Outside the Box – A Meeples Next Door Review February 22, 2012
Do you have what it takes to think “Outside the Box”? Read more to find out about this incredibly fun, social game!
Publisher: Sugarman Games, LLC.
Recommended Age: 12 and Up
Number of Players: 4 – as many players as you can get!
Game Length: 60-75 minutes
What is it that truly makes a game great?
It’s a seemingly simple question, but certainly one that has no clear answer. There are a number of factors that go into the creation of a game, so realistically, there will be a like number of reasons why a game could be considered great. Let’s also not forget that this is a highly individualized question and answer – what one person might feel is an amazing game, another may very well find disappointing. In truth, the question itself, while certainly simple in appearance, is easily indiscernible, open to interpretation to each and every individual to whom it is asked.
So, I ask again – what is it that truly makes a game great?
At this point, you’re probably wondering why I’m asking a question that is, as I stated above, somewhat unanswerable, at least when it comes to anything more than personal tastes. Well, let me get straight to the point – I have an answer to this question, one that truly embraces the concept of gaming greatness, but it’s very Douglas Adams-y, in a way. No, it’s not a numerical answer, I assure you. It is, however, summed up in one single word, a word that, when asked the question of what makes a game great, doesn’t really seem to drive the necessary point home.
That word, you ask?
Now don’t say I didn’t warn you! The word is…
There you have it. One word, totally unrelated to the question, right? I see that funny look in your eyes, that look that seems to say “Yeah, this guy’s clearly out of his mind”! However, I implore you to read on and to understand just how I came to this rather bizarre answer to such a ostensibly simple question.
For the past few weeks, my gaming groups have been playing a number of different games, many of which I’ve already written reviews for. In every case, so far, these titles have met with a great amount of popularity and interest, which I’m happy to see, as I often wonder about game diversity amongst these rather curmudgeonly gamers. One title, however, has been seeing a large amount of requests when it comes time to play and we’ve managed to sneak three or four sessions of this game into each meeting (meaning that, to this point, we’ve played the game roughly sixteen times in a two week period). That’s somewhat unprecedented with this group, as they like to vary things up quite a bit, but time and time again, these groups have made it quite clear that they want to play Outside the Box…
… and indeed we played Outside the Box many, many times.
Outside the Box is, in a nutshell, the ultimate party game, one of those titles that brings a large group together for a night of laughter and merriment. Instead of relying solely on one game mechanic, however, Outside the Box offers up a host of different play styles, each one engineered to force players to think in different and unique ways – outside the box, as they might very well say.
Let’s break the game down before we get into an actual session
From the start, Outside the Box catches your attention, because the game board is, in fact, the box top to the game! Once you remove the lid to get at the components underneath, the box top is placed on the table and folds open! You’ve got an instant board, complete with tracks for your markers, a starting square, and four sides that present players with all the scoring information they’ll ever need! It’s a clever touch and only reinforces the concept that this game truly is “outside the box”.
At this point, players split into two teams. Now you could play the game with as few as four people (two people per team), but the game shines when you really have four people (or more) per team. Once teams have been decided upon, the team leaders decided which color they’re going to be (red or blue) and taken the corresponding pawn and scoring chips. The pawn is placed on the board, the chips are placed in reach of the team and the team captains take a stack of twelve pass cards for their team – these pass cards are important, as we’ll see later, and can make or break a team! Each team also receives four reference cards and should find themselves a pencil, pen and some paper with which to write upon.
At this point, players should be on the start square and the game begins with a Volley Box round!
As the game progresses, players make their way through three distinct phases, indicated by changes in color on the track of the game:
Green – Phase One – Easier categories
Red – Phase Two – More difficult categories
Blue- Phase Three – Difficult Categories
Each phase, furthermore, is broken down into sixteen unique spaces, each one offering one of four different game variations to play through! I’ve mentioned one, Volley Box, but have yet to describe it, so let me talk about the four categories in more detail:
Volley Box – When you start the game, play is determined by the first team to win this type of round. In a Volley Box round, a category card is drawn, in this example the card will be “Parts of a House” and read aloud (along with any rules or restrictions the card may have (in this example, the “Parts of a House” card says that answers CAN be both inside and outside the property, cannot be furniture related, etc.). A timer is set for one minute and once started, players must shout answers out, starting from the letter A and going through the entire alphabet. For example, team Red will shout out “Awning”, and now it’s up to team Blue to shout back something that starts with “B”. Quickly, the Blues retaliate with “Bathroom”, leaving the Red team to scramble for something that starts with the letter “C”. Play continues until one team gets beeped BEFORE they finish their answer. If the Red team were to shout out “Chair”, the round would come to grinding halt. Why? Because “Chair” is an unacceptable answer according to the rules on the card – remember? No furniture! Of course, you can use a PassCard to skip your letter, but those cards are limited (you can win more, but still, you’ll be shocked at how quickly they can run out).
Team Play – The second game mechanic to be found within Outside the Box is Team Play. In this two minute round, the team captain (or another player if people want to act as the captain), chooses a category card, but instead of volleying answers back and forth with the other team, they must, on their own, come up with as many answers as they can, one for each letter starting from “A”. However, the captain isn’t alone! His/Her teammates may offer clues to help coax an answer from the other player, though they have to do so without using “rhymes with” or “sounds like”. Unlike the Volley Box round, players may only pass a total of three times.
To Each His Own – In this round, one team picks four orange letter cards and a category card. For this example, we’ll assume the category card is “Things you plug into an electrical outlet” and that the letter cards drawn were F, L, T, and P. The team performing this round MAY use a PassCard to choose different letters, but are only given thirty seconds to decided on all four letters! At this point, the time is then set for two minutes and the controlling team, independently of each other (hence the “to each his own” title), must write out four answers that correspond to the four letters they chose. In this example, player A may write “F”ork, “L”amp, “T”imer, and “P”opcorn maker (yes, these are actual examples from one of our games – even fork). Of course, the key to this round is to choose answers that your teammates won’t also choose, so you need to be original. In this case, two people chose “L”amp and thus the answer didn’t count. If the controlling team can manage to make it through the round without matching a response (or providing an illegal answer), they retain control of the board and may continue playing – if they matched, however, or provided an illegal answer, the round is over for them (though they still get to move). The other team can also write in answers, though as a group, and if they don’t match the controlling team, they get to move a few spaces, too! If the controlling team had no matches and all answers were legit, they are allowed to “Stump the Master”, which means they get to choose ONE player’s answers and compare them to the answers in the “Stump the Master” book that comes with the game. It’s a cute touch and believe me, we only stumped the Master a handful of times! The book is huge, too, so good luck!
Speed Round – This is my favorite round of the game. One person is chosen to be the “Actor” and the remaining team members choose whether to play either a one or two minute round. Generally speaking, we chose two minutes, but hey, feel free to challenge yourself. The actor chooses a Speed Round card and these cards follow a similar format to the category card, in that teams will be providing an answer starting at “A” and going through “Z”. In this case, however, the Actor is going to try and get someone to guess a specific answer that’s based on a theme on the side of the card. For example, one card we used was [BLANK] Day, with [BLANK] being the word needed to complete a phrase ending in day. The “A” word is “April Fool’s”, so the actor might say “Pranksters are out in full force on…” and so on and so forth. Points are distributed based on the number of correct answers achieved by the control team. In this round, the actor can pass three times without penalty – after three passes, each pass costs a scoring chip!
As play progresses, teams will bounce back and forth through these categories repeatedly, until they reach the very end – or the very beginning, so to speak, as the start card is also the end game card! Once here, a team chooses their game style (regardless of the choice, the card used here is a Phase Two card) and must complete it with whatever rules apply. If the lead team manages to complete their goal, the game is over and the victors are crowned. If not, play continues with the next team trying to get to the final challenge square.
All in all, that’s Outside the Box. In general terms of concept, the game itself adheres to a very simple set of rules and guidelines, but the rapidly paced gaming rounds make for an incredibly frenetic and wild experience. On our fist play session, we weren’t sure what to expect, but the game’s designer, Rick Sugarman, has made the game very easy for players to simply jump into by offering a complete set of rules that are designed to be read while you play. If that’s not enough, he’s also seen fit to include a CD that offers up a number of tips and tricks, as well as rules and examples of gameplay. It’s amusing and incredibly helpful, to say the least. If you need more, the Facebook page for Outside the Box features a slew of videos (most of which are pretty darn funny), all designed to give gamers an idea of what the flow of the game might be like.
Getting back to our first session, as I said, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. After setting things up and reading through the first few paragraphs of the rules sheet, we were off and running – a feat that’s not altogether common these days. Thankfully, the rules are very simple, colorfully presented and well written. This is one of those games where we got through the rules and didn’t have to go back (because we had reference sheets, too)! Our first game only featured two teams of four and while it was a lot of fun, it was my later experiences with larger groups that made for an incredibly fun time. I’d still play with four, but the more the merrier!
In every game, for the most part, I had to ensure that my team was always chock full of people who thought similarly to me. You know, those gamers with whom you have some kind of bizarre mental connection – people who can provide you with the lamest clues imaginable, but you know exactly what they mean, because your thought processes work exactly like theirs! When it came time to creating teams, I sought out only the most like-minded individuals I could find – which meant my wife, who is also a big gamer, was always on the opposing team. Snicker, if you must, you’ll soon understand why this choice was not only a good one for our side, but a truly necessary one in this game (and almost every other game I play). It sounds cold, I know, and I love her dearly, but read on and have your “Oh, I see what he means” moment.
Once our teams were in harmonious arrangement, it was time to get down and dirty with Outside the Box – I was the captain of the Blue Team (we called ourselves the “Blue Meanies”, because one of our players is a die-hard Beatles fan and that’s the most original name we could come up with), while my wife took control of the opposing Red Team, aka the Red Death (yes, they got a much cooler name, but you’ll soon see that a cool name means very little when it comes time to play a team game.
Our first round was obviously a Volley Box round, as it’s the first space on the board, and the category chosen was “Positive Personality Traits”. Blue Team was to
go first and the timer was set. I shouted out:
Good so far. The Red Team follows quickly with “Bold”, which we counter with “Colorful”… this continues until we hit Q at which point my wife shouts out “Queenly”.
We quickly paused the timer and a crazy (yet well paced) discussion ensued. Apparently, being akin to a queen is, according to my wife, a very positive thing. Her own team seems a bit baffled, because I don’t think they quite agreed with her logic and presentation, but they still nodded and said “yeah, good point Erika”, because they’re on her team. We on the Blue Team, of course, see monarchy as a less than positive trait (especially if one uses history as a basic guideline) and quickly pointed out that people acting “Queenly” are generally being referred to in a less than positive light. We equated it to being “snobby” or “stuck up”. The two people who were not playing (they were snacking, sadly, and talking amongst themselves) arbitrated this heated argument. They first heard our discussions, listened intently to the other team’s justifications and concluded that “Queenly” really isn’t all that positive! Thus, they sided with the Blue Meanies because, and let’s be fair here – we rule.
As we played on, the game continued like this back and forth. Tons of simply amusing discussion, loads of necessary arbitration, one somewhat grumpy wife (after all, who can blame her? We challenged a lot of her answers), and laughter like I haven’t heard in a game in a long time. The best point in this game, however, came on a “To Each his Own” space and what an adventure that was.
The category card we chose was “Anything to do with a scary movie”. The greatest point about this card – you could write down the names of actors, characters and even the titles of the movies themselves! Heck, the card was so general that you could put anything that even remotely connected with a scary movie and it could count! The letters for the round were drawn:
L, B, C, and R
The control team, which at the time was the Red Team, had to write out answers individually, while our funky blue team decided on four answers of our own (as a team). When it came time to read the answers off, people did very well with “L”. Lighting, Lairs, Leatherface and so on. When it came to “B”, however, things took a dark turn…
Evelyn, my daughter, had said “Bats”. We all agreed that yes, Bats would typically be found lurking within the confines of most scary movies.
Kathy wrote down “Blades”, which made sense from a slasher film point of view. After all, where would Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger be without their culinary equipment?
Nicki felt that “Basil Rathbone” worked well, as he has been in a number of early horror flicks. Yep, even that made sense, though I tend to recall him in the role of Sherlock Holmes more than anything else.
Then it came time for my wife to answer and her choice was both baffling and amusing at the same time.
She simply said “Blubber”.
Blubber, according to Wikipedia, is “a thick layer of vascularized adipose tissue found under the skin of all cetaceans, pinnipeds and sirenians “, or as our group tactfully put it, something very unlikely to be featured in any kind of scary movie because it isn’t, for all intents and purposes, very scary at all. The ensuing argument over this one unique answer led to some of the funniest conversations I think I’ve ever had with a group of people – period. Of course, nobody at the time came to the realization that to “blubber” also means to “cry” and makes 100% perfect sense in context of the question, which is probably why the conversation was as amusing as it ended up being. Regardless, the raucous laughter continued for some time, though eventually, we had to move on, agreeing that blubber simply isn’t a worthwhile answer, especially given that not one player on that team had said “The Blob”.
In the end, the Blue Meanies conquered all. Many songs were sung in their honor, while gifts of snack foods were presented before them. Statues were erected in tribute to their victory and they lived and loved like Kings and Queens for the rest of their days (well, we did get snack foods, I can vouch for that at least).
When it comes to Outside the Box, this is the kind of game time you’ll come to expect. Rapid fire questions and answers, people challenging each other over suspect clues/answers, and amusing interactions that make for fantastic social gaming. There were a few minor things that people felt could be improved upon, but nothing that made the game any less entertaining. For example, the back of the box and the instruction manual feature some amusing cartoon characters, but the actual game board is devoid of anything apart from colored boxes. This leaves the game remaining functional, but aesthetically confused – I think the characters could lend a bit of flair to the board (and the cards, too). Again, this is truly a nitpicky point, but when the game sees a second edition, this would be one concept I would consider. Apart from that and a few objections to certain difficult categories (that’s not a fault of the game, it’s a fault on a team level), the game was a hit through and through.
After playing Outside the Box, I came to a very unique realization – this is one of those games that you’ll play time and time again, not only because the game is fun, but because it’s something you’ll remember for a long time. Out of my library of board games, I can honestly say that there are only a handful of games that truly stick out when it comes down to remembering how I felt when I played them. Some, admittedly, I have incredibly fond memories of, while others I have simply forgotten. It’s the power of a game to truly bring a group together, to create a social atmosphere that encourages player interaction, that makes people think as a unit and not just on their own – it’s the ability of a game to make people enjoy their time together and want to spend more time together just to play a game with one another.
That, my friends, is what truly makes a game great – and this is one great game.