On any given day, much of what fills the news is insignificant. Over time, the hot story of the day may be no more memorable than, say, the answer to the most trivial of trivia questions. Years later, even the most seasoned journalist may have trouble recalling the details.
So perhaps it was inevitable that journalism would become the basis for a trivia game that keenly observes the news and draws attention to the easily-forgotten minutiae.
Such is ScandalMonger, a trivia board game that hit store shelves last spring, and which I recently played against assorted journalists and news junkies – to the chagrin of the journalists.
ScandalMonger is centered on scandals that appeared in the news from 1950 to 2002, although most of the featured scandals occurred in the 1990s. There are 2,000 questions in five categories: Unsportsmanlike Conduct; Hollywood High Jinks; Rock and Roll Wrongdoing; Political Intrigue; and Miscellaneous Misdeeds.
But the journalism theme doesn’t stop with the trivia questions. It extends to the game’s structure. As many as six players compete for “stories” and trade “assignments,” and the winner is the first player to gather enough stories to fill a mock-up of a newspaper’s front page.
The game begins with each player choosing to be a character represented by a Reporter Icon, each with a distinct personality. Next, sets of Assignment and Confrontation cards are shuffled and placed on the board, and then each reporter (player) rolls the die to determine who will go first. Each reporter draws an Assignment card before his first turn, and the category named on that card determines the kind of trivia question that must be answered. The questions in the various categories are contained on Question cards.
With each reporter’s turn, another player pulls a Question card from the deck and asks the question in the designated category. A correct answer entitles the reporter to roll the die again. Each roll of the die determines the number of spaces the reporter advances on the game board on his way to his assignment’s Hot Spot. The goal is to earn a Cover Story by successfully answering a question while on the Hot Spot. With each Cover Story earned, the corresponding space is filled on the reporter’s Front Page scorecard. To win the game, a reporter must fill his Front Page scorecard with cover stories in all five categories. But achieving that could take a long time. Each reporter may pursue only one Cover Story at a time. Moreover, throughout the game, Confrontation cards can cause a reporter to lose a Cover Story or enable him to force an opponent to draw a new Assignment card.
In my limited experience with ScandalMonger, Front Page scorecards were barely filled after nearly two hours of playing, and my group included the editor-in-chief of a local newspaper in the New York City metro area who runs weekly trivia competitions at a bar in Greenwich Village.
ScandalMonger is the brainchild of Tim Graf, a 32-year-old independent business consultant who has scant journalism experience – limited to when he was a high school student, he said – and no prior experience in the board game industry. But Graf found inspiration in his observation that “what seems to be of such importance sometimes for weeks at a time is literally forgotten a year after.”
Graf began work on the game in February 2002, after mulling it since November 2001. Development took eight months, starting with 400 questions that Graf said he wrote down during his first few nights on the project. After six months, the list had ballooned to 3,000 questions, but he whittled it down to the current 2,000 after playing test games with relatives and friends. New questions were added just days before the game went to print last fall, when he began selling the game out of the trunk of his car, he said. Last February the game debuted at the American International Toy Fair in New York, and now it’s available in 170 toy stores in 22 states, as well as at a dedicated Web site (www.scandalmongergame.com) and online stores, priced at $29.95.
Robert E. Calem is a freelance journalist who specializes in technology and business subjects. His work has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition (WSJ.com) and Crain’s New York Business, among other leading publications. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org