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Subject: Outburst meets Hot Potato! rss

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John McGeehan
United States
New Hampshire
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Quite a while ago, there was a game show called Hot Potato!. The goal was for teams to name items on a list, while failure resulted in a penalty to the team. Smarty Party is a combination of this concept, and the popular party game Outburst!.

As a review for this hasn't been posted in a while, I give the standard synopsis of the rules. For those that don't care about that, skip down a page or so.

Smarty Party is, as the name implies, a party game, based on naming items on categorical lists (quite similar to Outburst in that regard). Failure to answer, or giving a wrong answer, penalizes the player that gave the answer. Ostensibly for up to 8 players, it could support any number with additional tokens, or by putting players together into teams. However, as is the case with many such games, the more players in the game, the longer the game is going to take. In our trials, the additional length hasn't been an impediment, and players have in some cases asked to play again immediately after finishing a game.

The game supplies two tokens per player/team (heretofore used interchangeably) - one for the gameboard, and one to place in front of each player. While this wasn't necessary, it did make it easy, given we were around a large table, for people to move tokens for others that were farther away from the board without having to constantly ask "What color are you again?"

Each player places their tokens, and one player is dubbed the "reader" - they read a question that has multiple answers. Some require knowledge of pop culture, some entertainment, some history, and some just random facts. One round might be "Name the top 10 fictional TV series from 1980 or later with the most episodes produced," with the next round being "Name the first six books of the Old Testament and the first six books of the New Testament." In the first round, this reader can be chosen however one desires, but in future rounds, the player with the most points (i.e. the player who is losing) is the reader. If this results in the same player being the reader for multiple rounds, that's OK. Each question also contains a "betting number", which the reader can wager on, betting that the assembled players WILL or WILL NOT manage that many correct answers to the question on the card.

Players take turns giving answers to the question - this isn't like Outburst!, where everyone shouts out answers at once. Answers are given in turn, and the game helpfully comes with a (very short) sand timer for the reader to flip if one player cannot think of an answer and keeps trying to stall. A correct answer grants the player possession of the "Smarty Pants", a small set of rubber pants that gets passed around the table - the pants are always in the possession of the player who gave the most recent correct answer. An incorrect answer, or no answer at all, results in the player taking a "penalty chip" - the first chip given has a value of "3", the next two are value "2", and the last four value "1".

The question continues around the table, multiple times if necessary, until either all the answers on the card are given, or all the penalty chips (7 in all) are taken. This means that players that do not know an answer may end up with multiple penalty chips, or in odd cases, a player could give an early wrong answer, but give a correct answer the second time the question passes to them.

One this has been reached, players total up their penalty chips, with the final holder of the Smarty Pants being able to nullify the value of one of their chips from that round (this can be quite valuable if they happened to take the "3" chip for giving the first incorrect answer!). Each player then moves their token forward that many spaces. The reader moves their token backwards one space if they correctly wagered on the question's "Betting number", forwards one if they were incorrect, and the round is over.

The player with the most points becomes the new reader. If it's the same player as before, they continue to act as the reader. When a player reaches the GAME OVER space, they are the Big Loser, and the player with the fewest points (farthest away from GAME OVER) wins.

That's the synopsis. But what about the game?

This game isn't Outburst or Time's Up - games where you'll hear people frantically yelling out answers. Because answers are given in turn, rather than all at once, it most definitely is a bit more reserved. That does not, however, mean it is less fun, or worse, or even better. Smarty Party is simply different, with people often hoping, hoping, hoping that their answer (or answers!) aren't taken by the time the question reaches their spot around the table.

The #1 thing you hear during a round of Smarty Party is "DAMN YOU! YOU STOLE MY ANSWER!" And you'll hear it over, and over again, as you hope to all that is holy that the person right before you doesn't give your answer, because that means you'd only have a scant 15-30 seconds to come up with something new before having to take a dreaded penalty chip. And people laugh, sometimes at the angst, and sometimes at the ridiculous answers that are given to some questions, in the hope that it just might, might be on that magic card. And of course, there are a lot of tense moments as people tried desperately to avoid taking the 3-point chip, representing the first wrong answer given.

Like any trivia game involving themed lists, though, there's a potential roadblock, and that is "What happens if someone is clueless about a question?" It isn't unusual in a game of Outburst! for a question to come up that a team has absolutely no clue about. Entire games can turn on that one question that, due to fate or something else, a team really doesn't have any idea about.

In Smarty Party, there's the possibility of a question coming up that one or two players in a group don't know, meaning that the first time it comes to them, they end up being forced to take a penalty chip. This is bad, but because of the wide variety of subject matter, generally this will happen to each person perhaps once per game - and at least it's happening during a party game, a game which isn't as serious as some others. In addition, because the questions, at most, have about twelve answers, a player that really has no idea about a question will take at most perhaps two penalty chips. In games I've played, we had people that had never watched the TV show Cheers, and thus couldn't name a single character from the show - while those same people had no problems with a question about Alfred Hitchcock films. It tends to balance out.

A second negative is that included in the game are only 200 questions (100 cards, one question each side). The average game seems to use about a dozen or so cards - fewer with fewer players (as the penalty chips are distributed between fewer players), more with more players. This means that after about 15 games, all the cards may be used. If one is using the game for many different game groups, that may not be a big deal, but if it's mostly the same group, that may be a problem. An expansion set is available, but only contains an additional 200 questions.

I'm of the opinion that one could also probably use cards for something like Outburst!, which are fairly widely available, and cheaper, as long as you have the "secret decoder" for that game available.

A final thing is that the question cards, when opening the game, really need to be shuffled. "Huh?" you ask? Since when do you need to shuffle your Trivial Pursuit cards? Well, these need to be. They seem clumped together a bit by subject - the 'default order' has a couple of religion-themed question cards, followed by a couple about US History, then a few about US States, and other such things. To keep a game fresh, you don't want a bunch of similarly-themed questions in a row.

In summary - not the best party game (that, I believe, is probably Time's Up!, at least for my standard groups), nor the loudest. The "question going around the table" system means that you don't have the yelling or constant involvement that you might have in other such games. However, much like the old game show Hot Potato!, you're constantly hoping to give a correct answer and passing the question (potato!) to the next player, so they can take the dreaded penalty chips. A worthwhile addition to any party game collection.
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