I used to make Vines of myself singing hit pop songs in the voice of Tom Hardy’s rendition of Bane from The Dark Knight Rises. The prolonged British drawl in the way he pronounced words was easy to mimic, but also became hilarious when coupling it with him singing in the shower. It became something that would signal my entrance into the office each morning, much to the humor (or dismay) of my coworkers. “Oops, I Did It Again… Batman.” Classic.
Utter Nonsense is based on that sort of idea. It’s a card game that asks us to take a phrase and present it differently, stretching our acting chops while we aim to make others laugh.
It’s a simple game, it’s a fun game, and with a little modification can be a great ice breaking game.
The concept behind Utter Nonsense is simple – almost too simple. Designed for 3 or more people, each player gets seven white Phrase cards and one designated dealer draws a green Accent card. The players choose one of their phrases and peak it in the accent shown. The dealer chooses who did the best (or funniest, or worst, etc) and awards them that accent card as a point. The process repeats from there, with the winner of each round becoming the dealer. We reviewed the Family Edition of the game, so while it wasn’t necessarily raunchy it did get a bit borderline with poop and fart jokes once in a while. The game is purposefully easy enough for groups of adults or children, or any mix thereof, to understand and play.
The phrases come from a variety of sources – movies, TV, music, etc – and the accents are all ones we’re accustomed to. Spit out rap lyrics in a French accent? Why not. Sing a version of the famous “the first rule of Fight Club line” where half of the words are replaced with “pancake?” Sure. Players are encouraged to improvise to get a rise out of everyone. During our play sessions over the Thanksgiving holiday, we found that the game starts off slowly. Players do their best to try and nail the accent and phrase correctly, and can come off a bit stiff. It’s not until someone flubs their accent or phrase that everyone starts to loosen up. It’s at that point that the game really starts to move, as players stop worrying about getting things done right and more about making everyone laugh. You really do need to let people make fools of themselves, and by the end of a session at least a few giggles each round are commonplace. I wish the phrases were a little more well known, or funnier, as I think half of the time the players have no idea where they’re drawing inspiration from. There’s never a time when someone says “oh, I can’t wait for a certain funny card to show up,” because they’re not all that memorable.
I wouldn’t call Utter Nonsense a tabletop game, either. We would start at our dining table and eventually move to sitting or lying on the floor as we played, allowing us to jump up and go nuts during our turn. This is thanks to some of the cards being more action than accent. Singing, for instance, always makes everyone stand. That’s when things start to get interesting. The game is fairly vanilla in its simplicity, part of that being the removal of the raunchy side to make it G-rated, and also due to the inability for players to open up. Because the game seems to heavily favor those that can act or perform, the remaining people might have a little stage fright by comparison. My wife isn’t the loudest person on the planet, and so my emceeing background was an unfair advantage. The dealer likewise has a difficult time to choose a winner if they have no connection to the content that the phrases are drawn from, or if they’re not especially good at picking up specific accents.
It wasn’t until we made some modifications that the playing field became much more levelled. Like all card games, playing by the designed rules can only get you so far, and it’s not until we adapt the experience that we really enjoy it. The basic Utter Nonsense rules seem to be missing a layer, as the game could be played completely without cards if a group wanted to. Just shout “say a random movie line in Arnold’s voice” and the experience is basically there. With the more action-based accent cards divided from the proper vocal ones, we’d have dealers grab one from each pile and have the players draw phrases blindly from their stack. This “Accent + Action + Blind Phrase” equation seems to add complete randomness to the game, bringing down players who are Oscar-worthy and bringing up players who are normally more timid. That mod feels a lot more fun and challenging, and I imagine that players will come up with others ones on their own.
The only shortcoming to our variation was in the low amount of Accent cards that are provided in a box. At only 50 Accent cards, the game can go by surprisingly quick, even with the 450 Phrase cards that are included. The package itself is Target-friendly, meaning that it’s designed to fit very specifically at point of sale and that there isn’t a whole lot of empty space inside of it. This can lead to problems once expansion packs are added. We were sent along a fun Holiday themed pack, but had no place to put the cards once we opened it. They’ve been sitting loosely on top of the main box, and there’s a genuine fear that a brush of air from someone walking by will knock them off into the living room aether.
Our 8 yr old daughter has recently gotten into quiz and social games, and her enthusiasm for Nonsense is genuine. I didn’t realize not only how good her fake accents are, but that she even knew what they sounded like. The game, even in its vanilla form, is enough of a good time for a family gathering, and with a few simple modifications it becomes exponentially raucous. It’s clean and simple enough to leave for kids to play on their own, so I can imagine that this will make its way into our rotation – or hers.
This review is based on a retail boxed edition of the game and the holiday pack sent to SideQuesting by the developer.