Category Archives: 5-player games


Scene it? (ScreenLife, 2002) is, in the US at least, everywhere. Shortly after it was brought on the market, it was snatched up by Mattel and has been mass distributed ever since. The market has responded very favorably: I counted 36 different editions currently available.

The funny thing is, my little sister had this idea about 10 years ago, and I told her it would be a nightmare to deal with all the copyright issues but that otherwise it would be a great game. Well, apparently ScreenLife found it worthwhile to deal with the copyright issues, and they have found incredible success.

Scene it? is a dvd-platform trivia game. In other words, it is a basic trivia game, but instead of relying simply on trivia questions read from cards, it comes with a dvd that shows video clips. That’s what’s different – and that is all that’s different. But that makes all the difference. Speaking as a long-standing trivia lover (My love for Trivial Pursuit got me into games BIG TIME when I was young), I am very impressed with the Scene it? family of games – and the family is getting bigger all the time.

The basic play of Scene it? is pretty straight forward – on your turn you roll, and you either get an individual or all-play trivia question to answer. One die indicates how far you move, and the other indicates what category of question you must answer: Trivia Card or DVD Challenge. The trivia cards simply ask a trivia question consistent with the game’s theme, but the DVD Challenge directs you to the tv screen. Players launch the next question and the dvd shows one of several types of questions based on a video clip. In Music Scene it? – for example – there might be an actual music video clip, followed by a question like “Who replaced the drummer shortly after this video was released?” Some questions are based on album covers, some are music-themed word puzzles (anagrams, fill-in-the-blanks, etc), and some are identifying a tune set to “elevator” style. There are several more types as well.

One feature that really makes the game more appealing is its flexibility. Trivial Pursuit gives you one way to play, but Scene it? gives you three. The board (referred to as a “flex-time” board) opens up to reveal a long racetrack, but it also folds in on itself and becomes a racetrack half the size – for much shorter games. There is also a “Party Time” option, that allows you to constantly cycle through the dvd questions. This is a great feature, because it allows a large group of people to participate at once and allows people to come and go as they wish – not to mention the intensity of people trying to beat each other to the punch by answering quickly and loudly.

I’m no fan of mass-market products, but I will give credit where it’s due – and the makers of Scene it? have done a good job of using an underused medium in a way that is easy to use, and makes sense. I recommend Scene it? to families or groups of people who have an interest in any of the versions that are currently available. I have Music Scene it?, tv Scene it?, and Harry Potter Scene it? – and each of them have proven popular with friends. It’s a nice ice breaker game, and increases the energy in the room, and that is a great way to kick off a fun games night!

Buy Scene It – The DVD Game: Movie Edition with bonus on Amazon!


Balderdash (and Beyond!)

Games and music are similar in that individual creations are sampled, reworked, redone, and reissued in many, many ways. Sometimes the latest version bears little or no resemblance to the original (if the original is even known), but sometimes the original was so good that to preserve its essence is to preserve it in its entirety. Such is the case with the Balderdash (Parker Brothers, 1983) family of games.

First it was a parlor game, perhaps from as early as the 19th century, known as Fictionary, or The Dictionary Game. It was played, using a dictionary, as a casual parlor game until, in 1970, the game Blarney was published, and then came The Dictionary Game (a board game) in 1971. Once Balderdash came out in 1983, a new generation was introduced to what is basically the same old parlor game of Dictionary, in which obscure words are re-defined by players vying to trick others into voting for their own definitions as accurate. I’ll explain it more clearly in a moment; you’ll have to trust me that it makes sense. : )

The success of Balderdash led to Beyond Balderdash (Parker Brothers, 1993), and then Bible Balderdash (1989) and Junior Balderdash (1991). In all of these games (except Beyond Balderdash), players are given an obscure word, and come up with a believable definition of that word in an attempt to sway the opinions of other players. Players must vote for a definition, in the hope of choosing the only accurate one, and points are allotted based on who voted for whom.

Balderdash itself was a big hit for a while, but many word non-lovers had to wait until Beyond Balderdash came out so they could finally choose among (using the image below) words – what does “baronduki” mean? People – who was Hkan Forsberg? Initials – what does I.H.S. stand for? Movies – what is the plot of Fuddy Duddy Buddy? And dates – what happened January 7, 1990? Beyond Balderdash is still a strong seller today, and has influenced other party games where faking the description or an explanation of some obscure thing earns points.

Although it isn’t really for everyone, some of my fondest memories of playing games with my family and  friends long ago are from playing Balderdash. It becomes an excellent canvas for one’s wittier friends, and really lends itself to extended, running jokes – the kind of jokes that might run all night and even well into the future…

I recommend this for any group or family that already knows they would enjoy a game night. It’s not important that players already know each other, but many people feel that they have to know the word already in order to be competitive. That isn’t the case, but people who are insecure around strangers might not appreciate being put on the spot, for fear of “looking dumb.”

By the way, there really is no need to purchase the game; just use a dictionary, get some equal-sized scrap papers, and play the game that way. That’s old school.

Buy Beyond Balderdash at Amazon!


Who hasn’t played this game at one time or another, without the help of actual cards, or a board? My brothers and I, and now my wife and I, routinely try to stump each other with lyrical trivia.  Any music lover would like Encore (Endless Games, 1989). This is the kind of party game that nobody really wants to start playing – who wants to show off their own tone-deafness, after all? – but ends up getting everybody gathered around, laughing, and contributing a song or two from their own repertoire.

The game very simply requires each team to identify and sing lyrics from a song, at least six words in length, that include one target word that is drawn randomly from the deck. Teams alternate on the same word until one team fails to come up with an original answer, at which point the other team wins the right to move closer to the end.

There is a newer version of Encore out (first picture), but we played the older version (pic number 2), and because the old tunes are still around, it was still full of relevant words. Unfortunately, I can’t offer an opinion on the cards available in the current edition – but I honestly have no doubt the target words are a decent sample of easy, difficult, and in between. In addition to the word cards, the game comes with a board,  a die, pawns, and a marker.

The target cards are shown below – each listing five everyday words. On one team’s turn, the die is rolled and their pawn moved; the color of the space they land on refers to the colored word on the card they must play. That team them must come up with a song including that word, and sing at least six lyrics that include it. Once they do, the other team must come up with a different song. Turns alternate until one team appears stuck. At that point the other team can impose a time limit (20 second sand timer), but if that first team comes up with a song, the other team then has a time limit as well. Once a team fails to come up with an appropriate answer, they lose control of the dice.

The yellow spaces on the board correspond to “category” questions, and are self explanatory. Otherwise there is nothing special about the color categories on the cards.

Encore is billed as a game for music lovers, but it really is a democratic game, with musical elements for the whole family. As bad as people might consider their singing to be, once among friends all bets are off, inhibitions are cast aside, and it’s all about laughing and enjoying the company.

This is an easy game to recommend to just about any group. The fact that players are matching their own repertoires against the word in question makes it appropriate for any age group (over 8, that is) and any English-speaking country. It is definitely a nice family game, because it can bring people together across generational lines.

Buy Encore from Amazon!

Ticket to Ride

Railroad games are just plain fun. There have been a number of them published, and some have enjoyed a cult-like status for a number of years (see my review of Empire Builder, for example). But none have been as popular as Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder, 2004), which has been on the short list of best games since it came out. It is considered one of a few “gateway” games – that is, a mildly complex game that is so very fun and addictive that “new” gamers will want to try other, more complex games.

The Ticket to Ride board is a map (the original version is the USA, but there are a number of other versions available) denoting major cities, interconnected with train routes of various colors. There are two stacks of cards: Destination cards depict two cities (which players would need to connect with a continuous train route) as well as a point value for connecting them (see below); Ticket cards depict a train car of a certain color, which corresponds to certain routes on the map board – or they might be multi-color “wild” cards (farther below!).

Players each have a stack of 45 trains in their own color,and they start the game with five ticket cards. They draw three destination cards and can keep either two or three of them – but the ones they keep are routes that they must complete with continuous tracks of their own color. If the routes are completed, the player gets the points; if they are not completed by the end of the game, the player loses those points.

The game consists of players taking turns drawing new tickets, drawing new destinations, or placing train routes. In order to place a train route, a player must have enough of the correctly colored tickets, and turn them in. A multi-color wild card is good for any color ticket. Each route is a certain color, or gray, and a certain number of train links long. For example, El Paso to Houston is six links long, and green, so a player would have to accumulate a combination of six green or wild cards and then turn them in – then he or she would be able to put six of their own color trains on those six links. Note that some routes are double wide, so two different players can occupy parallel tracks between the same destinations.

Points are scored throughout the game by placing routes – and the value of the routes increases non-linearly, so that one track piece earns you one point, but 6 track pieces earns you 20 points. Points are also awarded at the end of the game. Players who achieved their destination goals are awarded the corresponding number of points (more points for longer tracks), and those who failed to do so are penalized the same number of points.

During a game of Ticket to Ride, 5 cards available to be drawn are kept face up, and on a turn a player may draw two of the visible cards, unless it is a wild card, in which case it is the only card that can be drawn. If there are no colors the player wants, he or she can draw from a face-down pile once or twice (they can also draw one card here, and the next from the face up stack, again with the exception of the wild card. A player might also draw more Destination cards in an effort to bulk up their score. This mechanism of a constantly changing card availability makes the game more exciting than if they had been face down, plus it gives the alert player information about the plans of his or her opponents.

While it is “another train game,” this is one train game that has gotten a lot of people hooked. It’s complex enough to be rewarding, but simple enough to learn in 5 minutes. I recommend it for any map or train game enthusiast, of for any gamer who wants to expand their social gaming circle. It is good for families, groups, and just a bunch of friends. But be ready to accommodate more hungry zombies….

: )

Buy Ticket to Ride at Amazon!


There’s a reason charades has been enjoyed for the better part of the past 400 years; both King Louis XIV and Catherine the Great were apparently fond of them, and it was being played by Scrooge’s nephew Fred at his party in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Charades can be played with a group of friends as well as a group of strangers, no props are required, everyone is always involved, and laughter generally ensues.

So it is no surprise that games involving the “guessing game” mechanism of charades are still popular today. Guesstures (Parker Brothers, 1990) has been in game closets now for 20 years because it introduced a clever time limit mechanism to the classic game. The time limit takes the frantic suspense of ordinary charades and “kicks it up a notch.”

There are only a few components in Guesstures (older edition, above), and it’s a very simple game to learn and to play. Players split into two teams and, on their turn, one person from their team will be the reader, while all others are guessers. The readers have to try to get their teammates to guess the words on each of four cards in order to score the points associated with those words. But there is a timer involved….

The picture above shows the Timer/Dropper, which is the interesting innovation in Guesstures. There is a spring-loaded timer on the right of the unit (out of sight) that is wound, like an old-fashioned clock, each turn, and it is locked in place until the reader is ready. The cards are put in place as shown above, and when the timer is activated, the reader must get his or her team to guess each word, in order. If the team guesses the word, the reader must physically retrieve that card and pull it out of the unit – before it falls. Yes, before it falls. The timer is connected to a platform that is supporting each card. After a short while, the platform allows the first card to fall, then the second, then the third, and finally the fourth. If the team can’t guess the word, or the reader can’t grab them fast enough, the card is lost to them and earns zero points.

The cards come in two colors, and each card offers a choice of two words – one is more difficult than the other and earns more points, and the two different colors also represent difficulty levels. The reader gets to choose which word will be facing up for his or her team to guess that round, and stands to win whatever the point value is.

Guesstures is one of those games that is an absolutely safe bet for a party. It stands a good chance at being what it takes to really get things going, or it might not, but it won’t bomb. I recommend it to just about any group of people who want to have fun together; hard core gamers can take a break from the intensity of the strategy games and have some lighthearted fun, and casual acquaintances can break the ice and laugh without fear of sounding ridiculous, or at least more ridiculous than anyone else.

Buy Guesstures at Amazon!

Wits & Wagers

So…you have about 20 people over and it’s kind of boring, no one’s really talking about anything interesting and people aren’t too familiar with one another. What do you do? You break out Wits & Wagers (North Star Games, 2005), that’s what!

Billed (accurately) as “The trivia game for people who don’t know stuff,” Wits & Wagers is a trivia game in the sense that you have to answer questions – but rewards don’t come from knowing the answers, they come from placing bets on the players who do know the right answers.

Now in its second edition, the game includes a 28-inch-long felt betting mat, poker chips, trivia cards, player betting markers (2 each in 7 different colors),7 dry-erase pens and mini-boards, and a sand timer. Up to 21 people can play, forming as many as seven teams (individuals may play alone as well).

The goal of the game is to finish with the most points after seven rounds. On each round, a “question reader” reads the appropriate question on the card – the first question for the first round, and so on – and each player or team comes up with their best guess at the answer. The questions always have a numerical answer, typically one that very few people will know outright (see below). Teams have 30 seconds to record their answers, after which the answers are revealed and placed in order of magnitude (lowest to highest) on the large betting mat.

Players then have 30 seconds to place up to two bets on any of the answers, hoping to win one of 4 payoffs (2:1, 3:1, 4:1, or 5:1). Players may also bid on an eighth space, for a 6:1 payoff, labelled: “The correct answer is smaller than all given answers.” Players then identify their bids by placing their colored betting markers on their bets, and then the answer is revealed. The answer that comes closest to correct without going over is considered correct, and all players who bet on this answer receive the corresponding payoff. The player whose answer was chosen also gets 10 bonus points. If all answers went over, there is no bonus given, and only players who bet all answers were too high wins a payoff.

When I first played Wits & Wagers, we had a group of over 20 people (at a board-gaming event), and more were attracted by the laughing and fun. Since then it has not failed to please.

I recommend Wits & Wagers for any family or group that is likely to get larger than, say, 8 people. The more the merrier with this game, but it is still plenty of fun for 6 or more. It is intellectually stimulating, but, as advertised, one need not know anything about trivia to enjoy or even win the game. It is sufficient to know the right people to bet on from turn to turn.

Buy Wits And Wagers at Amazon!

Facts in Five

The game “Scattergories” hit the shelves in 1988, and quickly became one of the most popular family and party games in America. I liked it, but having already been a fan of Facts in Five (3M, 1967; Avalon Hill, 1976; University Games, 2008), I knew there was a superior version of the same game. In fact, Facts in Five is on my top ten list for all time. I owned the Avalon Hill product, but it was first published by 3M in 1967 (example above), and is now available through University Games (see below).

The concept is simple enough. Draw five letter tiles and record those letters in the left-hand column of the answer sheet; draw 5 categories and record them along the top row of the answer sheet. Turn the 5-minute sand timer over and fill in as many examples within each category, starting with each of the drawn letters, as you can. Scattergories is laid out differently – especially since you are focusing on examples from many categories for just a single letter – but it is still basically the same concept. In fact, they both derive from a classic parlor game that as far as I can tell was never boxed. But why, then do I consider Facts in Five to be better than Scattergories? Because of the categories.

Categories in the Scattergories game are everyday things that just about anyone should know, such as “Things in the refrigerator” or “Boy’s names.” Facts in Five, on the other hand, has far more detailed categories, with many options for narrowing a category. In the example below, a player must choose a category and can choose as broadly as “Military Figures” or as narrowly as “Military Figures during World War II.” This feature allows the players to specify the level of knowledge required for their own game, and stimulates thinking about and memory of actual knowledge. Facts in Five is far more intellectually challenging, and therefore more intellectually stimulating and rewarding.

The newest University Games version of the game has been changed to make the categories more accessible, but still are far more interesting than the more mundane categories of Scattergories (see below). The general knowledge required to play is on par with other intellectual pastimes such as Crossword Puzzles, or Trivia.

Another important and very interesting aspect of Facts in Five is the scoring system. Correct answers are indicated on the answer sheet, and final tallies are made in the scoring table on the right – except they are collapsed upwards. That is, if in the first category a player correctly listed three things, then the player would get three tallies in the corresponding column of the scoring table, and regardless of which of the five in the first column were correct, the three tallies are placed in the top three sections of the first column of the scoring table, and then so on for each column. When each column is totaled, that number is squared and placed in the box. The same is done across each row – correct answers are tallied, but regardless of where the answers existed on the regular grid, since they collapse upward the first rows will get higher scores. Once all squared numbers are entered, they are summed up for a final score for that round.

This kind of scoring yields slight differences between itself and simple counting of answers. For example, high numbers in the columns indicate a strong specific knowledge of a given category. High numbers in the rows indicate general knowledge. Overall, however, the effect of general versus specific knowledge are made moot once the answers are added back together for a final score for that round.

Scores, once they are obtained, are moved to another scoresheet (below). It also has a space for specific and general scores, but they are not crucial to the game. After five rounds of play, final scores are tallied and listed here.

It may have been the time in my life where I was just discovering how much I loved trivia, coupled with my great memories of my two brothers and I naming things from different categories as we went through the alphabet. Whatever it was, however, I have loved this game ever since I was little.

I therefore recommend Facts in Five to any person or group who you know to be more intellectually driven – again, someone who would feel comfortable working the crossword puzzle. I find it an exhilarating exercise for the brain, and I think that most who play would feel the same about it.

Buy Facts in Five at Amazon!