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Subject: Free Parking sprayed with gamma-radiation rss

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Jon W
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Aurora
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Note: A modified version of this review was originally published in the February, 2004 issue of Game Notes (see http://www.bouldergames.com).

Odds'R is a new trivia game from Eagle Games, but it's designed by Roger L. Schlaifer (not Glenn Drover; it appears Eagle is branching out). It's an "adult party game for 2 to 4 players or teams." No, not that kind of adult game. I should state at the outset that party games in general do not appeal to me, but this one boasts an interesting feature that seems geared toward serious gamers: betting. Hence the name, as players will be placing wagers on the likelihood of questions being answered or flubbed, and will need to figure out the, er, odds.

Apart from that feature, the game is basically roll-n-move combined with trivia. The board has three tiers: outer, with 36 spaces; middle, with 28 spaces; and inner, with 20 spaces. Players move from outer to inner, with minimum bets going from $25 to $50 to $100 at each tier. In the middle is the "lottery pool," which is seeded with $500, and always reseeded with this amount after every lottery payout. Also, all lost bets and penalties go into the lottery pool, giving it the potential to grow very large. Think Monopoly "Free Parking," only sprayed with gamma radiation. You can buy a lottery ticket every time you move up to another tier, for the usual tier costs ($25, $50, $100). The same ticket can pay more than once for its holder. Just reading that, you might think buying a lottery ticket is pretty much a no-brainer sort of decision, and you'd be right: every player will have two or three by the end of the game.

The basic flow of the game is that the active player rolls two dice and moves, and then all players ante up an amount based on which tier the active player is in ($25, $50, or $100). The player to the left of the active player first reads the lottery payout number off the Q&A card (and pays out the lottery proceeds if there's a winner). Then he reads a multiple choice question (always with 3 answers) aloud, and shows the answer to all but the active player. Beginning with the reader, players place bets on whether the active player will answer correctly or not. There is no limit to how much can be bet by these players, but everyone must bet the minimum (again, $25, $50, or $100) or forfeit their ante. The active player bets last, and must bet to win; in addition, he may only bet up to four times his current level (so, $100, $200, or $400). Then he answers, and bets are resolved. If he answers incorrectly, he receives a "dinger" (a little ring put on his pawn). If four dingers are already on the pawn, he receives a "dunce cap", which means he must immediately lose $500, but he also gets to remove the cap and all dingers. Once any single player reaches the middle (the lottery pool area--and it doesn't have to be reached by exact count, thankfully), the game ends. That player receives all funds in the lottery pool, and collects $100 from every other player for each dinger they currently have on their pawn. Most money wins.

Right off the bat, it's a clever idea. Instead of the usual trivia game problems (uneven question difficulty and uneven player knowledge, sometimes paired with a horrible "exact throw" end-game condition), players are presented with a betting mechanic that should mitigate those issues. Easy questions could mean a big payout for everyone, while someone truly clueless is going to accidentally hit 33% of the time, making sure losing bets impossible. I might've wished for four or five answers per question, but this is a party game, so I'll be charitable. So far, so good. If you're a bit party-game averse, like me, by now you're wondering when the list of annoying features will start. Well, let's look a little more closely at the board. Almost every space has some special function that the active player can use if they answer correctly:

CowChip Flip (10 spaces): just a coin flip, really, to get some cash ($100, $250, or $500 per tier). You use a goofy little chip that looks vaguely like cow dung. Why? Because it's zany fun!
2xMultiplier (6 spaces): roll two dice and double the result, then move forward (66% of the time) or backward (yes, 33% of the time) that amount, based on the throw of a special die.
GrabBag (12 spaces): grab one of 15 tiles and follow the instructions. Nine have positive effects, six negative. They all have silly names with no real bearing on anything (e.g., "Strike! You're on a roll! Collect $300 from the House and roll again! Take any ActionSpot action!") Yes, exclamation points are liberally, indeed gratuitously, peppered throughout all these.
SnakeBite (2 spaces): No questions or betting on this one. You just pay every other player $250 OR roll and move backward double the number of spaces. But you have to choose before you roll, so there's some angst for you.
De-Dingers (2 spaces): You can remove all your dingers and collect $100 for each one removed.
Odds improvement (12/16/12 spaces): These show either 2-1, 3-1, or 5-1, and reflect the payout for the active player if he's correct.

Twelve "blank" spaces make up the balance. All the non-odds (2-1, etc.) spaces on the board pay 1-1, and even those pay 1-1 if you're not the active player. Though there is clearly a good bit of randomness associated with these spaces, it's not overwhelming. The likelihood of great luck in terms of movement rolls overcoming good play alone is pretty minimal, and the fact that you only get to use the function of the space if you answer correctly adds something to the proceedings.

The heart of the game, though, and the reason I bought it, is the notion that you can bet on how you think your opponents will answer. First, it keeps everyone involved in every question, which is a good thing and addresses yet another common failing of trivia games. Apart from that, the betting mechanic creates some interesting problems to work through, and rewards both casual and more serious players. You always have to evaluate the chance that the active player can answer the question correctly, and then the threshold at which he might tank it. Oh, yes, you can deliberately miss (how could it really be otherwise?), but you take a dinger, lose your bet plus ante, and lose the function of the space you're on. This is a critical part of the game, and it's actually fairly interesting. It provides the means by which the "side betting" is limited. However, it's also wide open for kingmaking, collusion, and other nastiness, as you might imagine. I should note that all holdings are open, so a player could calculate the effects of every play almost exactly if they wanted. However, we played it as a party game, playing quickly and using intuition, and it worked better that way (for us; your mileage will likely vary).

All of that is really beside the point, though, because of the lottery. I think the designer must really love the Monopoly "Free Parking" variant, because a similar effect is at work here, only it's actually much worse. Much, much worse. All lost bets and penalties (dingers, GrabBag, etc.) are paid into the lottery fund. It gets huge! The lottery can grow larger than the total holdings of all players combined, so you can imagine the effect if a player is fortunate enough to win it. You might, of course, win it right after it pays out and collect $500 compared to the $12,000 the previous winner received. That's wacky fun for you. There's no doubt the game has a healthy dose of randomness with the GrabBag chips and the other spaces, but everything pales in comparison to this ridiculous lottery system. Even if everyone bets conservatively, there's still a great likelihood that the lottery will grow excess of the holdings of any one player (since, after all, conservative bets will yield conservative returns), and thus getting to the end first, or getting lucky with your tickets, is crucial for success in the game.

The questions are a mixed bag, with many of them sharing the common and annoying tendency with multiple choice questions of having one obviously wrong answer. Which means the active player should very nearly always be able to tank the question. This might have bothered me more, but it's nowhere near the level of pain of the lottery "system" (I'm being generous), so I let it slide. Another matter of some concern is that there are only 360 questions (only one per card). Expansions may arrive, but in their absence, I'm not sure that you could easily adapt other trivia games to this one, as it's ideally suited for difficult multiple choice questions, where the player might inadvertently choose a correct answer while trying to tank it.

Thus the game is a disappointment. The basic idea of the betting is nice, and works decently (though I think it would fail badly if everyone took the time to calculate the full ramifications of each bet, which is technically possible on every play). But the lottery system is just incredibly inane. I've played with distinctly non-gamer people who aren't all that critical of game mechanics and who tend to enjoy party and trivia games, and everyone thought, without prompting, that the victory conditions of the game were pointless and idiotic. Nevertheless, I think it's good enough (and easy enough) to tinker with, and the betting portion can be worthwhile and enjoyable. So, as written, a poor game, but one with a nice idea or two.
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Mike Holyoak
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Idaho Falls
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Re: User Review
Thank goodness Wits & Wagers came along to put the final nail in this game's coffin.
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