- One controller (a disc specially designed for Catch Phrase)
- Two teams of at least two players
How to Play
- Turn the game on, and you get a word or phrase (the answer phrase).
- Get the other members of your team to guess the answer phrase, then pass the controller to the opposite team.
- After the randomized timer runs out, the team without the controller scores.
Catch Phrase is usually considered a party game. And it is a party game, of course; you need a lot of people, and there’s lots of party-game flailing and craziness when everyone starts playing. But underneath the party game, Catch Phrase hides some serious twitch action.
On the surface, Catch Phrase most resembles the Taboo: you want your team to shout out an answer phrase; you can’t say certain things (though you’re allowed to say and do much more in Catch Phrase than in Taboo); you want each answer to be guessed as quickly as possible. But unlike Taboo and other similar party games, the number of answers doesn’t matter.
To make the game faster-paced, Catch Phrase uses the mechanic of a much older videogame, Hot Potato. Potato is a canonical twitch game—catch and throw, catch and throw, nothing but reflexes. The obvious downside to it is that the elimination-based score system is too random, that’s why Hot Potato is usually abandoned as a kids’ game.
So Catch Phrase removes many of the restrictions of Taboo cluing and wraps the whole game up into a “hot potato.” Instead of frantically turning cards over, you have a sturdy electronic disc programmed with thousands of words. When you’ve finished cluing just one word, you chuck the disc over to the opposite team. Your goal is to make sure that you don’t have the disc when the timer (after a random amount of time) goes off. You can (and probably will) point, move, sing, dance, and grab at things or people to get the answer out.
I play this game the most at the National Puzzlers’ League‘s annual convention. I first played it in Indiana, where I joined a large group screaming at each other in a circle. By the time I joined, it had already been going on for probably three complete games—if they’d been keeping score. Catch Phrase becomes very addictive very quickly, and you may find that playing to the eight-point goal is not enough to satisfy you. Of course, once you push it back to ten or fifteen, the temptation is to just push it back to infinity. And when the finish line is that far back, you don’t even need to keep score, really. And yet, even without those goals, the game stays fast.
Most of the time, when a twitch game is converted for multiplayer, strategy and consideration take the place of nonstop action. Catch Phrase is an exception. No matter how big the group gets, you’ll never stop frantically shoving the controller from person to person to person.
High. Player input is pretty much all there is. And if you have a randomized timer, you can play the game with user-generated words.
Very High. Catch Phrase comes with thousands of words programmed into it, which is more than enough to support days of gaming. That’s not an educated guess, I’ve actually done this. Towards the end, I started recognizing some of the answers, but I still kept playing.
Medium. The biggest argument against replay value is the continuous-play value. Sometimes, when you think about booting up Catch Phrase, you have to ask yourself whether you have anything else to do, because you’ll probably be playing this until you kick your friends out of your house. It’s much easier to not start a game than it is to stop a game.
PROTIP: It’s possible, if you’re careful, to actually slow down the game greatly and still enjoy it. I don’t recommend it to beginners; you really need to have learned the rhythms of the game already. Also, you need a very small group (two to five, I think) that is very tired or more-than-slightly drunk or both. But if you do all of this, you can strip the twitch elements entirely off of the game, making it something of a Zen meditation of the nature of words and language. This happened to me and two friends at an NPL convention after a long night of games and puzzles. We started at a normal speed, but as the sun rose outside the window of the hospitality suite and our voices began to falter from exhaustion and our muscles began to creak whenever we made more than the subtlest moves, the game wound down until it was a hypnotic exchange of ideas. I don’t remember how we even managed to stop playing, although I suspect that if it hadn’t been for the breakfast buffet, we would be there still.