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Subject: Couple of quick games rss

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Randy Cox
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Well, I got my copy of the game (from funagain.com) back before the winter holidays began and was hoping to play during the vacation period. Alas, with kids, travel, and then everyone being sick, it never happened.

But after the first week back at work, it was time to have a couple of friends over for dinner last Saturday night. After feasting for awhile on salmon in cream sauce and curried pea soup and roasted asparagus and cauliflower, then dealing with kids and getting them to bed, I was finally going to have my chance to play my most anticipated title of the season--Wits & Wagers.

Now, I'm an avid party gamer. Sure, I like an occasional game of Civilization or frequent game of Acquire or Mu or whatnot, but for some reason, I'm more of a party game fan than most of my gaming buddies. So, I was quite happy to play. And this is how it went.

Game 1 (took about 12 to 15 minutes). The four of us had no problem with the trivia part of the game, but some people had difficulty with the whole payout thing (as they aren't gamblers and have never understood the whole "odds" thing in terms of payouts). Otherwise, the only other problem was that whole annoying thing about the caps of the pens not fitting on the other end of the pen.

So we moved along just fine. But we didn't get an actual bet payout until the third or fourth question. And that one happened to be on the 1:1 space, so everyone who earned money just got matching money back from the bank. And for whatever reason, that's how we payed out for the next two rounds (duh, we didn't consult the actual odds, we just payed out 1:1, even if the space said 3:1). This didn't bother anyone, but it did point out that some people don't really look at the odds on the playing mat (self included)--they just look at the answers. I guess we were just more wrapped up in the trivia part of the game and not at all focused on the money aspect--especially since we'd been lulled into a state where we almost never had anyone betting on the right answer.

By the time the "all in" round came along, I had a large lead but not large enough to compensate for the no-limit bets (and the fact that we'd be paying out at appropriate odds, tee hee). And the question that came up started out with the words "baseball" and "Jackie Robinson." Since the previous question was about Cal Ripken's consecutive games streak, I (as reader) vetoed the baseball question and moved on to the next card (to the ecstacy of everyone else at the table, as they knew I'd likely know the answer, which I suspect was 1947 though I never even read the question). So everyone bet their wads on whatever the replacement question was and we revealed the answer. I was down to $0 and lost mightily.

So, we had muddled through our first game, played it poorly, and still had great fun. Time for another game.

For Game 2, we decided to use Dominic's progressive-betting variant ($5 limit on round 1, then $10, $15, $20, $25, $30, and $35 in subsequent rounds). This was much perferred by all players, as it meant that we had to pay attention and try to get some money in the first few rounds.

This game took a tiny bit longer (about 20 minutes) and I really don't know why, but I think it had to do with either harder questions or just the fact that people were trying more for that $10 bonus and sometimes ran out of time (we allowed people to quickly get an answer down when the sand timer ran out).

The final scores were something like $110 to $105 to $70 (fourth player had to exit after 3 rounds to deal with a waking baby and we don't know how much she had, as money going to the bank got inadvertently mixed in with her holdings). So the game was much tighter and still came down to the more strategic final round. I think this is the method we'll use in the future (barring my own variant, read on).

Impressions:

- Good game. I'm not a fan of all the gambling motifs these days (thanks to that Poker craze that has seen its 15 minutes now, so please go away thank you very much).

- Questions are hit and miss. Some are fun (meaning few people would have a chance to know anywhere close to the answer) and some have everyone within 1 of the correct answer ("How many pictures did Van Gogh sell in his lifetime"). Those everyone-knows sorts of rounds become mechanical processes where everyone just knows what to do with no real decisions to make. I'd really rather every question be totally out there and impossible for anyone to know ("If every dwelling in the US were 1000 square feet and placed 10 yards away from other adjacent homes, the space they'd occupy would be the size of how many cities the size of Raleigh NC?"). I think I'm in the minority here (in terms of convoluted questions), but I think more people enjoy the ultra-guess questions than the "everyone knows that one" type.

- Mechanics are difficult. The whole payout thing (once we actually paid out at proper odds) is chaotic. Some people just say "well, I'm on 2:1 so I'll take back both of my chips plus hers, since she missed on her bet while others will wait for the bank to dole out properly. And a lot of chips end up too close to the banker's playing money, so it gets all mixed up. It begs for a non-playing "dealer"/moderator to rake in the bets with one of those Vegas style hooks. I guess the only suggestion I could make would be that I'd eliminate the starting chips and just have people bet with their cubes (each one being worth $5). Then just toss winning money to each person and have them take back their cubes. That way, the cubes just act as permanent $5 chips and the "winnings" each round are nothing more than "victory points" and not money you can use in subsequent rounds. In fact, I may have to try it this way--two $5 betting cubes per round, no "all in round", and the only purpose for chips is to avoid keeping score on paper. I might even reduce the "correct answer" bonus to $5. Or eliminate it entirely.

- "Correct answer" bonus. Some players did note that it's often unfair to give someone who is off by 100,000 the "right answer" bonus because the next higher answer was over the correct figure by 5. After all, the other person obviously did have a better idea of Wyoming's population. But rules is rules and all that. It didn't cause anyone to sniffle or anything, but it seemed somewhat silly to award $10 to the person who had no idea, but happened to be slightly less in the dark than other players.

These quibbles aside, there's a good game lurking in here. I expected a little more out of it, but I'm a demanding party gamer . I may well try my "money is only victory points" variant noted above to see if that works out better. If so, I'll report back. But all in all, this is still quite a solid game. Overproduced and far too Vegas-y (wonder how that'll hold up in 10 years? Will it be like earth shoes and fondu pots?), but still a solid game.
 
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Eric Knauer
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I made this complaint and another player pointed out that it may be a good thing because the caps won't be accidentally left on the other end causing them to dry up.



"The only other problem was that whole annoying thing about the caps of the pens not fitting on the other end of the pen."
 
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Rich Heimlich
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Randy,

On the closeness of the answer and the bonus, I get what you're saying but to counter that, The Price is Right has been a success for 30 years (actually much longer as it was originally created in the 50's and was re-created in the 70's) using exactly that approach.

I managed to win several bonus chips when people came in with numbers I was confident were all high and I instead wrote down "1". Thus I could be 100 off, a thousand off, etc., but I was still the closest without going over. The other reason for writing "1" is that it kept people from voting on the 5-1 payout of all answers being too high.

For me, that makes for a wonderful 'extra' level of unanticipated strategy.

For those who go over, they knew the rules going in. They could have gone with a lower number but instead wanted to try to be exact. In my view that's their loss.

I also agree with the bank issue. I know that in the first game I played, where I was the banker, I was pretty sure that I goofed and mixed bank chips with mine but I couldn't be sure. Thus, we've now moved to a very specific process for paying out. The banker touches chips. No one else does during that period. Let the banker do his thing and then proceed.

On the "over-production" I also get what you're saying but for our group it worked as a solid hook. It's what pulled 3 players into playing at a recent session. It just looked so interesting the way it was set up. I could argue that Trivial Pursuit is over-produced but it works for them.
 
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Michael Deems
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I am a little confused as to how you were able to determine that everyone elses answer was obviously too high and so you should just bid 1? All answers are written down in secret and then revealed simultaneously. You might suspect that everyone is too high but you would have no way of actually knowing that they are. I think that the $10 payout for the correct answer helps to eliminate some of this hedging of bids.
 
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Randy Cox
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I wondered about that, too. People mention that this is "Price is Right" style bidding, but it's not. On the game show, people reveal their answers in sequence, so you can game the system and give a $1 answer when you think everyone is too high. But in Wits & Wagers, it's all simultaneous, so you don't have that option.
 
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Dominic Crapuchettes
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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Randy Cox wrote:

- "Correct answer" bonus. Some players did note that it's often unfair to give someone who is off by 100,000 the "right answer" bonus because the next higher answer was over the correct figure by 5.


We started using this rule to eliminate having to do math while playing a party game. I think it's a fine variation for the closest answer to be the payout answer as long as you don't mind doing a little math (it would probably be helpful to have a calculator nearby for those questions with very large number answer).


Randy Cox wrote:

I guess the only suggestion I could make would be that I'd eliminate the starting chips and just have people bet with their cubes (each one being worth $5). Then just toss winning money to each person and have them take back their cubes.


Randy, I think your suggestion is very good and we have actually been testing it for the past few months. We have been giving each player/team three poker chips of their color, paying out in points (which gets rid of the confusing payout odd problem for some people), and keeping track of the score on a pad of paper. So far, the testing has gone over extremely well. One benefit is that there is virtually no set-up time when you want to play the second game. Another benefit is that you can never end the game with fewer points than you started the game.


Randy Cox wrote:

I might even reduce the "correct answer" bonus to $5. Or eliminate it entirely.


Eliminating the bonus does not work because there is no incentive to give a good estimate. The game is much more interesting when the answers are indicative of what each player thinks. Part of the interest is in simply seeing what your friends think the answer is and part of the interest is in figuring out who to bet on when you know that others are more familiar with the subject.
 
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Christian Monterroso
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Quote:
People mention that this is "Price is Right" style bidding, but it's not.


You're right, of course. This is not "Price is Right" style bidding. Rather the answer is determined "Price is Right" style.

Subtle, but very important difference.
 
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