Stringamajig review by Sagan and BJ

Board Game Gumbo is pleased to present another new review from Sagan Ezell, fellow game group member. Sagan is an omni-gamer who lives in Lafayette, Louisiana, and helps run the Southern Board Game Festival. This time, BJ and Sagan jointly review the game, with a running commentary. You can reach Sagan on Twitter @SaganEzell and BJ on Twitter at @boardgamegumbo.

SAGAN:

Have you ever been playing a traditional game, something like hangman or charades, and thought “This game is fun, but what if we changed it up a little bit to make it a bit more interesting?” In my experience, a few house rules with these kinds of ubiquitous games is pretty common, and I have definitely run across a few games that take the core of a classic game, change one major thing, and just run with it.

Most of the time with a game like this, it’s easy to see why the rule change was made, and sometimes it makes for a better overall game experience. On the other hand, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes a house rule can go over so poorly that it actively makes the game worse in a dramatic fashion (looking at you “Free Parking rule”.)

BJ:

Hey, most board game design is iteration, right? Small incremental changes added on to good ideas that make those good ideas even better. What’s on the agenda for today?

SAGAN:

So now we come to the game of the day, Stringamajig. Put in the simplest possible terms, Stringamajig is pictionary, but instead of drawing with a pencil, you “draw” a picture using a piece of string. At first glance, this seems like a pretty novel twist on a very well-tried formula, and it certainly has some impacts on the overall game experience, but I can tell you right now that this rule change isn’t going to be for everyone.

BJ:

Oh, good, we are talking about Fireside Games’ Stringamajig. Hey, I am a big fan of Fireside Games — We still own Castle Panic, and Remnants, Kaiju Crush and Hotshots were all great releases that my family enjoyed. Let’s talk about their party game this time.

Give us the facts, Sagan.

OVERVIEW OF GAME:

SAGAN:

Stringamajig was designed by Romain Caterdjian, published by Fireside Games, and plays up to 10 players in approximately 20 minutes. Fireside Games was kind enough to send us a review copy.

For about 15 bucks, you get about 100 clue cards, a minute sand timer, scoresheet, and the all important component, a piece of string.

BJ:

I liked the presentation. It is a small box game, about the size of Codenames. Anyone that sees it knows right away what this game is about — charades with string instead of hand motions, pictionary with cotton instead of colors.

The cards are nice and sturdy, and the components — for the most part — are well done. (But, keep reading.)

SAGAN:

The base game is an individual scoring affair, though it’s not a huge stretch to play in teams. The way it works is that one player will draw a card, read a clue off of that card, and then “draw” that clue using the piece of string. All other players will guess at the clue, and whenever someone shouts it out, the guesser and “drawer” both get a point.

Within the minute sand timer, the “drawer” will aim to get as many clues out as they can. Skipping cards is allowed, and when their allotted minute is up, the next player gets the chance to “draw”. After everyone has been the start player once (or twice depending on player count), the game ends and the highest score wins.

BJ:

Yes, it is a very straightforward system. But there are some twists.

SAGAN:

That’s right, there are two points that require a little clarification. The first is the challenge words system, and the second is the “what exactly does it mean to draw something with a piece of string” issue.

The game marks some words (at least one on each clue card) as a challenge word. Challenge words have an associated extra rule with them, but also will award an extra point to the drawer:

  • The first type of challenge is the no look challenge, which is exactly what it sounds like. The drawer can’t look at what they are drawing.
  • The second is the banned word challenge. There is a specific word next to the clue that’s banned, and if any guesser says it, that card is immediately lost.
  • The third type is the partner challenge. The guesser has to then pick one of their neighbors, show them the card, and then the two of them must hold the string up off the table while drawing with it. The neighbor gets a bonus point for helping if the clue is a success.

These challenges are usually pretty difficult to pull off, but they all come with an inherent clunkiness that most of the groups I played with just didn’t find fun. With the no look challenge, it becomes really hard to tell what’s going on because the string is an unbroken loop.

When you move one part of it, the rest of it will move as well. It would be nearly impossible to do a regular difficulty word with this restriction, so many of the no look words go the other direction, and you end up with things like “triangle” as the target clue.

For the banned word, you have to self enforce it in the moment, and it’s pretty difficult to listen for the correct answer, draw using the string, and remember and listen for the banned word among the 9 other people shouting at you. Usually, the way this played out in our games is that after the round was over, another player would look at the card and say “hey, didn’t Joe say the word “cheese” at some point? It was banned”, and then Joe would say “I can’t remember, maybe I said it, everyone was yelling” and then the table has a nice discussion about who said what and when.

The partner rule was probably my favorite of the 3 challenge rules, but its clunkiness came in the fact that you had to show another player your card, and get them on the same page as you without any clear verbal instructions. Paired with the minute time limit for a round, this one could eat up tons of time if your partner wasn’t keyed in.

BJ:

So what about the other clarification that’s essential to this game? What does it mean to “draw” something with string?

SAGAN:

The rulebook mentions that part of the string must always be touching the table and that the string can be “animated” or interacted with as if the string drawing were a real object, but states that drawing must be integral to the process. The given examples state that you can’t pick up the string completely off the table and strum it like a guitar, but you can draw a guitar on the table and strum that.

The idea is pretty clear in theory, but in practice there was some contention among most of my groups about what was string drawing and what was just charades. Clearly, this line is a little ambiguous, so the more lax your group is about things like this, the less of a problem this will be. Just know that if your group is going to look for a hard rule about what actions constitute drawing with the string and which are going too far into the realm of charades, it might be tough for them to pinpoint where that is.

BJ: Yes, my family struggled a little bit with it, but when I taught it to the Scout Dads (getting together for the first time in seven months, appropriately socially distanced during the games across a big table), they picked it up right away. In fact, one of the guys in the group, an engineer by trade, said that he loved the idea of working with the string and figuring out creative ways to interact.

How does the game feel?

SAGAN:

Through and through, Stringamajig is a party game. If you are looking for something to get people loud and yelling, the game is capable of that.

It’s very easy to teach (except to the rules stickler in the group, who will do their part and stickle away), it plays very fast, and it captures that pictionary feel, only stringier.

BJ:

Agreed — a good party game needs to (a) set up quickly, (b) be taught quickly, and (c) play quickly. And it has to have moments of spontaneous laughter to really make it fun.

SAGAN:

I can see a lot of groups who this game would appeal to; however, for me, it fails on a fundamental level. In my view, this game is essentially the same as so many of these other classic creativity based guessing games, except for its core gimmick, the string. And the kicker is, I was pretty disappointed with the string. I thought that the string was just too finicky and difficult to work with to make the drawing part of the game fun. It’s a pretty low quality string, and for some reason, it’s a closed loop. The closed loop of it makes drawing certain things easier, but the majority of the time, the fact that the string was a closed loop made it so much harder to draw things it was kind of comical. Maybe playtests showed the game was too easy with an open string, but people in my games continually struggled to draw any shape with asymmetry just because the string was a closed loop.

BJ:

I could understand that. I found that it matched up to the three goals above. Stringamajig takes literally seconds to set up, the rules teach is sooooo quick, and the game play is even quicker. And we had good moments of laughing, especially when people interacted with the string in strange ways like “flying” around a pretend flower made out of string to simulate a honey bee. The engineer in our scout dad group said that although he hates games that “make you tell a story or draw a picture”, he found the string in Stringamajig a much easier way to get his point across. I think it was the fact that he saw the string as a “tool” to use to tell the story, and the pressure was off on being creative from a drawing or storytelling point of view.

That being said, we used the same string that you had, and we had the same troubles. It makes me think that perhaps our string was not as flexible as intended by the designer.

SAGAN:

I asked players how they felt about the game overall, and the opinions ranged from “pretty fun” to “I wouldn’t play again, but don’t regret trying it once,” but almost everyone across several plays of entirely different groups said that they wished the string were different somehow. If the string maybe had a small buckle clip that could be used to make it a loop or straight would be a total gamechanger. If the game came with another string of a different color to add a bit more nuance to the drawing side, that could be a gamechanger. But as it stands, I see more frustration than fun when I compare this to other similar games.

BJ:

I like your idea of one continuous string a lot. Might have to find one and add it to the box for variety. I’m glad that I didn’t just play it with my family. They had fun, but were kind of luke warm on playing multiple times. The scout dads were a lot more open to the idea of interacting with the string, and there was a lot of laughter as we competed. We also learned really quickly that the best way to score points was to dump cards as soon as they seemed even remotely brain-freezing. It is better to toss the card, because inevitably the next one drawn was much more intuitive.

CONCLUSION:

BJ:

All in all, we enjoyed our plays of Stringamajig, but had trouble getting past the unwieldiness of the string for some of the clues. A good party game has to give you the illusion that it is tough, and that you are succeeding based on good play. This was hit or miss for us. For the family, it was an okay game that might have to wait for bigger groups like at our holiday parties this winter. Sometimes we felt like the string was working against us, instead of with us, which might have been a design choice.

But for the scout dads, it was a big hit. We ended up playing it over and over, and got progressively better not only at choosing cards quickly but also at making designs and interacting with them in creative ways. Everyone in that group gave it a thumbs up.

All right, Sagan. Give us your final thoughts.

SAGAN:

To me, from the very beginning, this game felt like a house rule spinoff of something else. It had some interesting ideas, but none of the novelty felt fully formed enough to create a unique experience. Every play, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I could have played a game that was just as fun by using the stuff I already have. In the back of my head I just kept hearing “grab a shoestring, clue cards from literally any guessing game already in your collection, and you’re already coming out ahead.” There is fun to be had here if your group is the type to have fun with boisterous party games, but I can’t say that there is any MORE fun to have here than the party games that the very same group already enjoys. It’s a neat idea, but I just can’t recommend Stringamajig among the crowd of other fantastic party games out there.

Pros:

  • Extremely easy to teach
  • Plays very quickly
  • Novel mechanical gimmick
  • Appeals to people that don’t like to draw
  • Appeals to people that don’t like the pressure of telling stories or miming
  • Generates a lot of laughs for those who get into the interaction

Cons:

  • Requires the right group to have any fun at all
  • A bit too derivative of other things to feel unique
  • Clunky mechanisms and clunky rules for those who can’t just let things slide
  • I was expecting a much better string
  • Why would I buy this instead of just using a string I already have?

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