Announcing a new tool for gaming: Check-In Cards

by Gil Hova

I’ve been spending the past few months working on a few secret projects, and today is the day I finally unveil one of them!

The weird thing is: this is not really a game.

Check-In Cards is a tool you’ll use before you start playing a game to check in with the other players. It’s especially useful around strangers, or people you’ve never played with before, but it can come in handy with your regular gaming group as well.

Here’s how it works. Everyone takes four cards. One half of each card shows an Energy level, and the other half shows an Intensity level.

Everyone rotates their cards so the Energy half is on top, and then everyone plays a card that indicates how much energy they are feeling as a person at that moment.

If anyone plays a low-energy card, check in with them! See if they’re okay playing the next game. They might need a break, or a snack.

If everyone’s energy levels are okay, then rotate your cards to the Intensity side, and play a card that corresponds to how intensely you want to play the next game. An intensity level of 1 means that you don’t care if you win (like a party game), and/or that you don’t want the game to be emotionally impactful. An intensity level of 4 means that you’re very invested in winning this game (like a tournament), and/or that you want the feelings from the game to linger long after the game is over.

If there are any differences of 2 or more in the cards played, then you should all agree to an intensity level that everyone is okay playing with. Some players may need to get slightly more invested in the game, while other players may need to play less competitively or emotionally.

I’ve tested Check-In Cards with both RPGs and board games, and I’m happy to say it works equally well in either respect. The definition of “intensity” changes a bit from one style of game to another, but the general idea still holds.

Check-In Cards is designed to surface differences in play within the same play group. However, it’s not designed to solve them. Only a group that checks in with each other and discusses how they’re feeling can really answer these problems.

I don’t expect people to use Check-In Cards before every game. My goal is to formalize a check-in procedure before playing something, and to get into the habit of getting in touch with yourself to figure out how you feel and what you want from the game.

I also want to socialize the idea that not everyone wants to play the same game the same way, and to let people know that it’s okay to agree on a play style before starting on a game.

Finally, playing a card is much easier than breaking the flow of a game night by saying you’re tired or hungry, especially in a new group. Check-In Cards gives you permission to not feel 100%, and to communicate how you feel to everyone else.

None of the cards are “wrong” to play, as long as you’re playing them honestly. A card showing you’re out of energy is good and valid, as are the Intensity 1 or 4 cards, or any other cards. The important thing is that everyone knows how everyone else feels, and can make accommodations for them.

About the look and idea

I’m so happy with how Check-In Cards looks! That’s all courtesy of illustrator Rachel Kremer from the webcomic Semi-Coop, and graphic designer Scott Hartman, who did graphic design for Bad Medicine and Wordsy, as well as creating the now-iconic Formal Ferret logo.

I came up with the idea for this tool back in October of 2019, on my way home from the Spiel show in Essen. I was influenced by two things: a conversation my friend Bebo had on a podcast in which she suggested a set of cards people could use to indicate how they feel before starting a game, and the “check-in” process from the excellent (and sadly defunct) podcast Greatway Games, where Erin, Adrienne, and Nicole would check in with each other at the start of each episode to see how they feel.

I’ve been testing this tool for half a year since then, and I’ve gotten some amazing results. One player watched a late-night RPG session, and admitted that he would have left 5 minutes into the game; but his playing the “Empty” energy card gave him permission to be tired at the table, and he stuck around for close to an hour instead.

Some people insist they will only ever play Intensity level 4, which is fine, as long as the rest of the group is fine with it! The idea is to surface these play styles and make them explicit before the game even starts.

How to get Check-In Cards

Check-In Cards is currently available through Drive-Thru Cards. You can get it as a PDF, or as physical cards. Note that the physical cards may take a few weeks to arrive, as COVID-19 is slowing down DTC’s production.

If you are in the UK or the EU and you want physical cards, you can order them from Ivory, a UK-based print-on-demand service.

I hope this tool will help you communicate with your fellow game players! I mentioned a lot of ways that Check-In Cards helps your play with strangers, but it should go without saying: at the time of this writing, you should not be playing Check-In Cards, and you should not be playing any game, with any strangers in-person, until there’s scientific and medical consensus that public gatherings are safe again.

Wishing health, happiness, safety, and peace to all my Formal Ferret friends, fans, and followers!