New board game offers little challenge and originality

by Justin Bow | 11/20/98 6:00am

What do you get if you mix all of the classics of board-gaming? Well, if you put together Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, Guesstures, Taboo and Balderdash, apparently you come up with Cranium.

Created by a Dartmouth alum and called "the best-selling independently made board game not yet on the market" before it was released, Cranium tests the intelligence and skill of all those who play it. Designed for teams, the players must perform various tasks as presented on cards to advance around the board and reach "Cranium Central."

Basically the idea behind Cranium is that it will force teams to rely on creative skills that they normally don't use, like sketching and singing. The purpose is to give adults something creative and interesting to do. The literature says that adult creativity is back in vogue. Sounds like a pretty good idea right?

Maybe, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. First, the tasks assigned are for the most part ridiculously easy. Can anyone out there hum an Elvis Presley song? Or maybe spell something backwards or give the definition of the word "germane?" The really hard part is the art stuff because, just like in Pictionary, you're required to draw bizarre things like dreadlocks.

Okay, so not all the questions challenge every person that plays the game. It's not too bad. The difficulty of the game is definitely somewhere below Trivial Pursuit, but it's still above Candyland by a long shot. And then of course not everything has to be hard when the main thrust of the game is to get adults to be creative and do things that they normally wouldn't get the opportunity for.

Lots of middle-aged people are looking for something that lets them have fun and pushes them in mental directions other than spitting out facts they've picked up during their lives. In fact, it's admirable that Cranium is striving to provide entertainment for these people. Simply by being an option to Must See TV, Cranium is doing something valuable. And the lack of extreme challenge in the game makes it accessible to everyone.

Which brings us to the other big problem with Cranium; it's just plain silly. I don't mean wacky silly. I mean so silly that I would be embarassed to play this game. The graphics look like something straight off of Nickelodeon and include a large amount of orange everywhere.

On every card there's a cutesy little deformed character to meet anew. And the names of the categories should never be said out loud. They range from Sculptorades to Humdinger to Gnilleps. For a game targeted at burned-out adults, Cranium goes out of its way to attract the "Rugrats" crowd. Each game is only supposed to take an hour but I really wouldn't want people to be telling me I had hit a "Creative Cat" space more than once a week.

Finally, upon close reading, I discovered that Cranium wasn't designed by some guys who wanted to make a game. It was carefully created by a team of 15 marketing people. PR agencies were consulted as part of the design process. The best minds in the sales business came together to make a product that should be easy to sell.

Now as always, this is just my take. Maybe you don't have a problem with stuff so cute and sweet that playing it will make your teeth rot. Maybe you're not even disturbed that this game was designed to be sold, not played. It costs $34.95.

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