Publisher: Hidden Path Entertainment
Developer: Hidden Path Entertainment
Release Date: May 7, 2008
As a general rule, video games based on board games don't tend to do very well. "Monopoly" has been trying for years to score a fat paycheck from the legions of gamers, but the elements that work well for a game which requires a room full of people sitting around a board are not the same elements that make a successful game. And so, yet another failure finds its way into the digital world, and this time, it is Wits & Wagers on the Xbox Live Arcade.
This particular game, as the title suggests, rewards players for both knowledge and gambling prowess. At the start of each round, a question is posed along with a range of numerical answers. For example, one such question is, "How many states seceded during the U.S. Civil War?" Contestants are then given a range of numbers (for this particular question, the range is from 0-55) and 30 seconds to guess closest to the right answer without going over. Once the initial round of guessing is over, all of the answers are revealed and players then use tokens to bet on which is closest to the correct response (again, without going over). Those who guess correctly are awarded chips, and the player who supplied the answer is given a small bonus. At the end of seven rounds, whoever has the most chips is the winner.
If that sounds dull, that's because it is. Waiting for everyone to answer is incredibly tedious, and sitting idle for another 30 seconds as everyone makes their bets is doubly so. The game does allow you to use the right analog stick to make your on-screen avatar "dance" in a herky-jerky marionette sort of way, but this will quickly go from cute and kind of funny to stupid and irritating. The other problem with the huge amount of downtime during questions is that it allows ample time for cheating. The full minute you get between the presentation of the question and the time all bets must be locked in is plenty of time to jump online and look up the correct answer to most questions. Obviously, this isn't an issue when playing in the same room with friends, but if you believe there aren't plenty of people on Xbox Live who will gladly exploit this for the sake of racking up wins, then I have some lovely real estate to sell you.
Wits & Wagers has other issues as well, specifically the fact that sometimes it just flat-out blows the end of the game. In one particular match, I was playing online against four opponents, and myself and one other player were constantly jockeying for the lead. The other three players were well out of it, too far behind in the chip count to make a comeback, so it was essentially a two-horse race. We battled back and forth until the final round ended, and I came out slightly ahead in chips. As we went to the results screen and I started a ridiculous-looking victory dance, the game for some reason awarded the win not to me, with the most chips, not to my chief competitor, who was 10 chips behind, but to a player who had only participated in two questions for the entire game and ended up with a lowly four chips. I have no idea what happened there, but suffice it to say I turned off my 360 in disgust, unbelieving as to how a game can't even award a victory correctly.
On top of that, there are issues with freezing and crashing, and the title has been known to lock up so badly that the only fix is a complete reboot of the Xbox. For a console that already has its fair share of reliability issues, the last thing we need is a simple party game that has the unholy capacity to utterly freeze the whole box. This is a buggy, buggy game, and you have to wonder if any QA testing was done at all before it was released.
The only points in the game's favor are the fact that it does offer a solid lineup of questions (700 to start, with near certainty that more will be released later via DLC), and it can be fun to try and test your knowledge of obscure historical trivia. However, the whole experience is so boring and vanilla that it's very hard to hold your attention and make you want to come back for more. As I write this review, I'm struck by the fact that there is no part of me that wants to go back and play this game ever again, and it will likely be one of the first things I delete when my hard drive starts running out of space and I need to free up some memory.
The entire Wits & Wagers experience tries too hard and fails at nearly every turn. Just like every other board game that has come before, this one does nothing to answer the question of, why should I play the video game version when the board game is so much more fun? If you absolutely have to play Wits & Wagers, then do it the way it was intended, with a room full of friends, a few glasses of wine (if you're of age, of course), and an evening of fun and laughter. The Xbox Live Arcade version offers none of those things.