Justice Playthrough #100: Purplest Prose

Why is it competitive?

Page 32, Game 12: Purplest Prose by Pammu

You and your friends are all trashy romance writers, collaborating to produce some trashy romance. Everybody will roll-up the two leads and a basic premise based on the chart on the second (final) page of the rules, and pitch their “idea.” Players will decide as a group which one they want to run with. Then, writing!

The game will go through multiple rounds, covering various pieces of the story — character introductions, first meeting, when do they fall in love, when do they first bang, etc. Players have two minutes to write their version of this section on a notecard. All notecards are passed to the Editorial Assistant (a rotating position who must sit out of the fun part each round), who will then read all the submissions and choose which one to add to the story. Whoever wrote the winning entry gets a little token, a new player becomes the Editorial Assistant, and play proceeds until the novel is complete! Whoever gets the most tokens wins.

I have no doubt that the person who created this game played it and had a lot of fun with it. So when I say that it’s “insanely underdeveloped,” please know that I’m not trying to imply that they didn’t bother playtesting it at all. I’m sure they did, and I’m sure they and their friends had a lovely time. I’m sure they then said “Hey, we had a great time, let’s write down these rules and call it done!” and moved on.

No, the reason I’m calling this game insanely underdeveloped — and it is INSANELY underdeveloped — is I get the feeling they stopped trying to find the BEST version of this game very quickly. This feels like an extremely early iteration of the core idea. I see so many problems here, problems that could have — and should have — both come out and been fixed with more playtesting.

First, why is it competitive? Each round, only one person’s section will be added to the finished work. You’re basically simulating the experience of submitting fiction to a slushpile and waiting for a response. I used to be a semi-pro writer; that shit is NOT FUN. It’s frustrating. It sucks. This game very much depends on having a table full of players who are all of roughly equivalent writing skills. If there’s a really striking skill disparity present, I would expect some players to have a really shitty time as their work gets rejected over and over in favor of what their more polished friends produce.

I imagine the rules saying to develop a writer persona are meant to mitigate that; your friends aren’t rejecting YOUR writing, they’re rejecting the writing of Frank Wierzboski, a former construction worker who turned to writing cuz he’s been going a bit stir crazy collecting workman’s comp all day after he fucked-up his back on the job. (“He pounded her like a pneumatic hammer being operated by a teenager with insufficient training.”) It’s a good idea — and one that’s completely undeveloped, meriting only a couple of throwaway paragraphs. Why not flesh that out a bit more? Maybe even add a THIRD page to the rules?

But even then, why does only one player’s contribution get immortalized each round? And why does one player need to sit out of the fun bit each time? Instead, why not make it more like Writey Drawey?

For the uninitiated, Writey Drawey (also known as “Eat Poop You Cat”) is my wife’s favorite party game. All you need is a whole fuckton of index cards and some pens. You make a stack of seven cards for each player. At the start of the game, everybody writes a simple phrase on the top card, and passes the stack to the left. Then, each player looks at that phrase, puts the card on the bottom, draws a picture meant to represent that phrase, and passes the stack to the left. Then, each player looks at the picture, puts the card on the bottom, writes down the phrase they think that picture was supposed to represent, and passes the stack to the left. And thus the cycle continues. Once all the stacks are complete, players take turns revealing the full chains of madness that they as a group have just created.

The great thing about this game is that even though drawing is an integral part of it, the game levels the playing field. Skill is optional. Crude stick figures may struggle to convey as much meaning as better-drawn pics, but they can be just as funny — if not even funnier.

Also, Writey Drawey has no formally declared winner. It doesn’t need one. It’s effectively a co-op game where the goal is to make each other laugh. Spoiler: you’re probably all gonna win.

I feel like there’s a version of Purplest Prose that learns some lessons from Writey Drawey and, instead of creating ONE novel, creates SEVERAL, one for each player at the table. EVERYBODY’S initial pitch gets accepted. Then, everybody writes down the first section (“Introduce Character A”) on the first card. They they hand their stack to another writer, who reads what they’ve written and writes the next section themselves (“Introduce Character B”). Everybody’s contributions, no matter how wretched, are added to a finished product. Everybody gets to play, nobody has to sit the round out. At the end of the game, everybody reads the finished products to the table. I’m willing to be they’ll be disjointed, wretched, and hilarious.

So, during the game, who do you hand the cards to? Do you just give ’em to the player on your left, or is there some way to mix it up more than that? And how far back are players allowed to read? Surely they need to know the core characters and concept, but are they allowed to read EVERYTHING that’s come before? Or is that part of the game — you need to quickly skim what other people have written, because the clock is ticking and you need to get YOUR shit written down?

I honestly don’t know. That’s why you take ideas like this, and playtest them. You see what works best. You see what problems emerge, and come up with ways to solve them that keep everybody having a good time. You see what’s the MOST fun. This is how you develop a game.

This is what Purplest Prose needed to become more than a cool idea for a game. There’s a fun little writing exercise here, and I have no doubt that if you have the right circle of friends, you’d have a good time with it. But I have no confidence that this represents the best game that could be derived from this exercise.

But what the hell, the charts on the second page of the rules have some work behind them. They might be a solid starting point if you wanted to take a crack at making that game yourself.

All right, up next … is going to be something planned.

100 reviews. That merits a bit of a retrospective, not just another dice roll.