Shitty Boyfriends of Western Literature: The Card Game

Gather your friends and challenge heteronormative romantic ideals!

sketch of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet

Shitty Boyfriends of Western Literature: The Card Game

Illustrated by Matt Lubchansky

What do we think about when we think about boyfriends?

As a bookish young person, my first experience of romance had a lot in common with the first experiences of other bookish young people: it was heterosexual, not entirely healthy, and above all, fictional. How about yours?

In this game, you get to inhabit some of the most famous boyfriends of western literature, men like Cyrano, Mr. Darcy, and the Phantom of the Opera. Play-tested with the young women of the Viola Project, it’s a way for people of all ages and genders to take the concepts of romance we’ve inherited from the classics out for a no-risks test drive.

Welcome! You are one of the great boyfriends of literature! You’re definitely interested in love but for some reason, the course just doesn’t run smoothly for you. Hoping for better luck, you’ve signed up for this speed dating event for fictional characters.

There’s just one problem: no women. It’s a fictional sausage-fest in here! But as a group of heroic/wily/determined imaginary males, you’re not about to waste that registration fee. So, you all decide to take this opportunity to practice… with each other.



  • Each player randomly selects one boyfriend card. (You get one free mulligan. If you are unfamiliar with your selected boyfriend, you can redraw.)
  • Set up the Chairs of Heteronormativity. These are two ordinary chairs–just clearly indicate which one is “male” and which one is “female.” (You can do this with a sign, or perhaps by putting a pink bow on the female chair).
  • Determine a run order. You can do this by rolling dice, drawing playing cards, or simply by volunteering.


  • The first player will sit in the lady chair, the second will sit in the man chair.
  • When sitting in the lady chair, you are pretending to be a woman. Let me be clear–even if you are a woman, you are pretending to be your assigned boyfriend pretending to be a woman. So, if you are Zeus, you are Zeus’s idea of a woman.
  • If sitting in the man chair, you are your assigned boyfriend. Try to impress the lady. You have five minutes.


  • Each player has two tokens (you can use quarters, poker chips, Girl Scout cookies–whatever you have lying around).
  • The lady token, or token lady (which does not have to look different from the other token in any way) should be given by each player to the boyfriend who attempted to woo them, if, and only if, that player thinks that their assigned boyfriend would think that a woman would have responded positively. Accurate scoring here will require nuanced hypothetical thinking and perhaps a comparative literature degree.
  • The other token, or token token, is to be given by each player to whoever they thought did a good job.
  • The winner will receive a round of applause, the right to choose the running order for the next game, and will be allowed to eat their tokens if possible. They will also receive an enlightened understanding of romance that will allow them to transcend any problematic messages about love they may have received from fiction at any point, entering into any new relationships from a place of equity and power, and finding that their current relationships have become loving, free, reasonable and revolutionary. 
  • Alternately, they may marry a man who is slightly evil but who has a very large house.

Notes on boyfriends

Our cards focus on western literature in the public domain. Please feel free to make your own boyfriend cards. If playing in an educational setting, you may find it useful to incorporate boyfriends from your reading list, or boyfriends selected by students from their favorite books.

Notes on long games and house rules

The basic play method is for shorter games in learning environments, allows each player to go once, and ensures an audience for each date. You may wish to play a different way so that the game has less of a performance element, and every player gets multiple turns. In this case, make the following alterations.


  • Instead of setting up one man chair and on lady chair, set up a row of each.


  • Sit down at random and play as before. Every five minutes, each player will stand and rotate one chair to their right. Optional: take a shot every time you switch chairs.


  • Each player will have a pool of tokens, and a pool of lady tokens (or token ladies). In this case, the token ladies SHOULD look different from the other tokens. (You can try to find Susan B. Anthony dollars if you are feeling ambitious, or use Thin Mints and Samosa if you are feeling cheeky.) Each pool will have a quarter as many tokens as there are players. Players will give out their tokens whenever they feel that their opponent has won them over. Did I say opponent? That’s weird.
  • At the end of the game, the player with the most tokens and the player with the most lady tokens will have a Flirt-to-the-Death rematch, winner by popular acclaim.

Note on play style

Many of these characters speak in Elizabethan English, or languages other than English, or with particular accents. We encourage players to focus on character, logic and intent, and to avoid attempting any quirks of speech that might make themselves or other players uncomfortable. So if you can do a flawless cut-glass RP for Mr. Darcy, we won’t stop you, but don’t kill yourself speaking in iambic pentameter or make things weird with anything stereotypical.


Zeus boyfriend card
Holmes playing card
Erik (Phantom) playing card
Mr. Darcy playing card
Cyrano playing card

About the Illustrator

Matt Lubchansky is the Associate Editor of the Nib and a cartoonist and illustrator living in Queens, NY. Their work has appeared in New York Magazine, VICE, Eater, Mad Magazine, Gothamist, The Toast, The Hairpin, Brooklyn Magazine, and their long-running webcomic Please Listen to Me. They are the co-author of Dad Magazine (Quirk, 2016).

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