People Watching

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People Watching
Designer: Annette Mees and Tassos Stevens
Year: unknown
Players: Flexible, but at least 8.
Stuff required: One bag with one golden and 3 silver sprigs of heather. One bag with 10 sprigs of differently-coloured heather per team. One instruction letter for each of the teams.
Crew required: Two people to run it; 5 or 10 people to act as "friends".
Preparation: Prop preparation and "friend" briefing.
Time required: One hour.
Place required: Best played on a large busy square with obscured sightlines
Activities: Finding, deduction, teamwork.
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?)

There are few finer ways to while away time in the city than by watching people go by and wondering what their stories might be. People Watching makes sport of this activity as players try to identify and piece together the stories of actors mixed in among normal crowds.

Instructions for the Players

As a player, your are in a team of three or four players. At the beginning of the game, find a base on the square for your team. One person of your team should man that base at all time. When you have chosen your base a letter from Sam will be delivered to you, giving clues to the identity of Sam’s friends, who are scattered around the playing area. The aim of the players is to identify these friends and approach them by giving them lucky heather and a message from Sam. If you deliver the appropriate message they will exchange the lucky sprig of heather for a silver or golden sprig, which is worth points at the end of the game.

You have one hour to identify as many friends as you can.

Gold heather (handed out to the first team to identify a friend) is worth 3 points, silver (given to the next two teams) 1 point. If a player from another team mistakes you for a character and you are given one of their heather sprigs, then that is worth 5 points. Only heather that is brought back within the time limit is counted. The team with the highest score wins.

Instructions to the Gamemaster: Preparation

Create a letter for the players. The letter should contain:

  • A personal message from Sam to the players asking them to find her friends
  • Practical playing instructions along the line of: “If you think you’ve spotted someone I know, then approach them, offer a piece of heather and say ‘Take this for the best of luck’. If they are a friend of mine they will say ‘Thank you but I wonder how on earth I could be lucky?’ (and even if I don’t know them, you’ll have made someone’s day) You must then pass on the appropriate message from Sam. If it is what they need to hear, they will in turn give you a piece of heather — gold if you are the first to approach them, otherwise silver.
  • A message for each of the characters which also provides a clue to whom the players might be looking for.
  • A thank you from Sam.

Create 6 to 8 Friends of Sam. Give each of them a prop and an action to carry out, and create a message that gives a clue to who they are. For example: Sam’s Friend Anna.

  • Action: trying to do a crossword but struggling over one word.
  • Prop: Newspaper and pen.
  • Message: We loved doing the crossword together. Please pass on that the clue we struggled over the other day was ‘eternity’.

Instructions to the Gamemaster: The Game

Instruct Sam’s Friends before the game and well out of sight. Give them a bag of heather (one gold, two silver) and give each Friend their name and action.

Once the game starts you are here to represent Sam. Tell the players that Sam can’t be here today but would like them to help her get a message to her friends. You don’t know who Sam’s other friends are but they are all present on this Square now. Sam has written a letter for each of the teams with all information they need, which will be delivered to them as soon as they have chosen a base. One of the team should man the base at all times.

Give the players an end time and a clear ‘2 minutes to go’ signal. Wish them luck and tell them you will be on hand to answer any questions and to check there is always someone at the base. Deduct 2 points each time the base is unmanned. Ask them to be bold, friendly and above all really watch people.

Hand each team their bag with 10 pieces of heather and send them to pick a base. Deliver Sam’s letters. If asked questions about Sam’s Friends just say you’ve never met them either and can’t help.

At the end of the game give the signal. Have all Sam’s friends introduce themselves to the players and tell them what they were doing in the square. While this is going on, add up the scores.

Instructions for Sam’s Friends

Enter the square at the start of the game from a different direction to the other Friends. Find a space you can do your action in. Don’t worry about acting too hard, just do your repeatable action. Try and vary whether you are in a crowd or in your own space.

If you are offered a piece of heather and the person says ‘Take this for the best of luck’ then you should accept it and say ‘Thank you but I wonder how on earth I could be lucky?’ If they deliver you the correct message then thank them and give them a piece of your heather. First gold, and then silver. (Make sure their heather isn’t a colour that you already have - each team can only approach you once). If the player delivers you the wrong key fact then say that you think they must have the wrong person.

In any case, after being given a piece of heather, do not give it back. Leave the Square by the nearest entrance quickly without drawing attention to yourself and without allowing anyone else to offer you heather. Then go to another entrance, wait another couple of minutes and come in again!

When you have given out all three pieces of heather you can come join the game master at the centre of the square.

Play history

People Watching was played at Come Out and Play 2007, and at the Village Green festival in Southend in September 2008.