Ender Wiggins
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Introducing Wits & Wagers Family Edition

The folks at North Star Games are a smart mob. They know that when a new game is released, it's going to be helped by some welcome publicity and positive reviews. And now that they've got a new product coming out - Wits & Wagers Family - they've made the smart move of sending out some review copies to reviewers like me. That's a smart move, because it means I get to receive a free game, play it with my family, and have fun sharing the results with you. But the folks at North Star Games are not only smart, they also make great games. Because if you make lousy games, then even if you send out a million games out for review across the planet, they're still going to result in negative reviews. Fortunately that's not going to be the case with Wits & Wagers Family edition, because it's a good game, and it's my job to tell you why. While the original Wits & Wagers trivia game was geared more to adults, the good news is that the meeple has arrived at North Star Games, and Wits & Wagers has now gone family friendly, and offers a trivia game experience for the whole family to enjoy.



But first, a confession. Ahem. I've never played the original Wits & Wagers. I know I should. I know I will. Quite soon in fact! But now that I've got that secret transgression off my chest, you'll realize that I'm not going to be reviewing this game in how it compares with the original game. I don't see this as a negative point, but I'd like to think that it helps me be somewhat unbiased, and allows me to judge this game on its own merits. So that's what I'll do, evaluating it as a trivia game for families, letting it stand or fall on the basis of its own strengths or weaknesses. And just because I got a free game doesn't mean I'm going to shy away from the weaknesses - there are some things I don't like about the game, and I am going to tell you what they are. Yep, I'm going to be honest. Fortunately in the case of Wits & Wagers family edition, there's more strengths than weaknesses to talk about! Of course the guys at North Star Games knew that, because they're smart remember, and otherwise they wouldn't have sent me this game in the first place. So let's go find out more about Wits & Wagers family edition!





COMPONENTS

Game box

The box is a similar size and dimension to Say Anything, another great game in the North Star lineup.



The back of the box tells us more about the game:



Notice something new? The meeple! The Meeple has entered Wits & Wagers Land and arrived at North Star Games, and the folks there have welcomed it warmly!



This is a nice touch. I'm usually not crazy about trivia games, to be honest, but I found myself enjoying this one immensely. In fact, it got played 8 times in the first three days that we had it ! I like the fact that the look of the more adult "betting" has been replaced with a more family-friendly style of scoring, and a more family-friendly look. It's still a trivia game and not a euro game, but the introduction of the meeple is a nice touch and will help families make the transition from games like Carcassonne, or perhaps help families make the transition from this game to Carcassonne!

Component list

The plastic box insert is well suited for storing all the components, as we see from our first look inside the box.



A complete inventory:
● 1 score board
● 150 question cards
● 10 meeples (in 5 colours)
● 5 answer boards (in 5 colours)
● 5 dry-erase markers
● 1 rulebook



They're the same quality as the components in the other North Star games, and are colourful, durable, and a pleasure to play with.

Rule book

The rulebook is the size of two sheets of paper, but is double sided and made out of thin card stock. North Star Games doesn't keep secrets, so if you want to know how the game works, you can read the rules before buying the game, so you'll know what you're getting in advance:



They're very straight forward, and can be explained in two minutes or less, which makes this game ideal for teaching to families, children, and non-gamers.



Question Cards

There are 150 cards with questions on them.



Fortunately they come with a separate tray for storage, which can be conveniently removed from the game box and placed on the table:



Each card has two trivia questions on one side, like these:



The reverse side has the answers, like these examples: (NB: these don't match the above questions - I'm not going to give anything away or spoil the game for anyone!)



All the answers are simple numbers. But what I like is that North Star has included some interesting fact relating to the question as well. This is a good move - it helps generate interest, and imparts knowledge, so you're learning something as you play the game. As well as being fun, it helps give the trivia game educational value as well. As for the source of the information - that's listed on the question side of the card.

The idea is that you work through all the top questions the first time around, then go through the cards a second time and work through the bottom questions on each card To help you keep track of where you are in the questions, they've included this neat little place-card that you can insert at the appropriate place:



How thoughtful! So what do I think about the questions? I'll get to that later in the review.

Answer Boards

There's a single black answer board that permanently displays a "1" and on which you won't write.



There are also five answer boards for the players in five colours.



Each has some meeple-friendly artwork on the reverse side!



They're dry erase boards, so it didn't take long for our kids to have fun with these and turn them into Cool Meeples!



Dry Erase Markers

Since we have dry erase boards, we also need dry erase markers! Five come with the game, one for each player.



These are of decent quality, and appear to be the same as the ones that come with other North Star Games. The dry erase markers and boards work well, and easily wipe clean with a tissue or paper towel. Kids just LOVE using these, and sometimes can't resist the temptation to add some artwork to their numbered answer - it just makes the game more fun!

Meeples

Each player gets two meeples in their chosen colour.



The large meeple can score two points for a correct guess, and the small meeple can score one point for a correct guess.

Score Board

This is also a dry erase board that will be used to keep track of scoring. The first player to 15 points wins.



GAME-PLAY

You can play individually (up to five players) or in teams. It works well as an individual battle of wits, but the possibility of playing in tteams is also a great way to play the game, and even allows players younger than the target age group (8 and up) to join in.

Set-up

Every team gets two meeples, a matching coloured answer board, and a dry erase marker.



The "1" answer remains on the center of the table the entire game.

Flow of Play

Here's how a single turn works:

1. Wits: Ask and answer a question.

A question from one of the cards is asked, and everyone writes down an answer.

As an illustration, let's ask the question: "In feet, what is the average wingspan of a Bald Eagle?" I have no idea, but I'm going to guess that it's about 9 feet! Note that it's not necessarily the closest guess that wins, because if you go over the correct answer, your guess is ineligible to win!



Everyone else secretly writes down their answer.



Answers face down and ready?



2. Wagers: Sort answers and place meeples.

Time to reveal our answers, and sort them in a row from smallest to largest.



Now everyone places their two meeples on the answers that they think are closest to the actual correct answer (without going over). You can place both meeples on the same guess, or split them to increase your chances of at least scoring some points.



3. Scoring: Check correct answer and score points.

Now we flip over the question card and read the answer. The winning guess is the closest to the correct answer without going over. The player or team who wrote the winning guess gets 1 point, and players or teams who correctly voted for the winning guess get 1 point for their small meeple, 2 points for their large meeple. If you wrote the winning guess and put both your meeples on it, you could earn 4 points!

This works great, and the mechanics here will be familiar to people who have played Say Anything. Let's go back to our example and say that the correct answer was 6 feet (it isn't by the way, but I don't want to reveal the actual answer!). The answer 7 is closest to 6, but it is over the correct answer, so it's ineligible to win. The closest answer without going over is 4. Purple gets 1 point for writing the best answer, purple gets another 2 points for voting correctly with its large meeple, blue and pink both get 1 point for voting correctly with their small meeples.



Scores are recorded on the scoreboard.



Don't quite get it? You'll catch on soon enough, even young children can figure it out quickly. Here's another scoring example, taken from the rulebook.



This process is repeated until someone reaches 15 points to win the game!



CONCLUSIONS

What do I think about the game?

The components are excellent. No complaints here. It's a good box, insert, and decent quality all round. Kids love the meeples, and especially enjoy writing on the dry erase boards.

The length is ideal for families. You can finish a game in 20-30 minutes, and it doesn't drag like some trivia games can. Perfect length for a family game! In fact, the first time we played, the children immediately wanted to play a second time, so we did, and they still weren't sick of it. That's a sign of a good game.

The minimum age is around 8 years old. The game is rated for ages 8 and up. I think they got this right on. One of my children is just eight, and could join in just fine, although some of the questions involved some concepts somewhat foreign to her or required explanation. But even then it was an opportunity to explain a concept, and she could still make a reasonable guess. The questions were a bit too hard at times for my six year old, however. For example, in response to questions about the distance between standard train tracks in feet, she would write things like 9 feet, or in response to questions about how many gallons of milk a cow would produce in its lifetime she would write things like 40. Fortunately, this can also be played as a team game, so we could still include the six year old by having her as part of a team with someone else. She played on her own several times too, and even though she didn't have a chance of winning, she still had fun. In another game she was happy to do the scoring and participate that way.

It's fun for children. Our kids had a great time playing the game, and wanted to play it multiple times after first learning it. They didn't find it quite as fun as Say Anything, but we all had a great time. The advantage of Wits & Wagers family edition is that it's easier to include younger children than it is with Say Anything (which I also highly recommend!). All our children (ages 6-13) really enjoyed playing, and were eager to play on their own and teach some friends over the next couple of days, and the game got played 8 times in the first three days alone!

It's fun for adults too. Adults will tend to do better than children on the whole, having a broader general knowledge, and sometimes even knowing the correct answer to a question, or at least an approximate range in which the correct answer might be. That's not a bad thing, however, because a trivia game should still give some rewards for those with an extensive knowledge, and not totally become a total guess fest. At any rate, it's not just a kids game, where adults will have to "tolerate" an inferior game just to keep your children happy. It's just as much fun for grown-ups as it is for children.

It puts a whole different spin on the trivia genre, and you don't need to be good at trivia or even enjoy trivia to do well or have fun. This won't be new to anyone who has any Wits and Wagers experience of course. But I love the simple mechanics of being able to vote for an answer that you didn't write. Having two meeples gives each player/team two shots at getting the right answer and scoring points, even if you didn't write the correct answer yourself. This is a brilliant concept. It levels the playing field somewhat, but it also adds tension and excitement in the scoring department. The more knowledgeable players still have the best chance of winning, but rather than another boring trivia game, the 'wagering' mechanic introduces an element that adds a huge fun factor for everyone, even if you are completely clueless about the correct answer!

It's educational. While the fun element probably dominates above the educational element (and it's the fun element which is really this trivia game's selling point!), you'll still be learning facts and information in the course of gameplay. Someone balanced that many spoons on their face? That's how far a bee can fly in one day? It doesn't feel like work or tedium, but you will learn a thing or two while you play!



What do I think about the questions?

I wish there were more questions. This is my only real complaint about the game, and perhaps it's more of an observation than a complaint. But there are 150 cards, with 2 questions on each for a total of 300 questions. In eight games, we've already gone through half the questions. I'd expect that most people would get 15-20 sessions out of the game, and then you're done all the questions, and I don't see that using the same questions is really an option with this kind of game. I can see us giving this game to some friends or another family to borrow and have fun with, so it doesn't mean we can't find some way to get more mileage out of the game. And undoubtedly we'll see some expansion pack with more questions. But considering that we burned through half the questions in the first three days alone, it won't take a whole lot longer and we'll have exhausted what we can get out of this game as a family, until more expansion questions are released. Admittedly, by that point we'll have had hours of fun out of the game, so it's still excellent value and will be money well spent for most families. I don't think we'll be tired of the gameplay by then, however, and so here's hoping that the smart company will make the smart move of sending us a set of expansion questions to review.

Some questions have a limited target group. On the whole the questions are geared towards children and families, and work well for both adults and kids. But not all the questions are going to be suitable for every family or group. As long as one or several players understand what a question is about or can make a reasonable guess, it's still worth asking, and the other players can just make a crazy guess and then vote for answers done by the more knowledgeable players. For example, in one game, there was a question about how many PEZ candies there were in a PEZ dispenser. I personally have no idea what PEZ candy even is, but my children and wife did - as a result, my answer of 250 was amusing for everyone, and after the answers were revealed I still could have a chance at earning some points by voting for the answers everyone else wrote (all 12 or less!). But there will be times where nobody has any clue about the question whatsoever, and then you're better off skipping the question rather than turning it into a complete guess for everyone. How often this will happen will depend on the people playing. So you should be aware of the following:

1. Some questions require familiarity with popular culture (e.g. TV shows, films). Examples: "How many kung fu students did Master Shifu train in the movie Kung Fu Panda?" "How many awards did the Jonas Brothers win at the 2009 teen Choice Awards?" "How old was Miranda Cosgrove when her TV show iCarly debuted?" The advantage of such questions is that they'll give some kids a chance to show up their parents, but for families not deeply immersed in popular culture, they're not worth bothering with at all.
2. Some questions require familiarity with American culture. Examples: "How many arrows is the eagle holding on a one-dollar bill?" "How many events are part of the President's Challenge Physical Fitness Test?" "How many chests of tea were thrown into the water during the Boston Tea Party?" "How many ounces does a Starbucks Venti cup hold?" These are only going to be meaningful to Americans.
3. Some questions require familiarity with scientific concepts that young children won't yet have learned. Examples: "In Fahrenheit, how hot can lava get?" ("Dad, what is lava?) These can be an opportunity to teach children, so it's not necessarily a negative, but it may hold up the game at times.
4. Some questions will be known by players with good general knowledge. Examples: "In meters, how long is 1 lap around an Olympic running track?" "How many books are in C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia?" "How many Life Savers come in a standard roll?" "How many points does a snowflake have?" "How many teaspoons are in a tablespoon?" This isn't a bad thing, because if you sense that someone knows the exact answer, you can just copy how they vote!
5. Some questions will give the person with some knowledge the best chance of guessing. Examples: "On average, how many glasses of milk does a cow produce in its lifetime?" Some younger children wrote 1000, having no clue about scale. "How many times does the average person blink each day?" These kinds of questions can be guesstimated, and quick-calculating adults and bright kids will have the advantage here.
6. Many questions require familiarity with American methods of measurement. Examples: "In miles per hour, what is the fastest recorded speed of a domesticated cat?" "In feet, how tall was the tallest pyramid in Egypt?" "In feet and inches, how far apart are standard train tracks?" Units of measurement are consistently in imperial, for folks in Canada or other countries using the metric system, this will be a little frustrating at times, especially trying to explain the difference to children.
7. Some questions are dated. Examples: "How many Kids' Choice Award nominations has the TV show The Suite Life of Zack & Cody received?" "How many awards did the Jonas Brothers win at the 2009 Teen Choice Awards?" These kinds of questions may be relevant for 2010 audience, but will be "old" in five years time. Some answers could even change. Example: "How many different Webkinz stuffed animals have there been?" I can't see the wisdom of including questions like these, because by incorporating these kinds of questions, North Star effectively puts a "use by" date on their product, and they'll need to come out with a new edition every few years to keep it current.
8. Some questions will have surprising answers. Examples: "What percentage of a human body is water?" "How many feet across is a Major League Baseball pitching mound?" "How many minutes of music can fit on a standard CD?" We thought the answers to these questions were wrong. But we looked them up and guess what? We were the ones who were wrong!

My family doesn't even own a TV (we'd rather be doing family activities, like boardgames!), and we don't live in North America, so many of the questions became unplayable for us. We just skipped over some questions, but when eliminating the questions requiring familiarity with popular culture or American culture (and the occasional one that involved concepts too difficult for my children), we went through the questions quite quickly. We could work with the questions using imperial measurements, although it was a bit awkward at times. So how fast did we go through the cards? We'd gone through the top questions of nearly a quarter of the cards in just two games. Fortunately each card has two questions, but even so I anticipate that our family could only get about 15 games out of the existing questions (more if playing 3 or 4 player games instead of 5 players), although many families will get 20-30 games. This doesn't mean it's a bad game, but it just means that not everyone is the target group, and it highlights the need for more questions. I'd have liked to see less questions about popular culture, TV, films, and music, and more about science, history, geography, or other educational things that children might learn about in school. But to be fair, the folks at North Star Games probably have a mass market in mind, and in that respect the kind of questions they have included might be just the ticket for families with kids who usually are glued to the TV and rarely play games, and hopefully this will help turn that around, and convert them to the cause of the meeple! Considering that most online retailers seem to be selling it for only US$15, it's excellent value. It's also very suitable for non-gamers, and would make an ideal gift to give family and friends.



Recommendation

Is Wits & Wagers Family for you? As long as you're the target audience for the questions, I think this trivia game is going to go over very well in family settings. It plays quickly, gives children good chances to match the wits of adults, and turns trivia into fun for the whole family. Aside from wishing there were more questions, I can give this a very solid recommendation, and expect that it will be particularly well received by families in the US. Another great game, from a smart company! Bravo!



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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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Re: A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: The winning Wits & Wagers formula goes family friendly with the arrival of the meeple in trivia land!
Thanks for the excellent review, Ender, and particularly for the non-US perspective. I was wondering how US-centric this game was. Sounds like it is feasible to weed out the US questions though.
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