Chris Price takes a look at two very different board games, the Alexa-powered When in Rome and the brilliantly named Obama Llama…
First of all: a confession. I’m not really one for board games. As a kid, I got incredibly bored – pardon the pun – with Monopoly and although I quite liked Professor Plum, Cluedo wasn’t something that occupied much of my time either.
Maybe it’s the fact that board games seem to go on forever. Or maybe there was always something more interesting to do instead. However, as I’ve got older I’ve started to appreciate the simplicity of a good board game, particularly Trivial Pursuit (although I think it’s just that you get older you accumulate more trivia which makes you better at the game)
Anyway, inspired by friend Peter Jenkinson over at Toyology, I thought I’d take a look at two of the latest board games: When in Rome which is is certainly one of the first, if not the first, Alexa-controlled board game and Obama Llama which is kind of like a modern take on Snap (it is currently being updated to Obama Llama 2 in time for Christmas).
When in Rome
The problem with most board games is that they do tend to date. Take Trivial Pursuit. Certainly most of the questions in our edition are donkey’s years old and many of them now seem quite obscure and even more irrelevant than before.
Sure you can get new versions, but wouldn’t it be great if new questions were added all the time? (at least it would stop people cheating and learning all the questions).
Enter When in Rome. It’s a bit like a traditional board game like Monopoly except it’s powered by Amazon’s voice controlled system, Alexa. It’s available for £25 from Amazon here although you will also need to invest in an Alexa device too, such as the Echo or the Echo Dot for it to work properly.
Before playing, simply download the When in Rome Alexa ‘skill’ (a bit like an app but for the Echo smart speaker rather than your smartphone). This will enable you to sample a little bit of the game for free but if you want the full experience then I’m afraid you will need to invest in the board game.
The good news is that it’s all very straightforward to set-up thanks to Alexa’s voice instructions – much easier than having to read tiny, usually badly written instructions on a piece of paper which you’ll almost certainly lose when you come to play again!
Alexa guides you through the whole process of getting into teams and starting off the game – she’ll even remember the points each team has scored if you decide to stop half way through and then return to the game a few days later as we decided to do a couple of times.
Travel the world
Essentially When in Rome is a very simple game to play. You tell Alexa where you’d like to visit (‘Alexa, let’s fly to New York’) and answer questions about that city, getting bonus points if you pick up one of the special pieces along the way (ie. plectrum, thimble etc.)
There are 20 cities to choose from including London, Berlin, Rome and Istanbul in Europe and you can choose questions that are easy or hard for each city.
What really brings the game to life apart from some of the sound effects (such as the noise of the plane’s propellers as it flies to each city) are the authentic sounding local guides. In fact so authentic sounding that sometimes you have to ask Alexa to repeat what they’ve said as it’s quite difficult to follow.
Another small criticism is that the questions can seem a little narrow in their focus. While playing we tended to get questions on food and drink or local slang which were often quite guessable thanks to the multiple choice format but just seemed a little, well, obscure to say the least.
It also takes a little time to go through each of the questions, partly because of Alexa’s dry robotic banter (I quite liked it, other family members were less sure) and partly because you can’t always hear the question properly so you have to have it repeated.
But really these are small criticisms. The beauty of When in Rome for me is two fold. Firstly it broadens the appeal of Alexa beyond listening to music (which is, let’s face it, what most of us still use it for).
Secondly because it is Alexa-based it can evolve over time with new types of questions – based on customer opinion – rather than you having to wait around for a new edition to come out.
Board Game Trivia
Developed in 1944 by Anthony E Pratt, a musician from Birmingham, Cluedo was originally called Murder!
Numerous editions of Trivial Pursuit have been developed. While the original copy is known as the Genus edition (Genus 1 and now Genus 2) other versions include Junior Edition, All-Star Sports, Baby Boomers and All About the 80s and 1990s.
Found in Egyptian burial tombs, Senet – a board game with a grid of 30 squares – is the oldest board game we know of dating back to 3300 BC. Backgammon is also very old originating in Persia over 5000 years ago.
Monopoly was first manufactured and sold in 1935 by Parkers Brothers in the US and Waddington’s in the UK. It was originally based on Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Currently the Monopoly game is published in 47 languages and sold in 114 countries.
Very different is Obama Llama which is much more like a traditional game in the sense that it is completely card based (you can download a free Obama Llama countdown clock on the Big Potato games app which ‘orgles’ when a contestant’s 30 seconds are up, but that’s the only bit of tech involved.)
Created by Radio I DJ Matt Edmondson (he also worked with Big Potato on another game, Rainbow Rage), it’s best described as a cross between charades and snap.
There are three different types of cards, but all of them are based around the same principle – they’re all rhyming pairs. Throw the coloured dice and land on pink and you have to read a description from the ‘Solve It’ pile. For example ‘Olympic diver making music with a small-stringed Hawaiian guitar’ is ‘Tom Daley playing the ukulele’.
However, if it’s yellow then you have to act out a rhyme based on a particular celebrity. For example, ‘Danny Dyer on a high wire’ or rather bizarrely ‘Tom Cruise stroking kangaroos.’
Finally if you throw the dice and it lands on green then you have to describe the rhymes on the card to your team mates without using any of the printed words (ie for ‘Postman Pat stroking a bat’ you could sing the theme tune while making a stroking action).
Every time a team earns three points they also get to turn over two rhyming pair cards. If you find two pair cards that rhyme then you get to keep them. The team with the most pairs at the end of the game are declared winners or, in the event of a draw, it’s the team who found either Barack Obama or a Cheeky Llama who are declared champions.
It’s all good, silly fun and the different types of challenges really help the entertainment value. The only problem is that the game does date as it deals mostly in celebrity rhyming pairs and celebrities obviously do come and go! However, a new edition of Obama Llama is expected in time for Christmas so expect new celebrities – and no thankfully it’s not called Trump Heffalump.
I started the feature saying that I didn’t much enjoy board games. Well, actually I think I’ve changed my mind. If, like me, your evenings consist mainly of sitting down in front of the TV with each member of the family staring at their own smartphone there is something quite compelling about doing something together as a family.
And while I probably wouldn’t spend every night playing games – that would be just plain weird – these two games are perfect for family get togethers or for larger parties (we only have three members of our family and really you need four people for both games).
Personally, When in Rome was my favourite because you don’t have to actually do that much. I could just sit back, not worry about trying to understand complex instructions or reading out the questions because Alexa does that all for you.
However, it’s fair to say that my wife and 15 year old both preferred Obama Llama because they thought it was way more fun and more interactive. Whichever you prefer, however, both beat checking your smartphone for social media updates every few minutes!
When in Rome:
Designer: Sensible Object Ltd
Price: £24.99 from Amazon
Pros: No need for instructions, questions can be regularly updated via Alexa, you can pause the game and Alexa will pick up where you left off.
Cons: Delivery of questions can be a little slow and some of the local guides difficult to follow,
Designer: Big Potato Ltd
Price: £22 from Amazon
Pros: Really good fun, have to use your creativity especially when acting out some of the cards, good for all ages!
Cons: A little complex working out instructions, rhyming pairs of celebrities starting to feel a bit dated.