When trivia and board games collide – and the result is a new kind of fun!
I enjoy trivia. Facts, knowledge, cool stuff that you can remember and reference when nobody else can. Pub trivia is loads of fun! And there’s a LOT of trivia board games. This is not hyperbole – when you check out the trivia category on Board Game Geek, there’s almost 500 linked games for that genre. You will likely have heard of and most likely played Trivial Pursuit, or one of its variants – I certainly grew up with this as one of my main board gaming experiences. Wits & Wagers is another fairly well known family trivia game, and Cranium can be a great time, too, with its variety of elements (I find it a bit scattered and more of a party game though). These are all fairly basic question and answer type games with a wide variety of content (although Wits & Wagers does add the fun betting element, I don’t find the questions particularly exciting).
Then you have a huge grouping of games that are basically pop culture trivia Q&A games – Lord of the Rings Trivia, all the kinds of Scene It games, TV trivia games for the Office & Sex in the City, et al.. You can churn out a licensed product in any variety of brands (Trivial Pursuit, Scene It, or a one-off production) for all these things quite easily. And if you love trivia and those topics, then you’re going to have a fun time, most likely! But there’s a wall I hit when it’s just the same type of Q&A format over and over.
I think the first time I sat down to play a trivia board game and actively realised it was a different and fun experience to other trivia games I’d played was when I first played Fauna. I can’t state enough how much I love facts and knowledge about animals, and how I inhaled any sorts of nature documentaries I could growing up (and still do to a certain extent!). So to begin with, the idea of Fauna was a no-brainer for me to want to try. I was expecting something a little Q&A-ish, but I didn’t think I’d end up being surprised, loving it and then owning it!
Each round of this game centres on a particular kind of animal: you have to look at and then place bets on where you think it lives in the world, how much it weighs, and how long/tall it is (including a tail, if there is one). So you’re not just asking a basic question about an animal to one player, and then moving to the next. There’s a great element of “push your luck’ in this game also, because if you’re too flippant with your betting and you get your guesses wrong, you won’t get those cubes back straight away for your next round and the new animal to bet on! (It goes without saying I get pretty excited when a weird Australian animal comes up and I get to throw down a sure bet.)
There’s a couple of decks of cards with animals from all around the world, with a hard and easy side to each. So if you want a light, fun game keep to the green borders – but if you want a great wildlife challenge, then go with the black borders! The combination of calling on facts you might know, plus trying to make some educated bets, then with the betting/push your luck on top of it all makes Fauna a game I’ll always be happy to play – not just another trivia game. Plus, it’s one of the games I can actually teach without having to reference the rules, which is great in my books.
In a similar fashion, the Timeline games, and Cardline Animals have a fun, replayable feel where you’re not just running through a bunch of Q&A rounds about things. The Timeline series has a lot of categories – inventions, historic events, music, discovery – we have the ‘diversity‘ edition which has a mix of all sorts of stuff, but you can mix them all together for fun. Starting with a card to establish a point in time, each player must take a card from their tableau and place it in the ‘Timeline’ so it’s in a correct chronological order. It’s a really fun test of how much you think you know off the top of your head about when things happened, or when they were created/discovered. It’s not perfect (there are some dates that don’t seem right for the ‘discovery’ of some things, for instance, because it could be debated or it could have been widely adapted at a later date) but it’s a fun & quick game that can be quite a brain burner.
Cardline Animals, in the same vein (from the same designer as Timeline), is essentially a basic card game of Fauna without the map – you will start with one animal on the board, and then each person takes a card from their tableau and places it in the ‘line’ – putting it in the (hopefully) correct spot relative to all of the other animals traits. You decide if you’re using the stats of lifespan, length or weight. If you’re wrong, you end up with more cards in front of you to try and place in the line – so there’s some elements of not guessing too haphazardly, and the timing of when you’ll place out things you know more about vs stuff you know very little about to try and have a better chance of it landing in the right place.
These titles are games to me; there’s a huge play element involved in making bets & playing cards down that lifts them up above a lot of other titles in the trivia genre in my opinion. There’s something different enough to them that I see them in another category of games. Just like I will always opt to play a rousing game of Time’s Up before I’ll play regular old charades, I’ll default to these as great tabletop games that just happen to be fun trivia as well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always happy to give Trivial Pursuit or Wits & Wagers a whirl, but there’s not enough reasons for me to keep them on my shelf at home. What do you look for in a trivia game?