Saturday, March 26, 2016

Board Game Review: Balderdash

Last week, I talked about games belonging to the 'pick the right answer' family of games. This reminded me of one of my favourite board games: Balderdash. Well, I haven't reviewed that game yet, so I will do so now. We start, as always, with the numbers:


Strategy: 1
Randomness: 1
Complexity: 1
Humour: Inherent
Attractiveness: Varies by edition. The one I have is the original, which I would rank as Average.
Average Length of Game Play: 45 minutes.

As already mentioned, Balderdash is a member of the 'pick the right answer' family. In the original edition, players took turns being the dasher. The dasher's job was to draw a card from the deck, which had five words on one side and their definitions on the other. Those five words are actual words that can be found in at least one actual English dictionary. However, they are obscure words that few people know. Examples might include 'lucubrate' (to study late at night, especially by candlelight) or 'martext' (a blundering preacher who stumbles through a sermon).

The dasher rolls a die to determine which word he will use; if he rolls a 6, he gets to choose. He reads the word aloud, and spells it. All players (including the dasher) write this word on a slip of paper, along with their names. Then the dasher copies the correct definition from the back of the card onto his slip, whilst the other players make up definitions. Everyone gives their made up definitions to the dasher, who shuffles them all together along with his slip that has the real definition. Then he reads all the definitions (real and made up). Usually, players will be laughing so hard at the definitions that the dasher will have to read them all two or three times.

Finally, everyone votes for the definition they think is correct. Once everyone has voted, the dasher reveals the correct answer. Everyone who voted for the right one gets two points. Players also get one point for each vote that their own made-up definition received. If nobody voted for the correct answer, the dasher gets two points. Players advance their pawns along the score track a number of spaces equal to the number of points they received. Then the role of dasher passes to the left, and a new player starts the process anew.


The original game was published in 1984, and a sequel was published in 1993 called Beyond Balderdash. This game was basically the same, except that it included categories; instead of five words on each card, there was one word, one movie title, one person, one set of initials, and (depending on where in the world you bought your version) either a law or a date. You rolled the die to see which of these you would use that round. Words work as described above; Movie Titles required players to make up a plot; People had players making up reasons why the person was noteworthy (i.e., what that person did); the Initials category asked players to make up what the initials stood for; Laws gave players the beginning of a law, and the players had to finish that law; Dates required players to make up a historic event that happened on that date. After about 2003, however, the two versions were merged, and the new variation with five categories was simply sold as Balderdash.

The game has almost no strategy; the only time you might be strategic is if you roll a six and choose a word that you think might give you an advantage as the dasher. The same with randomness; the rolling of a die to select a word is the only random factor in the game at all. But it does require a lot of skill. Bluffing is the most important one; players who can make up plausible-sounding definitions tend to do well. Linguistic ability is also helpful. Players who know a lot of words, especially obscure ones, generally do better at this game (especially since it's possible to earn three points if you know the actual definition of a word that the dasher reads off. This has happened to me on occasion; once, both another friend and I knew the word 'coprolite' (fossilised faeces). Thus, we ended up with three correct definitions in the mix.

All told, this game won't appeal to everyone. As I've mentioned before, I am a lexophile, so this game is very much right up my alley. But it can be hard to find others willing to play with me; either they don't like messing with obscure words, or they're not good at coming up with fake definitions.

One last point before I wrap up for this week: this game (and others like it, such as Fictionary and Dictionary Dabble) are all just variations on an old parlour game generally known as The Dictionary Game. You didn't need a board or cards, you just pulled out a dictionary, flipped to a random obscure word, and used paper that you had lying about the house for definitions and score-keeping.

Anyway, that's it for this week. Stay tuned next week for some exciting news! Until then,

Game on!

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