Published by: USAopoly
2 - 8 players ~ 15 - 30 minutes
Review written by Luke Muench
Party games have, categorically been my least favorite genre of board games to date. Games with no sense of strategy like Battle Wizards and Cards Against Humanity actively bore me to tears, Codenames has far too much downtime in-between turns to keep my attention, and some titles like Monikers and Dixit feel less like games and more like excuses to sit around the table with friends.
My blatant distaste for party games is so palpable, that I sometimes sit out on them at my Friday night gaming group, knowing that my inclusion in the roster of players will simply dampen the mood and game experience. Simply put, I wear my heart on my sleeve, so when I’m having a bad time with a game, everyone knows it. And I’d rather wait patiently for a game I’ll have fun with than bring down the mood during a game they love and I loathe.
So it’s a rare sight when, three Friday’s in a row, I come bounding into the room with the same marvelous, gut-busting, absurd party game that consistently brings a smile to my face. (Some in my group may even assert that it’s rare to see said smile on my face period, but that’s another issue). And it’s not just the fact that it’s a party game that makes that makes my mirth so unusual, it’s that it’s Telestrations; not a game of skill or logic, not of mind-bending puzzles and thoughtful choices, but of awful, AWFUL drawing and the stupid words that are eventually associated with them.
Telestrations brings the best of drawing games to the table, overthrowing the likes of Pictionary and it’s ilk for a far more rewarding and consistent experience. The gameplay loop is simple; at the start of the game, each player gets a word or phrase, either one they come up with or randomly chosen from the provided cards. Everyone has until the provided sand timer runs out to draw that word/phrase before passing their pad on to the next player, while receiving a new pad as well. Then, with only the newly drawn picture to reference, each player must write what they think the word or phrase that is associated with the picture is. This loop occurs a few more times, depending on the number of players around the table, until you finally receive your garbled mess of a pad back.
At which point everyone gets to tell the confusing, often hilarious narrative of how their train-of-thought was taken in the wrong direction and the person three seats away from you took your original premise and threw it right out the window. As you turn each page, showing everyone the drawings and reading the ridiculous things people wrote, it’s hard not to crack a smile at least once. Phrases like “wine stack,” “Egyptian xylophone,” and “Harry Potter and the Whatever” have since become memes within our group, due to their absurdity and how off-base they were from the original ideas.
Now, understandably, there are some caveats to a game like this. First, the dry erase markers provided are kind of terrible. Within the first couple months of owning the game, at least half of them have died. These can fairly easily be replaced, but it’s still kind of a pain, especially when it’s been a month and a half and you still CONSISTENTLY forget to go out and get some. This has resulted in some silly games where, due to the reduced number of markers, some people give themselves the handicap of only having as much time as the fastest player who has a marker provides them. Still, this is a small irritation that I wish had been rectified.
Secondly, this is the epitome of a game that’s only as good as the players around the table. If you have a stellar group of inventive, goofy, and generally amiable folks, you’ll have a great time. And while this can be said for just about every game, here that is especially important, as one bored or unpleasant player can put the kibosh on everyone’s stories, not just their own. (see above, where I normally elect to sit out of party games to not poop on said parties)
Caption: Yoda’s Looking a Little… Under the Weather
And third, there are seldom occasions where the stories are obscenely boring, often when people pick words that are far too easy. This can often stem from the cards provided, as a word like “bird” is fairly easy to translate in a consistent and understandable manner. I personally make up a word/phrase for every single prompt I do, but some players who have analysis paralysis when making such decisions rely on the sometimes drab and unexciting cards.
Still, these are less of negatives and more of points of note. All in all, when Telestrations gets rolling, it’s fast-paced, hilarious, a great exercise in storytelling, and one of the best icebreakers to start off a game night. And it’s a game, I’ve found, that you can’t just play one game of, players requesting at least three before moving on to something else. Simply put, Telestrations is, in my eyes, the exception to the rule, the best of its kind, and is worth everyone at least giving a chance to see if they find the magic in it that so many others already have.
Who Should Get This Game: Those who frequently hold parties or events and need a good way to break the ice.
Who Shouldn’t Get This Game: Those who dislike simpler games where the points don’t matter and there’s very little “strategy” to be had.
Luke Muench is a regular contributor to The Cardboard Herald and host of the Budget Board Gamer youtube channel. You can also hear Luke's Champions of Midgard review as well as behind the scenes deliberations on our recent episode of the TCbH Reviews podcast.