Word Disassociation is like the reverse of the psychiatrist's tool, where the analyst says words and the patient says the first thing that comes into his mind. It is played by at least two people. We've had extensive online testing of this game, and I can say that it works best with any small number of people, maybe not exceeding five or six. One person may want to be armed with paper and pencil in order to record what words are used.
A turn order is decided any old way, it hardly matters who goes first. Some may object, especially after several games and playing habits become evident, to going one or two turns after a specific other player, try to accommodate these people if possible. Use random determination if anyone expresses reservations, this is not meant to be a cutthroat type of thing but about half an hour's worth of fast, light entertainment.
One person starts out by saying, aloud, a noun. (In practice nothing really restricts people from using verbs, adjectives or adverbs other than the need to restrict the word-space the players explore at least slightly.) Then, the next person must speak a noun that has "nothing to do with" the word just said, within a reasonable time frame (about ten seconds should do it, for the game is harder than it may seem). The person after that must use a noun that has nothing to do with the two previous words. After that, successive players need only worry about steering around the two nouns that came before that turn.
No player may use a word for his turn that has been used, also as a turn, anytime before in that game. (So, casual conversation is "off the record.") Since the game is played aloud, all homonyms count as the same word. This is what the paper is for, though in a pinch you can do without it. In the absence of a solid record of used words, you can simply allow players to call "gotchas" should they recognize a word used by a competitor as having come before, and let the other players decide if the call is good. Also, no one should use a proper noun, that is to say a name, for their turn. And a turn can consist of only one noun, so steer clear of compound words.
These rules are fairly bare, and the phrase "nothing to do with" is left intentionally vague. Of course, all words are related to all other words, by virtue of all being in the same language, so some consensus must be made regarding what is "close enough." This tends to vary widely from game to game, depending on who is playing. If someone says "dog" and the next "cat," then I would say that is obviously too close, as both animals are common household pets. "Dog" and "elephant" are also generally too closely related, since they're both quadruped animals. But what if, instead of "elephant," someone said "pelican?" (Not a mammal.) Or "oyster?" (Not a vertebrate.) How about "sequoia?" (Not an animal, yet still alive.) Or, how about "table," it's got four legs, although it isn't an animal. Some circles may consider all words that come from French to be related, but the French themselves may feel the same way about English. How close is too close? This sort of answer tends to be determined by the players themselves shortly into each game. In the case of conflicts, the sensible thing to do is for all the players to vote on the usability of a given move.
When we played our numerous online games of Word Disassociation we had an advantage, in that people tended to look to me, as the game's inventor, to tell them whether a given word was good or bad. To be honest, I was quite inconsistent with the answers I gave. But this is okay, each game does not have to be consistent with all other games, so long as it is consistent within itself. But because you don't have that built-in authority to overrule bossy players, I hereby authorize you to do one of the following two things:
- Claim you invented the game. That'll silence them. You probably have a better idea then they what would be good to use anyway, for having read this writeup.
- Use the "three word rule," which I just made up and so isn't guaranteed to be completely operable but seems right somehow. If there is some confusion about whether a word is too close, in any of the many dozens of ways in which it can be close, to another, ask if the new thing can be connected, using any three other words, to within a reasonable degree of exclusivity, say, within five alternatives? This way, "dog" is like "cat" because you can say "common household pets," which is not more than three words, and there aren't more than five alternatives that can be quickly thought of, maybe "parakeet," "goldfish," and "hamster." "Has four legs" may not work, for either "elephant" or "table," because so many other things have four legs. The fact that most of them are animals would make no difference, because the connecting phrase says nothing about animals. Note that, in trying to connect words and messing up your opponents, you are allowed to use wordplay and puns. "Rhymes with" is a good way to mess someone up who is playing meanings a little close. It is important not to think about this too long, as the game's rhythm is important. Encourage players to play as quickly as possible, and fell free to shorten the ten second limit if that will help.
Those of you who choose not to use the three word rule may find the following ideas helpful:
Synonyms are automatically related.
Rhyming words are related.
Remember, words that have homonyms are essentially related to a much wider region of the word-space. They can be dangerous, but also cruelly effective.
All animals are related to each other, all plants are related to each other, but plants are not related to animals. This one rule may not seem like much, but it could be applied to many fields by way of analogy.
A player "fails" when he doesn't say anything acceptable within the time allowed (feel free to count down "three... two... one!" to emphasize this point) or says something which has been used before, or says something too close to the two preceding words. You can either keep track of failures as a way of keeping score (lowest score after a certain time winning), or by ejecting players who mess up. If you eject players, make sure they don't wander away, as having more people on hand to look for connections will help shorten the rest of the round. We usually played that way, with the effect that when the game got down to two players, contestants had to look out for both their opponent's word, and their own previous turn.
This game seems easy at first glance since, after all, what could be easier than just picking a thing out of thin air? But most people aren't really that creative. (Actually, I do awful at this game, and it isn't long before I must resort to looking around the room for good nouns to use.) Having a good knowledge of a semi-obscure field, say of mythology, can really help you out (saying "dryad" tends to startle people), but the no-repeats rule ensures that even the deepest such well will eventually turn dry. If there are at least three people in the game, then it is likely that you'll eventually see a player who will extensively mine a particular category. The answer to this, of course, is for one of the other players to attempt to head him off with an "intersecting" meaning.
Word Disassociation isn't meant as the sort of thing that can stand up to tournament play. A lot of the fun comes from the group figuring out what they consider to be related, but it should never, ever, be so rigidly defined that another player cannot foil another player with a brilliant challenge. If the game encourages people to happily shout things like "Both holds water!" or "Costs five dollars!," then I don't know about you, but I would consider it a success.