Party games are often the bane of a hobby gamer’s game time. When there are lots of people present, it can be awkward to suggest splitting up, but large-group party games are like gases: they have a way of filling whatever space they’re offered, and once you start playing them, they tend to eat up a whole game night, especially with casual players. So hosts must be careful that the party morsels they set before their guests are worthy, otherwise they’ll find themselves staring into either their friends’ horrifying exposed gums or their own soul, wondering how it has come to this.
Thankfully, there are lots of good hobby party games. But there are also sometimes excellent party games available where you least expect them: in the mass market. Time’s Up! is one of these.
How It Works
Time’s Up!: Title Recall is a party game for two (or more) teams. Players give clues to their teammates about famous titles over the course of three rounds. The team with the most correct titles guessed over three rounds wins.
To begin, players divide into (ideally, according to the rules, two-person) teams. Forty cards are drawn from the deck, and players decide whether the blue or yellow titles will be used. Players choose a starting player, and play begins.
On a turn, one player gives clues to his or her teammate(s) related to the title on the card. Titles can be book, movie, song, fine art, TV, or other titles. Players are always allowed to gesture and make grunts and noises and are never allowed to hum or sing. In round 1, clue givers are allowed to use as many words as they want to describe the title to their teammates, but they may not pass. Clue givers have 30 seconds to give clues; then it is the next team’s turn. Round 1 continues until all forty titles have been guessed correctly. At the end of round 1, one player reads the forty titles aloud again.
In round 2, the same forty titles are used, and clue givers are restricted to one word (plus as many grunts, noises, and gestures as they want). Clue givers may also pass, and the team is allowed only one guess for the clue. Round 2 ends when all forty titles have been guessed. Round 3 follows the same format, except that clue givers may no longer use any words.
The game ends at the end of round 3. Whichever team guessed the most titles over the course of three rounds wins.
Time’s Up?! Already?
In hobby parlance, “party game” is often used to describe games that fit a lot of players at the table. Thus, Codenames, with its cerebral and often quiet gameplay, is labeled as a party game because it fits lots of players. Time’s Up! is a party game that clearly fits the mass-market party game mold: it fits a lot of players, there’s always lots of noise and laughter, and anyone can play it. But while most mass market party games leave me rolling my eyes or checking my watch, I think Time’s Up! is the traditional party game perfected.
There are several reasons why Time’s Up! is so great, but what truly sets it apart, what gives the game its spark, is that the same forty cards are used in all three rounds. It can be frustrating in round 1 when you or your teammates don’t know what something is (my attempt to describe The Communist Manifesto was met with blank stares, and all of us were clueless when it came to Guernica), but that card will come around and around and around until multiple players have seen it. Suddenly, as soon as someone gets a puzzled expression, another knowing player will shout, “Guernica!” and laughter ensues. In a game like, say, Catch Phrase or Taboo, if you don’t know what something is or your teammates don’t know what something is, you’re stuck–you pass or end the round. Granted, you move on quickly, but the moment passes. Time’s Up! is like Groundhog’s Day: the same card will come up over and over and over again until it is guessed. And it will be guessed by the end of the round.
The genius of the recycling cards over three rounds is that the clues that were easiest to guess in the first round often become hardest to guess in later rounds, and the hardest clues become easier to guess as the game goes on. The reason for this is that the least amount of time is spent on familiar things, so you forget that you even guessed them. “All You Need Is Love” and Jurassic Park may be so simple you guess them almost instantaneously, but those are the titles that are easiest to forget.
The upshot of the recycling cards is that Time’s Up! naturally develops its own language and inside jokes and camaraderie. Because the second and third rounds rely on shorthand communication–a single word and gestures–players naturally pick up on the best clues and steal them shamelessly when it’s their own turn to give clues to their teammates. Again, I can’t stress this enough: you don’t really need to know titles to play Time’s Up! Especially in the later rounds, you can use other players’ successful gestures to get your teammates to the right answer, even if you don’t know what something is.
In some ways, reviewing a party game like Time’s Up! is silly. Just like analyzing comedy, it’s boring to analyze “fun”; it happens or it doesn’t, and that should be that. Time’s Up! does provide fun, and lots of it. Again, I think it’s the party game perfected because it is so accessible–anyone can play it, really–but it also involves more than mindless gimmicks like getting hit in the face with pie (as fun as that is) or saying weird things with a spacer in your mouth. It’s a sophisticated party game without looking like a sophisticated party game.
Despite this, there are a few things to be aware of. For starters, Time’s Up! is the kind of game that rewards people who can be outgoing. My family has been playing party games since I was young, so even though I’m an introvert, it’s not too much of a stretch for me to enter into the often loud and boisterous environment that Time’s Up! fosters, but some are clearly uncomfortable here. Also, there is some pressure when you’re the clue giver to give good clues, and this stresses some players out. No one wants to feel like they’re letting their team down, and when other players are getting their team to guess several titles in thirty seconds and you’ve only had one or two guessed, it can be discouraging. These aren’t issues for me because I think Time’s Up! is fun win or lose, but performance anxiety is a legitimate concern for some. You’ll know your group. You can usually find a way around this by making larger teams that pair some of the boisterous players with the more nervous ones.
And, as much as you don’t need to know anything to play Time’s Up!, it certainly helps, so players who don’t have a broad base of knowledge might feel frustrated. The nice thing about Time’s Up!: Title Recall is that the titles are drawn from several sectors. I don’t know a lot about fine art or older TV shows; my aunts are less up-to-date on modern pop songs. I work in books, so book titles are a cinch for me. In all of this, though, you are also at the mercy of your teammates: if you know The Communist Manifesto or The Birth of Adam but they don’t, you’re out of luck (at least until later in the round or in later rounds). I find that the recycling cards, again, mitigates this concern–you will eventually be able to guess and give successful clues for titles even if you don’t know what they are–but you will probably enjoy the game more if you do know them.
Time’s Up!: Title Recall is by far my favorite traditional party game. It relies on one clever twist (recycling cards) to elevate it above other clue-giving/charade games without employing the clever mechanical twists present in many hobby party games that are sometimes a turn-off to casual players. If you’re looking for a raucous party game that’s as smart as it is fun, I highly recommend Time’s Up! It has been a reliable hit in my groups.