Design by Ted Alspach & Friedemann Friese
Published by Bezier Games
2 – 6 Players, 30 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
Trivia games still remain popular, although probably not quite as much as when the Trivial Pursuit craze struck the world in the 1980s. However, trivia games are often criticized for too heavily favoring those few who are trivia experts, leaving the rest of us to consistently feel inadequate. Team play can help mitigate this somewhat, but a trivia expert will usually dominate any contest.
America is a joint effort between Friedemann Friese (Power Grid, Friday, Fresh Fish) and Ted Alspach (Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Suburbia, One Night Ultimate Werewolf). It borrows heavily from Friese’s Fauna, a very similar trivia game that focuses on animal facts, as well as Wits and Wagers from Dominic Crapuchettes. In all three of these games, close counts, and more than one player can earn points when answering questions. Sure, nailing the exact correct answer earns more points, but being close will also earn points. That is a refreshing breath of fresh air for those who are trivia challenged.
As the name suggests, all of the questions in the game are directly related to America (the United States, to be more specific). Each double-sided America card contains three questions related to a specific topic (Smores, Ferris Wheel, The Manhattan Project, etc.). The three questions are always divided into three categories: year, state and number. There are 160 cards with 320 topics in total. Only six cards are used each game, so there are enough questions to play over 50 games.
Each turn the active player will read aloud the category and the three related questions. For example, if the card is “Nerf”, the three questions are:
Year: First Nerf Ball
State: Proposed Ban on Nerf Guns
Number: Shooting Range of N-Strike Elite Centurion
The card holder is designed so that only the category and questions are visible. Thus, no one can see the correct answers until the card is removed from the holder. This bit of clever design allows the active player to also make his guesses.
Once the category and questions are read, each player in turn order will place markers onto the board, effectively indicating their best guesses as to the correct answers. The large board whereon the markers will be placed depicts all states of the United States, as well as a Year track and Number track. Players will alternate placing markers in the appropriate location to indicate their answers. Using the example above, if a player feels the state that proposed a ban on Nerf guns was California, he would place a marker on California. Alternatively, he could place his marker on the Year track if he wanted to answer the “First Nerf Ball” question, or the Number track if he wants to answer the “Shooting Range” question.
As mentioned above, close counts. So, if a player isn’t sure, he can make a guess and possibly still earn points. Likewise, if another player has likely chosen the correct answer with his marker, placing a marker immediately next to that marker will earn points…if that opponent’s selection proves to be correct!
Another option is to place a marker on the “No Exact” or “No Exact or Adjacent” spaces located by each of the three areas. Here a player is betting that no player has selected either the correct answer (or adjacent space) for that category. This is a bold choice, but can pay off in points if the player is correct.
Each player begins with a supply of six markers and may place as many as he desires during a turn. However, any markers that do not score do not immediately return to the player, leaving him with fewer markers for the subsequent turn. So, players must exercise caution and only use most or all of their markers when their level of confidence is high.
Once players have all passed on placing further markers, answers are read and points earned. Exact answers earn 7 points, while adjacent answers earn 3 points. Likewise, 7 points are earned if a player was correct with his “No Exact or Adjacent” answer, and 3 points if he was correct with his “No Exact” answer. Points are tallied on the score track which circles the board. Players receive back any of their markers that scored, while those that did not score are set aside. However, each player does receive one marker back from the “non-scoring” pile each turn, and a player must possess at least three markers for a turn. So, sometimes taking a guess or two is worthwhile.
Play continues in this fashion through six turns, after which the player with the most points is victorious. A full game usually plays to completion in 30 – 45 minutes or so.
As mentioned, America is very similar to Friedemann Friese’s Fauna, the main difference being that the questions here are all centered on the United States. As such, the game will likely have little appeal for non-Americans. That should be OK, however, as the market for trivia games here in the U.S. seems sufficiently large.
Like many trivia games, some questions are absurdly easy, while others are extremely difficult. Fortunately, exact correct answers are not the only ones rewarded, so having a good idea – or mimicking someone who seems confident – can earn points. Turn order can be critical, especially if the question is one wherein several players know the correct answer. The first player will have first shot, but since there are three questions per category, players have options when making their selections.
Since there are six turns per game and there is an advantage for the first player (first opportunity to place a marker), playing with 4 or 5 players will give some players more turns to be the first player. This can be mitigated by adjusting the number of questions used to insure that each player has an equal number of turns.
America is a fun entry into the trivia genre. Due to the America-centric questions, most Americans will be familiar with at least some of the topics and should be able to make reasonable guesses at the answers to many questions. The “close counts” scoring method gives all players a chance, although trivia buffs will still have an advantage. Fortunately, the game’s duration is brief, so trivia-challenged players should not have to endure being outclassed for long. America makes for a fine party-style game with family and friends.
Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers:
Dale Y: As I mentioned at the top, I’m a big fan of this entire series of games – the previous two, Fauna and Terra, have places on my permanent game shelves. This new version is a great addition to the series, and one that definitely also deserves a place on any trivia buff’s game shelf.
The scoring system of the game allows players of all knowledge levels to compete. Sure, like any trivia game, knowing the correct answers will help you win the game. However, as adjacent answers can also score points, if you think that someone else knows the right answer, you can try to place your cubes adjacent to theirs and try to ride their coattails.
The question topics span a wide variety – I have tried to avoid rifling through the card deck because I don’t want to have an advantage over other players when we play the game – but in the four games that we’ve played so far, the questions have been interesting and quite varied. There have been more than a few questions that no one knew the exact answer to – and that highlights the biggest difference in America from the other two games in the series.
The “No Exact” and “No Exact or Adjacent” spaces are a very nice addition to the rules. While it doesn’t happen often, there are some questions that simply stump everyone. These new spaces add an extra dimension to those difficult questions. For our group, this has mostly happened on the Number questions, but we’ve actually had one State answer that no one knew!
The other novel part of the game is the two sided cards and divider in the middle of the cardbox. This system makes it easy to continue to recycle the cards and ensure that your chance of seeing the same card twice is remote. With 320 possible cards in the game, and only 6 being used in any game, you would need to play 50+ games before seeing a repeat card.
The game plays quickly, and our games usually take about 30 minutes. This seems to be just the right time for the game. While it may seem that this is the sort of game that could produce a runaway winner, I’ve seen players score 25+ points on a single card when they knew the answers (and no one else did).
4 (Love it!): Erik Arneson, Dale Y, Doug G.
3 (Like it): Greg S.
1 (Not for me):