So I mentioned that last week I was wrapping up a prototype of a game that’s a bit like Scattergories. You can jump to it right away (give the link to at least two other friends so you can play together), or read on for some more details.

Here’s a summary of what’s different from the existing board game:

  • Each matchup is 1v1, rotating under a round-robin format (instead of everyone playing at once)
  • You can submit multiple responses (instead of 1 response per category)
  • The round time limit is only 1 minute (instead of 3 minutes)
  • The three categories are selected via drafting (instead of using predetermined lists)
  • The judges may discuss and anonymously vote on responses’ validity in real time (instead of everyone discussing once time is up)
  • You can play online from your browser!

The working title is NameOff, because “Battlegories” was already taken by someone else before me (it’s even on the App Store!). The core of the game is a 1v1 duel, in which you and your opponent are given three categories and a random letter. The goal is to list as many items from any of these categories, as long as it starts with the given letter. You have 1 minute, and you only get points for unique answers (i.e. no credit for listing something that your opponent also did).

Once the minute is up, the other players serve as community judges, who collectively determine whether to accept or reject your responses. A real example from playtesting was the response “Tracer” for the category “Things you can’t touch.” Non-gamers won’t understand that reference, so they might reject it (or use the in-game chat feature to discuss with the other judges). Ultimately it’s up to the crowd to figure out what’s passable and what’s not, which is par for the course in the creative party-game genre.

Now, how are the three categories selected? Well, to make it a competitive game, what better way than to implement a pick/ban phase?

The game pulls six random categories out (referred to in the source code as the catBag, heh), and the two players pick one category each, then ban one category each. The third category is picked by a random coin flip between the remaining two.

And… that’s pretty much the gist of it. Because it’s a round robin format, I recommend capping the game at six players to avoid games stretching on for too long (which would result in 15 duels played). That means 15 minutes of writing down responses, plus judging time and the down-time given to review the post-round results, coming out to about a 20 minute game, I’d estimate. And you need at least three players to start, because of the judging aspect.

To be honest, making this prototype took way too long (a bit over a week), and calling it spaghetti code would be an understatement. If you’re curious, though, I used the standard Node/Express combo, with Mongo to store the leaderboard. The HTML/CSS/jQuery is extremely messy, so the page layout gets goofed up if you resize your window too small. Regardless, I’ll likely leave this project alone for a while. The only two things I might come back for are:

  • Recording which categories get picked/banned the most, globally
  • Simply adding more categories to the pool

In conclusion, I’m overall pleased with how it turned out. It’s functional start-to-finish, and passes the initial smell tests for good game design. Some random thoughts on the game mechanics:

  • The pick/ban phase isn’t just an arbitrary nod to e-sports. Rather, it ought to push you to think about what your opponent is familiar or unfamiliar with, especially because that person might be able to rattle off an easy 5-6 responses for a category unless you ban it first. It also introduces variety into the matchups, so you’re always on your toes.
  • The 1-minute time limit is calculated by starting with the average 15-second period you’re given per category in vanilla Scattergories (180 seconds for 12 categories). The extra 15 seconds offered in NameOff is to allow for greater volume (list as many as you can think of) so the judges have more to work with.
  • It’s a challenge in itself to think of categories that work well with this “unlimited” format. For example, I intentionally excluded categories involving just free recall of states, countries, sports teams, etc. because they usually cap out at 2-3 good ones for any given letter, and anything beyond that becomes more of a memory exercise, which I don’t want to be the core focus. I prefer categories like “Things that cause you to crash,” which might make you think of distractions (bumblebee, phone call, deer, auto accident (!)), or things like coffee, caffeine, napping, or Adderall.

If you have a few friends online now, play a quick game together and let me know your thoughts!

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