WatchWords: the Ultimate Collaborative Storytelling Game

Artist’s Statement

Watchwords is a competitive and collaborative storytelling game where players add sentences to a story while sneaking in specific words of their own! But be careful, don’t make it obvious, or you might get called out…

Taking inspiration from games like Once Upon A Time, Codenames, and Finish the Story, we aimed to combine storytelling games and social deduction games into one. On the surface, players cooperatively and sequentially contribute to a themed story through the oral telling of added sentences, in the end creating a narrative that all can look back fondly on. The system of hidden Watchwords adds a layer of deception and competition to the basic storytelling structure – players can stand to gain points (and potentially win!) by either slipping their Watchwords into sentences or challenging others who’ve made it obvious they’ve used their own Watchwords.

All together, these systems create a dynamic where a wide variety of fun can be found, whether that be through the camaraderie of storytelling, the clever strategies involved in making Watchwords make sense in the context of the story, or the fellowship of reading your friends to see if they used their Watchword. Just remember to watch out for those words!

Concept Map

Ideation Exploration on our Mural

We first brainstormed different social game ideas and voted on which we were most excited about.

We decided to focus on a “pass the story” concept, where there are some constraints for how people can add to the story, and further brainstormed on this concept. 

We thought the voting idea was cool to avoid abuse and to encourage players to tell a compelling story.

We tested out the flow of the game and realized that the pace of play was too slow, but got a lot of good ideas about how we wanted to balance challenges to other’s sentences. So we went back to the drawing board and simplified our game mechanics.

Here we brainstormed again ways to make the game more interesting and speed up the pace of play. We decided that each player should have a turn to add a sentence, instead of everyone inputting a sentence each time.

This was our final game mechanics structure before our first real playtest.


Formal Elements and Values


Watchwords is a multilaterally competitive game for between 3 and 5 players. From our first initial designs, we always intended to make a social game that pits players against each other.


The objective of the game is two-fold: first, to tell a fun and compelling story; second, to outwit other players and gain the most points, whether that be through sneaking in Watchwords into sentences or stealing points from others when challenging their sentences.


Watchwords is a zero-sum game. Everyone can help make a good story, but there can only be one real winner!

Procedures and Rules

The core mechanics behind our game and initial designs involved players adding sentences in turn to a story, with the option of using a designated Watchword in their sentences for points.

Please see our rules slide-deck for a comprehensive overview of the rules and mechanics behind the game.


The rules of Watchwords really only apply when people are using the interface (i.e. Discord for our current prototype) and saying their sentences out loud. Aside from adding sentences during their turns, players are unrestricted in their actions. They are free to react, chat, or trash-talk each other to their hearts’ content!


Watchwords is first and foremost a game of expression. While players are encouraged to use their Watchword when adding to the story, they are given complete freedom to say whatever they want and make the narrative as interesting as possible. In turn, this leads into the narrative fun that is offered by the creation of an engaging or humorous story!

There are other elements of fun offered by the game, such as fellowship, challenge, and discovery, and fantasy. Writing a story together with the other players is intended to be a rich social experience of fellowship mixed with the competitive challenge of using/guessing Watchwords successfully. Finally, there is excitement to be found in the discovery and fantasy of unveiling a fresh new story in a fantastical setting.


Testing and Iteration

Playtest 1: First In-Class Playtesting

Implementation: Discord bot (v1)

  • No turn timers
  • Players selected Watchwords & added to story through DMs with bot
  • Challenges and points were managed entirely by players (not the bot)

Big Successes:

  • Players enjoyed Watchwords system and its potential for bluffing
  • Players liked the bot

Big Failures: 

  • Very slow pace of play!
  • Difficulty onboarding with bot
  • Points system/challenges system were anticlimactic and forgettable
  • Players failed to read sentences out loud, creating points of long silence
  • Being forced to DM the bot made game feel less social

This was our first pass at creating a functional game. Going into this first iteration of the Discord bot, we were mainly interested in the pace of play and social aspect of typing/reading out loud. We found that the pace of play was excruciatingly slow when players were forced to type sentences without any time limits, and we sought to fix this for the next iteration. We also had issues with the points/challenge system being confusing, and made a note to have the next version of the bot automate these more.

Playtest 2: Second In-Class Playtesting

 Implementation: no Discord bot 

  • Only oral storytelling
  • Moderator/human computer handled Watchword distribution & turn timers
  • Increased bank of potential Watchwords for all difficulties
  • All other aspects of game managed entirely by players

Big Successes:

  • Greatly improved pace of play!
  • Oral-only storytelling made game far more social

Big Failures: 

  • Players were often asked to repeat themselves and difficulties reconstructing their sentences
  • Players expressed confusion over points system

For our second playtest, we decided to test a completely different version of our game that we theorized would have a rapid pace of play. We removed the bot from the equation completely (and thus the typing requirements) and used a human moderator to manage Watchword distribution, turn timers, and other logistics. As expected, the pace of the game became lightning-fast when players only had to say sentences out loud, but new issues arose with the loss of the written “story so far” making it hard for players to remember what was just said. Going forward, we began to look into a middle ground between the last two iterations, using a bot that could facilitate the game while comfortably minimizing turn times for players.

Playtest 3: Team Playtest

Implementation: Discord bot (v2)

  • Bot-managed turn timers, challenging system, and points system
  • All messages confined to main channel (no more DMing bot)
  • Experimental use of voice-to-text transcription from Discord on phone!

Big Successes:

  • Voice-to-text was fun, fast, and social (and players could optionally type + read out loud)
  • Bot management of turn-timers, challenges, and points greatly reduced the mental load on players
  • 40-second turns led to a fast pace of play!

Big Failures: 

  • Voice-to-text was occasionally inaccurate and confusing

The next version of Watchwords used an advanced version of our Discord bot. This bot boasted a wide variety of improvements over the first, including turn timers, integrated points/challenges, intuitive display in the main channel, and more. We even experimented with using smartphones’ voice-to-text transcription to allow players to write their sentences and read them out loud… at the same time! After testing within our group, we were much happier with the pace of play required by the bot’s strict turn timers, and the reduced mental load on players via the bot-facilitated challenge/points system. We had a few relatively minor issues with the voice-to-text’s spottiness (which we decided to discontinue for future tests) and presentation of the game’s status in the Discord channel (which we looked to improve upon for future iterations).

Playtest 4: Friends

Implementation: Discord bot, version 2 (see Playtest 3)

Big Successes:

  • People had lots of fun!
  • Players started bluffing using their watchword, which combated the frequent challenges (see below)
  • The story went to a pretty silly place, but the alert that the game was ending got people to bring it back!

Big Failures:

  • Lots of people timed out (but somehow also got their message posted)
  • There were lots of challenges, which initially kept the points low
  • Someone didn’t type their watchword exactly right, and the bot didn’t recognize it

We didn’t make any big changes for this playtest. We wanted to test the game with players who had never played the game before (i.e., not us), and were pleasantly surprised to find that the game was actually fun! The only issue was the new player experience, which was difficult and many had issues writing their sentence in before the time ran out. 

Playtest 5: Third In-Class Playtesting

Implementation: Discord bot, version 2.1

  • Bot announces winner at the end

Big Successes:

  • They had fun! 
  • Pinning messages is helpful
  • Once they got familiar, it was fun!
  • Saying sentences out loud keeps the game on track
  • Also expressed benefits of not saying sentences out loud

Big Failures: 

  • Players missed their turns due to confusion 
  • Sometimes forgot to say their sentences aloud

This playtest came fast on the heels of the last one, so we didn’t have much time to alter the rules/bot. Nonetheless, we had similar results: it was a lot of fun, but the pitfalls of first-time players caused a lot of missed turns.

Playtest 6: Final Playtest

Implementation: Discord bot, version 3.0

  • Adjustable timer
  • Text-to-speech announcing turns
  • Pinned story
  • Fairytale theme added

Big Successes:

  • It was fun!
  • After a couple rounds, players seemed much more comfortable with the interface
  • Pinning the messages helped immensely
  • There was a good mix of sneaking in the watchwords and bluffing (i.e. not using the watchword, but trying to make it seem like you did)

Big Failures:

  • The learning curve is still pretty steep — unfamiliarity with Discord in general makes it harder to pick up the game
  • The rules (while comprehensive) were a little long for people to read all in one sitting

This was our final (and recorded) playtest, representing the finalized version of Watchwords! Our bot was fully developed by this point, boasting an adjustable timer, text-to-speech bot messages, a pinned story, and other small improvements. We noticed that the new player experience still had minor issues, but was helped by the text-to-speech bot messages to keep everything on track. After one full round of play, we are confident that players can appreciate the full potential of this game!

Final Playtest Video


If the quality is poor, you can also view our playtest video posted on Youtube.

Next Steps

First off: we’d like to port Watchwords to another medium. We feel the user experience would be far better on a dedicated app (or in person) than when constrained by the Discord API. We would also like to increase the customization by allowing players to select / input custom themes (which would help with replay value). Given enough time, we’d even be interested in more radical experimentation: for example, how about Mafia-esque “roles” that must be deduced through play?


Final prototype 

We prototyped our game on Discord to allow for a bot to moderate some of the mechanics of the game. 

We created a slide deck explaining the game and how to play it on Discord, as well as this accompanying video tutorial.


Visual Design

We designed our mockups through Figma.

We imagined that this game would be played on an app while in person or through video call. To encourage oral storytelling, players can send voice messages to add a sentence to the story, and the app will transcribe it for users to keep track of the story.

We created a quick interactive prototype for how this may look in the App Store, along with a couple of the in-game flows.


Happy storytelling!––and watch out for those words!

Created by 247G Spring 2021 Team3: Grace Zhao, Graham Todd, and Josh Lara.

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