This post will be a bit different from the usual Boardgame Detective content. It is a write-up of an event I held earlier this year, which was a game night based on a Korean TV show called The Genius. Sorry, no pictures today.
You’ve probably never heard of The Genius before if you aren’t from Korea, but don’t worry, I’ll give you a run down of it in a moment. Earlier this year, I was at a friend’s house playing some boardgames. One of their room mates was across the room on the couch, glued to the TV, watching a Korean TV show with subtitles. I didn’t really pay much attention upon arriving, but occasionally he would exclaim something like ‘oh man, no way!’ or just start laughing maniacally. It got me interested and I asked them what the show was called, I made a note of it and continued to play my game.
A week or so later I was bored on a Saturday morning and decided to look up the show. My partner skeptically joined me – ‘It looks really great, it’s like survivor crossed with social deduction games’ I said. The first episode begins by introducing each contestant, and describing the show. 13 Geniuses are invited to participate in a series of games. Each week, one person will be eliminated and the prize pool will be increased. At the end, only one will remain, taking home all the prize money. Garnets are introduced as the currency of the show, with each being worth $1000 and each contestant being granted one to begin with.
Each episode is structured into a main game, where contestants play a game to try and get the highest score to win garnets, and avoid having the lowest score, which puts them up for elimination. The interesting social mechanic the show uses to force friendliness and co-operation is this: If you ‘lose’ the main game and are up for elimination, you can pick any other player (excluding that episode’s winner) to play a 1v1 game against to decide who will be kicked off the show, with the winner of the 1v1 getting all your garnets! Thus, if you visibly betray someone to the point they lose the main game, they will pick you for the death match and you have a 50/50 chance of being out of the show.
Each contestant in the show has a ‘special talent’ or something they are well known for. This ranges from Professional Starcraft player, to K-pop lead member, to International Billiards champion. One of the most interesting parts of the show (for me as a westerner) was the way that Korean’s view relationships between each other so formally. This created a lot of really fun and interesting situations. I honestly believe this show wouldn’t work if produced in the west.
After getting used to the high-speed subtitles, and being totally drawn in by the first episode, we were hooked. We watched one episode a night for the next few weeks, and raved about the show to all our friends. After a month or so, a significant chunk of my friendship group had gotten into the show, and it dominated conversations – who is your favourite contestant, wasn’t that thing that happened in episode 4 crazy, etc. I hadn’t felt this excited about a show in ages, and it really brought back that ‘old school’ feel of a community enjoying a show as it aired on TV (everyone would watch it at the same time).
One morning I woke up and thought, well, this TV show is a game show. The contestants on it play games, some of which are obviously adapted from the social deduction boardgames I play all the time. We are all obsessed with it at the moment – let’s do it ourselves! Let’s have our own Genius Night!
Adapting The Genius For A Game Night
It was already clear I would need to make some changes to the way the games were played in the TV show for this to work for us as a one night event. I will explain the game played in the first episode of The Genius, and then I will discuss how we adapted it to work for our event.
The game played by the contestants in the first episode of The Genius is called the ‘1-2-3 Game’. The game itself has a very simple rule set – Each player is given 9 cards, 3 of each 1, 2 and 3 in value. Over a period of 2 hours, your may play ‘matches’ against other contestants. A match is simple: each player selects one of their cards and plays them simultaneously. The higher value gets a point. Draw or loss gets nothing. At the end of the 2 hour period, whomever has the most wins is the winner, least is elimination candidate, and if you have any cards left, your score is 0. I should note here, trading/giving cards is allowed, and there is nothing stopping you from saying ‘I’m playing a 2, please play a 1’.
Obviously, there is not a lot to the game itself. 99% of the entertainment value of the episode comes from the meta of playing this game. Back room deals, alliances, betrayals, planning etc. It was very entertaining to watch, and the contestants quickly come up with really interesting and innovative methods to try and get lots of wins. I wanted to capture that feel with my event but there were a few obvious issues:
- If we aren’t winning money or playing subsequent games like in the show, there are no stakes. There needs to be some motivation.
- The factor of betrayal having a penalty (being chosen for elimination) doesn’t work for just one game.
- I wanted to play too. I needed to figure out how the game could work without having a moderator.
The first thing I thought of to fix this problem – play for money. Everyone buys in $5, and the winner gets the money. But hmm, that doesn’t fix the betrayal problem. I decided to loan a mechanic from a subsequent episode of The Genius, a sort of money system to distribute winnings.
In ‘The Election’ episode of The Genius, players were working to get one player ‘elected’ as the winner. Every player had a number of chips which served as IOUs. If they won, each of their IOU chips would pay out one garnet to the player holding it. The chips could be used to bribe people to vote and campaign for you – e.g. I’ll give you two of my chips if you help me win, when I win you’ll get two garnets. This seemed like a perfect mechanic to distribute winnings.
So I took the above mechanic and added it to my game rules. Here’s what we came up with, and sent to all players in advance:
Entry is $5 (also bring food for dinner)
You will be supplied with a set(9) of 1-2-3 cards, and a number of ‘garnets’ (equal to the number of players). Cards and ‘garnets’ can be given to other players and traded freely during the game. The 1-2-3 game is simple: have the most wins at the end of the night, and you will be crowned `The Genius`.
To play, choose an opponent and approach the tournament table. Select a card and play it on the table. If your card has a higher number than your opponent, you get a win. Draws count for nothing.
At the end of the night, if you have any cards left, regardless of your number of wins, you are ineligible (a `The Genius` uses all their cards).
If you are crowned `The Genius`, all your garnets will be worth $5 each. Any player holding one of your garnets can trade it in for $5. Use your garnets wisely to ensure you are the, `The Genius`.
About half the (21!) attendees had watched the show in advance. The rest picked up the game and idea in a few minutes of explanation. Once everyone arrived, I cranked The Genius‘ main theme and two of my friends emulated a classic The Genius opener, screaming accusations at one another in Korean, and then I began to explain the rules.
I know my friends pretty well, and I figured that at least the more crafty and competitive ones would come with pre-planned strategies on how to gain the most wins, and I wasn’t going to have that! So after explaining the rules of the game, I threw a spanner in the works. I announced ‘The Twist’, previously undisclosed to any of the players.
As people arrived, I had handed them each a card from a deck in my pocket. I explained ‘it’s for tiebreaker, I’ve written a number on each one’. I’d structured the deck so that it had cards with alternating coloured backs in the deck, specifically handing them out to couples and groups as they arrived together. I knew that people would be likely to strategise with those they arrive with. At this point in the rules explanation I announced that the colour of the 1-2-3 cards you would take need to match the backs of your tie breaker card. You can only trade cards with matching coloured players, and you can only play matches against opposite coloured players. There was a lot of yelling! Especially as people turned to their closer friends or partners and realised they’d been split up!
We switched on a big 2 hour countdown clock on the TV and the game was on!
Oh just one more thing. Because there was an uneven number of players I made the decision to add in a ‘joker player’ to balance the colours. This player had cards from both colours and could play and trade with anyone. I didn’t really think this through well, you can probably already see the issue with this. I realised what I’d done a few minutes into the game…
Within a few minutes people were already floating around and soliciting interest from other parties. Within about 10 minutes, the ‘Secret Bedroom Gang’ had sequestered themselves behind a closely guarded door and had seeming begun plotting how to win. They numbered 7. Another door was closed, although after some negotiation admitted new members for a while. Once they reached 10 members they decided they were set. This group was masterminded by what I will describe as an alliance of my two most competitive and strategic friends. I was worried about this, but figured such a large group couldn’t possibly survive long against the threat of a betrayal. Finally, there was myself and a few other floating around outside these groups, talking about how we might break them up or bring them down, but we didn’t have much to work with.
One of the floating players had a bold pitch for recruiting his help or joining his team – he was going to donate his winnings to charity. Help him win and you were helping a good cause. At this early stage in the game, people didn’t seem to be really that interested in this, but he got some good traction with a key member of the Secret Bedroom Gang before she was dragged back in and reprimanded for compromising their strategy.
I managed to get myself in the room to watch the core deal of the group of 10 go down. They had a bulletproof plan – double everyone’s money, winning by sheer brute force majority. To get in on the deal, you had to give up ALL your 1-2-3 cards to the authoritarian leadership, in exchange for 2 each of their money cards. I was quick to point out how the leaders could easily betray the group by trading the 1-2-3 cards off to someone for a bigger share of winnings, but the trust seemed to be there and the 10 person alliance was confident in a win.
At this stage, there were notepads filling up with play plans and people trying to figure out if there were more optimal ways to play cards to gain wins. I was still out cold with no real alliance, and had resigned myself to just trying to bring down one of the two big contenders with whispers of betrayal. Unfortunately, everyone was too honourable.
Matches were being played at the match table. Wins were being made (players took a bean from a bowl each time they won a game). It was uncertain how many wins each ‘team’ had as they were being careful to break up their games so that keeping count was hard.
At this stage you are probably wondering how the Secret Bedroom Gang of 7 could possibly hope to win against the bulletproof, absolute majority group of 10. Well, remember how I stuffed up creating the joker player? Yeah. That player was a member of the Secret Bedroom Gang. It wasn’t long before the strategic minds behind the group of 10 realised what power the joker had, and started to panic. The joker could essentially wash cards – playing against either colour amplified the number of wins one person could gain. This is where the charitably minded player swooped back in to the forefront of the game. He had been sitting away quietly doing maths and projections for the last half hour, and he had worked out he personally was in a very strong position.
At this stage, everyone else had spent the majority of their high cards on matches (even myself, and the other dregs). The charitable player had a full set still available, and based on his calculations, it looked like he could actually make the deciding plays to give wins to either team and allow them to take away the prize. But of course, he wanted some of the money to go to charity. The clock was ticking down at this stage, only 20 minutes left. After some tense negotiations behind closed doors, it seemed like agreements were reached that would see half of the Secret Bedroom Gang’s winnings going to charity. It was quite surprising to see. at this stage in the game, the money no longer really meant anything, it was all about winning.
The drive to win was strong. Everyone gathered around the table for the final few matches. It was tense, with the last game being played with just 20 seconds left on the clock. Even without TV producers we somehow created a tense, down to the wire experience! The game was over! Nothing left to do but count out the win beans and see who won. Of course, this had to be dramatic, so we made contenders drop their beans on the table one a time, counting out towards the victory. Quickly there were only two players left counting, the leader of the group of 10, and not unsurprisingly, the joker. The joker was unaware of the exact number of wins they had. They both got into the early 30s, and was getting tense.
Finally, at 33 wins, the joker had one bean left, while the group of 10 had nothing to drop. Such a close win! And again, without TV producers we managed a ridiculously close and one point off victory! There was a lot of commotion and cheering. As it turned out, the charitable player had actually decided the whole game. As he came forward to claim his share of the winnings for the charity, all other players graciously handed to him their winning cards and he ended up with the full $105 prize pool going towards his chosen charity of ‘Toilets for 3rd world countries’. It was a warm moment.
My Thoughts On The Experience
I think one of the most interesting things that came out of the whole night was, we probably could have played without money and still had as much fun! For some reason though, going in, everyone needed the motivation of the cash and it did make it feel more real and very fun.
On reflection over my mistake with the joker player, I’m not so sure it was a mistake after all. We discussed it afterwards. The player who had been the most vocally disgruntled over the issue during the game (unsurprisingly one of the leaders of the group of 10) admitted that it made the game a lot more fun and interesting, and everyone else generally agreed with that. So, in the end it was probably a good thing.
The Genius Night was probably one of the most successful game nights I’ve ever run. All players were fully engaged and engrossed in the experience for almost 3 hours, and we are thinking about which The Genius episode to attempt to adapt for next time. After playing through it, my personal thoughts are that I wouldn’t mind actually moderating the game. I didn’t really participate much in this one but I still got a massive amount of enjoyment and entertainment from the experience, and I would probably enjoy myself more in the position of moderator (the power!). I’m keen to do it again soon, and so is everyone else who played!
If you liked this different sort of content, I’d like to hear what you thought! If you’d like to run this game yourself, feel free to use my rules, I would be happy to chat about it and I would love to hear about how your game went. You can contact me through the comments on this website, or through Twitter, Facebook or Instagram if you prefer.