One man's attempt at literacy

Tag Archives: Tabletop Game

After my last post describing the history of the game Maryann and I invented, I didn’t write for awhile. I was quiet while waiting for the results of the contests I applied to, and the results were mixed. Sort of.

For the competition I was most concerned with, Boston FIG, I received my rejection and, as you could guess, was a bit dejected. But then, about two weeks ago, I received their feedback on the game, and it was… All positive. Literally. The curator who gave me the review said things like, “This is a great party game, best played with people you know well and aren’t afraid of acting foolish in front of. Would make a great drinking game, too” –the last of which is exceptionally fitting since it was originally solely a drinking game. It was also described as, “Easily learned and quite intuitive.”

Most importantly, though, was that the review included one sentence which so perfectly stated a sentiment I’d been grasping with describing ever since the game concept really was solidified back in January:

“[The game is] totally fair or completely unfair, depending on who is playing, but that’s kind of the point.”

After all this jabber, and now that I have some renewed vigor after hearing such great things by people who aren’t completely obligated to be nice to me, let me actually tell you about the game.


You and your “friends” are all in Dictator Preschool. Your goal is to learn how to undermine and arbitrarily impose rules on your peers, while doing your best to avoid having to follow rules yourself. The more conniving you are, the better supreme leader you will make. Every turn, one player – “The Dictator” – pits other players against each other in challenges to vie for their approval. This game isn’t fun for the whole family, but it’s exciting and hilarious for anyone who enjoys the chance to let out their inner dictator.


Summary: Players compete in Playground challenges, doing their best to avoid getting Punishments while imposing Punishments on others. Punishments are rules that players must follow or else suffer a consequence. To start, everyone draws a Tyrant card and agrees on a consequence for breaking rules. Every round, someone becomes The Dictator and draws a Playground card, which gives a challenge to other players. After they compete, The Dictator arbitrarily chooses a winner, who gets to arbitrarily make another player draw a Punishment card. The game ends when one player has 7 Punishments in front of them, or
when everyone’s lust for power is sated.

jDHprWXtoPLY7M90FBgfD20OiD2wTqfLLzca2aLklxk  Starting the Game: The game starts when people agree on an easily completed but suitably harsh consequence for inevitable rule breaking (e.g., take a drink, do a sit up, etc.). Then, every player draws a Tyrant card, and the Tyrant with the highest Tyrant Level goes first. After this, Tyrant cards can be ignored though acting like Hitler for the remainder of the game is, of course, encouraged. Play continues clockwise. Sequence of Events: Each player becomes The Dictator on his or her
turn as soon as they draw a Playground Card. The Dictator, as the supreme ruler of the land, does not have to follow any rules. The Dictator has two jobs: first, they get to decide how long the players have to complete a Playground Card; second, they decide the winner of that challenge. There are three phases to a turn:

1. The Dictator draws a card from the Playground deck and reads it out loud. After the card is read, the players listed on that card must vie for The Dictator’s approval by completing the challenge associated with
the category.

2. The Dictator chooses a winner of the round by whatever standards they want.

3. The winner gets to make another player of their choosing (EXCEPT for The Dictator) draw a Punishment card, which is read
aloud and placed in front of the person who drew it.

Playground FrontPlayground Cards: Playground Cards are divided into four categories, all of which are shuffled together.
● Tantrums: These cards require two players of The Dictator’s choosing to argue that they are the best or most likely to be
something. Whether it is something they want to be the best at or not, players must argue in favor of themselves.
● Tattle Telling: The Dictator reads a sentence on the card, which includes a blank. All other players must write down how they think The Dictator would most likely complete the statement.
● Acting Out: Each one of these cards has a category written on it. The Dictator chooses a word or short phrase that fits the category and then choose two other players to simultaneously act out the chosen word or phrase silently.
● Fingerpainting: Fingerpainting cards consist of questions. If the Dictator draws a Fingerpainting card, he reads the card out loud and then answers the question however he wants. The other players then draw The Dictator’s answer.

Supreme Judge: The Dictator chooses a winner of each challenge based on what he liked best. For instance, in a Fingerpainting challenge, The Dictator could choose the picture he thought was prettiest, or the one that best depicted his sexy abs, or give a pity win to the worst artist.

Punish BackPunishment Cards: Punishment cards are rules (e.g., “End every sentence with ‘Amen!’”), with a penalty enforced for rule breaking determined by the players at the start of the game. Most of the time, the player who draws a Punishment card places it in front of himself and has to follow that rule for the rest of the game, even while competing in Playground challenges. There are also four special types of Punishment cards, which are explained directly on the cards. If any Punishments seem to conflict, do your best to follow both. All Punishment cards are shuffled together into their own pile.

Ending the Game: If you are a stickler for tradition and feel that the game must officially “end,” you can choose to declare a game over when someone has 7 Punishment cards in front of them. Whoever has the fewest doesn’t win so much as they lose the least.

Do you like being evil? Acting like a child? Competing in various ridiculous challenges? Then you just might like the game I have sort of made and done nothing with!!!

I am not a good salesman. But I do think I’ve done something good.

In October, my friend Maryann and I decided to finally run with one of our many, many (like, infinite) ideas, and make a card game that we had had an idea for. The original concept was a judicial themed (no joke) card game tentatively called Crime and Punishment, which was a mash up of trivia, debating, and filling in the blanks. It was a lot like Cranium… But evil.



See, at first the important thing we focused on was not just the actual game play, but the fact that this was a game that — you might have guessed — hinged on punishments. Specifically, punishing other players, by making them follow rules. Think King’s Cup, the drinking game (in fact, originally this WAS a drinking game), where there are rules to follow and you must drink if you forget them, only in our game there aren’t simply four rules at most for the whole group; there are countless rules that can affect one or all the players. The point of the game was and always has been to wait until one player is crushed under the weight of all their rules.

My friend and I are cruel.

Eventually, Maryann and I scrapped the drinking component of this, because even when we played it ourselves for the first time we didn’t all want to drink. Plus, marketability! We also debated what to call it, deciding that, not only did the name not fit, but we didn’t need to involve Dostoyevsky in our terror. For a while there, our very proper friend Chloe suggested DGBF *coughcoughdon’tgetbuttfuckedcough* (something you want to avoid in prison), which we used as yet another tentative title. During this time, we also realized that trivia was not a good category because it simply wasn’t replayable, like our other categories: the answer to who won the World Cup in 2010 won’t change unless Doctor Who intervened (new game idea!!!). Plus…writing trivia is hard.

Amid all these talks of change, Maryann and I did something very appropriate for us: we dropped it. About two weeks after we played our first test round of this in November, we stopped planning it, figuring it would never amount to anything, and feeling like we could spend our time better — like watching Lightning Point, an Australian show about aliens who love surfing.

Thankfully, Joe exists.

In January, I began debating what to get my boyfriend, Joe, for his birthday. Unfortunately, I was practically broke at that time, and on a (short-lived) path to being utterly broke. So what could I get for his 30th birthday that would be worthy? Well, there was one idea I had that wouldn’t cost too much. See, Joe Maryann and I have all these truly fantastic — I mean, FANTASTIC, right!? — ideas, but we never followed through and really finished any, and Joe said he wished we would. So DGBF was the perfect opportunity to do something for Joe and even something productive.

I kidnapped talked Maryann into resuming the game, and she agreed, reluctantly happily. We resumed by adding new categories, but, mostly, focusing on making the game more unified. What we decided was that the game wasn’t just about challenges and unrelated punishments for the loser, which may or may not be decided by others, but instead ALL challenges and punishment recipients would be decided by someone. More than that, there was a new emphasis on replayability, with the person who decides the winner of each round also having more control over what happens during the challenges.

We were set, so close to making this game ready to play, not just as something that two nerds created in their spare time (by spare time, I mean “at work on G-chat and sometimes in between eating Pommes Frites, bahn mi, and Big Gay Ice Cream in rapid succession), but something they actually thought about to excess. We just had one problem: the theme and the name. Our game was still DGBF, a game vaguely about the legal system and jail, but we weren’t happy with it. Then I had an epiphany.

I’m a bit of a control freak, sometimes. I am the kind of person who likes things a certain way, and thinks way too much about things, and when other people act in a way I like to let them know why I think they should do things the way I have painstakingly determined was best. Basically, I’m a control freak. This intermittent action eventually led Joe to call me a tyrant, and, one day, while thinking of this after the fact, I thought, “I’m not a big tyrant… I’m a tiny tyrant.”


In that instant the heavens opened up, and naked, winged babies flew around me, singing hymns. We had a name, and we had a theme: our game was now about Hitler. Or rather, young dictators through the ages. Given this, the challenges became kids testing each other in horrible ways, and the punishments and rules were, well, what happens when you are in a room of dictators, even preschool-aged ones.

Once we had this, I begged my father — a kind, loving man who is too nice to his kids — to make me some art, and he gladly did. Tiny Tyrants was finally printed out and ready to play roughly four hours before Joe’s birthday party. Ironically, we didn’t play the game because people showed up over the course of two hours, but we did draw pictures on the white boards for it.


Even after the birthday, Maryann and I continued making the game, and did some more play testing and fine tuning. We now have four delightful categories that test people’s  willingness be creative, funny, earnest, and/or ass-kissing. Similarly, more and more control has been given to The Dictator, the person in control each round, who can literally decide the fates of others on his or her whim. No longer is it just a game of high replayability with some rules to follow, but it’s a game that is unique in that players get to control how they “score” and even determine how much time they have to complete their challenges.

Two weeks ago, I submitted this game to the Boston Festival of Indie Games, today I sent them a prototype because they requested it (and my bank account feels it, eek!), and on Friday I’ll be entering Tabletop Deathmatch, a competition created by the makers of Cards Against Humanity. If nothing happens with any of these, or other competitions that may come up, I may do a Kickstarter. Even after eight months of work, this game is still not really anything more than a few cards on my shelf and way too much time spent thinking of everything I’d want to experience in a party game, but maybe, one day, you could see Tiny Tyrants in the stores, and that’s pretty cool to think about.