Richard Garfield and Ken Jennings teaming up to make a board game is the most logical thing you’ll hear all day. The former is an absurdly successful game designer and the latter is THE grandmaster of trivia. Put them together and what have you got? Half Truth, a trivia board game the two created exclusively for Kickstarter with Studio71. You can find it here: http://bit.ly/2TAyv1B
Garfield’s most popular creation, Magic: The Gathering, debuted in 1993 and has since become a worldwide phenomenon. But his work with Wizards of the Coast started in 1985 when he pitched his pipe dream, RoboRally, to the then-new company. Concerned that the game wouldn’t be cost-efficient, the big wigs suggested a cheaper, quicker, and more portable option that could encourage tournament play. Magic: The Gathering was born shortly after, as was the long-gestating RoboRally.
Now, Magic tournaments bring in eager players from across the globe and casual games still set households aflame with heated competition. In 2015, The Guardian reported that the game had roughly twenty million players and had been published in 11 languages. The game provides a safe place for people to break through their insecurities and make decisions they’re confident in, even if it’s fairly micro-level.
Jennings, by all accounts a trivia wizard, claimed his fame on Jeopardy!, winning 74 consecutive games and earning himself a comfy seat amongst the greatest players to have ever graced the game. He first appeared on the show on June 2, 2004, and continued to clean up until December of that same year. He went on to write numerous books, with his first, Brainiac, catching Garfield’s attention. That, Garfield says, is what kickstarted their partnership.
The project began, I think, when I read Ken’s book, Brainiac. I learned from his book his love of trivia and to appreciate trivia in a way I hadn’t before and I wanted to make a game that would really bring that out.
Here’s a photo of the book’s cover for reference:
Jennings chimed in with a short anecdote, saying:
It was one of the nicest emails I’ve ever gotten. It was a book review saying ‘I loved your book.’ And it was somebody famous that I admired so when he said, ‘Wanna collaborate on a game?’ I was like ‘Wow, what’s goin’ on?’
Half Truth is a game built from the belief that, during trivia, data retention is more than a reversal of a Deus ex machina. Answers always seem to come to the whizzes for the entirety of the game and escape everyone else. Answers don’t come to losing contestants in a beam of white light and they don’t abandon the winners during that vital final round. Half Truth evens the playing field (for the most part) for everyone involved. Trivia is tricky and completely indifferent to both its best and its worst players. But, ideally, it’s also fun, engaging, and encouraging. That’s the route Garfield and Jennings took with Half Truth and it’s the route that will undoubtedly make this Kickstarter campaign a runaway success. Bringing value to a saturated industry isn’t easy but these two are more than equipped to pull it off.
The game was initially conceived within a year of the book’s 2006 release. According to Garfield, it had been “in and out of the works for a while,” an on-and-off production that prompted Jennings to return to the questions they had devised and make sure the answers were still correct. “Is this still the highest building in the world?” Things like that.
In terms of actual gameplay, educated guessing, process of elimination, and deductive reasoning are important, but appealing to the layman is the game’s top priority. Everyone gets a shot at the correct answer at the same time and no one feels dumb not knowing something. “We wanted to make sure there was a card in the box for every kind of expert,” Ken said.
We really wanted a game where trivia lovers would have a great time but so would everyone else. You’re not sitting around waiting for someone to remember a fact. A lot of the games sort of highlighted what you didn’t know, which was discouraging. And the great thing about Richard’s framework for this game is that everyone plays every question and everyone can feel kind of smart because the answers are all laid out and you’re just wagering on how confident you feel in which is the true one and which is the lie.
In so many ways, Half Truth is an inversion of the standard model and a bold deviation from the drunken one-upping and booze-bolstered confidence commonly experienced in bar trivia. Everyone is involved and everyone can feel confident rather than inadequate.
Refined mechanics, coupled with its focus on inclusivity, make Half Truth an experience that Garfield and Jennings hope will enhance the gameplay for hardcore players without discouraging newcomers. It’s a special concept made even more unique by the cognitive might of its powerhouse creators. They shot for a well-rounded game and hit the bullseye.
While designing the game, Garfield even brought in outside help both to add cards he wouldn’t have come up with and to keep his own skills sharp.
My wife Koni made this question, which was, ‘Which of these are real mushrooms?’ So there were six answers and I recognized one I was pretty sure was a mushroom and one was a Magic card. But oftentimes, Magic cards are named after real things so it could have been a mushroom too, but I wasn’t sure. It turned out that she’d named all three of the wrong answers after Magic cards.
Creators subconsciously (or, depending on their artistic aims, consciously) imbue their work with parts of themselves, and it’s fascinating to see another person, typically someone close to them, put bits of that creator into the art.
Pre-orders are available now on Kickstarter. Studio71 will ship the game just in time for the holidays.
A BIG thanks to Richard Garfield and Ken Jennings for putting up with me for twenty minutes. Thanks, also, to Kat Jones for arranging this interview.