The “Taboo” of board games
One of the best pastimes when you are among friends or family is definitely playing a board game. Compared to the past, there are now hundreds if not thousands of new titles available for both experienced and novice players. Among them, some of the timeless classics are present in almost every home: Risk, Monopoly, Pictionary, Cluedo and Taboo.
It is of the latter that we will speak today, trying to highlight all the aspects inherent to this very famous title and how it remains a game that is always fresh and modern, whether in the traditional paper version or in digital (like our Quetzal, available on Google Play).
What is Taboo?
Taboo is a board game originally designed by Brian Hersch and published in 1989. In Italy, the game is distributed by Hasbro.
The game requires a minimum of 4 players divided into at least two teams. The minimum recommended age is 13 years.
The look of the basic game has been updated several times over the years, while still maintaining its editorial identity through the use of its famous trademark and the dominant colour purple.
The trademark, which depicts a little man covering his mouth with his hand as if to say ‘Ooops‘, embodies the essence of the game itself.
Besides the original version, there are several other versions of Taboo on the market that add even more variety. A few examples:
A simplified version of the game with content more suitable for a younger audience.
Taboo Quick Draw
This version tries to combine Taboo and Pictionary in a single game: the aim is in fact to describe s a secret word to your team without drawing any of the forbidden words.
In this variation of Taboo, players have to guess names of actors, politicians and other famous people. The rules are essentially the same as in the original game.
Also called ‘The Big Taboo’, this version is considered by many to be the most complete and entertaining. In fact, the box contains no less than four different game modes that alternate randomly during a game.
In addition to the normal ‘forbidden words’ mode, players will have to draw, describe words using a limited number of clues or mime using a cute purple puppet called ‘Bendy Bob’.
How to play Taboo
There are several versions and variants of Taboo, but almost all of them share a set of simple rules that we will explain below.
Players are divided into teams, usually two. It is advisable for each of these to consist of the same number of members, but it is still possible (and sometimes more fun) to divide the players into teams of different sizes.
Players sit in a circle alternating according to their team, e.g:
- A B A B A B
- A B C A B C A B C
The game mainly consists of verbally describing a secret word to your team but without using any ‘forbidden words’. These words are generally 5 and are somehow related to the secret word.
Each turn, a player takes the role of the ‘ClueGiver‘ who has to get his team to guess as many words as possible in a time frame of usually 1/2 minute.
The players sitting next to the ‘ClueGiver‘, being part of an opposing team, will have to check that the ‘ClueGiver‘ does not say any forbidden words or break any of the limits listed in the next paragraph.
Errors are usually signalled through the use of a small device called Buzzer, which emits the characteristic sound from which it takes its name.
Every mistake made by the ‘ClueGiver‘ results in a penalty to that round’s score. So watch out!
In addition to not having to pronounce ‘forbidden words’, there are other tricky constraints the ‘ClueGiver‘ will have to juggle:
- Do not use the initial of the secret word. Example: you cannot say “starts with W” to describe “Whale”
- Do not use derived or similar words. Example: You cannot use “Fence” to describe “Fencing”
- Do not use pieces of the secret word. Example: You cannot use “Screw” to describe “Screwdriver”
- You cannot use a translation into another language of either the secret word or the taboo word as a clue. Example: you may not use “Perro” to describe “Dog”
- You may not mime or use gestures in any way
- You may not make noises or hum. It is however possible to use a verse of a song as a clue
Some versions also do not allow the use of synonyms or rhymes. Please refer to the rules to be sure!
Scoring and victory
Teams earn points for each word they correctly guess. In some versions this corresponds to the advancement of a pawn on a board, in others to a simple accumulation of points.
In the first case, the team that reaches the last square first wins the game. In the other, the winning team is the one with the highest score after a set number of turns.
How to win at Taboo
As in almost every game, there are strategies in Taboo that often prove to be successful but above all make the games even more fun.
Turn of phrase
Perhaps the most common tactic. One of the most effective methods of describing a word without using forbidden ones is to use a broad turn of phrase (or rather a periphrasis) to express a concept.
Recommended for those who like to show off their rich vocabulary.
Example: a vehicle made of wood to move on a liquid that we drink.
Widely used among friends, families or couples. Using external references consists of linking to events or facts that happened in the context of everyday life to quickly suggest the secret word.
Example: what was drawn on the T-shirt Aunt Jane gave you the other day?
Quick and accurate, sometimes to the point of being banned in some versions of Taboo.
As per the title, sometimes it is sufficient to use a synonym or antonym that is not included among the forbidden words.
Example: a synonym for ‘Journal’
Not saying something sometimes proves to be the best clue.
Intentionally omitting a word in a sentence is an extremely common method as our brain is particularly good at filling in the blanks.
Example: there is no place like ____
The real secret: be in sync with your team
Playing Taboo, you realise almost immediately that the most tight-knit team is most often the best performing one.
Minds that think on the same wavelength need a single word, a funny play on words or a joke to guess even the most difficult words.
Why do people like Taboo?
Several factors make Taboo a timeless classic. Let us try to analyse them:
The rules of Taboo are extremely simple: descrive a word without using a list of forbidden clues. This allows anyone to play the game and have fun without thinking too much about the rules.
A Taboo match is usually rather fast-paced and varies depending on the number of players or teams. For this reasons people often like to play more than one game in a row.
Taboo requires participants to join teams and work together in order to guess the secret words and win the game. This inevitably creates fellowship among members and (often – but not always!) healthy competition.
The use of random words drawn from a deck of cards or an App allows for games that are always different and full of surprises.
A game of Taboo without a Buzzer, which is a small physical or digital device used to signal mistakes. Usually the Buzzer is given to a member of an opposing team while the ClueGiver tries to describe words to their team.
The typical BUZZZZZZZ sound emitted by the device makes the game more lively and often represents the very soul of the game.
StarSeeker Games has a Buzzer app available for you completely free of charge and downloadable from Google Play. You can download it from the button below.
Physical versions of Taboo
Physical versions of Taboo are extremely popular and can be found in almost every home. They consist of components such as cards, game boards, hourglasses and pawns contained in a box.
- Brings colours to your game library
- Extremely well-designed graphics and content
- Not always expandable with new content
- In the long run, some players may memorise game content
Digital versions of Taboo
Digital versions of Taboo are represented by Apps for Android and iOS and WebApps available online.
- The whole game is contained in a single App
- Free or extremely cheap
- Often expandable
- Not the best option for those with a game library
- Lack of physical component
- User requires a device such as a smart phone or laptop
- Some versions include advertisements or do not have a well polished interface
StarSeeker Games also offers you its own version of Taboo as a game mode included in Quetzal, the digital board game available for free on Google Play. You can download it from the button below.
Alternatives to Taboo
If you like playing with words, besides Taboo there are many other board games that will liven up your evenings with family and friends.
If you prefer drawing rather than talking, you can try Pictionary. The aim of the game is to describe a secret word to your team by drawing it.
If you prefer miming instead of drawing, you can check out Charades instead. Similarly to Pictionary, the aim of the game is to describe a word or phrase by miming.
If instead of describing a word you prefer to guess by asking questions, try Heads Up. Draw a card and place it above your head. Try to guess the word written on it by asking questions to your friends.
There are many other word-related mechanics, but they stray from the our context: board games such as Scrabble or Scattergories are a perfect example.
The above-mentioned Quetzal also offers exclusive modes such as ‘Time Attack‘, ‘Word Chain‘ and ‘Countdown‘.
Taboo is a great party game, simple enough to be played by anyone yet fun enough to have some space in everyone’s shelf.
In our opinion, everyone should try this game at least once and have a few good laughs playing with words.