Facts in Five is a 1971 release in the very good 3M Bookshelf Games series. The series was noted generally for good to high-quality boards, cards, pieces, and other components, and Facts in Five lives up to that expectation. The letter tiles are made of stiff plastic, rather than the usual cardboard; the cards are near to playing card quality; and the score sheets are of a very practical and useable size and layout. The instructions are succinct and complete, with some minor variations to offer optional play. The 5-minute “sand” timer in my set actually runs 4 minutes and 52 seconds – close enough for this type of game.
For those familiar with Scattergories and similar games, Facts in Five will be easy to learn. However, this game can be much more difficult to play and is aimed at a more sophisticated group of players. The word “Five” in the game title refers to three parts of the game: (1) each round is played in a five-minute time period; (2) players must fill in answers to fit five different categories; and (3) the answers in each category must match each of five different letters. A completely-filled score sheet has 25 answers.
The categories for this game are actually of two levels – class and category, categories being a sub-group of classes. The game is ideal for five players (another five reference), but may be played by any number from solo to large groups and teams. The game begins with each player, up to five, drawing a card from the deck. The player drawing the card makes a selection of class or class and category from the card he draws. As each is announced, players write this information in the columns on their score sheets. Then, five letter tiles are drawn, and players enter these on the rows of their sheets. The timer is set and players attempt to fill in the grid with answers meeting the score sheet grid’s criteria.
The reason this game can be more challenging than Scattergories lies both in the requirement to fill in answers for five categories and five different letters simultaneously and in the fact that the category cards contain an enormous number of choices, most of which can be very daunting. There are four types of cards. The Choice Card – Class Only card allows a choice of class (higher-level category) only. Here are the selections available on one of these cards – Musical Instruments; Units of Currency; Household Appliances; American State Nicknames; Jewelry Items; Kitchen Utensils; Slang Words; Foreign Tribes; American Indians/Tribes; Heraldic Terms; American State Flowers; Restaurants; Bakery Products; Communications Means. There are nine cards of this type, each with 12-18 choices.
The second type of card is the Choice Card – Class and Category. These cards require the player to select one class, and allow the player to also select a category (lower level, more specific category), if she chooses. For example, one card contains these class/category combinations: (1) Diseases or Sicknesses / Human or Animal or Skin or Communicable; (2) Drugs/Medicines / Tradename or Chemical Name or Patent Medicine or Pill Tradename; (3) Tools / Hand or Machine or Carpenter or Engineering; (4) Guns/Firearms / Civilian or Military or American or Foreign; and (5) Fabrics/Cloths / Natural Fiber or Synthetic or Upholstery or Clothing Fabric. If the player is not too familiar with any of these classes, he might choose only a class, but if he is an expert in any of the classes, he might also select a specific category to make it very difficult for the other players. There are 17 cards of this type, each with 2 to 5 classes, and each class with 2 to 16 categories.
The third type of card is the Class/Category card. This card has only one class, so the player has no choice in that regard, but it also includes a wide range of more specific categories. The player may select a category or designate only the given class. Here are the categories on the card for Class: Music Composition Titles – Popular; Popular Vocal; Popular Instrumental; Symphony; Piano Concerto; By a Living Composer; Opera; Violin Concerto; By a Past Composer; Operetta; Christmas Music; Classical; Folk Music; By an American; By a Non-American; Jazz; By a European; Religious; Choral; Opera Aria. There are 26 cards of this type, each with one class and 18-24 categories.
Finally, there are 4 Wild Cards, which allow the player to name any class she wishes. She may choose one from the cards in the deck or create an original one; she may also designate any appropriate category that fits the class, if she wishes. This, of course, gives the player an extreme amount of leverage.
After the five classes/categories are selected, five letter tiles are drawn blindly. There are 30 tiles, one for each letter in the alphabet and four Wild tiles (marked with an asterisk). Wild tiles allow all players to fill in any answer that matches the class/category, regardless of the letter it starts with.
When the time is up for the round, players exchange score sheets for validation and scoring. If an entry is questioned and the answering player cannot convince the person checking his answers, the entire group considers it. If one person can validate it, it is accepted; otherwise, it is accepted or rejected by majority vote of the players. The scoring is interesting. Valid answers are scored both vertically, by column, and horizontally, by row. The correct number of answers in each individual column and each row is squared. The vertical (column) scores are added to give a Special Score, which indicates the player’s relative depth of knowledge in the specific classes of subjects. The horizontal scores are added to produce a General Score, indicating the player’s breadth of knowledge across a variety of subjects. The two scores are totaled for an overall score. After five rounds (another five item), each player’s three scores on the rounds are totaled separately, so that there will be from one to three final winners.
The odds of any two games having the same classes/categories and letter combinations are infinitesimal. The game may be kept reasonably simple by the judicious selections of the players and lucky letter tile draws, or it may be ridiculously difficult due to complex selections and hard-letter draws. I have participated in rounds with very few answers by any of the players, and I have seen some with most of the 25 answer spaces correctly filled. The game is much deeper than that of Scattergories, and takes longer to play. For people who like general-knowledge games, this is perhaps the ultimate challenge.