Secret Ante

Close to the holidays at December 20th I went to Hamilton to attend a party where a larp called Secret Ante was played. Aaron Vanek is the author, and you can download for free here. The game is a poker game, but the bet system works differently.

The game can be played with any version of poker, and in the manual they teach one way to play poker, Five Card Draw. The only difference from regular pokers is the betting system. In this game there is no money involved, but there is something more valuable on the stake, your life! We are who we are because the stories we tell to others and to ourselves; without stories there are no human beings. So, when I said you are betting your life, it means you are betting the stories of your life.

The game starts with players deciding in secret who they want to be in the game, which could be any character including themselves. The only advice is that players need to come up with stories about the character’s life, so will be difficult if they don’t know much about the character. Also, the game suggests playing with a character is more logical. On the other hand, play as yourself turns the game into more emotional.

There are 11 different kinds of betting chips, and each one shares different parts of life. The available betting chips and their meanings are:

  • Joy – What brings happiness to the character?
  • Fury – What enrages or makes the character angry?
  • Fear – What is the character afraid of?
  • Fantasy – What is this character’s sexual vision?
  • Failure – What has this character failed? This is an actual failure, not a potential one. A potential failure would be a Fear.
  • Success – What has this character succeeded at? Again, an actual success, not a possible one.
  • Sorrow – What saddens this character? This could be anything that the character laments, from a present situation, to a person, to their own past indiscretions.
  • Hope – What is this character hoping for?
  • Dream – What is an actual dream this character has had during sleep? Unlike conscious fears and fantasies, these are unconscious reveals. Or they’re merely weird and mean nothing.
  • Love – What does this character love? This may be a person, an action, or anything. It means something or someone that the character deeply cherishes and is willing to sacrifice part of themselves or themselves for.
  • Identity – Who is this character? You do not have to write the name of the character down, you can leave it blank.

Every player starts the game with one chip of each kind. Every chip has to be related to a story of their characters, so players mark every chip they have with an identification and a word that will tell them what story is associated to the chip.

As the game goes people will bet their stories and could happen that a player runs out of chips. Any player is free to create as many chips they want to, but with more chips more sharing. The only chip that players cannot create more is the Identity chip, which is the identity of your character. When the Identity chip is put on the stake, the game is over. Although, I have to tell that it was how we played, maybe the rules are little different, not sure. Chips can be raised to a value of 3 if the owner of the chip decide to write down “all” on the chip, see the cashing out below.

The game can be played forever, as long players can come up with stories for their characters. Once the game is over is time for cashing out the chips. In this game caching out means that you have to tell your stories to the person who owns your chips, and it is done in private. The only exception for the private cashing out is when the chip is raised to all, which make you tell your story for everyone. Remember that I told you are betting your life? Another rule associated with the chips is related to the Joker. The Jokers are wild cards, so they can be any card in the deck. When a player win with a joker, s/he removes the joker and keep it for themselves. In the cashing out phase the joker can be used to alter one of the stories players have to tell. Basically players can tell a lie if they have a joker.

I think the game is a great game specially when players choose to be themsleves. When players choose to be characters the chips has no actual value, so doesn’t matter if they bet or not; it is just fictional stories. Although, it could be an interesting creativity exercise. On the other hand, when players are playing themselves, especially with strangers, they will have to share things about themselves, which make them think about what they are betting.

In my game I played as myself, two players decide to play younger versions of themselves. One player decides to play as Santa Claus, and there is another player who I don’t know what character s/he was playing with.

So, if you are looking for a simple, fun and interesting way to know people, this game is for you!

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