inventing

“A game of incredible speed and periodic violence”

I have a puzzle for you.

Or rather, I have a puzzle for myself, and I’m hoping to find the sort of people that can help me. You might be one of them. Ideally you’re smart, silly, and into card games. (If you’re just here for the writing tips, I respectfully direct you to this recent gem.)

So here’s the thing. In The Dream World Collective, I got a glimpse of the characters playing a game called Ickleback. It’s just a fleeting glimpse, but the game looks really fun and I want to play it, which means I need to invent it, and I want your ideas. For starters, here’s the entire canonical reference to Ickleback:

“I’m feeling like a breakfast contest,” said Zen suddenly, looking up from his book. “Anyone interested in a breakfast contest? A breakfast-off, if you will.”

The five housemates were gathered in the sitting room, ensconced in a variety of blankets, quilts, and fleeces. Summer was absorbed in a battered paperback and Alex was making his way though the newspaper, occasionally giving it a shake as he turned the page. Otto and Sushi were fiercely engaged in a card game that seemed to require incredible speed and periodic violence.

“I already had breakfast,” Alex checked the time. “Three hours ago.”

“A brunch-off, then,” Zen corrected himself.

“No,” Sushi shook her head briskly and slapped a card onto a pile. “That doesn’t have the same ring. It’s a breakfast-off.” In a blur of motion, Otto rapidly slapped a series of cards onto different piles and then poked Sushi.

“Ickleback!” he cried. “That makes three gambits. I win by means of ickle.”

“Hey!” Sushi poked him back.

“That’s a false ickle,” gloated Otto. He rummaged through the deck for the queen of clubs. “I choose the Termite Queen.”

“Game’s over, dork. Come on, we’re Team Dachshund in the breakfast-off. What’s your team name?” She looked pointedly at Summer and Alex.

“Who said we’re on a team together?” asked Summer, a touch of panic in her eyes.

I’m picturing a game that requires very quick thinking, quick reflexes, and precision of language, in the vein of Egyptian Ratscrew or Dutch Blitz, with a bit of Silent Football thrown in.

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • Four suits: Termites (Clubs), Onions (Spades), Speckles (Diamonds), and Pecks (Hearts)
  • Jacks are called Pickpockets, threes are called Pickles, aces are called Pips. Cards are named by suit then rank, e.g. the Peck Eight, the Termite Queen, the Speckle Pickle, the Onion Pip.
    • Advanced players may require any/all of the following names (Ace to King): Pip, Pair, Pickle, Court, Cross, Hex, Prickle, Cot, Mews, Deckle, Pickpocket, Quintessence, Pendragon

There’s more, but I’ve realized this is one of those things that gets really boring really fast in text format. There’s nothing quite as disheartening as sitting and reading the detailed rules of a game that’s hilarious and action-packed in real life.

Let’s just say my prototype has thrones, gambles, quarks, and gambits; you can ickle (poke) or spackle (slap) your opponents; you have to declare what you’re doing and if you say it wrong there are penalties; and there are multiple paths to victory but you can’t take them all. And it’s looking like there’s room for some pretty sneaky treacheries.

It’s Friday, and Fridays should be fun, so I’ll leave you with silly mental images instead of rules. Imagine a living room where friends, amid a flurry of card slaps, are shouting things like:

“Speckle Pickle Quint Quark!”

<slap> “Spackleback!”

“False spackleback – I choose the Peck Pickpocket.”

“Onion Odd Flush Quark!”

“The Throne of Four reigns! Long live the Onion King!”

If you have ideas about dynamics that could make a game like this fun, let me know in the comments. And if you really want more of the (as yet untested and unconfirmed) rules, just say the word.

If you’d like to read more of the story, here’s a free download to get you started.

Happy Friday, everyone!

—Ben