My friends and I love drinking games. We’re probably a bit past that age, but we still play beer pong and kings cup, 21 and rage cage. But perhaps my favorite drinking game we play is one we invented, called Questions. The rules are simple: one person asks a question and then everyone goes around and answers it, including them. When you first describe it to someone, they’re often confused, which is very fair. But 38 minutes later they’re describing what they wish their mother had done differently when they were little or what their first kiss was like. The game of questions gives you a good cover of sorts to get vulnerable, to ask weird or hard questions, to learn about the people you love. And so, when I heard about relationship-doyenne Ether Perel’s new game, Where Should We Begin?, I was already basically sold.
The game shares a name with Perel’s famously compelling podcast, in which she lets listeners in on actual couples therapy sessions she holds, a fascinating insight into how we communicate our wants, needs, hurts and secrets to our partners. On top of the podcast and her regular therapy practice, Perel has written two books, Mating in Captivity and State of Affairs, both of which I highly recommend; she also has a second podcast about workplace dynamics called How’s Work? There really isn’t anyone I consider more of a genius when it comes to relationships, but despite my incessant nattering about Perel’s skill, my boyfriend hasn’t listened to or read anything of hers, to my knowledge—we all date people with flaws. So I was excited to make him play.
The game works with two to six players. It comes with 30 blue prompt cards which set the tone of each round: “Share something close to your heart” versus “Share something cringeworthy.” They’re matched with hundreds of storytelling cards that determine exactly what you’re supposed to share, anything from “I get bored during sex when…” to “I owe a thank you to…” to “The last time I pretended I wasn’t crying was…” One player, the storyteller for that turn, turns over a blue prompt card, and then each player, including the storyteller, puts down the storytelling card that they want the storyteller to answer. The storyteller chooses which one to answer unless someone uses one of their two provided tokens. If you use a token, that means the storyteller has to answer the storytelling card you place it on. I liked the fact that you could “force” someone into answering a more daring prompt, but you only get two tokens per game though, so you have to be judicious.
The questions range from pretty heavy to very horny, so you never really know what you’re going to get. Playing just the two of us, my boyfriend and I felt like the sex questions were easier to answer than most the others—we weren’t really in a very serious or somber mood. Another hiccup was that a lot of the game seems to privilege stories you haven’t told or shared before, and neither of us has that much that we haven’t told one another, especially after the pandemic. That didn’t mean that we didn’t share interesting or fun things, but the Big Traumas and Hurts of our lives really weren’t as interesting for us to talk about.
That said, I like games for couples; I think they often work well for people who aren’t practiced at sharing vulnerable or intimate things. As much as convention says that you should never run out of things to talk to your partner about, even the most in-love of us occasionally feel like all conversations are some version of “Is the dishwasher clean or dirty?” or “Did you text the landlord about the sink again? It’s still clogged.” While I certainly think there are couples who don’t normally have conversations about things like “If I could change one thing about how I were raised it would be…,” personally I thought the sex questions were the most interesting and helpful, since it’s often hard to talk honestly about sex without a prompt, and I would frankly play a game that was just with them. (Helpfully, they’re marked with a category symbol—I’ll just sort them out next time.)
The game is designed to work for both couples and groups, and I think it would be more fun to play with people who didn’t know each other as well rather than as a couple. But my biggest note is that next time? I’m playing while drinking.