Wednesday, 26 December 2012

A quiz-free zone ? Au contraire

Ah, well, it will all be over soon. What, Christmas ? No, sorry, I meant the quiz free zone of the last few days. No Pointless – no BoB – no Christmas UC – no Sleb Mastermind, and no quiz to go to in the evening.

I have to thank my kids for anticipating this , and heading off any chance of me developing withdrawal symptoms, with their choice of presents this year. Amongst the goodies were several quiz games – namely Scattergories – the QI game – The Chase Board Game and the Pointless Board Game. Well, you know what it’s like – there’s no point having them if you’re not going to play them. Let’s say a little bit more about them, then.

Scattergories first really crossed my path a few months ago when I made a post about a quiz game I owned as a kid, called Tell me. At least one person commented that Scattergories was a similar game with a similar appeal, and I have to say that they had a point. Inside your game box you get a set of list cards. each card contains 6 lists, and each list has 12 different categories. You also get a 20 sided dice, which has different letters on each face, and a set of score sheets. You pick the list of categories you want to play with, and then roll the dice. whichever letter lands face up, then you have to write down something for each of the 12 categories which starts with that letter. A rather natty electronic timer comes in your box, and you start it as soon as each player is ready. As soon as the timer runs out, then you have to stop writing. Scoring is simple. If your answer for a particular category is not also given by any other player, then you get a point for it. In case of a dispute as to whether an answer really fits within a category or not, a vote of all players ensues, and the majority verdict goes. You get two rounds with the same list, and then, at the bottom of the card is just one category. For the last round each player has until the time runs out to write down as many things within the category as they can which begin with the letter that is rolled on the dice. Same rules apply, only unique answers score points. After the three rounds add up the scores , and the one with the highest score wins. Simple.

It is not startlingly original – in fact kids at the school in which I teach play a paper and pencil version called Boy Girl – but it’s a very good format. A game takes no more than between 10 – 15 minutes to play, and it really isn’t about luck, so much as it’s about knowledge and judgement. Which come to think of it is a pretty good recommendation, I’d say.

I think that anyone trying to make a game out of Q.I. was giving themselves several headaches. Firstly, it isn’t a game show. It is a panel show. Yes, it does follow a sort of quiz format, but it’s not one which readily lends itself to playing at home. Secondly the point of the show is proving that things you may think you know aren’t always true, and that the real facts are very often Quite Interesting. You score points either by answering questions correctly, which is unlikely, or by coming up with some interesting facts of your own. You lose points – many of them, by answering questions wrongly, in a way which sets off the klaxon because it is the expected wrong answer. You’ve seen the show , you know how it works.

So the question is , how do you translate this format into a game that is playable at home ? Paul Lamond’s answer is the Q.I. Board game. The game is played out on a board which is divided into two halve, the top mirroring the bottom. Each player only plays on one half of the board at a time, it doesn’t matter which. These halves of the board are traditional It’s rather reminiscent of a snakes and ladders board without the snakes or the ladders. Move along the board, and the first to the end is the winner.

OK – so far so straightforward. Now, in order to move along the board you have to answer questions. All the questions are in a book. They are a bit of a mixture. Multiple choice – some of them are typical QI questions, and some of them are a lot more straightforward. Get it right, and move on. Get it wrong and you stay there. However, I haven’t mentioned the klaxon yet.

Yes, there is an electronic klaxon as part of the game. You see, some answers are klaxon answers, and incur penalties. Also, if you think someone else has given a klaxon answer, then you can set it off yourself, with various penalties and rewards .

This is not a seamless translation of a TV format in the way that both The Chase and Pointless are, and I have to say that it’s not as satisfying a game as they are. Which brings me to . . .

The Chase. If you’ve ever been a regular viewer of the Chase – and a lot of people out there have - you’ll know that it consists of three distinct rounds – the cashbuilder – the ladder – the final chase. I was intrigued to see how this game would incorporate these three distinct stages into the game

It actually does so very well. One of the main pieces of game kit that you get for your money is the electronic timer and buzzer. This enables you to play against the clock in both the cashbuilder round, and the Final chase. I think that the game’s designers made a fundamentally correct decision in the basics of the game in not having one player to be the chasers. This is how it works. You each play individually against the clock, answering questions to earn cash. Each question earns £1000. After you’ve all gone, then you pick up a card with the corresponding amount of cash on the blue side. Then you turn it over, and see the other two offers, the high one for taking a step closer to the Chaser, and the low one for taking a step further away. Here’s the clever bit. You each have your own Chaser following you ! The second set of question cards give you a 3 multiple choice questions on each side, and , crucially, tell you which Chasers get them right, and which get them wrong. To move down the ladder, just keep answering them correctly, just like the show. If you get caught, then just like the show, you’re out. The person who carries the greatest amount of money through , then that’s the person who faces the final chase.

The final chase. As a straight and serious general knowledge quizzer I loved this round. 2 minutes of quickfire general knowledge questions against the clock. Hmm, that sounds familiar. Two of the opposing players combine to play the Chaser. If they catch you, you’re out, if they don’t , you win ! Yippee ! Unlike the show I would say that the player has the advantage over the chaser in this round. Mind you it all depends on the strength of the players involved.

I think that it’s a good idea not having one player condemned to just playing the chaser. I think back to childhood, and an enjoyable yet complicated board game called Escape from Colditz. Playing this game was dependent on someone being willing to play the German guards, which was, as I recall, a singularly unrewarding role. However I will say that rather than sharing the question master duties this one works better if someone is willing to just be question master for the game. Speed of asking the questions is vital for the cashbuilder round and the final chase. This means it’s better to have the same person asking for everyone.

All in all a good game which is faithful to the original show, and the quiz game I’ve most enjoyed playing over the last few days.

Which is not to say anything against the Pointless game. Like The Chase, this game tries very hard to replicate the gameplay of the show itself, and does so pretty well in my opinion. I’ve gone on a bit about the other games, for which I apologise, so I’ll try to be a little more succinct about this one. It has the same rounds as the show, although cleverly it avoids players being knocked out . So you all go through to the final, but if there are three teams playing, then the team which has done best gets three guesses, the next best two , and the last only one. It’s all done with cards, and this was a little fiddly, since there are 4 different sets of them. Still, you need them, because these are what actually makes the game work.

Bearing in mind that I’d won in Scattergories, Q.I. and The Chase ( see, I told you before that I can’t deliberately play to lose, and that I’m horrible to play against ) I agreed to let the kids fight this one out, and I just acted as questionmaster. Mind you, I found that interesting enough bearing in mind the ‘oh really’ factor about a lot of the categories. If I’m honest it didn’t quite grab me as much as playing the final chase in the chase game, but it’s still very enjoyable.

Now , in case you're worrying that me beating my kids at these games might inflict any lasting psychological trauma upon them, please don’t. For one thing they are all grown up – the youngest two will be celebrating their joint 19th birthday in 2013, but also they have wiped the floor with me in several games of The Simpsons electronic Monopoly over the last couple of days. But that, as they say, is another story.


dxdtdemon said...

Reading your final comment, I was just curious if the reason that there are fewer quizzing opportunities in the UK compared to other Anglophone countries was because no one wanted the kids feelings hurt.

Londinius said...

Hi dxdtdemon

Very interesting question, and I've tried to address it in my next post.