Inspired by Jackbox Games’ Quiplash, Treeku aims to take the core components that make Quiplash special (creativity, humor, lighthearted competition) and apply them to a different domain: haiku. While poetry often commands more formal settings—whether it be love, death, or nature—it also stands as a sandbox of writing that calls for creative expression and freedom. In building for laughter and absurdity, giving less guidance is typically better than more, and thus, using a written response form that appreciates imaginative and exploration works toward that aim.
That said, provide no direction at all, and players can become frozen; that’s why Treeku centers around haiku. Haiku are concise (3 lines), straightforward (the only rule, syllable count, can be disrupted without issue), and versatile. Trying to write your own is a funny process in itself; seeing your friends struggle (or triumph) can be even more satisfying. Quiplash’s matchup format is maintained to preserve the experience of writing on the same topic as someone else, creating a shared experience; likewise, voting keeps remaining players constantly engaged. With a slew of ways to play—whether you want to flex your actual poetry prowess or create the aforementioned absurdity—the thesis of Treeku makes for a game that thrives in a variety of settings and contexts even as a session evolves.
Formal Elements and Values
Treeku’s top pillar was entertainment, with humor being the general avenue. Although there are many other values that the game promotes—such as social connection and personal expression—the #1 takeaway that we wanted people to have after playing was, “wow, that was a blast!” And while some of us might be able to make ourselves laugh on command, it’s much easier to generate laughter through those around you, and the effect is parlayed by seeing and hearing that communal laughter (why else would sitcoms use laugh tracks?)
That meant an emphasis on fellowship fun, with undercurrents of expression and abnegation; in a game sporting a handful or more players, it’s likely that individuals won’t all come to the game with the exact same desire for playing. Using a multiplayer format (with player vs. player matchups) made the most sense for giving all players a spread of roles; otherwise, beyond the aforementioned decision to use haiku, the roles and procedures were designed to be as simple as possible. That is to say, the framework contains intentional ambiguity—there is no “right” way to craft the best haiku or decide what to vote on so that the players can feel things out given their ongoing play session.
Testing and Iteration History
We playtested our game four times. In the first version, we played with five undergrads in class, and everyone had four minutes to write two haikus. There was some confusion in the beginning about what a Haiku is, so we realized the importance of explaining how to write a Haiku in the instructions. Everyone was able to finish writing their haikus within the time constraint, but people seemed a little rushed. There was a lot of laughter, even for the poems that didn’t make a lot of sense. Players didn’t have to be an expert poet to have fun and found sharing their poems to be entertaining. The game’s “shared Stanford experiences” theme made it fun to play. There were some mixed responses to the haiku writing, with some people enjoying the structure that it provided to be comedic and others finding it annoying and frustrating. Some suggestions included anonymous voting, allowing players to make their own prompts, playing the game with close friends rather than strangers, and altering the voting calculation so that some players don’t end up with way more points than others.
In the second playtest, we tested with mostly TAs and a couple other grad students during game night. The players did not understand the Stanford themed prompts on the cards, so we crowdsourced the prompts instead. The new prompts ended up being “Golden Gate Bridge,” “Unaccomplished IPOs,” “Tech Bros,” “EVs,” and “Palo Alto.” While the players were not able to relate to one another through Stanford references, they were able to relate through the shared Silicon Valley experience. Everyone was able to finish their Haikus within the time constraint except for one player, but many of the players felt like writing two haikus in four minutes was tiring and would have preferred to have only had to write one Haiku. Some players also suggested anonymous voting.
In the third playtest, we returned to using the Stanford themed cards because the players were all undergrads. There were a lot of oohs and ahhs at the description of the premise of the game. We realized towards the beginning that there was an issue with peer pressure influencing the voting. When players noticed that other players were voting for someone, they felt pressured to raise their hands to vote for that person too. We changed the voting by counting to three and requiring players to instantaneously choose to vote yes or no at the end of the count. This solution eliminated the peer pressure bias problem. We also noticed that delivery of the poem played a big role in people winning their rounds. Again, some suggested a way for people to create their own non-Stanford themed prompts or to create more broad prompts because one undergrad didn’t understand some of the prompts since she lives off campus. Everyone was able to finish their haikus on time, but people still felt exhausted about having to write two haikus instead of one. Many wanted the voting to be anonymous. Some really liked the haiku format, but some wanted to be able to write other types of poems.
In the last playtest, we incorporated many of the suggestions we had received and played with Stanford undergrads. We had an even number of players (6), so everyone only wrote one haiku in two minutes instead of two haikus in four minutes. We also asked each player to provide one prompt idea and rolled a die to randomly select half of the prompts. Lastly, we incorporated anonymity by having one player volunteer to read all the haikus out loud instead of players reading their own poems. People liked writing only one haiku, with one player who had played previously telling us that they much preferred this version. This player also had previously suggested anonymity, and she really enjoyed not having to read her poem out loud in this version because she is shy. However, most of the other players said that they think they would have preferred to read their own poems and didn’t like the anonymity. Many of the players also felt like it was difficult to come up with prompt ideas on the spot. In general, the crowdsourcing of ideas and the anonymous reading required a lot of shuffling around and moderating that made it impractical.
After all of our playtests, the main changes we decided to make from our initial version of the game was to include a list of non-Stanford themed prompts, require instantaneous voting after a count of three, and require an even number of players so that each player would only have to write one haiku. We wanted to keep the Stanford themed prompts for students that understand the references, but we also wanted to give non-Stanford students the opportunity to play without having to go through the hassle of generating their own prompts. The instantaneous voting was an effective way to eliminate peer pressure, and the even number of players allowed players to not feel burned out from having to write two haikus. While we got mixed reviews on the anonymity aspect, we decided to continue to require players to read their own poems out loud because we believed that it added an additional element of comedy to the game and gave players an opportunity to express themselves.