Talking a good game

Would you rather suck fresh milk directly from a cow’s udder or drink store-bought milk two days after it’s gone bad?

The question, from Zobmondo!!

Entertainment’s latest board game, “WouldYou Rather…? Sick, Twisted and Wrong,” is a farcry from the typical “Trivial Pursuit” query.The game, a more adult version of the company’s original “WouldYou Rather…?” poses hypothetical questions – some ethical, somefunny, some ludicrous – designed to provoke debate and encourageparticipants to defend their choices. The winner is first to completethree challenges that revolve around predicting people’s answers, creatingyour own question and other tests. But winning is almost besidethe point. The game’s real reward is the interplay between the participantsand the amusement in passionately defending, for example, thevirtues of either leaving a slime trail wherever you walkor emitting exhaust fumes.Although social interaction has always been an elementof playing board games, today it is more up-frontthan ever. Indeed, games like “Would You Rather…?”and Mattel’s “Apples to Apples” are based almost solelyon the opinions of the other players – no trivia knowledgerequired, no intricate rules, no marathon strategysessions. Both typify the latest generation ofboard games: easy to learn, easy to play, egalitarianand, above all, about as social as you can get.That’s not a surprise to game developers.

Most of today’s entertainment options –TV, video games, iPods – “tend to isolate us alittle bit,” says Matt Molen, co-founder andvice president of marketing of game companySimplyFun, Bellevue, Wash. “Think about going to themovies. You can go on a date, but all the interaction isbetween you and the screen.” By contrast, social interaction isthe organizing principle of his company’s newest board game,“Cahoots!” which Molen describes as “charades on steroids.”“There is still something to be said for the face-to-face connectionof sitting down and playing a game together and having lively conversation,” says Molen.Historically, that is what gamingis all about.“Until the video gameentered the picture,games were specificallydesigned to create qualitytime among intergenerationalfamilymembers. That wasactually their entire purpose,”says Celia Pearce,director of the ExperimentalGame Lab at theGeorgia Institute ofTechnology, Atlanta.Video games “have createda bigger generationgap in that adults seldomplay [them] withtheir children.”The introduction ofthe Nintendo Wii, theinteractive video-gameconsole, is starting tochange that, but boardgames still have a huge edgein serving such needs.“Monopoly” has outsold“The Sims,” the best-sellingvideo game in history, bytenfold,” says Pearce.“It’s about fosteringhuman connection,” saysMolen.But not every board gamecan do that, particularly withtoday’s hectic pace of life.And bridging the age gap –finding something that willhold both an adult’s attentionand a child’s simultaneously– has never been easy.Today’s game developers followa general set of rules toencourage consumers to choosegames over other forms of entertainment.One of those rules is tospeed up play.“Today’s families are so busythat taking time to sit down andplay can be tough,” says Molen,whose SimplyFun games are


designed to be played in 30 minutesor less.Time crunch is one reason HasbroGames, East Longmeadow,Mass., developed its new“Express” line: new versions ofclassics like “Monopoly,” “Sorry!”and “Scrabble” that can be playedto completion in 20 minutes.“We recognized that a familyhas less time but isprobably going tohave 20 minutesbefore dinner or after dinner andbefore bed,” says Rob Daviau, asenior game designer at Hasbro.In keeping with speed-playguidelines, rules need to be fairand easy to understand, and everyoneneeds an equal chance to win.“No one wants to play a 45-minute game and know in minute2 that they won’t be able to win,”says Daviau.That’s one of the appeals ofsubjectively ruled party games.“All you have to do is talk. It’snot about how much you knowbut about what you think,” saysRandy Horn, president of LosAngeles-based Zobmondo!!That’s the focus behind the lineof party games from BuffaloGames, Buffalo, N.Y. Its newrelease for this season is “The TShirtGame,” billed as “the fashionableparty game ‘wear’funny matters.” Playersmatch comical slogansto funny imagesto create their ownoutrageous T-shirts. Ajudge picks the “best”shirt, and the winningdesigner draws a cardthat awards or retractspoints.These games withoffbeat questions alsohit a nerve with ademographic that’sparticularly hard to hitwith board games:tweens and teens.Kids really get intothem, says Horn. “Itallows [families] interact on a levelthat kids think is really cool andhip.”Bridging that age gap can bedifficult, but manufacturers continueto roll out easy-to-learn,quick, social games that aim tocross generations. Among thenewest multi-generation contendersare Seattle-based Cranium’s“Zooreka” and Hasbro’s “AreYou Smarter than a 5th Grader?”and “Pictureka!” (see sidebar.)But to suggest word games,trivia challenges, “Risk”-like epicsand brainteasers are passé wouldbe wrong. Game developers simplysay that adults have differentgame-selection criteria, dependingon the occasion. Sometimes theyprefer to exercise their mind,sometimes they want nostalgia,which is at the heart of decadefocusedand pop-culture games.Says Hasbro’s Daviau, “At itscore, a game has to be fun –whether it’s something loud, sillyor cerebral. Board games are greatfacilitators … they are a greatexcuse for people to take time outfrom their day, sit around a tableand do something entertaining.”© CTW Features