My extended family isn’t much into playing anything beyond party games, so I’m always on the lookout for titles that might be suitable for them — and SPIEL ’22 brought the release of three co-operative party games in which your goal is to collectively score as many points as possible: Not That Movie!, by Silvano Sorrentino and dV Giochi; 13 Words, by Romain Loussert and Captain Games; and Fun Facts, by Kasper Lapp and Repos Production. Weird.
(Oneironauts from Oleksandr Nevskiy and IGAMES is another co-operative party game that dropped at SPIEL ’22, but that title has a loss condition, so it’s not quite in the same design bucket. Also, I haven’t played it yet, so I can’t say anything more than “It exists.”)
In December 2021, I compared three similar party games — So Clover!, Cross Clues, and Crossed Words — and a year later I’m doing it again. Tis the season for party games, I guess…
Let’s start with 13 Words, which is the most straightforward of the bunch. Lay out twelve double-sided word cards around the game board, place one card in the center of the board, give each player a score tracker/answer wheel, then designate someone as captain.
Each round, the captain and all other players use their answer wheel to indicate the word on the perimeter of the game board that they think most matches the central word. What would you choose here, for example?
Choices in the first round for “Family”
More precisely, if you’re not the captain, you’re trying to choose the word that the captain will choose, but in practice you’re judging that association on your own on the assumption that as a fellow human, the captain and you will think along the same lines. This will not always work, of course, since humans tend not to think exactly the same way, but this game wouldn’t be much of a challenge if we did!
Anyway, once all the answer wheels have been placed down, the captain reveals their answer, and anyone who matches the captain scores 1 point. As long as at least one person matches the captain, the captain also scores 1 point. Thus, as a team you can score 0 points in a round (if the captain is a doofus and made a terrible choice) or anywhere from 2 to n points. You then flip the card that the captain chose into the center, pass the captain marker, and start another round:
“Japanese” was the obvious choice for the first round, right?!
After eleven rounds, the game ends, with the final round giving everyone a 50/50 shot of being correct:
Funny thing, though, is that you often have a 50/50 shot of being correct no matter how many cards are on the perimeter of the game board — and sometimes your chances are even higher than that. In the image above from the second round, did everyone choose “Light” to match “Star”? What would possibly be a better choice? And now we’ve flipped over “Light” to reveal “Harbour”…and doesn’t this round have a slam-dunk choice, too?
Each game of 13 Words — and I’ve played seven times with 4-7 players on a review copy and copies in the BGG Library — felt similar, with the early rounds having so many cards on display that you had either one sure-fire option or 2-3 decent options, with the remaining cards being noise at best. As the cards dwindled, the connections between words became more tenuous until you often felt like you were guessing randomly — barring the occasional obvious choice.
In a way, 13 Words plays like a reverse Codenames as in the early rounds of that latter game you’re often giving a clue word that has a tenuous connection to many of the words on the table, then as spies are identified and choices removed, you start giving more concrete clues since the chances of hitting the assassin increase. Well, that’s how I tend to give clues in Codenames, and part of the joy of that game is being able to creatively link things that would not normally be linked.
In 13 Words, on the other hand, you’re not trying to be creative; you’re trying to be obvious. You are punished for creativity, especially if you’re captain. For some audiences, this feeling will be fine. At BGG.CON 2022, we cheered or booed with the revelation of each captain’s choice, scored, and moved on, with some side talk over the game choices and no one really caring how we did. We spent time together, and that was that.
You might even think of the obvious choices as being a positive thing. Everyone gets to high five because you’re all on the same wavelength. Go team! See this happen enough times, though, and you’re like, well, duh, everyone’s going to choose the dog when presented with the silhouette of a dog and asked to find a match. Where’s the challenge in that?
Not That Movie! plays like 13 Words in that you’re all ideally landing on the same answer each round. In each of the five rounds, you lay out ten movie title cards to create eight fictional movies, then reveal two review cards — one positive (blue), one negative (purple). Everyone then secretly chooses which movie they think most matches the reviews. What would you choose in this case?
Unlike 13 Words, in which scoring is set as soon as everyone votes, in Not That Movie! scoring takes place bit by bit. One player places a NOT token on one of the eight movies, saying “Not that movie!”, and if everyone agrees that movie is a terrible choice — that is, no one has chosen that movie — then the NOT token stays color-side up and earns the team 1 point. If someone did choose that movie, flip the NOT token to its gray side.
The next player in clockwise order then places a NOT token, and this continues until either two gray NOT tokens are on the board or all seven NOT tokens have been placed. If all NOT tokens are color-side up — that is, everyone chose the same movie — then you score 1 bonus point, making 8 in total.
This movie-by-movie condemnation is more engaging than the all-at-once revelation of 13 Words, partly because whenever someone is outed (and others are stunned by their film choice), they lead everyone through their synopsis of the film in question to explain the connection — and that’s almost always interesting, both for the synopsis itself and for how you viewed the movie behind that title.
Unlike Codenames or So Clover!, games in which you’re challenged to be creative to help others make a connection, in Not That Movie! you’re quietly creative, internally creative, looking at all the movie titles and coming up with associations for each one, sometimes only vague notions of this one being noir, that one anime, and the other one a period romance…but sometimes the whole movie just jumps to mind, whether for something obvious like “Chariots vs. Aliens” or for the harder to pin down, such as “The Lion Driver”. (I’m imagining an invasive species that can only be tamed via ravenous lions that must be driven like buffalo from Tanzania to Gabon and our main character is a teenage dropout who cares for their aging grandmother.)
And then there’s absurdities like “Father Hole”, which had us giggling like middle schoolers all round. (For a PG-rated version of “Father Hole”, imagine that Mr. Nobody in Doom Patrol had managed to fold a piece of himself across multiple dimensions to spawn a new being. For other versions, I’ll say nothing more.)
Next on the marquee…
Each round in Not That Movie!, you confront three elements — the wacky movie titles, the reviews, and your fellow players’ choices — and each contributes to the creation of your internal films, twisting what first comes to mind like a surprise reveal in a thriller when the villain is discovered to be the protagonist’s secret twin that everyone thought had died at birth.
You also score points (or don’t), but that’s neither here nor there.
Fun Facts comes from the publisher of Just One and So Clover! — two other co-operative party games in which you shoot for a high score — but while those games inspire you to write something creative for your fellow players, this one focuses solely on writing…whatever.
In each of the eight rounds, players are presented with a question, such as the ones below:
Everyone writes a number — along with a unit of measurement, if appropriate — on a colored arrow that has their name on the obverse side of the arrow, then places their arrow name-side up. One player places their arrow in the center of the table, then the next player places their own arrow above or below this first arrow depending on whether they think their answer is higher or lower, then the third player places their arrow higher or lower than both arrows or between both arrows, and so on until all of the arrows have been placed. Finally, the first player can move their arrow where they wish in the row.
Players reveal the numbers on the arrows, then remove as few as possible so that the remaining arrows go from low to high. The team scores as many points as the number of arrows in the row, a value ranging from 1 to n. After eight rounds, you compare the team’s collective score against a chart to see how well you did — a feature in each of these three games that all players shrug off because the result means nothing.
One round’s results (image: Trent Howell)
Note that in the image above you could have removed 43 instead of 37 or 75 instead of 64 — and this arbitrariness adds to the shrugging feel of the game because you often have little say on where you end up in the line.
When I announced Fun Facts in September 2022, I misinterpreted one element of the gameplay, minimal as that is. I had written this: “After everyone has placed their answer in the center of the table, you have the opportunity to move your own arrow — without touching anyone else’s!” — but the “you” in that sentence applies only to the first player, not to everyone.
I had imagined that everyone would be adjusting their arrow repeatedly: “I’m on top.” “No, I’m definitely higher than you!” “How’d I end up on the bottom? I think I’m middle of the pack.” That is, you’d have some agency to pre-judge your standing amongst everyone else. Instead, if you’re the second player in a round, you get one shot to place your arrow, then up to six other people push you around wherever they want.
I realize, of course, that I could choose to play by whatever rules I want, but when assessing how a game works, I prefer to stick with the rules to understand the intent of the designer and publisher — and here you’re just kind of winging it.
A bigger concern with the design relates to the questions, which range widely from “party conversation” to “first date material” to “random fact that I’d never choose to talk about or care about how I compare to others”. How long does it take me to shower? How much coffee have I had? When do I wake up on weekdays?
What are you, my parents?! Let me live my life, and leave me alone! (Now you can guess my answer for “How easily offended are you?”)
We filtered out a lot of questions during the one game that we played because many of them seemed uninteresting. They’re not generating conversations; they’re creating trivia, and we’d rather spend our time in more interesting ways. The “rate yourself from 0 to 100” questions tended to be more interesting, but even those were hit or miss.
One person suggested that they were fine with players filtering out questions as they liked, while another suggested playing Time’s Up!-style, with everyone drafting a question or two and contributing them to the deck in secret. Either option is fine, but I’d rather not have to play developer to make the game more enjoyable for myself.
One fun thing that did result from our game came from this question:
Our answers were all over the place regarding the number of M&Ms we could fit in our mouth, and we started researching online to see whether others had answered this question…then later that same evening two of us decided to answer that question for real:
Guess how many M&Ms are in this glass:[o]Sixty.[/o]
A female friend managed to fit the above M&Ms into her mouth, then I shot my shot and did 82, roughly twice as many as I had guessed. Now I’ve learned something about myself, something that I almost took to my grave when an observer joked that he should be filming my attempt for BGG Twitter in case I choked and died, thereby causing me to laugh and almost choke. Good times.
I wish more of the Fun Facts questions fit the model above, challenging you to question something about yourself, to think about a situation you might not have encountered previously, to perhaps inspire you to undertake that situation to see how you really stack up against others. Unfortunately, that type of question seemed barely present.
Oh, and is it just me, or does the Fun Facts box look like it’s giving you the finger?
For more examples of gameplay and examination of how these games compare to one another, dive into the video below, which features me saying words and waving my hands around a fair amount: