Dialect at Chicago Gameday 49
On Saturday I played Dialect with Joe Beason, Willow Palecek, Tim Jensen, and Dave Michalak at Chicago Gameday 49.
tl;dr — I had overlooked this game when it was Kickstarting, but now I am totally sold.
The game is focused on discovering the language/jargon created by an isolated community and seeing what happens to that community and its language as it marches toward its demise. We played out a commune — “Home,” we called it — of anarcho-hippies who headed to Montana after Reagan took office in the ‘80s.
Willow and Dave played two of the founders: Bobby, a procurer-of-anything, and Virgil, a Timothy Leary type who was the creator of the community’s custom drugs. Tim and I were younger members, people who had been kids when he commune was founded but were now adults: Thoreau, an idealistic hopeful, and Joad (a.k.a. Jesus) a hard-line, self-proclaimed protector of the commune. Joe was a young woman, this first child born in the commune (and Virgil’s granddaughter), named Song; she began as a zealot, but eventually morphed into one of the most practical of all of us.
The arc of the community was the eventual creeping in of outsiders who would ultimately turn our commune into a Burning Man knockoff.
Play involves a deck of cards with various prompts that ask for both a word and the scene in which we feature it. As the game progresses through the “ages” of the community, the cards ask you to redefine or re-contextualize the existing words and reflect that in the story of the community.
Some of the words we created included: “turnpal,” meaning that despite the nonexistence of private property in the commune, this particular thing was “mine” for right now; “downtime,” a period of two weeks, which was roughly the span between Virgil’s batches of new drugs; “coming home,” i.e., a child being born; “brainsick,” meaning people who were questioning the ethos of the community; and “fortifying the perimeter,” i.e., when Joad would kill or injure outsiders to keep them away from the community.
All of the characters managed to live past the end of the community, ending up in old folk’s homes or just living normal lives back int he world, except for Joad, who was literally shot dead at the Downtime Festival (the only legacy of Home) after threatening all of the attendees and calling them fucking poseurs.
I really loved this game, and everyone at the table was totally “on”for the session. Dave’s portrayal of Virgil was particularly moving for me. The whole concept of telling a community’s story via it’s specialized language really resonated with me. It reminded me of games like Kingdom, but the added lens of the language-building prompts added a whole other level that I didn’t know I was missing.
I cannot recommend this game enough. I’m gonna go buy a copy right now!