Modern Trivia Board Games

by Aug 25, 2020Olaf's Corner0 comments

In 1997 CBC Radio’s ‘As It Happens’ aired an episode…

that featured an interview with Peter Negroni, who was the school superintendent in Springfield, Mass. at the time. Negroni was petitioning to ban any school spelling bees and to replace them with lower-stress Scrabble competitions. When asked why, he recounts the story of an 8-year-old girl, who spelled her first word wrong, and was escorted of the stage after she froze on the spot. Terror and embarrassment on her face throughout the entire ordeal. ‘There is nothing wrong with competitions, in fact competitions are an important part of life’ Negroni claimed. But in his opinion, children don’t actually learn any spelling from participating in any spelling bee competitions. “Kids go up, they don’t spell a word correctly, they go and they sit down, and they watch kids as they get eliminated but they don’t pay attention to how words are being spelled and what’s being said with respect to spelling…It just seemed to me that this was cruel and unusual punishment.” He continues to point out that an alternate game, like Scrabble, is played as a team effort. Children have to think about what a word actually means in addition to how to properly spell it. “Much more learning takes place in a much less tense atmosphere.”

We all love trivia games. Doesn’t matter what age we are at; we do enjoy the challenge of presenting our general knowledge of the world to the world. The German language even has its own word for it: “Besserwisser” roughly translated as ‘someone who knows better.’ In the television genre we have runaway hits like ‘Jeopardy’ or ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire,’ that most of us only watch in order to compare our own knowledge to those of the contestants.

When it comes to board games, we automatically think of one title that is synonymous with gaming trivia: Trivial Pursuit. Created in 1979 by two Canadians (Scott Abbott and Chris Haney) out of Montreal, it has been called ‘the biggest phenomenon in games history’ by TIME magazine. The idea of the game is to roll and move around a wheel shaped board, landing on spaces corresponding to six categories of trivia questions. Once a player had scored in all six categories (collecting pie-shaped tokens for each category), they would race toward the middle and answer one final trivia question in order to win. A simple and elegant design. With its humble start of eleven hundred copies sold to the Canadian market in 1981, it sold more than twenty million copies by 1984. This despite the emerging markets of video games and electronic entertainment at the time. Today, Trivial Pursuit alone has had over two hundred and twenty editions in all!

There is no question that we owe Trivial Pursuit our thanks for the fact that trivia has become a mainstream phenomenon for generations. There is, however, one major issue with the game that has bothered me for many years: It often makes me feel like the 8-year-old child at a spelling bee. You are asked a question; everyone is looking at you and if you answer wrong you are out and left slightly embarrassed. In the end it is a game for people who are confident in their trivia knowledge and leaves behind anyone who is not comfortable with exposing some of their lack of general knowledge. Luckily there is a plethora of modern trivia board games that give you the sense of testing your trivia knowledge without the risk of humiliation and feeling of failure. These games aim to entertain through trivia questions rather than rewarding the ‘they-know-everything’ individual. For that reason, they make great party and group games and encourage learning and fun without the stress like that of a spelling bee.

The good news here is that, if you love trivia, you do not have to be exposed to “cruel and unusual punishment” as Negroni put it. So, go and put your knowledge to the test without the taste of embarrassment. 


3-7 players, ages 10 and up

A fun-filled trivia game that lets you bet on anyone’s answer. So, you can win by making educated guesses, by playing the odds, or by knowing the interests of your friends. It can be taught in 2 minutes, played in 25 minutes, and accommodates up to 20 people in teams. Each player, or team, writes a guess to a question and places it face-up on the betting mat. Think you know the answer? Bet on your guess. Think you know who the experts are? Bet on their guess. The closest answer pays out according to the odds on the betting mat. Strike it big and you’ll be cheering like you just hit the jackpot! 


2-8 players, ages 8 and up

A card game where each card depicts a historical event on both sides, with the year in which that event occurred on only one side. Players take turns placing a card from their hand in a row on the table. After placing the card, the player reveals the date on it. If the card was placed correctly with the date in chronological order with all other cards on the table, the card stays in place; otherwise the card is removed from play and the player takes another card from the deck. The first player to get rid of all their cards by placing them correctly wins. 


2-6 players, ages 12 and up

This party game for all ages is actually co-created by 74-time Jeopardy winner Ken Jennings. It comes with 500 trivia question cards and each card has a category on it, like “Animals with blue tongues.” There are six possible answers, three right and three wrong, and players have to place bets on answers they believe are correct. Players are usually surprised by how well they do. We’re all smarter than we think. 


4-10 players, ages 12 and up

A movie game for anyone who has seen a movie, don’t worry you don’t have to be an expert. Like all the best films it comes in two parts:

First, both teams are given a topic, such as “movies with dogs”. You start the 15-second timer, yell out a relevant movie, then whack the buzzer to reset the time. The other team is now in the hot seat and has to do the same. Whoever runs out of time hands the advantage to the other team, which takes control of the next round. In the second round, your team has to guess the movie, while you act it, use one word, or quote from it. There is all sorts of strategy and stealing, too. 


2-6 players, ages 7 and up

Showcase your knowledge of J.K Rowling’s wizarding world when you encounter one thousand picture trivia questions featuring the beloved characters, extraordinary places, magical creatures, and enchanted objects from the epic Harry Potter movies. Pictopia is a game of teamwork — with a competitive twist! Sometimes you work together, and other times answer alone, but you wager your points every time! How much you wager depends on how well you know the pictures on the card — before you hear the question! Along the way are guess-my-answer questions that reveal how much you know about the other players.

Are you intrigued to try a cooperative game? Here are my top suggestions:

Wits & Wagers

3-7 players, Ages 10 and up.

Wits & Wagers

Bet on the answer that you think is the correct one to get points.


2-8 Players, Ages 8 and up

Insert your card correctly into the timeline of events.

Half Truth

2-6 Players, Ages 12 and up

Bet on the answer that you believe is the correct one.

Blockbuster: The Game

4-10 Players, Ages 12 and up

Guess the movie through a quote, pantomime or one-word description

Pictopia: Harry Potter

2-6 Players, Ages 7 and up

Guess the movie through a quote, pantomime or one-word description

‘Spiel Des Jahres’ Winners 2021

‘Spiel Des Jahres’ Winners 2021

Arguably the most important event with regards to the world of board gaming is ‘Das Spiel,’...a fair that is held each October in the German city of Essen. Exhibitors and guests from all around the world gather for 4 days to present and try all of the new and exciting...

read more
Word Guessing Games

Word Guessing Games

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said:...“All I need is a sheet of paper and something to write with, and then I can turn the world upside down.”  Even though I am almost certain that he did not say this with regards to board games, part of me wonders and...

read more
The History of ‘Ticket to Ride’

The History of ‘Ticket to Ride’

What defines a great board game?...It is its theme, the accessibility and elegance of the rules, the design and production of the components, the depth of strategy, or the level of enjoyment one experiences when playing it? I believe it is a combination of all of...

read more