Game Night Verdicts #33 – Feelinks Revelations

Feelinks Revelations is a party game. It’s a genre of games that is sometimes looked down upon as being gimmicky or silly. But if done right it can do things that other board games only rarely pull off: it makes people feel more comfortable with each other.

The core conceit of the game is fairly simple. You are given a hypothetical situation and have to pick an emotion as a response to it. To that end three positive and three negative emotions are laid out on the table, that you must choose from. The round ends with a guessing phase, points are scored for correct guesses and none are deducted, if you’re wrong.

Bold and expressive illustrations by Hollie Mengert and Mike McCain

Like most party games, the mechanics are supposed to fade into the background quickly, which is why they are comparatively simple. Party games care more about how play affects the social interaction between players, than providing a well-articulated rules structure for player engagement. This is arguably a subtle but fundamental difference to other board game genres. The average eurogame, for example, tends to be only indirectly concerned with how its rules and incentives shape the social dynamics at the table. In fact, some people seem to believe that gameplay shouldn’t influence our social interaction at all, because the magic circle is about separating the game from the people playing it. It is an argument which is almost as cogent as saying that games should be a politics-free zone.

The point of a party game is to soften the social space between players, to be an ice-breaker so to speak. That’s why ignoring the final scoring doesn’t necessarily mean a failure in game design. It may just as well be a case of said party game fulfilling its purpose particularly well. That’s why the most interesting part of Feelinks Revelations isn’t its rules framework. After all that isn’t what gets players hooked.

Highly sophisticated technology is used during the guessing phase

That said, the point scoring mechanism does create an interesting, albeit unintentional decision point for the active player. In the game, two of the six emotions are randomly selected after every one has picked their response in secret. Then people have to guess how many players have chosen one of the two emotions as their response. With an additional bonus being awarded if a player can correctly predict somebody else’s response. Experienced players are trained to look for ways to maximise their score. In this case, picking a situation that has an easy or predictable answer is the most profitable move. But it’s not what makes the game interesting or even enjoyable. Which gives the active player the choice to either do what’s fun or do what scores the most points?

In a competitive game, this would be considered a design weakness. Our pursuit of victory should drive a lot of the enjoyment we get from play. Trying to win is supposed to require jumping through all kinds of hoops in a way that entertains us. In a cooperative game, facing the game’s challenge should be thing that makes us work together. If it doesn’t, something has gone wrong along the way.

Now Feelinks Revelations isn’t a competitive game, but it’s not really a cooperative game either. The game’s core task consists of accurately predicting the group’s overall tendency to respond in a certain way. It doesn’t really have much to do with cooperation. Instead our guesses are a formalized way to feel out to what extent we share certain values and beliefs. By proving that we do or at least understand who does, we develop a sense of group identity and belonging.

Superb art sets the tone for the game

Feelinks Revelations is most of all a social game. Guessing the answers of other players correctly serves an important function for the social dynamics of the group, but it’s not the part that players emotionally engage with. It’s when somebody reveals an unexpected response or one that they feel compelled to explain, that we get sucked in. This is what fascinates us and is cause for loud laughter at the table.

It will come as no surprise that a game about reacting to imaginary situations by choosing an emotion will feature a lot of provocative situations. Many deal with sexuality in some way. Some have you react to problematic views as if espoused by a partner, family member or authority figure. But where other “adult” card games aim for overstepping boundaries of good taste, Feelinks Revelations is more interested in letting your group explore and possibly establish those lines. All of which serves to recognize them and build trust this way.

When played well, it helps to make your friends feel a little safer about expressing themselves. Designer Vincent Bidault’s decision to use unusual situation is a smart move for a game designed to bring people closer together.

Some of the situations pack something of a punch

But it also places a lot of responsibility on the player choosing the situation to present to the group. This is arguably the most tense and pivotal part of playing and enjoying Feelinks Revelations. Your choice as active player will determine what kind of social pressure you will put on the members of the group. Many of the situations on the force players to reveal something about themselves in their responses. Picking the right one might have little to do with how you want to score points, or even what you would be most interested in knowing the answer to. Sometimes it can be about whether individuals at the table will be able to handle the topic you’ve chosen to bring up.

This experience can be exciting, because it can really let you get to know people. But it can also be tense, because you might really spoil the mood, if you mess it up. A topic like infidelity could conceivably lead to vitriolic debates or inspired discussions.

Feelinks Revelations is aimed at adults, not because its content is crass or cruel, but because it asks you to acknowledge your emotions and express them to other people. That it often manages to create much laughter in the process is remarkable. If nothing else, Feelinks Revelations is quite special in how a big part of the game consists of your decisions affecting other people’s emotions. It’s a core feature of playing games that is worth keeping in mind as it allows you to turn your magic circle into a safe space to play together.

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