Twitter was the first so-called “social network” to actively encourage antisocial behavior. With something like Facebook or MySpace, friends are added through mutual agreement. Either you both follow each other, or nobody follows anyone. Twitter doesn’t require such reciprocation. I’m perfectly capable of seeing what Rob Delaney is up to without Delaney caring about my late-night TV live-tweeting. So following somebody on Twitter is a one-way exchange of social currency. Twitter empowers isolation, allowing you to send thoughts into the ether like an Illuminati theorist scribbling on his cabin walls.
Delaney, a stand-up comic with more than 850,000 Twitter followers, was one of the first people to make the medium feel inclusive. A few years ago, without a writing gig and nursing a stand-up career that had plateaued, Delaney found consolation in Twitter’s small “compose” window, tweeting multiple times a day like it was his job.
Soon, it practically became a job, providing a platform where Delaney could share his sexual proclivities or odd bursts of sass. (“Heading into the workweek with an extraordinarily well moisturized penis,” says one tweet. Another: “Game of Thrones? Not on my watch! This is a King of Queens household, thank you very much!”) His fanbase was entirely his own, and everyone who followed Delaney could feel like they belonged to a little club. The only prerequisite for entry is a willingness to gaze upon Delaney’s Twitter avatar, which depicts the hairy comic in a tight green Speedo.
Rob Delaney’s War Of Words effectively flips the bird to Delaney and his Twitter followers. This board game shoehorns Delaney’s tweets into awkward and confusing tasks. Like so many board games, there is a board, and you must reach the finish, but this race is largely irrelevant. You roll the die, move your piece, and do what it says on a card. The game might have you rewrite a Delaney tweet with your own hilarious Mad Libs-style word substitution. Or you might have to answer an icebreaker-style question tenuously based on a tweet’s subject matter.
It’s like finding the perfect bar, where the beer list is just right, the music’s not too loud, and your comfortable booth is next to a friendly and gregarious group of co-eds. Then the bartender promptly enforces a limbo contest. You have no choice but to sit back in horror as something that was perfectly fun is contorted into something “fun.”
Delaney’s involvement here is almost nil. My understanding is that the game’s publisher, All Things Equal, purchased the rights to his tweets, and that agreement ended his involvement with the final product. It shows, because the lightning in a bottle that led to Delaney’s success on Twitter is not present in the home-game edition.
Rather than sitting back and enjoying his tweets as they trickle into your feed, War Of Words has you actively participate in the phenomenon, to the point where you are trying to out-funny the funnyman. “I’ve convinced my son that our fat neighbor Terry is a superhero called ‘The Beefwalker,’” reads the tweet on one card you might draw from the deck. “The Beefwalker” is highlighted, which is a signal that the other players must write suggestions for what replaces “The Beefwalker” so that you can choose the best one. It’s Apples To Apples with leading statements.
That’s clunky. Another activity is downright awkward. “If you’re afraid of something, a good exercise is to write your fear on a piece of driftwood, then eat a pizza and shit yourself,” reads one card, again quoting Delaney. The card follows up with: “What is something you’re afraid of?” And again, everyone has to write down an answer so that one player can pick the “best” one. Now it’s Apples To Apples with a touch of group therapy.
The flaws in War Of Words run deeper than its attempts to invest you in a bunch of sentences you did not write. Delaney can be incredibly witty, but the assumption with Twitter is that you aren’t going to follow just one person. A Delaney tweet will be followed by someone else, maybe multiple people, giving you a breather before you back inside Delaney’s brain. There are no other writers in War Of Words, so it’s Delaney tweet after Delaney tweet until someone happens to make it to the finish line.
In those moments when Delaney’s own words are not available—namely for the “War Chest” cards that mirror Monopoly’s “Community Chest,” the folks at All Things Equal ape his writing style poorly. “There’s a rocket in your pocket. Good for you. Move ahead three spaces,” reads one such card. It’s only recognizable as a Delaney impression because there’s a photo of him next to it.
The only bright spots in War Of Words are the times when players are given as few freedoms as possible—when someone lands on one of the red “war of words” squares. In this two-player showdown, both players draw a Delaney tweet from the pile, and you each read your respective tweet out loud. Then the rest of the group decides who was the funniest. Much of this “war” comes down to luck of the draw, but there are a few aspects of the performance you can control. Goofy inflection, misplaced emphasis, and dramatic hand gestures are just a few of the techniques at your disposable. If you’re willing to ham it up, it’s a blast.
It seems counterintuitive that so much joy can be garnered from a “game” where you simply reading tweets from a card, but that’s essentially what makes Twitter so great: creativity within restrictions. You have only 140 characters to paint word pictures on Twitter, yet over time, you can conjure a persona seemingly out of thin air. Delaney has mastered this skill and built a community around it. War Of Words is a Franken-game where limits and camaraderie are supposed to be the last thing on your mind. Unfollow.