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Tom Pinch

Tom Pinch at the Organ:
illustration by "Phiz" from Charles Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit

I created "Like the Dickens" for two or more players in an effort to "game-ify" a fascination with how words follow each other to form meaning. I don't know if this game accomplishes that goal (I'm not even exactly sure what I mean in that first sentence -- except perhaps style?), but Like the Dickens is fun to do, regardless.

It is another of my games where a scoring method exists, but where you may enjoy the activity enough that you don't really care who wins. Try it out and let me know what you think.

All you need is paper and pencils for everyone, and a book by Charles Dickens. Actually, any kind of great literature will do -- poetry works quite well here, especally sonnets -- as long as it has sections that are sure to be unfamiliar to all of the players.

One person is selected to be Reader and is given the book. The other players are given paper and pencils for notes and score keeping. Their goal is to guess each consecutive word in a random passage.

To begin, the Reader selects a random spot in the book and reads three consecutive paragraphs aloud to the other players. This gives them a feel for the style, mood and setting of the passage. The Reader then tells what part of speech the next word is (i.e. noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, article, conjunction, or preposition -- if in doubt, look it up in a dictionary) and also, how many letters it has. The other players write down that number of dashes on their scratch paper.

The person to the left of the Reader gets one try to guess the word. If he is wrong, the Reader tells everyone what the first letter of the word is, and the next player tries to guess. With each wrong guess, the Reader reveals the next letter in the word until someone guesses correctly, or the end of the word is reached.

The score for a correct guess is the number of empty dashes still left.

The Reader then tells the part of speech and number of letters in the next word. The player who guessed the previous word (if it was guessed -- otherwise, the next player in line) gets to have the first guess at the next word, and play continues as before.

A game with three or more players can retain the same reader throughout the game, or a passage length can be agreed upon (say, 20 or 30 words) as a point at which to switch Readers (giving every player the chance to be Reader). A two player game would need to use the latter form. The player with the most points at the end wins.

Sonnets work well for scoring in this game because of their uniform length. The Reader does not need to read any of the sonnet aloud beforehand. Just start with the first word of the sonnet. One can do just the first four lines of a sonnet, or all 14 lines depending on how long everyone wants to play. Since sonnets have a definate structure, changing Readers is easy to keep track of. This also ensures that everyone has an equal chance.

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