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Buttle image.jpg
Designer: Nick Howard
Year: 2009
Players: 3 players for each 1 actor
Stuff required: As many bow-ties as there are players, costumes for actors, props (such as suitcases, trays etc), tip 'money'.
Crew required: 1 to explain rules and distribute bow-ties, 4+ actors
Preparation: Coaching of actors, setting of the scene
Time required: 5 minutes explanation and distribution, 20 minutes play
Place required: medium sized area, with key landmarks or rooms from which the actors can clearly mark tasks, and in which props can be hidden if necessary
Activities: acting, finding
This is a playable game - it's finished, tested and ready to play.
This game is made available under an Attribution-Noncommercial Creative Commons licence. (What does this mean?)

Either a sharp indictment of an obsolete feudal system, or a whimsical celebration of the same – I'm not sure. Will that be all, sir?


The actors will be playing the part of aristocrats – it is up to you how much they get into the roles, but it is important that they be distinguishable in some way if there are innocent bystanders about the place. VIP badges are a good costume choice, but may be anachronistic if you have in mind the classic Wodehousian butler. The actors must each also be provided with a large amount of tip money – this can be play money á la Monopoly or even, if you are feeling particularly witty, slips of paper with proverbs and advice written upon them.

The actors will be providing the players with tasks (see #Example Tasks) and, when a player performs adequately, they will reward them with an amount of tip money. It's worthwhile impressing upon the actors that generosity makes this game more fun (ie, if the scores at the end are in the hundreds or thousands of pounds).

Work out with your actors a selection of tasks – these can involve props that you have placed in the vicinity, such as crockery, or trays of drinks (most supermarkets sell inexpensive plastic wine glasses – I wouldn't recommend filling them, but getting them to the actor without spilling any of the contents could be worthy of a tip). Allow the actors to improvise, and let the players know that they are allowed to do so as well. If, for example, a player arrives unrequested with a wine list or a telegram that they have found, the actors should know to tip them.

The players should be issued with bow-ties, so that they may be distinguished by the actors. These can be picked up from fancy dress shops (or Ebay) for about a pound each - though they'll be on elastic!


Actor Instructions

You are a visiting aristocrat. It is the duty of the many butlers of this establishment (or area) to serve you, and to satisfy your every whim. These whims can involve the props which the organiser will reveal to you as being hidden around the area, or can be entirely improvised. It's worth noting that the players may improvise as well, and will expect you to react accordingly!

You will be presented with a large amount of tip money with which to reward successful players - be generous! The organiser should have a supply if you run out: in fact, ordering a player to fetch you a fresh supply of tip money is a feasible task.

Don't be afraid to harangue the butlers if their manner is not to your liking - this could be a lack of due deference, or that whilst fetching your drink order, they are also clutching a feather duster and measuring tape 'just in case'. You are allowed, encouraged and expected to be as consistent or inconsistent as you choose!

Player Instructions

You are a butler, a valet. It is your duty to treat the various aristocratic visitors to this establishment with the due servility and respect, and to see that their wishes are carried out. If you do so with the required haste and dignity, you will rewarded! The player with the most tips at the end of the game is the winner.

The surrounding area may be filled with objects of use to the visiting aristos. A good butler has a keen sense of initiative, so use of these objects may gain you prodigious tips.

Example Tasks

  • Carrying bags (Following an actor from A to B, or taking them to a specific location)
  • Tidying a room
  • Tidying an actor's appearance
  • Taking drinks orders (memory test – the actor asks the player to repeat back the order)
  • Fetching drinks (a tray of empty, plastic glasses can be in a pre-arranged location)
  • Disposing of empties
  • etc

Game Variations

If the above game seems a little tame, it is possible to expand into the murky world of below-stairs politics. Each player should be issued with a distinguishing card – either a uniquely coloured card from which corners or similarly sized sections can be ripped, or one with a row of easily detached pieces with the player's name upon each piece.

A piece of these cards can be confiscated by an aristocrat who feels that the player's service has been of an inferior standard, or who feels insulted in some way. In addition, at any time a player can cast aspersions regarding the character of a fellow butler, upon which information an aristocrat can choose to act, confiscating from the offending player's card, or even from the accuser (for impertinence). Players can win back sections of their card with good service, or even win back sections of other butlers' cards (for trade or blackmail).

At the end of the game, regardless of tips (which could, at the discretion of the organiser, be dropped entirely from this version), the player which the most sections of card remaining is the winner!

Play Testing

This game was played at the Liverpool Sandpit, on 24/09/2009. There were four actors (three male, one female), who had run through an improvisation workshop a few days before, and about 16 players.

We'd decided to spice things up with a subplot involving the actors: a young debutante choosing between two young men, one of whom wasn't interested, but compelled by honour to marry her if she so decided. The other was a secret alchoholic - cue butlers with drink orders being diverted, tip-offs and alliances. Into this mix was also thrown a wealthy, eccentric uncle, whose will everyone was desperate to be written into.

Essentially, these factors co-existed with the generic tasks, but if discovered could earn the players much larger tips than usual.