The Puck Pack

An educational card game based on A Midsummer Night's Dream - devised by James White


The instructional objectives of The Puck Pack are to:

Learner group and context of use

Learners are most likely to be high school students, but could be adults who are, for example, returning to learning. They are unlikely to have seen or read much Shakespeare. The cards might be used after an initial reading of the play, or after viewing a stage or video production. They can also be used for review and revision.


My experience as a quondam English Literature teacher is that many students are inhibited in discussing this play, partly because they are uncomfortable with the unusual classical-sounding names of the characters and with articulating the convolutions of the plot. Discriminating between the workmen (Mechanicals) in the play is also problematic. And just who is in love with whom at any given point in the play can be perplexing.

A card game which requires students to repeat names aloud is a covert form of drill and practice, and thus has a reinforcement function. This game is based on rummy, and as such is also designed to promote understanding of character groupings within the play in, I hope, an enjoyable way. The changing relationships in the play can be similarly elucidated this type of game structure.

Rules - with samples of card designs

The Puck Pack is a game for 3, 4 or 5 players.


The aim of the game is to collect cards to make statements that are factually accurate about A Midsummer Night's Dream . The cards also have to be used 'grammatically'. Groups which fulfill these conditions are called "permitted" combinations.

For example this series of cards 'reads': (1) Bottom,/ (2) the weaver,/ (3) in the Interlude plays/ (4) Pyramus
1.2. 3.
Players try to score as many points as possible over a number of rounds. Players can decide the number of rounds, but it should not be less than the number of players.

Points are scored by laying down permitted groups of 3 or more cards in front of them. At the end of a round each player's points on the table are totaled.


There are four types of cards. Three have a picture of the Globe theater on the reverse.

Character cards have the initial letter or letters of a character's name at the top and bottom. Players need to know or find out the character's full name to participate in the game.These cards also have an illustration of the character from a book, film or stage production.

Enabling cards contain a written phrase. There must be one - and only one - enabling card in a group that a player lays on the table.

Job cards must be used in conjunction with a character card.

Cards with Foolish Mortal on the reverse are used for checking accuracy only and are not used in play.

(Reverse of the cards)


1. Each player in turn acts as dealer.

2. From the Globe pack, each player is dealt 7 cards, which are held in the hand and concealed from the other players. The rest of the pack is placed face down on the table. The top card is turned over and used to form the basis of a discard pile. Each player also receives a Foolish Mortal card which is placed face down on the table.

3. As a player begins a turn, she picks up 1 unseen card from the Globe pack or up to 3 cards in order from the top of the discard pile. If she is able and wants to do so, she may lay down one (or more) permitted combination. A permitted combination must be factually accurate and make "grammatical" sense. As she lays down a combination, the player must "read out" the cards, saying the character's or characters' name or names in full aloud.
Some examples of other permitted statements are:"Bottom/ is / a weaver." or "X/ plays/ Moonshine." or "Y,/ the bellows mender,/ plays/ N." or "A,/ B,/ and C/ are all/ Lovers."
Players may add words such as 'and' or 'the' to make good English, but may not alter any wording on the cards in any way.

At this point other players must may challenge the accuracy of the recall of characters' names, or the correctness of a group laid on the table. (See below.)

4. At the end of a player's turn, she puts 1 card only on the discard pile. A player is not allowed to hold more than 7 Globe cards in his or her hand, after discarding.
(This should be remembered by players wanting to pick up more than one discard card. Any player found to hold more than 7 cards at the end of the round must allow the player on the left to randomly remove excess cards from her hand.)
5. Play finishes when one player holds no Globe cards. This may occur either because all cards in a player's hand are used to form a permitted combination, or because, after playing a permitted combination, her final card is discarded.

6. Once a player has a group of cards on the table, he or she may later add character cards to that group, 1 card per turn. A player may also add a single character card to another player's group, but the point will go to the receiver.

Foolish Mortal Cards

These can be picked voluntarily up by a player at any point in the game. From then on they must be retained in the hand. A player going out may return her Foolish Mortal card to the table if, and only if, all Globe cards are used to make permitted combinations and there is no Globe card to discard.

(Enlarged version of the Foolish Mortal card for viewing on the Web.)

See below for the function that Foolish Mortal cards have during a challenge.


In A Midsummer Night's Dream Puck has magical powers. In The Puck Pack he does too. If a player picks up a Puck card, she can use him to represent any character card or enabling card of her choice. He acts as a wild card.

( 2 of the 4 Puck designs.)


One player can challenge a combination of cards that another places on the table either because she believes:
i) the combination is illegal because it is not true to A Midsummer Night's Dream.
ii) because the names of the characters have been spoken incorrectly.

This diagram shows what happens.

If a challenge is made on both grounds, the permitted combination challenge has priority. The mistaken name challenge falls. Only one challenge can be accepted for each combination during a player's turn. The first person to challenge is the only one to be answered. Except for discarding, a player's turn ends after a successful challenge.

It is assumed that players will not try to lay cards down ungrammatically. In the unlikely event of a dispute, it should be resolved by voting. (NB the phrase "are all" used on an enabling card means that it must be accompanied by 3 character cards.)


Scores should be recorded on paper or using a crib board at the end of each round. The winner is the player with the highest aggregate total over the pre-decided number of rounds.

All cards are worth 1 point, except enabling cards. These have no value in themselves, but multiply the total score of all other cards by the factor shown on each individual enabling card. If Puck has been used as an enabling card, the user may count his character value, but he has no multiplying effect.

One point is deducted from this total for each card a player still holds in her hand, irrespective of the kind of card it is. 2 points are deducted for holding a Foolish Mortal card.

Deck design

There are 92 cards in the Globe pack and 6 Foolish Mortal cards.

Of these, 58 are character cards. 12 display the 4 lovers. There are 14 Mechanical (or workmen) cards, with Bottom having four to himself and the rest having two. Within the fairy group, Puck has 4, Titania 3, Oberon 2, and the rest 1 - making 13 altogether. The court group comprises 7. Since the workmen also perform a play within the play, there are twelve cards representing their six roles - 2 per role. Each is illustrated with a relevant picture of the character taken from a stage, TV or film production, or from an illustrated edition of the play. Each illustration is different to demonstrate a range of character interpretation.

In addition, there 7 cards representing the 6 jobs that the mechanicals perform, and Philostrate's position as Master of the Revels.

There are 27 enabling cards with wording such as:
marries/is married to
at the beginning of the play loves
under the influence of magic loves
under the influence of magic hates
are all fairies
are all members of the older generation
The enabling cards can sometimes increase the score resulting from a permitted combination by a factor shown on the cards.

Design Process

Beyond exposing learners to information about A Midsummer Night's Dream in a fun way, the guiding principles behind the design were:

1. The game should accommodate different levels of prior learner knowledge.

At an early stage it became clear that some form of cheat sheet should be available to players who wanted it or needed it to take a full part in the game. This is provided by the Foolish Mortal cards. The name, however, is intented to to jocularly dissuade over-reliance on this prop, as is the points penalty attached to it.

Initial letters on character cards, together with illustrations, provide a mnemonic prompt for the semi-confident.

2. The game should nonetheless reward existing knowledge, the willingness to develop knowledge and player enterprise.

The opportunity to put down or challenge configurations without prior recourse to a Foolish Mortal card in a given round allows this reward. The iterative round structure encourages the player to dispense with this prop as the game progresses. The weightings on the the enabling cards encourage users to consider trying for permitted combinations which are less straightforward and which take them into the complexities of the metamorphoses that are a feature of the drama.

3. Non-invovement for players not taking a turn should be minimized.

The challenge feature is intended to encourage people to watch other people's turns, and to listen attentively to their enunciations of names.

4. Strategic choices have to be made, so that the outcome of the game is not merely driven by the chance pick up of unseen cards.

The points system is conceived to keep a tension between amassing score and rushing to get rid of all cards. Similarly the option to immediately display permitted combinations on the table is tempered by the knowledge that other players can attach their cards to any such combination that is visible.

The possiblity of multi-card pick up from the discard pile militates against a situation in which a player is paralysed if a much-needed card gets buried under other discards.

5. Rules would be written in such a way that they will quickstart the action as swiftly as possible.

Clearly the rules for this game ignore the 670 nostrum to fit them all on one page. However, the presentation of the rules is a seminal design consideration. Rules should make the aim and major procedures of a game as clear as possible as early as possible. In this case, expansive layout, illustrations and diagrams facilitate this process.

Rules should be consultable while the game is in progress, as well. Again this is facilitated by the form in which they appear here. (In fact, take out the illustrations, white space and diagram, and what you are left with is not unduly prolix.)

Other design matters

Much of the design process concerned the heuristic determination of numbers of cards in each category. At first I tried for balanced "suits" on the grounds that players would not have an intuitive understanding of the permutation possibilities that guide card transactions in ordinary playing cards, if character card groups were of different sizes. Ultimately I concluded that this was unimportant compared to stacking the cards (literally) so that certain desirable learning permutations were more likely to occur than others. Fine-tuning the operation of the challenge mechanism was important, too, and this took some time.

A scaled down pack was constructed to test the physical handling of cards, and the game play procedures. No immediate problems emerged.

Figuring out the rules was put in the hands of a 7th grader without knowledge of the play text. He picked up the aim and rules without difficulty merely by reading the instructions.

References: William Shakespeare A Midsummer Night's Dream

Last updated by James White
on September 30, 1996
© James White. All rights reserved.
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