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The Game of Wolf


Quick Look: The Game of Wolf

Designer: Joe Barron
Publisher: Gray Matters Games
Year Published: 2019
No. of Players: 4-12
Ages: 14+
Playing Time: 30-45 min.

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

From the publisher:

Which is stronger? The Lone Wolf or the Pack? Find out in this strategic trivia game where friend quickly becomes foe!

As the Wolf, pick your pack members based on their knowledge of the subject or go Lone Wolf for a chance at double the points! The Pack or Lone Wolf that answers the most correct of the five questions wins the point for that round!

Will you go it alone, Wolf? Or will you choose strength in numbers? These are the critical choices you’ll make to be top dog in The Game of Wolf!

***

I like trivia – trivia-based board games, television shows, trivia nights, apps, desktop calendars, the inside of Snapple bottle caps, etc.

And it’s not that I am especially good at trivia or have a lot of facts and figures stored up and ready for trivia games, but I like them more for what I don’t know. These trivia-related activities always seemed like a fun way to quickly learn about a variety of topics and information. Trivial Pursuit was great for this and I still remember a teammate bringing a box of Trivial Pursuit cards on the bus and going through them on our way to a middle school academic bowl.

But as I progressed more from the casual side of board gaming to the hobbyist side, the trivia games seemed to take a back seat to more strategy-type games and didn’t see much play outside of a random social gathering that required something that played several people. And even in those situations, trivia-based games were generally met with anything from mild annoyance to flat-out refusal to play.

So when I reached out to review The Game of Wolf, I had two thoughts: First, I thought that I was going to like this game and second, I may have to drag people kicking and screaming into playing this with me.

But I was ready.

I had already heard all the excuses used to avoid playing traditional trivia games, and, more importantly, I knew that The Game of Wolf wasn’t your traditional trivia game.

If you like trivia games, you’ve probably heard these already. If you don’t like them, you may be thinking them now. But let’s look at these concerns individually and how The Game of Wolf is different and worth playing.

I’m not good at trivia – This is the most common, and completely understandable, excuse for not wanting to play a trivia game. No game component is as demoralizing as the empty pie roaming aimlessly around the board in Trivial Pursuit. But in the Game of Wolf you don’t need to know all the answers, you can simply recruit someone who does. The semi-cooperative nature of The Game of Wolf allows you to recruit a player on your turn so that you have a better chance of getting the points.

In one of the final games I played prior to this review, the runner-up only answered a few questions throughout the game, but they knew how to pick their teammates based on the subjects and scored points every time it was their turn. 

Trivia is more of an activity than a game
– Trivia games lack subjectivity, you either know the answer or you don’t. This binary outcome also eliminates the need for a strategy since the only strategy is to answer the question correctly. But The Game of Wolf, requires thought about the game as well as thought about the answers.

You may think you know a lot about a general subject, but do you know more than your opponents combined when it becomes a specific topic? Is recruiting the know-it-all counterproductive since you would be giving them points too? Should I go lone-wolf in order if I want any chance of winning?

There were a lot of questions that were floated aloud as we played, because for a trivia game it required a surprising amount of strategy.

Another element that arose from playing was…bluffing. After one group got the hang of the game play, players started campaigning for recruitment, or trying to avoid recruitment altogether, to maximize their score, weighing the trade-off of helping the wolf or the remaining players.

In my opinion, the surprising strategic element and the evolution of a bluffing mechanism sealed The Game of Wolf as way more than a simple Q&A activity.

It doesn’t matter, we all know ____ is going to win – It’s been my experience that the one most adamant about playing a trivia game is the one that knows the most of it, and The Game of Wolf doesn’t completely do away with this. But, one thing that it does better is the ambiguity of the subjects (or more accurately, the decrease of categorical foreknowledge), and the requirement to answer multiple question rather than just one.

First, in my plays leading up to this review there were several times that participants got to flex and show their knowledge on a subject.The subjects are intentionally ambiguous. A subject like music, could be anything from Top 40 to classical. Books could be Chaucer to Rowling. So while a player may know a lot about rock band lead singers, do they know a lot about boy bands? This risk assessment is there the entire game and becomes increasingly important as the game moves to the latter rounds worth more points.

And this subject ambiguity works especially well because unlike Trivial Pursuit where players have some control over which category they must answer, the subject is unknown to the wolf until it is their turn. The group know-it-all may be really good at history, but do they know the nicknames of professional wrestlers? Maybe. Maybe not. But if that's the subject that comes up on their turn, that's the subject that have to answer.
Second, while a player may feel confident about a subject (e.g. baseball), without knowing the specific questions, do they feel confident enough to correctly answer the majority of the five questions presented on the card? After all, baseball is a pretty broad topic and while they may feel confident because they can name the different positions, what if it’s based on members of the 1998 New York Yankees? Their confidence may plummet. It’s not the ability to answer one question based on the subject, but five (and a Price is Right-esq tie breaker) to score points. In my experience, this was a pretty good equalizer and scores stayed relatively close throughout the game.
The one exception - the player that went lone wolf every time thinking they were the smartest person in the room (and then later out of necessity to score more points and have a chance to keep it competitive) but was never successful. They got smoked.

If you think you know more than the collective group, you better be right.

There’s too much down time between turns - The Game of Wolf addresses this by having every player play every turn. Even if it is not your turn, or if you were not recruited, you still participate in the turn and can score points. You don’t have to worry about one player answering question after question and keeping the other players away from the action.  

Trivia games take for-ev-er to play – You’re not wrong. I’ve seen some marathon of Trivial Pursuit games and know that it can be a struggle to finish if players don’t know the answers. But The Game of Wolf is limited to three rounds, so there is an end-game in sight whether players answer the questions or not. Also, it’s recommended that players get 20 seconds per question to keep the flow of play moving. The game is listed as 30-45 minutes and that was accurate in all my plays.

Trivia isn't about anything of importance - The weakest of the arguments. Most of the things we do in our normal lives don’t carry any lasting value, including winning the latest board game with the train/viking/farming theme.

Having knowledge of things isn’t a bad thing, nor is having a safe place to use it. I may read a book on field surgery, but without having to use it (which isn't a bad thing) it’s not serving its intended purpose. But if I can draw on it to answer a trivia question without having to attempt a tracheotomy on somebody with an ink pen, at least it’s serving some purpose, if not its intended purpose. 

I don’t like party games – Neither do I. They are often based on subjective measures like “your black-text-on-white-card was most shockingly offensive. You win.” But that is not the case with The Game of Wolf. There is one right answer to each question and either you (and possibly a recruit) know it or you don’t.

Party games also usually involve little strategy, and if they do, it is more about setting you opponents up for failure. But in The Game of Wolf, you must have a strategy for recruitment that considers your score vs. your opponent’s score, your knowledge of the topic vs. your opponents’ knowledge of the topic, your potential points vs. your opponents’ potential points. This is not a simple ask-a-question-get-an-answer trivia game. It requires some forethought and risk assessment on each turn that makes The Game of Wolf a bridge of sorts between those that really like party games, and those that want something with a little more strategy.

***

If you fall on the flat-out refusal to play trivia games, thanks for making it this far (and you may actually be more on the fence than you realize), but I would guess that if you're still with me, there is at least some interest in trivia games. If this is the case, I would encourage you to give The Game of Wolf a try. You may be thinking "I like, and already own, Trivial Pursuit." That's cool, I like Trivial Pursuit too. But, I also like The Game of Wolf as it is far more inviting than Trivial Pursuit - and far more engaging - and lot quicker - and, most importantly, it's a lot more fun.

Review:

Gameplay:
A box of cards and the dry-erase boards are placed in the middle of the table, in reach of all the players. The player with the next birthday starts as the wolf.

First, the player to the left of the wolf reads the subject (and just the subject) of the question card. With this information, the wolf decides if they want to recruit one of the other players to help them or play as the lone wolf. Once the teams or lone wolf vs. all is decided, the questions are revealed and the two sides write the answers on a dry-erase board. Once both sides have completed their guesses, the answers are revealed and the turn is scored on the dry-erase score board. Play continues until every player has had the opportunity to play as the wolf and then a new round begins. After three rounds, the player with the highest score wins.

Round scoring is as follows (points per player):

Round 1: Lone wolf wins (2 pts), a pack wins (1 pt), lone wolf loses (-1 pt)*
Round 2: Lone wolf wins (4 pts), a pack wins (2 pt), lone wolf loses (-2 pts)
Round 3: Lone wolf wins (8 pts), a pack wins (4 pt), lone wolf loses (-4 pts)
*A player's score cannot drop below zero


Theme:
Trivia

Components:
250 question cards, a dry-erase scoreboard, 2 dry-erase answer boards, and three dry-erase markers.

The Good:
I spent 1,300+ words talking about the good at the beginning of this review, but I know some readers like to skip to a bulleted-list. Here you go, but you should go back and read the introduction to get the full effect.
  • What if I'm not good at trivia? You don't have to be good at trivia to be successful at The Game of Wolf. The semi-cooperative nature allows everyone to enjoy some success.
  • It's basically just another trivia game, right? It requires way more strategy than you'd expect from a trivia game. There are several variables one must consider on their turn.
  • But my mom/dad/sister/brother/wife/husband always wins trivia games. Why bother? The smartest person in the room isn't going to runaway with a victory, if they win at all.
  • Do I have to wait a long time between turns? There is no downtime. Everyone plays on each turn.
  • Does it take hour(s) to play? The game lasts three rounds and the 30-45 minute time frame is accurate
  • Isn't it just a party game? Not exactly. It is a party game, but it lacks the subjectivity party game vibe and the inclusion of strategy (albeit light) and risk assessment makes this a party game that your strategy game loving friends may not mind playing.
The Meh:
First, and this is more a problem with smaller trivia games in general not just The Game of Wolf,  there are only 250 question cards. If you play with 6 players, you're only going to get about 13 1/2 plays before you've seen all the cards. That may sound like a lot, but in most of my plays we played two games back-to-back. Looking at the quantity of cards against game sessions rather than plays, I have about 6-8 total sessions of The Game of Wolf before I will have seen all the cards and I think that I will reach this number within a year. Silver lining - it's prime for expansions.

Another thing is there in no mention of a tie breaker for an individual turn, or the game overall, and we encountered both. Now, I will say that the likelihood of tying on a turn is pretty slim due to the tie breaker question, but it did happen. We just gave everyone the pack points for the turn and continued play. The bigger issue was having a tie at the end of the game. In fact, we had a three-way tie. We played another complete round because we had the time, but had we not, we would have had to accept the tie. If you have a player in your group that cannot accept tying on a game, you may want to establish a house-rule sudden death tiebreaker, or something prior to starting.

The last thing was actually brought up by the players that helped me prepare for the review, and though I do not completely agree with either, I told them I would include their feedback. The funny thing is that the feedback from one of the groups contradicted the feedback from the other groups.

One group believed that the starting player has a slight advantage. Since players cannot go below zero if they lose points, and players start at zero, the first player has a greater incentive to try going lone wolf as they have nothing to lose. (I disagree as the only player to have a guaranteed turn at zero points is the first player, but there is a chance that all players could start their first turn at zero. I saw instances where a player started their third turn at zero.) 

However, the other groups all felt that the last player had an advantage because they had all of the point information readily available for their final turn and could adjust their strategy accordingly. (I am more likely to agree with this, but only slightly. In the majority of the plays, the last player was the winner. However, knowing that you need to go lone wolf to win, and successfully going lone wolf are two different things. You may know the points necessary to win, but can you answer the questions to do so?)

Final Thoughts:
Party games carry a stigma in the board game world, and in most cases, rightfully so. They often rely on either shock factor, player self-deprecation, or some other subjective factor that can drive a hobbiest crazy.

The Game of Wolf at its core is a trivia-based party game. But if it sounds different, it's because it is.

This game successfully makes a trivia game accessible and inviting to those they may otherwise not want to play a trivia game.

It adds a layer of strategy and risk assessment that you don't usually see in trivia games.

It adds continual player engagement that you rarely see in a trivia game.

I like trivia. I like strategy games. I like The Game of Wolf. And if you like trivia and strategy games, I think you will too.

Players Who Like:
Trivia based games with a twist - Wits and Wagers, You Bet-Cha, iKNOW



Check out The Game of Wolf on:

   https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/269077/game-wolf  https://graymattersgames.com/  https://www.facebook.com/graymattersgames  https://www.instagram.com/graymattersgames/  https://www.amazon.com/Game-Trivia-Gray-Matters-Games/dp/B07PM63Z76/ref=sr_1_4?keywords=the+game+of+wolf+trivia+game&qid=1554133898&s=toys-and-games&sr=1-4   

About the Author:



Nick Shipley - Reviewer

Nick is a compliance consultant by day, a board gamer at night, and a husband and father always. When he is not bringing a game to the table, he is running (most often to or from his kids) or watching the New York Yankees. Nick lives in Oklahoma.

See Nick's reviews HERE.

The Game of Wolf The Game of Wolf Reviewed by Nick Shipley on April 29, 2019 Rating: 5

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