Thursday, January 04, 2007

Wits and Wagers - A Much Delayed Review

Quite some time ago, the designer of "Wits and Wagers" contacted me after having read this blog and asked if we would like to try an evaluation copy of Wits and Wagers, on the condition that I review it here and at BGG. I responded that I would, so long as he understood that I would afford no special treatment for having sent us a copy of the game for the price of the shipping. After much unintended delay, here is that review. My apologies to Mr. Crapuchettes for failing to get a review in before the Christmas holidays.

Concept & Overview

Wits and Wagers is a party game designed for between three and twenty-one players. It combines elements of a standard trivia game with competitive betting, the gestalt resembling the price estimation element of the TV show "The Price is Right" combined with gambling. The game is played on a soft, pliable playing mat approximately 90cm (3') long by 30cm (1') wide printed on a material commonly found in mouse pads. Players answer questions asked from a wide range of categories, write down their answers with dry erase markers on small answer cards, and place their bets with plastic poker chips and wooden ownership marking cubes.

The game includes the rubber playing mat, a sand timer, seven dry erase pens, seven laminated answer cards, 14 wooden betting cubes, 120 plastic poker chips in red and blue, a rules booklet and a box of trivia questions.

Dominic Crapuchettes offers up this fun little game after his intitial (as far as I can tell from BGG) debut game of Cluzzle. The two games share very little in common, so no comparisons will be made.

As a disclaimer, I was sent this game as an evaluation copy by North Star Games. I will comment as an aside that Mr. Crapuchettes is helpful, open to suggestion and just all-around nice in the few e-mails I've exchanged with him. To be perfectly honest, it was not a game I might have purchased on my own, but after agreeing to evaluate it and playing several times with experienced boardgamers, family and casual-playing friends, this is definitely a game I would buy or recommend.

Game Mechanics

The game is very simple - and very appropriately so for a party game intended to appeal to a wide market.

Players choose a colour. In the event that there are more than seven players, players are grouped into teams so that each of the seven colours provided represents a team. Each player or team is given ten red chips representing five points, and three blue chips representing ten points for a total of 80 points.

One player is designated the "Question Reader", another is designated the "Banker" and assume the roles for the rest of the game. Some players have suggested that the "Question Reader" role rotate, but I feel that neither role gains any particular advantage.

There are seven question rounds in the game. For each question, the Question Reader reads the question (question 1 on the card for the first round, question 2 on the card for the second round, etc.), waits for any requests for clarification, then flips the 30-second sand timer. Players/teams then have until the timer runs out to write down their answer to the question. All questions have been written so that they can are answered with a number. The best answer is the one which comes closest without going over (the "Price is Right" element). This is a critical distinction and should be emphasized when explaining the game.

After all of the players have written their answers, they are revealed and then arranged on the playing mat from smallest to highest, in boxes which correspond to 5:1, 4:1, 3:1, 2:1, 1:1 (and then upwards again) payouts. Duplicate answers are stacked in the same box. If there are an odd number of different answers after stacking duplicates, they are arranged with the middle answer on the 1:1 odds box and the higher and lower answers above and below them. Even numbers of answers are arranged so that the centre 1:1 box is empty.

Players then have thirty seconds to place bets. Bets can be between 0 and 10 points. Bet chips are marked with a wooden marker cube of the player's colour. If 10 points are bet, the points can be split between two answers by placing two 5 point chips and placing marker cubes on both chips, or all ten can be bet on the same answer. It should be clarified to first time players that betting is always optional.

After the timer runs out, the correct answer is read from the back of the question card. The winning answer is the one which comes closest without going over. If all answers are higher than the actual answer, the special "The Correct Answer is smaller than all given answers" box pays out. Otherwise, the box containing the winning answer pays out at the odds for that box. The banker also gives a ten point bonus in chips to the player/team whose answer cards were in the winning payout box.

This continues for six rounds. On the seventh round, there is no limit on betting (once again, players can still bet zero), but they can only split their bet between two boxes as marked by their coloured cubes.

The player/team with the most points after the seventh round is the winner.


Artwork and Components


The production design of this game is somewhat lacklustre, though entirely functional. With apologies to the artist, the illustrations have a clip-art/cartoon appearance which seems somewhat "cheap". Combined with bright colours and an overly exaggerated "excitement factor" apparent in all the players, there is a distinct game-show feel to the artwork which, although not inappropriate, might have been done better.


The game box features three major illustrations, a character which appears to be in a game show, a group of people apparently orgasmically excited about something or other, and a "cool guy" looking like he's won a bunch of money at poker. This actually communicates quite effectively the three core ideas of the game - "game show/trivia", "party/group fun" and "betting". To be quite honest, I don't know how else I might have done the art differently, but somehow it feels like it should be better.


The playing mat is well laid out and there is plenty of room for what needs to be done in each area. Wager odds are clearly marked and it never impedes gameplay. The rubber mat idea is quite suitable for the game, and the green colour immediately brings to mind casino betting areas, as well as being gentle on the eyes.

The foldable aspect of the mat is quite nice, lending itself to easy placement and no problems with warp causing bets to slide around on the board.

The question cards are not remarkable, being pretty similar to any trivia game you might have played. There is no slipcover box provided for their storage, but this is a minor issue.

The wooden cubes are standard stock - nothing good or bad about them. They are suitably large enough to not be easily lost, while also not too large to make placement or balancing on top of stacks of chips difficult.

The plastic poker chips are pretty standard stock as well, but many players commented on how they feel "cheap". Many people are now used to the more expensive clay gambling chips used at casinos and in poker games, and the old plastic chips, once entirely serviceable, feel chintzy by comparison. While it would probably jack up the price of the set (not to mention shipping weight) to include better quality ceramic chips, thus making the idea impracticable, perhaps if a reprint or a deluxe edition is published, they should seriously consider higher quality chips.

The laminated answer cards are nicely done. It's easy to determine colour, and the dry erase marker wipes off easily. The reverse side is patterned like the back of a playing card, which, with the green rubber mat, contributes to the overall "casino" feel of the game in play.

A minor though not insignificant quibble about the dry erase markers included with the box should be mentioned. All of them worked fine, but the caps do not fit snugly on the reverse end of the pen when removed. This can easily lead to lost caps. Almost every playing group commented on how this was an annoying issue to them, and hopefully would be addressed with any future runs of this game - get markers that when you pull off the caps, you can stick them snugly on the other end. The sand timer is also unremarkable, but seems sturdy enough for repeated use.

Although the game rules indicated there should be a "napkin" available to each player, none is included in the box. A minor issue, and nothing which should detract from the game. Perhaps a deluxe edition could include cheap dry-erase marker erasers, perhaps on the pen caps.

Gameplay

This game plays quickly in about 20 to 30 minutes. In every case where I brought it out, with experienced gamers, family or casual friends alike, everyone wanted to play more than one game. In the case of my extended adult family (father, mother, uncles and aunts) we actually played for eight successive games in one evening because everyone was enjoying it so much. This was surprising because this particular group is not much of a gaming-oriented bunch. My father, who was most sceptical, ended up as one of its more enthusiastic players.

Importance should be placed on relatively firm enforcement of time limits. We have a house rule that bets or answers not placed on the board before the timer runs out are not put into play at all.

The concept sounds somewhat dry to explain it, but everyone gets into it quickly. You have to repeat certain rules with first time players - "closest without going over" and bet limits/methods seem to be the ones which cause the most confusion, but they are not inherently difficult.

Small bits of trivia and information have been included with the answers on the back of question cards, and information sources are quoted on the front. This can help make the game even more interesting if you have a good Question Reader.

The questions themselves represent a nice variety, and as has been demonstrated elsewhere in BGG, there is a method to the distribution. Many of the questions are in the "you can't possibly know that" category, and are best approached from a best estimate or "wild-assed guess" strategy. First time players should be assured that it is not so important to answer correctly as it is to bet correctly.

As a Canadian, I would comment that the questions are largely America-centric, but this is common in many trivia games. If there is an international edition or deluxe edition released, I highly recommend a set of questions with a much broader geographic and cultural basis.

The game isn't quite as successful when played in teams, but still works well. The optimal number of players is actually exactly seven, in my opinion, but 5-14 works fine. (we've played with 12). I can't see three or four players having nearly as much fun.

Most players recognize quickly the strategy of strategic betting, betting on the answer with the largest gulf between it and the next highest while still likely being in the correct range.

The designer has recommended a few variants, which I believe can be found in the game entry forums at BGG.

Summary

This game is fun, fast and easy with broad appeal and a shallow learning curve. Perfect for a party game, but having a bit more meat than the usual roll and move grind of Trivial Pursuit and Scene It. It also has a limited playing time - unless you are not doing things right, games will almost always be over within 30 minutes, and 20 minutes is more common. There's virtually no down-time (as there can be in other trivia games where a player can continue to move with several successfully answered questions) and there is a certain level of excitement (generated by the timers) to the betting and answering.

I highly recommend this game for anyone who likes party games. It is definitely in my top three of manufactured party games. It doesn't have much appeal for euro-only gamers, as the betting strategy can be largely negated by the no-limits "all-in" round at the last round.

I do feel that the international appeal of the game could be increased dramatically by selecting more international questions.

One of the most telling aspects about the game is that every time I've introduced it to a new group of players, they’ve asked where they can buy a copy. I've enthusiastically recommended local gaming stores in my area where I know the game is carried. If you need a party game that you can pull out and play anytime with almost any group of players, this is one to have.

1 comment:

  1. parmenides5:50 PM

    The second edition of Wits & Wagers fixes a few problems with the game, one of which you mentioned.

    Now there is no 'all in' round on the last question. Every question now is 'all in', so basically this means you can bet any chips you win in any round.

    As such, it heightens the risk assessment element of the game, making it more fun.

    If you have a first edition game, simply allow people to bet their chips on every round, but if you bet incorrectly, the chips you bet disappear (other than the original betting chips, which you never lose).

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