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Subject: Clever, Quick Fun ... But Watch Out for Groupthink rss

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Jay Little
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OVERVIEW: Wits & Wagers is a trivia game with light bluffing and bidding elements, published by Nortstar Games and Eagle Games. Wits & Wagers has received a lot of press and acclaim recently (Boing Boing, Mensa Select and others) and rightly so -- Wits & Wagers is one of the more accessible, easily played trivia games I've encountered, and is well-suited to nearly any group.

COMPONENTS: Wits & Wagers comes in a box much larger than its components, which is at first a bit deceiving. Inside the Age of Mythology size box is a large foldout bidding mat, a deck full of trivia questions, poker chips, a standard sand timer, several wooden cubes for betting and liminated answer cards w/dry erase markers.

The foldout bidding mat is impressive. It's roughly 18" by 36" and looks great. The mat's green fabric surface has several betting lines cleanly printed on the one side, and has a durable rubber mat on the other side so the mat won't slip or slide during play. The rulebook and trivia cards are printed on thick, coated cardstock which should stand up to repeated play. The individual player answer cards are also very nicely done -- each has a colored border for quick identification, and a large surface for players to write their guesses down with the supplied dry erase markers.

Despite these stellar bits, there are two questionable component choices.

First is the box itself. I shouldn't be surprised, as it suffers the same problems as any other Eagle Games product I've ever purchased. Even after just a few games and careful handling, the cardboard box has already shown considerable wearing (the cover is already peeling and the color wearing off) and the box shows severe compression damage (despite being stacked with games of the same size), as well as started splitting on the corners. Those of you who know me know I'm pretty OC about my game collection, and take great care of protecting my games. But Eagle Games defy any efforts to maintain them.

Secondly are the chintzy quality poker chips included for tracking scores. With the great production quality of the mat, answer boards and trivia cards, the poker chips are a real disappointment. I wasn't expecting clay composite World Series of Poker quality chips, but something more than the cheap, generic red and blue lightweight plastic chips would have been a welcome addition.

Thankfully, the gameplay more than makes up for these complaints about the components.

GAMEPLAY: Wits & Wagers takes place over 7 rounds. During each round, a question will be read aloud. All the questions in Wits & Wagers have a numeric answer. Each player secretly writes down a guess on his player card. Once all answers are entered, they are revealed and placed on the betting mat in order from the highest to lowest. The median answer is on a 1:1 betting line, with each answer one step higher/lower resting on 2:1 odds, then the answers two steps higher/lower are on 3:1 odds, etc. If certain guesses are identical, they are placed on the same betting line. If there are an even number of guesses, the 1:1 slot is ignored.

After all answers have been arranged, the players get to bet on which answer(s) they think will be right. After some free form betting, the correct answer is revealed, and players pay losses to the bank or collect their winnings based on which guesses they bet on. As a bonus, the player(s) who made the guesses which ended up being the correct answer (ie, paid out as the winning entry) some extra cash -- they get a payout as if $10 had been bet for them on that line.

On the seventh round, players can move "all in" and wager everything they've got on the final round, and positions can shift dramatically. After the seventh round, the player with the most money wins the game.

Since every answer is a number, the guesses "cover" the entire range from the answer printed on the card to the next highest guess on the table -- essentially, which ever answer is closest without going over will be declared the winning answer. So if the bids for a round are 80, 70, 60, 50 and 40, and the correct answer is revealed to be 55, then the "50" is the line that pays out (in this case 2:1) and the person who supplied the guess of "50" will receive $20 ($10 bonus paid out from the 2:1 bidding line).

THE PRICE IS RIGHT SYNDROME: Despite its apparent simplicity and accessible nature, there's a strong tendency for the game to devolve into a meta-game -- a groupthink dynamic of trying to undercut what people think a reasonable answer is, rather than what might be a reasonable guess at the question. This is tied to the (necessary) guideline that the closest guess w/o going over is the "correct" guess for the question.

To make up a random example, if the question asks how many miles long the Mississippi River is, very few people could hazard a legitimate guesstimate. The rest are arbitrary and wildy variable guesses. Knowing that my guess can't possibly be in the ballpark, I'd be inclined to make a very low guess, say 100, which I know isn't right. But that's not the point. I just want to be the highest of all the low guesses, or the best lowball guess "below" the reasonable threshold of answers.

It could very well be on the low end of the bidding extreme, meaning it could have fairly good odds for a payout. If the next highest response is too high by even 1 mile, then my absurdly low bid of 100 is "right" and pays out.

Once a group sees this dynamic in action, the next time a comparably unguessable question comes up (especially where the answer could potentially be very, very large), and they've seen the potential "power" of a lowball guess, you might see a variety of guesses like: 50, 50, 70, 100 for an answer that's really going to be 800-1000...

This sort of groupthink is contagious, especially after seeing its success. You simply can't afford to be the only person making a "true" guess if everyone else is playing the lowball game, as the odds are stacked against you that one of the lowball responses (not a true guess, but a response to the groupthink) will end up being the winning answer regardless of its accuracy.

CLOSING THOUGHTS:

- I think the reaction to the game will be incredibly group dependent. Played by casual, light gamers who play within the "spirit" of the rules, I see this being incredibly successful and entertaining. Played by more serious gamers who look for the edge in any sort of game, I see this devolving into the groupthink, rendering the questions and responses largely meaningless.

- This groupthink may work itself out after a few plays, but in every game I've played, during every single round, at least one player has entered a lowball guess. And for answers with very large, inscrutable ranges, the lowball guess has paid out often enough to make it a viable tactic.

- The basic bidding ($10 limit per round) is incredibly tight, meaning you can put $10 on one answer or split it $5 on two different answers. So point accrual is fairly slow and insignificant.

- This scoring is exaggerated by the final round "all in" betting -- since it's possible that very little net changes to points have occured, you may find that the winner of the game is the winner of the 7th round, despite missing every guess leading up to that point.

- The rules suggest using the 30-second sand timer for betting, but allowing everyone to bet freeform. Meaning you don't have to bet until someone else does. Since seeing where people bet is a crucial part of any wagering game, this leads to people waiting to the last minute to simply push their bets in before the timer goes off. I'd prefer seeing a structured betting system, perhaps requiring the current "chip leader" to declare first, the going clockwise around the table or by score. The freeform system is a bit sloppy -- but it does work for casual, lighthearted gaming.

- The fact that the game requires no true trivia knowledge is great. Educated guesses can succeed, or perhaps when you do know one answer for certain, you can make a lot of money by betting on it if you can feign ignorance and seem uncertain of your answer.

TRIVIAL CONCERNS: I'm not sure if I'd wholly agree that this is even (technically) a Trivia game -- at least in the traditional sense of its application in gaming. This strange blend of true trivia and errata/miscellanea is both a strength (and at times a weakness) of Wits & Wagers. Some of the questions simply defy what I'd consider trivia.

My wife and I are avid Trivia gamers, and travel the Trivia circuits here in St. Louis with a team of competitive players. I believe that trivia has subsets with areas of expertise -- ie, sports, history, pop culture, etc. Trivia (in my mind, and from our competive experience) assumes either a reasonable chance to recall something or possibly a secondary piece of information absorbed via peripheral osmosis, study or immersion (or even "by accident"). In essence, things that are knowable, even if obscure, or estimable through educated guesses, deduction and discussion.

Granted, this doesn't apply to all the questions. Most of the questions do follow the criteria outlined above. But then there are things like:

"In dollars, how much was each extra paid to run across the beach and scream in the movie Jaws?"

(there's no reference or context to determine reasonable upper/lower thresholds or limits for the answer)

"How many liters of carbonated soft drinks did the average American drink in 2003?"

(again, no reference to frame the answer, not enough guesstimable information to supply a reasonable answer)

I think it's questions like these which undermine the more solid, more truly Trivia-esque questions. In a game that's only a few rounds long, having 1 or 2 of these inscrutable questions can really muck with both the experience, and the perception of the utility of lowballing answers. In the soft drink question, folks might make "legitimate" guesses ranging anywhere from 10 to 1,000 ... So since you don't even know what a possible range is, it's hard to try and get close -- you're better going low.

THE BOTTOM LINE: 8/10 -- Very clever, engaging and fairly novel party game. Nice light trivia and interesting wagering process involved. One problem is that some folks will invariably play "The Price is Right" and make obscenely low bids just to undercut what they think other people will do -- putting emphasis on that sort of mind game over legitimate attempts to provide reasonable answers. Despite some poor production decisions and the bidding issues with some players or groups, Wits & Wagers does far more right than wrong, and is an enjoyable way to spend the evening with friends.
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Alex Rockwell
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ynnen wrote:
Once a group sees this dynamic in action, the next time a comparably unguessable question comes up (especially where the answer could potentially be very, very large), and they've seen the potential "power" of a lowball guess, you might see a variety of guesses like: 50, 50, 70, 100 for an answer that's really going to be 800-1000...

This sort of groupthink is contagious, especially after seeing its success. You simply can't afford to be the only person making a "true" guess if everyone else is playing the lowball game, as the odds are stacked against you that one of the lowball responses (not a true guess, but a response to the groupthink) will end up being the winning answer regardless of its accuracy.


In a situaiton like this, a player should be able to CRUSH everyone else just by making a less lowball bid. If you know its way over 1000, and everyone is going to lowball 50 or 100, say 1000. You get the right answer bonus, and your answer gets pushed up to the high range where it pays well, so you get good money off tha,t especially if the others dont know it and bid on the highest bid they think is a lowball.

The 'lowball bid' dynamic isnt a problem, because there is a reward for whoever bids the HIGHEST low bid. (They have a chance at the bonus). So this drives UP the lowball bids, into a range where people are trying to be under the answer but not by too much. Which, um, is the goal of making your answer...
 
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Alex Rockwell
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ynnen wrote:
"How many liters of carbonated soft drinks did the average American drink in 2003?"

(again, no reference to frame the answer, not enough guesstimable information to supply a reasonable answer)


Hmm. I dont understand why that question is a problem. There are a number of questions like that and while they often have large ranges of answsers, there are usually at least a couple people who are close.

For this one, think: how many litres of soft drinks do I eat in a day? For me, about 1 (thank God for diet drinks). Now think: Do I drink more or less than average? Probably more, I'm going to cut it in half for the average. So 1/2. Then multiply by 365 days in a year. 182.5. Then go down a bit so you arent over.

So I guess 150.

I googles it, the answer is around 240 for 2004 according to an article I found, so the answer on the card should be near that. My answer was pretty reasonable, and stood a good shot of being the correct one.



Now, there are harder ones, like 'how many acres of pizza do americans as a whole eat per day'. This is hard. 300 million or so americans. How many pizzas in an acre? We still were near the right answer, with some of the guesses. (100)
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Jay Little
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Alexfrog wrote:
In a situaiton like this, a player should be able to CRUSH everyone else just by making a less lowball bid. . . . The 'lowball bid' dynamic isnt a problem, because there is a reward for whoever bids the HIGHEST low bid.


The issue for me is one of "the spirit of the game" and the "realities of the game." Ideally, I think the game and group would foster an environment in which everyone is honestly makig the best guesstimate as to what they think the real answer will be. In application, I've found that a few players may do that, but we invariably encounter some sort of lowballing "game within the game" going on.

The problem with this for me is that it's a viable tactic, and something players need to be aware of. As you point out, people want the highest low bid -- but they still want to err on the side of a lowball bid and not an accurate or genuine guess.

This saps some of the fun out of the game for me, as I'd love to see who actually came closest to some obscure number and find out how they arrived at that, rather than seeing someone winning by being the highest of 3 especially lowball bids without any regard or interest in the question that was asked.

In my mind, the lowball phenomena takes the focus away from the questions and the guesstimations, and puts it on the groupthink/metagame.

All that said, I think it's a credit to the game that despite this quirk (which really irritated me in a few games) I still enjoy the game and rate it as highly as I do.
 
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Eddie Lizard
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I've played the game quite a bit (though perhaps not with the BGG-type crowd) and while I find that most folks are more conservative with their answers as a result of the "closest without going over" rule, I don't find that it actually creates a game within a game/lowball race. I'm not saying your friends don't do it, but it certainly hasn't been my experience with the more casual gaming crowd.

Either way, the balancing mechanic involved in this game is that any player can bet on any answer - the person who is closest without going over gets the bonus, but it's minor in comparison to the payout, especially if it's awarded randomly to a lowballer.

In short, I think this may be more of a problem on paper than in practice.
 
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I think there's a strength to this game...you can answer realistically, AND bet on the answer that you think is likely to win. If one player answers way out of proportion with the others, they give everyone else a chance to bet on that margin, too.
 
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Mark Aldridge
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Have you tried this game without the Price is Right rules and just let the closest answer win? This could end up being just a little more clunky (a calculator would help in some cases, but not most) and it would eliminate the problem. This just seems like an easy fix, and since this was your main non-component gripe, I was just curious if you had tried it.
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Tricky McGee wrote:
Have you tried this game without the Price is Right rules and just let the closest answer win? . . . This just seems like an easy fix, and since this was your main non-component gripe, I was just curious if you had tried it.


I have not tried it, simply because it would require a bit more work -- breaking up the flow of an otherwise very quickly-paced game. For most of the answers, this wouldn't be a big deal at all ... but for 2-3 answers per game (out of 7 rounds) where the range may be in the thousands somewhere, it could be a bit clunky.

As it is, usually one 1 or 2 of the players in each game have had an issue with the lowball/price is right setup, so since it's been the minority, and the game is still playable (and fun) despite this quirk, we haven't really seen the need to change things.

I would be interested to see what other fans of Wits & Wagers think about that, and if they've tried it out.
 
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Brian Newman
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Why not just suggest that your players start guessing a little lower than they normally would?
 
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Alexfrog wrote:

Now, there are harder ones, like 'how many acres of pizza do americans as a whole eat per day'. This is hard. 300 million or so americans. How many pizzas in an acre? We still were near the right answer, with some of the guesses. (100)


This question was included because we thought it was funny. Why the hell is the "U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency" keeping statistics for pizza in acres in the first place?!!

 
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Dominic Crapuchettes
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ynnen wrote:
The issue for me is one of "the spirit of the game" and the "realities of the game." Ideally, I think the game and group would foster an environment in which everyone is honestly makig the best guesstimate as to what they think the real answer will be. In application, I've found that a few players may do that, but we invariably encounter some sort of lowballing "game within the game" going on.


You and I agree on this issue. Keep playing with these same inexperienced players and they'll soon learn that the "realities of the game" force them to (pretty much) play with in "the spirit of the game". The answers of good players tend to be honest opinions minus up to 1-10% depending on how risky they want to be.

We decided that playing with a calculator made for a worse game than having the 10% lowball opinions. I expect you'll probably agree if you try it both ways but we were catering to the party market more than the gamers market on this issue (Beer, cute girls, and calculators aren't as good a combination as they might seem on paper). We also thought that waiting for everyone to bet in order slowed the game down WAY TOO MUCH for a party game.

You should try out Trivia Poker if you want to play a more strategic version of Wits & Wagers. You can get an outline of the rules to that version here as well as a more trivia minded version of Wits & Wagers.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/111304
 
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Great review.

I just have one question.... "Trivia Circuit"? wow
 
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"- The rules suggest using the 30-second sand timer for betting, but allowing everyone to bet freeform. Meaning you don't have to bet until someone else does. Since seeing where people bet is a crucial part of any wagering game, this leads to people waiting to the last minute to simply push their bets in before the timer goes off. I'd prefer seeing a structured betting system, perhaps requiring the current "chip leader" to declare first, the going clockwise around the table or by score. The freeform system is a bit sloppy -- but it does work for casual, lighthearted gaming."

----------------------------------

I'm not sure how you're betting, but I think this may be part of the problem here. It seems to me as if during the betting round you are playing so everyone can see what everyone else bets, and then change their bets accordingly during the 30 seconds.

I just played this for the first time last night, and the way we did it was everyone hids their bets during the 30 seconds, places it face down in front of you after you write you answer, and then after the 30 seconds all the cards are turned face up and then sorted from highest -> lowest.

We didn't have any problems with "group think" betting, and this is with a group of people that play a fair amount of games.
 
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Bill H
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I've played a dozen games with several different groups of people.

We've never used the sand timers, peer pressure leans on anyone slow to answer or bet.

We generally put all our bets on the board at the same time. Few people in the groups seemed swayed by the other bets (although they'd often bet against their own answers once they saw the range of everyone else's guesses). We did discourage anyone from changing their bet once it hit the table, though.

The only one to submit a lot of low-ball guesses was my 6-year old. He played a couple games although he didn't grasp most of the questions. He LOVED being included with the grown-ups and especially when, because of his absurdly low guesses or betting on random family members' answers, he won some chips. He hasn't come close to winning any games yet, so low-balling the answers hasn't been an effective strategy.


Edited to add the following:
He came close 1/8/2007. He had two fairly out-there guesses that won (one very low and one higher than anyone else but still lower than the real answer), and he placed his bets well. He lost out in the "all in" round by betting on someone else (that was one time he got it right). I still don't think low-balling the answers has worked well for him, and this game where he took a few high guesses is his best to date.
 
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We just played this game for the first time with a group of seven people ranging in age from 10 to 50, and for the most part it was very well received. But one of the adults, who happens to be a highly competitive poker and rotisserie league player, had an interesting comment that I thought might be relevant to this thread. He felt that the odds were structured in exactly the opposite way to what they should have been.
Namely, he felt that the higher payouts should be for answers in the center and not at the edges. His reasoning was that it was less likely for an answer that was 'boxed in' by other answers to actually win. We did't try out his idea, but I wonder if such a modification would reduce the so-called 'group think' issue, or at least encourage people to go for the most accurate bet.
 
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While on any given question your friend's point may ring true (depending entirely on the spread of the answers), over the long haul he is dead wrong about the odds structure.

Oh, and I pray that some fool tries the low-ball group-think angle against me, because I will beat them every time. The strategy just doesn't work against someone who knows how to play the game correctly. It is just a shame that this poor review (in terms of quality) perpetuates this myth...
 
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Jay Little
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jstrong wrote:
It is just a shame that this poor review (in terms of quality) perpetuates this myth...


Poor quality in what regard?

Is the writing and formatting unclear? Do I not adequately describe how the game is played? Is my opinion not clearly expressed?

I'm not sure what you feel is poor quality, other than perhaps disagreeing with my opinion about the game and the impact of this single element... However, I do enjoy the game quite a bit, and play it regularly with friends and family.
 
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ynnen wrote:
Poor quality in what regard?


Look at his account zombie and judge for yourself how valid his comment is.
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My apologies, I should have at least qualified my remark with an 'In my opinion'.

However, I do feel that any critique from a 'reviewer', no matter how credentialed, that misinterprets a key element of the game play does a disservice to both the game's creator and prospective players and, as such, would qualify as a poor review in my book.

Nothing personal or anything, we just disagree.

(I did like your blog story on the kids D&D session though...)
 
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Quote:
Look at his account zombie and judge for yourself how valid his comment is.

Interesting.... so in order to be taken seriously I need to get me some pretty Internet bling, is that it?

Nice.
 
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jstrong wrote:
Interesting.... so in order to be taken seriously I need to get me some pretty Internet bling, is that it?


No. It's just that you registered, and on the same day made a single post criticizing a long-standing and well-respected Geek. You had no other posts, no games, etc. So it is very possible that you are a known Geek who created a new account simply because you disagree with ynnen, and want to flame him without it seeming to come from someone else (like the designer of the game, just an example).

This review got more stars than any other review for W&W (tied with another). I think it's simply insulting to say it's poor quality, even in your opinion.
 
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Quote:
No. It's just that you registered, and on the same day made a single post criticizing a long-standing and well-respected Geek. You had no other posts, no games, etc. So it is very possible that you are a known Geek who created a new account simply because you disagree with ynnen, and want to flame him without it seeming to come from someone else (like the designer of the game, just an example).

For clarification purposes, I am a long-time visitor, first-time poster here and have no particular axe to grind against ynnen or anyone else for that matter.

Quote:
This review got more stars than any other review for W&W (tied with another). I think it's simply insulting to say it's poor quality, even in your opinion.

A. more stars, now I am sold.
B. Ummm... well... tough? I mean, I am sorry that you feel that way, but I think that you are being a bit over-sensitive to my criticism of your friend. I stand by my previous comments. It's nothing personal, but shouldn't the critic be able to handle some criticism?

According to his own manifesto, A is for Accuracy, right? Well, the existence of Price is Right fallacy above is evidence that he failed to follow his own guidelines in this case. (B for Brevity may also be a bit questionable but why go off on a tangent) In my experience and those of many others with whom I have discussed this issue, repeated plays of W&W with various types of groups disproves the PiR validity rather quickly and obviously.

 
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jstrong wrote:
However, I do feel that any critique from a 'reviewer', no matter how credentialed, that misinterprets a key element of the game play does a disservice ...


I understand and can agree with this statement, out of the context of this game. I guess I'm not sure what I'm misinterpreting -- I believe my rules explanations are accurate, and my description of how the lowball guessing could impact gameplay is clear and concise.

Now, I understand that not all game groups or gamers will play this way or even experience this sort of oddity - but I've played in 4 games where a single player consistently lowballed all the other players. He completely ignored making true guesstimates, relying instead on the few times his lowball answer offered good odds and a wide range to snag the best return on investment, or otherwise simply betting on which other player he thought would probably know that answer...

Regardless, I was just curious if you felt I was being inaccurate, or just didn't agree with my assesment. A lot of Geeks disagree with me, and that's fine. But I pride myself in being accurate and clear in my writing, and felt this review was -- even if the opinions aren't agreed with.
 
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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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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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ekted wrote:
So it is very possible that you are a known Geek who created a new account simply because you disagree with ynnen, and want to flame him without it seeming to come from someone else (like the designer of the game, just an example).

Wow! Did you really mean to insinuate that I might have something to do with Jason Strong's post? That's a little harsh! soblue
 
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Jim Cote
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domcrap wrote:
Wow! Did you really mean to insinuate that I might have something to do with Jason Strong's post? That's a little harsh! soblue


I was merely trying to show Jason Strong what might be inferred (rightly or not) from a new user posting what he did.
 
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