Board Games: The Essential Question – Issue #2: Trivia Games and Monikers

Hello again. Good to see you; how’ve you been? How’s the family? I got some chips here… and salsa (I know!) So dive right in… oh, you’re not here in person. I forget this sometimes. My bad. Well, more chips for me I guess.

Party games. We’ve all experienced them. For my life, those experiences generally fall into two categories, games of skill and games of trivia. We’ll talk about skill games in a future entry, but here, I’d like to talk about games of trivia, mostly Trivial Pursuit, but there are some other games under the trivia umbrella or are trivia-adjacent (I’m looking at you, Taboo.) These games can be fun; I have a few fun Trivial Pursuit memories with the major domo of this blog (Hey, Flannel, I still remember what S.A.L.T. stands for.) That said, much of my trivia memories involve a lot of people sitting around feeling dumb, save for that one guy or group that knows mountains of the most ridiculous information. They’re running through all of the questions, collecting all those pie pieces, and they’re the only ones that are getting to interact with the game.

That’s not a fun feeling; that’s not a party feeling. That gets tacitly exclusionary very fast. From there, you’re either keeping people around for a game that has low interest that’s diminishing fast, or people will outright leave the game, and then there’s this weird dynamic of people focused on one activity at the party, and others focused elsewhere with this slight tinge of resentment between the groups. You, yourself, dear reader, may have been to a party that started out with a trivia group to one side, and the rest of the party elsewhere because of the stigma of bad party past.

(Also, because this just came to me in the edit, ever sat down to that trivia game where no one guessed anything right? The sports freak kept getting history questions, and the history buff kept getting entertainment questions, and that one party goer in the corner just keeps getting things wrong cause they are just… so… dumb? I’ve been there. That’s a whole cauldron of frustration and self-consciousness cause no, the history buff’s not dumb, the sports freak’s not dumb, even I’m not dumb, but I just called myself dumb cause I’m in a corner and can’t answer anything right. All of that is just anti-party.)

Can we create a trivia game that brings the party back together?

Well, yes. First, we need a game that respects everyone’s intelligence from the massive trivia head to the casual partygoer. We also need a simple setup; easy to understand rules are a must when you are teaching the casual and (especially) the inebriated. We need something competitive; we need a goal to invest in, but we need to pair that with a sense of fun, to a point even past silliness because… well, this is a party, and we want people enjoying themselves, laughing and cutting up together. Finally, we need something that can include as many people as possible; big party, small party, it does not matter; we’ve got a place for you.

Can we do this?

No need, it’s already been done. Let’s talk about…


Who? Designed by Alex Hague and Justin Vickers, published by CMYK and Palm Court.

When? First published in 2015. Still in print to this day.

Where? The living room, the back deck, possibly a more lascivious place, I’m not judging where or how you party.

What? Monikers asks 4-16 players (split into 2 teams) to draw a hand of 8 from a shared pool of trivia cards. From there each player will select 5 of those cards and combine them with the choices from the other players to create a shared deck for the game. Across 3 rounds, each player will have one minute to guess the person, place, thing, idea, or concept listed on the card.

1st Round – Players can use any amount of words to describe their card, including using any information listed on the card itself (outside of naming the subject itself, that’d be cheatz, don’t cheatz, no cheatz), which can range from short biographies to humorous drawings. Play alternates between players on opposite teams until everyone has had a chance to go, or the cards have been guessed. Players score points per card from a range of 1 (easiest topics) to 4 (hardest topics).

2nd Round – Players use the same deck of shared cards (yes, the exact same topics) and again go around trying to get their team to guess the topics, same as Round 1. The catch… the players are only allowed one word per topic. For instance, Albert Einstein can be described by the words “theory” or “relativity,” but don’t you dare use “theory of relativity.” That’s cheatz (don’t cheatz, no cheatz.)

3rd Round – Same deck, same shared topics, same go around. The catch… no words. Charades, baby. Maybe Albert Einstein makes you pull your hair out crazy, or you focus on your sweet Einstein-ian mustache. Or maybe you throw up an “E=mc2” gang sign (ouch, arthritis, ouch). Get them guessing however you can, just no talking, cause that’s chea… okay, I’ll stop this now. Most points at the end of Round 3 wins.

Why Is It Essential?

Monikers is an excellent balance of fun and competition from an incredibly simple premise. Part self-contained game show, part performance art piece.

There’s respect for trivia fiends with variably more difficult subjects; there’s help for casual partygoers because you literally choose 5 of the topics that will be given in the 3 rounds of the game. Yes, you may be presented your own topics which you chose and can guess on your own. That, amazingly, is not cheatz at all. It’s totally legal and baked into the game’s buttery crust. Have at, ya open-book-testers.

Monikers also has this very unique way of creating inside jokes/memories amongst the players, which is great for parties. For example, I played in a game where “Ulysses S. Grant” was one of the cards in the deck. One of the players, frustrated that no one guessed him yet, described this man, this myth, this general, who, please bear in mind, looks like this…

…as “the guy in the Civil War that looked like a walrus.”

This man was a president, and he was guessed correctly because he, and I repeat, “looked like a walrus.”

In round 2, when Ooly game back ’round again, the one word clue was “Walrus.” Guessed on the first try, no issue.

Round 3, charades. Stand straight and look like a general? Maybe look like you’re ordering a cavalry charge? NO, YOU FOOL! Get on the ground and pretend you have foot ‘n half tusks. Bingo, guessed.

Ladies and gentlemen, our 18th president. Hail to the Chief.

That may not have been funny for you, but, I assure you, that is funny for at least 10 people. I cannot recall anything else from that party except that 10 dear friends, without having to agree to it expressly, turned a president into a walrus.

I dare you to create a moment like that from a game of Guesstures.

So, simple rules, good player count, a silly amount of respect for the smart, a smart amount of respect to the silly, and an engine for the creation of organic comedy that can last past the party. Monikers is the perfect, essential party game.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Quick bit, this game is perfect in box for age 18+ parties. If you feel your kids would have fun with this, they certainly can; however, earlier editions (from which my copy comes) include some NSFW topics. If you want to include kids in this, bear that in mind that you should do some curating. One should not have to describe the concept of “bottoming” before it’s time. This issue may have been resolved in later printings, but please be aware of it in case you get an older copy.

If you like Monikers and want more, there are numerous expansions. Most give access to more topics which, after enough play throughs, may be a necessity as too much familiarity may lead to game fatigue. In line with the underlying humor of the series, these expansions are named “More Monikers,” “Monikers: Shmonikers,” and “Monikers: Serious Nonsense.”

Were it more readily available, I would recommend the Kickstarter Exclusive “Twelve Hopelessly Stupid Fourth Rounds for Monikers.” Remember that the game has 3 rounds? Well, throw that notion out the window. Now you have a random set of cards to choose a 4th round with even more ludicrous rules. Charades, but played under a blanket? Cool. You can talk, but every noun is replaced with a nonsense word everyone agrees to? Go for it. Charades again, but you have to hide behind the couch and only use one hand? Killer diller. Pictionary effectively? Sure, how good can you draw a walrus? Again, while I will not recommend a completed Kickstarter Exclusive as a must get, I will suggest that you write down your own ideas for a 4th round, and decide amongst fellow partygoers if you want the game to go further.

If you like Monikers, but want different experiences, there are options.

If you like trivia that’s fun and forgiving: consider Wits & Wagers

If you like subjective trivia with the chance for creating comedy: consider Say Anything

If you like light-hearted, competition with a silliness factor expressly created for parties: consider Don’t Get Got.

Thank you again for stopping by. Wish you could have been here for those chips and salsa; they were perfection. Next time, we’ll conclude the party game topics where I talk about a skill based party game. Until then, adios and happy gaming.


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