21 December 2019

Board Game Review: Decrypto

The game box. The cover art makes it look like a piece of electronic technology from at least twenty years ago, with switches, levers, buttons, vents, wires, and an oscillator screen. Across the top is a stylized banner with the title and the tag line 'Communicate safely.' A cartoon character that resembles a computer from the 1990s is winking and holding up a thumb as he peeks over the top of the banner.

One of the new games I got to try at Geekway this past May was an interesting game called Decrypto. John's daughter discovered it, and insisted that she and her friend play it with me and John. It was a fun game, and I bought a copy so that the Dork Spouse and I could play it with our friends Gemma and Caroline. So I think I should review it for you now.

Decrypto, by Thomas Dagenais-Lespérance and published by Le Scorpion Masqué and Iello, is a teams game in which you want to communicate a code number to your teammate(s) without the rival team discerning the number.

Let's start with the usual numbers:

Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take. Gamer Profile Ratings measures how strongly a game will appeal to players based on their interest in one of four areas. These areas are measured as High, Medium, or Low. Strategy describes how much a game involves cognitive challenges, thinking and planning, and making sound decisions. Conflict describes how much direct hostile action there is between players, from destroying units to stealing resources. Social Manipulation describes how much bluffing, deceiving, and persuading there is between players. Fantasy describes how much a game immerses players in another world, another time.
Strategy: 1
Randomness: 1
Complexity: 1
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Game Play: 45 minutes
Gamer Profile Ratings:
  Strategy: Low
  Conflict: Low
  Social Manipulation: Low
  Fantasy: Low

An Overview of Decrypto

The components: two cardboard standees with red cellophane windows, one black and one white. A stack of cards with red markings on them to obscure the blue text; when these cards are slid into the display stands, the text becomes visible. There are also two stacks of cards that resemble 5 ¼ inch floppy disks, one in white and one in black. There are four black tokens, four white tokens, a sand timer, and a pad of scoresheets.

Players sort themselves into two teams. Each team takes a record sheet, one of the two display stands with four code terms in it and the matching-coloured stack of code cards. The display stands uses red cellophane to reveal code terms. 

Often, players make the mistake, when learning the game for the first time, of thinking that they need to figure out what words the other team has. 

You do not.

Instead, teams use the words to communicate numbers. It works like this: Players on each team take turns drawing a code card (which I am delighted to say resemble the old 5 ¼ inch floppy disks that I so strongly remember from my childhood) that contains three numbers (1, 2, 3, or 4, non-repeating). For example, as seen in the photo above, the cards may read 2.3.4, 3.1.2, or 4.1.3. That player must then get their teammate(s) to correctly guess the number code. This is done by using the words in the display stand.

Each stand has four slots. At the beginning of the game, a card is placed in each slot so that the hidden word is revealed. Here's a close up of one such stand, revealing that the white team has 'scream' as word 1, 'ink' as word 2, 'window' as word 3, and 'white' as word 4.

The display stand. Four cards have been slotted into the red cellophane windows, revealing the words 'scream,' 'ink,' 'window,' and 'white.' In front of it are three of the floppy disk cards, turned face up to reveal the number codes '2.3.4,' '3.1.2,' and '4.1.3.'

The player with the code card then says three words aloud. These words are intended to let their teammate(s) know which of the four code words are associated with the numbers in question. So as an example, if the code reader is holding the card on the left in the photo above (with the code 2.3.4), they might choose to say the words 'Newspaper, curtain, ivory.' Their teammate(s) would then look at the words in the display. Since 'newspaper' doesn't seem to have anything to do with the displayed words 'scream,' 'window,' or 'white,' it seems likely that 'ink' is the word at which the code reader is hinting. This lets them know that the first number in the code is 2. 'Curtain' obviously goes with 'window,' and 'ivory' probably goes with white.

However, before the code reader's teammate(s) guess, the players on the other team get to guess. They can't see the words in the display stand, so they will be guessing basically at random to begin. However, they write down all the words the opposing team's code reader says out loud, as well as the correct code once it is revealed. This gives them clues that will help them to guess in later rounds.

If the opposing team correctly guesses the code, they get a white token. If a team gets two white tokens, they are declared the winning team. If the opposing team does not correctly guess, the active team guesses. If the active team does not guess correctly, they get a black token. If a team gets two black tokens, they are declared the losing team.

An Example

That description was hard to follow, I'm sure. Let me give you an example of play to make it easier to understand. For this example, we'll imagine that Aaron, Amanda, and Andrew are playing together on the White team, and Beth, Bob, and Betsy are on the black team. It is the third round of the game, and it is Aaron's turn to draw a code card for his team. We'll stick with the 'scream,' 'ink,' 'window,' 'white' example from the photo above.

Aaron draws a card and sees that his code is 4.1.3. He looks at the display stand, and sees that the words he needs to communicate to his team are 'white,' 'scream,' and 'window.' So he says, 'Mayonnaise, horror, glass.' His teammates look at the words in the display stand and are pretty sure they know what the code is, but the black team gets to guess first.

Beth, Bob, and Betsy look at the notes they have written on their sheet. They see that in previous rounds, the word 'pain' was used for word 1. Word 2 was represented by 'newspaper' and 'india.' Word 3 was associated with 'curtain' and 'cathedral.' They only have one word written for number 4: 'ivory.' Based on this information, they agree that 'mayonnaise' probably goes with 'ivory,' on the basis of both being white. So they decide to guess that the first number in the current code is 4. They're less certain about 'horror;' Beth thinks it goes with 'pain' in some way to represent word 1, but Bob and Betsy both insist that it goes with 'curtain' and 'cathedral' as some sort of reference to gothic movies. Bob and Betsy are convinced that 'glass' refers to 'pain,' as an allusion to cutting yourself on broken glass. They are not swayed by Beth's argument that 'glass' might be a reference to a window, which goes with curtain, and has something to do with the stained glass in a cathedral. As a result, the black team guesses that the code is 4.3.1. 

Aaron informs the black team that their guess is incorrect. They do not get a white token. Now Amanda and Andrew get to guess the code. Since they can see the words in the display stand that Aaron is using, it is much easier for them to guess: they state that they think the code is 4.1.3. Aaron informs them that they are correct, so the white team does not get a black token. 

Now that the black team knows the correct code, they write the words that were used in the space for the correct numbers, giving them additional information to use in subsequent turns, as Beth gloats that they would have received a white token if they had listened to her.

Final Thoughts on Decrypto

This is a fun game for people who know each other at least fairly well. When I played with John against his daughter and her friend, the generation gap made it very easy for teammates to guess each others' codes but very difficult for the other team to guess. For example, one of our words was 'truck.' I used the word 'Tonka' to represent that number, which John (of roughly the same age as me, and thus familiar with the toy trucks which were common in the 70s and 80s) guessed easily. Meanwhile, the two teenagers did not know what the word 'Tonka' meant, at least at first.

It's not a heavy game at all. Maybe a light filler, or something to play with people who aren't 'serious gamers.' But it was still fun, and I don't regret having purchased it.

And now for the moment you've all been waiting for, the six characteristics of a good game:
  • It allows for upsets.
  • It's fun to lose.
  • It's relatively simple.
  • It ends decisively.
  • It has no player elimination.
  • It relies on player agency.
This game does have all six! So that's a good thing!

Now, go forth, be cryptic, and have fun playing games out there! Until I see you back here next week, remember to 

Game on!

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