Saturday, May 31, 2014

Mini-reviews: Party Games

There is a bit of bias in the gaming community about party games. Many think that the are light, silly and frivolous time wasters. However, maybe this bias is just because gamers don't usually get invited to many parties, or, if we do get invited, we just stand socially awkwardly in the corner and try to muster up the courage to suggest a game of Werewolf like a thirteen year old trying to muster up the courage to as a girl to dance.

Well, for the record, I like party games. I went through a long phase of snobbishly turning my nose up to them and thinking that they were a waste of time. And, while it is true that most party games available at Toys R Us really are just shit, I've also come to realize that gaming isn't a "serious hobby all full of strategy and tactics", but it is also one that is fun.

I stopped playing to win a little while ago. That isn't to say that I don't try my hardest or that I am frivolous with my strategies. Rather, winning the game isn't what makes me enjoy the game anymore. It is whether or not I have fun. I still love my "serious gamer's games", but I can enjoy losing. And I'm also not afraid to suggest a party game to my group now and again, despite the occasional rolling of the eyes I get until we get the game started.

Though I would like to offer a note to companies that produce party games: Please, please consider the graphic design of the covers of your box so that adults do not feel ridiculous trying to sell playing the game to others. Party games are almost universal in their cringe-worthy cover design.

Time's Up
Time's Up is probably the best party game out there that works with all ranges from hardcore gamers to non-gamers. It is a team game, where players break into teams of two. If there are an odd number of players, there is a convoluted way to play that is a little tricky for scoring, but the game is still fun enough that I don't mind it.

There is a stack of cards that each have a name on it of a famous, historical or fictional character on it. One player on the team tries to give clues to the other player, avoiding saying any of the words in the name. The players has 30 seconds to get their partner to guess as many cards as possible. However, in the first round, there is no passing or skipping. So things get tricky if it is a person you've never heard of before. However, when your time is up, you pass the stack to the next team, keeping any cards that you got correct, and they will do the same. Because of this, you will eventually come across those cards that you didn't recognize and as the stack thins, and you'll see them and become familiar with them and eventually, the group will get the last cards.

The second and third round use the exact same cards that you should now be familiar with. However, each subsequent round places more and more limits on what you can do to give clues. In the second round, you can only say one word. In the third round, no words at all can be used. Humming, mime and gestures can be used. And players can pass. However, only one guess is allowed per card. If it is wrong, you have to move to the next card.

None of this sounds nearly as fun as it really is. Clues become meta, and you'll be using clues from the other team. I seriously have never laughed playing a game more than the times that I played Time's Up. This is a game that belongs in every gamer's collection.

Going, Going, Gone
Only playing up to six, some might argue that this isn't really a party game. Well, to them, I say bullshit. The game is quick and fun and funny, plus it is entertaining to watch. The game is an auction game where players are bidding on cards, trying to get sets to sell for more money to bid with. Each card has an item and a nationality associated with it. You sell matching sets of either items or nationalities. So even though I may be looking for comic books and you are not, someone else might be looking for the flag on it and we'll be competing over it.

The hook of the game, however, is that the auctions take place in real time. Players have cubes of their color that they have to drop into cups associated with the cards they want. Whoever gets the most of their cubes into a cup wins the card or cards and the others get their cubes back. Now, since this is a real-time game, whoever is the auctioneer puts a large paddle down over the cups, blocking them, once the time is up. They count down from ten--either as slow as they want or as fast as they want, as long as it is a steady pace. Once they finish their countdown, they quickly cover the cups to stop the bidding.

This is a fun, frantic game. It's very silly, but very fun. Sometimes having all of the hands reaching for the cups at the same time can be confusing and even frustrating, but it's not a game to take too seriously. A quick slam of the paddle can also knock over some of the cups if people's hands are not out of the way in time. But despite the chaos of those situations, it is a very fun game and one that is simple enough that anyone can play it. I've had fierce games with my regular gaming crowd as well as fierce games with my eight year old daughter.

Concept is the most esoteric of the games here, but also the one that is probably the most cerebral. Now, Concept isn't really a game. In fact, in the rules, they even allude to the fact in the rules. In playtesting they sort of realized that is kind of falls apart as a game, but thought it was a good enough experience to still move forward with it.

The base of the game is trying to get players to guess a character, item or phrase on by placing cubes on a number of pictures that represent conceptual ideas. Basically, you are breaking down items to get them to understand them. Players make guesses, but the person trying to express the concept cannot speak during this process.

For example, I might try to express the word "dinosaur" by placing a concept marker on Animal, then placing cubes on large, green and old. The thing is, each of the icons you can place the cubes on are abstract and can be used to mean many things. Also, the number and way you place your cubes can mean a lot. For example, you can put a bunch of cubes on something to really emphasize it. And you will also have to break some clues down into sub-concepts.

This is really interesting and really fun, however, it is not much of a game as presented in the box. We've found a good way of playing it, however. One player gives the clues and everyone guesses. If it is guessed before time runs out, the clue giver and the guesser each get a point. They each get an extra point for the difficult clues and two extra points for the challenging clues. Working it this way, it is a game that involves everyone with no downtime and still gives that bit of challenge and fervor, instead of just quickly giving up and moving on when it is presented in a non-game form.

It also has a non-embarrassing cover. So there's that too.

I held out on purchasing Telestrations for a long time. The game can easily be played with paper and pencils on its own, and we have played it in that fashion numerous times. However, I eventually buckled after seeing a friend's set and realizing how much more convenient having dry erase pads and markers really is.

Now if I complained about Concept lacking a game, then I definitely need to make the same point for Telestrations. In fact, there is no way to even work a good game into it. Telestrations is an activity, not a game. But it is still loads of fun.

Telestrations is simply Whisper Down the Lane, but with pictures. Players write a word or a phrase on their pad and then pass it to their neighbor. They then look at the phrase and draw a picture to represent it on the next page. It is passed again and then the next player looks at the picture and writes what they think it is. Once your pad has come back to you, you review the progression with the group and hilarity ensues.

Yeah, there isn't really a good way to score this, but I don't care. It's not a game.

Now, I will tell you two secrets to making this as enjoyable as possible. First, throw out the cards that come with the game. Don't use their cards with words on them. Instead, have your group come up with a phrase or idea and write that down. It is much more interesting when you have to draw "It was the best of times" instead of having to draw "wheelbarrow".

Second, and this is also a key tip for improvisational comedy, don't be dirty. I'm serious. You see, when you write "penis" or "big boobs", that's the joke. There's nothing to work with because once that was put out there, the joke was finished. Instead, let things just flow naturally. I've been with groups that try to be risqué, but ultimately it isn't nearly as fun, funny, or even as dirty as when you just play "straight" and let things go where they will.

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