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?
I’ve been doing some catching up on podcasts today as I work, and was listening to episode #339 of the Dice Tower, a board gaming podcast. About 55 minutes in, there’s a segment with regular contributor & game designer Geoff Engelstein – he talks about memory and games. Specifically about people taking notes where remembering things can either help you quite a bit with, or is essential to gameplay. He discussed the idea of fairness with note-taking for people to help their memory – is it fair that someone keeps track of how many resources are being taken by other players (for example), or that someone could take notes in a game of Memory?
It’s kind of a slippery slope if you think of it that way. I personally haven’t ever seen anyone note-taking like this before. Geoff comes to the conclusion that if a game includes a notepad – like Clue, for example – you should be encouraged to take notes, but if it doesn’t then just stick with playing the game as the designer intended. This hit me kinda personally, for one particular reason – let me explain why.
The game of Hanabi (last year’s German game of the year, I’ve spoken about it before) is a cooperative card game that relies on the clue-giving and memory skills of its players. When other players give you clues regarding what the cards are in front of you, you’ve got to remember that to be able to play or discard them appropriately without having ever seen what they actually are. With some great clue-giving this can not be so bad. But here’s where it is tough for me – I could be given a particularly fantastic clue and by the time it comes around to being my turn, I will forget the details of it, or which card it was referring to. This will essentially help me lose the game for everyone or at least cripple our chances of winning quite severely.
My short term memory usually isn’t quite so terrible – I can remember conversations, plans made, etc. with a high success rate. Even when playing some kind of Memory game I can visualize better what I’ve seen because the structure of cards stays the same – and I’ve actually seen the faces of the cards I’ve flipped over. In Hanabi, as you play cards out of your hand, they’re replaced by new ones – and there can often be a bit of rearranging or grouping of cards for memory’s sake that can change throughout the game also. You never see the front of the cards until you play them – I think that, combined with the shifting nature of the cards – makes it hard for my visual-groping brain to lock down and remember stuff about my cards while I’m playing.
So, when I play Hanabi, I take notes. I am usually playing with people I know, and explain to them why I’m doing it and it hasn’t been an issue so far. I do remember someone saying once “Why bother playing at all if you’re going to play that way?” My answer is: well, I won’t (or really, can’t) play it if I don’t; if I play without note taking I’m miserable and ruin the game with mis-plays and mis-discards. So, if I never want to play Hanabi again then that’s that. But I really love the game and I can’t recall a time where my note taking has been an issue re: fairness or anything like that for the game. If it weren’t a cooperative game, then it might be different. If we were all taking notes, it might be different. But this means that with my weird brain function & this particular game, I can still play & enjoy the clue-giving & deduction/excitement aspects of the game without failing my fellow players at the same time.
I think I’m still with Geoff on his general conclusion that keeping notes in a game to track what resources people are taking, etc, is taking it too far. But I think I’m justified in my choice for Hanabi. And all this thinking has me hankering to sit down with some fellow fireworks artists to see what kinda show we can put on soon..
What are your thoughts on games, memory & keeping notes?
The Royal Ontario Museum is following a recent trend of evening events hosted in museums (see the Queensland Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario & the Science Museum in London, among just a few!) – theirs is “ROM Friday Night Live“, and they’ve held a few series so far. I’ve attended a couple (I wish I could go every Friday, but it’s tough to make it work) and last Friday Adam and I went to the “Let’s Dance” themed evening. Each night is themed, and they usually do a pretty decent job at tying it all together with the galleries & special events – and it’s just fun being in the museum in the evening with all sorts of interesting stuff going on. Friday night saw Opera Atelier singers and ballet dancers, and later on some beatboxing and breakdancing down in the main hall while sneaker decorating was going on. A jazz quartet played in the geology gallery, there was a map of Toronto where you could pin your location, and upstairs Makelab were doing something thematically related to the special Mesopotamia exhibition currently showing. As soon as I saw “3D printing” mentioned in the program, we made a beeline for it and signed up for the first session.
After wandering the mammal gallery a little, sipping our adult beverages and giving the Scopify app a whirl (at first glance I found it pretty neat, but I would like to see the full scope – if you will), we made our way back to Makelab’s setup and started poking about on the iPads they handed us. Starting with a base, you could add any of the pre-fab structures they had in a gallery – arches, walls, stairs, ziggurats, columns – stuff of all sorts that would be home in Mesopotamia. I found it a little fiddly to maneuver the structure, but the helpers standing by were useful with tips on how to navigate and best move/resize/place stuff.
Once everyone in the session had finished their designs, they were saved to the cloud and someone was standing by to send them out to the half-dozen or so printers waiting. Each one was a marvelous little machine with a spool of basic white polymer (I guess? I didn’t find out exactly) that would feed into the machine, and be spit out into a wonderful little shape. The printer mine was sent to had some hitches, but Adam’s printed perfectly first time.
Here’s me with my finally printed little structure (and the monstrosity that happened the first try around when the printer was misbheaving – just like regular ink printers!):
My model, and mine and Adam’s on the city grid below that (the two frontmost).
Makelab are at the Friday Night Live ROM events until the end of the season – I’m going back on December 6th and I can’t wait to see the final grid of what people have made. It was a fantastic experience to get to see how 3D printing works, and it was fun to take part in that with the folks from Makelab who are super into it all. They’re also doing their printing stuff out in bars periodically, which is super awesome as well – I encourage you to attend if you’re in Toronto. Or just come along to a ROM Friday Night Live event before the end of their current season!