Something for everyone.
Trivial Pursuit’s stale wedges have given trivia games a bad rap among gamers, but it doesn’t have to be this way. There are a whole host of trivia board games that offer more replay value, better balance and fairness, and game design that helps keep everyone engaged. At their best, these are simple games of skill that anyone can enjoy. They also have the potential to be hilarious. And if you’re okay with attempting a higher hurdle of complexity, you can get some strategy along with your skill and slapstick.
In a market dominated by cheap copycat titles, finding the gems can be harder than the toughest historical fact question. So we’ve done the research for you. These are seven of the best trivia board games, ranging from the fiendish to the funny to the family-friendly.
In a genre full of dull art and flat text, iKNOW’s smooth minimalist aesthetic stands out a mile. It’s used to track the bets and guesses around which the game revolves. For any given question, you can choose to get more or fewer clues for fewer or more points respectively. Right away, you’re in a conundrum over how safe you want to play it. Then the problems pile up as everyone bets on whether they think others will get it right or not before giving an answer which may – or may not – be a bluff. Between these elements, iKNOW straddles an extraordinary mix of strategy, guile and trivia knowledge.
Timeline (Timeline Inventions)
Speed and simplicity combine in this popular series of card-ordering titles. You get a hand of cards showing historical events dependent on the set: Discoveries, say, or the acclaimed Inventions set. Then players take turns trying to get rid of cards by getting them in the correct order of when they occurred. It’s a smart system because few people memorize dates, but they can memorize pictures and orders. That levels the playing field a bit, and provides educational value. And with sessions wrapping in 15 minutes of less, Timelines lets you pack a lot of learning – and fun – into a small space.
Combining ideas from other games is a fertile furrow for design. But Anomia somehow pulls a ton of fun from the unlikely combination of trivia and snap. Each player flips through a stack of cards, each with a symbol and a trivia category, watching one another like hawks. If two reveal the same symbol it’s a mad race to shout an example of the other’s category. Winner wins the card, revealing another symbol and another possible race. Although fast and simple, every card flip is a cauldron of tension as everyone waits to spot a match and get a head start on the ensuing trivia sprint.
[Editor’s note: This game has different titles across the Atlantic. In the UK it’s Absolute Balderdash, while in the US it’s Beyond Balderdash.]
Balderdash stretches the definition of a trivia game, because it works best if players don’t know the answers. Each card asks players to define an obscure word, fill in an odd acronym or take some similar guess at a bizarre query. For maximum hilarity, most are absurd, such as outlining a film plot from a title which turns out to be about a businessman’s talking feet. Then one player reads out all the guesses along with the real answer, and awards points to those that fooled the most. It’s an intoxicating cocktail of humour, skill and social misdirection that rarely fails to please.
Wits and Wagers Deluxe
Another game that relies on player ignorance, Wits and Wagers is as much about betting as it is about trivia. It stumps players with obscure statistics, like asking the age of the world’s oldest cat. Everyone writes down an answer, then lays bets on the guesses they think are closest. This adds some basic mathematical strategy to the mix, making it a party favourite with more hardcore hobby gamers. Tensions rise as the chips go down before the explosive reveal of the answer. Like real gambling, you can win or lose huge amounts in a turn of Wits and Wagers, except you’re guaranteed fun instead of risking your life’s savings.
Speaking of hobby gamers, one of the more eccentric designers on that scene is Friedemann Friese. This is his take on the trivia game, redeveloped from his earlier game Fauna. Each round players get questions about a geographical subject. Say it’s the longest urban bridge in the world, and they have to answer its length, location and year of construction. They take turns placing cubes on the board indicating what they think is right. Friese games always have a twist, and this one is both simple and brilliant. You can win both by being good at a particular subject, or by being good at knowing who else at the table is good at a particular subject.
Mr Lister’s Quiz Shootout
Instead of asking for a specific answer to a tough question, Wild West quiz-master Mr Lister asks for many answers to easy ones. This makes the game stand out for family play: it’s inclusive and enjoyable for younger players. As such it’s perfect entertainment for holidays, complete with rubber mustache for comedy miming. Fake mustaches are always funny. And there’s more skill under that mustache than it first appears, since ordering your answers well can deprive the other team of a chance to score. Ties get broken with a “closest to” guess at a numeric question which, as a bonus, means the cards also work in Wits and Wagers.