Party games are much maligned on boardgamegeek. Many users seem to view them as a necessary evil to appease their non-gaming friends and family until a "real game" can be played. The reality is that many party games offer an accessibility and fun factor that can appeal to gamers and non-gamers. In fact, I would argue that the right party games can be effective "gateway" or first step games for non-gamers. My experience with Smarty Party has been just that. Smarty Party is a trivia based party game that is new to the majority of people, and that I have had great success in introducing to gamers and non-gamers.
Smarty Party is, as they say on "the geek", well produced. Finger sized blue latex jeans or "smarty pants", bright colored gameboard of thick stock cardboard, a nice sturdy box of category cards, pawns in 8 colors (2 of each color), and a super secret decoder so you can read those catergory cards.
The game is for up to 8 players, and reminds me of "survior-style" trivia contests where contestants take turns naming items a list. Players take turns naming items in a given list or category. Each time a player gives an answer that is not on the list, they take a numbered chip. If they say a correct answer they are given the "smarty pants". Once all the chips are taken or all the answers are given, the round ends, and the person with the "smarty pants" gets to discard one of their chips. Each chip is numbered 1-3 (the highest numbers are taken first), and a player's pawn is moved forward on the gameboard the number of spaces equal to the sum of the numbers on their chips. Also, at the end of the round, the player who was the reader (held the decoder) gets to move their pawn if they bet correctly on the "over/under" for number of correct answers the group will get. Betting on the correct outcome allows the reader to move their pawn backwards one space.The game ends when a player reaches the end of the gameboard track. The player whose pawn is closest to the start wins!
The categories in Smarty Party are diverse across sports, geography, entertainment, literature, and just general knowledge. Categories range from "Countries starting with the letters I or J" to "NHL teams with the most Stanley Cup Victories" to "Parts of a sandwich".
One player, the caller, chooses a category card and places it in the decoder. The category cards are designed so that the players can see a category is always visible, but the answers to a category only become visible when the cards is placed in the decoder. My wife and I have enjoyed just quizzing each other on the categories without actually playing the game!
The diverse categories tend to level the playing field amongst players with varied bases of knowledge are usually fun and interesting. If a dud category comes up, we just draw a different card. The fact that the chance to answer keeps going around the table means that even if someone knows none of the answers in a category the damage is limited because others will end up taking chips before it comes back to them again.
There is also a little bit of strategy to be played in this game by the reader. They choose who starts the round, so it is usually a good strategy to try pick the start person such that the leader will be forced to answer after all the easy answers are gone. The game also has a "runaway leader (loser)" balancing mechanism where the last place player after a round is the reader in the next round. Being the reader, means a player can't move forward. This mechanism is good since players who may not know as much trivia stay involved by performing the fun role of reader in the game.
Smarty Party also provides a good amount of tension. There is tension an anticipation as you hope the answers you think of are not said by other players. Also its fun to try and say answers you think other players know, and keep your "best" answers secret until you need them. Smarty Party can also provide those "A-HA" and "D'OH" moments when you need to pick between a couple answers and you pick the right or wrong one. Some categories have even been known to generate discussion after the game ends, which is also a sign that I think people enjoyed the game.
A small gripe I have with the category answers is that they can be too exact for a reader that does not have knowledge in the category. In other words a player can say a word that means the same thing as one of the answers, but if it is not on the card (and they don't know it is the same as an item on the card), then the answer is deemed incorrect. Also with the cards asking for countries or destinations the naming is a bit inconsistent. For example one card will use England as a tourist destination, but another card will use Great Britain or United Kingdom for an answer. Usually for the England/Great Britain/UK thing it is OK, but if you have a young person (who may not know they are the same) or a dense adult it can be annoying to the rest of the players.
Players have had other issues, specifically on the categories of "Top Rock Albums" and "Top Musicals" where sources on the internet drastically contradict the answers on the cards. In these cases, it would be useful for the card to specify whether "top selling" means gross sales or units sold. It may be a bit frustrating for players to give what they "know" are correct answers, but be wrong because the category was not stated more precisely. Poorly worded, non precise categories and answers are farily rare in the game, and there is always the chance to just take a different category.
Another small problem I've found with gameplay is that if your group gets too many categories where all the answers are said (not many chips taken) then the game can take a bit longer than it should and starts to wear out its welcome.
Buy or No Buy?
Smarty Party is a party game that has elements of "gamerness" with the choosing of a start player, betting on the group's number of correct answers, and even strategically giving the easy answers first to try trip up others on the hard answers.
I have always enjoyed trivia games, and rank Smarty Party one of the best. Wits and Wagers is generally considered the top trivia game on boardgamegeek, and for people who normally don't like trivia games, I agree. However, if you or your game group likes trivia and quiz games, then I think Smarty Party is a better fit for you than Wits & Wagers.
Personally, I have tried this game in groups of all kinds and it has usually been a success. Several times people have subsequently purchased the game for themselves or a friend. Also, because Smarty Party has a "non-threatening" and "non-geeky" look, it is easier to get to the table with non-gamers than the more popular games on boardgamegeek. People are more willing to try another game I suggest after trying Smarty Party. Additionally, I've found it useful as a change of pace to the standard euro gateway games or a cool down from an intense game.
If you are a party gamer, what are you waiting for? Buy it if you don't already have it.
If you are not a party gamer, but are looking for a party game to add to your collection, Smarty Party should be on your shortlist.
If you do buy Smarty Party, I would also recommend the expansion as repeated plays in a short period of time can burn through the standard cards pretty quickly.
Although I am primarily a euro gamer, Smarty Party is a game that has always found its way to my gaming tables at least a few times a year. A fun and challenging trivia game that provides tension and anticipation. I have zero regret in buying Smarty Party.
- Last edited Tue Sep 23, 2008 11:20 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Sep 23, 2008 6:05 am
Too bad you don't have more thumbs for this. It's certain style of game that doesn't get much traffic on BGG. Good review, and thanks.