I taught a group how to play this game a couple of weeks ago, and I always suggest it when I’m practicing with my troupe. Here’s how to play 7’s and 6’s:*
Stand in a circle. Going around the circle, give the person next to you a category, and he has to list seven things in that category. The group keeps count for him enthusiastically. Then he turns to the next person and gives her a new category, and she must list seven things in that new category. She should not worry too much about being correct; the group will count anything she says with confidence. Go around until everyone has gone once.
Then move on to 6’s: Just like before, turn to the person next to you. Instead of a category, though, give them a kind of person. He has to list six things that kind of person would say during the course of a normal day.
Like many exercises, this is easier shown than it is explained. Here are some fictional characters playing it.
Constance: Merricat, give me seven deadly sins.
Merricat: Touching knives.
Merricat: Nursery rhymes.
Merricat: Grounding your kid.
Group: SEVEN! Seven things!
Note that not all of the things Merricat said were correct. It does not matter. It matters that she was confident and quick. The group counting aloud helps her keep a rhythm.
After the whole group has had a turn with 7’s, it’s time for 6’s.
Julian: Constance, give me six things a lottery winner would say.
Constance: I won?!
Constance: I hope my relatives don’t try to take all my money.
Constance: Those were my lucky numbers.
Constance: We are so happy.
Constance: I need a cup of tea.
Constance: Perhaps I will go outside today.
Group: SIX! Six things!
Note that only some of those things have anything to do with winning the lottery. That’s ok. She’s allowed to say the first thing that pops in her head.
If you’re leading this exercise, encourage your group to:
- Be fast and obvious rather than slow and clever. We could stall forever while waiting for someone to come up with The Best Idea.
- Assume that whoever you’re asked to be in 6’s is reasonably competent and happy to be alive. Too many times have I heard someone given “neurosurgeon” and respond, “This is his brain, right? I failed medical school” etc. That gets boring quickly. Which leads to …
- Allow it to be a normal day. If someone says, “neurosurgeon,” you don’t have to say six things about neurosurgery. On a normal day, a neurosurgeon might order coffee, say hello to his spouse, plan a vacation, forget where he set his keys, read Sherlock fan fiction on his phone, and do any number of other things. That doesn’t make him less of a neurosurgeon; it’s giving him a more fleshed-out life.
- Let this spill over into their scenes. Characters don’t have to say the most brilliant, hilarious things every line. Most lines can just be the kind of thing that character would say on a normal day, just like 7’s and 6’s. This takes the pressure off players.
During 6’s, players who would normally feel daunted at the idea of inventing a character out of thin air are often surprised when the group cuts them off and cheers after they’ve named their sixth thing. They had more ideas than they thought! Being allowed to be obvious lets people be more creative.
*I recently ran across the phrase “at sixes and sevens” in a book, and I assume the game 7’s and 6’s is a play on the phrase. According to this website, “[At sixes and sevens] is commoner in the UK and Commonwealth countries than in the US. It can mean something that’s in a state of total confusion or disarray, or people who are collectively in a muddle or at loggerheads about how to deal with some situation.” The game 7’s and 6’s has nothing to do with that, but I like knowing where names come from.