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Subject: Probe -- Play Hangman Instead? rss

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Josiah Fiscus
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My fiancee is an avid thrift store shopper and when she went clothes shopping I told her to see if they had any games that looked good. She grabbed Probe for me for 99c. I opened it up and was greeted by a bunch of long sheets of paper with blue crayon markings scribbled all over them. When I sorted through and threw away all the used papers, I was left with a deck of cards, a tablet of the long strips of paper, rules, and four orange trays. Upon reading the rules, I thought, "This sounds a lot like Hangman." Upon reading the BGG comments I thought "This sounds a lot like Hangman." Then I played it, and I was actually somewhat surprised.

Now, granted, this is an easy game to teach anyone who has ever played Hangman, but there is much more to it than that. First of all, each player chooses a word and writes it, one letter in each box, on one of the sheets of paper. The orange trays are then used to hold the paper, and the flaps cover the letters. Boxes not containing a letter are left open. "Now wait," you think, "so everyone knows how many letters long my word is before the game even really starts?" Well no. In one of the more ingenious additions to hangman, the Probe designers decided that you may also use dots. Dots are essentially spaces, but they start out covered by the tabs. You are limited to 5 dots, but do not have to use any. Dots must be place only at the begining or end of your word (or next to other dots). Thus, a typical word might be ".cellular..." As there are only 12 spaces, this also allows a word like "cellular" to start with all the tabs closed. Your board faces away from you, so all other players can see letters as they are revealed.

But wait! There's more! In the scoring of the game, a player gets points (5-15, depending on the tab) each time he guesses another player's letter. This also applies to guessing dots. Now here is where the balance comes in. You give other players the possibility of getting more points for each dot you use (no points can be scored for blanks, which start out open). However, it allows you to better conceal your word. The second way in which dots are balanced is in their guessing: You may guess "dot" instead of a letter from a person. If you are wrong though, you lose 50 points. When you simply guess a letter that isn't there, your turn just ends. Thus, dots are very common, but a high guessing risk. These are what really makes the game, in my opinion.

Alright, so each player has selected a word and dots and closed the tabs (except blanks). Now the fun begins. The first player reveals the top card of the draw pile. Most of them say "take your normal turn" basically meaning nothing exciting happens, but some do some pretty cool stuff. Some cards add instant points (10 or 20) and some even take away your points instantly (-10). Some force you to reveal a letter or dot of your choice from your own tray (Ouch! At least no other player gets points for this!). Some let you force the player to your left/right to reveal a letter or dot (YAY! you DO score points for this!). Some even let you take an additional turn as soon as your current one is finished (everyone's favorite).

Once the card has been dealt with, the player begins to guess. When guessing, you select a player and guess a letter or dot (but guessing a dot is risky, as discussed above). Now, this isn't Wheel of Fortune (or even hangman, in this regard). If Timmy's word is "apple" and you guess "p", you only see one of the "p"s (whichever one Timmy chooses to reveal). A correct guess allows you to keep guessing letters, from Timmy or from anyone else at the table. Other players will want to pay close attention so they do not repeat letters which have already received a "no" response from a given player. But keeping track of 2 or 3 other boards at the same time is very difficult, especially when even letters that have already been guessed once may still exist on that player's tray.

For revealing the final tab (letter or dot) from a player, you get 50 bonus points. For GUESSING a word which still has at least 5 tabs closed, you get 100 bonus points, plus all the points from the tabs which are then revealed. You can even guess the word when it isn't your turn. A wrong guess gets you -50 though, so you'd better be sure. Once your word is revealed though, you are not eliminated (thumbs up to this!) and in fact can still win. Play continues until only one player has a board with tabs still closed. Then everyone gets one more turn (including the player with the unguessed board, who simply draws a card and hopes for instant points, since he will have nothing to guess). However, being the last one with letters is a big deal, because if you are the last one and no one guesses your word by the end of the game, you get 50 points. If no one guesses it by the end and there are still 5 un-revealed tabs, you get 100 bonus points.

All in all, the point values are well balanced, the cards add fun and not confusion, there is no player elimination, no extensive vocabulary is required, and it goes far beyond hangman because of the management of so many words at the same time. Strategy is partly in your initial word choice, and partly in how you guess (dots or not?). Honestly, I am not a fan of word games. They seem to usually test knowledge rather than strategic ability or luck. (Trivia games also suffer from this, usually even moreso.) But this one can be played with people of all ages (as long as you pick words people have heard of) and is more about remembering guesses and taking risks than about knowing the biggest words. Even small words can do quite well as they give less points and have will require more trial and error. They also make it nigh-impossible for opponents to recieve the 100 point bonus, since you won't have 5 letters still closed by the time they guess it. A heavy dose of strategy makes this way more fun than hangman. Nevertheless, it is still a word game, and does have a healthy dose of luck. Not really my cup of tea, but if I HAD to play a wordgame, this would be it. The delightful snapping sound that the tabs make when they close is just the icing on the cake. 6.5 out of 10.
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Josiah Fiscus
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Thanx! It was my first review so I am glad at least someone found it useful.
 
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Gary Webster
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From the title, I expected a fairly negative review. Instead, I found a useful review that echoed my experience with the game, though it's been years since I've played it. I even have an older version of the game, with a letter on each of many, many cards that fit nicely into one of twelve slots, but otherwise the game is the same.

Good review.
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John Mitchell
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Very good review. Probe is one of our favorite family games for vacations and holidays. However, all the players need to be at approximately the same level of intellectual development for the game to work well. One of the great thrills in Probe is stumping opponents with words that are truly common words but which have unusual letter combinations that make them especially hard to guess, even with some of the letters exposed. Examples that immediately come to mind are "rhythm" and "vacuum."
 
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Alex Warner
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This was an excellent review. I have always enjoyed playing probe as a beer and pretzels game as people start to arrive to a gathering. Probe is incredibly easy to explain but has a lot more strategy/skill involved than many people give it credit for.
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Timothy Young
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Ogden
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Thanks for this great review. I passed this up at a thrift store the other day. Now I want to go back to get it.

-Tim
 
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