The Highwire Deck is a new modular improv toolbox and gaming system from Highwire Improv and Pacdude Games. Use the Highwire Deck for improv practice, writing inspiration, creative brainstorming and more, and play dozens of your favorite card and board games all in one concise package.
This document is the virtual instruction manual for the Highwire Deck. Its current version is 1.0 and was published on August 17, 2021.
Improvisation In 400 Words or Less
Improvisation (improv, impro) is the art of theater without scripted dialogue or actions. It’s often (but doesn’t have to be) funny, it’s often (but doesn’t have to be) done without physical costumes and props, and while it is made up on the spot, you can practice it!
Already experienced? Glance over the definitions in this section and get going!
Never done improv before? Start by having a pretend conversation with another person:
- Congratulations! You two are now playing characters – the (usually human) participants in the scene.
- That person across from you? That’s your scene partner! Work to build the scene together, and treat them with support and respect!
- How do you build a scene together? Use this simple three step formula:
- Listen – every time your partner says something, listen to it! All of it! Even what they are saying non-verbally. Listening helps you observe the scene you’re in.
- Agree – after you listen – agree, and let your scene partner know it. This can be really simple – ‘why YES that is a beautiful coffee table!’ Agreeing helps you and your scene partner play in the same world, in the same scene.
- Add – now that you have the next piece of your scene agreed, start adding the next piece. This can be a new detail, a reaction, a piece of history revealed, anything that comes to mind based on what you just agreed is happening! Adding helps you take your scene to fun and interesting places
- Not sure what to say? Start by establishing your base reality – where you are, what you’re doing, and who each of you are (and your relationship to one another).
- Feel like the scene is done? Edit it! That’s just the improv word for defining when a scene is over – there are many ways to do it- you can just start by shouting ‘scene’!
Having fun? The rest of this section will give you practically an infinite number of ways to start or modify your improv scenes, as well as some fun improv games to try!
The simplest way to use the Highwire Deck for improvisation is to use one or more features as input and inspiration for your scenes or improv sets. You can use any word on the card as a one-word suggestion, or try these more specific scene starters:
- Use the Location as the starting place for your scene.
- Use the Relationship as the input for how you and your scene partner know each other.
- Start the scene knowing something about your character, like a Base Emotion, a Detailed Emotion, or an Occupation, or your level of status (using the Double-9 Domino or Poker Rank values). You can even come in with multiple inputs!
- For an advanced version, pick a starting emotion or status and an ending emotion or status, and transition from one to the other throughout the course of your scene.
Start the scene with each performer doing object work; select an Object for your character to have, and add on an Adverb that defines how your character is interacting with that object.
Group exercises are great ways to experiment with larger settings, learn how to get on the same page, and build teamwork and support skills!
Character Party – Each member of the group draws a card and uses the material on the card to build a character (you can use an Object, an Occupation, an Adjective, an Adverb, and/or a status value based on the Double-9 Domino). Once everyone is prepared with their character, they begin moving around the space in character, and as people approach one another, they have short conversations, in character, as if mingling at a party.
Say My Word – Each member of the group draws a card and selects a secret word without revealing it to the rest of the group. Arrange the group in a circle so that everyone can see each other. One member starts by saying a word, and the person to the right says a word inspired by or related to that word. You aren’t allowed to say your own secret word, but you want to get someone in the circle to say your secret word! The game ends once everyone’s secret word has been revealed.
Status Detective – Each member of the group draws a card, without looking at it. They either hold the card against their forehead, or clip it to their clothes so that they can’t see the Poker Rank, but everyone else in the group can. Everyone moves about the room, and interacts with the other people based on the status value implied by their rank (2 is low, face cards are high, with the Ace being the highest status). After the group has interacted, everyone tries to guess their own status value.
Volcano – One member of the group plays director while the rest of the group moves about the room at random. Periodically, the director draws a card and announces the Object (for example, a volcano), and then counts to 5. The group has to collectively form the object before the director gets to 5. They then break apart and return to moving about the room until the director draws another card and announces the next object.
Short-form games bring some stricter rules to your improv scenes that help make things wild, fast. Use the Highwire Deck to provide rapid input or to set the game in motion!
185 – In this simple line game, the performers get the input of an Occupation or an Object and come up with funny (often pun-based) reasons that they wouldn’t be allowed in a bar or store using a specific format; for example: “185 cards walk into a store, and the manager says we don’t serve cards here… they always get lost in the shuffle!”
Alphabet Game – Two improvisers perform a scene (feel free to get an input from the Highwire Deck) – but the challenge is that every line must start with the next letter of the alphabet. Draw a card from the deck to get the starting letter from the card’s Letter Rank. For a high-speed challenge, draw a card for every line, and start your line with that letter!
Expert Panel – In this group game, one improviser plays moderator for a panel of experts. Unfortunately, the experts are generally not experts in the subject at hand. The moderator picks a topic to discuss by drawing a card and selecting the Object. The other performers each draw a card and play as an expert version of the listed Occupation. The moderator asks the experts questions or solicits them from the audience and each expert provides their perspective in turn.
Word Count – Two or more improvisers perform a scene (feel free to get an input from the Highwire Deck) – but the challenge is that each improviser must always use a set number or words in each line of their dialogue. Each performer draws a card from the deck to get their number of words from the Double-9 Domino. For a high-speed challenge, draw a card for every line, and use that number of words!
Long-form formats are a great way to put together a coherent 20 minute (or more!) improv show, and you can use the Highwire Deck to begin your show, or even give the deck to an audience member to inject things midway!
La Ronde – In the La Ronde, we get to see individuals in the context of different relationships with one another. With or without a predetermined order, the group performs a series of two-person scenes – if the group has four members (label them A, B, C, and D), we would see A and B do a scene, then B and C, then C and D, and then we loop back around to see D and A. You can add a layer to the La Ronde by drawing a card at the beginning of each scene to define the Relationship between the players!
Monoscene – A monoscene is a long-form improv format in which the entire set takes place in one location and in one continuous block of time. There are no edits, cut-aways, or time jumps. Use the Highwire Deck to pick a location for your monoscene. You can also fill that location with some interesting Objects (possibly modified with some Adjectives).
Scavenger Hunt – A long-form format created specifically for the Highwire Deck, this one will stretch your explanation and justification skills! Before the set begins, each improviser draws two (three if you’re daring) cards and makes note of the Objects. Throughout the show, each improviser must ‘find’ these objects in their scenes (it counts if another improviser mentions your object) – the set is done once all of the objects are discovered. It’s up to you whether you let the audience in on the secret before, during, or after!
Small Town – Similar to the La Ronde, the Small Town is a great way to build interesting characters and explore relationship dynamics. In this format, the improvisers are all residents of a fictional small town (which an audience member may helpfully provide). Each improviser draws a card to learn their Occupation within the town, and the set begins! As always, feel free to add to the fun with an Adjective, or a status level from the Double-9 Domino.
Solitaire isn’t the only game you can play alone with the Highwire Deck! Improvising by yourself? Try one of these exercises to sharpen your skills, or just for fun!
Character Monologue – Pick any word from a card to inspire a 60-second monologue. To add some complexity, pick a Detailed Emotion to inform the monologue as well. Still too easy? Pick a word from two cards and try to weave a monologue from the first word to the second.
Emotional Scales – While walking around a space or looking in a mirror, pick a Base Emotion or a Detailed Emotion and a number from the Double-9 Domino. Walk around taking on that emotional state at the level of the number (0 being completely neutral, 1 being the most mild version of the emotion, and 9 being the most extreme).
Object Work – Select an Object from a card and begin miming the use of that object. Next, pick an Adverb and continue miming the use of that object in the style of the adverb. Finally, add a Detailed Emotion and allow that to inform your continued object work.
Word Association – Pick any word from a card and say the first word that comes to mind. Move through each card as quickly as possible. Add difficulty by stringing together multiple words per card.
GAMING TOOLS AND DIVERSIONS
Love Letter for 2-6 Players
Every player is a suitor to the princess attempting to deliver her a love letter. The princess has locked herself in the palace, so you must rely on others to get your letter to her.
Pull out the 16 cards with the Legacy Ranks that say ① GUARD, ② PRIEST, ③ BARON, ④ HANDMAID, ⑤ PRINCE, ⑥ KING, ⑦ COUNTESS and ⑧ PRINCESS. You will also need a pile of tokens to use as Tokens of Affection—use other cards face down, or poker chips. Shuffle the 16 cards and form them into a face-down deck. Remove the top card from the deck without looking at it. If you’re playing a 2-player game, remove 3 more cards from the deck.
Each player draws one card from the deck, which is kept secret from the other players. This is the person who is holding your love letter. Each round of play represents one day. At the end of each round, one player’s love letter reaches the princess. When she reads enough letters from one player, she falls in love with that player and that player wins the game.
On your turn, draw the top card from the deck and add it to your hand. Choose one of the two cards in your hand and discard it in front of you. Each card comes with an effect—apply that effect during your turn. All discarded cards lay face up in front of the player who discarded them. Play passes to the left.
Once the deck is empty, or all but one player are eliminated, the round ends. All players still in play reveal their hands. The player with the highest-ranked person wins the round. In the event of a tie, the player who discarded the highest total value of cards wins. The winner receives a Token of Affection.
The game ends when a player earns 4 Tokens of Affection (for a four-player game), 5 Tokens of Affection (for a three-player game) or 7 Tokens of Affection (for a two-player game).
⑧ PRINCESS: If you discard this card, you are out of the round.
⑦ COUNTESS: If you have this card and the King or Prince in your hand, you must discard this card.
⑥ KING: Trade hands with another player of your choice.
⑤ PRINCE: Choose any player (including yourself) to discard their hand and draw a new card.
④ HANDMAID: Until your next turn, ignore all effects from other player’s cards.
③ BARON: You and another player secretly compare hands. The player with the lower value is out of the round.
② PRIEST: Look at another player’s hand.
① GUARD: Name a non-Guard card and choose a player. If that player has that card, they are out of the round.
Coup for 3-6 Players
Pull out the 15 cards with the Legacy Ranks that say AMBASSADOR, ASSASSIN, CONTESSA, CAPTAIN and DUKE. These are the Influence Cards. You will also need a pile of tokens to use as a bank—use other cards face down, or poker chips.
Shuffle the cards and deal 2 to each player. Players should look at the Legacy Ranks on their cards but keep them hidden from other players. Each character has their own special ability:
The AMBASSADOR can swap an Influence card with one from the deck, and can block stealing. The ASSASSIN forces one player to give up an Influencer card. The CONTESSA can block the Assassin’s killings. The CAPTAIN can steal two tokens from another player, as well as block stealing. The DUKE takes taxes from the bank and can block Foreign Aid.
Starting with the player to the left of the dealer and going clockwise, players take turns performing one of the following actions:
Income: Take 1 token from the bank. No one can challenge or block this move.
Foreign Aid: take 2 tokens from the bank. No one can challenge this move, but the DUKE can block it.
Coup: At the cost of seven tokens, you can make any player give up an Influence card. If you have 10 or more tokens at the start of your turn, you must take this action.
Taxes: The DUKE’s special ability. Take 3 tokens from the bank.
Assassinate: The ASSASSIN’s special ability. At the cost of 3 tokens, you can make any player give up an Influence card. The targeted player chooses which card to surrender. The CONTESSA can block this.
Steal: The CAPTAIN’s special ability. Take 2 coins from any player. The CAPTAIN and AMBASSADOR can block this.
Swap: The AMBASSADOR’s special ability. Draw 2 Influence cards from the deck, look at them, and mix them with your current Influence cards. Place two cards back in the deck and shuffle the deck. No one can block this move.
If another player takes an action that can be blocked, any other player may block it by claiming to have the proper character on one of their Influence cards. The acting player cannot perform the action and their turn ends. The acting player can choose to challenge the blocking player. If they successfully challenge, the action goes through as normal.
When the acting player declares an action, any other player may challenge their right to take the action, under the assumption they don’t have an Influence card with that character. The acting player must prove they have the Influence card in question. If they have the right character, they reveal it, place it back in the deck, shuffle the deck, and draw a new Influence card. If they do not have the right character, they must turn over one of their influence cards face up. If they have no more Influence cards, they are eliminated from the game.
Play continues until all but one player is eliminated.
Uno for 2-4 Players
Shuffle the deck and deal 7 cards to each player. Place the remaining cards face-down in a draw pile. Flip the top card over to form the discard pile. Play starts with the player to the left of the dealer.
Players must play a card that matches the number or rank of the card on the top of the discard pile. For example, if the card is a Red 5, you must play any Red card or any 5 card. If you cannot, you must pick a card from the draw pile. If you can play the card you drew, play it. Play continues clockwise.
Before playing your next-to-last card, you must say “Uno.” If you don’t say “Uno” and another player catches you with one card before the next player begins their turn, draw four cards from the draw pile.
Special cards exist to change the flow of the game. ⧉ cards force the next player to Draw 2 cards instead of taking a turn. ❯ skips the next player, while ❮ reverses the flow of the game.
Some of the cards have no color, and function as Wild Cards. ✳ indicates Wild Cards that match any color or rank. The player that plays this card can choose the active color in play. ᠅ indicates a Wild Card Draw 4, in which the player that plays chooses the active color in play, while the player next in line must draw four cards in lieu of their turn.
Wild Card Draw 4 cards can only be played if the player has no other matching cards in their hand. The player who has to draw the cards may challenge a player that played a Draw 4—if the challenge is successful, the player that played the Draw 4 must collect the four cards; if it is unsuccessful, the player that challenged must collect the 4 cards plus 2 additional cards.
The first player to successfully play all their cards wins the round.
Werewolf for 8-12 Players
Pull out the 9 cards with the Legacy Ranks that say MODERATOR, VILLAGER, SEER, and WEREWOLF. One player should be the MODERATOR, who controls the flow of the game. The Moderator puts their card aside, shuffles the rest of the cards, and randomly passes each out to the rest of the players. Players must keep their role secret from everyone but the Moderator for the entirety of the game. The object of the game is to survive: the Werewolf survives by killing off the Villagers, the Villagers survive by deducing the identity of any Werewolves.
If there are 8 players playing, use only one WEREWOLF card. If there are 9 players playing, use two WEREWOLF cards.
Each round consists of two phases: Night and Day. During the Night phase, all players should be silent, except for the Moderator. At Night, each player closes their eyes. The Moderator will then prompt the Werewolves to open their eyes and select a player to kill. If there are two werewolves, they must agree on a victim.
Once the Werewolves select a victim, they close their eyes. The Moderator will then prompt the Seer to open their eyes. The Seer then selects one player to learn their identity. The Moderator will indicate whether the player the Seer selected is a Werewolf or not. The Seer then closes their eyes. The Moderator prompts all players to open their eyes, the Night phase ends and the Day phase begins.
During the Day phase, the Moderator informs the community of which player was killed during the night. That player can no longer communicate during the game. All players discuss which player they would like to eliminate from the game, hoping they choose the Werewolf. Once all players come to a consensus, the Moderator reveals if the eliminated player was the Werewolf.
If the Villagers eliminate the Werewolf, the game is over and the Villagers win. If not, play continues until there are an equal amount of or more Werewolves than there are Villagers.
If you would like to add more roles to the game, you can use the following cards for more powers. If you have 8 or 9 players, replace a VILLAGER card. If you have more players, use these in addition to VILLAGER cards.
ASSASSIN: The Assassin is on the Villager team and can choose to kill one player each night, and chooses their victim after the Werewolves. If the Werewolves target the Assassin, the Assassin’s victim does not die.
DUKE: The Duke is on the Villager team and can choose to protect one player each night—even themselves—from the Werewolves. The Duke selects their protectant before the Werewolves. Protection lasts only for one day.
CONTESSA: The Contessa is on the Villager team and at night can choose one player to protect from the Day phase elimination, except themselves. They choose their protectant after the Werewolves. Protection only lasts for one day.
Win Lose Banana for 1-3 Players
Pull out the 3 cards with the Legacy Ranks that say WIN, LOSE and BANANA. Shuffle them and deal them face down.
If you’re playing by yourself or with a friend: choose a card at random. If you choose the WIN card, you win. If you choose the LOSE card, you lose. If you choose the BANANA card, the other player must acquire you a banana.
If you are playing with three players: each player draws a card. The player who draws the WIN card is the winner! Each of the remaining players must then convince the Winner that they have the BANANA card. The Winner guesses who has the BANANA. If they guess correctly, both the Winner and the Bananaperson are the ultimate winners! If they guess incorrectly, the Loser becomes the ultimate winner. In any event, everyone should eat a banana afterwards anyway.
Zip Zap Zop: The Card Game for 2-4 Players
A game specifically made for the Highwire Deck.
Pull out the 12 cards with the Legacy Ranks that say ZIP, ZAP and ZOP. Shuffle them and deal one to each player. Players cannot communicate what cards they have verbally. All turns must be taken within 3 seconds of the previous turn. One player who has a ZIP card goes first, and plays a ZIP card by laying it in front of any player. That player must then lay a ZAP card in front of any player. That player must then lay a ZOP card in front of any player. Play continues with playing cards in the order of ZIP, ZAP and ZOP.
Play continues until all players play every card, or until a player whose turn it is cannot play the valid card. The winner is the friendships we made along the way.
WordBank for 1-4 Players
Use the entire Highwire Deck to play, using the Letter Ranks and the Double-9 Domino on each card. The player with the shortest name deals. Deal enough cards face-up in the middle of the play area so there is one more card than there are players. Decide on a dictionary to use as a judging source.
Moving clockwise, each player draws a card from the face-up cards and puts it into their hand. Play continues until one card remains. Move that card into a discard pile, then the player clockwise from the initial dealer shuffles and deals, and play continues in this manner until all players have 5 cards.
Using the 10 letters on the five cards, form a four-letter word. If the word is a valid dictionary word, then add up all the numbers on the dominos used in the word and add those points to your score.
If you cannot spell a word, you get a strike. Once you get 3 strikes, you are out of the game.
Shuffle all cards and deal again. Play continues until all players get 3 strikes. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.
If you are playing by yourself, attempt to score as many points as possible!
Other Amusement Ideas
Here are additional ideas you can try with the Highwire Deck:
- All of your favorite rulesets that you can play with a standard deck of playing cards can be played with the Highwire Deck, including Poker, Spades, Bridge, Slap, War, and other funny words.
- Play Hangman or Boggle using the Letter Ranks on each card.
- Use the dice on each card to play Yahtzee or Farkle or as a replacement for lost dice for a board game.
Use the words on each card to play Charades, Codenames or Password.