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Introducing Wits & Wagers Party

Given that this is my 200th BGG review, I figured it was time for a party. And what better way to celebrate than with a comprehensive pictorial review of the brand new title, Wits & Wagers Party? Granted, party games are often quickly dismissed by elite gamers - and it's not hard to see why given some of the inferior products that have appeared in that genre. But in recent years there has been somewhat of a renaissance in the party game category, publisher North Star Games leading the way with their immensely successful and multi-award winning Wits & Wagers (2005).

If you're not already familiar with the concept of Wits & Wagers, it involves asking players trivia questions that require numerical answers. Not only can players earn points by guessing the closest answer without going over, but they can multiply their points by "betting" chips on the answers provided by others. The trivia element quickly fades to the background, as the game soon becomes a no-holds barred suspenseful guessing game, with bigger risks promising bigger rewards. In real life it's even more fun that a written description of the game-play could ever suggest!

The Wits & Wagers formula has already gone through one transformation already, when a family friendly version of the game appeared in 2010, simplifying some of the aspects of scoring and making the game even more accessible than what it already was. Now in mid-2012 it's poised to reach new heights, courtesy of yet another incarnation of the game, Wits & Wagers Party, which is scheduled for release in July/August. I was fortunate enough to be able to try a pre-release copy of the game, as part of a larger celebration for its forthcoming release. The online launch party included a live game-show of Wits & Wagers Party on Google+ featuring Tom Vasel, Scott Nicholson and other celebrity game reviewers and bloggers as contestants, and was run by Ryan Metzler on June 28th (head to this link to check out the video).

Herewith follows my introduction to this latest member of the Wits & Wagers family. Let's celebrate!

COMPONENTS

Box

The game box is the same size as the other members of the North Star Games family, and features the same style of artwork, although the `party' theme is already hinted at by the appearance of Elvis on the cover!


Box cover

The back of the box touts the game as being suitable for big parties, and introduces the basic concept of the game.


Box back

Component list

But first, what do we get inside the box?

● 125 question cards
● 12 betting tokens
● 50 poker chips
● 6 player boards & 1 permanent answer board
● 6 dry erase pens
● instructions


Everything you get

Question cards

There are 125 question cards, each featuring two questions, which makes for a total of 250 questions. The style of these cards is somewhat similar to what we saw in the Family edition of the game, i.e. two questions per card. The questions themselves are taken from the now out-of-print Expansion pack 1 for the original Wits & Wagers game. According to the publisher, these questions are the best ones from that expansion, and were chosen "because they are lighter and more fun than the questions from the original Wits & Wagers, making this the best edition to play with your non-gamer friends and family." Like the original game, they feature a range of categories including unusual statistics, world records, and fascinating trivia. Be aware that many of the questions are US-centric, and that answers featuring measurement use imperial units, so some questions may prove unsuitable for people living outside North America.


Sample questions

Player boards

There are six dry erase boards in different colours, one for each player. The artwork is colourful and features a somewhat different style than we have seen before from North Star, but it's appealing and the folks I've introduced this to enjoyed picking out their chosen character. They're also party themed, so we have the Slots Granny, the Vegas Show Girl, the Hip Hop Artist, the Vegas Bride, the Low-Roller Lounge Lizard, and the Texan High Roller. There's an additional permanent answer board with the value 1, featuring Elvis himself! Or is it just an Impersonator? At rate, this particular board has a reverse side which can be used for a variant in which it pays double.


Six player boards ... plus Elvis!

Dry erase markers

Now here's something new: the six dry erase markers provided with this edition of the game include eraser style caps that can be used to wipe the boards. Yes, really! How cool is that?! This is a welcome upgrade from components we've seen in other North Star Games, and avoids the need to stock up with tissues before playing a game. Kleenex might not be happy about this change, but we love it!


New style dry erase markers - with erasers!

Betting tokens

Each player gets two betting tokens in their colour, which they'll use to guess which of the answers they think is closest to the correct one.


Two for each player, matching their player board

Poker chips

These are used for scoring points, and are considerably better than the thin plastic chips that come with the original Wits & Wagers; they have a pleasant heft and quality feel.


Poker chips are used for scoring

Instructions

The rulebook, as with other North Star Games, is very straight forwards and presents the game clearly and quickly. They're clean, clear, and concise - well done to the North Star guys! You can download a copy here.


Sample spread from the rulebook

GAME-PLAY

Set-up: If you've ever played any of the other Wits & Wagers games, you'll find this a cinch to learn; these siblings are very close after all! Divide all the players into 3 to 6 groups. People can play individually, but it's a great team game as well. Each group gets a player board and two betting tokens in their colour, while the "1" answer board featuring Elvis remains on the table throughout the game.

Flow of Play: The game proceeds over the course of seven questions, which are taken randomly using the question cards. For each question, the following process is used:
1. Ask and answer a question: A question is asked, and all players secretly write their guesses on their player board. The aim is to be the closest to the correct answer without going over.
2. Reveal and sort guesses: All players reveal their answers, which are placed in order from least to most.
3. Place bets: Players place their two betting chips on the answer boards, in an attempt to get points by guessing the correct answers. You can place both chips on the same answer or on different ones, and you can even place them on your own answer if you're really confident.
4. Pay out chips: Now the correct answer is revealed, and the player who was closest without going over gets a poker chip as a reward. Players also get a poker chip for each betting token that they had on the closest answer.


A scoring example

Final round: This process is repeated for all seven questions but with one twist for the final question. In the last round, players can stack some or all of the poker chips that they have already won under their betting tokens, in an effort to double what they have. If you pick the closest answer, you get an extra poker chip for each one under your betting token. But this potential reward comes with a risk - you lose these poker chips if you place your betting token on an incorrect answer.

Winner: The player or team with the most poker chips after this final round is the winner.

Optional rules: Several optional rules are included, such as (a) the possibility to reverse the 1 answer board which then pays double if correct; (b) giving a bonus of 2 extra poker chips for exactly correct answers; and (c) allowing betting poker chips on all questions rather than just the last round.


Placing bets on which year the world's first pizzeria opened

CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

Like true family: Wits & Wagers Party doesn't feature any drastic changes from the winning formula that made the original game successful. It really is a blend of scoring elements we saw in the first game as well as in the family edition, and fills a niche somewhere between them. That also means that it succeeds where its family members did, in creating a very fun game experience that almost anyone can join in and have fun with, filled with tension, laughs, and very far removed from your usual trivia game! This is the kind of game where actually knowing trivia is of trivial importance, and you can win by knowing which players might be experts on a particular question, or by simply making an educated guess. In the end, it's more about the fun of playing and the resulting laughs than about being the genius who gets the most answers right anyway.

How does the Party edition compare with the original Wits & Wagers? Here's a quick overview of how the Party version differs from the main game:
● 250 questions that originate from expansion pack #1, typically more light-hearted than the 700 questions from the original game
● 6 answer boards instead of 7
● new style of answer boards, featuring new artwork and larger sizes
● higher quality dry erase markers featuring erasers on the ends
● higher quality poker chips
● can only bid previously won chips on the last question (although permissible in all questions using optional rule)
● simplified scoring system, and no mat with variable pay-outs
● no timer
● Elvis!

Overall the Party edition is just a little more accessible than the original. Scores tend to be a little lower when playing with the suggested rule that previously won chips can only be used for betting on the final round, and even the Family version usually sees higher scores as a result of the two-point large meeple. But the advantage of this streamlined scoring is that the game is easier to teach and introduce, and you can easily add betting of chips for each round if you really wish. The lighter style of questions does give the game even more of a party feel and a less serious tone than the original game, and there were times where somewhat obscure questions had everyone well off the mark! The emphasis on questions with an American focus continues, and those outside North America will find this a disadvantage with both forms of the game. The artwork in the party edition is more goofy, and if I had a complaint it would be that the betting chips aren't quite as visible as I'd like them to be when they're placed on the player boards. But overall this edition features some nice enhancements, particularly the new dry erase markers with in-built erasers.

Should you get all the Wits & Wagers games? Most of us aren't going to need all the games in the series, because they all provide a similar experience, albeit in a slightly different way, and some people are going to prefer one above the other. Having said that, if you do already own one of the Wits & Wagers games, you may want to consider this new Party edition simply for the new expansion questions that are included, as well as some alternative components to use when playing. At the low price point these games are usually offered for, they are terrific value, and they also make excellent gifts. If you're looking to buy one as a present for non-gaming family or friends, this could potentially make a better choice than the original game.

Which Wits & Wagers game should you choose? For families with children, the Family edition is still probably the best choice, because it removes the "gambling" feel that results from using betting chips and poker chips, and the questions themselves tend to be more family friendly and accessible and interesting for kids. For a fun and lighter party style game with non-gamers and friends, especially with adults, this new Party edition is probably the best choice. As much fun as the variable payouts in the original game can be, they do add an extra element of explanation for complete newcomers, and this additional complication can create some initial bewilderment. In that respect the simplified scoring used in Wits & Wagers Party has some real advantages. It's no surprise that many folks preferred the scoring of the Family edition of the game, and that's essentially what we find here too, except that the meeples are replaced with betting tokens, and a score card replaced with poker chips. But this by no means makes the original edition obsolete, because many people will love the additional challenge of higher payoffs using betting chips throughout the game. It's also worth bearing in mind that the original Wits & Wagers game has almost three times the number of questions as the Party edition (700 vs 250), and that these tend to be a little less wild and offbeat than the Party ones.



Recommendation

The Party edition of Wits & Wagers doesn't really accomplish anything drastically different than what we've already seen. But that's a compliment rather than an insult, because in many respects it is simply a refinement of a strong game system, and a simplification of a successful and proven formula. What it does do is add a new family member to the scene, which means that it gives people who don't yet own any of the Wits & Wagers games even more selection to choose from. As such Wits & Wagers Party strengthens the Wits & Wagers brand, and gives it the potential to travel to places where it hasn't yet been, and perhaps will help it secure a bigger and well-deserved share of the market in the party games genre. I'm very pleased to see North Star Games going from strength to strength, and the arrival of this new addition to their lineup will hopefully see them continue their success in years to come! Party on!


Interested to learn about the other editions of Wits & Wagers, and about other party games from North Star? See my article:
Next Generation Party Games: Introducing North Star's award-winning line-up


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

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Dominic Crapuchettes
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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EndersGame wrote:
I was fortunate enough to be able to try a pre-release copy of the game, as part of a larger celebration for the game's forthcoming release, which includes a Google+ event run by Ryan Metzler going live at 7:30pm EST on Thursday June 28th (head here to check that out at the appropriate time).


Ryan will be hosting a live Wits & Wagers Party game show using the new Google chat technology. This will give people a chance to see how the game is played in real time. Below is the list of people who will play. Unfortunately, EnderGame could not join the event because he lives in an Australian timezone. soblue

      Tom Vasel - The Dice Tower
      Elliot Miller - The Gaming Gang
      Matt Carlson - Opinionated Gamers, Gamer Dad
      David Miller - Purple Pawn
      Matt Morgan - MTV Geek
      Scott Nicholson - Because Play Matters


We're taking bets now. My money is on Scott Nicholson!!
(anyone who writes his dissertation on libraries probably knows a lot of stuff)

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I dunno Dom, Carlson has a PhD or something like that. But that Tom Vasel dude, he does not stand a chance.

Great review Ender, as always.
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Sean Westberg
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Good review... My only note is that if I already have a copy of Wits & Wagers (and more specifically the expansion), I'll lose out on the more colorful artwork, but there's nothing stopping me particularly from running W&W: Party as a variant.

It looks like it's a more accessible version of the game though. Grats and best of luck to North Star Games. W&W is one of my favorite games that sadly doesn't get out often enough.
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EndersGame wrote:

There are 125 question cards, each featuring two questions, which makes for a total of 250 questions. The style of these cards is somewhat similar to what we saw in the Family edition of the game, i.e. two questions per card. The questions themselves are taken from the now out-of-print Expansion pack 1 for the original Wits & Wagers game.


Are all 250 questions really taken directly from Expansion pack 1? As someone who bought that expansion I have to say I'm a little disappointed by that. I love W&W and I have the original and family edition, and I was planning on getting this as soon as it came out. But if there are no new questions then does it really add anything for me other than some different art and a rules variant that I could just use my family edition boards to play?
 
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Dominic Crapuchettes
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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qwheeler wrote:
Are all 250 questions really taken directly from Expansion pack 1? As someone who bought that expansion I have to say I'm a little disappointed by that. I love W&W and I have the original and family edition, and I was planning on getting this as soon as it came out. But if there are no new questions then does it really add anything for me other than some different art and a rules variant that I could just use my family edition boards to play?


Almost all of them are updated questions from the expansion pack. I know that sucks for the people who have already purchased the expansion. I'm really sorry about this.

We lost money on the expansion pack, which is why it is now out of print. But a lot of the questions are great. So we took the best ones, updated them, and put them in a game which will get used by a LOT more people. In fact, we will sell 20 times more W&W Party in the next 3 months than we sold over the entire life of the expansion. It sounds absurd, but it's true.
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domcrap wrote:
In fact, we will sell 20 times more W&W Party in the next 3 months than we sold over the entire life of the expansion. It sounds absurd, but it's true.


That could've been a question on an future edition of W&W. You just gave the answer away!

Can we follow and watch this live chat game somehow? Sounds like it will be a lot of fun.
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Dominic Crapuchettes
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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jefftang wrote:
Can we follow and watch this live chat game somehow? Sounds like it will be a lot of fun.


That's the whole point! The Google+ event will be run by Ryan Metzler from The Dice Tower at 7:30pm EST on Thursday June 28th (head here to check that out at the appropriate time).
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I noticed two references to something about reversing the card and doubling the payout, or something like that.

What does that mean?
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Randy Cox wrote:
I noticed two references to something about reversing the card and doubling the payout, or something like that.

What does that mean?

It's an optional variant. The permanent value 1 board is double sided, and if you wish you can use the reverse side, which gives double the payout for betting chips placed on it.

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Thanks for the answer. I was hoping that the back side of each player's card was worth double (in case they are sure they have the right answer).
 
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Dominic Crapuchettes
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Randy Cox wrote:
Thanks for the answer. I was hoping that the back side of each player's card was worth double (in case they are sure they have the right answer).


That's a fun idea. I guess you'd be risking all of your winnings, or something like that? You'd have to be risking something or you would always use that side. I guess it means you'd always use that side at the start of the game before you had any winnings.
 
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domcrap wrote:
Randy Cox wrote:
Thanks for the answer. I was hoping that the back side of each player's card was worth double (in case they are sure they have the right answer).


That's a fun idea. I guess you'd be risking all of your winnings, or something like that? You'd have to be risking something or you would always use that side. I guess it means you'd always use that side at the start of the game before you had any winnings.
I was thinking more along the lines of you'd lose double your bet if you didn't get the right answer, regardless of where you bet. Much like the way we play my home-brew Personal Preferences.
 
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