A New Twist On Balderdash

By Danny Sichel: Recently, I devised a game for fans that can be played at cons and club meetings. It requires only paper, pencils, and at least four people, of whom one has a broad knowledge of SF and/or is willing to do research beforehand. At the February 2018 meeting of MONSFFA (the Montreal Science Fiction / Fantasy Association), we playtested it.

As I described it at the beginning of the game:

You may have noticed that the meeting program says we’ll be playing Balderdash. This is not the case. To start with, I’ll explain the rules of Balderdash, which we will not be playing.

If we were playing Balderdash – which we are not – I would have a deck of vocabulary cards, which would all have strange weird peculiar uncommon words. I would read you one of the words, but not the definition; you would all invent definitions, write them down, hand them in to me. I would read them all out loud – including the real one. Each of you would then pick which one you think is real. If you choose the right answer, you get a point – and if you choose someone else’s answer, they get a point. So you’re incentivized to be not just creative and insightful, but also plausible.

Or, at least, that would be the case if we were playing Balderdash. Which we’re not. Because rather than obscure words… we are using the titles of science fiction and fantasy stories. I’ll give you the title, and you have to write down a synopsis of what you think that story is about.

Remember, stories can be about the weirdest damn things… and the meanings of the titles are not always obvious. But then again, sometimes they are.

One of the fun parts of this game is the prep work: going through decades worth of anthologies and magazines and picking out stories based on their titles, and knowing the stories well enough that you can boil them down into a single sentence…. and then keep boiling. Go beyond simple, into simplistic. Describe something so blandly that pathos becomes bathos. Spoil the ending. Focus on a single minor aspect, to a ridiculous extent. Make something deep and serious sound trivial and silly.

How many stories can you identify among the crowds of impostors?

Results from our first game are on the MONSFFA site — “A Game that wasn’t Balderdash!”

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