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  Mechanic #213 - Playwright
Posted: Apr 25, 2016

Compete with other players to put on the best comedic skit and earn the adoration of critics and the audience.


Basically, this is a creative/performance game where players are expected to write and perform a skit. Given cards representing the actors and props in the skit, players formulate a beginning, middle, and end using these cards to please the audience. The player then performs the script for the other players who then reward him with audience members. At the end of the game, the player with the most audience members wins.

Think of it like Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity where the player has a limited pool of ideas from which they select the best they can from what they have in an effort to please the player judge.

At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt a SKIT card, which describes a scene in general detail, along with the required ACTORS and PROPS necessary. For instance, you may have a card that says:

    Dead Pet Skit

    A CUSTOMER enters a pet shop to return/exchange a dead PET he purchased there earlier. The PET SHOP OWNER refuses is uncooperative

    PET - Prop - ANIMAL

The minimum needed to perform this sketch is that the player must have a customer (with the STRAIGHTMAN trait), a pet show owner (SHOPKEEP), and a pet (with the ANIMAL trait). Play proceeds to the drafting phase.


There various elements that make up a scene are broken into various decks of cards that roughly correspond to actors and props. There are traits associated with each card, some of which are required by the sketch (like ANIMAL) and some which are used in scoring (a parrot may have the traits EXOTIC and COLORFUL).

These cards are broken into macro categories, such that all the ANIMAL props are in a deck, all the VEHICLE props are in a deck, and all of the THING props are in a deck. So when a player is looking for an ANIMAL prop, he can simply go to the deck that just has animals.

Actors are broken down by gender, so there is a male deck and a female deck. Each actor card has a picture of the actor and all the keyword traits, and they tend to be rather generic stand ins. Also included in these decks are special character cards. Characters actor cards represent recurring characters that audiences love, like the "this is all too silly" general from Monty Python. Each character card can be used in any position that it has the keywords for, but also comes with a catchphrase which must be worked into the performance. Character actors are generally worth more points, but require more effort to use.

For the card drafting, it really isn't super important how it is done, but I think it should be limited enough that players can't just outright select the actors they want (and have to make do), but can go back to the well enough times that they can keep looking for inspiration if they aren't finding it.

I think a simple Poker-like system where each player takes turns drawing up to 5 cards from whatever decks he wants, and can discard a number of cards the next round to dawn back up to 5 cards. Maybe players can trade or auction off particularly useful cards they don't want to increase their hand size or something. Perhaps some sort of race condition where players who perform first get more points, causing players to worry about the difference between perfect and good enough.


Once a player has enough cards to perform the sketch, he does. For instance, the dead pet skit can be seen different ways. A customer is trying to return a defective pet or perhaps the customer is the one who killed the pet and is trying to get a refund because it only lasted a few hours. Whatever the case, the player has to build a setup and punchline from the actors and props he has and perform it for other players.

Players are not limited only to the required actors/props. As long as the player can naturally insert them into the sketch he is performing, he can include as many as he has in his hand - but he can only use what he has. He cannot introduce another character that he doesn't have an actor for, or use a prop he doesn't have the card for.

Other players can attempt to sabotage a performance. Hidden in the actor/prop decks are sabotage cards that the player can play during another player's sketch. These do various things like force the player to come up with a different punchline, force the player to integrate a specific catchphrase, or replace his animal prop with the top card on the animal prop deck (your parrot is now a giraffe).

  Pleasing the Audience

After the performance is over, it is time to find out how the sketch pleased the audience. In the middle of the table are a random selection of critic cards that have various requirements for their approval, usually based on keyword attributes. For instance, one critic might like EXOTIC ANIMALS and is given to the sketch which includes the most cards with EXOTIC and ANIMAL keyword traits. Another critic might be a huge fan of a particular character, so his card is given to any sketch that features that character (I just love that "nudge nudge" guy). Some critics will have numerous requirements, listed in order of preference (if there are no EXOTIC ANIMAL sketches, then the critic goes to sketches with the nudge nudge guy).

Some critics require a player vote to be given out, like audience choice or best sabotage save. The players vote whom to give the card to, with ties resulting in nobody getting it.

Each player also has a selection of ten audience members that they can give to other players at their discretion. They must give away all ten audience members by the end of the game, so there's no point keeping them. They can be given out to the sketches the player likes most, or given out of pity, or just thrown up in the air and whomever catches it gets to keep it. Whatever goes, so long as the 10 audience members end up in the scoring pile for the other players.

Each critic and audience member is worth a number of points, and the player with the most number of critics and audience members in his pocket at the end of the game is the winner.

So, critic cards are selected at random and placed on the table at the start of the game (the players know what the critic criteria are before they craft their performance), while audience members are given out at the discretion of the players and each player has an identical selection.

  Conceptual Notes

This idea was originally much more complicated and involved than what is written here, but it became unwieldy because of it. Instead of performing a skit, it was a trick taking card game about finding all the resources necessary to put on a play, with a MadLibs style script reading of each scene at the end. The audience rewards were the same though. I ultimately decided to take it more in an Apples to Apples direction to create a sort of party experience, but that's why it is called "Playwright".



Copyright 2007-2014 Sean Howard. All rights reserved.