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Subject: Things...Humour in a Box - a review rss

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Steve Bennett
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(This review originally appeared at Boardgamenews.com)

Things… Humour in a Box

The Short Review
Things… is my favorite party game. Period. Every time we play this Canadian gem, it spawns uncontrollable laughter.

The Contents
Before you even open the wooden box that Things… comes in, you’ll notice the dovetail joint construction of the box. Stop reading right now and go check the construction of the drawers in your kitchen. If they’re not dovetailed, you need to ask yourself why a party game box is made with more care than your kitchen drawers.

When you slide the lid off the wooden box, the first thing you’ll see is a double-sided 5-1/2” x 7-1/2” sheet of instructions. As with any good social game, the rules are few and easy to comprehend. You can be playing Things… within 90 seconds of opening the box for the first time.

The bulk of what you’re paying for are the 300 topic cards. Topic cards all begin with “Things…” and then conclude the sentence with a single interesting scenario such as “that confirm you are screwed.” Other examples are

“Things…you wouldn’t want to be allergic to.”
“Things…you shouldn’t say to your husband.”
“Things…that make you uncomfortable.”

The box also contains 10 short pencils, the kind you’d find at a miniature golf course (Perhaps you’d find them at a real golf course, too; I don’t play.), a response pad of paper, and a scoring pad. The response pad has 4 perforations so you can tear off your short answer without wasting much paper. The publishers could have saved money by eliminating the paper and pencils, but those items add value. Everything I need is stored in the box. I don’t have to go rummaging through drawers to find working pens and enough paper. I really like the perforated paper because it dictates the length of my responses, and it’s environmentally friendlier than full-paper options.

Game Play
So what do you do with all these things? Start by handing out pencils and response pads to everyone. All the players tear off a strip of paper at the perforation. One player is given the score pad and the task of recording scores throughout the game. A reader is chosen. The reader reads (That’s what readers do!) one Topic card. All the players, including the reader, write a response on their long, narrow strip of paper. When the players finish writing, they fold their paper twice and drop it in the game box.

The reader reads out the responses once and then does it a second time. The first time is to acquaint everyone with the responses. The second time allows players to commit key words to memory.

The player to the left of the reader names one of the responses and then tries to guess who wrote it. If the guess is correct, the player who wrote the response is eliminated and the guesser continues trying to recall responses and match them to their authors. When the guesser is wrong, the role of guesser moves left to the first available player who has not yet been eliminated. This continues around the table until every player but one has been eliminated.

1 point is awarded for every correct guess. 6 points are awarded to the winner of the round. The role of reader passes to the left, and another round is played. When everyone has been reader once, the game is over. The high score wins.

The Dynamics of the Game
Every game of Things… I’ve played has taken on a life of its own. It’s one part memory game, one part deception game, and one big part creative game. You’re playing to an audience of your peers. Because the topic cards will be different every time you play, and the cast of players will probably shift a little, each game takes on a different feel.

I’ve read criticisms of Things… that center around the memory component. I don’t think it’s important for two reasons. First, you don’t have to remember a response verbatim. You just need a key word or phrase. If you say, “the bagel answer,” everyone at the table will know what you’re referring to. You don’t need to say, “My Uncle Ralph’s bagel and schmear.” Second, the memory element is a means to an end. The game isn’t about remembering who wrote what. It’s about writing funny answers and escalating the humor quotient which each new answer. The designers needed some mechanic to hang it on, and they hung it on memory.

One aspect of Things… that I particularly like is the deception. To minimize the chances that my response will be identified as mine, I must try to write as if I were one of the other players. Of course, all of the other players are doing the same thing. The results can be hilariously inept.

Responses often get repeated in subsequent rounds. Something that was funny in the first round is often resurrected and ratcheted up in later rounds. But unlike Hollywood producers who don’t know when to let sleeping Jasons or Freddies lie, the group is usually aware enough to drop the response when the humor returns begin to diminish.

A Word of Caution
Things… can take a bawdy turn. The topic cards themselves are innocuously neutral. The box contains nothing remotely questionable, and if your group objects to bawdy or naughty, the game can easily be played in a G-rated way. It will still be fun. That said, the cards pretty clearly make it easy for you to give in to your baser, raunchier side. If you don’t even want to be tempted to move in that direction, pick another game. I don’t mind feeding my naughty side now and then. Neither, apparently, do the many people to whom I’ve introduced this great game. It’s been a hit every time I’ve brought it out.

Final Thoughts
At its heart Things… is simply a good excuse to direct your thoughts in some odd way as you let the creative juices flow. It really is Humour in a Box.

I give it a 10 out of 10.

Steve Bennett
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