This afternoon we played Dialect, by Thorny Games, a game about coining words as part of telling the story of a community. The game comes with four types of isolated communities, including a Mars colony, but we picked a 1980s cult, because of course we did. (And there are many third-party frameworks for different types of communities as well.)

Unlike role playing games, storytelling games such as Dialect typically involve more player negotiation about directions of the story. This is akin to the collaborative worldbuilding at the start of some campaigns and one-shots but occurs throughout the game. For instance, at the start of the second age of our story, we had to discuss a danger that was posed to our community, a reason why we had to let outsiders in for the first time. We brainstormed four ideas: a cave-in that required emergency personnel, a chronic medical emergency that required regular visits from a doctor or nurse, a blogger or Instagram influencer who was promoting our community, and a deputy who first checked in with us to investigate an alleged kidnapping (that person joined our cult willingly, we swear!). After some negotiation, we settled on the deputy.

The game is card-driven. For instance, each player is dealt three cards with archetypes and then picks one to play as their character. The game then plays in three ages. At the start of an age, each player is dealt three cards, like the one below.

On their turn, the player will either coin a word or use an action card. Each word card also includes a prompt for a scene; the current player will pick another player or solicit a volunteer to have the scene with, making sure to use the new word, and as the game goes on, to use the other words that have been coined. Sometimes a player will have an idea for a word; other times the player will moderate a discussion about potential words and then pick one.

Additionally, players can play action cards and word cards out of order, building off the tableau of words.

Here are our Age I words, in the order they were coined—

  • awepoc [< apocalypse] Wonderful.
  • sinizens [< sin + citizens] Outsiders.
  • cavey [< cave, as our community had sacred caves] Feeling the fragility of our isolation.
  • cave-in [< cave-in, applied metaphorically] An emotional outburst.
  • groove [< groovy, because we were reformed hippies] The past, before our isolation.
  • cohajj [< co– + hajj, a companion on a pilgrimage] A friend one communed with in the sacred caves.
  • poc [< awepoc] Greetings, hello.
  • sinical [< sin + cynical] Skeptical that the outside world is bad as the community thinks it is.
  • roo [< groove] Worry.

And some of our Age II words:

  • the Sin [< sin] The outside world.
  • craven [< craven + cave] Those community members who fled the compound into the caves, to escape the intrusions of outsiders.
  • sinizens [< sinizens, outsiders] Teens’ term for themselves. {An example of an action card being used to change the meaning of an existing word.}
  • lithero [< lith + hero] Those who remained in the compound rather than flee to the caves.
  • the count [< the countermeasures] Guns (stockpiled).

Age III words:

  • vowation [< vow + formation] Rededication to uphold our community’s constitution.
  • steady as a stalagmite / steady as a ’mite [From how stalagmites form.] A saying to express our unity.
  • cohajj [< cohajj, fellow pilgrim] Any community member. {An example of an action to broaden the meaning of an existing word.}
  • gedback [< Ged, a player character who encouraged some of his fellow craven to return to the compound + back] To convert a craven to a lithero. {An example of an eponym action.}

Finally, at the end of the game, each player is dealt an epilogue card with a chance to narrate their character’s legacy, from one of three choices.

Our group made awepoc use of our dialect to demonstrate our differences from sinizens and our distance from our own groove. My character, Ged, had quite the arc, changing from being sinical to becoming craven, then returning a lithero and gedbacking many of the others, to once again be a cohajj who was steady as a stalagmite.

This was a fun one-shot game, and I encourage it for anyone who enjoys conlanging or wordplay. I might play a game of Dialect as part of the worldbuilding or lore for a future campaign. You can buy Dialect directly from Thorny Games.

Photos copyright 2022 by Thorny Games.