Early Collaborative Games of Fantasy and Imagination
Collaborative Storytelling Games with Fantasy Elements
Several parlor game manuals in French have rules for a fantasy-themed collaborative storytelling game over 200 years old that has not been described in popular histories of fantasy gaming:
"The Impromptu Tale" is remarkably similar to the independently-invented modern game Once Upon a Time.
Some earlier and later variants of "The Impromptu Tale" omit fantasy elements, but they are still more complex than later games in English such as "Rigmarole" in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women (1868; which does have a fantasy aspect to it) and The Huddersfield College Magazine (1875; which has a Christmas ghost story), "Improvisatore" (1882; which has a fairy tale example), or "The All-Around Story Game" (1895):
Here are more rules and suggestions for playing the game:
Incidentally, the Manuel des châteaux from 1779 includes a discussion of another "little game" of collaborative storytelling that had few rules beyond agreements about genre and allowed plot devices:
Further evidence for an early game like this can be found in novelist and fairy tale author Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force's 1701 "Le Jeu du Roman," a game also mentioned by de Scudéry in 1667 (see the text and translation of "Games, Serving as a Preface to Mathilde"). Earlier story games existed as well, e.g. telling a story to illustrate a proverb (1642) or the very simple combinatoric story game of "Thief" (1551).
Collaborative Games with Role-Playing Elements
Several parlor game manuals also include a trivial "let's pretend" kind of game called "The Butterfly" in which each player takes the role of a flower or insect and describes their feelings and actions vis-à-vis the opposite. Among adults, goals of the game evidently included flirting with specific players and/or allegorically discussing gender in essentialist terms. "Let's pretend" games have always been with us (e.g. compare with the king game in Herodotus; or see βασιλίνδα in Pollux, as described in this recent monograph or this Latin text from 1627, which may be a role-based form of "Truth or Dare"/"Questions and Commands"; or see the story/role-playing games invented by the Brontë children), and like most "let's pretend" games, "The Butterfly" has no resolution mechanics for contested facts within its tiny flowerbed world. But this is early documentation of an imaginative game with numerous rules and roles to play at indefinite length being combined with improvised first-person perspectives in an adult social circle.
"The Butterfly" may be related to the simpler, common, and much older game of "The Metamorphoses" found in manuals from 1572, 1642 / 1671, and 1788--the latter even mentions the possibility of transforming into a butterfly--but "The Metamorphoses" is a game of direct comparisons between the players themselves and the plants or animals they have 'transformed' into. Even earlier role-based games such as "Le Jeu d'Enfer" (1555) or "The Lovers' Hell" (1572) appear to be similarly limited in interaction and length, highly ritualized, and thematically not unlike historical trivia games such as "Great Ghost; or, the Character Game" (1876) though several also had imaginative classical / mythological motifs.
- Text and translation of "The Game of the Butterfly" (1801; also 1808 and 1825)
- Text and translation of "The Butterfly" (ca. 1812)
- Text and translation of "The Butterfly" (1830; also 1836, 1846, and 1867)
- An English translation of the game (1833; this is a translation of Celnart's version by the American novelist, abolitionist, activist and fairy tale author Lydia Maria Child, and incidentally her text includes an early form of the game / programming exercise FizzBuzz, called "Buz!"--Child's text was later edited by board game designer Laura Valentine who also edited an 1867 text that included a version of Buz that also had Fiz)
- An English translation of the game (1853)
- Another English translation of the game (1854)
- Another English translation of the game (1859)
- A French version of the game from 1860, aimed at young girls, allows each player to speak just once, but the version from 1830 is clear that it could go on indefinitely
- Text and translation of "The Butterfly" (1865)
- "The Butterfly and the Flowers," described in English (1869; a version having only the one insect)
- "The Revolt of the Flowers" (Christmas 1873; published in a games supplement to The Young Ladies' Journal, this is a variant of "The Butterfly and the Flowers" having only flowers and a scripted story rather than improvisation--in "Belles, Beaux, and Paratexts: American Story Papers and the Project of Romance," William Gleason describes the game appearing in 1874 in Beadle and Adams's Belles and Beaux, a romance story paper)
- Text and translation of "The Butterfly" (ca. 1903; a brief version notable for establishing over a century of continuity for the game)
If these games exerted any influence--however indirect--on the history of modern tabletop games involving storytelling or role-playing, one place to find it might be in the biography of H.G. Wells (1866-1946), whose rules for Little Wars published in 1913 occupy a key place in the history of wargaming with miniatures and, out of that, Dungeons & Dragons. Wells was aware of many parlor games. His 1911 novel The New Machiavelli makes an allusion to "Hunt the Slipper" (a well-known parlor game depicted in chapter 11 of Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield in 1766). His 1918 novel Joan and Peter describes acting charades, hide-and-seek games "Ogre" and "Darkness Ogre," a card game called "Demon Patience," and specific rules for the partially silent version of "Crambo" (a.k.a. "Rhyming Words in Pantomime," which had been a favorite of Karl Marx). In general, he often refers to games: chess, the card game "Nap," spellicans, and more. However, aside from a brief reference to the card game whist, the text of neither Little Wars nor Floor Games implicates anything like parlor games as influences, and in The New Machiavelli, chapters 2 and 3 offer fictionalized pictures of playing games of "phantom warfare" as a child and young adult with no mention of parlor games. Wells instead describes a variety of influences and experiences--e.g. the garden wargames in Tristram Shandy, Kriegsspiel, and his own childhood imagination--that are independent from parlor games, even if he knew some and could conceivably have known others.
Collaborative Storytelling Games with (Proto-) Surrealist / Oulipian Elements
Parlor games that involve some kind of narration, however strange, also had some presence in France in the 20th Century:
Incidentally, "Exquisite Corpse" has sometimes been described as having a connection to "Résultats" / "Consequences," but "The History" is a stronger match. If it has been conflated, that would be very understandable, because "The History" includes multiple variants--one that is basically "Consequences" and another with freeform contributions built up line by line on folded paper.
In any case, here's a selection of games that generate elaborate series of non sequiturs by matching up different players' contributions in a way they couldn't entirely foresee--"The History" in particular turns them into stories and poems:
For more game manuals ca. 1870-1910, here's a bibliography of texts usually available at Google Books, HathiTrust, or the Internet Archive. It was published in 1913--coincidentally, the same year as Edith Nesbit's "magic city game" in Wings and the Child. Here on Neocities, "Historical Games" also has a good bibliography and introductions to various games.
- Text and translation of the "Game of Disconnected Words" (1643)
- Text and translation of a passing reference to "The History" (1801) -- in "The Impromptu Romance"
- Texts and translations of "Roosters and Donkeys" and "The Disconnected Word" (1811)
- Text and translation of "The History" (1812; an amazing text with multiple variants of the game, including one mechanically indistinguishable from the text version of "Exquisite Corpse," another similar to "Consequences," and another like "Exquisite Corpse" with rhymed verse)
- Texts and translations for both "The Disconnected Word" and "The History" (1817; also 1852) -- a lengthy example
- "Couplets" (1822 [note: the text is interrupted after p. 222, but it picks back up again a few pages later]; untranslated for now, this is a game of combinatoric poetry, very similar to Raymond Queneau's "Hundred Thousand Billion Poems" from 1961, but players come up with a sort of passphrase of 17 characters, look up each character in a different column of poetic phrases, and generate a poem with a consistent rhyme scheme--the same text suggests using the poems as reversible ciphertexts, and it also includes romantic-themed "oracles" that work in the same way to generate fortunes combinatorically)
- Description of the game "Résultats" a.k.a. "Consequences" in a diary entry for Oct. 10, 1824, written by Anne Lister, a.k.a. "Gentleman Jack"
- Texts and Translations of "The History" and "The History in Verse" (1830; also 1836, 1846, and 1867)
- An English translation of "The History" (1853)
- "Consequences," described in English (1854)
- An English translation of "The Narrative" (1858)
- "The Game of Consequences," described in English (1858)
- An English translation of "The Interrupted Reply" (1859, perhaps based on Madame Tardieu-Denesle's "The Disconnected Word" of 1817--"The Interrupted Reply" is a better translation of the modern game but compare with Sorel's "Game of Disconnected Words" in 1643; this text also includes a card-based 'spin the bottle' game, "The Page of Love" a.k.a. "La Feuille d'Amour" in 1830, and a game that uses a die to randomize its requirements, "Confession by a Die")
- "The Narrative" and "Consequences" in English (1861, including examples and also the game of "Cross Questions and Crooked Anwers"--i.e. "The Disconnected Word")
- "The Selected Word" (1863, a game of confused questions and answers that generates its randomness in the manner of the storytelling game "Story-Play" a.k.a. "Le Mot placé" from 1830)
- "Consequences" (1868, in a text that also includes "The Game of Definitions"--not so much a 'dictionary game' as something in-between giving a spontaneous discourse on a topic as in de Scudéry, inventing a proverb as in de Voyer, and a 'devil's dictionary' game)
- "Coincidences" (1869; Mary Mapes Dodge's "disconnected" version of the centuries-old tradition of playing with proverbs)
- "Les Propos interrompus" (1874; untranslated for now, this is "The Disconnected Word" / "Interrupted Reply" in a family magazine published in Montreal--also included is a written variant in which the questions and answers are written down on separate pieces of paper and randomized)
- "Consequences" (1883; in a text that also includes a version of the very old nonsense story game "Métiers," in this case titled, "The Reader")
- "Consequences," described in English (1895)
- "Stuff and Nonsense," described in English (1896; a very "Mad Libs"-like game in a text that also has a version of the very old nonsense story game "Métiers," i.e. "Trades"--not to be confused with a similar game called "Trades" or "Professions" that may be even older)
- "The Consequences," a description of the game and a meditation on women's fates by Frank Leslie--which was her legal name (1899)
- Texts and translations of "Disconnected Words" and "The History" (ca. 1903; notable for confirming that "Résultats" / "Consequences"--given here in very much the same terms as in 1824 but also including the variants of "The History" from 1812--was at this time viewed as equivalent to "The History," even while other variants persisted)
- "Consequences" & "Consequences Extended" (1907; author and activist Dorothy Canfield's chapter on "Writing Games" has several story games; the chapter on "Drawing Games" is also notable)
- "Cross Questions and Crooked Answers (1909; this is "The Disconnected Word," still being described in the 20th C., in a text that also includes "Adjectives," another Mad Libs-like game that goes back at least to Cassell's 1881 game collection)
- Consequences: A Complete Story in the Manner of the Old Parlour Game in Nine Chapters Each by a Different Author (1933; a collaborative novel structured like the game of "Consequences," including one chapter by Elizabeth Bowen and another by A.E. Coppard)
Earlier Sources for Parlor Games
There are a lot of pre-19th Century parlor game manuals too (social contexts of which are included in a discussion of redeeming pledges / forfeits):
- Anonymous (13th C. and 15th C.), "Ragemon le bon & Ragman Roll" (two games, one in French and one in English, that randomly assigned traits to different players--essentially the same as the fortune game "Le Jeu d'aventure," which has no adventure in the modern sense and instead evokes the earlier meaning to take a chance)
- Baldassare Castiglione (1528), The Book of the Courtier (later referenced by Madeleine de Scudéry in her text on games, this mentions several games such as describing in pleasant ways the follies of others--openly yet still not unlike the game of "Secretary" in the 18th-20th centuries)
- Francesco Marcolini (1540), Le Sorti (another fortune game, in this case a beautiful one using playing cards to randomize outcomes; complete copies are at the Internet Archive and Google Books; more detail available in this recent monograph on this and other Italian fortune manuals)
- Innocenzo Ringhieri (1551), Cento giuochi liberali, et d'ingegno (also 1553; discussed in this 2004 monograph, this 2013 monograph, and especially in Thomas Frederick Crane's 1920 Italian Social Customs of the Sixteenth Century, available online)
- Hubert Philippe de Villiers, (1555), Cinquante Jeux divers d'honnete entretien (alt. copies; this is a partial translation of Ringhieri, a copy of which made its way to the library of John Dee, court astrologer to Queen Elizabeth)
- Girolamo Bargagli (1572), Dialogo de' giuochi ... (discussed in this article identifying the women mentioned in the text, this 2013 monograph, and especially in Thomas Frederick Crane's 1920 Italian Social Customs of the Sixteenth Century)
- Stefano Guazzo (1574), La Civil Conversazione (which in book 4 depicts the selection of a Queen to administer a series of games, etc., for a winter's night of conversation; the fourth book was translated into English in 1586 in The Civile Conversation of M. Steeven Guazzo, evidently offering a point of comparison for Mary Wroth's Love's Victory and Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost)
- Ascanio de Mori (1580 ), Giuoco Piacevole (a fictional text with descriptions of a story game and its penances also discussed in this article at ResearchGate / academia.edu)
- Scipione Bargagli (1587), I Trattenimenti di Scipion Bargagli
- Georg Philipp Harsdörffer (1642), Frauenzimmer Gesprächspiele ("Erster Theil")
- Georg Philipp Harsdörffer (1642), Frauenzimmer Gesprächspiel ("Anderer Theil")
- Charles Sorel (1643 [reprint from 1642]), La Maison des jeux (discussed many places discoverable via Google Scholar)
- Charles Sorel (1642), La Maison des jeux, seconde journee (this includes summaries of the games that Villiers translated from Ringhieri)
- Georg Philipp Harsdörffer (1643), Gesprächspiele ("Dritter Theil")
- Georg Philipp Harsdörffer (1644), Gesprächspiele ("Vierter Theil")
- Georg Philipp Harsdörffer (1645), Gesprächspiele ("Fünfter Theil")
- Georg Philipp Harsdörffer (1646), Gesprächspiele ("Sechster Theil")
- Georg Philipp Harsdörffer (1647), Gesprächspiele ("Siebender Theil")
- Georg Philipp Harsdörffer (1649), Gesprächspiele ("Achter und Letzter Theil")
- Madeleine de Scudéry (1667), "Les Jeux, servant de préface à Mathilde" (Text and translation; much of de Scudéry's text is devoted to a game very like the game "Impromptu" from 1917)
- Denis de la Marinière (1668), La Maison des jeux academiques
- Charles Sorel (1671), Les Recreations galantes
- Richard Flecknoe (1675), A Treatise of the Sports of Wit (which describes a series of parlor games--a fortune game like several above, acting out proverbs as in Sorel, interpreting dreams as in La Force, etc.--purportedly played near Brussels with the Duchess of Lorraine and others along with a masque/opera, etc.; Flecknoe describes the games as originating in Italy, traveling to France via Catherine de Medici and England via Sir Philip Sidney--Line Cottegnies offers useful context and a good overview of 16th-17th C. parlor game sources in "Jeux littéraires en France et en Angleterre au XVIIe siècle – des salons parisiens à Aphra Behn")
- Edward Phillips (1685 [1658?]), The Mysteries of Love & Eloquence (this has a detailed account of "Questions and Commands" as well as a "Crambo" dictionary, jokes/riddles, and a collection of proverbs that could be useful in parlor games; "Questions and Commands" is also found in Giacomo Surian's letter about the court of Queen Elizabeth in 1566, The Anatomy of Melancholy in the early 1600s, Samuel Butler's poem Hudibras in the late 1600s, Richard Steele's The Tatler in 1710, Winter Evening Tales in 1731, and Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield in 1766--but perhaps also a source as old as the 13th-14th C. fabliaux of Baudouin and Jean de Condé)
- Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force (1862 ), Les Jeux d'esprit (a novel by a well-known fairy tale author, told as a series of parlor games including the collaborative "Jeu du Roman" also mentioned in de Scudéry)
- Joseph Addison (1711), The Spectator, No. 245 (a brief account of several "Winter Night" games, some of which are described in more detail elsewhere, e.g. "Similes" and "Questions and Commands")
- "Dick Merryman" (1734), Round About Our Coal Fire: or, Christmas Entertainments (pages 7-9 describe several games, including "Questions and Commands"; Google Books also has a later reprint)
- Rev. William Webster [?] (1738), "The Craftsman Feb. 4 N° 604," a.k.a. "Origin of the Plays and Pastimes of Children," in The Gentleman's Magazine (attribution uncertain--see Emily Lorraine de Montluzin's "Attributions of Authorship in The Gentleman's Magazine"; this short article describes several games, including the acting of "Proverbs" also mentioned in Sorel, de Voyer, and others, a game called "Similes" that somewhat resembles both "Roosters & Donkeys" and "Metamorphoses," and the game "Questions and Commands")
- Marc Antoine René de Voyer de Paulmy d'Argenson and André Guillaume Contant d'Orville (1779), Manuel des châteaux
- Pierre M. Huvier des Fontenelles (1788), Les Soirées amusantes (this was also advertised in the Journal de Paris on Feb. 26, 1788 but soon drew a letter of complaint about whether it was appropriate for girls/daughters or should be left to fathers and mothers; a new edition appeared in 1790; in its entry for Les Soirées amusantes--untranslated for now--Barbier's 1824 Dictionnaire des ouvrages anonymes et pseudonymes gives considerable detail on this author and his work, as well as several others with games translated above)
- Johann Christoph Friedrich GutsMuths (1796), Spiele zur Übung und Erholung des Körpers und Geistes (this has an appendix on pledges and penances and a game called "Die Erzähler, oder das Geschichtemachen" in which a story with no particular theme must be extemporized that connects a preset hodgepodge of words one by one; in its basic form, it is reminiscent of the alphabetic stories with required elements in Ascanio de Mori's 1574 Giuoco Piacevole, and a variant given for GutsMuths's game includes having listeners supply unexpected words generated in the manner of "Roosters and Donkeys" below but called for by the narrator in the manner of "The Impromptu Romance" above)
- William Fordyce Mavor (1796), "Game of Twenty" in The Juvenile Olio (this is "Twenty Questions," notably using the opening question of animal, vegetable, or mineral; see also the same author and game with a different example three years later but note that Huvier des Fontenelles described essentially the same game in 1788 as "The Twelve Questions," likewise beginning with animal, vegetable, or mineral)
- "Julius Cäsar" (1797), Spiel-almanach (contains a section on society games, including "Die Reise nach Jerusalem," a storytelling game with a single narrator talking about a journey in the manner of later games such as "The Traveller's Tour," "Stage-Coach," or "Family Coach" but giving each player a word, as in "The Impromptu Tale," to react to physically, as in "The Butterfly," only by standing up--perhaps gradually evolving into the musical chairs game, "Going to Jerusalem")
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to the Public Paperfolding History Project for pointing out "The History" (1836) and connecting it to "Exquisite Corpse"; James Wallis for encouragement, an important question about forfeits, confirmation about the independent development of Once Upon a Time and The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and generally being a model of enthusiasm on this topic; Gerald Nachtwey for mentioning Charles Nodier and connecting modern gaming to Romanticism, medievalism, and medieval Romances; Evan Torner, Jose Zagal, and Reddit's /u/WeirdCranium for additional helpful feedback.
Note on translations: I'm a hobbyist, and this is all for fun--not scholarship--so be careful not to read too much into translations that are likely full of errors and infelicities.
French texts transcribed on this site are already in the public domain, as are the words of Sara Coleridge and the paragraph from a translation of Goethe's autobiography. As for the rest (translations, notes, etc. all included): This work by WobbuPalooza is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.