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Ender Wiggins
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Introducing Wits & Wagers



Once upon a time, there was a trivia game that was hugely successful. In the game, players competed by answering a myriad of questions about general knowledge and popular culture! Dozens of question sets were released for it! And over 90 million copies have been sold! That's right, 90 million!

Okay. (Deep breath.) Now that I'm done talking about Trivial Pursuit, let's talk about an even better trivia game: Wits & Wagers. Now I wish I could say that it's also sold 90 million copies. And perhaps one day it will achieve that kind of success, and we'll all be able to look back and say to our grandchildren, in a quavering type of voice, filled with emotion and nostalgia: "I remember when I was a whole lot younger, and I was one of the first to hear about that game on BGG!" To be fair, Wits & Wagers has achieved a remarkable degree of success. Perhaps not along the lines of 100 million copies, but given that most eurogames on the market today support a print run of a few thousand at most, the fact that Wits & Wagers has seen about 400,000 copies in print commands some serious respect. And you only need to look at the front cover of the current edition to see that Wits & Wagers has won a whole string of awards: Mensa Mind Games' 2006 Mensa Select, BGG's 2007 Best Party Game of the Year, GAMES Magazine's 2007 Party Game of the Year, Creative Child Magazine's 2006 Game of the Year, and About.com's Best Trivia Game of All-Time - just to name a few. The box cover boasts that it's "The Most Award Winning Party Game in History" - an impressive credential, supported by a colourful array of awards that appear on the box cover, including BGG's very own Golden Geek Award.



Now I admit that for the longest time I avoided all the Wits & Wagers buzz on BGG. After all, wasn't it just a trivia game? Why would I be interested in trivia games anyway? I'd long been burned out on Trivial Pursuit years ago! And so I mentally ignored all the threads, glossed over all the discussions, blotted out all the hype, and focused my browsing on more interesting games like euros and abstracts and fillers and more. But what a mistake! Now that I've finally had a chance to play the game, I have become enlightened! This was no ordinary trivia game - it was a game show in a box! So if you - like me - have for a long time been blocking your ears to the noise about Wits & Wagers, then give the game half a chance. At the very least, check out this review and learn more about it. Wits & Wagers has already demonstrated that it can serve as the medicine needed to cure family gatherings of the painful ailment otherwise known as Trivial Pursuit. And here's hoping that 90 million copies will one day prove that it can do even more than that. And you folks, heard it first right here on BGG!




COMPONENTS

Game box

The box is a colourful and solid design, with the square shape being slightly smaller than your average Ticket to Ride style game box.



Don't miss those string of awards on the top! They've been well earned! As for the designer's signature - well I happened to get a copy with a handwritten autograph on the front. Designer Dominic Crapouchettes is a top guy - in fact he's the fresh recipient of the 2010 Rising Start Game Inventor of the Year award - and I'm sure that if you are prepared to cover the cost of shipping both ways he might be happy to sign your copy too!

The back of the box introduces us to the core concepts of the game, and the key words being what you see in bold: questions, and bets! It's the `betting' element that makes this game so different from average trivia games! And don't be too alarmed, the `betting' here won't make your kids run off to the casino any time soon. What it means is that not only can you get points for the correct answer yourself, but you also get a chance to get points by bidding on which answer from other players might be correct! What a great concept!



The box insert is well constructed, and does an admirable job of storing the components neatly and carefully. Here's our first look inside the box:



Component list

Note that in this review we'll be looking at a more recent printing of the second edition. What you see here is in all likelihood the edition that you'll find in stores (it can be identified by the tag "The Most Award Winning Party Game in History" on the cover. The second edition incorporates a number of small rules and components changes from the first edition, which I'll cover later. This particular printing of the second edition includes a few extra poker chips and minor clarifications to the rules. So for all intents and purposes, this can be considered a review of the second edition.

Here's what you get if you haul everything out of the box:
● Felt mat
● 100 Question cards
● 7 Dry Erase Boards & Pens
● 14 Player Betting chips (2 for each player)
● 90 Poker chips (in 3 colours)
● Sand timer
● Rulebook



Question cards

Let's start off with the 100 question cards.



On one side of each card are seven questions. According to the designer (see here), the breakdown of the 700 questions is as follows: Pop Culture (135), Final Question (100), Geography (50), History & Government (80), Wild & Zany (75), Sports (75), Sociology (60), Science (60), Business & Economics (40), Arts & Literature (25).



Strictly speaking, the rules demand doing question #1 from the first card, question #2 from the second card, etc, to ensure as large a variety of questions as possible, since the question slots on each card being arranged as follows:
1. Geography / Wild & Zany
2. History & Government / Pop Culture
3. Sociology / Arts & Literature / Pop Culture
4. Science / Business & Economics
5. Sports / Wild & Zany
6. Pop Culture
7. Final Question.

The other side has the answers, sometimes along with a related fun fact.



Note how all the questions are about numbers! That's important, because players will be trying to guess the answer as close as possible, without going over the correct answer.

Dry Erase Boards & Pens

Since the game can support seven players or seven teams of players, there are seven dry erase boards in different colours.



There's also seven dry erase markers - the dry erase boards and markers work well, and are fun to use, and clean off easily using a tissue.



Felt mat

When all teams have written down their answers, these will be revealed simultaneously and placed on the felt mat, from lowest to highest. You can probably get the gist of the concept already: the `pay-off' for guessing the closest answer will vary, depending on where the correct answer is located!



Player Betting Chips

Each player or team gets two chips in their colour, which they'll be able to place on the game mat after all the answers to a specific question have been revealed and placed in order.



These are made out of nice chunky cardboard, and the bright colours match those of the dry erase boards for each player/team.

Poker Chips

The current edition comes with 90 poker chips: 60 red (1 point each), 15 blue (5 points each), and 15 green (25 points each). These come in a plastic tray for convenient storage and sorting.



Players will earn these by writing the closest answer themselves, and can also use these to earn extra points for guessing the correct answer - even if other players wrote that answer!



Timer

We can't have people taking too long to write down their answer, or make their bids! That's where the 30 second sand-timer comes in.



Gotta love the funky fluorescent blue coloured sand!

Rulebook

The rulebook consists of just a few pages - which is all that's needed to explain this game really - and includes ample illustrations and examples to explain the game.



You can download a copy of the updated rules for the second edition right here on BGG:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/61866/2nd-edition-rule...

GAME-PLAY

Set-up

Wits & Wagers is best enjoyed with lots of players - the more the merrier! Have more than 7 players? Terrific, just divide up into teams! But ideally you want at least 5-7 players or teams, because that means there will be more answers to choose from! Each player or team gets their own dry erase board and two player betting chips in their colour, along with a dry erase marker.



Designate one player to be the Banker (in charge of the poker chips) and another player to be the Question Reader (in charge of reading the questions and answers) - fortunately both of these roles can be done by people who are participating in the game. With the game mat in the middle of the table, and with the Question Reader having 7 question cards in hand, you're ready to roll!

Flow of Play

The game will last seven rounds, and each round consists of just one question being asked. Here's how the flow of play for a single round would look:

1. Wits: Ask and answer a question.

The Question Reader asks a question from the first card. Given that quite a few questions are US-focused or use imperial measurements, you might want to let the Question Reader choose any question he wishes from the card. With a 30 second time limit enforced with the use of the timer, everyone secretly writes down what they think is the answer without going over the correct answer.

Hmmm, so what percentage of US households do we think own at least one pet cat?



2. Wagers: Sort answers and place bets.

All players/teams reveal their answers, and sort them out on the game mat from lowest to highest. Answers are arranged on the pay-out slots on the game mat, with the middle guess placed in the center slot (if there's an even number of different answers, this slot is omitted). This will give all the answers a different value if they are correct.



Now here's the fun part: players/teams get 30 seconds (again enforced with the timer) to place their player betting chips on the answer that they think is correct or closest to being correct without going over. If you're really confident, you can even put both of your chips on the same answer. As the game progresses, you'll earn poker chips, and you can put these under your betting chips if you wish, to increase the payoff if you guess correctly - or stand to lose them if you're incorrect!



3. Scoring: Check correct answer and win or lose chips.

Now the Question Reader announces the answer - the winning guess is the one that is closest without going over. For example, if the correct answer was 14, then a guess of 15 would be too high, and if the closest answer without going over was 12, that would be the winning guess.



The player/team who wrote the winning guess gets 3 points in poker chips. Other points are distributed according to the payout odds for that slot. So if you bet three red chips along with your player betting chip on a winning guess that had 3 to 1 payout odds, you'd get your original bet of 3 red chips back, along with a payout of 4 x 3 = 12 chips. On the other hand if you bet three red chips on a wrong guess, you get your player betting chips back, but you lose the poker chips you bet on that guess. Some examples:



And that's how you play Wits & Wagers! You repeat the process until you've done seven questions in this manner. Often by the last question you'll see some massive bids come out, as happened in the game pictured below! As it turned out, the correct answer was ten, so most players lost everything they had! Sometimes it's wiser to bid conservatively!



The winner is the player/team with the most points (measured in poker chips) at the end of the game!

Other editions

The second edition that was released in 2007 saw several refinements to the original game of Wits & Wagers, which first appeared in 2005 (pictured below). The odds were revised by a factor of 1, and limits on betting removed - changes which give losing players a greater chance of making a come-back in the final stages of the game. To prevent players losing all their money and ensure that you can always bet something, player betting chips were introduced rather than having all players start with a certain amount of poker chips. Various changes of a cosmetic and clarifying nature were also made to the look of the components and content of the rule-book. Most people consider the second edition rules a solid improvement to and refinement of the original, the good news being that there are ways for owners of the first edition to play with the second edition rules (see the designer's post here).



Gambit 7 is a version of Wits & Wagers that was licensed to and published by Days of Wonder. It has slightly different rules (it dispenses with the poker chips in favour of points, for example, and many people seem to prefer the Wits & Wagers method of scoring), and the questions are less US-focused.



Wits & Wagers Family is a family edition of Wits & Wagers. The concept is very similar, but the questions are geared more to families and children. The scoring is also simplified - instead of a felt mat and using betting and poker chips, players place two meeples on the answer boards and score points for their meeples.



In 2008, an Xbox Live Arcade version of the game was released, bringing Wits & Wagers to the XBox 360. XBox Magazine even named Wits & Wagers a 2008 Editor's Choice, describing it as "a genius quiz-show game that ranks right up there with classics like You Don't Know Jack."



Wits & Wagers Expansion Pack 1 is an expansion that features cards with 700 new questions for the original game.



CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

You don't need to be good at or even enjoy trivia. Wits & Wagers puts a whole new spin on the trivia genre, by not making the trivia element play a lead role. Equally important is the simple mechanic of being able to bid on an answer that another player/team guessed. This is a great concept, because it means that you stand a chance of earning points even if you don't much idea about the real answer. Is Aunt Joan a history buff? Then let's see what her answer was to this question about the date of this battle, because she's the one most likely to get it right. Skill and knowledge is still rewarded, but the questions have been designed with just the right level of difficulty to keep the playing field more level, and inject an element of tension and excitement that is not present in most trivia games. Being able to bid chips can increase the risk as well as the rewards, and so there's room for both high risk and low risk players to have a great time - and perhaps eek out a win! The bidding/betting mechanic really makes the game shine, and gives it a game-show feel that enables Wits & Wagers to rise beyond the mundane that we have come to expect from a trivia game.

It has a gambling feel. The wagering mechanic is one of the game's strengths, but the betting element does mean that Wits & Wagers has a somewhat of a gambling feel, which is strengthened by the use of poker chips. I've heard comments from first-time players ranging from "I can see why people get hooked by gambling - and I've learned that I wouldn't be any good at it either!" to "This is exactly the way I play poker - all in!" A small minority of people may feel uncomfortable with this aspect of the game. If this is an issue for your group or family, you can consider as an alternative the Family version of Wits & Wagers (see my review here), which dispenses with poker chips and odds, simplifies the scoring system, and so avoids most of these issues. On the other hand, for many other people the `gambling' feel will be precisely the aspect of the game that they enjoy the most, since the potential risks and rewards of bets great and small have an alluring quality - even if it's just a game! And it's not just pure luck, since it is trivia after all!

It's ideal for large groups. More than seven people? Not a problem! Wits & Wagers lends itself well to being a team game, and being run almost as a kind of game show! There's even a spreadsheet you can use on a projection screen in the BGG files here. The story about Tony Allen's surprise 50th birthday party has to rank as one of the all-time classic session reports of Wits & Wagers - Dominic Crapouchettes attended Tony's party in person to run a giant game of Wits & Wagers. Read the full story in this GeekList, paying special attention to items #5 and #10. The good bit is that if you own the game, you could easily arrange something similar for a large group or event, and even customize or personalize the questions accordingly if need be.



It's easy to introduce. The essence of gameplay is so easy to explain: you don't need the right answers to win, but for each question, bet on the answer you think is closest to the truth (without being too high). People will catch on to how the game works immediately, and everyone can focus on having a good time!

It's quick to play. Most games can be completed in about half an hour. That means that Wits & Wagers rarely overstays its welcome - in fact, you'll often find people begging for a second game immediately after playing the first! That's a sign of a great game!

It's fun. How many other trivia games do you know that you can honestly describe with the word fun? I'm sure there are some, but "fun" isn't usually the adjective of choice that most people associate with trivia. Admittedly, it's more the mechanics and `wagering' part of the game that makes Wits & Wagers fun, but even so, fun it is! If you browse the image gallery, you'll find lots of pictures of groups of people laughing and enjoying themselves with Wits & Wagers - and that's what a party style game should be about, especially when you're getting together with friends and family. Look at the big smile on Tom Vasel and Alan Moon's face in this classic Wits & Wagers picture!



There are many US-related questions and imperial measurements. For people in the US, who are likely the biggest target market for this game and can find it easily in retail outlets, this is a non-issue. But people living in other countries like Canada or elsewhere should be aware in advance that many of the questions are based on US statistics, while other questions use imperial measurements that will require simple conversion for people in countries that use metric. According to a post from the designer, about 25-30% of the questions are US-centric to some degree. People outside the US could choose to select other questions from each card (our solution - although this will mean progressing through the cards and questions much faster), opting to buy Gambit 7, the version that was licensed to and published by Days of Wonder, or alternatively get the expansion pack with 700 new questions. It's a disadvantage, to be sure, but it doesn't make the game unplayable for non-Americans - it just means you'll go through the questions faster.

It's very accessible for purchasing. Not only is this the kind of game that your family will want to play, but in most cases it's also easy for them to get their hands on. North Star has had great success getting Wits & Wagers into the doors of giant department stores like Target and Walmart. Tell your family and friends to head down to their nearest big box store - it's also a great idea for a last-minute gift at this time of the year, one that's sure to please!



What do others think?

The criticism

There's no game that will please everyone, and Wits & Wagers is no exception. So why might you not like this game? Browsing through some of the negative comments on the game, it's evident that not everyone - particularly the trivia buffs - appreciates the mechanism where answers that go over the correct answer are disqualified. Others point out that while the betting elements help, it's still a trivia game and people who really hate trivia won't like this either. Furthermore, they add that you do need to have some idea about trivia to do well - and certainly it has to be conceded that knowledge will help, although the questions and game mechanics are designed in such a way that this won't give too much of an advantage. Others have found the questions too far fetched (although this is partly by design, to keep the playing field level), or too US-centric. But in most instances, the criticism is not so much a reflection on a poor game design, but indicative of different tastes. If you can't stand games that involve guessing or betting and playing odds, then the fact that this offers a twist on the trivia genre probably won't make you a fan. On the other hand if you are concerned about the guessing element and want to reduce the betting element in order to give more room for skill, you'll find some suggestions for more competitive variant from the designer here.



The praise

The critics, however, are by far in the minority, and there are pages and pages of ratings of 9s and 10s for this game - which is outstanding for a trivia game. It's in the BGG Top 10 Party games for a good reason! Here's what some people have to say about why they like the game so much:

"The king of trivia games. I love it, even if I'm losing horribly. You don't need to know the right answers to win!" - Erik Warnes
"Awesome party game. There are a few of us in the group that love trivia but since the others can't compete, prefer not to select those games. This is a perfect fit for both groups. A truly socializing success." - Brian (ColtsFan76)
"Greatest Trivia game on the market. This one doesn't overstay it's welcome, in fact, I've never played just a single game of this." - Ol River Johnson (Ryno8)
"Probably the most requested game in my collection." - Dave Chalker
"I'm not a party game fan but this game rocks! Quick, fun, exciting." - Allen Vailliencourt
"Great combination of trivia and poker as you score points both for guessing correct answers and betting on who you think guessed the right answer. Great game for non-gaming family events." - Bob Menzel
"An unbelievable hit as a party game for us. Everyone instantly loved it." - Ron Hetrick
"This is a hit with both adults and teens." - Arden Nelson Jr.
"I normally can't stand trivia games, and I'm not usually a fan of party games, but this is a steady short burst of concentrated fun." - Morgan Dontanville
"Best party game period. No acting, clay modeling, drawing, etc." - matdav
"I will never play another trivia game again." - Sheamus Parkes
"Love playing this game with newbies and non-gamers. A great party game. It's easy to teach and fast to play. Also appeals to people that are trivia-challenged." - Eddie Rey Falucho
"Brilliant. You only need to know who knows their trivia to be good at this one. Or just get lucky. It's the only game I own that will get pulled out during family gatherings." - Eric Monte
"My favorite trivia game because you don't actually have to know all the answers." - Alice Ward
"The perfect trivia game - one where you are rewarded for knowing the answer, but it doesn't matter if you don't." - Zachary S.
"Has been consistently liked among non-gamers and gamers alike." - Ryan McSwain
"I hate trivia games but I love W&W. The betting is what makes this game a winner." - George Ratcliff




Recommendation

So is Wits & Wagers a game for you? Let's rephrase the question: are parties, family events, and social gatherings for you? If the answer is yes, then Wits & Wagers is the ideal game to have on hand! Hopefully others won't take quite as long to discover this as I did! Bravo Dominic Crapouchettes and bravo North Star Games, and here's to your next 90 million copies!



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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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BT Carpenter
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Stop posting these the week before Christmas!

(aka: Thank you!)
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Tony Allen
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It's a great game, especially for us balding guys with lots of chest hair.

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Dominic Crapuchettes
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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Tony - If I had been better prepared for your party I would have grown out my beard like I did for a previous halloween...

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William McDuff
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"'A grey man,' she said. 'Neither white nor black, but partaking of both. Is that what you are, Ser Davos?' 'What if I am? It seems to me most men are grey.'" -- Lady Melisandre of Asshai and Ser Davos Seaworth from A Clash of Kings by G.R.R. Martin
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A small part of a 17,000 pushpin video game art project I was involved with.
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Hey, it's Tony Stark!
 
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Jonty
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great review, thanks.
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David Jackman
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Wow, this game looks really fun. I had never considered it before.
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J Kosec
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EndersGame wrote:

It's ideal for large groups. More than seven people? Not a problem! Wits & Wagers lends itself well to being a team game, and being run almost as a kind of game show! There's even a spreadsheet you can use on a projection screen in the BGG files here. The story about Tony Allen's surprise 50th birthday party has to rank as one of the all-time classic session reports of Wits & Wagers - Dominic Crapouchettes attended Tony's party in person to run a giant game of Wits & Wagers. Read the full story in this GeekList, paying special attention to items #5 and #10. The good bit is that if you own the game, you could easily arrange something similar for a large group or event, and even customize or personalize the questions accordingly if need be.




Of all of the points in your superlative review, this is one that I think is especially worth highlighting.

I can think of a number of games that are scalable to 6+. I can also think of party games that are especially excellent with more people.

But few of them have the sort of scaling feature that I've experienced with Wits and Wagers: the fun level cranks up intensely with more people.

By sake of comparison, I LOVE Time's Up, and that game is also more fun with a larger group of people. But there is a sort of upper-limit to the number of people you could ACTUALLY play Time's Up with and keep it fun.

But Wits and Wagers is bizarrely scalable, in that it truly hits its stride when there are a TON of people ready to play. And because it's trivia-made-accessible and best played in teams, it means that it works for any mix of ages.

If I had a random group of 30 people sitting around, this is the only game in my collection I would reach for without hesitation.

Just a couple of slight considerations for running this for a large group, in addition to the things you've mentioned:

* As the OP points out, there are logistical considerations that need to be made for medium-large groups. Still, it's not NECESSARY to use a projector or somesuch to play this game for even a large group. You can still successfully facilitate this game with medium-large groups ON A SINGLE COPY of the game! But more than a couple dozen players and you may need a second copy, or to substitute some other sorts of components. Really, this means, though, that if you are planning on running this at an event, you'll be planning ahead to implement the game anyway. Otherwise, it's the perfect off-the-shelf experience when you need a larger game for a larger group (in my professional context that means mission trips, etc)

* Someone should probably act as a host for larger games, and if you're reading this site and planning on playing this game with non-gamers, that means YOU (or your friend who can facilitate a crowd and knows the rules). This is where it almost perfectly becomes a game-show-in-a-box, which is amazing! But it also means that, for at least one game, it may be harder for you to be an active player.
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David Jackman
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Great considerations K Jo. Thanks!
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Dominic Crapuchettes
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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For those of you interested, we give a free game away every month to people who sign up to our facebook page.
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