What do you get when you cross nostalgia-loving millennials with months of social distancing? The answer, apparently, is a new wave of conversation-inducing, laugh-out-loud party games. Amid the ruins of down-sized restaurants, shuttered nightclubs and festivals that all but went extinct, “The Big Night In” has become the new “out out” and with it, the parlour game is enjoying something of a renaissance.
Us millennials have a habit of escaping to the past; we collect vinyl records, knit our sorrows away, snap memories on Polaroid cameras and, faced with months of social distancing, play the sort of games our teenage selves would have cringed at. When the world falls apart, there is something reassuring about returning to a simpler time. Party games are to the pandemic what paint-by-numbers is to anxiety or boxsets are to breakups; they are a comforting lifebuoy in a time of crisis. And if we ever needed a distraction from the headlines or an occasion to laugh, 2020 was it.
Fool The Game, a new card game by Sydney-based party enthusiasts Louis Nuccitelli and Athena Katsogiannis, is designed to be exactly that. It’s a simple format with a large laugh factor; each round, the active player selects a “scenario” and a “location” card and tries to act and describe the pair to the guessing audience. The game’s strength is in the absurdity of the card combinations; it’s impossible not to laugh watching your friends trying to act out “asking for a divorce” “in a mosh pit”.
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Fool was born from its creators’ own desires to find a moment of joy in the lockdown bubble. “We were deep in the fiery pit of 2020 and so badly wanted to laugh,” says Athena. “Every part of our lives felt fragile including our enjoyment. We wanted to create something to help people enjoy the now, even just for 30 minutes. It’s just nice to have a reason to laugh.”
Party games are tricky business. Done well and they’re the highlight of any gathering, but getting them right is a fine art — one that Fool has mastered through its unpretentious format. “A key ingredient of Fool is its simplicity,” says Louis. “You don’t need any prior knowledge and you don’t need to bring anything. We were conscious when creating the game that we wanted anyone to be able to walk into the room, pick up two cards and jump in with no context. “‘Getting attacked by birds’ ‘In sinking sand’, sure!” he says.
When tragedy hits, you can’t obsess over every detail without going mad. You have to give yourself room to breathe, to find a bit of light relief. “The ultimate purpose of the game is to forget about your reality and indulge in some foolish behaviour,” says Louis. “Loosen up a little, let your hair down and enjoy the moment.”
“I think that was the biggest hurdle last year — the inability to enjoy the now. We were so consumed with what was happening at a macro level that we forgot to enjoy the micro,” adds Athena.
We all need those breaks of thought, especially when it feels as if almost every conversation we had last year veered towards talk of the coronavirus, racial injustice or climate change.
Amid 2020’s procession of tragic headlines, the dinner table became an increasingly turbulent place. Meaningful conversation too often gave way to tense arguments and flying tempers, or polite small talk in fear of spiralling into disagreement.
The art of good conversation
ReFlex, a card game by author, podcaster, influencer and all-round media personality Lillian Ahenkan — known as Flex Mami to her legions of online followers — is designed to bring back the art of good conversation. Through a series of questions such as “Would you rather be hated for who you are, or loved for who you aren’t?” and “Is your political correctness more motivated by judgement or empathy?”, the game gets you in the groove of deep, satisfying conversation, asking players to cease fire on their emotional reflexes and engage with tough but important topics.
“I’ve always been the person to ask very specific, bizarre hypothetical questions with friends,” says Flex, who began playing what would become ReFlex via Instagram’s question function and soon found her followers were requesting more of her probing questions.
Each deck of ReFlex comes with 46 cards on a range of topics, including dating, love, society, life and politics. There’s a second edition, several extension packs and, most recently, a collaboration with chocolate brand Hey Tiger.
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Flex has a running list of questions that she stores in her phone for future editions. “Every time I ask someone a good, bizarre or interesting question that elicits an insightful answer, I jot it down,” say says. “I like to mull over them for a couple of months and ask myself ‘would I want to answer this?’ and ‘would my answer tell me something important about myself?’. If yes, then it makes the cut.”
Startling as they may seem at first, the questions compel players to see themselves from a higher vantage, demanding a sort of self-awareness and introspection that is often missed on first dates, at dinner party tables or sprawled across the floor of a house party (ReFlex is nothing if not versatile). Discussing our beliefs, deepest desires, nuances and quirks often feels off limits, but it’s precisely the sort of “group therapy meets debating society” discussion Flex has been having on Instagram for years.
ReFlex is designed for “people who want to have deeper and more meaningful conversations, but don’t know where to start or don’t have the confidence to ask the right questions”, says Flex. That’s the crux of the game — the right questions, the sort that elevate the conversation and really get the juices flowing.
So many of the best conversations involve seeing an issue from wider perspectives and that’s the beauty of playing ReFlex; it invites you to coat the big topics in layers of new perspective and emotion.
At its best, ReFlex transforms our ability to converse by asking players to participate in a shared process of digging down inside themselves. “At the very least, I want [players] to develop a better understanding of who they are, what they think and why they think that way,” says Flex. “The game is for introspection first, connection second.”
In a world that can sometimes feel too serious, games are, as Flex says, “a small and effective start” to boosting our enjoyment. Given the state of the world around us, it’s never been more important to prioritise pleasure, or as Athena puts it, “to find ways to enjoy time with the people that surround you”. Be it through laughter or conversation, we could all use a bit of offline, in-person connection. Now doesn’t that feel old-school?
Charlie Hale is an English-born journalist based in Sydney, where she writes about a plethora of things women care about — from pasta to politics and everything between. Charlie is also the deputy editor of WILD, WellBeing and EatWell magazines.