Thursday, January 14, 2010

Capsule Review Cavalcade: Out of the Box

Here's an entry from the Dictionary of Jason, a book dedicated to your humble reviewer. "Tunnel vision - documenting the holidays by the games you played." Indeed, I can't help but look at any gathering of folks as potential contestants and opponents for whatever game I'm interested in. And over these cold weeks of opening presents, baking holiday treats and counting down 2009, I managed to get in a game or ten. Here's some of the highlights from the board game realm:

Cranium Wow (2007)
Party games are pretty well despised in the hardcore board game community. "Cranium" put most of the popular party formats in one box as a form of super game. It went over like a lead balloon with the purists - who probably wanted some game involving trading bales of wheat - and it sold like gangbusters to the public at large.

"Cranium Wow" is essentially the game's second edition. Up to four teams try to make it around a board that has four types of tasks on it. Creative Cat cards see teammates drawing pictures or working with clay to get their partners to say the secret phrase. Word Worm offers spelling challenges and questions about definitions, among other games. Data Head involves trivia, and Star Performer gets players humming songs, imitating celebrities, or up and acting with charades. Success earns a roll of the die, moving your pawn Candy Land style (i.e. to the next color of your roll). Some cards are "Club Cranium" format, where all teams convey the words at the same time.

This edition has sleeker materials, and pawns you can dress Potato Head-style. One of the main criticisms of the first edition was the material, as some people were left scratching their heads at who Telly Savalas was, or how to hum "Tears of a Clown." Never a problem for me, but the answers seemed to have changed for the better in that sense with "Wow."

They also included some new activities, like a hilarious round where one player manipulates their partner like a puppet to convey the word(s). The backwards spelling game now involves the whole team, giving one letter apiece in turn. With more clay in the box, all players can join in on an multi-team sculpt-off.
I was never really against "Cranium," but I saw some problems with the first edition. "Cranium Wow" is a good update, and welcome to my gaming table. ****

Battle of the Sexes (1997)
From female-targeted morning radio to your living room, it's "Battle of the Sexes" from cost-effective University Games. Men and women compete in teams, or individually, to get two pawns across the board by answering questions. Women have to answer "male-oriented" questions, and the men answer questions more attuned to females.

University Games are characterized by cutting corners, but a good amount of the time you can overcome it. And indeed, I still had some fun with this title. But the questions - the real meat of the game - were pretty bad. One "male" question for the ladies read "what is a lug?" The card was after part of a tire, but I gave credit to the other team for saying "a big stupid guy." A female question might be "how many inches are in a yard?" or "who is Julio Eglasias' singing son?" But a male question might read "what was the show and date when the Beatles made their American TV debut?" Things were so out of whack (the males trounced the females in two back-to-back games) that we suggested answering our own gender's questions next time.

The actual game with the pawns is banal. There are wild card spaces that direct you forward or backward. In the first game, my male team got one that said "advance your pawn to the finish." Really? Like I said, there is some fun to be had, as people in our family who normally don't play games joined to support their side. But let your fair-and-balanced sensibility take a powder while you play it. Or, change the rules as we will next time we open the box.

Trivial Pursuit: 25th Anniversary Edition (2008)
"Trivial Pursuit" may be second to "Monopoly" when it comes to complaints about game length. Just in time for their 25th year, this special edition tries to alleviate that. For starters, the dice determines your difficulty. Each category has its own box now, with six questions on it. Roll a 1 or 2, and you get the easiest question on the card from that category. Roll higher, and the question is tougher. This means longer turns, more correct answers, and faster wedge collection. Secondly, the makers added an outer ring to the board. Each right answer moves a second pawn along a track that helps speed the game along. Landing in different zones lets you try to earn wedges on other people's turns, move opponents' pies around, or even earn a free wedge.

The multiple difficulties is a welcome change, and makes the game more fun for those whose trivia batting average is usually low. Even if it doesn't always cut down the time spent playing the game, it does add more variety at times where the regular edition would get tedious. I would like them to stick with this setup in future Pursuits.


Anonymous said...

This is the first I've heard of the new Trivial Pursuit, and consider me sold.

What are your thoughts on the Cataan series? Been playing that and Ticket to Ride a lot lately.

JasonA1 said...

I don't get a chance to play games like that because most of my acquisitions come from thrift stores, where 5 or 10 bucks gets you multiple games. Things like Settlers and that ilk don't turn up there.