Review: Malarky

Generally speaking, deception is considered a bad thing.  We associate lies and prevarication with criminals, con men, cheats and politicians.  But within the construct of the rules of a game, lying is called bluffing, and is perfectly fair and reasonable. What would poker be without bluffing?  It would turn into a complex version of Go Fish.

Malarky, a game from Patch Products, is one of the best bluffing party games I've seen, because it involves interesting and obscure facts and a highly psychological bluffing mechanic.  The source material for the game is the Imponderables books that David Feldman has been writing since 1986 (close to a dozen volumes so far.)  An "Imponderable" is a fact or phenomenon with a little-known explanation. For example, When do fish sleep? or Do elephants jump? or Why are tennis balls fuzzy?  The game comes to life when each player (except one) tries to think of a plausible answer, then everyone presents their answer one at a time.  There's no writing, as there is in Balderdash; instead, everyone speaks aloud their explanation.  One player will have the game card with the actual answer on it; each other player will have a card that says "Bluff" on it.  Patch has provided small cardboard folders to hide these cards so no one can see who holds the real answer. Players receive one point from each person who votes for their answer.

A sharp-eyed player will do well to watch as people come up with, and deliver, their answers.  The rules explicitly state "Don't stare off into space as you think of your answer... pretend to be reading the real answer on your card!" but this is easily forgotten.  One of my players received the real answer two times in a row, and we could tell by her reaction when she looked at her card that she'd gotten it again.  This game will hone your play-acting and bluffing skills to a fine edge, with practice.  Terminally honest players may be at a disadvantage at first, if they are prone to blushing, etc.  Still, this is a game that can be fun for just about anyone who's willing to "tell stories".

I first encountered Malarky some years ago, and was fortunate to play with some very fun and funny people; I am glad to report after another recent play, that the game is as fun as ever, especially for would-be actors.  Two interesting twists to the scoring are as follows:  If you have a bluff card but think you know the actual answer, you can try and answer with the real answer instead of bluffing.  And if you have the actual answer card but someone else gives the real answer first, you are then required to bluff (this is called a "Malarky.")  You get double points in either of these cases.

Malarky is a fun and interesting party game that still holds up years after its initial publication.  I encourage you to visit Patch's web site to learn more.