While Scrabble will probably always be my favorite competitive game, Balderdash is without question my favorite party game. And like all good party games, the rules are simple enough to be grasped by a guest who is either moderately intoxicated or intellectually under-nourished (although not both).
Here's the gist of it...
In each round, the dasher for that round (a rotating role) reads an unusual word from a deck of cards.
Each player writes down a definition of the word they have just heard.
The dasher reads out all the definitions.
Each player votes on the definition they think is correct.
Players get points for either guessing the correct definition, convincing others to vote for their phony definition, or writing a definition which closely matches the correct one.
And that's pretty much it!
I can't think of a game that is guaranteed to cause so much uncontrollable laughter - all the more so because you have to do your best to keep a straight face while you read out your sister's definition of CATAROLYSIS...
A Freudian experiment designed to interpret a cat's dreams.
when you know the correct definition is the rather unrelated...
Letting off steam by swearing.
Here's how things typically unfold...
When I first pulled out the Balderdash box after a few wines with friends, I must admit, I fancied my chances. After all, I spent five years playing tournament Scrabble. But guess what? I lost! And continue to lose most of the time. Why?
For one thing, because the words are just way too weird for me to know.
Just how weird are the words in Balderdash?
Well, I'm glad you asked, because here's something a bit obsessive I did one day. I went through about 100 words in the deck and checked whether each was allowed in Scrabble.
Now if you are at all familiar with the official Scrabble dictionary, you'll know that it is a rather generous tome, with words like OUGUIYA, YRIVD, and YUZU sprinkling its pages. And how many of the 100 Balderdash words I checked were in the Scrabble dictionary?
Less than 30!
So what are the chances that even a serious Scrabble player will have seen many of these words before, much less have an inkling of their meaning? Let's just say pretty slim!
In any case, Balderdash is not really about knowing words. Rather, it is about trying to convince others that your definition is more plausible than your neighbor's. Knowing the true meaning of a word is just a rather fortuitous bonus, and don't be too surprised if it simply never happens to you.
When it comes to word games, Balderdash is a serious leveler. I love that about it, because I don't play it competitively. I play it because it delivers exactly what it promises on the cover...
The hilarious bluffing game!
P.S. Nowadays, Balderdash comes in a variety of flavors. The problem with modern versions, like Beyond Balderdash, though, is that they have introduced categories like People, Movies, and even Laws. If you're a trivia-buff, you'll probably find these variations even more fun than the original. But if you're a dedicated word buff, like myself, it's worth parting with a few extra dollars to get the earlier edition I've linked you to throughout this review.
P.P.S. Here's an interview with Laura Robinson, the co-inventor of Balderdash. It's mainly a promo for her more recent game, called Identity Crisis, but the introductory part is about Balderdash.
And that's why Balderdash made it onto this word buff's carousel of fame...