984163 is a quasi-random number.

Balderdash and Sniglets: Thoughts

May 21, 2004 review

I don’t often play party games — i.e. games one typically plays at parties — as am I rarely invited to parties. This is O.K. as parties make me feel socially awkward and then I start crying. But that’s neither here nor there. Where it is, however, is that I’ve recently played two such games: Balderdash and Sniglets.

The important point to make about the two games is that they are the inverse of one another. The gist of Balderdash is to invent the definition to a given, obscure word. Inversely, for Sniglets, one must invent an odd but believable word to a given bizarre definition. Both work in almost precisely the same manner: The current “moderator”, we’ll call him/her, reads the round’s particular word or definition. We’ll call this the “play object” for discussion purposes. There is an official definition or word, respectively, that accompanies the play object. We’ll call this the “goal”. It is kept secret. Now each non-moderator player attempts to devise a new definition or word that is more believable than the given goal.

Once done, each player passes his or her response to the moderator, who then compiles them randomly into a list to show the others. The goal is included in this list. Now each player must decide which response is actually the correct goal response. You can, technically, choose your own response. The idea for doing this is to basically create peer pressure to have others decide “Well, if she picked that word, it must be a good choice!” I find that the circumstances must be very specific for this strategy to work.

There may also be another, more important, bit of bluffing going on. The moderator is awarded points if no one chooses the goal answer. This is much more important in Balderdash than in Sniglets, and I’ll tell you why!

Sniglets has little basis in real life. They were popularized on “Not Necessarily the News”, an HBO show that, I imagine, worked much like NBC’s “Weekend Update”. I wouldn’t know. For example, the goal word might be “frust”, and its definition might be “the line of little particles of dirt that you can never sweep onto your dustpan”. So already we’re in a rather nonsensical, somewhat comical place. Each player’s response word will typically be something whimsical.

Balderdash, by contrast, gives you a serious, if esoteric, word. What makes it work is that the word and definition may be so esoteric that it ventures into the humorous or bizarre. But players won’t know this. They will simply be devising a believable definition. But if you’re playing this game in the Standard American Party Atmosphere — i.e. some or all players are drunk — then there’s going to be some uncouth responses in the mix. And the moderator, who must read each response aloud, will need to keep a straight face for each one. In Sniglets, however, the moderator just has to write each word down, not having to read them in the slightest, and each response is expected to be a little silly anyhow.

So in Balderdash, the moderator has a stronger, more difficult, and more active role. The way he or she reads the responses can color the impression the other players have on them. If, for example, the moderator chuckles while reading a response, the players will probably believe it is a fake answer. Or maybe that’s what the moderator wants them to think.

That’s basically the gist of the two games. Various points are awarded to those whose responses receive votes, to those who guess the goal properly, and to the moderator if the goal is not chosen. Each point translates into movement across a board (just a party-friendly score card) and whoever reaches the end of the board’s track first wins.

Despite their many similarities — and that I’ve only played them once — I feel Balderdash is the superior game. If you read between the lines of my review — or just, you know, read the lines — you’ll see that the inherent comical nature of Sniglets is its undoing. This may make it better for more inebriated players — I wouldn’t know — but for more strategic players like myself, this quality makes it more difficult to work with. Not only that, but as a co-player said after the game of Sniglets, “It’s easier to lie with a sentence than it is with just one word.”

Which is a good point: another reason I was less fond of Sniglets was that it’s simply a lot harder thinking up single, clever-sounding words than it was full, official-sounding definitions. ::shrugs:: Maybe that’s just a skill I don’t have.

I didn’t win either game. Ah well. I’m not a very good liar.