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Posted on Fri, Mar 19, 2010 : 8 a.m.

Party games that don't end the party

By Mike Hulsebus


Wits and Wagers in progress

Mike Hulsebus | Contributor

Just in time for the weekend, today on Critical Hits we look at some party games before going to regular Monday posts starting next week.

If you love trivia and love drawing out a game until everyone is sick of it, Trivial Pursuit is for you. If you like having fun, Wits and Wagers will be more up your alley. It's not that I dislike trivia — as you will see when I review Wits and Wagers — it’s that I dislike trivia for trivia’s sake.

In order to win Trivial Pursuit, you not only must get a question in each category correct, but your pawn must be on the one correct space on the board that earns you a tiny plastic pie piece. Games end in a near stalemate in which players try to hop back and forth on spaces near their worst category until finally the planets align and they get an easy question while in the right place.

Wits and Wagers, on the other hand, is a trivia game where you don't have to know trivia to win. It can help, yes, but the questions are deliberately designed so that no one at the table likely knows the exact answer. Questions are often based around statistics: How many cups of coffee does the average American drink in a year? How much did a three-day Woodstock ticket cost at the gate on the first day? What was the lowest temperature every recorded in Hawaii in degrees Farenheit? How many Americans were injured in bathtubs or showers in 2001?

For some questions, your knowledge may help you. You may be able to guess when the first American newspaper was established if you know old a paper like the New York Times is. On other questions, no one could every be expected to know. This aspect may frustrate some, but for me, it is what makes the game fun for the whole group rather than just a few people. Even a quiz master like Ken Jennings might not win a game of Wits and Wagers. Players do score extra points if their answer was closest, but a player could go the whole game without getting a question right and still win due to how scoring works.

Let’s do a sample question together so that you can see the mechanics. We'll use the following question as an example: Over the 5-year period from 1999 to 2003, what percent of the U.S. recording industry’s dollar sales were to consumers under 30 years old? Feel free to guess along; I’ll put the answer at the end of the post.

Players write their name and their guess on a mini white board and simultaneously reveal them. Answers are put on the board in order.


Mike Hulsebus | Contributor

Then players may bet (with chips, not real money of course) on which answer they think is closest without going over. Players have a lot to consider when betting:

  • Cards that are farther away from the center pay out more; notice how if Kat’s answer is right, it pays out 4 to 1.
  • Boomer might not be worth betting even if you think she has a good chance of being right: a bet on Boomer’s answer is betting that the answer will be in the narrow range between 72% and 77.14%.
  • Two people put down 50%. Do they know something about the question that you don’t, or did they just pick it because it was a nice round number?

Players can split their bets between two answers, and, once the answer is revealed, the person whose answer was closest receives bonus chips. Everyone that guessed the correct answer receives a payout according to the space the answer was on.

The game has been a hit each time I’ve played it, though the game may not be pure enough for hardcore trivia buffs. Wits and Wagers is available at Get Your Game On, Target and Amazon.


Apples to Apples is a game that you can't omit when talking about party games. I have played it enough that it has gotten old to me, but if you haven't played it and need an easy-to-teach party game, just buy it. I can pretty much guarantee that people will like it. If you’re not familiar with it, check out its Board Game Geek profile.


Triviathon is a game I haven't played but have been interested in since I read about it. It is a trivia game but not so much a party game in that it is better suited for a small group of players looking to go through some interesting questions. Each turn, players draw a card and then choose the number of spaces they want to move based on which option they think has the highest number. See the example card at right.

Wits and Wagers Answer: In the example, the correct answer was 43.64 percent, so players that bet on Tom's answer would receive four times their original bet and play would continue on to the next round. Kat apparently didn't think that people over the age of 30 enjoy music.

Join me on Monday as we look at the “game“ of Mouse Trap and get a little more obscure with a review of a card game called Dominion. Spoiler alert: it’s the best game I have played in a long time. Until then, what games do you have that play well with a large number of players? Let’s discuss your favorites in the comments.

Mike Hulsebus, on average, drinks two cups of coffee a day and was not alive during the first Woodstock concert. If you need his help in answering a nerdy Trivial Pursuit question to speed the game along, he can be reached at



Fri, Mar 19, 2010 : 12:34 p.m.

Thanks for the review! I noticed that your picture is of the first edition (wow, you're old school). Only 3% of the games on the market are from the first edition. All of the odds are increased by x1 in the second edition. Cheers! Dominic Designer of Wits & Wagers Co-Designer of Say Anything

Matt Evett

Fri, Mar 19, 2010 : 12:08 p.m.

Yes, Factory Manager is the latest by Friedmann Friese, a particularly prolific game designer. It is a bit lighter and faster (about 1 hour) than Power Grid (or any of its 5 expansions). It should appeal more to those gamers who are not so mathematically inclined. I would highly recommend it. Another good, lightweight, 6-player game is Union Pacific. Ticket to Ride would is a similar. Both are "railroad" games. The latter is primarily concerned with forming a network of rails that spans areas of the board. The former has that aspect, but also a stock market mechanism (albeit it a simple one), where the players try to have the most shares in the companies with the largest networks.

Mike Hulsebus

Fri, Mar 19, 2010 : 9:43 a.m.

I've played Power Grid for the first time recently and found it pretty fun. I would rather play other games most of the time, but would always be willing to give it another go if people I knew wanted to play. If you like economy games, it's a great game. I know it's one of the top games among serious board gamers (some BGG pole apparently named it one of the best games of the decade?). It seems to be the sort of game that you have to play with people of similar skill levels (or be willing to play a 2nd game after the first), otherwise the new people are going to be trounced. I haven't played it enough to give it a review just yet. Did you see the designer is coming out with a game called Factory Manager?

Rob T

Fri, Mar 19, 2010 : 9:08 a.m.

Glad to see this column! I love the Battlestar Galactica Easter egg with the player names!

Mike Hartwell

Fri, Mar 19, 2010 : 8:51 a.m.

This is an excellent column. The family plays board games every holiday get together and the challenge is to find new ones. Thanks.