Monday, September 15, 2014

Game Show Board Games: Card Sharks

Card Sharks is one of those shows that's due for a proper revival. It's now been 13 years since the most recent version was on the air (which, itself, is about how long it had been between the most recent version and the one that came before it). This version of the board game is dubbed the 25th anniversary version, despite coming out just a touch early (in 2002. The show premiered in 1978). It's actually a bit unusual among game show board games in my collection, in that it was sold without any version of the show currently on the air.

By the time this home version made it to store shelves, the most recent version, which lasted for one season in 2001, was already gone. Oddly enough, although this board game does indeed incorporate the logo and basic sense of style (or lack thereof?) from that version, the way the game is played bears pretty much no resemblance to the 2001 show, but instead incorporates elements from the previous (and much more successful) incarnations. This is classic Card Sharks.

Each player uses a separate deck of cards. Red for one player, and blue for the other. Control of the board is determined through a series of questions that ask how many of 100 people responded in a particular way to a survey. Quite frequently, these questions turn on moral decisions. For example, "We asked one hundred single women, 'Would you accept an engagement ring from the man you loved if you knew it once belonged to his ex-wife?' How many single women said they would accept the engagement ring anyway?"a Up to four of these questions are used in a round. For the first question, the player with the red deck must come up with a numerical answer to the question, while the blue deck player responds by answering that they think the true number will be higher or lower than that guess. If the blue player guesses correctly, he/she wins control of the board, but if the blue player guesses wrong (or the red player's number was exactly right), red player wins control of the board. The next question played will require the blue player to guess the number, with red responding "higher" or "lower." Questions alternate between players throughout the game.

The player in control now tries to complete their colored row of five cards by guessing whether the next card in a sequence is higher or lower than the card before it. Aces are high, and deuces (twos) are low. An error forces the player to go back to where he or she was at the beginning of that turn. If a card looks too hard to call, the player may "freeze," protecting his or her progress, but the player then needs to win control again to continue further. The round is won when a player correctly calls the last card in the five-card sequence, or upon the success or failure to complete a row on the last of four control questions (called "sudden death"). Winning two out of a possible three rounds wins the game.

The winning player now gets to play the "Money Cards" bonus round, using the reverse side of the game board. The player starts with $200, and bids any or all of that amount on whether the next card is higher or lower, and continues in sequence for each card that comes afterward with whatever money is won or left over (adding $400 after the end of the first row, as that card moves to the next level). Finally, for the last card of the round, the player must make a "Big Bet" of at least half of their Money Card winnings.b

Like I said at the beginning, this is a game that I think could stand a fresh run on TV. The questions test how well a player understands human nature (I've often said that those of us studying to be, or working with, church leaders would do well to play this game), and the game has just enough of a mixture of strategy and luck to keep things interesting. Even players who've never seen the show before should be able to understand and enjoy it.

aOnly 14 women said that they would accept the ring anyway.
bAs with most game show board games, play money is provided. Each round is worth $500, and getting a survey question exactly right is also worth $500. Good luck spending that money, of course! The fact that the money is fake also makes the "Money Cards" purely academic. I'm sure a player on the actual show would think twice about risking, say, $5000, on whether the next card after an "8" was higher or lower, but in a board game, the only thing a player has to lose is her or her pride. Obviously, this reality changes the way people play, but there's really nothing that can be done about that unless you want to start giving your players money out of your own pocket as prizes.

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