Publisher: Sherwood Games
Game Designer: Duncan Davis
Artwork: Cristian Rosci, Mike Bocianowski, Jackson Trotman, Alphanie Susain
Ages: 9 & up
Playing Time: 15-45 minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $15.00
Missing Link is a charades style party game for 3-20 players by Duncan Davis of Sherwood Games. Players take a pair of cards, reveal one and then provide hints to help players guess what that hidden one is based on a common link between the two. It may sound pretty easy but think again because many times the objects have little in common, so it will take some real creativity and thought to find the link between the two when it’s your turn to give the hints.
The boxed review copy I received of Missing Link comes with 112 cards, 108 are object cards with 4 cards for rules explanations. This was Kickstarted in late 2014 and delivered to backers this past summer, a great on-time turnaround by Sherwood Games.
The cards are nice although a bit on the thin side, however it doesn’t matter much for this game since shuffling is not done often enough to warrant stronger cards. Art on the cards is simple with a blue backdrop behind each items caricature, most being rather cute and comical but a few are rather jarring in their differences, feeling very out of place.
The rules are covered on the front of the first card with the other three offering a couple of hints and alternative modes of play along with backer dedications from the project and advertising of other titles from Sherwood Games.
Missing Link is a very, very simple game to learn and teach, taking less than a minute to explain and setup. Each turn a different player will draw two cards, revealing one while keeping the other hidden and then give hints that are true about both objects to help everyone else guess the hidden card. When that object is guessed correctly, that guesser takes one card while the hint giver gets the other and the first player to five cards is the winner.
When giving your hints, you’ll need to find common ground between both objects, the ‘missing link’, but you’ll need to gear it at the hidden card to put players on the right track. Players will start throwing out their guesses and your job is to keep them on course, directing them to the correct object by your hints and encouraging close guesses.
Before I go any further though, let’s step back to the moment the hint giver draws their two cards to talk about the first big problem with the game. Let’s say you draw the cards milk and fork and reveal the fork card. You may offer as a hint that both of these are found in the kitchen, which helps narrow the items that people will run through in their heads but how can you connect the two by giving a common hint? What about a banana and an elephant?
With only limited guidance in the rules recommending that you use “both of these are bigger/smaller than” as your opener and the obvious suggestion of word association, it really leaves the game a bit too open. Sure, it’s great to have the flexibility to house rule some things but that’s really done to tailor the existing rules to your groups play experience, not to plug holes in a design.
This is what makes the game maddening; it’s a simple and clever concept but fails due to a lack of structure to help the hint giver come up with a common thread between two disconnected objects. This will cause a sometimes lengthy delay at the beginning of the turn while good hints are dreamed up and this is where the second big problem comes in, frustration.
With little help in getting the hint giver started, the guesser as well as the hint giver playing Missing Link will become easily frustrated and will lose interest. To illustrate this, see how quickly you can come up with a connection between these and be honest. What hints would you give to connect cheese to umbrella or cloud to grapes, how about monkey and computer or cat to camera? Remember, the hints have to be true about both objects so how can you distinguish them in your clues? Not as easy as it sounds is it?
Now look at it from the guesser’s perspective, how long do you think they’re going to want to stick around while you feverishly try to come up with the hint to kick this thing off? Give too general a hint with very little direction and within a few guesses, people are going to bury their heads in their phones to catch up on Twitter or Facebook and sadly this tends to happen more often than not with this game.
I like the game’s simplicity but as easy as it is to teach it can be several orders more difficult to even get started, let alone finish, for the reasons mentioned above. The concept is interesting but it’s missing a way of immediately engaging everyone due to a lack of good rules to guide players in a more enjoyable experience.
Given the wide variety of unrelated objects that you need to join together with hints, you shouldn’t need to imagine rules on the fly to make a game more playable and enjoyable for everyone, that’s the designer’s job.
If you look at games like Concept or Codenames, which is one of the new hotness right now, those games immediately engage everyone from beginning to end and are not difficult game to learn or play either. The big difference here is, they support their simple concepts with good guidance and help. The players aren’t left feeling abandoned, with minimal direction for a tough task and are able to enjoy the game rather than feel like they’re fighting through it.
Sadly, each time we played Missing Link it fell very flat and after a couple of rounds everyone begged off continuing. We did manage a few full games of it, thanks to some game designer friends of mine who helped modify the rules to expedite things which helped us finish but didn’t change the groups opinion of the game.
Missing Link has a good premise but manages to frustrate rather than entertain due to a minimalist rule set that needs more work. With extremely limited direction for the hint giver, just getting started can be very tough, causing a longer than necessary delay in getting the game actually moving forward. If you lose your group before you even start, it’s very hard for them to want to continue.
With some further refinement and additional direction, this has the potential to be a much better game. The overall idea is clever and the difficulty could be an enjoyable challenge if there were better guidelines and more structure.
Company Website: http://sherwoodgames.com/
Company Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SherwoodGames
Company Twitter: www.twitter.com/sherwoodgames
Note: A preview copy of this game was provided to me.