Quelf is a silly game. For those of us who are mature enough to appreciate silliness as an art form, it is both a bench- and a watermark of wackiness.

If you find yourself unwilling to, for example, “suck your thumb in silence and start rolling the dice. When you roll a ‘3,’ shout, ‘Get off my land!’ in your best chipmunk voice,” mayhap Quelf is not exactly your kind of game.

There are five decks of cards, each a different color. There’s a board. Each space on the board is a different color. Hence, each turn you must draw from one of the decks. Each turn. The decks? There’s “Showbiz” (e.g. “You are now a professor of archeology with a lisp. Give us a dissertation on archaeological discoveries in your backyard during the last 10 years.”), and Quizzle, (for another example, “How many fingers does a one-armed and thumbless woman have?), Scatterbrainz (everybody takes turns, trying, without repeating, to add to a list of answers for such questions as “Ways to get your leg out of a spring-loaded, steel bear trap.”), Stuntz (see “suck your thumb,” above), and the fortuitously Curses-like deck of “Roolz” (“For the remainder of the game, every sentence that you speak must end with the words ‘Hear me, for I have spoken.’ If you forget, pay the penalty.”).

Then, on every card, there’s also a “Quelf Effect” – additional rules, adding clarity sometimes, creating chaos others.

Quelf is the kind of game you’ll want to devote most of the evening to. Not that it’s complex or profound, but rather because the consequences of all those different decks become more apparent, and more hilarious as the game unfolds. It may take a while to manifest themselves. It takes a few rounds before you can truly grasp the implications of the various decks and the exacerbating joys of their Quelf Effects, but by that time you’ll probably be laughing too much to notice.

Quelf is a masterpiece of silliness. Hence, Major FUN.

GiftTRAP – a kinder kind of party game

GiftTRAP is a party game about giving each other gifts. The better you are at giving people the things they really want, the better you do at the game.

How do you like that for a party game premise? giving each other presents.

Well, we loved it!

What fun to think about what other people might want for a present! What a fun thing to think about for a change! What a fun way to play with other people – giving presents to the very people you’re trying to beat, winning because you’re good at guessing what other people might want!

OK, so they’re not, like, real presents. They’re only photos. But in the world of GiftTRAP, they’re real enough. So real enough that you actually get excited when people give you the gifts you really want. Really excited. Even though they get more points than you do. And you’re just as excited when you give people the gifts they most really wanted. Because they get excited. And, just maybe because you get more points than they do.

GiftTRAP is masterfully packaged. The board, for example, is folded into a U-shape that fits everso well into the GiftTRAP box (well, cube, actually). Since each player has to use a lot of different pieces (2 scoring markers, 9 gift tokens, and 4 choice tokens), all of the player’s chosen color; the pieces come in their own individual, appropriately colored organza drawstring bags. Then there are the many decks of cards – 640 of them. Just so you never run out of something new to give each other.

But it’s the game itself that deserves the most attention, and praise. Praise, because it’s probably the first and only party game in which empathy is a strategically valuable commodity, empathy and intuition, sensitivity and appreciation, even.

GiftTRAP is a new kind of party game. A kinder kind. A Major FUN kind.

Luck of the Draw

Luck of the Draw is described as “a game for the artistically challenged.” And I am happy to tell you that this turns out to be a remarkably accurate description of the very people who will have the most fun playing it: the people who don’t like games that make them draw.

Which is exactly what Luck of the Draw does. It makes you draw. Things like: a monkey or a space shuttle or a bad hair day; a piranha, a used car or a dream date (there are three things to draw on each card, see, and the roll of the die tells you which one).

But the part of the game that makes the drawing actually fun and the fun actually Major, comes from another deck of cards, called “categories.” Categories like: “most over the top,” “most dramatic,” “stands out like a sore thumb.”

For it turns out that these cards, these “category” cards, serve as the criteria by which the drawings are judged, don’t you know. So, pretty much despite my assiduous efforts at a 45-second 3-D rendering of the Eiffel Tower in perspective with enticing hints of a chiaroscoro-like Parisian dawn, if the category turns out to be “Best Example of Minimalism,” I have no myopic critics to rail against, and nothing to show for my outstanding efforts but unrequited artistic angst. Whilst you, who only managed to draw a large, narrow, and somewhat crooked “A,” bask in the applause of your peers.

And for those players who have professional artistic aspirations, Luck of the Draw is a preternaturally poignant experience, capturing, with unavoidable clarity, the famously fickle fortunes of those who stake their livelihood on the currentmost definitions of “good art.”

Knowbody Knows

Knowbody Knows, for example, exactly how many hours Tom Hanks sleeps in a week. Probably not even Mr. Hanks knows that. So, OK, so you don’t know. You can still guess.

Now, can you also guess what everybody else is going to guess? Can you guess if your guess will be, heaven forfend, highest or lowest? Actually, you can. Because, see, it’s only a guess, and, as the designers of the game are so ready to remind us, Knowbody, actually, Knows.

Everybody gets a different pad of paper – each pad color-coordinated with the player’s peg-like playing piece. Each sheet of each pad perforated to easily be torn into slips. Why do I go to such great lengths to describe a score pad? Because it’s a devilishly clever way to make the game work as well as it does. See, that way, all you have to do is write down your guess (did I tell you that all the questions can be answered with numbers?) so all the answers are on different slips of paper, that can be sorted from highest to lowest, and you take off the highest and lowest and everybody can tell, at a glance, whose guesses are in the middle (and hence scoreworthy).

And not a negilgible bit of deviltry is added by the design of the question cards them very selves. Each question is framed with a blank, like: “How much would ____ pay for a pill that: A) Improves Memory Two-fold, B) Doubles the Power of Sleep, C) Eliminates Unwanted Hair Forever, D) You Pick.” When it’s your turn to read the question, you fill in the blank with the name (did I tell you about the list of 12 names, the one everyone makes at the beginning of the game, using their own names if they want, filling in the extra blanks with any name they think would be fun thinking about?) that is selected by the roll of a 12-sided die. This keeps the questions interesting and potentially open-ended. It also made us comment, separately and collectively, when discussing a particular answer and the significance thereof, “It really doesn’t matter. Knowbody Knows.”

We played. We laughed. We experienced the kind of fun the Major Fun award was designed to be awarded for.

Wits & Wagers

Wits & Wagers combines trivia with betting to create a unique party game – one that can involve anywhere from 3 to 21 players in an evening or half-hour worth of relatively painless trivia questions and sometimes near-painful strategizing.

The trivia questions are all answered with numbers. e.g.: “How many times to the Beatles sing the word ‘Yeah’ in the song She Loves You?” and “According to July 2004 estimates, how many people live in the U.S.?” Players record their answers on write-on, wipe-off cards, with write-on, wipe-off markers (supplied). What makes this all somewhat kinder and gentler is that the likelihood of anyone knowing the actual answer is very low. So, it’s more like a guessing game – anything from educated to wild will do. Which makes the whole game far more inviting and replete with jollitude than most exercises in trivia.

Then there’s the betting. Answers are arranged numerically on the heavy duty vinyl betting mat (probably one of the thickest and most durable ever put into a game). The median answer has the lowest pay off because it is the most likely answer to be correct. Higher and lower answers have increasingly higher pay offs since they are riskier bets. Players bet their chips on which guess is the closest, without going over (what one might be tempted to call the “Price is Right” rule). Since you don’t have to bet on your own guess, the betting round is like an exercise in second guessing, only with more information. Like what each player is willing to bet on which answer – especially since you can bet on two different answers. As your opinion tends to undergo massive changes once you see what all of your friends think, winning Wits & Wagers becomes less a demonstration of what you know than of how well you know the people you’re playing with!

Designed by Dominic Crapuchettes, Wits & Wagers is a rare accomplishment – combining two ordinarily very different game concepts into something unique and uniquely playworthy.

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