Welcome to the Orphic Institute for Advanced Studies. I'm sure Dr Tomkins will make you feel right at home. I know what you're thinking. Lots of 'spend a penny' jokes, right? Well it's not like that. Because... well. Tell me why you're here, tell me what happened to you. You don't remember? None of us did when we got here. It's OK. It'll all become clear soon. Don't worry about the drugs they give you – it's all part of the healing process.
We'll help you – me and the other two. I know it might not seem like it from what I've told you but you'll have a lot of fun. This is how we do it here – you start telling us what you remember and then, when you come to an important decision, you ask the two of us and choose which answer you like better. Sounds odd right? But Dr Tomkins says that's the way to eek out the memories you're suppressing. Sometimes though, you'll really not like what the others are saying – they're your memories after all – but there's not a whole lot you can do about that. My advice - just roll with it - otherwise you're not going to enjoy the process.
Penny for My Thoughts is an incredibly fun co-operative storytelling game, where other players help you to fill in the missing details from your amnesia-addled memory. There are no winners or losers in Penny, the goal is simply to tell a good story and discover how you got to the point at which you lost your memory. Did something horrendous happen that you've blocked out? Or perhaps you've been badly injured and lost your memory that way.
Oh you're wondering about the pennies in front of us? Well, the more pennies you have the more important decisions you'll have to leave to others. But that's a good thing. The more input you have from others, the more interesting it'll be and the more you'll find out about yourself. There's some memory aids too – you see those folded up pieces of paper? They all have what the doc calls 'trigger words'. You choose them at random – well, not really. Your subconscious chooses which ones most apply to you. My first time here I got 'half a jar of peanut butter' and 'robotic dog'. This really tied in with my recollections. I had already remembered finding a strange man in my bathroom, and then being tracked by a spy posing as a door-to-door purveyor of baked goods. You see how this works now? I should say, you might find yourself forgetting what you or the others have already recounted. Some of the other patients are a bit judgmental of this, but just try and relax and carry on.
One player starts to tell their story but the important decisions are left up to others – and each time they ask you what to do, you get a penny. Don't know what to do? Ask the other players! For example, if the player telling the story sees an old burnt out car and suffers a moral dilemma, he can ask two of the other players for their input. One might suggest reporting it to the police and another breaking in and stealing the contents. The storyteller gets to choose his favourite option and on goes the show.
Penny also uses the mechanic of 'memory aids'. You delve into a pot of folded up pieces of paper and pick out a random word of phrase. These help the story along, especially if a player is struggling a little. At first you might be asking yourself how on earth it relates to what you've already talked about- but that's the fun. Often ideas seem to start come from nowhere. And the game starts taking a totally different direction.
You might find your memories merging with those of another patient. That's totally normal. It's normal too if you have totally separate memories – don't worry, you'll have the chance to have your say in everyone else's memories anyway. I know you're scared that you'll remember something you don't want to – like dreams about being chased by fire-breathing dragons. But it's ok – they won't feature. The memory exercises just help to bring out what really happened to you before the unfortunate amnesia incident. Everything will take place in the real world. The one you're in now. There's nothing so fantastic and scary about that is there?!
If you dread fantasy or sci-fi settings, leave them out. Of course, your character might have encountered an alien but it's likely that they get the same reaction that you would in real life – you might even be considered a bit potty . Each player's story is probably going to be different, but it's also possible that two characters might feature in one story – particularly if the characters knew each other before they lost their memories.
The first time I was here, after the therapy session had finished - and you know, it only usually takes one session – I remember sitting with my fellow patients. We sat, just waiting, wondering if the nice young men in their white coats would return. But they didn't – we were free to go. And that's the weirdest feeling. Your session will stay with you for a long time after you leave the institute.
Now I'm not promising you a light, fluffy, lemon cake of a session. If that's what you're looking for, go away and play Scrabble. The only way I can describe it to you is like eating a watermelon. Yes, yes, stay with me. You'll start off, carefully selecting chunks to share with everyone but in the end you'll realise that your face and hands are covered with seeds and you'll have no idea how it happened. The guide book will help you though, and explain it a bit more. Have you seen LOST? You know, the TV show? Well, it reminds me of something the Dharma Institute might churn out. Funny that. Come to think of it, this place is a little like that, but with fewer fish biscuits.
Penny can usually be played in one session and is a great pick up game. It's a game that everyone really has to throw themselves into and will stay with you long after you've played it. The rulebook itself is like a case study, and tells you what you've just got yourself into. The writing is great and made me feel as though I really was reading classified files from a medical institution. In fact, the book even has mental health trigger warnings.. You know a game's got to be good when it comes with a warning!
Anyway, don't wait for me - pick up your suitcase and head over to reception – they're waiting for you. And don't forget, the truth will heal your mind.