Normally, party games, especially trivia games, are a sure-fire disaster in heavier gaming groups. I’ve only found one exception, “Smarty Party,” which passes muster because it’s short, plays a wide range of people (three to eight), and has both strategic and score-balancing elements.
The game is a list completion game: one player is the reader and has a list of between seven-12 elements, and the other players in order try to guess an item on the list that hasn’t yet been named. The reader also has a few additional decisions to make: Each list contains a target number of answers, and the reader must decide whether they think the group will collectively identify at least that many answers. The reader also chooses which player will begin answering.
There are also seven penalty chips in the game: one three, two twos, and four ones. When a player gives an incorrect answer, they have to take the highest valued chip remaining. A round ends when either all seven chips are taken or the list is completed successfully. And then there’s the smarty pants, a plastic playing piece that a player claims whenever they give a successful answer. It’s fun to fiddle with, but don’t get used to it; it changes hands quickly and often, ending up with the player who last gave a correct answer.
Scoring is simple: A player sums the total of the chips they took and moves ahead that many spaces on the board; the smarty pants cancels out one entire chip. If a player has the pants and no chips, they move back one space; there are also some difficult answers marked with “smiley faces” that move a player back one space immediately. The reader moves back one space if they guessed correctly about the group’s answering prowess, and forward one space if they didn’t. The person farthest from the start then becomes the new reader. The game ends when one player reaches the end spot; the person closest to the start is the winner.
It’s a simple concept, but it works well for a number of reasons. First, there is little downtime, as play circles around fast and furious, keeping both the reader and the answerers quite engaged. The reader can even judiciously employ an hourglass to speed up slow play. In addition, the mechanism for choosing the reader, which is the easiest and safest position, tends to keep the games close by reducing the scoring potential of the person in last (unfortunately, the downside is that good players may never get to be reader at all). And since the reader gets to choose a person to start, there is even some strategy to employ, albeit small.
The game has a number of negative points though. The lists, for example, range wildly in difficulty, and many are ambiguous and feature answers that seem completely arbitrary, which can be frustrating. The game has a definite U.S. bias, and there are an inordinate number of U.S. television questions. Finally, there just aren’t that many lists, and the nature of the game means that it’s very difficult or impossible to recycle these lists, so the game will eventually run its course and become “exhausted.” There is at least one expansion pack out now, though, and the base set does come with enough to last for quite a few games.
The components are all top-notch; the board is glossy and functional; each player gets a token to indicate their color in addition to the token on the board; and the other components (smarty pants, timer, reader guessing chip) are all high-quality, though the pants will get grimy and need a quick rinse in time.
All in all, the game is a decent investment, though no gaming group needs a second copy. It is quick and engaging, plays well with any number of players (games with more players will take a little longer), and employs enough gaming elements to appeal to most potential players. And of course it can double as a party game for family gatherings or other get-togethers.