This games-night round up comes from my husband, Jay.
Each Saturday night is games night, and last week we decided to try 3 games that we’d not played before – Bananagrams, Accentuate and Taboo. Taboo we had sealed still from Christmas, as we had a bit of a backlog of other games still to play.
Bananagrams is a fast paced word game that resembles a solo version of Scrabble, only without the board, bonus squares, and letter values that equal points.
In Bananagrams each player must assemble their own word grid (words read left to right and top to bottom) using all their tiles. Players keep adding new tiles from a shared pool (the Bunch) and can re-arrange their grids at any time in order to incorporate them. Once there are fewer tiles than players left in the bunch, the first player to complete their grid using all their tiles (who shouts “Banana”) wins providing all their words are spelled correctly, and in the English Dictionary. If they’ve made a mistake, they are eliminated, their tiles added back to the Bunch and play continues.
The main actions you take are “Peel” and “Dump”. If you’ve used all your tiles, you can “Peel” in order to force every player to add another tile to their word grids. We found almost straight away that we were able to assemble grids that allowed for rapid Peel-and-place that kept the pace of the game fast. This means adding prefixes and suffixes, pluralising and building on root words. Once you get into the flow of this, it’s easy to leave other players behind with a backlog of tiles.
Dumping allows you to strategically replace any one of your tiles with 3 new ones. This is great for getting rid of the trickier letters or excessive vowels (and seeing your opponents forced to pick them up at the next Peel). Dumping is a lot more useful than it might first seem, and can actually help you speed up the end-of-game condition of having fewer tiles than players in the Bunch, and increase your chances of getting the exact letters you need.
We played with four players – my brothers Sam and Rob, and wifey Hazel. Hazel read the rules out to the three of us who’d not seen the game before. The rules appeared a little vague at first and are printed on just two sides of a very small cardboard label. After watching a very short tutorial video, and diving straight into our first game, we picked things up within just a few minutes.
It was great fun and highly addictive – we probably played around 10 to 15 rounds. I think because of the relatively fast pace compared to the heavy strategy games we normally play, and the simultaneous play, we were less inclined to make fridge-runs or head to the pantry for another jumbo pack of tortillas. In fact, we dubbed the packet of crisps we had open the “loser-bag” as he only way we had time to raid it was if you had been eliminated.
I think everyone in our group had their chance to shine in this game. There’s just about the right mix of luck, strategic plays and brain-power needed to keep competition fierce, challenge each of us and give no one an unfair advantage.
We realised that by the “letter of the law” you could peel whilst leaving deliberate mistakes in your word grid. This means that you can build an incomplete word and keep peeling to try and get the letters you want. During games night, I’d played a rounds using this method, banking on being able to complete or re-shuffle my words later on – it doesn’t always work out, so we figured this was a perfectly legitimate strategy to employ. Afterwards, I read a review that suggested you should play by an “honours system” and try and avoid this, and so in subsequent games we’ve discouraged such practices.
Summary of Bananagrams
In one sentence: Bananagrams is an addictive, fast paced and competitive word game, great to kick off any games night.
Who’s it for: Most age groups could pick this game up and have great fun. Our players were aged between 21 and 27, with our ages being 6 years apart at the top and bottom end, none of us felt disadvantaged. Next games night we might try and include some younger players to see how we get on.
Since then: we’ve played Bananagrams most nights just me and Hazel. With just two players, games still lasted around the same amount of time, and were just as fun. Word grids were naturally bigger and so felt more challenging. We tried to be more creative and come up with better combinations each round.
Accentuate was next, much to Rob and Sam’s resistance. Accentuate is a party game where the players must read a quote in a certain accent, whilst their team mate tries to guess the accent they’re putting on. There’s a dice that adds a further random element, such as allowing the player to pass a turn.
There are two decks of cards – one for quotes, and one for accents, meaning a large number of possible combinations in any one game. Teams take it in turns, with the one team member rolling the die to determine how the round is played. One option on the die allows other teams to participate and make their own guess, whilst another allows the leading player to swap the accent card if they don’t like it. Once the die is rolled, the player draws a quotation card and an accent card, and has just 30 seconds (there’s a sand timer) to read the quote in the accent specified. Their team must confer and guess the accent.
Different accents are worth different points, and the team with the most points once every player has had a turn wins.
We had a good laugh playing this game, but with only 4 people we felt we didn’t have the best experience of this game. It was also late at night, and we had to keep the noise down because of sleeping children.
Some accents were really difficult, and can put a bit of a dent in the game if you hit a string of accents that nobody knows the sound of (let alone how to replicate).
There’s no real strategy, and this is a party game in the purest sense. It is suited to out-going people, or as an ice breaker at parties. At least half of our gaming group weren’t very out-going, so it was an uncomfortable experience for them.
We played a few rounds in two teams of two, but found most accents really difficult to replicate, which made the game less enjoyable. With more people, the game would have been better.
Summary of Accentuate
In one sentence: Accentuate is a noisy party game that ends in fits of giggles – a great icebreaker at parties, or a laugh for out-going types to enjoy.
Who’s it for: students and adults in a party setting.
Since then: we’ve not played again since, but plan on having another try at our next party, alongside the incredible Cards Against Humanity, when the mood is a bit lighter and there are more players.
Taboo is a classic party game first released in the late 80s where players must describe a word without using any pre-defined Taboo words.
Two teams take it in turns to play. A player is selected to draw cards from a draw deck sequentially. Each card has a keyword, and a list of taboo terms. The player is not allowed to say any of the words on the card, but must describe the keyword to the rest of their team. Each keyword their team guess right is 1 point. Each one they pass is a point to the opposing team.
The taboo words are the most common words associated with the keyword. You are also forbidden from using the keyword and its root word(s). You are buzzed (or squeaked, in our version) if you say any of the forbidden words, this gives the opposing team another point, and you must move onto the next card.
Your team has until the timer runs out to guess as many of keywords/cards as possible, before play passes to the opposing team.
There is a die included that adds a random element to each round, in a similar way to accentuate.
All four of us enjoyed Taboo. The rules are simple enough that we dove straight in and kept up a reasonably fast pace until we’d all had 3 or 4 turns each. We didn’t feel the need to use the die.
We chose to play some of the easier words. Cards are colour coded with two colours (and two sets of words) on each side – so four colours and four keywords per card. We got through perhaps 30 cards or so, and still had the vast majority of the first deck left. We left one deck still sealed for when we’ve exhausted all four colours in the first deck through repeat play.
I think that with such a small group, there was a little reluctance to buzz (squeak) when someone made a mistake, and I’m sure there were one or times when we got away with saying a taboo word. I think the reluctance came from wanting to enjoy the game, and not let it get so competitive so late into the evening.
Taboo is very accessible, as everything you need to play is on the cards. Because the skill is in avoiding using certain words, a good imagination and the ability to describe things clearly and concisely is all you need.
A great vocabulary isn’t always an advantage, as you’re reliant on your team guessing what you’re describing, and you risk over-estimating their understanding of the words you’re using, causing frustration and lost points.
Younger players might benefit from being able to ask another older team mate for help if they’re unsure what the word means.
Summary of Taboo
In one sentence: Taboo is a challenging and vocal word game, great fun, quick and easy to learn.
Who’s it for: all ages can play this game.
Since then: again, we’ve not managed to get another game in, but will definitely get this out at parties and bigger games nights.
Where can I get it: get it here
Games night in a nutshell
Buy Bananagrams. Now. It felt like the most polished game of the night, and the most suited to our group of normally quite quiet and reserved nerds who really came out of their shells when trying to prove who had the best grasp of the English language.