Tag Archives: National Parenting Center Seal of Approval

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.

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Ooga!

Fast action, involving a wooden plunger-tipped “spear,” makes Ooga! (SimplyFun, 2008; aka Dino Booom, 2004) a unique game that appeals to the entire family.

Ooga! consists of “spears,” square “dino” tiles, rectangular “menu” tiles, and four “bone” tiles. Players use the spears to “capture” dino tiles, in an effort to accumulate the dinosaurs depicted on the menu tile. The catch is that the players must compete in rounds, and each round the slowest “dino hunter” must go without a tile.

The dino tiles are laid out, face up, in the center of the table, and a menu tile is turned over. The goal of the game is to acquire more of the menu tiles than any other player. Menu tiles are acquired when a player has successfully hunted each of the colored dinosaurs depicted on that menu card and yelled “Ooga!” before any other player.

But dinosaur tiles can only be hunted one at a time, and according to the “roll” (actually, it’s a “drop”) of the bone tiles. Three of the four bone tiles depict habitats (plains, forests, mountains), so only dinosaur tiles with those backgrounds may be hunted during that round. The fourth bone tile depicts coconuts and fruit, allowing a hunter to choose the corresponding “coconut” dino tile, which is a wild card (representing any color and type of dinosaur on the menu tile).

At the beginning of each round the bone tiles are dropped, revealing the range of habitats that may be chosen by any player. Each player must then immediately decide which dino tile to “spear” based not only on the habitats rolled, but on the type and color of the dinosaurs listed on the menu tile. Whichever player is slowest at choosing an appropriate dinosaur tile must do without a tile for that round. As soon as a player has accumulated each of the dinosaurs (by type and color) depicted on the menu tile, that player must shout “Ooga!” and turn in their tiles. They win the menu tile, and a new menu tile is turned up.

The challenge of quickly determining which of the dinosaur/habitat combinations to choose, coupled with the actual fun of “spearing” that tile, makes this an exciting little game. It definitely has appeal for younger players, but adults can enjoy it too, even alongside youngsters (although the youngest players would have trouble keeping all of the elements straight and still act quickly enough to compete, so I would recommend a handicap for more mature players in that case).

I had two problems with Oooga! Although it should have been simple enough to learn, it took a careful reading of the rules to really understand how to play because they don’t clarify the difference between a hunting “round” and a menu “day.” Besides that, the bone tiles are two-dimensional. Unless there is a large enough playing surface, dropping them can disrupt the rest of the playing area, or else they can bounce off the table onto the floor. One has to sacrifice the satisfying randomness of just throwing them up and letting them land wherever, for a more controlled and less random drop onto a smaller part of the playing area.

Overall, Ooga! turns out to be a lot of fun. It lends itself to multi-generational play, it involves quick-thinking and dexterity, and excitement builds as the game progresses. I recommend it to any gaming family or group of kids!

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Sherlock

It is very hard to find a game in which kids can expect to compete with adults, but Sherlock (Playroom Entertainment, 1999) is one of them. It is strictly a memory game, but it uses a much more interesting mechanism than classic memory games (such as “concentration”).

Sherlock consists of a deck of cards (see pic below), which depict a simple iconic image, a number, and an arrow. There is one “Sherlock” card used as a starter. The illustrations are clear and attractive, and geared toward children’s tastes without being too babyish.

The game is played by dealing 8 cards to the center of the table in a circle. Players have a chance to memorize the identity of each card. If necessary, an adult can be handicapped by getting less time to memorize at this point. When players are ready, the cards are turned face-down, and the Sherlock card is laid down next to one card, which is to serve as the starting point.

On a turn, a player must accurately identify the card adjacent to the Sherlock card; if wrong, the player who missed it chooses a new spot for the Sherlock card and play passes to the next player. If the guess is correct, that card is left face-up and the number and arrow on the card indicates the direction and number of cards to jump to. In the example below, the guessing player identified and turned over the pail first (note the Sherlock card above it), moved one to the right and identified and turned over the cherries, then moved three to the left and identified and turned over the comb, and so on. The turn ends when a player guesses long enough that they end up on a card that they have already turned over. In the example below, the chair indicates a move two spaces to the right, which would be the already turned comb. The guessing player wins that card and replaces it – first for all to see, and then face down. The other cards are turned back to face-down, and the Sherlock card is moved to a new spot for the next player. The first to collect 5 cards is the winner!

Since Sherlock is a kid’s game, it’s simple, but it is still a nice challenging game for adults to play with their kids. It even offers a great opportunity to observe and assist kids as they discover and implement memory strategies – which can end up being useful throughout school and life in general.

I highly recommend this game for any child (5 and up), and any family with children. Most people who have played will tell you it’s more fun than they expected, as it was for me. So buy this game – it’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s fun!

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