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[Review] I Spy: In Common

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tomvasel
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Joined: 03/23/2011

There are children’s books that are good, and then there are children’s books that are classics. I Spy books are keepers, ones that will be gazed upon in wonder for many years – ones that I’m sure to keep for my grandkids once my kids get tired of them. When I received a game I Spy in Common (Briarpatch, 2005 - P. Joseph Shumaker), I was excited to see a game that was based on the clever, exciting object pictures so often found in the I Spy books.

The reaction I got when presenting the game was quite mixed. While the adults I taught the game to were decidedly cool, kids and teenagers found the game much more interesting. The game requires a great deal of concentration and provides a quiet, subdued atmosphere. It’s a little too thoughtful for some, too frenzied for others (in a passive sense), but just right for a group of teens or kids looking to play a game in a quiet setting (i.e. classroom). I enjoyed the game, but it was almost more of a puzzle, than a competition.

Each player (up to four) is given a frame that has room for eight double-sided tiles to be placed in it. A pile of these tiles are mixed in the middle of the table – the tile split into two squares – each showing four pictures of different everyday objects. Each player takes a pencil and a score sheet that has space on it for each row on their frame. A timer is flipped over, and the game begins.

Players take tiles from the pile and place them in their frame, so that they form a grid of sixteen squares. Each square (with four pictures) is in one of four rows (“1”,”2”,”3”, and “4”) and one of four columns (“A”, “B”, “C”, and “D”). There are also two diagonal rows (“X” and “Y”). Players are attempting to place the tiles in their frame in such a manner so that each row and column has four objects that have something in common (i.e. four “red” things, four things that have stripes, four toys, four animals, etc.). A player writes down on their sheet the commonality of each row (more than one if they can). When the timer runs out, scoring then occurs.

Players in turn, show their grids and read off the commonalities of each row and column. Players score one point for each commonality that the other players agree is valid. Points are totaled, and then the tiles are dumped back in the middle, for another round. After the second round, the player with the most points is the winner!

Another game can be played with the tiles, using them as dominos. In this game, which is aimed at young children, players play a tile from a hand of five that connects with the chain of tiles on the board, connecting squares that have some commonality amongst them.

1.) Components: Each player board is a thick cardboard board that easily holds the tiles, yet fairly tightly. The tiles actually match the colors of the four frames, although there’s no real reason or necessity for it. I often have new players ask me if the eight tiles that match their board are theirs, but it hasn’t caused too many problems. The pictures are great, showing a variety of inanimate objects and animals, and are certainly varied. They are typical of those found in the “I Spy” books and will certainly be attractive for that reason. The timer is functional as are the score sheets, although they are a bit small for me; and enough aren’t included with the game, in my opinion. Everything fits in a large square attractive box that is decorated with more of the wonderful objects from the “I Spy” series.

2.) Rules: The rulebook is only two pages, which are well-formatted and explained. The game is incredibly simple – there’s not much to explain – I can do it in a short time. Even fairly young children (7+) seem to get the game easily, although the younger ones will have a harder time writing down what they need to.

3.) Time: The timer is a three-minute timer, which certainly seems adequate for the game. Yet, in every game that I’ve played, it never is long enough. We found that flipping it over one time, making for a total of six minutes, was more our style. It’s not like the game is prolonged that much, as there are only two rounds of the game anyway. There is definitely a good deal of time and concentration needed as players mix and match their tiles to get the best they can from their ten rows and columns. Writing it down also takes a decent amount of time, and that’s why our games are a bit more relaxed; as many players found the three minutes insufficient and stressful.

4.) Concentration: You would be surprised at how much work it takes to get all of your rows and columns to have a commonality. In reality, it’s not difficult but does take a bit of thought. This is why my games have been fairly quiet, as each person quietly struggles to match as many common items as they can. Moving or switching a tile to match one row or column might affect others – and players have to think carefully. Some people might not like this level of concentration in a party type game, but the game does help youngsters “develop creative and logical thinking”.

5.) Creativity: It really does help the kids think ouside of the box. At first, obvious matchups are picked, such as “all animals”, or “all have something green”. However, soon, players become a bit more creative, picking “things that are in constant motion”, or “things that rhyme with “wing”, etc. It’s when players get overly creative “things that are on the planet Earth”, “things I like”, that the voting comes into play. It’s not so tense as the voting in other games – such as VisualEyes, as players usually know whether or not something they put down is silly or not.

6.) Fun Factor: This is a difficult one. I think the game might move too slowly and be a bit too quiet and dull for most adults. One person I played the game with loudly announced that it was an “old people’s game”, but I haven’t really had the chance to test that sentiment. I have played the game with several groups of teenagers; and all of them enjoyed the game greatly, although I didn’t hear any ravings (although how often do teenagers act excited?) Don’t buy this expecting a party game – rather pick it up if you are interested in being creative in a quiet way.

7.) Dominoes: I just wanted to say that while the domino version of the game is quite dull, younger children find it entertaining; and the pictures are quite captivating for them. In that sense, I found it fun to play with my young children.

For a quiet, educational game that causes kids to think in a variety of creative ways I Spy In Common is worth checking out. For a party game or a game that will produce a “rip roaring” fun time for gamers, this probably isn’t what you are looking for. I enjoy the artwork, the quality pieces, and the “I Spy” franchise; so I’ll hang on to the game. I’m not sure it will be played too often, other than when I want a group of one of my logic classes to be quiet.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
www.tomvasel.com

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