Game: Cranium Party Playoff Board game manufacturer: Cranium Number of Players: 4+
Don't fear the brackets! This is a fun party game for four or more players that's less about strategy and play mechanics than it is about interacting with your fellow players. It certainly doesn't require as much thought as the "Cranium" brand might suggest.
Editor's note: This game was for sale only at StarBucks at Christmas 2008. Readers have reported it available from Costco, but still, it's a hard game to come by. Amazon usually has a few listed, but they seldom appear even on eBay. We recommend looking on Amazon, or advertising locally to find a copy.
The board is divided into four bracket categories (Arenas, aka "Places", Contenders, aka "People", Moves aka "Actions" and Gear, aka "Things") and a playoff zone. To set up the board, contender tiles are selected at random and placed in the first round of each bracket category until the first round matchups are all specified.
To begin, the Knockout deck is shuffled and one card is drawn. The question on this card is the question that will determine the ultimate champion of the Cranium PartyPlayoff tournament.
On our first play through, the knockout question was: "Which is most likely to turn up in a personal ad?"
Each player takes a score sheet and makes predictions on: (i) Which contender will win each of the four bracket categories, (ii) Which two contenders will make it to the final and (iii) Which contender will win the final.
This is where much of the strategy comes in. Obviously, you need to consider which contender would do best on the final, but you also have to try to predict which contenders are strong enough to make it through the early rounds. Without knowing what the challenges will be for each matchup, there is also a lot of luck involved.
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Each player makes one final prediction, where you name another player and predict who that player will choose as the ultimate champion of Cranium Party Playoff. The winner of our first game correctly predicted that I would choose David Hasselhoff as the ultimate champion; a pick that seemed like a good idea at the time.
The score sheets are folded up and placed in the envelope until the end of the game.
The tournament then begins. The decider is spun to decide which player will begin and that player selects one of the four categories to start. A Challenge card is drawn, which contains a question, and that challenge is applied to the first matchup in the chosen category.
For example, one of the first matchups we had was "The penalty box" vs. "The Twilight Zone" and the challenge question was "Which would be a better place to propose?"
Players debate the question and then vote on the winner. If there is a tied vote, then the Cranium Party Playoff decider is spun to select one player to break the tie. The winning contender moves to the next round.
Move around the players and around the categories until the first round match of each category has been completed, drawing a new challenge card for each match-up. Repeat for the second round and then the third round matches which will determine the winner for each category.
Special questions on the challenge cards are used for the semi-final round and the previously drawn Knockout question determines the winner of the final. Players debate and vote at every point.
When the Party Playoff tournament is over, the score sheets are taken out of the envelope and each player's score is calculated: four points for picking the final winner, two points for picking title contenders and one point for picking category champions.
The bonus prediction of the contender that a player will pick is worth four points.
Cranium Party Playoff is light on traditional strategy, but heavy on reading people and attempting to manipulate them. During the discussion and voting on each challenge, there will be a mixture of genuine arguments/votes, arguments/votes designed to promote your own picks and arguments/votes to block picks that you suspect other players have made.
Depending on the match-up and how disingenuous a player is, this can be more or less obvious. The winner of our first game was the person who had forgotten what her picks were and who was simply arguing from conviction, which made her impossible to read.
When I started arguing for the coolness of "Sliced Bread" over "Backstage Passes", or that "Sesame Street" would be a great place for a romantic date, it became clear which contenders I had picked.
On the other hand, I managed to sneak "Breakdancing" and "David Hasselhoff" through quite a few match-ups before raising any suspicions.
It's fairly easy to explain the Cranium Party Playoff concept to NCAA fans: "It's like March Madness, but with random stuff."
Some of the matchups and questions lead to very funny discussions, especially when people's agendas start to influence their arguments. It's fun trying to figure out which contenders have been picked by the other players.
Explaining the rules at the beginning makes the game seem more complicated than it actually is. After a couple of minutes of actually playing the game, everybody knew exactly what was going on.
The Cranium Party Playoff board initially seems intimidating.
If your contenders get knocked out early, then the rest of the game can become a little frustrating, although you can still get pleasure from making it difficult for other players.
Along with most of my play group, I wasn't expecting to enjoy Cranium Party Playoff as much as I did. From the outside it seems a little weird and analytical, but once you start playing it turns out to be a great party game. I played with a mixed group of keen gamers and not-so-keen-gamers and everybody enjoyed themselves.