Hey, all you word-nerds and beaucats, I just found your new jec! Oh, sorry—I was using the new words that my daughters and I created while playing the game Dialect. What I meant is this: Hey, all you word-nerds and cool people, I just found something that might become your new obsession! And yes, that would be Dialect, a Game About Language and How It Dies.
It might sound a little odd, but bear with me.
Darren and I came across the game a couple of weeks ago. At first, I couldn’t figure out what it was supposed to be. The cards said odd things like
Explorer: We rely on you to venture beyond where the rest of us do. You identify with all of the Aspects.
Work: The Isolation is no stranger to work and toil. This is how we refer to what must be done.
What in the world did these mean? I wondered if it were a particularly esoteric therapy method. I put aside the cards and opened the hardback instruction book. As I began to understand the game, my excitement mounted.
In Dialect, a group of people live in an isolated community (“the Isolation”). This community is built around two or three important ideals, the Aspects, which inform and motivate how they live and talk. The people in this community are archetypes (e.g., Sage, Celebrity, Mediator, Explorer) who direct how the language develops. As the Isolation moves through Ages, their language changes and evolves. The Isolation ends when the community comes into contact with Outsiders or when everyone who knew the community has passed on.
I know, the game still sounds strange. But hang on, it’ll make sense!
I read through the entire instruction book, which is very thorough and provides examples of a group playing the game. There are also videos online showing a game in action. I learn best by doing, however, so I did a solo run-through. I would say that my preparation to lead a game took about three hours in all—a chunk of time, to be sure, but once you understand how the game flows, it falls into place.
I knew my girls would love the game and really wanted to play it with them. But they aren’t the enthusiastic gamers that my boys are. So I bought them peppermint hot chocolates, and Darren cleared out the afternoon school schedule. The deal thus sweetened, Bookgirl and Sparkler sat down with me and our new game.
We chose to use one of the premade “backdrops” from the book. We were part of a community of two thousand humans living on Mars. We’d been told that others would join us, but then all communication with Earth was disrupted. Now permanent residents of the Red Planet, we formed our own culture with our own language.
Each of us chose an archetype and created a character based on it. The book guided us in deciding what was important to our community (the Aspects), and how our characters identified or reacted to them. We talked about where we lived and the dangers that shaped our daily lives. And then we got into the fun part—naming our characters, our community and creating our language. We were Mairzy, Bexa, and MJ Adais—three citizens of The Olympians, a community of terraformers who lived in a biodome city in the shadow of Olympus Mons.
We let the book and cards guide us, but soon found ourselves bubbling over with ideas. One of my cards directed me to come up with a way to refer to death. Inspired by the Greek mythology imagery, I said that we called it “sailing with Charon,” which later became merely “sailing away.” If we wanted a more aggressive expression, equivalent to, “If you keep doing that you’ll kill yourself!” we’d say, “He’s going to pay his coin!”
Yet some factions of our community believed that we’d been sent to Mars specifically to die. They wouldn’t say “sail away.” Instead, they referred to death as being “sent out.”
Not all our conversation centered on death, though. In a world of isolation, loss, and danger, the Olympian community strongly encouraged hobbies to keep spirits up. Eventually this expectation became almost a requirement. When you met a new person, one of the first questions you’d ask was about his or her “passion project,” or “jec.”
If you were introduced to a person in authority, you’d temper your conversation with the honorific “beaucat,” a word derived from “bureaucrat” but with a positive spin. Yet the same faction who believed that our community was an elaborate death sentence refused to use “beaucat.” They took the word “anarchist” and turned it into “charist.” Eventually, many generations later, the Bocats and the Charish were the most prominent political parties in Olympia Mars.
The game ended when (as the book directed) a ship of new Earthling colonists arrived on Mars. Our Isolation was over. All that was left was to wrap up the story in the Legacy stage. All three of our characters found different ways to preserve the memory of what we’d created, even after our distinctive dialect faded.
Dialect is a very flexible game. It can be serious, tragic, or lighthearted. Players build a culture with its societal structures, values, and language. (Bexa and Mairzy even disputed the use of “beaucat”—Bexa said that Mairzy used it incorrectly, but Mairzy said the meaning depended on who was saying it.) Essentially, Dialect is a roleplaying game. But the focus isn’t on combat and looting, it’s on language and conversation.
Which, okay, is a little weird.
Still, in an hour and a half, my daughters and I created a world, gave it a voice, and preserved its memory. That, if you ask me, is pretty beaucat.
Dialect has an unusual concept, distinctive artwork, and high-quality cards and book. I bought it here [https://thornygames.com/pages/dialect].Photo credit: iStock.