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Preview: Knee Jerk

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[Ed. note: This is a preview of a non-final, non-production prototype demo of the game. Our opinions reflect that of the game at the time we played it; the final product may feature some variation in game play, art, and components.]

My daddy always told me, “Son, think twice before you speak.”  Alas, though I have heeded those words my entire life, and try to instill them in my own kids today, I still have an uncanny knack of spouting off as a result of the old “foot-in-mouth” disease.  When I was younger, it would get me into trouble.  Now that I’m older, it more than likely is just a bit socially awkward.  Either way, I’ve now found an outlet for my graceless bumbling: Knee Jerk – where I can say whatever comes to my mind.  Even if it’s the first bizarre thing that pops into my head!

How It Plays

Knee Jerk’s subtitle says it all: The Party Game of Instant Reactions.  One player constructs a sentence from three customized cards, and the other participants must complete it with the first coherent ending they can think of.

The game consists of one 55-card deck.  These cards merely state three simple phrases, one each on a green, blue, and orange banner.  The green and blue colored banners also have arrows which point off to the right.  When placed together in a staggered format, these arrows line up so that the green phrase will point to the blue phrase on the next card, which in turn points to the orange phrase on a third card.  The resulting three phrases now form the bulk of a sentence which the other players will attempt to complete.

During a game, one player serves as the “host.”  At the beginning of the game, she draws 2 cards, lining the first card’s green phrase up with the second’s blue one as describe above.  So you might begin with something like, “I Feel Like We’re in A Horror Film” coupled with, “At the Mall.”  To start a round, she then draws 3 additional cards, chooses one of the orange phrases, and tacks it onto the end.  Say she picks, “Because Someone is Wearing…”  Then the host reads the nearly completed thought altogether.

Staggered phrase cards read across to form the bulk of your silly, odd, or sometimes outright bizarre sentence!
Staggered phrase cards read across to form the bulk of your silly, odd, or sometimes outright bizarre sentence!

As soon as she’s finished, other players try to complete the sentence before anyone else.  The first player to blurt out a phrase wins.  If two or more people chime in at the same time, the host may decide the winner – either based on merit, personal opinion, or completely at random.  The only rule to your sentence-ending clause is that it must make some reasonable sense and the host has the right to deny any phrase.  So, using the example above, if you say, “The Sky is Blue,” you’re unlikely to earn the point.  Other than that, your add-on can be purely logical such as, “A Zombie Costume;” or funny such as, “Yoga Pants that are 6 sizes too small;” or totally off the wall such as, “A Human Head to Make Him Look Human, When in Fact It’s Actually an Alien Cause You Can See Its Antennae Sticking Out!”  Of course, speed is essential, so perhaps that last example isn’t a good one, but you get the idea.

The first player to call out a clearly coherent clause, or is deemed the winner by the host, earns that card.  The host then draws 3 new cards to start the next round and chooses a new orange-backed phrase to lay down with the original two phrases.  Play repeats as before.  When one player earns a set number of cards, they win that game and may host the next one.

Overreact or Stop and Think?

The British, and later American, comedy sketch show, Whose Line Is It, Anyway?, was famous for its quip, “The points don’t matter.”  Billed as a quasi “competition,” the participants entertained in improvised skits manufactured by the show’s host and audience.  The host would liberally throw out points for their efforts – or not – but the bottom line was to make everyone laugh.  That’s all that mattered.  Of course, that’s a concept not completely foreign to dozens of party games.  There are a great number that ostensibly have an objective, structure, and point system.  But really, the whole crux of the matter is to get together with friends and family, let your hair down, and have fun.  That’s exactly what Knee Jerk is and does.

This is a fast, usually hilarious, and oftentimes silly activity.  And I don’t use the word “activity” pejoratively.  It’s an extremely light game designed for fun, casual entertainment.  However, while the rules are simple, quite honestly Knee Jerk will not be for everyone.  There are a handful of people who just really can’t think quickly on their feet.  But more than that, there are lots of people – even gamers – who don’t like looking the fool or are uncomfortable in impromptu environments.  You can play Knee Jerk seriously and logically, without being goofy.  To be sure, a fair number of ending clauses will end up that way.  That said, the game is meant for, and really shines in, a more jocular atmosphere with players at ease in letting their hair down.  Indeed, the randomly bizarre outcome of many sentences almost requires that personality.

The real beauty of these phrase cards is they give you a jump start to spontaneity!
The real beauty of these phrase cards is they give you a jump start to spontaneity!

At the same time, you need not be the next Robin Williams, or some other king of spontaneity, in order to play.  The simplistic card structure wonderfully gets the players started.  After all, the concept here – the design’s ad hoc nature – is not a patented invention, by any stretch.  Yet the phrase cards are a great tool to provide a spontaneous framework in which players can easily be creative.  Sure, they’ll be some extremely reserved individuals that just won’t like this style of game.  But even if you’re not used to such activities, or think your personality is unsuited for it, don’t summarily dismiss it until you’ve tried it.  The design just might have you jumping right in more easily than you thought.

Finally, I appreciate Knee Jerk’s audience accessibility.  It’s appropriate for family-friendly gatherings; it works in casually social occasions with a broad range of personality types where you need to be careful about offending people; or you can take it to a mature, adults-only level amongst close friends or other environments where you know it’s safe to be saucy or naughty.  The design doesn’t force any of these directions, but allows the players – especially the current host constructing the sentences – to keep it suitable for whatever circumstance.

That customization should make Knee Jerk a replayable keeper.  The combinations of phrases are legion.  And the host has a great deal of leeway to tailor them to her audience’s tastes, preferences, and sensibilities.  There are logical constructions with natural endings such as, “I feel like screaming, at the beach, because someone announced…”  You can create hilarious concoctions such as, “I feel like I should call the cops, in the operating room, because someone made a sound like this:”  You may have a strange group that delights in completing totally bizarre statements such as, “I feel nostalgic, in the distant future, because my psych evaluation said…”  And for those that want to be a bit cheeky, you can mix together something like, “I feel stimulated, in the hot tub, because someone showed me…”  The possibilities are many!

55 cards. 3 phrases apiece. Tons of possibilities!
55 cards. 3 phrases apiece. Tons of possibilities!

The card sentence structure is ingenious, yet it’s so simple it’s a wonder it hasn’t been produced before now!  In “starting them off,” it allows individuals to be inventive and funny, without requiring them to create the whole exercise from scratch.  At the same, it’s open-ended and customizable enough to fit a variety of gaming scenarios – from kid-friendly family get-togethers to late night adults-only crowds.  If you have a family, social gathering, or gaming group that shines in an improvised environment, enjoys being silly, and doesn’t mind looking the occasional fool, then Knee Jerk will absolutely prove a perfect fit.

 

Knee Jerk is currently seeking funds on Kickstarter.  The project has already met its funding goal and will continue running through Wednesday, October 15th. This pack of fun in a little tuck box is well on its way to its stretch goals.  There is only one pledge level, and before you spout off half-cocked trying to guess what it is, let me just tell you!  For only $10, you can grab your own copy – and be well on your way to a night full of many laughs and maybe just a few awkward moments…

 

This article is a paid promotion.

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

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