14 December 2018
A quick-thinking challenge that’s as easy as A, B, er…
Party games are an essential part of just about any player’s collection. Releases like Codenames, Spyfall and Two Rooms and a Boom are great ways to liven up social occasions, and to sneakily entice non-gaming friends into the cult of cardboard. But making a brilliant party game is no easy thing. They need to combine elegant simplicity with a genuine element of challenge – and for every game that gets that balance right, there’s another that falls flat.
Fortunately, Tags nails it. A blazingly fast word game, it’s based on an activity we’ve all probably tried at some point in our lives: choosing a category, like movies, bands or countries, and trying to name an example of it for each letter of the alphabet. Algeria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark...
It doesn’t sound like the most promising premise for a game, but Tags takes the idea as its starting point and builds a brilliant system around it.
It revolves around a grid-style board. Along one side you’ll place random cards showing a selection of different topics: things like car brands, kids’ movie titles or types of fast food. Along another edge you’ll place cards showing a random selection of letters. On your turn, you’ll try to name examples of each category for each letter.
There are a handful of things making the process harder, though. For one thing, you’ll have just 15 seconds to come up with as many answers as you can. It’s a punishingly short time limit, measured out by a pitiless sand timer, and it makes for real pressure to fire out answers as quickly as you can. Sometimes it’s enough to make you clam up completely, trying desperately to think of something, anything to say to avoid the ignominy of a non-scoring round.
Then there’s the game’s scoring system. Whenever you provide a valid answer, you’ll take a marble off the board at the intersection of the letter and category you’ve fulfilled. Different marbles grant different numbers of victory points, and you might aim to go after high-scoring answers scattered across the board. But you’ll also gain a bonus for clearing out an entire row, meaning there’s an equally valid strategy of sticking to a single topic. Once again, you’ll have to suss this out in just 15 seconds.
Finally, and most subtly, there’s the variety of different category cards on offer. Some are straightforward trivia questions. How quickly can you name different kinds of insects? Or cleaning products? Or items of sporting equipment? Others, though, are far more abstract, asking you to come up with “things you’d find in a stadium,” or “things people are afraid of.”
Until you play, it’s difficult to appreciate just how tough it can be to jump between concrete, hard-and-fast general knowledge categories and ones that require a bit of visualisation or creative thinking. You’re ricocheting between two very different parts of your brain. The result is a fantastic blend of intelligence and adrenaline.
Tags is a brilliant party game. It takes seconds to explain, but its straightforward rules conceal a surprisingly tough challenge. Its time limits create massive pressure and also ensure that rounds fly by at lightning pace. It’s a superbly simple idea, executed to perfection.
Designer: Spartaco Albertarelli
Artist: Annika Brüning, Marina Fahrenbach
Time: 20-40 minutes
This review originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.