June 03, 2016

Horse 2119 - Too Trivial A Pursuit

I was taking minutes in a meeting the other day when someone was trying to use the metaphor of the Spanish Armada suddenly arriving on the English coast and being bravely driven back by only a few brave souls. They were trying to liken their business to the sceptred isle, set in the sea against the hands of war and infection, with their Director as the brave commander of the English Navy. At this point, they turned to me and asked me if I knew who that was; to which I asked if it was Sir Francis Drake, and I was then asked if I was good at Trivial Pursuit.
I hate Trivial Pursuit. Hate it, hate it; hate it.

Trivial Pursuit like all quiz games, be they board games, or perhaps on television like Sale Of The Century / Temptation, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire or The Chase, are in my opinion bad games. The reason why I think that they are bad games is that you either know the answer or you don't. There are no decisions to be made, expect perhaps for which direction you go around the board to collect the bits of cheese (pieces of pie) and apart from that, every single action is determined by how much pointless information that you've managed to accrue. Except perhaps for the television quizzes where there is money and or fabulous prizes on offer (like a six slice banana toaster), where the skill in the game comes from remembering that pointless information in the first place, quiz games like Trivial Pursuit allow no way into the game if you haven't already crammed your head with useless tat.

Trivial Pursuit may as well be a game like Snakes And Ladders which also takes no skill at all to play, or perhaps Candyland which as far as I can tell is actually a zero player game because all the actions are determined by the order of the cards before the game has started. At least with games like Ludo, Sorry, Trouble and Headache, there are ample opportunities to exact nastiness, revenge, courtesy and kindness on other players. For this reason, games like Risk, Diplomacy and Scrabble are better because they require either strategy, negotiation or management. Monopoly is I think a relatively bad game because it a lot of it is travelling around the board and following the unthinking consequences but it does redeem itself a little bit because of the horse trading that goes on for properties.

My favourite games though, are those ones that allow people to be totally foolish. Games like Taboo, Balderdash, Pictionary and one game I've played which is basically The Telegraph Game but drawing pictures instead of whispering in someone's ear. Games which need the least amount of skill to play are often the funnest precisely because they need the least amount of skill to play. This means that they are the most inclusive an that I think is the whole point of a lot of games. You want to play them because you want to have fun with company.

It also doesn't help that I am exceptionally bad at Trivial Pursuit either. Of the six categories, I know things about Science and Nature, Geography, History but I know virtually nothing about Art and Literature and even less about the world of Entertainment. If I were to go to a trivia night at a pub or something, I'd be totally useless at anything other than current events in the news. I was never particularly interested in pop culture, television series or movies and now that Father Time has decided that my head needs to be sprayed in silver, I care even less. Worse, with a lot of stuff being hidden behind pay walls and on subscription services, I don't even know that they exist, let alone not care about them. I know for instance, who the Democratic National Convention chair is but I do not know who plays Captain America. If you were to ask me what the valency of strontium was, I could tell you but equally I suspect that the people who write trivia questions are writing those questions for people who don't what strontium is.

Trivial Pursuit with its six spoked wheel, the old timey artwork with cherubim holding the bits of cheese at the junctions and the "Roll Again" squares, is as iconic as the Risk of Monopoly board. From a design perspective, I think that it deserves its place in the board game cosmos. However, because it is a game where the biggest skill lies in the work you did beforehand; rather than making decisions which directly affect other people, I think that it condemns itself to being left in the cupboard, in favour of playing something else.

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