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Thinking Out Loud

Friday, May 05, 2006

Review >> Wits & Wagers

NorthStar games was generous enough to donate a copy of Wits & Wagers to the Geekway to the West gaming event. I was pleased to write a review of the game for their generosity. This is an overview of the game review. The full review can be read over at BoardGameGeek.con.

Clever, Quick Fun ... But Watch Out for Groupthink

OVERVIEW: Wits & Wagers is a trivia game with light bluffing and bidding elements, published by Nortstar Games and Eagle Games. Wits & Wagers has received a lot of press and acclaim recently (Boing Boing, Mensa Select and others) and rightly so -- Wits & Wagers is one of the more accessible, easily played trivia games I've encountered, and is well-suited to nearly any group.

THE PRICE IS RIGHT SYNDROME: Despite its apparent simplicity and accessible nature, there's a strong tendency for the game to devolve into a meta-game -- a groupthink dynamic of trying to undercut what people think a reasonable answer is, rather than what might be a reasonable guess at the question. This is tied to the (necessary) guideline that the closest guess w/o going over is the "correct" guess for the question.

To make up a random example, if the question asks how many miles long the Mississippi River is, very few people could hazard a legitimate guesstimate. The rest are arbitrary and wildy variable guesses. Knowing that my guess can't possibly be in the ballpark, I'd be inclined to make a very low guess, say 100, which I know isn't right. But that's not the point. I just want to be the highest of all the low guesses, or the best lowball guess "below" the reasonable threshold of answers.

It could very well be on the low end of the bidding extreme, meaning it could have fairly good odds for a payout. If the next highest response is too high by even 1 mile, then my absurdly low bid of 100 is "right" and pays out.

Once a group sees this dynamic in action, the next time a comparably unguessable question comes up (especially where the answer could potentially be very, very large), and they've seen the potential "power" of a lowball guess, you might see a variety of guesses like: 50, 50, 70, 100 for an answer that's really going to be 800-1000...

This sort of groupthink is contagious, especially after seeing its success. You simply can't afford to be the only person making a "true" guess if everyone else is playing the lowball game, as the odds are stacked against you that one of the lowball responses (not a true guess, but a response to the groupthink) will end up being the winning answer regardless of its accuracy.

THE BOTTOM LINE: 8/10 -- Very clever, engaging and fairly novel party game. Nice light trivia and interesting wagering process involved. One problem is that some folks will invariably play "The Price is Right" and make obscenely low bids just to undercut what they think other people will do -- putting emphasis on that sort of mind game over legitimate attempts to provide reasonable answers. Despite some poor production decisions and the bidding issues with some players or groups, Wits & Wagers does far more right than wrong, and is an enjoyable way to spend the evening with friends.

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