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Game Review: Outburst
The Quick and Dirty: Generally enjoyable free-association game, though slight language discrepancies may spark fights.
Players are divided into two teams, and teams alternate between asking the questions and trying to answer them. On their turn, a team is offered a category (such as “things at a gas-station,” or “T.V. sitcoms from the 1960’s” or “Racehorses”). They have three opportunities throughout the course of the game to “pass” on a category if it sounds too difficult, in which case they MUST take the next category drawn from the stack of cards. A team may not “pass” a category which has been “passed” to them – they must attempt it. Once a category has been determined, the card is slotted into a translucent plastic holder which reveals (to the questioner) 10 “target” answers for that category. The team members then have sixty seconds to shout out any answers they can think of which might apply to that category. If they stumble upon one of the target items, they are notified and a point is awarded. Before the answering period begins, one of the answers on the card is randomly selected, by dice roll, to be worth a number of bonus points. Scores from the round are recorded by sliding an indicator on an enclosed scorecard, and play continues until one team has earned 60 points.
The primary strategy, in this case, lies in both teammate and category selection. It is a good idea, when divvying up teams, to select teammates who possess a broad range of expertise and, as far as can be determined, a broad range of inteligence types or mental ‘styles’. Since answers are shouted out by all team members simultaneously, there is a significant advantage to *not* duplicating one-another’s answers, thus maximizing coverage. It is also important to continue talking, even when one does not believe one has an appropriate answer for the category in mind – you might stumble across a correct answer you didn’t know you had, or inspire a teammate into a correct answer.
As for category selection, while it might seem that having only three “pass” tokens for the whole game is too limiting, I find that this is about the right number. To take an example from above, while you might think that you couldn’t name more than one or two “racehorses,” for example, keep in mind that your team-mates are also contributing, and it’s a rare card which doesn’t offer the opportunity for a competent group of three adults to score at least five points. Often, after doing quite poorly on a given card, you will find yourself pulling your hair as the target answers are read off, groaning “darn, I *did* know that one!” That’s why it’s important to keep talking.
And there’s little guarantee that the category you pass will be replaced with a better one. You might get rid of “racehorses,” only to be told that your new category is “the films of Bea Arthur.”
The components are of quite high quality, particularly the translucent card-reader, which manages the tricky job of fast-paced score-keeping with small thumb-tabs next to each answer. The reader for the 15th-anniversary edition looks even more ergonomic. The main problem we have encountered is that since the hidden card answers are revealed by passage through a red plastic lens, it is sometimes hard to read the answers – particularly if you are color-blind, have eye problems, or even have the wrong lighting. The category cards themselves are on adequately thick cardstock, and printed on both sides, which is more economical but sometimes creates confusion as to which category comes ‘next’ in the sequence. A surprising benefit, at least in the earlier editions, are the thick plastic “pass” tokens – a completely unnecessary fillip which reinforces to players the knowledge that they have only a very few “pass” options, and must spend them wisely.
This is an excellent light-weight game, with a good deal to offer both traditional trivia enthusiasts and free-associational thinkers. However, it is also a game with a fairly tight limit on the number of players. Single-player teams are at a tremendous disadvantage, so at least four players are really needed...however, if teams swell beyond three or, at most, four players, it is difficult for the scorekeeper to parse out individual responses. Cries of “wait a minute, I *did too* say that!” are not infrequent.
And this leads to the one real potential downfall of an Outburst session, which is the risl brought on by occasionally vague language in the answers. Let’s take our theoretical “things at a gas station” example (an actual category card in the game). Suppose one of the target answers is “gasoline.” If a player says “fuel,” have they gained that point, or not? If the card specifies “no smoking signs,” would “signs” count? If “bathrooms” is on the card, will “restrooms” or “toilets” gain a point or not?
Happily, since the game is played to sixty points, squabbles over one or two points are both rare and rarely determine the winner.
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The best we have managed to do regarding, say "toilet" instead of "restroom", we merely say "close" and let them keep trying along those lines if they want. We have found that actually giving it to the other player always ends in "I gave you that one but you didnt give me this one??" (instant friend loss)