It’s A Balloon!? Review
No, I’m not losing it. I’m not confused about whether I’m reviewing a balloon or not. It’s yet another party game from my Christmas break which I believe people should be playing and talking about. It’s a Balloon!? is a drawing game. I’ve got a lot of love for drawing games, from A Fake Artist Goes to New York to the venerable Pictionary, I get almost universal levels of fun from them. It’s a Balloon!? sees players try to copy one player’s drawing – without seeing it.
“I’m drawing a long, straight line to the Octopus’s Right Eye”
Each player grabs a drawing board and a dry-wipe pen. The boards are all the same, and all have a grid of little drawings on them. A heart, a pencil, a hand, etc. The active player chooses a word from a card and draws that thing on their board. Here’s the twist though. As they’re drawing, they explain what they’re drawing to the rest of the players, who then draw the same thing on their boards. At least, they try to.
You see, when you’re the active player you can only use a very limited set of words to describe what you’re drawing. ‘A straight line’ is fine, as is ‘a semi-circle’. You can also use basic directions, like ‘up’ and ‘down’, as well as referring to any of the pictures printed on your board. You are not allowed, however, to give descriptions of complex shapes. You can’t say “I’m drawing a cylinder”, nor can you use terms like zig-zag or wavy lines.
You can see where this starts to get both complicated and hysterically funny at times. The person describing their drawing is doing it against the trickling sands of an hourglass, and scores points if people correctly guess the thing they’re describing. Each guessing player is also trying to be the first to guess what the thing is. The first person to guess correctly gets bonus points. Do you jump the gun and assume that long semi-circle was part of a mushroom, only to later find it was the canopy of a parachute?
“This line is coming straight down from the middle of that last line, until it’s level with the thumb on the hand”
What I love about It’s a Balloon!? is the constant temptation the game throws at you. If you’re the person drawing you can play it safe and opt for the easy word on the card, or take a risk and go for the harder one. Given the choice of ‘comb’ or ‘hot dog’, comb is the easier word to draw and explain. But if you go for ‘comb’ you only get one point per correct guess, vs two points for ‘hot dog’. The person explaining can get up to six points on their turn, so is it worth hoping only three people manage to guess your hot dog, or play it safe and look for six people to guess comb?
The guessers face the same dilemma too. The first person to guess grabs the golden wooden marker from the table. Guessing correctly earns you a point, but if you guess correctly AND you’re holding the golden marker, it’s worth an additional three points. How soon can you be sure though? Is the simple shape you’ve drawn as difficult as it’s going to get because they were describing something simple, or is there still a key piece of information to come?
As with so many other games in this style, most of the fun comes after the round. Seeing what other people have drawn is really funny, especially when you realise that it was your bad description which caused everyone else to get something wrong.
I first came across It’s a Balloon!? at last year’s Gridcon. It was a hit at the convention, and I could quickly see why. Simple, accessible, and a lot of fun. I had to order a copy from France, because despite the game being printed in English, you couldn’t get it in the UK. PD Verlag have since righted this, and it looks like stock is starting to arrive on Blighty’s shores.
If you enjoy games like Pictionary, Telestrations, or A Fake Artist Goes to New York, you’ll have a great time with It’s a Balloon!?. The boards are substantial and chunky, the rules are easy, and it’s just a lot of fun.
Along with the other games I’ve covered recently – Secret Identity, Green Team Wins, and Medium – It’s a Balloon!? is a game that you might not have heard of but definitely deserves a place on your party game shelf.
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It’s a Balloon!? (2023)
Design: Mads Fløe
Publisher: PD Verlag
Art: David Schneider
Playing time: 15-30 mins