Debate This!

Reviewer Reviewed On Publisher Designer Published In Rating
Decmeber 9, 2005 Goldbrick Games, LLC Seth Blaine 2005 7
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Which of us haven't sat around with our friends and debated (sometimes in a rather ferocious manner) over some issue that was extremely important, or somewhat important, or actually not important at all…er, trivial perhaps? The game Debate This! (Goldbrick Games, 2005 - Seth Blaine) takes these arguments and makes a game out of it. Choosing a wide range of arguments, and forcing players to choose sides - Debate This! plays like it was designed for a debate team in their free periods.

Which is how the game actually plays. Both the single best and possibly worst feature of the game is the fact that one player is the "judge" for the entire game, and pretty much determines the winner and losers, and how much fun the game can be. In other words, who the judge is can make or break the game. I find that the game is a fun one, with a good selection of topics, and useful both in the classroom and in groups that can never agree on anything.

One player is chosen as the judge, and the remaining players are split into either two or three teams. The judge receives boxes of four different types of category cards, and the other players put their tokens on the starting space of the game board. The judge also shuffles a stack of bonus cards and receives an electronic timer, which he sets for two minutes. A stack of "Self-Writeous" papers are given to all players, who write their own topics for debate, which are then shuffled and placed near the judge. The first round is ready to begin, with one team chosen as the "leading' team.

The judge draws a card that matches the space the "leading" team is on and chooses one of the two topics on it. The leading team picks which side of the debate they will argue, and the other team must take the other side. (A more complicated form of switching positions occurs with three players). Each team huddles for one minute, determining their debating strategy. The leading team then has twenty seconds (as measured by the timer) to present their position, giving the other team twenty seconds to respond. This occurs three times, for three rounds. Before the rounds occur, the players draw one bonus card and look at it - not showing the judge. This bonus card indicates which round(s) are worth extra points. The judge will award a token to the team that he considered did a better job of arguing each round. After all three rounds, each player moves their token one space per token, plus any spaces noted on the bonus card. Another round begins, and play continues until one player has reached the end of the track, at which point they are declared the winner!

There are four different categories of cards/spaces:
- In This Corner: These are subjects that have two different sides for players to argue over. Examples include: "Should voting in presidential elections be mandatory for all citizens? Yes or No.", or "Which is a better work incentive? A salary increase of ten percent or an additional ten vacation days?" or "Who makes better NFL sideline reporters? Attractive women or Ex-players".
- Nothing Personal: These are subjects that pertain to the players in the game, in which players must argue for a specific individual or team of their choice. Examples include: "Who has changed the most since entering his/her current relationship?" or "Which team would do the best job of running the country?" or "Who is the biggest cheapskate?"
- From the Hip: These topics are more open-ended and allow teams greater leeway when choosing their answer. Examples include: "What country poses the greatest threat to global security?", or "What word or phrase best completes the sentence, "Never trust a man who ___________?" or "At what age should you allow your children to begin dating?"
- Speed Round: These cards have three different topics - one from each of the above categories. Instead of arguing over one topic for three rounds, each topic consists of only twenty seconds - one round. For example, one card states, "If you include the extra pennies with your tip, is it an insult to the server? Yes or No.", "Of the people playing this game, who holds the record for the dumbest teenage stunt?", and "What is the single most telltale sign that someone you have been dating is now officially your boy/girlfriend.
- Self-Writeous: One of the custom papers is drawn, and that topic is debated.
There are three hundred cards in the game with 660 different topics.

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: The box is perhaps a little larger than it should be, but it does hold all the cards and other components nicely in a custom plastic insert. The timer is an electronic one, which while not a two minute timer, can be set (following the rules) so that it counts down correctly. I personally like electronic timers better than sand timers, so it works very well for my purposes. The cards are decent quality, each a different color (for the different categories), and the bonus cards are smaller to help differentiate them. A huge pad of paper that tears into many "self-writeous" papers is included and will last for dozens of games. The player pieces are plastic podiums, and the victory chips are large plastic chips with stickers on them. The board is bright and colorful, and both it and the box have artwork of two cartoonish characters gesturing wildly and spouting at one another.

2.) Rules: The rules are simply two sides of one sheet that is the same side as the box. Everything can be found in them, including how to set up the timer. I wasn't really keen on the formatting, because I had to search through them to find the rules for every situation. The rules also include some strategy tips for the teams, and tips for the judge, so that he judges fairly. The game is simple to explain to people - the rules are very clear-cut, and high schoolers or higher will quickly comprehend how to play.

3.) Judge: Unlike games like Apples to Apples, in which the judge changes from turn to turn, the judge in Debate This! is set for the entire game, which means that they are a critical player. Players are going to most certainly accuse them of being partial during the game, or awarding a stupid argument, so the judge must be able to take a decent amount of flak. At the same time, the judge must learn to rise above their own personal opinions on each topic, and rather choose the argument which is better put together, most persuasive, etc. The judge also picks between the two topics on the card, and they really need to pick the topic that is most fair. For example, as Christians, some debate topics were easy ones for us - we were able to quickly determine that one point was against our Biblical beliefs. That definitely put a cramp into the style of those arguing against it. But since there are two topics per card, a wise judge can avoid such subjects. This puts a lot of pressure on the judge. They obviously must be fair and impartial yet must also be wise and someone that pleases everyone. Because of these restrictions, the game won't always work; because in some groups there is no one that people will agree makes a good judge. And a player may not even want the pressures of being a judge. However, if a player is qualified and willing, they can really make the game shine.

4.) Education: The game is an excellent one for a speech, debate, or philosophy class. The selected topics are quite good; and while some may be hard to debate from one side (especially if everyone is agreed on certain religious beliefs, etc.), most will have people adamantly arguing one or the opposing side. If nothing else, the great number and tremendous diversity of the questions will be useful enough. And there are fewer problems when deciding who the judge is - the teacher is simply the ultimate judge!

5.) Bonus Cards: I'm not sure what to make of the bonus cards. They do have the tendency to making the game a little more "gamey". For example, one round I played in, the team who won the second round got three bonus points. So on the first round, we deliberately gave the most ridiculous arguments that we could. Then, on the second round, we gave our best arguments so that the judge would be able to see a distinct improvement. This strategy worked, but I'm not sure it's the best educationally. At the same time, this helps the judge be more impartial, as they never know what round is more important, and they can hand out the chips with less worry.

6.) Arguments: The game is all about arguments, and players are actually encouraged to argue (in a proper way, of course). But as with a similar game, True Colors, the "Nothing Personal" round can become most certainly personal. People must have thick skins when playing these rounds, because listening to another player detail why they are the biggest redneck, or has the most "over-the-top" relationship with his/her pet" can cause some annoyance. Yes, it might be enlightening to find out what others think, but some people have thin skins, and they could easily become hurt. I would simply recommend that these people either avoid the game or play without this category. The judge, of course, can help avoid the more unpleasant topics.

7.) Fun Factor: As long as everyone keeps the arguments in the game, and the judge is impartial and fair - the game can be a blast. These two things are a necessity, though, or the game can come crashing down. As an educational tool, this can be a really fun activity for your class, as long as you keep total control as the teacher.

I really enjoyed the games of Debate This! that I played, but all the players involved agreed that the judge was critical, and even though our judges were seemingly fair, people still complained about some of their decisions. We did continue to debate and discuss some of the topics outside of the game, and everyone enjoyed the entire game; as everyone was involved for the whole time. If you're interested in this game, think about your gaming group, the possibility of who might make a judge, and then decide whether or not to get the game. If you are a teacher who is trying to encourage more communication in the class, then this is an excellent, fun game to do so with. And that's no debate.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"