The games people play: Cruel 2 B Kind

Yesterday, myself and Matt Biddulph went down to Dolores park to take part in playtesting Jane McGonigal and Ian Bogost‘s new game, Cruel 2 B Kind. It was the first time that the game’s been run, so we and five other teams of two were the guinea pigs.

The game is based on ‘Assassins’, and the idea is that you have a weapon, in this case a random act of kindness such as congratulating someone or blowing kisses at them, and a weakness such as having someone congratulate you or blow kisses at you. So you have to go round the park, using your weapon on anyone you suspect is in the game. If they look at you puzzled, then they’re not in the game. If they say ‘Oh, you’re too kind’, then they are in the game but you haven’t managed to assassinate them because your weapon doesn’t match their weakness. If they surrender, then you assimilate them into your team and get more points.

Matt and I had a bit of a chat about strategy before the game, which went something like:

“We’re British. We’re going to lose.”
“And it’ll be embarrassing to wander round a park doing… whatever it is we have to do.”
“We should try to be as conspicuous as possible, so that we can get assassinated as soon as possible, so that we’ll have more fun.”

However, I didn’t expect us to be assassinated quite as quickly as we did. Essentially, we sat around for about 10 mins, scoping the place out and looking for anyone else who was scoping the place out. Then we decided to go for a bit of a wander. Within a matter of seconds, a girl had come up to us and asked Matt what his camera was, and then congratulated him on it.

Of course, being British, Matt said “You’re too kind!”, which I’m pretty sure I’ve heard him say lots before, so the would be assassins started to slope off, knowing we were in the game but that they hadn’t killed us. Took me a second, but eventually I realised that a) they were in the game and that b) being congratulated was our weakness and that c) we’d have to confess to our deaths.

So our game lasted no time at all, but I have to admit, it was much more fun going round in a group blowing kisses at strangers than it was working in a pair wondering if we were going to be insulting people by doing same.

Eventually, we ended up with two marauding packs in a Mexican stand-off. We sat on picnic rugs playing Duck Duck Goose (a new game to me), and they lurked behind some trees trying to look inconspicuous and failing. Eventually, with only 10 mins to go, the other group rushed us – using a non-game playing couple with a dog as a decoy, and running straight out of the sun at us, deploying their final, fatal weapon. We were, essentially, kissed to death.

The game was, without doubt, fun. It was also a bit confusing. Much of the organisation, such as sign-up on the day and the deployment of weapons was done over SMS via email, which is new to us Brits as we don’t have that system in the UK. Phone funkiness (my old Treo doesn’t always announce that an SMS has come in) caused a bit of confusion, as did the rules.

I think you were supposed to all deploy your weapon at once to everyone in the opposing team, but when Matt and I were assassinated, I’m not sure the assassinating team did that. They congratulated him on his camera, but didn’t congratulate me on anything. I don’t know if that’s how it was supposed to work, or if congratulating one person in the team is enough.

It was, in fact, pretty hard to remember your weapons, your weaknesses and to remember that when you assimilated a team then you took on their weapon and kept your weakness, in order to ensure that the game can still be played (after all, you’ve just used up your weapon on their weakness, so theoretically you need their weapon in order to have any effect on anyone else). That was kinda hard to keep in mind in the heat of the moment, especially as we thought we added their weapon to the arsenal, rather than expiring ours and using theirs.

That confusion actually did have a significant effect on the outcome of the game. It turned out that being kissed to death wasn’t our weakness, so in the end, we should have won that final showdown.

It would have seemed churlish to argue these points at the time, though, as everyone was having a good time and no one was really all that bothered about winning. But I would say that the rules need either simplification or lots of clarification. The tech side of things – the text messages – also need to be clearer and more timely because they did get a bit confusing too.

This was, though, a test and we were there to help iron out wrinkles, so I really hope that Jane got enough info out of us to make the next game play more smoothly. I wish I was here next Sunday to take part, but I’ll be back in London, trying to catch up on my email.

Meantime I’ve put my photos up on Flickr, as has Matt.

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