I don’t write about party games nearly as often as I play them. This is partially because it’s difficult to analyze this type of game through the lens of philosophy or as an introspective revelation of the self. It’s difficult to say anything interesting at all really. These products are simple things designed to scrape off a layer of the fundamental substrate of the primordial game. I’m talking about distilling fun down to its most reductive molecule, delivered via social interaction.
This is a review about two party games. Two games which do deliver fun.
Keep It 100 and TBH: The Game of Honest Answers to Outrageous Questions are two new releases from CUT. This is a multimedia company primarily known for its YouTube channel featuring comedic content. Some of their videos are game related, such as couples playing “Truth or Drink” and brothers playing “Fear Pong”. There’s a general hip vibe and they pull in a massive amount of eyeballs – many of their videos have eclipsed 15 million views.
These two party games fit seamlessly into their brand. They’re colorful, bright, and contemporary. As a trendy and engaging piece of physical media, they work and do provide that baseline of “fun”.
Let’s talk about Keep It 100 first.
This is a survey game that blends Family Feud with the tabletop games Wits & Wagers and Timeline. The structure, while certainly owing much to its influences, comes across as fresh and more entertaining than expected.
Here’s how it works. Each player is dealt a hand of cards which have a question on the front. These are mundane queries such as “do you like the beach?” or “do your kids consume too much media?” The answer on the back is the number of people out of 100 that said yes. No one gets to see this answer until later.
The first player takes one of their cards and reads the question aloud, then they attempt to place it on the table between a couple of randomized pre-seeded numbers, such as 25 and 75. So how many Americans out of a hundred like the beach, really? More than 75?
Now things get interesting. Once you slide your card in – still without revealing the answer – the other players at the table now predict whether the truth is above or below your predicted placement, or perhaps bang on.
It sounds pretty easy. That doesn’t last long.
As the game progresses cards placed out in the row stay in play, forming new quantified micro-divisions. So say the beach answer was 50 and you got it right. Now the next player must place their card: “is your phone screen cracked right now?” Is it below the 25? Somewhere between the 25 and 50 and 75 cards? As the game extends it gets narrower and narrower. The stakes raise and accuracy decreases. There’s a bit of a thrill in nailing a difficult question and then flipping the bird to those who bet against you.
“How many people out of 100 just scored 20 points and told y’all to suck it? At least one, ya muppets.”
Advanced rules provide more varied payouts by allowing you to bet your point cards on other’s success or failure. This is a direct nod to Wits & Wagers and I wouldn’t play without it. The drama injected allows for more comeback victories and emphasizes the friction between investing in or against one another. It’s a delightful addition with just a touch of fuss as you need to collect and organize point cards being bet.
While not nearly as enchanting as the betting module, the game does allow for a cooperative or solo mode where you’re trying to correctly place 10 cards before failing on five. This actually works and provides a neat distraction. It does unfortunately have the adverse effect of chewing up content in a game that’s heavily reliant on fresh questions. There are 362 cards which does feel generous, but it seems overall an odd experience to burn cards in service of the solitaire experience. Philosophically I want to question if we can even call it a party game at that point as opposed to some other quiet contemplative activity that stands apart from the core game itself.
And I’d rarely engage the cooperative experience because it loses some of the tension and hilarity of the competitive mode. I’d much rather play Just One if I desire a more friendly and cordial encounter.
Keep It 100 is absolutely the stronger of the two CUT releases. It feels slightly less derivative – despite pointers to several peers – and it offers a cognitive puzzle that’s surprisingly entertaining. Much like the best trivia games in the genre, it’s more reliant on logic and strategic betting than it is on actual knowledge.
Impressively, it can also spark interesting conversations as the results of a survey call into question our understanding of culture or society. These are great moments and can fuel a deeper connection to the game. This ability to provide for a more well-rounded and theoretical dialogue is highly appealing.
Overall, I’m very pleased with Keep It 100 and have cherished each play with various groups. I don’t think it quite has the intimate discussion framework of a game like Wavelength nor the intricate social layers of a Secret Hitler, but it succeeds admirably with a crowd seeking the sort of clever direction mass market party games have gone. In terms of substantive game design, this genre has matured significantly from those painful days of Trivial Pursuit and Fact or Crap. Keep It 100 is an indication of that maturity and a success.
TBH: The Game of Honest Answers to Outrageous Questions is less interesting. I think it does succeed in its goal of providing provocative questions and drumming up laughter, but not to its fullest potential.
The first issue is one of form. Each round a participant reads a question to the others. These are inquiries such as whether you’d let the super small people you just found living in your walls stay there? Or maybe whether you’d attend clown college after your famous clown uncle dies and pays for your tuition? They’re somewhat long and approach convoluted for this type of game, attempting to provide some character outside of the frequently copped Cards Against Humanity persona. That goal isn’t achieved for the most part.
After the question is posed, each player places a yes or no answer upon a square mat in front of them. This is where it gets a little iffy. You then must predict the answer of other players but you are limited in the number of predictions you can make. This causes you to lean into those you know best or feel most comfortable with. There is an element of blocking – particularly in larger games – as there are only so many slots around each player board to place a prediction. This can inflict an element of time pressure, which is actually somewhat interesting, but it fuels the consternation that’s ingrained in this flurry of activity.
Tossing these prediction cards around the table is simply a hassle. It requires everyone sit within close proximity or, in absence, a foot race to occur as people get up and start reaching across the open space. It’s clumsy and more demanding than the trouble is worth.
The questions here are also a little more wacky and whimsical than your typical party game. This eccentric stance pairs well with alcohol, but it also leads to more fanciful answers that can dance around the truth. It’s not quite illuminating in terms of revealing a friend’s personality so much as it is in displaying their sense of humor. That means it’s an experience that is more throwaway and disposable.
There are some good moments and it can lead to inside jokes that will stick around indefinitely, but these flashes are less common than I’d like and undercut by the finicky component shuffle.
It’s also worth noting, even if it serves as a red flag, that there is an NSFW expansion deck which you can acquire. This is entirely the type of content you’d expect and likely less enlightening as a social exercise in acquaintance revelation.
Again, TBH is not a failure. Rather, it’s a strictly mundane center marker for the range of a modern party game. That does provide for a tough challenge when there are elite titles readily available, and I’d certainly rather play Keep It 100 if given the choice.
In assessing both of these releases in combination, I am left quizzical concerning where this design team will go in the future. These titles came to my attention thanks to CUT developer Nate Murray, former IDW Games employee responsible for producing Kevin Wilson’s TMNT: Shadows of the Past. I likely would have passed on these games without his involvement. Thankfully that didn’t happen as Keep It 100 has carved out a small nook in this genre and contributed positively to the greater mosaic.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.