To anyone who has seen our 360º photos, it will come as no surprise to learn that we at Board’s Eye View love our gadgets and gizmos. We were quick converts to the merits of inviting Amazon's Alexa into our homes to answer our passing queries and add voice control to the lighting and central heating. We were very excited therefore at the prospect of involving Alexa in playing a board game…
There is nothing new, of course, about linking an app to a board game. Many board games rely on a timer app. Some games use apps to recite instructions – particularly useful in social deduction games when all the players should have their eyes closed. There have been games that offer an app option as an alternative to using the game’s cards. When In Rome, from Sensible Object and Voice Originals, is nothing like any of these.
When In Rome doesn’t use an app as an adjunct to the game. In this game, players’ interaction with their Amazon Alexa is integral to the game that they are playing. Open up the box and you’ll find a board showing a map of the world marked up with 20 cities and routes (flight paths) connecting them. There is pack of ‘upgrade cards’ and a bag of ‘souvenir’ bric-a-brac objects. There are also plastic meeples in two colours and a pair of plastic airplane player tokens. The game is obviously a two-player game but it’s designed very much to be played by two teams. Indeed, it works especially well as a party game played by teams, who can debate and argue their answers to Alexa’s questions.
Though there are real game components in the box, this is a game, which, as the box warns, you must have an Amazon Alexa device in order to play. Once you’ve told Alexa to add the When In Rome ‘skill’ to her repertoire, you are ready to go. Each player or team places its plane at a city location on the board and tells Alexa its starting position. Each round, players fly to a connected city and attempt to answer a multiple choice trivia question related to that location. They score points for a correct answer and a correct answer also earns a friend in that city (you place out one of your plastic meeples). Having a friend in a city means you can fly over that city without stopping there. Faster movement around the board will enable a team to increase its points by nabbing one of the souvenirs that Alexa places out during the game.
Alexa also offers a points bonus in each of the nine rounds. This may ask you to name the city that the question relates to. Alternatively, Alexa will ask a question about a city where the answer is a percentage. Alexa always invites the team in the lead to answer first. At first glance, this might seem perverse; you’d expect these extra questions to serve as a catch-up mechanic. In fact, for the statistics questions at least, it is usually advantageous to answer second as you can choose a figure just one number higher or lower than the player who answered first – always a better strategy than trying to accurately guess the answer.
The game incorporates upgrade cards which can be taken as an alternative to the points awarded for correctly answering a bonus question. These give players a special Alexa command that allow them to modify an aspect of the game, including to reject a question and ask for another or to fly directly to a named location. These are a nice idea but you’ll find it’s almost always better to take the points rather than go for one of these random upgrade cards.
Trivia games are only ever as good as the questions. Very occasionally (less than once per game) a multiple choice question came up where the wrong options were just silly, and a few of the bonus questions turn out to be seemingly arbitrary ‘what am I thinking?’ queries; for example, naming the city where football is very popular (Rio de Janeiro? London? Berlin? Surely it could be any of these). These were rare exceptions, however. The vast majority of questions were genuinely challenging, even for the seasoned traveller. In several playthroughs we didn’t encounter any duplicated questions, so you are unlikely to find on that score the game wearing out through familiarity. You may tire though of Alexa’s constant repetition and reinforcement of the rules. We’d hope to see Alexa get a skill upgrade that limits her unsolicited exposition, especially after the first game.
The questions at each city location are posed by ‘locals’ (actors, we assume, with appropriate accents). Particularly when playing with teams, this adds to the party appeal of the game. And the appeal of When In Rome goes beyond the mere novelty value of interacting with Alexa as the gamesmaster. If you have an Amazon Alexa and you enjoy trivia games, then When In Rome is a Must Buy!