Game and story-shaped designs
Emergent Game Play in House of Whack
Last night I had some friends over to play House of Whack. Most of them had played the version that comes in the box, but I wanted to show them the version that comes *outside* the box. This was the version I had always wanted to play. It’s not something that can easily be explained in a manual as you really have to experience it firsthand due to its emergent, organic game play.
Before we set up, I asked each player to describe what made a game fun for them. Nick said he enjoyed player interaction. So I then asked for another player to take on the responsibility of making sure Nick had player interaction. Julia volunteered. Next, Jen said she really enjoyed being able to hoard money in a game. So Cory volunteered to introduce financial tension in the game. Jake liked games with bidding. Nick offered to oversee that aspect. In fact, when Julia said she wanted a game with multiple end goals, Nick made everyone bid for the right to manage that. Jake won by bidding two blue beads (at this point Cory had yet to reveal the value of any of the beads in play). Finally, Cory said he liked games where player actions had lasting ramifications. Jen took on the responsibility of making sure that element was in the game.
Everyone then chose a playing piece from a selection of D&D minis and HeroClix figures and placed them on the Start tile. I then said, “The rules say you start out with three Drama cards each, but what do YOU say?” The players proposed that everyone should get five cards instead, except for Nick, who got only two. He was outvoted.
I explained that the information printed on the cards should be used as a last resort, if the players had difficulty inventing an alternate purpose for a card. I said that the name of the card and the artwork were actually more important than any rules they might find there. Nick immediately played the Destiny card, but called it the “High 5″ card as it showed a hand on it. He announced that whenever two players high-fived, they got two gems. I pointed out that Nick had now made an offer to the other players. The players then had the opportunity to agree with this new “rule” or modify it. I discouraged outright vetoes.
The players began exploring the House. They decided to ignore the movement rules and say that you could use an Action to automatically move to an adjacent room. When a new room was revealed, I asked the player to tell everyone about the room and if there was anything special we should know about it. For instance, if someone entered the Clone Chamber, they had to face a horrific clone duplicate of themselves. One of my favorite inventions was the Whack Ball room. Nick decided that players could engage in a gladiatorial sport called “Sun Fighting.”Each player started with an arm extended above their head. You won the battle by pushing down on your opponent’s fist so that it went down past their shoulder. At one point, Nick and Cory got swallowed by the Dire Frog and discovered a room inside the Frog’s belly. But then Julia played the Impostor card and switched their position with Jake.
I should point out that Nick never chose a playing piece. It was discovered that Nick and Cory were somehow grafted together like conjoined twins. Wherever Cory moved, Nick was there too. This also gave each player access to the other’s Drama cards. When they tried to high five each other to gain 2 gems, the other players protested, saying it was actually just clapping, given their circumstances.
A few rooms were in play before Cory realized that he had no idea how to win. Jake, thinking of Julia’s desire for multiple end goals, proposed that there be multiple ways to win. This was put to a vote. Each player then came up with a way to win or end the game. So, in this instance of the game, a player could win by having the most money (but Julia could win if she had the least), or if they rode the Walking Room, or if they ever had 15 cards in their hand, or if they recovered all four of the Sacred Artifacts, or if there was no more room on the table for more room tiles, or if someone sang the best rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”
During this game, most of the action was in the Drama cards. Only about five rooms made it into play and about six Whack cards were drawn. The Guest cards were never used. Jen caused a tower to rise up in the middle of board. Jake used the Architect to build himself a tiny green house which allowed him to charge rent for anyone who landed in that room. And I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, but Jake sent an army of ninjas off to retrieve something that Jen was trying to steal, but they ended up getting destroyed in a war. Cory played the Scarf Trick card on Nick, who had recently taken up knitting and was literally knitting a scarf during the game. His trick was to instantly change his sad face to a happy face behind the scarf. It was one of those things where you had to be there to appreciate it. This applies for the entire play session too.
I was really happy with everyone’s inventiveness concerning the Drama cards. I felt that each of the players was able to tell an interesting story with their cards and make convincing cases for actions they were trying to perform.
The game ended when Nick entered The Gate and discovered the Walking Room, which he was able to ride. Jen won the game because she had the Hope card in her hand, which granted 10 Gold Hearts at the end of the game. Cory revealed that the hearts were indeed the most valuable currency in the game, worth much more than the red, blue and gold beads.
Overall, I couldn’t have been happier with how the game went. It was exactly how I imagined the game would be played. The actual “rules” that come with the game were rarely referred to. So hopefully this account will inspire you to try playing the game in a completely different way.