Wits & Wagers Review

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Wits & Wagers Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Hidden Path Entertainment

Platform: Xbox 360, Hobby
Reviewed on Xbox 360

Wits & Wagers is a trivia game originally released as a physical party game that rewards both trivia knowledge and poker-like betting skills. Microsoft, working with Hidden Path Entertainment, has released an electronic version of the game available through Xbox Live Arcade for 800 points ($10).

Kyle Ackerman

Wits & Wagers, when released as a physical trivia game, filled a needed niche. The video game implementation, for Xbox Live Arcade, still sports many of the strengths of the hobby game, but doesn't take advantage of any of the strengths of video gaming.

Betting Meets Trivia

The original version of Wits & Wagers had players scribbling the numerical answers to trivia questions on dry-erase boards or loose scraps of paper – questions like: "How long is the Nile river?" or "What percentage of American households own at least one cat?" Then, all those answers get arranged on a betting field, with the highest and lowest answers giving better odds. Contestants can then bet on the answer that is as close as possible to the correct answer without exceeding the correct answer, "Price is Right"-style.

Wits & Wagers is a great middle-ground between classic all-or-nothing trivia games like Trivial Pursuit where you have the exact answer (or you don't) and multiple choice trivia games where sensible elimination makes guessing easy if you don't know the answer. In Wits & Wagers, it helps to know the answers, but it also helps to game the system a bit and bet on the group dynamic. It is possible for someone with good people skills and a little math to beat out players with an incredible breadth and depth of knowledge.

Graphics Aren't Everything, But They Count for Something

The source material that Hidden Path Entertainment adapted to create the Xbox Live Arcade version of Wits & Wagers is great. The meat of a trivia game is in the questions and rewards, and those elements are strong. But the dressing is also important. Video game adaptations of quiz shows such as Scene It? or Buzz! The Hollywood Quiz have put a lot of effort into making the game look slick or the banter come fast and furiously. A generous person would describe the implementation of Wits & Wagers as minimalist. A more balanced description might be that Wits & Wagers looks like a mediocre flash-based game you might play in your web browser.

Moving the game to the electronic format means things like betting and receiving payouts according to the odds are easier. But the Xbox 360 version feels very bare-bones. Each player is represented by a paper-doll-like figure (or a television screen with legs if the Xbox Live Vision Camera is enabled). You can make the figure dance like a paper doll, but even the freedom to pick the head you paste onto the different bodies isn't exciting. The game also offers occasional commentary on players' actions or trivia answers, but these typically just slow down play and draw attention to themselves more through grammatical errors than entertainment value.

Beware Cheaters, Regardless of the Controller

The biggest problem with Wits & Wagers comes from its adaptation into video game form. The game works best with more players, so it helps to fill out the four or six player slate with AI contestants. But it's hard to program good AI for a trivia game. Betting in games with AI participants is more a matter of figuring out which AI knows the right answer and betting on it. Typically, one of the AI is far too smart while the others are idiotic. Unfortunately, going online doesn't fix the problem. It's more fun with human opponents, and the Xbox Live matchmaking works really well, but a lot of games end up with at least one cheater. In several games I played, it was clear that there was someone looking up answers on the web (who wasn't artful enough to hide their cheating). It's hard to believe that there are so many trivia buffs out there who can only correctly answer questions that can be found through an internet search that takes six seconds or fewer.

If you have enough friends who want to play trivia games, or can get over the AI and cheater issues, Wits & Wagers offers good questions and a strong game framework. Plus, Wits & Wagers supports the Big Button Pad controller released with Scene It? for the Xbox 360. Unfortunately, as trivia games go, this one is decidedly mediocre.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on May 12, 2008 10:14 PM.

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