Improv in Dysfunctional Families

I’ve written about the importance of improv in daily life.

The way one gets better at improv and having an “improv outlook” to life is to practice it in various ways throughout the day.

Which leads to the design of my first game, Dysfunctional Families.

I got tired of card games where the only funny things said were things
pre-written on the cards. So I created Dysfunctional Families.
— Eric Shefferman

My disappointment with the game Cards Against Humanity is that while it did allow you to come up with something clever to say, it was kinda like taking a multiple-choice test with different funny answers. The answers had all already been thought up by someone else. To be able to say a different funny answer, it was necessary to buy “expansion decks” that included new funny answers.

One of my additions to Dysfunctional Families that makes it very different from the original Happy Families game is the idea that when asking another player for a card, it is necessary to explain WHY you are looking for that card. In playtesting, this was found to be a source of a lot of funny statements and thus the rules were changed to make it a requirement that players make up a good “because” reason.

The game uses a very simple structured improv:

I’m looking for (name of card) because (give a good reason).

From the game rules:

The format of the asking is:
“I’m looking for” (name of card) “because” …
The asker must make up some reason for the “because.” Creativity and humor is encouraged.
If the asker fails to come up with a good enough “because” reason (by the standards set by your particular group for how elaborate it should be, how vulgar, etc., and how many attempts they get to make), then the asker forfeits their turn and play passes to the player on the asker’s left.

By having a lot of weird families (the Arsonists, the Mad Scientists, the Cannibals, etc.) and illustrations that don’t tie anyone to a particular chain of thought, there are a lot of opportunities for creativity within this simple construct.

By making the criteria for the “because” be based on the playing group’s standards means that for people not used to this type of creativity it might be good enough to just give any reason. People experienced with improv might make come up with something stricter such as the “because” reason has to be 7 syllables. College kids might make it that the reference has to be scatological or related to imbibing alcohol (just sayin’).

The idea is for people to work in the realm of creativity somewhere between where they are comfortable and where they are challenged. And that’s where the funny surprises are going to pop out — which is the best part of improv: when you blurt something out and suddenly realize that you surprised yourself.

For example, in this video at 38 sec: “I’m looking for the pimp because he owes me money… or do I owe him money?”

Game night is all about the fun and humor of face-to-face time with your friends. The game is just there to facilitate that.
– Eric Shefferman

Related posts:

The Importance of Improv in Daily Life

My Favorite Improv Game: Because I Said So!

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