Why Did the Chicken…?—Design History

One evening, I was taking a walk with my friends John Cooper and Chris Welsh. I suddenly asked them each to come up with a random noun. After they did so, I used their two nouns to create an analogy problem. I don’t remember now what the resulting problem was, but it was something like “What’s the mechanic of gravity?” We each came up with an answer to this weird question, and then we spent the rest of the walk creating more random analogies and discussing what the goal of this proto-game might be. When we got back to John’s place, we told his wife Gina about the idea, and the four of us sat down to try a game. We wrote down a bunch of nouns on slips of paper, and we used them to generate analogy questions. For each question, we each wrote a single answer and then picked our favorite from among the other answers. It became clear by the end of the session that the winning answers tended to be the funny ones. That was okay by me; I liked the idea of a game that you could win by being funny.

Soon after this, I went to Michigan to attend a game-design and playtesting convention called Protospiel, where I met Mike Petty for the first time. I learned that Mike had been working on a game that was very similar in structure to my analogy game. He had a bunch of cards with funny questions on them, and you’d plug player’s names into them to get stuff like, “If Stephen was a superhero, what would his name be?” Just like in the analogy game, the idea was that everyone would write down an answer, and then we’d somehow award points to one or more of them. Mike and I discussed whether it would be better to have a group-voting system or an individual-judge system; we decided to start with the individual-judge system.

We gathered a group and playtested both of our games. Afterwards, we discussed the pros and cons of each system. We both liked the random noun-juxtapositions of the analogies game, but we also liked the straightforward comic element of Mike’s questions. Mike suggested that we come up with some additional question-templates that worked with random nouns. After Protospiel ended, Mike and I (via email) brainstormed a list of templates to try. Many of them reminded me of the old nonsense riddles we all learned when we were kids, so I began to focus on that element. I axed the analogy template (which didn’t fit so well into this conception), and started calling the game “Why Did the Chicken…?

Mike and I experimented with different versions of the game with our respective playtesting groups. Many of the playtesters here in Maryland—including Jacob Davenport, Kristin Matherly, John Cooper, Gina Mai Denn, Chris Welsh, Liam Bryan, and Rich Potter—became actively involved in developing the idea into a finished product. In particular, Kristin Matherly suggested adding a timer and allowing multiple answers per player, which greatly improved the game. Eventually, Jacob and his wife Lisa started Play Again Games and published a commercial version of it.

Since the publication of Why Did the Chicken…?, Mike and I (and Chris, and John, et al) have invented a bunch of other games using The Chicken Game System.