Those who love trivia love trivia, and those who don't love trivia often dislike trivia games. After all, it's no fun to sit down with a know-it-all and have them slap you silly with their mind for minutiae round after round. That makes designing a trivia game that pleases all players a particularly difficult feat. But with Half Truth, a new tabletop party game from publishers Studio 71 Games and Nighthawk Games, the game's creators, Richard Garfield and Ken Jennings, think they've done just that.
Garfield is the creator of Magic: The Gathering, considered the first modern collectible card game. After designing a new trivia party game, he could think of no better partner to move the project forward than Jennings, crowned all time Jeopardy! champion in 2020 and whose 74-game Jeopardy! winning streak in 2004 first made him a household name.
Garfield began working on the project more than a decade ago, after he read Jennings's book on trivia, Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs. "He really made me see what was appealing about trivia in a way that I hadn't realized before, and I wanted to make a game which brought that out," Garfield said. "I wanted, in particular, to make it as egalitarian as I could, so that everybody would have a chance to shine. One of Ken's basic concepts of trivia is that it's wonderful because everybody's got these little pockets of knowledge that are uniquely their own. I wanted to give people a chance to show those off." That meant ensuring that questions weren't questions Garfield described as "you know it or you don't" questions, "which is how I thought about trivia," he said. "A good question might involve some guesswork, some metagaming, some intuition, making connections. I wanted to make a format which made that easy to get."
Once Garfield had finished a prototype of the game in 2010, initially called Inconceivable, he reached out to Jennings. So Jennings went to Garfield's home for a game night to give it a spin. "I won the first time we played, but I lost the second time, so I could tell that Richard's theory about the game, which is that it was a level playing field where anybody could excel and anybody could feel smart, was going to play out," Jennings said.
The two soon partnered up, with Jennings helping Garfield with the questions and Garfield taking the lead on the gaming aspect. The game, the two explained, is based on cards with multiple choice questions built to ensure its players benefit if they have a lot of trivia knowledge, but not benefit proportionate to the difficulty of the question. The idea was to make a trivia game that is playable and enjoyable to a broad group of players, even if they aren't trivia buffs. "The idea was, if you didn't know any trivia, you wouldn't have as good a chance of winning, but you would have a chance of showing off what you do know, and you might win," Garfield said.
The game comes with 500 trivia question cards, each under a broad category. Each card in the game has a question with three correct answers and three incorrect ones. Players get most of their points just by getting a single answer right—"which means," Garfield said, "that if you just blindly guessed, you have a 50% chance of getting most of the points. But if you can cross off any of the answers, you improve your chances. Then you might start deciding whether you want to try to go for a second one.If you press your luck and guess for a hard answer on one of the questions, rather than getting twice as many points or something like that, you just get a little more—but you risk losing everything. This way, people who know a lot are able to get extra points here and there, but they can't get way ahead of the game."
Jeopardy! this isn't. It's less about what fact you can pull out of your head, but rather, Jennings said, "can you use logic deduction, information, half-remembered knowledge?" Still, the two didn't entirely throw out what Jennings called the trivia canon. He explained: "If there's this many hundred questions in the box, this many should be about TV, this many should be books, this many should be animals, this many should be history. We tried to have every subject represented. We really wanted to make sure there was something for everyone."
They also wanted to make sure that there were questions that would throw even expert trivia players some curve balls. "For example, there's a question on cereals that have been discontinued, and nobody knows the answers, because the cereals are pretty obscure," Garfield said. "But you can kind of suss out which ones might be fakes," he said, "using a common cultural knowledge to figure out what the likely answers are."
Jennings said that the strategy paid off. "The strong player at the table might have an edge," he said, "but this is a game where everybody gets their little moment to feel smart."
Despite its creators' star power, the game had a bit of a rocky road to its release. At first, Garfield couldn't find a company interested in a trivia game, until a French publisher agreed to take it on. But the publisher sat on the game too long. He asked for the rights back, at which point Studio71 got involved. The publisher launched a Kickstarter campaign last August to fund the game, hoping to raise $10,000. Within three hours of the campaign launch Half Truth was 100% funded and eventually raised nearly $330,000 before the campaign ended. Garfield and Jennings, who had never crowdfunded a game before, were thrilled. And they said that backers, who already have the game, are already enjoying it—and finding creative ways to do so, even during the pandemic.
"One thing I've seen online, which is very cool, is people figuring out ways to play many board games, and this one especially, remotely—teleconferencing and a separate webcam pointed at the board," Jennings said. "I've been able to watch people playing Half Truth virtually during the pandemic. And they're excited about it, because they can't go anywhere. This is the biggest thing that happened to them that day! So it's really gratifying to see people so excited about something and figuring out new ways to make it work even in a less social world."