Monday, September 22, 2014

Ranking Every NCT Game

These are all the regular games of National Comedy Theatre New York City, ranked from least favorite to most favorite, with a short explanation as to why, at the end of each section. I'd hate to bog down the post with even more text, so unfortunately no real explanation of the games are provided. So it's a pretty inside-baseball post to start the week off, but maybe you can just let your imagination run wild to envision just how bad/good the game is.

Also, ranking is purely subjective. Your mileage may vary.

Bottom 5 
75.) Dinner at Joe's
74.) Jam
73.) Lie Detector
72.) Countdown
71.) Animatronic Jamboree

Dinner at Joe's works on remotes. As a game in the show, I find it repetitive and unimaginative.
Jam just takes a ridiculous amount of balls. It's so open-ended, and it usually just falls flat. Lie Detector is way too much set up for so little pay-off. It's also a bitch for the ref to explain. I hate Countdown. The quality of the scene is thrown aside for an overpowering gimmick. The best Animatronic Jamboree I've ever been a part of was one I reffed, where we did Industrial Revolution, and no one knew jack-shit about the Industrial Revolution, and so therein is the problem with the whole game: The audience doesn't know anything, the players don't know anything, and no one cares.

70.) Dr. Know-It-All / Oracle
69.) Interpreter
68.) Revolving Door
67.) Doc Share-A-Tongue
66.) I Can Do Better
65.) Switch Interview
64.) Scatter Freeze
63.) Blitzkrieg
62.) Back in My Day
61.) Historical Ballet

I count Dr. Know-It-All and Oracle as the same game. It's played exactly the same, except Oracle has better window dressing. It's so straightforward as a game, it should be a warm-up. Interpreter on the other hand is impossible. It places all the pressure on the title character, and if you're fielding shitty questions or your guests are bad, then you're going under. It's a convoluted game. Revolving Door is a deceptive game. Exiting and entering when your trigger word sounds easy, and the audience fully believes it to be easy, but it is impossible for the people playing. So on that count, it ranks as one of the worst games. Doc Share-A-Tongue is a bit hit-or-miss but mostly miss. I Can Do Better tends to go off in weird directions when not played correctly, as does Switch Interview. The static conveyor belt-like movement of the game doesn't help Switch Interview either. Scatter Freeze ranks slightly better than it, only because it moves better. For a long time, the College Team back in San Diego tried to push Blitzkrieg as their own 5 Things. Pop culture dictates the game much more, and the creativity of the clue-givers can be a bit uneven. I've seen Back in My Day work in other contexts, but it just seems to miss in this show. Historical Ballet takes a bit more courage than the Animatronic Jamboree, a lot more commitment from everyone, but it's funnier, though still requiring historical knowledge.

60.) Switch
58.) Playwright
57.) Newscaster
56.) Madrigal / Rap Madrigal
55.) Opera
54.) Lounge Singer
53.) Identity Crisis
52.) Chameleon
51.) Chain Murder

Of the audience participation scene games, I hate Switch the most. It just gives way too much power and responsibility to the audience members who replace us. X-Words is a bitch for the ref, because counting is remarkably different when people are talking constantly. I find Playwright to be rather slow when compared to its more straightforward brethren like Fresh Choice or Hesitation. I've only liked Newscaster with College Team player Chris Wollman as the anchor. Every time else, the game feels outdated and flimsy at best. But that could also be because the majority of NYC audience interviews are terrible. If I were ranking Madrigal and Rap Madrigal separately, the latter would rank higher. It's Jam, with more form and function. Madrigal actually performs consistently well, it just again feels out of place in the show. Opera is unbelievably exhausting and doesn't lend itself to as much creative space as most of the other musical games. Lounge Singer is weird and wacky, and actually works in New York, for some reason. Identity Crisis, of the four really difficult games (Revolving Door, Pavlovian Response, this, and Parallel Universe) I think is the least interesting. Chameleon is pretty straightforward, maybe a bit too gimmicky for my liking. I also prefer it as a party, instead of a scene about whatever. And finally, Chain Murder makes for an entertaining enough game, but I think it runs too similar to 5 Things and the audience member is always useless.

50.) What If
49.) Timeline
48.) Movie Experts
47.) Parallel Universe
46.) Schoolyard Insults / Sideline Debate
45.) Spelling Bee
44.) What Are You Doing?
43.) Emotional Symphony
42.) Instruction Manual
41.) Pavlovian Response

What If and Timeline run along the same lines, but I find Timeline to be the more interesting of the two. Movie Experts is just rather boring in terms of how straightforward it is. It's another game that I think is far more interesting on remotes. Parallel Universe is one of the Terrible Four, and I think I personally like it the most, but the audience usually just doesn't get it. Schoolyard and Sideline are essentially the same game, with different window dressing. They're fun flashes in the pan to open the show, but boy it's awkward when your guessers don't know the words the audience gave. Spelling Bee is the most low-impact of the audience participation games, and it's formulaic, so it's pretty hard to screw up. What Are You Doing, as I've always said, is the foundation of all improv: you're doing one thing while saying another. It's a fun, fast-paced game, but it needs the right audience to get behind. Emotional Symphony is just so stupid but it's fun. We like to call it "Emotional Orgasm." Instruction Manual is very similar to Story, and I probably personally like it better, but ultimately Story offers the better challenge and more creativity. Pavlovian Response is the most entertaining of the Terrible Four, it just takes a bit to set up.

40.) American Idol Recap
39.) Beastie Rap
38.) Day in the Life / Day in the Life Replay
37.) MysteryWhere
36.) Forward/Reverse
35.) Sing It / Kick It
34.) Teleprompter
33.) Town Hall Meeting
32.) Slo-Mo Olympics
31.) Foreign Movie

I love American Idol Recap, for how talented the cast is at singing. It's like our Greatest Hits, and it manages to showcase everyone wonderfully. You get someone good to host, and the audience member is willing to go with it, you guaranteed a hit. Beastie Rap is a crowd-pleaser and is usually way more entertaining when one side is horrible. Day in the Life I rarely see by itself. In fact, I remember several members of both the SD and NY casts being confused that it could be played without the replays. With the Replays, I think it's fine, but the other replay games are stronger. It usually suffers from a bad interview. I love MysteryWhere. It's infinitely challenging, and fun to watch. I think it's the only one that matches the creativity of 5 Things by the other team, and I would have it as the only catch-up game, if it were up to me.

30.) I Object
29.) Columns
28.) Naive Replay
27.) Dimestore Novel
26.) Sit, Stand, Kneel, Lie
25.) Moving Bodies
24.) Blind Date Replay
23.) Dirty Hand Randy
22.) Pick-A-Play / Pick-A-Text
21.) Changing Emotions

I Object is a fantastically simple game, but if it gets too personal too soon, it runs aground. Columns is a lot like better games like Hesitation. Naive Replay can be insanely difficult and I prefer the Missing Person variation, personally, but if it gets nailed down right, it's a sure-fire hit. Dimestore Novel puts a lot of the same pressure on the writer of the story as Interpreter does on its title character, but there's way more give-and-take between the two sides in Dimestore. I think the game is a better-formatted Movie Experts or Interpreter. Sit, Stand, Kneel, Lie is most likely to end in confusion. I think the chaos is better than in Identity Crisis or Countdown. Moving Bodies is almost always a hit, as is Blind Date Replay (because the interview is usually better than for Day in the Life or What If or Timeline or Newscaster), as is Dirty Hand Randy which isn't really improv per se, but it requires some quick thinking. Pick-A-Play and Pick-A-Text are essentially the same game; if I were ranking them separately, I would rank Text lower, because I rarely see anyone volunteer their phones for us to use. I like Play a lot better, it's one of the first improv games I learned, but the plays have to be things people actually know. Changing Emotions is simple, efficient, and almost always hilarious.

20.) Crime Story / Naive Expert
19.) Hesitation
18.) Laugh Out
17.) Da-Doo-Run-Run
16.) Blind Freeze Tag
15.) Game-O-Matic
14.) Object Freeze
13.) Fresh Choice
12.) 185
11.) World's Worst

At the top of the 20, Crime Story and Naive Expert. Again, essentially the same game, I'd rank Naive Expert lower if they were separate. I think Crime Story moves better and wordplay is always fun. Hesitation is the more straightforward Playwright and I think works better because it forces everyone to think faster. Laugh Out is my favorite head-to-head game. I'm always a fan of simplicity in improv games, and Laugh Out's premise is so simple. Da-Doo-Run-Run is a surprisingly catchy singing game, and is fun for a change of head-to-head. People tend to favor Beastie Rap over it, and I do too in other contexts, but at NCT I think it's the better of the two. Blind Freeze Tag is the standard catch-up game and it's simple and effective. The creativity at work in the game often sees people at their very essence. Nowhere else do you see exactly how people's brains work. There's nothing quite like it. Game-O-Matic can be a clusterfuck most of the time, but it's always great as a Hail Mary sort of play. Object Freeze again, I admire for its simplicity. It's Props, it's children's playtime; use an object as something other than what it is. Fresh Choice can be a wickedly funny game, and I think it more often than not gets overlooked for flashier games. But it's bare bones improv at its finest. Between 185 and World's Worst, I think is the harder of the two is the former, while the latter seems to be the more fun for most people. World's Worst can sometimes be somewhat alienating for an audience, and requires not tact per se, but some finesse to play the game properly. It's very difficult to teach, whereas 185 is teachable, and is gettable. (I prefer World's Worst, though.)

Top 10 
10.) 5 Things
9.) Shakespeare
8.) Story
7.) Pan Left/Pan Right
6.) Musical Comedy
5.) Heckler
4.) Audience Sound Effects
3.) Good/Bad Advice
2.) Potpourri Replay
1.) Blind Line

Opening the Top 10 is the mainstay of NCT shows, 5 Things. I love the game, though it requires not too much improv, just a lot of creativity. People often miscredit the game to the guesser, but the hard work is really all in the hands of the clue-givers, the guesser simply needs to keep an open mind (it doesn't hurt to know a lot of things, though).
Shakespeare is straightforward and with a willing crowd (read: not dumb) the game kills.
Story is superior to Instruction Manual for its challenge of keeping a coherent story. By the final rounds it's also pretty tense.
Pan Left/Pan Right is the only real game that juggles multiple scenes well. There isn't anything else quite like it, except for Parallel Universe, and I think it's the cleaner of the two games.
Musical Comedy, like Shakespeare, is straightforward in its execution and explanation, and is often more successful simply because it's immediately more accessible too.
Heckler doesn't always work, and requires a certain crowd to get behind, but I can't get over how much I love it. At its best, you get to see a group of performers who know each other well kinda tear each other apart in front of an audience, and it feels a little behind-the-scenes, like they're watching us hang out.
Audience Sound Effects I think is the best audience participation game, because they can be bad or good at the game, it doesn't really matter. Everything can be gold in this game.
Good/Bad Advice should be a consistently more popular game, but it can fall flat quickly due to one weak character. Overall though, if the questions are good, and the characters balance out well, it's going to be hard to beat.
Potpourri Replay allows us to showcase genres, emotions, musical talent, scenework, etc., all in one game. Rarely a dud, always fun to play.
Blind Line in its basic form I have never seen fail. It's accessible, simple, requires cleverness, and is a great intro to improv for any crowd. It also requires very little set up, as compared to more complicated games with less pay-off.