There’s an old joke: a Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother. I feel like this encapsulates what CrossTalk is all about, you’re trying to get your team to guess the meaning of the word in vague yet creative ways. It’s a team-based party word game where you need to pick your words carefully, and your team carefully-er. Designed by Brett Sobol, Seth Van Orden and published by Nauvoo Games, let’s see how it rates.
How to Play
CrossTalk starts by breaking into two teams, making sure you join with the smartest people. Nominate one person from each team to be a clue giver. These clue givers draw a keyword card and then decide on a word (or phrase) from the card together with either a die roll, or months of negotiations and conflict resolution.
Both clue givers write a clue for what the word is secretly, and hand this private clue to their team. All clues need to be one word and follow usual word game rules: no proper nouns, acronyms, hyphenated words, and should be English.
Each round begins with one team’s clue giver giving a clue, in this example we’ll use the blue team. This is considered the first public clue and is heard by both teams and written on a board visible to all players. The black team then gets the first guess at what the selected word was. Before they commit to a guess, they may openly discuss their thoughts on the answer or have private conversations by writing on dry erase boards provided. After thirty seconds the team must form a guess or pass. The roles are then reversed, and after a quick facepalm, the black team clue giver gives the next clue, with the blue team’s turn for a guess.
Play continues until one team guesses the word correctly and get one point – five points are needed to win. If neither team correctly guesses the word within four turns, no more clues are given, and each team gets one final guess.
Once your group has a few games under their belt, it’s time to play the advanced version. It plays the same as above with the addition of the hint board, which may only be handed from clue giver to team once per round – and only after they’ve guessed. This allows clue givers to add a layer of complexity to their public clues, as they can now secretly let their team know what type of clue was provided. For instance, they can let their team know if the clue was opposite to the word, needs to be combined with another clue, or disregarded altogether.
CrossTalk is a gamer’s game. Out of all the party games I’ve played, all of them err on the side of whimsy, finding fun in laughter and silliness, instead of strategy. The exception being Codenames, although in a successful effort to appeal to a wider audience, Codenames only takes a nibble at the strategic caramel apple, whereas CrossTalk, with no regards for its teeth, takes a full-fledged bite. This doesn’t mean that it leaves casual or newer gamers out to dry, in fact one of the many positives of the game is how it allows people to play at the strategic depth they’re comfortable with.
If you are new to the game, or games in general, simply play without the hint board; it’s still a fun board game. However, when you add this board, the game becomes a different beast. It allows you to get real clever with the clues you give and presents space to get creative as both the clue giver, and clue taker. With this addition, instead of giving tangentially related clues and hoping the other team doesn’t make the connection before your own, you’re now giving clues that are difficult to understand without the use of a hint board.
In turn this creates opportunity for mind games. Since you can only hand over the board once CrossTalk turns into a game of chicken. Clue givers race to hand over the board the moment there is enough information made public.
Within the game there is both public, and private information, and how the design of the game plays with these types of information is an interesting study itself. From a player’s perspective though, anything said out loud is to be used for your team’s next guess, this leads to conversations around the table being about anything but about the secret word. However, deceitful team guesses, and other diversionary conversations can work its way into your team’s strategy. This works, because your team knows something the other team doesn’t – your private clue.
In figuring out what your team’s private clue is, the enemy team gets one step closer to the answer. They’re not the only ones listening though, as if the enemy clue giver gets wind of your private clue, they can give it to their team, rewarding them with a whole slew of new information, while your team gets nothing.
The strategy of CrossTalk takes time and is difficult to get into. How much information to convey is difficult and creating clues that give away enough for your team, but not enough for your opponents is a real challenge. It’s not something that you can do from the get go, and while everyone is learning how to give these clues, the gameplay suffers – with teams guessing words correctly on their first or second turn.
After a few plays you’ll form a preference for being either the clue giver or receiver, and when you’re not in your role of choice the game isn’t as much fun. For me, a giver by nature, coming up with clues is inherently more interesting and satisfying. When I’m relegated to guessing, I still enjoy myself, I become more than a bit judgemental – and nobody wants that.
Otherwise this board game suffers from the same generic flaws most word games suffer from:
- Lack of vocabulary can hurt the performance of teams.
- Non-English speakers will have a hard time.
- It’s Americanised, so there are a few words and phrases that might not be as well known to your group.
The Verdict and Thoughts
This is an interesting party game, and one that I haven’t fully explored yet. It treads on the same space as Codenames, which is why they often get compared, but it also goes well beyond in terms of strategy. This has been a key point in my review because I think it’s the main driver behind what makes this game fun. Guessing the words correctly makes you feel smart, but it makes you think your friends are smart as well, as both clue givers, and the team have to work together to get the win.
If you were to put a gun to my head – please don’t – and tell me to give my honest rating right now. I’d say it’s highly recommended, not a Critical Hit. However, if you asked me the same question in 6 months, I’d say: can you quit it with the guns? Also, yes, this is a Critical Hit easy. You see, my group isn’t there just yet strategically, but every time I’ve been the clue giver I’ve been able to glimpse how deep the rabbit hole goes. It’s on that promise that I’m awarding CrossTalk with a Critical Hit.