Reaping the Rewards: ‘The Princess Bride: A Battle of Wits’

Reading Time: 6 minutesIn “Reaping the Rewards,” I take a look at a crowdfunded project in its final form. Today’s game: The Princess Bride: A Battle of Wits.

Okay, all together now: “The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right… and who is dead.”

The Princess Bride: A Battle of WitsAt a glance: A Battle of Wits is a game by Matthew O’Malley for 2 to 10 players, ages 10 and up, takes about 15 minutes to play, and retails for about $20. It’s primarily a bluffing and deduction game, so it could be okay for younger kids as long as you’re okay teaching them to fool you.

Components:

  • 10 Goblet cards
  • 10 Character cards
  • 82 Wine/Poison cards (7 per player, plus 12 Sicilian cards)
  • 1 Time card

The game is essentially a big deck of cards, so it could have come in a smaller box, but at least it’s not ridiculously oversized.

Battle of Wits components
Battle of Wits components. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The character cards have photos of the characters taken from the movie–the front is in color, and the back (for dead characters) is in black and white.

Each character’s card has a symbol in the top corner, which is repeated on both the fronts and backs of that character’s cards. For instance, Fezzik’s cards have a big rock on them. The wine/poison cards are numbered 1 to 7; odd numbers are poison and even numbers are wine–these are marked by a skull and crossbones or a cluster of grapes. In addition, the character’s symbol is either on a white or black circle at the top and bottom of the cards.

Battle of Wits Characters
A few of the characters, showing the fronts and backs of the cards. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Sicilian cards are similar to the wine/poison cards, but there are some duplicates, and also two new cards with abilities. The 8 can still be used as wine or played as a Switch card to switch the bids between two goblets. the 9 can be used as poison or played as an Immunity card to make yourself immune to the effects of your own poison cards.

All of the cards have quotes from the battle of wits scene from the movie–they’re all Vizzini’s lines, actually, except for the Immunity card. If you read the cards in order, you can follow his spoken line of reasoning. But it does also mean that the cards are mostly just a big placeholder text that has no game effect, and also that everyone, no matter what character they’re playing, just gets Vizzini’s lines.

Battle of Wits goblets
Goblet cards–just use one per player. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

How to Play

You can download a copy of the rules here.

The goal of the game, of course, is to outwit your opponents and stay alive. In the basic game, there’s just one round–everyone who lives wins and everyone who dies loses.

To set up the game, lay out as many goblets as there are players in the center of the table. Each player chooses a character and takes the associated character card and wine/poison cards. Shuffle the Sicilian cards and deal one to each player. Give the Time card to the dealer. (For 6 or more players, the 1 and 2 cards are discarded.)

Starting with the player left of the dealer, each player takes turns playing one card face-down next to a goblet, either on the Contents side or the Bids side. Putting a card into the Contents is adding either wine or poison, based on the card played. Putting a card into the Bids side is making a bid to drink that particular cup. Sicilian cards may only be played as Contents.

Every time the Dealer takes a turn, the Time card (light on one side, dark on the other) is flipped over. Whenever it is flipped to light, some Contents cards are revealed–the closest face-down card to each cup is flipped over to reveal what it was.

Battle of Wits play
A seven-player game. Hmm, nobody wants to bid on that goblet in the center… Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Once everyone has played all of their cards, it’s time to resolve the bids.

The cards on the Bids side of the goblets are revealed, and you add up each character’s total bid for each goblet. The player with the highest total wins the goblet; ties go to the player with the earliest bid. Once all bids have been resolved, any players who won more than one goblet must choose a single one that they will drink, and then the goblets they do not choose go to the second winner, etc. Anyone who did not win any goblets will end up with the leftover goblets.

After everyone has chosen a goblet, the contents are fully revealed. Add up the total wine and poison in your goblet. If there’s more wine, you live. If there’s more poison, you die. If there is the same amount, the cup contains whichever card was played earliest.

There are some variant rules you can throw in–for instance, play multiple rounds until only one player is living. Or you can use the “odorless and tasteless” variant in which Contents are not revealed gradually during the game, or “luckless” in which the Sicilian cards are omitted.

Battle of Wits
Hmm, decisions, decisions… Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Verdict

Battle of Wits was funded on Kickstarter in November 2014, along with two other games based on The Princess Bride. I have to admit, that when I first heard about these, I didn’t have high hopes for them. Several years ago there was a Princess Bride game that I really didn’t like at all. Then, two years ago when Game Salute acquired the license, their first release was Prepare to Die, an Apples to Apples clone that basically had you filling in the blanks for the phrase: “Hello, my name is  ____. You ______. Prepare to die!” It felt weak and unoriginal.

I’m happy to report that Battle of Wits is, in fact, quite good. It was designed by Matthew O’Malley, the designer of Knot Dice and co-designer of Between Two Cities. While the cards could have been a little more fun, it’s a solid bluffing game that lets you feel like you’re playing out a scene in the movie, but with a bunch of other people.

Since everyone has the same cards (other than the one randomly dealt Sicilian card), you know the general range of numbers and how many wine and poison cards everyone has. As people start putting cards into the contents, at first you just have to guess whether it’s wine or poison. But then when players are bidding on cups, that gives you clues about what may be in the contents.

Of course, there’s a lot of bluffing and counterbluffing going on. Maybe you put a bunch of poison in a cup, and you’re bidding with low numbers, hoping that somebody will outbid you. Or maybe you bid on two different cups, hoping to hedge your bets that you can decide on one of them later.

Battle of Wits
This 6-player game had a lot of competition over a few of the goblets. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

One of the tricky decisions you make every turn is whether to use a card as Contents or a Bid. Winning the bid on a goblet often means that you have less control over what goes into it; ensuring that a particular cup is poison or wine means that you have fewer cards left to bid, so your goblet choice may be left up to somebody else.

There are a lot of unknowns flying around, which is why it’s good to learn the game using the Time card so that some cards are revealed every other round. It gives you a little more information, but it also means that you should decide carefully which cards you play first into the Contents, because those are likely to be made public.

All in all, I’ve enjoyed Battle of Wits and I think it’s a great game to start off a game night, particularly if you have a big group. I’ve played with up to 7 players so far, and although it does get a little bit longer, it’s still a pretty quick game and everyone seemed to enjoy it. I’ve even played with somebody who had never seen the movie (though she was familiar with the general themes) and it held up as a fun game even without that background.

Battle of Wits is available in stores and online now. I’ll report back when I’ve gotten a chance to play the other two Princess Bride games!

Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.

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