Typically, I keep my expectations for video games that adapt or mimic board games pretty low. It’s difficult to truly emulate the mood of sitting around a table with friends or family, playing a real, physical board game. Still, Rare had impressed with their Jeopardy! series. If they could mimic the thrill of being in a renowned game show, then maybe board games weren’t off the table yet!
Anticipation isn’t based on any one board game. It’s a bit of a mix between Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary, if that makes sense. Up to 4 players are presented with a tiny board full of colored tiles. The goal is to land on these tiles and then playing a mini-game that resembles pictionary. The game slowly draws an object and everyone competes to be the first to guess what it might be. The person that guesses right is awarded a token of the corresponding color and gets to move next. When they have collected 1 of ever token, that player moves on the next game board and repeats the process. Do that 3 times and they win the game.
There are several caveats to this process. Firstly, as you move up through the boards, the questions get harder. On easy difficulty on the first board, each drawing the game makes is accompanied by dots showing the outline of what is being drawn. The game also shows you what category the objects fit into and how many letters you need to fill out. As you move to the second and third boards, or raise the difficulty, these aids are removed. Suddenly every drawing is made from scratch and you get no indication of how long the word is. Or if it even is just a single world. Sometimes the game is looking for entire phrases or the drawing is actually a pun it expects you to decipher.
Movement is not what you’d expect either. You don’t so much roll a dice as you decide when to stop it. Let me explain…
Each time the mini-game starts, the dice begins on a 6. As the seconds to guess count down, it rolls over to a 5, then a 4, all the way until it hits 1 and time runs out seconds later. Whoever buzzers in and guesses right gets to move an amount of tiles equal to the number left on the dice. This means you can tactically decide when to move. Maybe you already figured the drawing out, but if you just wait a little longer you get to land on a better tile. Except doing so risks that another player might figure it out too and buzz in before you can.
With a group of friends, this can turn into a delightful series of mind-games and treachery. Maybe you know what number somebody is looking for and can buzz in before it appears to deny them progress. But does that maybe put you at a disadvantage now that your turn is up next? Sadly, computer players lack the appropriate level of villainy to seize upon this potential. I found that they usually lagged behind on the first board forever, as they kept making mistakes and never answered strategically.
While that potential is there, it is held back by 3 glaring problems. Firstly, the game is just not very exciting.
You move around these dry boards with boring icons to represent the players, without even the option for anyone to pick which one they like. Watching the game draw is visually pretty cool, but sadly gets repetitive quickly. All the illustrations are simplistic and mostly feature everyday objects, which aren’t particularly exciting. Nobody is going to loose their minds over watching the game draw a + symbol or a basic table. Without some drinks and friends around you, it begins to feel lame before the first game is even completed.
Secondly, the game is entirely unbalanced. Strong players can hog their turn potentially endlessly without any consequences whatsoever. It’s possible to get 12 consecutive questions right and beat the game without anyone ever getting a turn of their own. Even if they make it to the third (and final) board and eventually fail to guess a question, that doesn’t mean others get a chance to catch up. So long as nobody else can guess their level-3 question either, the turn stays with the same player. If by some miracle, somebody gets a level-3 question right despite being stuck at level-1, then that too can be used against them. The player in the lead can wait for the losers to land on a tile they need themselves, and then steal it away by answering their far-easier question.
There is no easy solution to this either. Even if you were to make it so that players can’t score tokens answering questions on boards they have already moved on from, then they can still use these opportunities to effortlessly reclaim the initiative. The fundamental reality of this game is that a single good player can dominate it endlessly.
Alternatively, the third issue is that the game can completely lock up in a variety of ways. Even on the easiest difficulty, the third board is very difficult. Not having any clue how long the word you’re looking for is severely punishes those who try to guess fast. Some drawings don’t make any sense until the final seconds, and that’s not me speaking from a position of lacking intelligence. Sometimes the last step of a drawing is the game writing down a word that makes a pun click into place. Without that word, you’re just looking at an object or abstract “thing” that doesn’t fit the category you’re supposedly looking.
Incidentally, this also allows the AI opponents to cheat. Sometimes their programming lets them guess a question correctly before the player has even had a chance to. In the example above, the game begins to draw a bow tie. However, the answer it wants is “Bow and Arrow”. It doesn’t draw the arrow until the very last seconds, but a computer player can buzz in well before then. It is very transparent how flawed this is, yet the game makes no attempt to hide it. That’s your punishment for not having friends to play 40-year-old NES games with.
The game can also get stuck as players are simply unable to land on spaces that would complete their set of tokens. While I admired the strategic potential of the system earlier, it is far more realistic that a bunch of players just end up going in circles as they rush to answer what questions they can. This can drag out a single game for far longer than is entertaining.
I am also just disappointed that some of the achievements of the Jeopardy games have seemingly gone forgotten. Those games used a loose filter that permitted them to accept answers that were formulated in a number of ways, whereas Anticipation has only one right answer. The moment you input a letter the game wasn’t expecting, it’s going to slap your hands away. Jeopardy also had a lot of different, interesting categories to play with. By comparison, Anticipation repeats the same categories in every game with a small batch of different questions between them. Some illustrations don’t even fit their category. Like below, where the category is “office” and it seemingly drew a desk, but the actual answer is just a generic “table”.
Even the AI mistakes are less convincing. If the AI decided that it would get a question wrong in Jeopardy, it’d spew out barely recognizable garbage. You could maybe, barely make out an answer from their mistakes if you already had a sneaking suspicion to begin with. Now they either get the question right perfectly every time or they spoil the answer with just a letter or 2 missing.
There is a lot to point out, but I think you get the idea. Anticipation has a very niche novelty to it if you can find a bunch of retro enthusiasts and enough alcohol. Anything less and it’s just not worth it. It’s a fairly tedious attempt at a board game that, more often than not, ends with everybody (or you alone) deciding to do something else instead of finish a full game.