Ticked Off — Review

Design by:  Ted Alspach
Published by:  R&R Games
3 – 10 Players, 1 – 1 ½ hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

Every year, there seems to be dozens and dozens of new party games released. Sadly, most of these games lack originality and are tired retreads of earlier games.  I enjoy a good party game, but it is difficult to weed through the chaff to find the hidden gems.
One of the more recent offerings in the party game genre is Ticked Off by designer and artist Ted Alspach.  Alspach is also the creator of the Board2Pieces comic strip and is known within gaming circles for his wacky sense of humor.  So, the party game genre seems a perfect fit for him.  I was anxious to try Ticked Off, as I was expecting a fun and original game filled with laughter and excitement.  I am sad to say the game fell short on numerous fronts and failed to meet my expectations.

The game is simple to play.  There are 168 two-sided cards, each with two different categories topics.  For example:  potato chip flavors, Best Actor Oscar winners, famous science fiction books, etc.  The start player takes a card, chooses one of the two topics and reads it aloud.  He then makes a bid – ranging from one-to-twenty – thereby proclaiming how many answers he can list correctly for that topic.  The bid is indicated on a track on the board.  Each player then has the opportunity to place a higher bid or pass.  This continues until everyone but one player has passed or one player has bid the maximum allowed, which is twenty.

At that point, another card is revealed and placed on the board.  The thirty-second timer is started and players furiously write as many answers as they can for EITHER ONE (but not both) of the categories listed on the two cards.  Each player is free to choose either of the two categories, so the bidding when the first card is revealed is extremely risky since the category on the second card is not yet known.

When the timer expires, the active player reads each of his answers.  If one or more players have also recorded an identical answer, both players place a tick-mark next to the word.  This is where the game’s name is derived.  In turn order, each player reads their answers and ticks-off those that other players have also recorded.  When this process is complete, points are earned and recorded on the score track.

If the active player did not list at least as many acceptable answers as he bid, he receives zero points.  Otherwise, he gets two points for each unique answer (those not recorded by any other player), plus one point for each acceptable answer greater than his bid.  All other players receive one point for each unique answer they recorded, plus one point for each acceptable answer greater than the active player’s bid.

Play continues in this fashion until one or more players surpass fifty points.  The player with the greatest amount is victorious.

I have several problems with the game.  For one, it simply takes too long.  Playing to fifty points can take well over an hour.  The game is very repetitive, with each round feeling much like the previous one.  Thus, brevity is needed.  The reading of all of the answers takes time, which is compounded the more players that are involved.  Playing to 25 or 30 points trims off a significant portion of time and subtracts absolutely nothing from game play.

Another issue is that there are frequent disagreements over what is or is not an acceptable answer.  For example, is shooting a television an acceptable answer for “things that crunch”?  The rules allow for a player vote to solve disputes, but this is time consuming, something which isn’t good in a game that already overstays its welcome.  Plus, this voting process isn’t much fun.

My major problem, however, is that it has been done before.  Sure, there are a few twists, but for the most part, the game feels like numerous other party games.  The same thing has been done better in games such as Facts in Five and Scattergories.   With so many party games to choose from, I prefer games that are original and offer something significantly new.  Ticked Off does neither.  As much as I enjoy party games and appreciate Ted Alspach’s design and artistic talents, Ticked Off fails to offer anything new or much fun.  That is truly a shame.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers:

Nate Beeler:  Ticked Off’s designer Ted and publisher Frank are truly great guys that I enjoy spending time with and playing party games with.  So it saddens me to report that their collaborative effort did not capture their fun personalities.  It did, in fact, manage to live up to its name and tick off most of the people that I played it with at the Sasquatch game convention.  The main problem for everyone seems to be that the game actively encourages arguments over what answers are and are not in a given category.  We tried to head off these arguments by clarifying before a round what kinds of answers were acceptable.  It didn’t help.

For example, we got “planes” on our first card.  Is that plane brands, plane models, or possibly words related to airplanes?  Does biplane count, and does it negate Sopwith, a particular kind of biplane?  The rulebook is blissfully unclear.  Later, we had to decide if we accepted potato or mushroom as “non-green vegetables”?  Potatoes are a starch (though may also be a vegetable) and mushrooms funguses, not plants.  Someone even tried tomato, knowing it’s a fruit but arguing (common theme) that it was eaten like a vegetable.  Wikipedia would tend to agree, that “vegetable” might be more useful as a culinary term, which would allow all three.  Further, are all particular kinds of mushrooms negated by someone listing the word mushroom?  Whether these things should be accepted or match or not, the game grinds to a halt while people have to sort each issue out.  We tried several different ways of scoring, even going so far as to allow something if it wasn’t matched verbatim.  What we got then was a thousand different kinds of snakes under the “reptile” category.  That didn’t feel fun either.  I believe the person who did that got booed.

Just to make sure it wasn’t an angry group or the wrong time, we followed up one play of Ticked Off with the parlor game of listing seven things in a category and trying to be unique (What Were You Thinking is basically that, except in that you’re trying to match people, ala Matchgame).  At heart, it’s the same base mechanism as Ticked Off, except instead of going for quantity each player is limited to their seven best answers. This made all the difference, because the focus was back on where it should be, on making and reading out funny or clever answers, and away from sliming in with as many weenie answers as you can.  There were no arguments, there was a whole lot of laughing and merriment, and we got through over twice as many rounds in less than half the amount of time.  The difference was stark.  Plus, the parlor game had the added benefit of letting us come up with our own categories, a favorite mechanism of mine in party games.  There’s no way we would have gotten to play “euphamisms for going to the bathroom” from a printed game.  In any case, it was abundantly clear that the problems with Ticked Off belonged solely to the game.

Matt Carlson:  I was only able to get the game to the table one time, and it had a mixed reception.  I pulled the game out to start our weekly high school boardgame club to see what they thought.  These are somewhat inexperienced gamers, so have little thought of whether the mechanics are particularly new or different than other, similar party games.  I wanted to try the game out a little bit, then move on to other, meatier games but several of the students were quite vocal about continuing the game a bit longer.  Only one player was adverse to even trying the game, the rest of the students thought it was pretty fun and might be good to play with their family.  However, there was one glaring fault that kept it from being a hit for me (and, I think, for the other players).

The clue/topic cards simply were not a great fit for a teen audience.  Given, we did not get all that far through the deck and thus it is quite a small sample size, but many of the clues we had were simply irrelevant to the teen age group (15-18 year old students).   For example, we had one clue of “Name characters from Cheers, Seinfeld, Friends, or Taxi”.  One student had seen Taxi once, one knew enough to write down most of the Friends characters, and a couple of other students had seen Seinfeld enough to write down Seinfeld and one other main character.  I don’t think anyone had seen Cheers before.  Now, this is just one card but we frequently ran into this problem on our cards (I think the other option that round was to try for professional hockey players but we had no “northerners” who might have a shot at that one…)  Of our half-dozen or so rounds played, I think the only clue the students could really go to town on (and thus write down more than 4 or 5 answers) was “things on McDonalds’ menu”.  This whole play session could easily be a fluke, and having two topics from which to choose should help matters but at present I’m still pretty leery about playing the game with a younger group.  Midway through our game I started to try to filter out topics that I knew were going to be inappropriately difficult for our particular group.

As for the rest of the game, there are several things I liked.  The timer is quite fun, playing raucous music while the round progresses and is even a bit distracting (which I enjoyed – it put a bit more pressure on).  I enjoy the bidding process, while it does complicate the game a bit more from other games of this ilk, I like how it creates a nice little risk/reward thing forcing players to try to push the upper limit of what they think they can accomplish.  Our group did not run up against the ambiguity problems mentioned above.  Yes, we had plenty of grey-area answers (is Protestantism, or even Baptist considered a religion?) but we tended to err on the side of giving people credit for as much as possible.  (It may have eventually had to be changed if folks started giving inanely specific answers to be “unique” but even then I think we’d run into issues of being able to write fast enough…)  Since I was the only adult and the only teacher present, (and I tried to be generous and fair) most of my opinions were typically agreed with and we had a minimum of disagreement during the game.

Would I play this again?  Certainly! But I will have to give it a few more tries before I would call it my go-to party game of this sort.  I may bring it to some family gatherings over the holidays.  However, there is a major down-side as I know any opinions I have in that group over what constitutes an appropriate answer will carry negative weight!

Mark Jackson:  I will not – though every bone in my body tells me I should – make the obligatory “ticked off” title pun joke to go with my less-than-positive comments about the game. You should feel no such limitations.

We had the opposite problem from Greg’s experience – our game (with four players) only lasted 3 rounds. The bidding didn’t get pushed high enough in the first category, giving me the opportunity to score 25+ points on the first turn. I was Start Player once more (for another 20 or so points), then scored another 15 with someone else as the Start Player. Game over.

And then we come to my particular beef with the game: Ted’s self-proclaimed “awesome rule that prevents a living encyclopedia from running away with the game!” (This quote is from his BGG comment on Ticked Off!.) Until I saw Ted’s comment, I wasn’t sure whether the rule was serious or not – the rules are written in a jaunty style with a number of witty asides about questioning the mental fitness of the Start Player and taunting others about their lack of knowledge.

The rule in question? “IMPORTANT! If the player with the most points at the end of the game is more than 15 points ahead of the next highest scoring player, he is disqualified for cheating (really, how else could he be that far ahead?), and the player in second place wins.”

This may be a great game for some people – but if you’re good at trivia games, the “game” for you (thanks to this rule) is gaming the system to stay in front but not too far in front. In other words, you have to “play dumb” in order to win – underbidding, intentionally leaving off answers, picking categories you aren’t good at, etc. This is decidedly not a “game” I want to be playing.

And while I understand that Ted & Frank are going for a smart-alecky vibe in the rules, the “disqualified for cheating” crack gets under my skin. I reserve accusations of cheating for, well, cheating. (Yes, I know, I know – I’m the butt of this particular joke… but that doesn’t make it any funnier.)

This is not a shot at Ted or Frank as designers or publishers – while I love Time’s Up & Smarty Party (both published by R&R Games), I have the same issues with another R&R game designed by my friend Stephen Glenn (You Must Be An Idiot). Both YMBAI & Ticked Off! punish players with more trivia skills in the name of fun for the rest of the table – which is not fun for those players.

I will say in the game’s defense that one of the players at the table really enjoyed it (granted, he came in second). As well, the production is very well done – with the exception of the gold & yellow pawns, which are way too close in color.

Mary Prasad:  I have to agree with Greg and the others from a gamer’s point of view. We brought this out at Thanksgiving to see how it would do with non-gamers. Most of these people play games with us a couple time a year – usually party games. After playing a couple practice rounds and one full game I asked them to rate it from 1 to 10 (10 being the best); here were the results: 8, 6, 7, 10, 7, 7. My husband fell prey to the cheating rule (he’s a gamer so his rating isn’t included in the list) – I think the non-gamers actually liked the inclusion of this rule. The game production is good; it might make a nice gift for non-gamers.

Dale Yu:  I have only played this with my kids and non-gamers.  It works just fine in that circumstance — and there wasn’t any bellyaching about how similar it was to other party games (such as Haste Worte) because they didn’t have a frame of reference.  With the kids, it was fun to let the kids play amongst themselves – and I just took the role of arbiter.  The boys that played were only 2 years apart in range, so they had a fairly common vocabulary and knowledge base.  I let them have a short time to try to argue for or against certain answers, but I would step in to move things along after a minute or so.  I think that it was a fairly good hit for them as they came back later in the weekend to ask to play it by themselves.  With the other non-gamer adults, it was something we did while enjoying a bottle of wine or two.  They weren’t the sort of folks to care about winning and losing, and we had a pretty good time laughing at the answers as they came out.  Since scoring wasn’t of paramount importance, we didn’t really argue much at all as some of the other reviewers have noted in their experience.


4 (Love it!):
3 (Like it!):
2 (Neutral):  Matt Carlson, Mary Prasad, Dale Yu
1 (Not for Me):  Greg Schloesser, Nate Beeler, Mark Jackson

About gschloesser

Greg Schloesser is the founder of the Westbank Gamers and co-founder of the East Tennessee Gamers. He is also a prolific reviewer of games and a regular contributor to numerous gaming publications and websites, including Counter, Knucklebones, Boardgame News, Boardgame Geek, Gamers Alliance and many others. Greg has been a gaming enthusiast his entire life, growing up in our hobby mainly on the war game side. His foray onto the internet exposed him to the wonderful world of German and European games and now nearly all of his gaming time is devoted to this area of our hobby. He travels to several gaming conventions each year and is the co-founder of Gulf Games, a regional gaming get-together held in the Southern USA. Greg was born in 1961 and lived his entire life in New Orleans before moving to East Tennessee in 2005. He is married and has one daughter (now married.)
This entry was posted in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Ticked Off — Review

  1. Ryan B. says:

    Ya know, Christophe Boelinger designed A Dog’s Life, which wasn’t well received in reviewing circles either. (With a few rules amendments the game is entirely fixable and fun, however)

    So Ted may not have hit the proverbial home run with this game and I am sure it was tough for you guys to give it a lukewarm review. I gotta give the reviewers credibility points for the objectivity.

    I’m sure Ted will bounce back with a success. Glenn Drover designed “Napoleon in Europe” which was panned for its fiddiliness but it truly had some innovative design ideas. He was also widely praised later for Age of Empires in which he learned to build a much tighter design.

    The point is Ted will learn from this substantive critique and I think we should all look forward to what he has in store for the gaming community next. And some people may actually find THIS game worth a try… sometimes its just boils down to perspective.

    Excellent review, Greg. And Ted, hold your head up high. The game was published… there was a reason for that. In the party game world, it will find an audience. : )

Leave a Reply