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Subject: Session Report rss

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Jasen Robillard
Canada
Calgary
AB
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I've been isolating myself for the last two months because I'm struggling to write my thesis. I've been trying not to be distracted by too many social events so I spend most of my time in the 2nd bedroom, plugging away at the computer. So when I received Dan and Meghan's invitation to their condo-warming party on Saturday, I was glad I'd be able to finally get out of the house. Dan had requested that his guests bring some BBQ meat, drinks, CDs and games. I couldn't have been happier! As most of the guests weren't gamers, I thought I'd bring over a couple of gateway games. As I wasn't sure how many people would be there I brought along Ticket to Ride (for 5), Frank's Zoo (for 6-7) and Attribute (for 6-10).

We had a great evening, lots of food and drink, great conversations. 10 o'clock rang - I hadn't introduced any games yet but I didn't see the need and I didn't want to impose. I sometimes feel like I'm pushing my games on my friends. "Oh look it's Jasen and his crazy games!" So I generally don't bring them out until asked. I hadn't sensed any lull in conversation yet so I didn't think I'd reached the right moment to bring out my games.

We kept chatting away and then Amy asked if she should head to the car to grab her game of Cranium. Nobody really responded (I silently yelled "NO"). She asked again a few minutes later and nobody protested so she went to fetch it from her car. Attribute and the others would have to wait another day...

We were 8 people at the party so we split into 4 teams of 2 and started playing the game around 11:30pm. I won't describe our game in detail as gameplay in Cranium doesn't really translate well to session reports. However, I thought I'd just make a few comments based on the 2-2.5 hours it took us to complete our game.

1) I had played Cranium 3 times before, and again I was struck by how easy the different tasks were. Rarely did the eggtimer expire before a correct answer was given. The most difficult questions were the humming tunes and some of the trivia while most of the others were quite easy. Maybe that's because we're all 24- to 30-yr-old university-educated professionals but I honestly think the questions would be easy for most individuals.

2) We played such that when a team was on purple, their opponents got to choose the category for them. Dan and Graeme, known trivia buffs, were never given a data head question. This "strategy" of picking on your opponents' weakness and giving them cards from the category they were least likely to answer correctly was adopted by all the teams. This seems a little out of place, considering this is supposed to be a fun party game. I think the teams would have been less prone to adopting this strategy had we been in teams of 3 or 4. My reasoning is that the teams would have been more well-rounded with more individuals and hence, it would have been more difficult to pick a team's weakness. That being said, by far the most opponent-chosen category was the green act-hum category (I forget the actual name). Again this wasn't done for the fun factor, this simply was the collectively hardest category and teams sought to screw their opponents by attempting to fish out Hummmdingers for them.

3) The special "all-play" cards were universally disliked. Whenever one came up, a collective sigh was heard across the room. With four teams, it also became a viable strategy to ignore your teammate and simply get the necessary information from the best opponent source. I don't find this game trait particularly appealing.

4) The dice were friendly to 2 teams, not so friendly to 1 team and terribly unfriendly to the last team. The eventual winners of the game never ended up on the slow track. The second place team ended up on the slow track once (for a single turn) and was 1 card away from winning. 3rd place had made it half way around the board and 4th place had made it 1/4 of the way around the board. The outcome of the game seemed to rely significantly on luck of the dice, luck of the draw and degree of sobriety.

5) The game lasted exceedinly long for what it is, especially considering the winners never ended up on the slow track. In the future, if forced to play Cranium again, I will recommend limiting the number of teams to 3 or less so that time between turns is minimized.

6) I did have fun playing Cranium but I think, like most party games, the focus of the fun is the people. Cranium simply provided a situational backdrop for the fun and could have been substituted for any of a number of (better) party games. The evening did remind me of the fact that a number of my friends like games but only if they act as a social catalyzer. I on the other hand enjoy exploring systems, mechanics, strategies and tactics. So if I want them to play some of my games, I need to find games that provide that situational backdrop that they can interact socially through. I currently own Attribute and Bausack and I think they fit the bill nicely. It might be worthwhile investigating other games (Time's Up, Squint) to see which ones would satisfy both of our preferences.
 
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