Quiz shows have been around almost as long as television itself, but they've never enjoyed the kind of wild success they're experiencing right now. In addition to mainstream shows such as Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and The Weakest Link, the quiz show phenomenon has spread into every market imaginable: music, history, shopping, sports, and so on. But Rules of the Game, the new sports-quiz game from Infogrames, wasn't cranked out to take advantage of quiz show mania. It actually began life as a board game created by Robert Poole and quickly became one of the most popular sports board games on the market--and on first impression, this PC adaptation looks to improve upon every aspect of the original. After all, it delivers nearly three times as many questions as its board game forerunner, and its GameSpy support theoretically means you can scrounge up some human opponents faster than an NFL ref can toss a flag for an offsides penalty. But after you put it through its paces, you'll soon realize that the person-to-person interaction in playing a board game is a lot more important to the experience than you might have expected.
Rather than duplicating its board game cousin, Rules of the Game is presented as a TV show in which up to four contestants can compete in each round. The animated MC Joe Banks hosts the affair, who's supposed to liven things up with a steady stream of banter. Unfortunately, Banks' babbling not only fails to provide much amusement, but it also slows down the pace of the action to a crawl. After just one or two games, you'll likely start searching for the option to shut him up. Even if you do, you'll still see him sitting at his desk, making goofy expressions.
Each game consists of three rounds with increasing point values for correct answers--but as the point values go up, the time allotted to submit an answer goes down. Actually, the clock can be disabled, but that results in a considerably less challenging experience. Questions are selected from one of seven categories: baseball, college basketball, pro basketball, college football, pro football, pro golf, and miscellaneous. Miscellaneous features some real zingers such as darts, curling, horseshoes, power lifting, and table tennis, as well as more popular sports such as soccer, hockey, and tennis. Multiplayer games feature an additional category called challenge; challenge questions can be answered, passed to another player, or redeemed for a "safe" card that you can use to avoid another challenge. Unlike the case with standard questions, an incorrect answer to a challenge deducts the point value from your total.
Each correct answer gives you a shot at picking up extra points by answering a bonus question, and to add a little spice, these questions don't necessarily involve rules. You might get a trivia question, be asked to name the location of a sports facility or determine the attribution for a particular quotation, and so forth. The difficulty of these range from dreadfully simple (pick the borough in which Yankees Stadium is located) to insanely obscure (select the bowler who, when asked why he drove to tourneys, asked the questioner if he'd ever tried to fly with 20 bowling balls).
That's about it as far as the single-player game is concerned, except for one thing: You'll start seeing repeats of the same questions far too soon. The designers probably didn't want someone to play enough single-player games to know all the answers before going online to compete against someone else--but that doesn't change the fact that you can start seeing repeats after a mere two or three outings.
Multiplayer support is handled via hot-seat play at one computer or through the GameSpy Arcade client, which is included with the game. The good news is that GameSpy Arcade is quick and easy to use, and that latency isn't much of an issue in a game like this; the bad news is that it might take a while before anyone shows up in the GameSpy lobby looking to play Rules of the Game. We checked the game lobby at various times over the course of a week, but there was nary a sports fan to be found.
Rules of the Game would make for a nice diversion at a pregame party, and it'd probably be a kick if you could find someone to compete against online. But because it has such a thin single-player component, your best bet is to check GameSpy from time to time and see if anyone's playing the game--and not to buy it until someone else does.