Buzzworthiness: Telestrations

Full disclosure up front: I am not a party game fan.  In general, I think they are fine for activities at a PARTY, but usually are not anything I want to play during a GAME session.  With that said, here’s my review of

image by BGG user cmgames
image by BGG user cmgames

Telestrations is an uncredited design published by USAopoly.  It’s a 4-8 player game (up to 12 with the expansion) that is essentially a combination of Telephone and Pictionary.  It’s actually based on a public domain game called Eat Poop You Cat.  Since its release in 2009, this has consistently been one of the most popular party games among gamers.

The game comes with a bunch of word cards, 8 whiteboard flip books, 8 dry erase markers, 8 cloths, a sand timer, and a die.  Each player gets a book and a marker, as well as a card.  Write your name in the front of the book.  A die is rolled, and players compare the result to their card – that tells them their word or phrase, which you write on the first page of your book.

The second page of your book is “sketch it”, and you (or your neighbor to the left if playing with an odd number) now draw a representation of the word on the first page.  You have 60 seconds.  When done, pass the book to your left.  That player will look at your drawing, and then write on page three what they think it is.  The book get passed again, and the player who gets it now will look at the word or phrase on page three, then draw it on page four.  This continues until you get your book back.  Meanwhile, all other players are passing their own books, so you’ll pass one and get a new one.

Now, one by one, each player reveals their original word and shows the progression from the first sketch to the last page.  You can keep score if you want – there are friendly scoring options which allow you to give points to your favorites, and competitive scoring options where you give points for accuracy in guessing and sketches that help.  No one ever scores this game.

COMPONENTS: The flip boards are very nice.  They are good for saving the environment, and are high enough quality that they clean off easily, don’t stain, and remain sturdy through all passing.  The cards are OK, and the sand timer is ESSENTIAL for the game (more on that later).  Overall, the components are fine.

THEME: There’s no theme, it’s just a party game.

MECHANICS: This is a drawing game combined with a guessing game.  I described it earlier as a combination of Telephone and Pictionary, and that is as apt a description as I can think of.  Telephone is an activity where one person whispers something to one person, who must then whisper to another, and on down the line.  Generally, when it gets to the end of the line, the original phrase has become a garbled mess.  Pictionary is a game where you draw a card and try to get your opponents to guess what it is by drawing it.  This combines the two by having you guess what people drew, then draw what people guessed.

The act of choosing words is done with a die roll.  You draw a card which shows six options (actually 12 – they are front and back, labeled “this side” and “that side”).  You roll the die, which tells you which of the six words on the side you are using will be your word.  That works OK, though I’d rather have the freedom to choose which one I want.

The timer is in place to keep people from taking forever as they draw their masterpiece.  I think it’s too long – make it 30 seconds, and I think that would make things funnier.  If you ever play with someone who won’t use the timer, LEAVE THE TABLE.  You think AP is bad in a Eurogame?  Wait until everyone is waiting for that one guy who is trying to put as much detail as he can into his stick figure drawing of a fire fighter.

Finally, let’s talk about scoring.  I have yet to read or hear a review of this game that does not include some form of the phrase, “Just leave the scoring out, it’s terrible.”  And that’s the positive reviews.  The rules even say you don’t have to use the scoring.  To me, that makes me not want to play.  If it’s just an activity, fine.  This goes with my objection to the term party game – most party games fail at being GAMES.  And the lack of a scoring system is ultimately what makes this game fail at being a GAME for me.  As fun as it might be for some, in the end you’re just passing notebooks around to kill time for 15 minutes.

STRATEGY LEVEL: There’s no strategy to be had here, nor should there be.  I try to do WELL at Telestrations – I see it as a puzzle, and I want to try to figure out the most logical answer when guessing.  Unfortunately, without a scoring system, that becomes pointless.  What you end up getting is people who don’t care about playing WELL, and end up trying to FORCE THE FUN.  Every time I’ve tried to play this game, there’s been someone who has come into determined to be as silly as possible, and frankly, they end up ruining the experience for me.  There is absolutely no way Mayor Bagelhead was one one of the cards, why did you write it?

Again, this is just me.  A lot of people just want to have fun with the game, and that’s fine.  But I have a problem with forcing the fun.  Let it come naturally.

ACCESSIBILITY: This game is very easy to understand and play.  Anyone can get it.  The manufacturer suggests it for ages 13 and up, and that’s ridiculous.  If you can read, you can play this.

REPLAYABILITY: With all the words in the box, this is a fairly replayable game in the sense that you probably won’t ever play through all the words.  But for me, I can’t stomach more than one round at a time.  The last time I played, we finished the first round, and people said, “That was really fun!  Let’s play again!”  Here’s a hint about party games – THE SECOND TIME IS NEVER AS MUCH FUN AS THE FIRST TIME.  In the first time, you usually get more natural fun as people are surprised by things that happen.  The second time, forcing the fun is more of an issue.  This goes for all party games I have ever played.

SCALABILITY: The more you have, the better this game will be.  It will also be longer, and increases the necessity of that timer.

INTERACTION: There is a good amount of interaction in the game, mostly because you are passing books around the table and guessing what others did.  The biggest point of interaction is during the reveal where everyone can laugh at your stupid drawings.

FOOTPRINT: All the space you need here is somewhere for everyone to sit.  You don’t even need a table – this would work fine in a living room.

LEGACY: As I mentioned in my intro, I don’t really like party games.  I will say that this is better than a lot that I have played – I would pick this over Pictionary or Telephone – but it’s still not fun for me.  If you want what I consider to be the gold standard in party games, look to what Northstar Games is doing.  Wits & Wagers and Say Anything are just so far ahead of the pack, it’s ridiculous.  I’d consider this one to be average at best.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I don’t care for Telestrations.  I’ll play if that’s what everyone is playing, but I won’t suggest it.  Your mileage may vary – a lot of people really like the game and consider it one of their favorite party games.  But for me, on my Yeah-Meh-Bleah scale, I give it a

 

Bleah

Thanks for reading!

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2 comments

  1. Just wanted to say I appreciate your review of a game you don’t like… they can’t all be ‘Yeahs’ after all. For the record I don’t care for party games much myself, but I did enjoy reading the review.

    • Thanks! I don’t write a whole bunch of negative reviews, but as you said, they can’t all be winners. And I felt like I needed to add a dissenting opinion to the love people seem to feel for Telestrations.

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