As we continue looking at our Top 5 Games of 2018, we take time this week to review TAGS, a new favorite party game giving us a nostalgic feel.
15 seconds. How long is 15 seconds? Not long when the pressure is on. Look at the letter, then the category. Can you think of a word? Oh no, time’s up! Do you have what it takes to play a game of TAGS? Check out the game play to find out!
TAGS is a quick word-based party game for 2-4 players. In this game, players try to think of words beginning with (or occasionally containing) various letters in a multitude of categories in order to earn the most points over the course of the game. The custom insert for the box is integral in playing the game, and it makes setting up and playing the game quick and easy. First, shuffle up the letter cards and divide them among the slots on the left side of the board. Then, shuffle the category tags and divide them into the slots along the top of the board. Finally, drop the marbles into the center of the board and spread them out into the holes so that they’re all aligned with the tags on the left and top of the board. You’re now ready to play!
Each round, one player will go first, with play proceeding clockwise until the round ends. At the start of the round, flip the letter and category tags around the board face up so that there are 4 letters and 5 categories visible. Then, start the 15-second timer. The active player has 15 seconds to name words that fit the letters and categories on the board, taking the marble from the intersection of the letter and category after successfully naming a fitting word. After 15 seconds, the board is rotated to the next player and the timer is flipped, giving that player 15 seconds to claim any of the remaining marbles. If a player takes the last marble from a category’s column, they take that category tag, earning bonus points based on the number of stars present on the tag (roughly corresponding to difficulty). The round ends either when all of the marbles are claimed, or when all players have taken a turn without claiming any marbles. Then, players score points for the marbles they claimed (3 points for black marbles, 2 points for blue, and 1 point for white) as well as category tags, and the board is reset with new categories and letters for the next round. The game continues until everyone has had a turn to go first, and at the end of the game the player with the highest score wins!
Artwork and Components
I will say it here for the entire class to hear: there is nothing wrong with loving classic board games. There are a lot of posts around the internet harping on the classics and the people who love them and I’m here to say that while I may throw out a few comments in jest, there really is nothing wrong with liking the classics. For me, one of my favorite classic board games is Scattegories. Any time we I was able to scrounge up another player, Scattegories is the game I would pull out. As an adult gamer, we still sometimes bust it out. We doplay other word games, but nothing quite hit that high like Scattegories did for me in my childhood. That is, until I found TAGS.
While TAGS isn’t quite the exact replica of Scattegories I could have hoped and desired for, it definitely fills the quick word game itch. The game is breeze to set up and teaching it to new players is super easy, especially if they have experience playing classics. While you can nearly play the game right out of the box, the game takes up a little bit more room than you’d think from such a simple game. While I wouldn’t call it a table hog, the full size box does make it seem like there’s more game than there really is. This is counterbalanced by the large, easy to see cards and the chunky marbles, making them easy to grab when you have your answer. I don’t think there’s a way to have this game be smaller and be as good, but it would be nice to have such an easy to play game be more portable.
The game mechanics being so easy really makes the game nice to learn and play. 15 seconds turns allows all players the same playing field and prevents dreaded “analysis paralysis” that some players get on their turns. With these short turns can come a little “thinkers block” and the extra pressure can cause a little anxiety, especially for people who have trouble with being put on the spot. While this game can be played with a lot of different kinds of gamers, it may be best to make sure people are up to the pressure and won’t get frustrated with the game play.
- Easy to play and learn
- Chunky pieces allow for easy grabbing during quick turns
- Large game space taken for such an easy game
- Anxious players may have trouble with quick turns
It is really hard to talk about TAGS without comparing it to Scattergories, which frankly is fine with me because I love Scattergories. TAGS has the same core mechanism — find words for a specific set of categories that begin with a certain letter — but adds a bit more production and drastically reduces the amount of thinking time. Indeed, TAGS is a very fast-paced game, giving you only 15 seconds at a time to think of answers and blurt them out. And while you can think and plan your answers on other players’ turns, it can be hard to recall exactly what you were thinking with everyone’s eyes on you!
What I like about TAGS is that it’s quick to set up, quick to play, and very accessible. You can explain the rules in less than 5 minutes and everyone would be ready to play. Word games tend to have a kind of universal quality that makes them very easy to pick up if they’ve played anything even remotely similar before. Furthermore, I like that TAGS does involve a bit of strategy — should you go for all of the black marbles since they’re worth more points, or try to complete categories for bonus points? Ultimately, though, the game will almost certainly go to the player best able to think of things starting with a certain letter in a limited time frame.
The quick turns can provide a bit of a drawback as well though. For better or worse, one feature that always seems to come up in word games, especially those that require some creativity like Scattergories or TAGS, is arguing over whether or not an answer fits the category or theme, with the active player defending their answer. In Scattergories this is easy, since revealing and discussing answers comes in an un-timed period after thinking up the answers. However, in TAGS, due to the fast-paced real-time nature of the game, it’s hard to object to an answer or have the active player defend it without bringing the game to a halt and being unfair to the active player. I guess it’s meant to be a feature in that answers need to be either unanimously accepted or quickly rejected without argument, but in practice it can make being the active player tough if you’re not 100% confident in an answer you’re giving. Another drawback is that the game only plays up to 4 people. While by the nature of the game (turning the board for each player and the limited marble supply) it would be impractical to play with more than that, it feels limiting these days to have a quick party game so limited by player count. It makes sense for families, but when you do most of your gaming in a large group setting as we do, it’s good when light party-ish games can be played by a large number at once. I suppose you could play TAGS in teams, either working together at once or switching the answer giver per team every turn, but at its core it’s not meant to be played with more than 4 at a time.
All in all, TAGS is a quick and light word game that I really enjoy. If you like games like Scattergories (or for a modern example, Knit Wit) where you have to think of words matching a category under a constraint like requiring a given starting letter, give TAGS a try — you might be spell-bound!
- Super easy to set up and for new players to learn
- Great modern game replacement for Scattergories
- Quick turns make discussing or debating answers difficult
- Only plays with up to 4 players, unless you add teams