create a new character; they have first dibs on playing it. Alternatively, the player may have their character come back as an incorporeal ghost, and can choose which characters can and cannot hear the apparition!
The Final Scene
Once enough scenes have been played out (generally between 4-10), the players should agree whether or not to begin the Final scene. Once the majority of players are in consensus, it begins.
A few reminders and a few new rules:
- All players should be included to be in the scene – however, we recommend only 3-5 players start the scene. After the first few minutes, the rest of the players will trickle in a few at a time.
- By the end of the Final scene, a character will be married or a character will die (maybe one of each!) However, no one may be killed or married until all players have had a chance to come into the scene.
- If the sheepskin-holder reaches line 19, they still cry, “Make Haste!”; however, if it doesn’t make sense for the scene to end, or not all players have been included in the scene yet, the scene is not over and no one permanently exits. Instead:
o The current sheepskin-holder explains in character why time is short; all characters must pick up the pace and go faster.
o The sheepskin-holder then gives the sheepskin to another player.
- Players may also exchange the sheepskin any number of times during the scene; they are not required to reach the last line but must read at least one line before giving it to another person. When handing off the script, the old holder may take no more than 3 seconds to show the next player where they left off in the script. If the new player cannot find the exact spot within 3 seconds, the new player must pick a new spot at random. (This discourages halting the scene to a stop after every switch).
After the game is over, each player should record one line that they remember from the game on a notecard; do not provide any context. The game owner should keep these lines with the rules as a memento (perhaps to add to a future Sheepskin).
There you have it, “Cardenio” is all of its glory! I have yet to playtest it, but I look forward to trying it soon. When I do, I’ll try to document it thoroughly and share it here.
Have you tried any Shakespeare or Improv inspired games? Let us know!