As the historic Civil War battle of Gettysburg reaches its 150th anniversary in 2013, it is important to remember the stirring words spoken by President Lincoln at that field of war on a cold, November day in 1863:
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Or so the Gettysburg Address might have begun if Lincoln texted it in.
From the mind of John Kovalic (of Dork Tower and card game Munchkin illustration fame) comes a game that asks players to condense well known phrases of movies, TV shows, music, books & comics, politics/history, and general sayings into something your teenage niece could text you if she had a sudden compulsion to quote Lincoln speeches—or Lady Gaga lyrics.
H WH DYZ W/ M TOYS WNZ
The goal of ROFL! is to gain the most victory points by being both a Writer of an optimized, “suitable for cell” message based on a phrase in six categories and a Guesser of such text.
Each turn in the game has one Guesser attempting to decrypt the condensed message offered by the other players, with the message taken from a set of cards containing a saying on each side. All Writers work from the same message. Only the Writers see the phrase on the card front, but they tell the Guesser the category.
Each Writer plays his or her corresponding colored token to the game board number (1-20) that represents how many keyboard-based characters will communicate his or her condensed message. This must be the exact number of characters in the condensed message or more. Writers have only 30 seconds on a sand timer to both write their condensed message and place their token on an unoccupied number on the game board. Lower numbers determine the corresponding player order for the Writers to reveal their message. That unoccupied stipulation for the token “bid” makes for some groans when a number is already taken—and so are the next three following it.
The Guesser takes a 30-second stab at each message, starting with the Writer with the lowest bid number and moving up. Getting it right on the first message nets 3 VP for both Guesser and Writer, 2 VP if the message is not guessed from the first Writer but is for the second, and 1 VP down the rest of the Writer line. If not guessed from any Writer’s offering, no VP are awarded. The game concludes after three rounds of each person guessing one message and writing for each other player. Most VP wins.
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The game includes the following components:
- 170 double-sided message cards
- 5 blank message cards (to create your own messages)
- 7 colored player tokens
- 7 dry-erase boards
- 7 half-size, dry-erase markers with built-in erasers
- 30-second sand timer
- Game board
- 56 scoring chits
- Rulebook, including optional rules for varying gameplay
HR WE R NW NTRTAN S
I played ROFL! with family, and it was a hit. Like most games with clues to hidden information communicated between players, the missed guesses were entertaining, as were the frustrating near misses.
And there may be plenty of hair-pulling in that regard, because ROFL! has some inscrutably difficult messages on the cards. Despite being a pop culture maven, I didn’t recognize several of them, including a line from the song that plays over the credits of the video game Portal and a TV category quote even Google couldn’t unearth. Trying to get my sister-in-law to guess the Nirvana lyrics quoted in the heading above was maddening, as I had the lowest number chosen on the board and thought my condensed message was spot on. But no…
Like many games of this type, ROFL! favors players with excellent language skills. Pop culture knowledge helps considerably too. My 13-year-old son struggled badly because he did not recognize many of the phrases (as a Guesser) and found condensing messages harder than it looked (as a Writer). In the end, our six-player game came down to my 20-year old niece (of the mad texting skillz) and me (a professional editor) battling to the final clue. Let’s just say that the one with the greater life experience prevailed.
While everyone enjoyed the game and there were groans and laughs all around (though sans ROFLMAO), some frustration existed concerning runaway leaders. A suggestion was to award an extra point or two for any Writer who placed a token in the top row of numbers (1-7) on the board. Most times, the range of numbers selected by Writers was in the 8-16 range. While the lower number meant that Writer offered his or her message to the Guesser first and could get 3 VP if the Guesser guessed correctly, for some it might still be too little too late. Could be a house rule.
Thoughts on aspects of the game:
Components: Nothing fancy. Does the job. One nod: All other games featuring dry-erase boards should include built-in erasers on the markers like ROFL! did. A big thumbs up on that component.
Theme: Creating the most text-condensed message without being indecipherable is its own art form and a game unto itself. That someone turned it into a guessing game seems obvious. Could there be a more current theme?
Instructions: The small, six-page manual is easy to understand and includes variants for harder or easier play. Rather pedantic, but it gets the job done.
Gameplay: Similar to other games in this category (Charades, Time’s Up, Taboo!, Catchphrase), but the added challenge of fighting for a place on the game board takes this up a notch and made it more fun than it could have been without that bidding-like token-placement mechanism. And yes, it will favor some players repeatedly, especially those with culture knowledge and texting skills, and therefore may have runaway leader issues. The youngest players may struggle with the message references, especially when guessing.
Value: Charades is free. Still, the MSRP on ROFL! is similar to other retail games of its type.
Though it’s billed as a party game, ROFL! limits players to seven—not exactly party numbers. Despite this, it’s a decent, light game in a crowded field of its type. Even hardcore gamers can enjoy it. Whether it’s distinct enough from other guessing games is up to the buyer. As a game that takes advantage of the skills of cell phone texting, it certainly succeeds in being current. MA T BST MN R WMN WN!
Designer: John Kovalic
Publisher: Cryptozoic Entertainment, 2013
Play time: 30-45 minutes
Mechanic(s): Party Game, Hidden Information, Communication, Bidding
Weight: Light – “Something grandma could play”
MSRP: $35.00 ***