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Subject: Wits & Wagers vs. Odds'R - a review rss

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Steve Bennett
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(This review originally appeared at Boardgamenews.com. Furthermore, I posted it to the Wits & Wagers page and am now adding it to the Odds'R page so that it appears under both games.)

Wits & Wagers vs. Odds’R

On the surface Wits & Wagers and Odds’R are two similar games. Both are betting and trivia games that come in large boxes from Eagle Games. (Eagle Games ceased operations in 2006. North Star Games took back the distribution for Wits & Wagers. I don’t know who is distributing Odds’R at this point, but it is available.) That comparison, however, is as useful as saying that Kiefer Sutherland and Mike Myers are similar because they’re both actors from Canada. They’ve probably never been up for the same parts, and any similarities are strictly superficial. The same can be said of these two games.

The Short Review
Wits & Wagers fills a niche in my game collection and might well do the same in yours. Odds’R could have filled that niche, but didn’t. It takes too long to play, and the questions can sometimes be confusing.

Before we get into the winner-take-all Celebrity Death Match, I’ll give you an overview of the game play for both contestants.

Game Play for Wits & Wagers
Everyone is given a laminated Answer Card, two Betting Cubes of the same color as the Answer Card, a dry erase marker, and 80 points worth of blue (ten points) and red (five points) chips. A 30 x 15 flexible, rubber-backed green mat is laid out in the center of the table. It evokes a felt roulette betting table. It’s divided into eight rectangles, each marked with a payout.

One player is assigned to read the questions. Another is given the banking chore of handling payouts.

Players write down numerical answers to trivia questions such as, “In 2000, what percentage of U.S. residents were of Hispanic origin?” When all the answers are revealed, the Answer Cards are placed on the mat, ranked in order from largest to smallest. Duplicate answers are placed together. On one end of the mat a bet on the largest answer will pay out 4 to 1 odds. The smallest answer will yield the same 4 to 1 odds. The payouts reduce to 3 to 1, then 2 to 1, then 1 to 1 for answers in between the two extremes. You can also bet that the correct answer is smaller than any of the given responses. That will pay 5 to 1. Depending on the number of players and the number of duplicate responses, not all of the payout slots will be filled. The rules have illustrations showing how the responses should be sorted. Basically, an odd number of responses starts in the middle (even odds) and moves out in both directions. An even number of responses leaves the middle slot blank and begins in the 2 to 1 slots before moving out in both directions.

When the answers are laid out, all the players select one or two answers they wish to bet on. The limit is ten points per round. You bet by putting your chips identified by your Betting Cubes on the appropriate slot. The winning response is the one that is closest to the correct answer without going over. The author(s) of the winning response gets a blue chip. Players who bet on that response are paid out according to the odds and how much they bet (either 5 or 10). Everyone else loses the money they bet. Answer Cards and Betting Cubes are returned to the players and the next round is played.

This goes on for seven rounds. In the final round the 10-point limit is lifted. Bettors can bet their farms and their firstborns as long as they have the chips to cover.

Game Play for Odds’R
The octagonal board is placed in the middle of the table. Players are given $1000 to start. $500 goes into the Lottery. Players are given the option of buying a Lottery Ticket for $25.

The Lottery contains $500 in seed money plus all of the losing bets. You win the Lottery by matching the number on your Ticket to a number on the Question Card.

In addition to having the winning Lottery number for that turn, The Question Card (or Q-Card) has the question that will be asked of the active player. The Q-Card lists three possible answers.

The start player rolls two dice and takes off around the board. The board is made up of three concentric rings of spaces. You start on the outer ring and eventually work your way inward. When one player reaches the middle, the game ends. The player with the most money wins.

That’s the game. You roll the dice. You move around the board. You and your opponents bet on your ability to answer a multiple-choice question. When you answer incorrectly, you get a Dinger Ring, which goes on your Game Piece. The fifth Dinger is actually a Dunce Cap. It means you lose a turn and have to pay $500 to get rid of all your Dingers.

Most of the spaces are Odds’R Spots, where the active player gets 2-1, 3-1, or 5-1 odds if he or she answers the question correctly. The opponents always get even odds as they bet for or against the active player getting the answer right. On every question, every player places a bet.

The rest of the spaces on the board are Action Spots. There are five of these.

- GrabBag – You reach into a bag and pull out a chit that has some small value or negative consequence, usually involving a few hundred dollars or moving a few spaces.

- CowChipFlip – You flip a cow chip and call it heads or tails while it’s in the air. If you call it correctly you win $100-500, depending on which ring you’re on. If you miss, you lose nothing.

- 2xMultiplier – You roll the two dice along with a special GoAhead/GoBack die. You multiply the number of your roll by two and move forward or backward as indicated.

- SnakeBite – You don’t get to answer a question, but you do get to choose between giving your opponents $250 each or rolling the dice and moving back double the number of spaces.

- De-Dinger – You can pay $100 for each Dinger you wish to remove from your game piece.

You have to answer your question correctly in order to perform the action on an Action Spot (except for SnakeBite).

Points of Comparison
Playing Time
– Wits & Wagers plays in about 25 minutes. Odds’R clocks in around 90, which is its biggest failing. It’s not a great game to begin with, but if it played in 40 minutes, you could accept it for what it is and enjoy it. It’s a failing that can be easily remedied. You can artificially change the playing time by starting on the second ring or simply agreeing to quit after a certain duration. The question is why should you have to make such a substantial change to a game? Big edge to Wits & Wagers.

The Questions – There are 100 Question Cards in Wits & Wagers, each containing seven questions and answers. Since the game is only seven questions long, you have at least 100 games in the box. Realistically, by the time you’ve cycled through them, you will have forgotten most of the answers.

The questions all have numerical answers so they can be sorted from largest to smallest. Many of the questions are looking for percentages: What percent of eight-year-olds in the U.S. believe in Santa Claus? Many are looking for a year: In what year did the U.S. begin its Medicare system for the elderly? Some are looking for an age: How old was Teddy Roosevelt when he became President? The rest are looking for a number: How many feet tall is the Empire State Building? How many short stories did Edgar Allan Poe publish?

The questions are interesting. Sources are listed for many of them, though I don’t understand why they aren’t listed for all. Often an interesting fact related to the question is included with the answer. The questions are things for which you can make intelligent guesses. In most trivia games an intelligent guess that is wrong is useless. You can’t advance to victory without actually knowing the answers. The beauty of Wits & Wagers is that you just need to determine who among the players is closest to being correct without going over.

Knowing an answer with certainty isn’t much of an advantage. You get ten points for writing it plus the payout for betting on it. Others may read your certainty and bet on your response, too. I don’t think it’s likely that a player will aboslutely know more than one answer in a game. What year did the Beatles first appear on The Ed Sullivan Show? I don’t even need to look at the back of the card. That one is a slam dunk for me. But for every slam dunk, there are several rim shots and a few air balls, to extend the basketball metaphor.

The questions in Odds’R are more problematic. Each of the 360 cards has one question. In a four-player game, you might go through 50 questions. In seven or eight games, all with four players, you will exhaust the supply. This is less of a problem than it sounds because either the game length will inhibit frequent plays in a short span or the game will be shortened, which will use up fewer cards.

The questions themselves are presented in multiple choice format with three possible answers. To put it in the parlance of the game: With no knowledge whatsoever of the subject, what are the odds that the active player can guess the correct answer?

A) 1 in 3
B) something like 1 in 2.7
C) Odds? Who needs odds?

The correct response is B. I didn’t take the time to calculate it, but too many of the questions have two viable answers and one flippant response that can be eliminated immediately. While this may make the gameplay whackier, it also serves to upset the balance. If a player lands on a 5-1 space and gets a question with only two choices, that player can more comfortably place a large bet and win a huge payout.

An example of a question with only two answers instead of three:

A Guys Ideal “Cup of T”
We’re not talking about Tetley here. What are men most likely to consider the ideal breast cup-size? C cup, D cup, Starbucks’ 20oz Venti

Ignoring the grammatical or typographical issues, one of these things is not the same as the others. (For what it’s worth, the first answer, the C cup, is correct according to Maidenform.) Considering the spirit of the game, it would be all right if every question had four answers, one of which is a joke. As it’s done, it’s an agent of imbalance.

Film has been described as a “suspension of disbelief.” The viewer will put aside his questioning mind in exchange for a cohesive entertaining experience. If the filmmaker violates that contract by throwing in something that upsets the cohesion of the story, the viewer feels betrayed and questions everything in the film from that point on. The same is true in games. A player will come to the table expecting a cohesive game and an entertaining experience. If there is a game-breaking condition or, in the case of trivia games, if there is a poorly worded question or an inaccurate answer, the player will be skeptical of all the questions from that point on. That is precisely one of the problems with Odds’R.

This problem is not typical of the questions in Odds’R, but once it rears its ugly head, a suspicion is cast over the other questions. Let me give you an example straight from the card.

What are the odds that a student (high school or younger) will become a homicide victim at school? 249 to 1, 99 to 1, or 2 to 1

To me, that means, “If you go to school, what are they odds you’ll be murdered there?” So all the answers seemed outrageous beyond belief. Apparently the designer intended to say, “What are the odds that the murder of a school-age child will occur at school?” (The answer for what the author thought he was asking is 99 to 1.) Rule number one in writing trivia questions is Thou Shalt Write Questions So They Ask What the Author Intended and Not Something Quite Different.

As I said, this is an uncommon occurrence in Odds’R. We have had occasional difficulty discerning the intent of some of the questions. Big edge to Wits & Wagers.

The Betting – The betting in Wits & Wagers is limited through six rounds before being opened up in the last round. This keeps a lid on scores going through the roof. It keeps everyone in the game until the final round. The fact that you can hedge your bets by betting on two different answers is good. The fact that you can decline to bet if you are uncomfortable with the choices is good. Basically, it’s all good.

The betting in Odds’R is waaaay more open. You’re required to ante up on every wager, either $25, $50, or $100 depending on which ring the active player is currently on. Then you can bet as much as you want on the active player being right or wrong. If you bet everything and lose, you’re out of the game. Depending on how much fun you’re having, elimination could be a good thing.

In the last game I played, one player had nearly half a million dollars. I must confess there’s something intoxicating about starting with $1000 and ending up with $460,000. This fact illustrates another problem, though. That you can over the course of a few turns compound your winnings that many times over says the payout odds are too generous for the active player and the questions might be too easy. I don’t believe the designer was anticipating this because the payouts or penalties for the various Action Spots are in the hundreds of dollars. That’s like fining Barry Bonds $500 for missing batting practice. That kind of money doesn’t matter at all to him. The game is won and lost on the Odds’R Spots. The rest is just busy work. Edge to Wits & Wagers.

Fiddliness – Games where you’re paying out on bets on every turn are by nature a little fiddly. You quickly fall into a rhythm with either game, though. One advantage to Wits & Wagers is that it is set up so only one person needs to read the questions. In Odds’R, the role of readers moves to the left of the active player. Then the card gets passed around so all the active player’s opponents can see the answer before deciding which way to bet. Very slight edge to Wits & Wagers.

Components – The cards for both games are of sufficient coated stock. The chips in Odds’R are embossed with the game name on one side. That’s a nice touch, though functionally they are the same as the chips in Wits & Wagers. (And there aren’t enough chips in Odds’R when the highest denomination is $500 and the three players have a combined $700,000 in winnings. At that point you’re writing IOU’s.) The rubber mat in Wits & Wagers is a distinctive component that seems to impress casual gamers because it’s unlike anything they’ve seen in games. The lottery tickets in Odds’R are small and flimsy. The dry erase markers and the color-coded Answer Cards in Wits are perfectly fine. Ditto the colored GamePieces and matching DingerRings in Odds’R. The board in Odds’R is on the thin side. It hasn’t been a problem. It’s also rather garish, but it fits the mood of the game. Slight edge to Wits & Wagers.

The Lottery – The Lottery mechanic in Odds’R is widely criticized as being a game breaker. All the losing wagers go into the pot, and the winning sum can be large enough to build a state-of-the-art aircraft carrier. In the last game I played, we changed the Lottery rule so that only the seed money and the various fees went into the pot. The losing wagers went to the bank. This fix didn’t work because we were accumulating so much money in our own accounts, that winning the Lottery felt like finding a quarter on the sidewalk. One possible fix is to eliminate it altogether. I’m sure there are others. Wits & Wagers doesn’t have a Lottery. Big Edge to Wits & Wagers.

Family Factor – The first or second time I played Odds’R was with my wife and two children. My daughter read the following question:

According to a recent study, the odds are 9 to 1 that a college woman prefers which sexual position? Missionary, Woman on Top, or Doggy Style

Answer: Doggy Style – Over 90% said, “Woof! Woof!”

My then 13-year-old son almost wet himself he was laughing so hard. It was in that moment we decided there might be better games for our family. The Odds’R box says “The Adult Party Game.” They’re not kidding. Wits & Wagers doesn’t push those particular boundaries. It’s for you to decide if the adult content is desirable in a game. I don’t mind it for me, but understand Odds’R is not a game for the children. And FWIW, that’s another answer I have doubts about, though I haven’t done the required research. My wife would frown upon my studies. No Edge. (I merely point it out in case it matters to you.)

Fun Factor – At my house, Wits & Wagers is the clear winner. It is a better conceived and better executed game that doesn’t wear out its welcome. From all I have witnessed and read, Wits & Wagers is regarded the better choice for both serious gamers and casual gamers. I concur. That said, I can easily imagine groups that would enjoy, if not prefer, Odds’R. I can see four buddies on a beer league softball team who like to get together for games. If the beverages are flowing, and the guys are talking smack back at each other, and the ball game is on TV on mute, and the stereo is blasting Blur, then Odds’R might be the game that hits the spot. Edge to Wits & Wagers.

Final Thoughts
A fun gambling game and a fun trivia game have a place in well-rounded collection. Wits & Wagers easily fits the bill for both. It’s not a game I’m jonesing to play all the time, but when I bring it out, Wits & Wagers delivers.

Despite my giving every edge to Wits & Wagers, Odds’R is not a bad game. It’s just not as good as the alternative. My chief complaints are the game length and the Lottery, both of which can be fixed easily enough. If based on my review, you think Odds’R would work for you and the people you play with, it probably will. In fact, contact me if you want to trade for my copy!

I give Wits & Wagers a 7 out of 10.

I give Odds’R a 4 out of 10.
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