15 June 2019

Board Game Review: Mixed Company

The game box, a green box just large enough to hold a couple hundred normal-sized playing cards. The box is green, with the name and logo on the cover. The cover sits next to the bottom, which holds a number of cards. Some of these cards are lying on the table next to the box. Some cards are face down, so you see the back, which consists of the name and logo. Others are face up, so you can see that they have a white speech balloon on a green background, with a variety of different text in the balloons.

I didn't mention in the article I wrote about Token Con back in October, but one of the things I did was learn about an interesting new game called Mixed Company. As I was walking through the company booths, someone at one of them said, 'Would you like to play a game?'

I responded, 'Is that a trick question?' I sat down and learned how to play. It was a fun little game, and after we played a round and the designers were discussing some of their plans for the development, I asked them, 'Is this game just a way to trick people into learning good discussion and debate skills?'

Their answer was, 'I think that "trick" is a strong word. Maybe "encourage?"'

Being a big fan of rational discourse, I was of course intrigued. Additionally, the game was fun! So I followed their facebook page, and as soon as their kickstarter went live, I immediately backed it.

I've received a reviewer copy, and have played again with some other people, so I think the time has come to review this game so that you can decide if you want to back it.

An Overview of Mixed Company

A man and a woman sitting at a table with a variety of the cards from the game arrayed on the table. The woman is listening intently to the man, who is speaking in a very animated manner with his hands out in front of him as if gesturing as he talks.

There are two play modes: quick play and full rules. In the quick play version, players receive a number of question cards, containing (obviously) questions. Some examples of questions include:

  • What is your go-to song when you need to get pumped up?
  • Your best friend is adopted, and you've just found out who one of their biological parents is, but they are not going to like it. What do you do?
  • Which is worst: spiders, snakes, mosquitoes, or ticks?
  • What would it take for you to lose your job rather than do something your boss told you that you had to do?
So as you can see, there is an interesting mix of serious and light-hearted questions in this game. There are also blank cards so players can create their own. Each player chooses one from their hand, and submits it to the table. Players vote on which question(s) to discuss. Then they talk about that question; how does each player answer it, and why? How do they react to the other players' answers?

There is a 'Conversation Guide' card that outlines several rules:
  1. Anyone that talks for more than two minutes is not allowed to speak for one minute.
  2. Anyone who interrupts another player is not allowed to speak for one minute.
  3. If someone strays completely off-topic, players should remind that person to return to the topic.
  4. Do not say anything mean. You can be factual, but don't direct any insults at anyone.
If needed, you can set a timer for ten minutes, but often, the conversation will reach a conclusion on its own in a reasonable amount of time.  Once finished, players may award trophy cards. Each player receives two trophy cards at the beginning of the game. These may be for achievements such as best wordplay, best cultural reference, best supporting points, most enjoyable conversation, and so on.

In the quick play rules, you may declare the person who received the most trophy cards to be the winner. However, you may decide that you don't need a winner; simply having conversations about interesting topics is reward enough!

Full rules

The full rules simply entail a few additions. To start, players use their voting cards to select three question cards. Each question card will be discussed in its own round. Additionally, at the beginning of each round, players assign challenge cards to one another. These cards range from silly (you may not gesture with your hands whilst you talk) to the semi-serious (you must include extra references, citations, and examples in your discussion) to the difficult (you must argue the opposite viewpoint from the one you actually hold). At the end of the round, if you met your challenge, you keep the card as a bonus point. If not, the person who played it on you gets the point.

There are also action cards. These too run the gamut; one says 'you must provide additional personal examples.' Another instructs the recipient to provide a counter-example. There's one that says you must provide an external source, such as a newspaper article. Another example is the card that asks a person to keep talking and provide more information on their current topic.

Action cards also count as extra points. If the group feels an action card is not fulfilled, it counts as a negative point. The group may also decide that an action card was not really appropriate, and may be discarded.

At the end of all three question rounds, players add up their points (trophy cards, challenge cards, and action cards). They lose one point for each card remaining in their hand. The player with the most points is the winner.

Permutations in Mixed Company

A man and a woman at a table with a variety of Mixed Company cards on it. The woman is smirking, but the man laughing pretty hard.

The question cards are colour-coded; green ones are for 'all ages.' The blue ones are for 'ages sixteen+.' Thus, you can easily adjust your deck for age-appropriate discussions. The blank cards have a black border, so they won't accidentally get mixed in with the wrong set.

The Kickstarter campaign offers backers the chance to suggest their own questions to be added to the deck. Additionally, they've gotten so much feedback from teachers saying they plan to use this game in their classrooms (myself being one of them) that they're already planning a follow-up version tailored for educational settings.

I know that I, in particular, plan to use this game in my classroom. I intend to teach them both versions; the quick play rules and the full rules. I expect to use the full rules as a game, to have fun on occasion, and the quick play rules as a way to facilitate effective discussion.

Final Thoughts on Mixed Company

The banner for the Kickstarter page. The prototype components, including the box and various cards in different colours, with Mixxie, the speech balloon character mascot, and icons indicating price ($15) and shipping options (USA, EU, Mexico, Canada, and Australia).

I enjoyed playing this game, both for the fun and interesting conversational aspects, and for the fact that it encourages effective conversation skills. I know that I, as a person who grew up being constantly instructed that it was rude to interrupt, now have trouble engaging in conversation in a meaningful way, as I cannot stop myself from waiting for a lull in conversation before adding my input. Most other people do not have such reservations, and will begin to add their input before the other person has technically finished talking, or interrupt one another frequently. Whereas I have a tendency to judge a conversation on the logical points being made, many others seem to think that a discussion is 'won' by the person who speaks the loudest, or most often.

It is my hope that if this game becomes popular, it will help to correct that little problem. And even if it doesn't, it's still a lot of fun. I introduced some of my friends to this game, and they were all impressed. They all ran over to the booth that Mixed Company (the company, not the game) had at the pop culture convention we were attending to sign up for their mailing list. So that's some pretty good praise!

Anyway, I hope you'll consider helping fund this project! You can follow them on FaceBook to keep up to date. And whatever you decide, please remember to always

Game on!

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