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Half Truth attempts to solve the common problem with trivia games

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A collaboration between a Jeopardy! champion and a legendary game designer

Ken Jennings and Richard Garfield sit at a table in front of a copy of their board game, Half Truth

Half Truth is a trivia party game that, on the surface, seems simple enough: Players are presented with a trivia question and six potential answers. Half of those answers are real; half are lies. If players can pick a real answer, they score points, with additional bonuses for every additional right answer they choose to gamble on. That’s an interesting idea for a family-friendly party game, but the story behind its development makes Half Truth more interesting.

Studio 71 and Nighthawk Gaming are producing the game; the Kickstarter campaign goes live today. Half Truth was designed in a joint effort between Richard Garfield and Ken Jennings. Jennings is a novelist and Jeopardy! champion who holds the record for the longest win streak. Richard Garfield is the designer of Magic: The Gathering, and a host of other games.

Going from titles like 2018’s Artifact and KeyForge to a party trivia game seems like a big jump, but the process started 10 years ago, when Garfield read the book Brainiac by Jennings.

The board for Half Truth, which shows the board with three correct answers highlighted. Half Truth / Studio 71

Turned around on trivia

Garfield said he realized he’d underestimated the trivia genre, and his lack of enjoyment so far poised a challenge. “I’m constantly looking for games outside my comfort zone, to learn to appreciate and design to,” he told Polygon in a phone interview.

From Brainiac, Garfield began to see trivia as an art, and not just a collection of facts. He reached out to Jennings, and the two of them began bouncing questions back and forth. Garfield, who admits he plays “every game I can get my hands on”, played Trivial Pursuit, Wits & Wagers, and You Don’t Know Jack. He notes that he loved the “playful nature” of You Don’t Know Jack especially.

The problem that the duo identified was that trivia often had down periods, where people had to wait and watch other people answer questions, and trivia that relied on a binary knowledge of facts each way tended to be frustrating. Jennings briefly describes his favorite part of Jeopardy!: the clues given for each answer. “They’re like little puzzles and riddles that I teased out,” he told Polygon.

“I really don’t like ‘who cares?’ trivia,” Jennings said. “Once you hear the answer, it doesn’t add to your life in any way. You want the answer to be funny or surprising in some way, and it’s fun whether or not you know the answer.”

“The design of [trivia games] tend to make people feel bad, where you spend 10 minutes trying to rack your brain for something you knew in fifth grade. This is trivia that makes people feel smart, you’re surprised at getting the right answers. That’s the joy of trivia, is those little epiphanies.”

Garfield described memories of playing trivia games with his grandmother. “There would be moments where she would be the only person in the room who knew the answer,” he said, “and the light just shone on her.”

Half Truth - the box art for Half Truth, which shows a red crossroads on a white box.
The box art for Half Truth
Nighthawk Gaming / Studio71

Spreading the fun around

Jennings and Garfield went with a system, and questions, that would avoid heavily esoteric topics. Another issue to dodge was down time. Going around a table, one at a time, slowed the pace of the game. More importantly, on a long enough timeline, that system tends to piss someone off.

“One of the worst things in a night of trivia is where you’re frustrated, not getting anything correct, and then the one question you know the answer to in a room full of a dozen people … isn’t your question,” said Garfield. “I realized I had seen trivia as something where there were a few people in the room who knew trivia, and no one else was really part of the game. And I saw trivia as being a matter of ‘do you know this, or do you not know this,’ instead of making an educated guess by getting into the designer’s head.”

The other goal was ensuring the game wouldn’t feel dated.

“You want the game to feel contemporary; you don’t want every song to be baby boom oldies,” said Jennings. “But you don’t want to make so many Kardashian questions that in five years people are like ‘Oh! This came out in 2019, didn’t it?’”

Half Truth’s Kickstarter campaign is looking to raise $10,000 and ends on Sept. 20, 2019.