Table of Contents
|Name||Wits & Wagers Family (2010)|
|Review||Meeple Like Us|
|BGG Rank||1341 [6.94]|
|Artist(s)||Jacoby O'Connor and Shawn Wilson (I)|
|Buy it!||Amazon Link|
I’m not really a fan of trivia games, or trivia in general. Wits and Wagers Family made a decent attempt to solve a lot of the problems I perceive in such endeavours but in the end it fell short of being truly compelling. We gave it two and a half stars in our review, noting that it does do something interesting with the questions but in the end there’s only so far its design can take you into the vicinity of fun. That said, you do need to temper that conclusion with the introduction to the review which says essentially ‘This game is going to have to work incredibly hard for every star I begrudgingly award’.
I don’t think we’ve covered a trivia game before on Meeple Like Us, so this is uncharted territory for the work we do. We’re going in here without a map, and will need some deep knowledge to make progress through this untamed wilderness. Unfortunately, all we have is a list of the national birds of American states and a conversion chart for acres into furlongs. Information is information though, right? That’s the whole point of trivia.
I’m sure we’ll be fine.
There are palette problems in the player boards, but the effect they have on gameplay is harder to predict.
Certainly here a player with colour blindness will often be in a position where they mix up ownership of answers, and that has an implication when it comes to placing bids for which is most likely to be correct. If Jessica is the one you think is most likely to be right it’ll be awkward if you can’t tell her board apart from John who is least likely. You can ask who is who, but that will reveal some intention and may give hints to everyone else that you might have a firm idea of the safe bet.
However, it’s not quite as bleak as all that because the answers will also come with unique hand-writing and if you can recognise one person’s writing from another any ambiguity will quickly resolve itself. That does though depend on everyone having a distinctive hand that comes across in numeral form. You might also find that you can workshop something with different coloured erasable pens if you have them handy. Or just have everyone put their initials on the board. The colours are a problem but there are lots of easy workarounds.
The meeples, despite being the same colours, are still easy to distinguish in most circumstances. Unfortunately knowing who has bet what and where is only really useful to know when scoring and so it doesn’t offset the problem with the boards.
The question cards don’t make use of colour as a channel of information. They are clearly marked with question and answer sides and in any case have only a ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ section to them.
We recommend Wits and Wagers in this category. The colour choices are a problem but the fact you’re writing on the boards makes it very easy to work around the issue.
Provided one player (or a set of sighted players) is willing to act as question-master it’s likely that Wits and Wagers is fully playable for those with visual impairments, including total blindness. The determinant factor is whether someone is comfortable marking a legible number on a small whiteboard. If that’s not appropriate, there are other options such as another player marking the board when the initial guessing phase has finished. Ideally there should be no way for anyone to influence anyone else during guessing to ensure that nothing is anchored outside of personal experience but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if it were.
Once the guesses have been made the bidding process also lends itself well to play with sighted support. There won’t be too many answers and they’ll all be laid out in ascending order. All a player need do is indicate which guess gets their biggest meeple and which gets their smallest. That might be guided by what other people have bid but the state of bids is easily verbalizable. ‘Most of us have bid on Jasmine but Roz and Peter have two little meeples each’.
It’s unlikely that Wits and Wagers would be appropriate in a group where there are no sighted players available to handle questions, but otherwise we feel that we can recommend it in this category.
Trivia games are probably never going to score highly in this category – they expect considerable amounts of general knowledge and that puts a huge stress on memory and also education, which in itself is a complex multi-faculty endeavour linked to comprehension over the long term. Simply put – to have a command of trivial facts one must know a lot of trivial things from a lot of different categories, and be able to reliably recall them.
Wits and Wagers though does have one important affordance here – it doesn’t actually need people to get the right answer. Instead it needs people to get closest without going over. This does significantly relax the expectations on memory as compared to something like Trivial Pursuit. Unfortunately the nature of the questions here replace that memory burden with a guesstimation process that more heavily stresses fluid intelligence. We saw some examples of typical thought patterns in the review – they are somewhat creative and they mostly involve extrapolation, estimation and explicit numeracy.
Here’s another example. ‘How many chests of tea were thrown into the water during the Boston Tea Party?’
If you don’t know the answer you can calculate something out. What’s that calculation like? Well, it depends – how many ships were there? How many chests of tea did a typical ship carry? How long did the endeavour last, and how many people were involved? You can fill in the blanks here, if you have enough relevant historical context and education, and come up with a reasonable estimate. Each question, short of those with popular culture answers, can be approached a Fermi estimation – we can do well by referencing our own physical intuition. Our quantitative guesses will usually not be off by more than an order of magnitude for each unknown quantity. We know that 5 ships is reasonable. 50 is a high-end estimate. 500 seems unlikely. A ship can probably hold 100 chests. Maybe 1000 at a push if everyone doesn’t mind being forced into the corners. 10000 is far too high.
Unfortunately Fermi calculations are heavily informed by experience and the ability to articulate such experience, and then to apply that experience to an unfamiliar problem. It’s a task of recontextualization and restructuring not just the estimates but the relationships between them – we can calculate ships multiplied by chests, but then we need to work out how many chests per minute could a person throw overboard, multiplied by how many people were there and so on. You don’t need to know the answer and that’s good. Working it out though is much more difficult.
To be fair there’s no need for anyone to get a right answer – all that’s needed is to have an answer and guess at who is likely to be closest. That’s not hugely satisfying in a trivia game though.
Other than this, there’s a fair amount of literacy required to read questions, and explicit numeracy when it comes to answering them. The ability to seriate is important as is a conception of orders of magnitude when assessing the most likely answers.
We can’t recommend Wits and Wagers in either of these categories, even in the family version. However, it’s a little more complex than this – often these sections are, I’ve been told, a useful proxy in working out whether a game is suitable for play with children. It’s not a clean mapping and I don’t want to imply it ever could be – but as a place to start looking for suitable games beyond the often-arbitrary age ratings on the box it’s not terrible. Here the problem is not one of complexity or game difficulty but rather in the link between cognition and estimation. Wits and Wager’s branding as a family game is appropriate. I’d recommend it for play with children because the questions are so open ended and even, dare I say, educational. It’s still not a game I’d consider to be an especially strong candidate with regards to cognitive accessibility.
Some people put a lot of stock in their trivia abilities, and that’s always going to make it a difficult sell to put a new game in front of them. The way many trivia games are structured are to give categories in which competence can be demonstrated. Sports, science, history, etc. Wits and Wagers doesn’t do anything like that – all the questions, bar a few, are all but impossible to answer. All of them, barring a few, can be reasonably guesstimated. That estimation though often depends on specialist knowledge. There’s a fair margin of error that the game permits because it uses the Price is Right style ‘nearest without going over’ metric for correctness. In other words, subject specialism isn’t going to save anyone here but it can refine the guesses people make.
There are some odd dynamics here in play too – it’s not that anyone can gang up on anyone else but there’s definitely an extent to which freeloading is permitted. If you have the right answer, you might find everyone else around the table ends up with more points just because they bet on you and you bet on someone else. It’s common to be uncertain of whether you’re the best bet because you know the fragility of your chain of logic, and as such you can find yourself in the weird position of enabling everyone else to comprehensively best you in scoring. It’s like someone made a game about the Dunning Kruger effect. It’s not likely to happen every time, but it’s likely to happen occasionally. Technically this doesn’t cost you anything but it also doesn’t benefit you at all. It’s better to come up with wrong answers and bet well than it is to come up with right answers and bet poorly. However, it can also be galling to be the one person that nobody wants to bet on.
That said, I don’t want to over-stress this – Wits and Wagers is designed as a family game and there is a cheerful collegiality that shines through as a result. It’s safer for game night than Trivial Pursuit and provided nobody takes it too seriously I can’t see many problems that are especially likely to emerge in most circumstances. We’ll recommend Wits and Wagers in this category.
The game assumes players are able to legibly write numbers on a player board, but if that’s not a reasonable assumption it’s not a deal-breaker. As discussed in the section on visual accessibility there’s nothing to stop someone giving a verbal answer that is written down by someone else provided their guess doesn’t influence others.
We’ll strongly recommend Wits and Wagers in this category.
There’s no representational art in the game and the manual makes use of gender-neutral pronouns. Some of the questions are likely to be a little inaccessible to a non-USA audience (we skipped over a number of them when playing) but otherwise a strong performance here. Admittedly a strong performance because of the absence of errors rather than anything else.
Wits and Wagers has an RRP of around £20 and while that’s not bad for a game that scales up to five players it’s also one that has a fixed shelf life. In fact, it scales up pretty much infinitely if you’re happy with everyone playing on a team. It comes with 125 question cards, and each question card has two questions. That’s 250 questions which isn’t really a lot. it’s not that you can’t redo questions once you’ve gone through them all but it’s a bit like repeating a crossword puzzle. It’s only challenging as long as you don’t remember the answers. You might be able to eke out more life by using it with different groups each time but there’s definitely going to come a point where all the questions have been drained of their life for at least the game’s owner.
We’ll recommend, just, Wits and Wagers here but bear in mind you’re buying a game with an expiry date. That said, that’s true of Trivial Pursuit too and that costs £25. It’s just a bitter pill you’ll need to swallow when you buy any trivia game I suppose.
A considerable amount of literacy is required to play and there’s no way you can really get past the need for an extensive and often specialist vocabulary in the game’s language. ‘How many states seceded from the Union during the US Civil War’ – seceded is not a word that is usually first and foremost in a secondary language speaker’s vocabulary. That said, there’s nothing lost in asking for a definition of necessary words if the problem is with the specific language and not more fundamentally with articulation and hearing.
Many of the questions revolve around America and so there’s also a kind of ‘historical and pop cultural literacy’ that is going to hugely advantage those with a US American language background. There’s no formal need for communication during play otherwise, although the ability to legibly write Arabic numerals is required.
Generally the game will be played with a question master reading out the question and everyone writing their responses. For players that are deaf or hard of hearing the question card can be passed to them for reading, although that stresses literacy farther than might be possible.
We’ll tentatively recommend Wits and Wagers in this category, with the primary determinant being whether or not English (and American English at that) is a first language or one in which everyone is conversationally fluent.
If visual or physical impairment intersected with a communication impairment that impacted upon hearing or articulation it might not be feasible to play with any of the compensatory regimes we’ve outlined above. For those where colour blindness intersects with other visual impairments it would likely become even more difficult to distinguish answers, at least without close inspection, because handwriting would be more difficult to make out. That would perhaps force players into the position of playing with verbalisation even if it wouldn’t otherwise be necessary.
Other than this, Wits and Wagers can be as slow or as rapid fire as everyone likes and can be scaled up to the enthusiasm and comfort of the group with regards to play time. Play can be to a set number of points and if a longer game is desired every space on the board could represent the sum of points rather than an entry to be marked off. The box suggests 20 minutes play time and that feels about right, bearing in mind it’s largely up to the players how long it actually takes. Individual questions can be handled very quickly.
If players need to drop out during the game it can be handled smoothly although with an impact on how much fun the game will be. A minimum of three players / teams are required for the game to function and provided that is permitted the loss of any individual player need not stop the game from reaching its termination.
The unusual nature of the cognitive processing that goes into questions here is an obvious problem from an accessibility perspective. Aside from this Wits and Wagers Family has a relatively strong profile. The tentative recommendations are contingent on certain manifestations and intersections of preference and background so must there be taken with a grain of salt.
I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about the intersection of accessibility and trivia – there are relatively few hobbyist games in the trivia mould and up until now it just hasn’t come up. It’s an interesting area though and I should make an effort to seek out more material to compare and contrast. Watch this space.
Wits and Wagers didn’t change my view on trivia games but I can certainly see it as being a considerable step up from things like Trivial Pursuit or even your average quiz night at your average pub. While the nature of the exercise makes it cognitively problematic, there’s reason to believe everyone else would be on relatively strong ground if they fancied giving it a go. At two and a half stars we can’t offer much of an endorsement, but maybe you don’t have quite such a grudge against trivia games from the get go. Maybe it’s more your kind of thing than it is mine.
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Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.
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