Reaping the Rewards: ‘Half Truth’ from Richard Garfield and Ken Jennings

GeekDad

You have probably never really wondered what might come from a team-up of one of the biggest names in gaming with the all-time winningest player on Jeopardy, but just in case you did, wonder no more: the answer is Half Truth, a trivia party game with a unique mechanic.

In “Reaping the Rewards,” I take a look at the finished product from a crowdfunding campaign. Half Truth raised just under $328,000 in a successful Kickstarter campaign last fall and is now in backer’s hands and is available online and at retailers now.

What Is Half Truth?

Half Truth is a game for 2-6 players, ages 12 and up, and takes about 30 minutes to play. The game can be purchased from Amazon for $35.00 or your local retailer (and please support your local retailer.)

Half Truth is GeekDad Approved!

Half Truth Components

All of the components. Image by Rob Huddleston.

Included in the game are:

  • 500 Half Truth Trivia Cards
  • 1 Deck Cover Card
  • 1 Game Board
  • 3 Round Trackers
  • 50 Victory Point tokens (20 x 1s, 15 x 5s, 15 x 10s)
  • 36 Colored Answer Chips (6 in each of 6 colors)
  • 6 Player Pawns
  • 1 Custom Die
The board. Image by Rob Huddleston.

I’ll start with the board, because it has a couple of the nicest design choices. It’s an odd shape: something that is sort of trying to be a circle, but with what basically look like bites taken out below. The top third or so is a very nice light green that simply says “Question”. Below that is a space for the current question card to rest.

The bottom portion of the board is divided into six segments radiating out from the card spot, each indicating one of the first six letters of the alphabet, and each ending in one of the aforementioned “bites”. And in the top left, at about the 10 o’clock position, there’s a tab sticking out that represents the “zero” spot on the round tracker.

A few of the cards on the question side. Image by Rob Huddleston.

The cards all follow a simple yet clear format. There’s a category at the top, and then six possible answers below, split into two columns of three rows each. That layout is important, since each answer lines up perfectly with the corresponding segment on the board. This is another really great design choice, because it freed the designers up from cluttering the cards with the letters, and it eliminates any potential confusion when determining which player guessed correctly.

The same cards as above, showing the answers. Image by Rob Huddleston.

The back of the card shows the answers, highlighting the correct ones in green. Again, because these line up with the segments on the board, everyone can see at a glance whether or not they were right.

The deck cover card. Image by Rob Huddleston.

The game also includes a Deck Cover Card, so while you’re playing you can keep that on top of the deck and not allow anyone to cheat by seeing and thinking about the next question.

The five decks in their boxes. Image by Rob Huddleston.

The cards–500 of them–are split into 5 decks of 100 cards each. Mostly I think this was done to allow the box to be a bit smaller, but it also allows you to keep track of how many of the questions you’ve gone through. Not that that is much of a concern, though. In a typical game, you’re likely to only get through 10-12 questions, so it’l be a long, long time before we run out. It’s also worth noting that unlike the vast majority of games, these cards are all nicely packaged in their own slip boxes, so storage isn’t a concern.

The three round markers. The top two have both rounds 1 and 2 on them. Image by Rob Huddleston.

The Round Trackers are relatively simple pieces that line up the board’s starting point tab and revolve around the top of the board. The game is played in three rounds, and so the game needs two trackers, with one showing round 1 on one side and round 2 on the other, and then the second just showing round 3. The circles on the tracker are the spaces each pawn moves. The numbers indicate the number of points scorced at the end of the round. Strangely, the game includes a third round tracker, which is an exact copy of the round 1/round 2 marker. I have not been able to figure out why this exists.

Victory point markers. Image by Rob Huddleston.

A very big change from the prototype I reviewed earlier is how victory points are tracked though the game. The prototype included a separate board, the Victory Point Tracker, which was a circular piece with spaces 0-9 around the outer edge, and then 10, 20, and 30 markers in the middle to designate when a player has lapped out the outer board. This allowed everyone to see where everyone else was, but required two additional pawns for each color.

In the final game, the Tracker and additional pawns have been ditched in favor of a more traditional approach: the game now has a set of 50 tokens in 1, 5, and 10 denominations. When players score victory points, they simply get these tokens, making change as needed. At the end of the game, it’s a simple matter of everyone adding up their points. While it’s not quite as easy to see where you are in relation to other players with this new system, overall we found that it greatly simplified score keeping.

One of the custom sides of the dice. Image by Rob Huddleston.

The custom dice is a normal 6-sided affair, but has a special 1+ side and a ¡2! on another, replacing the 5 and 6. The custom dice is very nice, with big clear red numbers for 1, 2, 3 and 4 and green symbols for the other two sides. (Game nerds might be interested to note that opposing sides on this dice add up to 5, not 7, with the two special sides opposite each other.)

The Answer Chips. Image by Rob Huddleston.

The Answer Chips were one of the nicest surprises in this edition of the game. They are heavy-duty plastic chips slightly bigger than a poker chip. I was surprised when my copy arrived at how heavy the box was, and while most of that weight is the cards, these chips definitely contribute their share.

How to Play Half Truth

The Goal

The goal of the game is to end up, after three rounds, with the most Victory Points.

Setup

The game set up for six players. Image by Rob Huddleston.

Setup is very easy. Simply place the board on the table with the Round One tracker on top of it. Have each player choose a color and take matching Answer Chips. They will then place their Player Pawn on the zero spot on the board.

Open one of the decks and take the cards out. Place the deck face-up (with the questions showing) on the table and place the Deck Cover Card on top of it, and you’re all set. Play is simultaneous so no need to pick a starting player, but someone needs to be designated to roll the dice, and someone else will draw the cards.

Gameplay

Whomever got selected to roll the dice does so. This will indicate how many spaces players will move if they get the question right.

The top card of the deck is revealed and the category and six possible answers are read out loud. The card is then placed it on the designated spot on the board, making sure to line the answers up with the lettered segments.

All players then take all six of their Answer tokens into their hands and secretly select one, two, or three of them.

Let me pause here and explain the cards, since this is the important part of the game’s mechanic (and the reason for its name.) Each card has a category at the top, like “Bounty Hunters in the Star Wars Movies” card shown above. It then lists six answers, but exactly three of them are correct and three are wrong. The Bounty Hunters card’s answers are Bossk, Nawawe, Zaytoven, KJ-52, IG-88, and Zam Wesell.

When choosing their answer tokens, players need to find one of the correct answers and select that matching token. So if you were pretty certain that IG-88 was a bounty hunter (duh), you would select your “E” token as that answer matches up to the “E” segment on the board.

The blue player is confident of all three answers. Image by Rob Huddleston.

However, if you know a bit more about Star Wars and were also sure that Bossk was correct, you could try to Double Up by selecting both the “A” and the “E” tokens. And if you’re really into Star Wars and of course know that Zam Wesell was the Clawdite bounty hunter killed in the beginning of Attack of the Clones, you would Go All In and select the “A”, “E”, and “D” tokens. However, all of this selecting of tokens–including the number you are selecting–is kept hidden from the other players.

Everyone has played. Image by Rob Huddleston.

Once all players have made their selections, everyone revelas them at the same time and places them in the “bites” on the board that match the selected letter. Once everyone has their guessed placed, the card is flipped over, which shows the correct answers highlighted in green.

All players who were 100% correct move their pawn up on the Round Tracker the number of spaces indicated on the dice.

However, players who gambled a bit and placed two Answer tokens now also get a bonus Victory Point. (Note here that the player does not move up further on the Round Tracker, but rather, gets a VP token.)

If a player correctly guessed all three answers, they get two bonus Victory points.

However, anyone who guessed wrong simply does nothing–they don’t move up on the Round Tracker and they get no bonus points. But it’s important to note that if a player guessed two or three answers, they must be completely right. If they miss even one answer, they get nothing for that turn. In the image above, the green player would get nothing because they got one of the three guesses wrong. (I mean, we all knew of course that KJ-52 is a rapper, right?)

The 1+ side of the dice. See the image above in the “components” section for the other special side. Image by Rob Huddleston.

Roughly 2/3 of the time, the dice wil be on one of the numbers and players simply move their pawns. However, when the dice rolls on the 1+ side, everyone who gets an answer correct will move one space on the Round Tracker, But, if they also double their Victory Point bonuses. So someone who placed two tokens and got both right would get two Victory Points, while someone who went All In would get four points, but only as long as they got all three answers correct. As always, if even one of the answers is wrong, they get no points and do not move their pawn.

The ¡2! side is where things get interesting. As you might guess, anyone who is right moves 2 spaces on the Round Tracker. However, when this side of the dice comes up, everyone will try to guess incorrect answers this round. In fact, the only way to score at all is to be wrong–one correct answer will mean you get nothing.

Each round ends as soon as someone hits (or exceeds) the final spot on the Round Tracker. This triggers a brief End of Round phase. Players get points for the scoring space they are on or have passed. This is another important, and positive, change from the prototype, where players only scored if they were on a point space. This created some weird strategic moves where if you were on a scoring space and it looked like someone was going to go out on this round, you might intentionally try to miss the question so as not to move. While that was a decent strategy, it goes against the spirit of a trivia game, so I for one am glad they changed it so that the space you passed most recently is the one you score with.

Then, there’s a quick reset: after round 1, the Round Tracker is flipped to round 2 (although I guess you could choose to use the other one, just so that it has some purpose). After round 2, the Round 3 Tracker is placed on the board. Everyone’s tokens go back to the zero marker, the dice is rolled, a card is read, and the game continues.

Game End

The game ends after the turn in which someone reaches the final space on the Round 3 Tracker. This triggers a normal phase of scorekeeping. Everyone then adds up their victory points and the person with the highest total wins. In case of a tie, the player whose pawn was furthest along the Round 3 Tracker wins.

Why You Should Play Half Truth

Trivia games have been a staple of the party game segment for decades, but most remain solidly as roll-and-move games, determined solely by the luck of getting a question you know the answer to. But Half Truth actually manages to add a bit of gaming strategy to the mix.

The main strategy is deciding when and if you are going to press your luck by doubling down or going all in. Since both are all-or-nothing propositions, you either win big or lose big. But, the more interesting element is that neither allows you to move on the Round Track. They give you end-of-game bonuses, but not mid-round bonuses. And that changes things, quite a bit, as you are also trying to move along the tracker to score those points.

The Round 3 Tracker. Image by Rob Huddleston.

The other great thing about the game is that it isn’t based entirely on how much esoteric knowledge is locked away in your head. The multiple-choice nature of the game always gives you a shot at being right–no one in my family, for instance, had any clue at all about “The actual names of the Three Wise Monkeys”, but given the six choices (Sukanko, Iwazaru, ichimaru, Kikazaru, Saru Saru, and Mizaru) we all felt that blind guessing at least have us a shot at the answer. (More than once, someone had absolutely no clue as the answer, and just fanned out their chips and picked one at random, because why not?)

The game is also instructional. The wrong answers explain a bit as to what they really are, and more than one card has sparked my kids asking questions about the topic to further their knowledge.

We all had a lot of fun playing the game. There is a ton of laughter each time we play, and everyone in the family enjoys it. The prototype only had 20 questions, so we only played part of one game. But since we have received the final version, we’ve played it over and over again, and the game is definitely going to be a consideration for gifts for family and friends. Our family loves this game, which is why I’m making Half Truth GeekDad Approved.


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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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