Board Games: The Essential Question – Issue #3: Games of Skill and Telestrations.

Hello again. I apologize for returning later than planned; I was off in the jungles of the Himalayas doing some serious James Bond powerlifting.

That is a lie; like, 4 lies in one sentence. You most likely spotted that long before I had to tell you. Good eye.

Last time, I waxed poetic on trivia games for parties, and in passing, I mentioned skill-based games. Skill games, as I will broadly define them, are typically simple games that focus on a particular set of talents, be it games of dexterity, finesse, artistic ability, etc.

In regards to artistic ability and board games, Pictionary looms long. After all, Pictionary is nearly 40 years old; your parents and even your grandparents may have had an opportunity to own the first edition of this game. It’s mostly simple. Roll a dice, move to that color square, draw the option listed on the card for the color of square you are on. If your team guesses it, keep rolling. If not, play passes. Get to the end. Simple.

And, so tedious. Why have roll and move? Get unlucky, and you’re moving a square at a time. Also, even with “All Play” cards, this means that one team has to sit back and watch as the other team engages with the game. That’s boring. Oh, and don’t forget the time Mitch invited over his friends Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and Bob Ross, and they were all on the other team and smoked you, even when they kept rolling effective 1’s every time they moved. And then Michelangelo smacked you in the face with his nunchaku and ate your pizza. Yeah, turtle, I still remember…

Pizza or Assault? Why not both? PIZZASSAULT!

Childhood trauma aside, you have the real problem of a game that can have a listless and uncontrollable pace. At a party, we want fun, we want activity, we want snap, we want pop (we don’t want crackle, this is not that type of party.) Pictionary can give us that, but dice often get in the way of that.

People can also get in the way of that. See the classic Family Guy skit/joke “Jackal, it’s a Jackal…” That one guy or group that keeps guessing the same word over and over even though it wasn’t right the first time, and we haven’t Mandela effect’d into a universe where that answer is now right. Tedious does not being to describe it.

Let’s keep the drawing. We like drawing. Let’s get rid of the board, and the dice. Let’s get rid of the teams; no waiting on another group, we’re all playing at the same time. Finally, let’s give ourselves a little creative freedom to make up some rules on the fly.

Let’s get our hands on Telestrations.

Who? Creator uncredited (Boo!) Published by The OP amongst others.

When? First published in 2009, still in print to this day across multiple targeted editions.

Where? The (hopefully) unbridled imaginations of your friends and family stimulated by words printed on cards.

What? Telestrations takes 4 to 8 players (more in expanded editions), throws dry-erase markers in their hands, and asks them to pick a topic on a card and draw it (or pass it off to another player to draw depending on the number of players in the game). Once each player has drawn their subject, they pass their booklet over to the player to their left who has to guess what the drawing represents. Then, they pass the guess over to the next player, who has to draw the guess. This continues until every player has their initial book back. Then, one by one, each player reveals their subject, the initial drawing, and the proceeding guesses and drawings that flowed forth from there. Play occurs once or over a course of rounds (party’s choice). The winner… is determined by how the party wants to determine the winner (more on this later).

Why is it Essential?

Drawing games, for me, have been the easiest party games to get to a table. It’s typically low effort; everyone gets to sit down; drawing is usually relaxing (as compared to pulling sticks out of an increasingly more wobbly tower or the like). I’ve generally been blessed to be around expressive people, and drawing feeds directly into that impulse.

Second, Telestrations plays a good number of people. 8 out of the main box. Your party should be covered with this number.

Third, and this is the biggest point for me, it’s engaging and fun. Everyone is either drawing or guessing at the same time. No one’s waiting a long time. And each time you have a booklet passed to you, you’re now staring at either a subject you have to draw or have to figure out just what in the blue hell you just got passed.

And, yes, you can try to go by the letter and guess exactly. You can do that… you ENIAC!

My great grandson will be Skynet.

Reclaim the spirit by breaking the rule. You are presented a man with a telescope looking at a moon. “Astronomer,” clearly! NO, that’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. The card may have said Astronomer, but you’ve gleaned the secret meaning the game designer and artist never intended. You write down that guess, say a prayer for Billy Corgan tonight… tonight, and pass that on. You don’t have time to regret, you now have to draw “The Existential Dread of Knowing that All is Nothing.” How did they even have the space to print that on a tiny card?

Real talk, it may seem absurd, and I would suggest that your guess should have some kind of tie to the drawing you are handed, but embracing silliness makes this game come alive. Friends (or at least casual acquaintances) having to draw ideas that could not have possibly been on these cards followed by the artistic expressions that flow from this… it really is magic.

But, what about scoring? Again, if you and your friends are a total bunch of ENIAC’s, yeah, you can tally up whose guesses were most accurate and who’s drawings most objectively represent the ide…. ZZZ…. ZZZ… (Note: My apologies for any offense, if you prefer something like this, and this gets your friends happy and keeps them there, embrace it.)

Try this instead. Nominate a player for the round to be the presenter of the ideas (or have each person present their own booklet). Go through each one, allow some time for the pictures and guesses to marinate in the cerebrums of the players. The presenter should feel free to make snarky comments (but nothing too mean spirited, be funny not miserly). Then, once a booklet is fully presented, have the presenter provide some arbitrary number of points, similar to Drew Carey (or Clive Anderson if you are tea-and-crumpet inclined) from Whose Line Is It Anyway? The points should not matter anyway. It’s about everyone coming together to have fun.

Telestrations is, in my opinion, the essential drawing game for a board game collection. It rewards the creatively inclined without requiring a bachelor of fine arts. It rewards good humor by passing and growing jokes amongst friends. It can be taken 100% seriously or 0% seriously, and there’s enough range in between to find happiness throughout for nearly any group. Telestrations is absolutely worth it.

Where Do We Go from Here?

If you want Telestrations, you have some options. There is a 12 player version. I would not buy this if you’ve already bought the original, unless you want to try a 20 player game. At that point, congratulations, you’ve created the casino buffet of drawing games.

If you want some more risque topics, there is Telestrations After Dark…

When the Sun Goes Down… Poop Jokes.

Definitely not for kids, but if you’d like the irreverence to start out with nipples out, hey, you have an option.

Finally, if you already have Telestrations, consider just coming up with your own topics. Hit your friends with your own bizarre/serious/funny/melancholy ideas for them to draw and go creative. (Yes, I included melancholy so I could prove I could spell it. I won a spelling competition once. Once.)

If you like Telestrations but want different experiences: try these options.

If you like the drawing, but also want trivia and charades and (possibly) molding clay, try any of the versions of Cranium.

We Actually Did a Drinking Game of This Once.

If you like light hearted co-operative drawing with a quasi-traitor mechanic, try A Fake Artist Goes to New York.

And, that’s pretty much it for skill-based games for now. In the future, I’ll be swinging back around to this topic to talk about games of dexterity. As always, if you have your own thoughts on this or any subject discussed in this series, feel free to leave a comment below. Next time… oh, look it’s October, time to think scary. Until then, arrivederci and happy gaming.


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