In 2014, publisher Arcane Wonders kicked off the Dice Tower Essentials line. These are games vetted by noted reviewer Tom Vasel, subsequently acquired and then intensely developed by Arcane Wonders. The first game was the incredibly successful bluffing game Sheriff of Nottingham. Since then, the games have been both varied and excellent. Onitama is a brilliant, quick abstract game with beautiful pieces. Royals is an area control game that is as accessible as it is clever. Now, it’s time to see if the series can hit four in a row with Speechless.
Speechless is a party game from Mike Elliott, a designer primarily known for more advanced hobby games (Marvel Dice Masters, Thunderstone). It’s a rather simple twist on Charades, I’ll admit. Yet other games have become very successful by making a public domain game into an extremely attractive package (Telestrations, Monikers). Can Speechless accomplish the same goal?
In Speechless, players take turns acting out six different words completely silent. In a stark change from Charades, the guessing players are also silent. They simply write down their guesses while the 90-second clock ticks down. The acting player works on two easy, two medium, and two hard words in that order. The game has simple-yet-effective components for keeping track of all this. The insert has separate slots for the card types and slits that allow the cards to stand up. The dry erase boards for each player also make computing scores easy.
Speaking of scoring, that is the other focus of Speechless beyond its unique emphasis on silence. After the player finishes, he tells everyone what the words were. If you were exactly right about a word, you score 2 points; if close, the group can allow 1 point. However, if you match someone else who was wrong (e.g. you both put down “shark” instead of “whale”), you both score the 1 point as well. Players simply mark whether they scored 2 or 1 for each word, and then add that sum up for their round total.
As for the actor himself, it’s a bit trickier. You take whichever player got the most words completely correct, and the actor gets 2 points for each correct word that player had. So if the top player scored 10 points by getting 4 right and 2 close, the actor would get 8 points.
From this system you can see that Speechless borrows ideas from a variety of games, and to good effect. The actor’s scoring is reminiscent of the scoring found in Dixit for the storyteller; the “collectively wrong” concept is similar to situations in Codenames and Monikers where a player gets someone to say the right thing for a reason they commonly misinterpret. These ideas work just as well in Speechless.
In fact, the biggest strength of Speechless is how efficiently it can make a game of, essentially, Charades. The game doesn’t overstay its welcome, and going over the answers is usually pretty humorous. We enjoyed ourselves playing this game, but it doesn’t quite have the spark of other party games.
Codenames strangely succeeds on the back of its strategic and puzzle-y aspects, leading some to even argue if it’s a party game. Speechless has none of that, but aims rather to be funny. The funniest party games that I know are Telestrations and Monikers, along with open-ended games like Say Anything and Loaded Questions. All of these games center around the “running joke,” where something funny said in an earlier round of play evolves into several variations of the joke throughout the rest of the game. The strength of these games lies in their open-endedness, giving a space and the tools for players to create jokes.
Speechless, however, is somewhat hamstrung by the simplicity of the cards and its method. While you’re free to use props and to try and be clever during the acting, there’s no time to set up a long joke, because the events of one player’s acting are not easily referenced again in the game by another player. This could be alright—it works in Concept, for example, because of the strangeness and cleverness of the clue system—but that vibe doesn’t come through in what is essentially classic Charades.
Furthermore, the cleverness of scoring in Speechless had an adverse side-effect. In games above that focus on humor, I almost never care about the score. Yet much of our games of Speechless were spent “point-grubbing” if we were close to the right answer. There was even a weird situation on the last turn in one game. A player got every clue correct and that gave the win to the actor; if he had (partially) botched a few of the words, he would have won instead. That seems to suggest there is still an issue with the scoring, beyond the fact that we’re too concerned about it mid-game.
That all being said, we enjoyed our games of Speechless. They were funny and well-paced, and I’d gladly play again. I could also see teaching it to a family that really enjoys Charades, especially one where Charades’ team play gets a little too intense. And Speechless certainly earns points for its impeccable presentation. However, if I were tasked with bringing the party games for game night, I would rather bring Monikers or Concept for a “guess what the thing is” type game, and several others for a general party game.
+ Simple, efficient scoring system
+ Best version of Charades out there
+ Wonderful components
+ Generates some laughs
- Not nearly as clever or funny as the top party games
- Scoring can cause problems
Speechless is a solid take on Charades, but is unfortunately overshadowed by a host of other excellent party games.