Review: Pick'N'Choose

(NOTE - this review reveals a few of the cards in the game, with the intention of illustrating the content of the game and how the game works.  It's hoped that discovering these small bits of information will not interfere with your enjoyment when you buy and try the game.)

If you were playing party games at the turn of the last century, you probably remember Cranium, a board game that combined many activities involving words, creativity, performing, and trivia into one successful package.  Pick'N'Choose, a new party game from our friends in Canada, takes the idea of providing many different activity choices and adds an interesting new twist: now you get to select which one you'll do - and you will be rewarded accordingly, based on how difficult your choice is.

Pick'N'Choose challenges a player to lay out five cards face down, then turn up one at at time and try to get his or her teammates to guess the word on each card, within a three minute time limit for all five cards.  The performing player may use any one of the following means for each individual card - but only one of them! - and must state which one he or she is using before beginning the performance:
  • Draw - with pencil and paper, without using letters or numbers, as in other games
  • Clay - sculpt the sweet-smelling modeling compound, you can also "animate" the sculpture, for example sculpt a person swinging a bat (but don't sculpt a bat and swing it yourself - you are not part of your sculpture)
  • Mime - gesture silently, as in Charades, but don't point to or use objects around you
  • Hum - (or whistle) a tune
  • Wire - use the two supplied wires to create shapes.  The wires are very pliable and keep their shape.  You may also "animate" the sculpture (see "Clay" above)
  • Clown - this is a new and interesting choice; you may only move your face and make sound effects with your mouth.  (No words or musical humming)
  • One word - you can only say one word.
  • Two words - you can say two words; you can say them both right away or say one and then after people have guessed some, say another word.
  • Trivia - if you really don't think you can succeed with any of the other choices, there is a (usually pretty easy) trivia question at the bottom of each card.  This one's good for those who fold under pressure or are running out of time - they can still succeed and don't really have to do anything.  
If a performance is not going well, or if a player just doesn't want to do a particular card yet, one can "pass" that card and come back to it later if there is enough time.  

As you can see, Pick'N'Choose combines time-tested party games like Pictionary, Charades, Name that Tune, Password,Trivial Pursuit, etc etc, adds some new ideas, and puts a new spin on it all (in this case, making the game more strategic by letting players "choose their own adventure" re. the activity types.)  My gang of hard-core party game experts is somewhat jaded, but they enjoyed Pick'N'Choose.  The deliberative "choosing" play mechanic is unique, and the cards are interesting and (mostly) well-balanced (one exception:  "lollipop" should not award 120 points for the "Clown" activity... it's too easy to just stick out your tongue and lick the air... any game group (if it's in polite company) will only say "ice cream" or "lollipop" for that!)  As with Cranium, a big benefit of providing so many activities is everyone will have something they are good at.  This makes people succeed and feel good.  In Pick'N'Choose, your destiny is not random and a bolder player can go for greater risk and greater reward.  I went for an epic challenge by trying to hum to get my team to guess "Muhammad Ali" - they quickly guessed the "Rocky" theme when I hummed it, and from there it was a short trip to "boxer," but I couldn't get them to go more specific to a real life boxer.  (Does Ali have a theme song?  Maybe Ali Baba does and I could have gotten there that way?  Should I have hummed Paul Simon's song "The Boxer"?  There are many ways to go.)   In another turn, a friend who is a fellow classic video game geek chose to hum for "Pac-Man," and I immediately recognized from his rendition the tune that plays when the game starts.

My players are game experts and game designers, and had a few ideas for a variant to the game, which I will document here for those who are interested.

Pick'N'Choose, the all-play "stacked deck" deliberative variant:
Each player is dealt five cards at the start of the game and reviews them.  Using a dry-erase board and marker, each player lists the five words from 1 to 5 and notes each word and their choice of activity for each, then stacks the cards in order until their turn.  There should be a time limit for this part of the game, maybe 90 seconds.

Then the players perform one at a time, as per usual.  In this variant, rather than two teams, every card is an "all-play" (everyone guesses) and the performer scores the number of points on the card, while each successful guess earns a guesser 10 points.  There can be a supply of "points tokens" in the middle of the table and using the honor system, people can just grab one whenever they make a correct guess.  An audible timer is helpful, so no one has to watch the sand timer.

When everyone has had a turn to perform once, everyone gets five new cards and the process repeats.  As soon as someone reaches a set number of points, they win, and the game is complete.

Why we think these changes make the game even better:
  • Everyone is playing, involved and invested all the time, every turn (rather than just watching while the other team is playing)
  • Eliminates the long pauses as people look at each card and decide what to do (this went on for up to 30 seconds sometimes)
  • The deliberative, strategic aspect of the game can be fully realized, rather than something to cope with during the performing time.  The deliberative time is now "overlapped" and everyone's happens at the same time, so the performing time no longer needs to be three minutes for each player each time (try 90 seconds.)
Please do not take these suggestions as a condemnation of Pick'N'Choose.  I'm more excited about the game then I have been about a party game in quite some time.  I give the game a strong recommendation, and would offer this bit of advice to new players who might feel a bit of anxiety about performing - try a practice round before playing, to get used to how the game works.  I have seen many players who fret about their performing or artistic skill, or about who's scoring the most points.  Remember, it's who had the most fun who won!

One more note about the "Clown" activity.  We liked this one so much we played an all-Clown round after our game was finished.  With the timer out of play and everyone guessing, we were almost always successful, even for ones that seemed impossible at first.  For example, "donut" was guessed by first rolling back my eyes, hanging out my tongue and gurgling a la Homer Simpson, then making chomping noises.  Another player closed her eyes and moved her lips as if praying, prompting the guesses "prayer," "Holy Ghost," "God," and finally the correct answer, "Jesus Christ."  We were all stunned that someone had been able to get us to guess this just using only her face.  It was with awe that we said to her throughout the rest of the night, "You Clowned Jesus!"

Until next time - have fun!