Back in the 1980s a game was designed called Eat Poop You Cat. This simple public domain game only uses writing utensils and pieces of paper. Basically the premise of the game is that each player would write down a phrase on a sheet of paper. Each player would then pass their paper to another player who would then draw a picture based on the previous player’s caption. The previous caption is then covered and the next player creates a caption off the picture was drawn. This continues for several rounds as players alternate adding new captions and pictures. When everyone gets back their original sheet of paper everyone looks at how the different pictures and captions changed the original caption. Eat Poop You Cat is what I would call more of an experience than a game since the game really has no scoring or anyway to determine a winner. Taking inspiration from this public domain game while trying to add more gameplay mechanics, Hasbro created Cranium Scribblish. It is debatable whether Cranium Scribblish should even be considered a game but it is a surprisingly enjoyable experience that can lead to a lot of laughs.
How to Play Cranium Scribblish
Place the cards, die, and timer in the middle of the table. Each player takes a sheet of paper, a scroll, one Mine token, one Funny token, and a writing utensil. Slide the sheet of paper into the scroll until the dotted line reaches the top of the scroll. Each player draws a card and chooses which of the captions they want to use. Each player writes their chosen caption on the top of their paper.
Playing the Game
When everyone is ready the timer is started. Each player has until the timer runs out to draw a picture of the caption they chose. When the timer stops the players roll their paper into the scroll so the caption at the top of the paper is no longer visible.
One player then rolls the die and all of the players pass their scrolls based on what side is rolled.
- 1R: Pass the scroll to the player on your right.
- 1L: Pass the scroll to the player on your left.
- 2R: Pass the scroll two players to the right.
- 2L: Pass the scroll two players to the left.
- S: All player place their scroll in the middle of the table. The scrolls are mixed up and each player randomly draws one of the scrolls. If a player draws the scroll they just had, they have to switch it with another player.
After all of the scrolls have been passed, the timer is started again and all of the players create a caption for the drawing they are looking at. When the timer runs out the paper is slid into the scroll so only the new caption is visible. The scrolls are then passed based on another die roll.
Players will keep alternating between providing captions and pictures until the entire sheet of paper has been used. Roll up the paper into each scroll until only the picture can be seen. Place the scrolls face down in order to mix them up. Turn all of the scrolls over and then the scoring phase begins.
Each player will look at the final picture on each scroll. Each player has to try and figure out which picture was drawn from the original caption that they chose at the beginning of the game. When a player has chosen which picture is based on their original caption they place their Mine token and their caption card next to it. More than one player can choose the same picture.
Once everyone has chosen a picture, all of the papers are removed from the scrolls to determine the original caption for each picture. Each player that chose the right caption gets to take back their mine token. If a player guessed incorrectly, their mine token goes back into the box.
Each player then gets to choose which picture or caption they thought was the funniest in the game. A player cannot vote for a picture or caption that they came up with. To indicate their choice each player places their Funny token next to their choice. The player who came up with that caption/drawing gets to take the token.
The player who has the most tokens wins the game.
My Thoughts on Cranium Scribblish
If I were to explain Cranium Scribblish to someone unfamiliar with the game I would say that it is basically what you would get if you combined the game Telephone with Pictionary. Basically in Cranium Scribblish players alternate between creating captions and drawings based on the caption or drawing created by the previous player. Since players are going to have their own unique way of drawing a caption and creating a caption based off of those pictures, the meaning of the original caption is going to get lost somewhere in the process. The goal at the end of Cranium Scribblish is to try and guess which final picture came from your original caption while also trying to make captions and pictures that make the other players laugh.
So I am going to be pretty blunt and say that I think it is debatable whether Cranium Scribblish should even be considered a game. The reason that I think it is debatable whether Cranium Scribblish should even be considered a game is the fact that there really isn’t much of a goal to the game. While there is a final winner, how the final winner is chosen isn’t very satisfying or important to the game. Basically I would consider Cranium Scribblish to be more of an experience than a game as the outcome is generally not even that important. In my opinion if you are playing the game trying to win you are playing it incorrectly. You play games like Cranium Scribblish in order to have a good time and have some laughs with family and friends.
I think one of the main reasons that Cranium Scribblish isn’t really a game is the fact that it is based off of an activity/experience that never was really meant to be a game. Eat Poop You Cat, which Cranium Scribblish is based on, didn’t even have any scoring so there was no winner. Basically at the end of the game players would just look at the series of drawings and captions and have a laugh at how the captions and pictures changed over time. In order to sell Cranium Scribblish as a game, Hasbro figured that they had to add a couple other mechanics so there was actually a way to declare a winner.The problem with these additional mechanics is that they feel like a total waste of time.
The first mechanic that Hasbro tried to add was a scoring mechanic to the end of the game. Players can score points for guessing which final picture relates to their original caption. Players can also score points for coming up with the best pictures and captions. While I give Hasbro some credit for trying to add an actual winner to the game, these mechanics don’t really add anything to the game. It is fun trying to figure out what picture came from your original caption but it doesn’t really work as a scoring mechanic. Too often some sheets will only slightly change while others will be totally different by the end of the game. The problem is that this makes it much easier for some players to guess their own cards than other players. This means the final outcome regularly come down to luck.
The other way to score points is to create the funniest response during the game. I can kind of appreciate what the game was trying to do with this mechanic as rewarding players for making funny captions and drawings is what makes Cranium Scribblish a good game. The thing is that giving points for it feels like it is against the spirit of the game. By rewarding points for funny responses players are going to just create as ridiculous of responses as they can just to try and get more points.
While I give the designer of Cranium Scribblish credit for trying to add a winner mechanic to the game, it doesn’t improve the game. I honestly think you would be better off just ditching the scoring entirely. The game is more enjoyable if you just play it to have a good time. By adding a winner the game encourages competitive people to try and cheat the system in order to win the game. This kind of ruins the game’s mood.
The other new mechanic added to Cranium Scribblish is the idea of the die. The die is basically used in order to randomize which sheet you will have for your next turn. For the most part the die doesn’t drastically change the game since it will mostly have you pass your sheet right or left. The problem that I had with the die is the fact that it leads players to getting the same sheets several times during the game. Without the die players would either pass their sheets left or right one player after each round. This would let each player get a new sheet each round.
The problem that arises from players getting the same sheets over and over again is the fact that it tends to get the captions and pictures into a rut. When you get a sheet that you have already seen once before, you tend to write a caption or draw a picture similar to what you saw on the sheet the last time you had it. For example in one game one sheet had basically the same caption and picture show up two to three times in a row. As one of the most enjoyable parts of Cranium Scribblish is seeing how the phrase changes over time, this kind of ruins the purpose of the game. Just like with the end of game scoring, I think it is better off just ignoring the die rolling mechanic.
With the two new original mechanics being things you should ignore, you are basically left with Eat Poop You Cat. This also leaves Cranium Scribblish in a situation that is very similar to the board game Telestrations. Honestly the only noticeable differences between Telestrations and Cranium Scribblish is the fact that Telestrations gives players words instead of phrases to start the game and the two games use different components. Otherwise the two games are pretty much the same. While this is a problem for the game, I have to admit that it is not as big of problem as I would normally expect.
With all of these complaints you probably think that I did not enjoy my time with Cranium Scribblish. Despite not being much of a game and not being original, I still really enjoyed my time with Cranium Scribblish. It is hard not having a good time while playing Cranium Scribblish. If you don’t really care about who ultimately wins the game, you can have a lot of fun with Cranium Scribblish. There is just something fun about trying to come up with captions and drawing pictures based on what other players have done on previous turns. Probably the most enjoyable part of the game is seeing the process the original caption underwent to arrive at the final picture. The jumps in logic between players can be downright hilarious. If you want a good laugh you are going to have a hard time not laughing while playing Cranium Scribblish.
I think the most interesting part of Cranium Scribblish is the fact that the game actually rewards players for terrible drawing skills. While the game will still be enjoyable with people who can actually draw, the game is actually more enjoyable if the players can’t draw. This is because when players can’t draw they will end up drawing something that the next player can’t comprehend. They will then come up with a caption that has nothing to do with the picture and the pictures and captions will continue to diverge further and further away from the original caption. While this will still somewhat happen with people that can actually draw, it is more likely that the next player will know what was drawn which means that the pictures and phrases will stay more on track. With so many games giving good drawers an advantage, it is kind of refreshing seeing a game that actually rewards terrible artwork.
As there isn’t a lot to the actual gameplay in Cranium Scribblish it shouldn’t really surprise anyone that the game is easy and quick to play. You can teach the game to new players in minutes as you basically just alternate between drawing and captioning pictures. While it might not work with really young children, Cranium Scribblish is a game that can be enjoyed by both adults and children. As far as time I would say most games will probably take around 15-20 minutes. Cranium Scribblish is the type of game where you are probably going to want to play a couple games though before putting it away.
With Cranium Scribblish being a party game it is a game that excels with more players. While the game is fine with four players, if possible I would recommend playing with as many players as possible. The one problem with only four players is that players will likely see two or three of the sheets multiple times. Having to repeat the same sheet more than once kind of takes away from the game as you can see how the sheet has changed since the last time you had it. I actually think limiting the number of players to six was a mistake for Cranium Scribblish. Having more players adds little time to the game and allows players not to have to use the same sheet multiple times during the game. Also with more players I think there are more opportunities for humor. If you want to play the game with more than six players you could easily just buy a second copy of the game to get more scrolls or you could just fold back the prior pictures/captions so the current player can’t see them.
Speaking of the components I would say Cranium Scribblish is solid but kind of unspectacular. Basically you get the phrase cards, six scrolls, the die, the tokens, and the timer. As far as the cards are concerned in some ways I think they are better and worse than what you get with Telestrations (which I have yet to play). I like that the game actually gives you good starting points as starting with a phrase is probably better than just starting with a word or two like in Telestrations. The problem is that the game only includes 60 cards. With only three phrases on each card that means you only get 180 phrases in the game. On the other hand Telestrations includes thousands of words. While you don’t use that many phrases each game, it is disappointing that you are going to have to repeat phrases earlier than you would think.
After the cards I would say that the scrolls are solid. I like how easy it is to roll the sheets into the roll to prevent the next player from seeing the previous pictures and captions. The one problem that I had with the scrolls is the fact that they are kind of on the small side. Several players had some trouble being able to draw/write on the scrolls because they were so small. While I kind of like the idea of the dry erase boards from Telestrations, I kind of like the paper sheets from Cranium Scribblish as well. I do worry that you will run out of sheets somewhat early. The good thing about paper sheets though is that you can keep them and look back at the previous games you have played.
The final component I want to talk about is the timer. I personally was not a big fan of the timer for a couple reasons. First the timer doesn’t work that well since it is hard to tell when the timer has stopped. Instead of making a sound when the round is over, the timer just stops playing sounds. When you are playing the game this is hard to pick up on. The other problem that I have with the timer is that it just doesn’t feel like it is necessary. The timer doesn’t give players enough time especially when drawing pictures. You basically have to rush your drawings to get them done in time. This could add to the humor of the game but I think the game would have been better off letting players have as much time as they want within reason.
While on the topic of components I want to address the final issue I had with Cranium Scribblish. Other than it being debatable whether Cranium Scribblish should even be considered a game, the biggest problem with the game is the fact that you don’t really even need the physical game to play it. As Eat Poop You Cat is basically the exact same game, you could play Cranium Scribblish with just paper and a writing utensil. Basically you are buying Cranium Scribblish for the starting cards and the components which make it a little easier to play the game.
Should You Buy Cranium Scribblish?
Cranium Scribblish is an interesting “game”. You can make a legitimate argument of whether it should really even be considered a game. While the game has a couple mechanics which give you a final winner, these mechanics don’t really add anything to the game and I would honestly recommend just ignoring them. Instead of a game Cranium Scribblish is more of an activity/experience. While some people might see this as a complaint, it is not meant to be one. Cranium Scribblish is a game you play to just have fun and laugh with your friends and family. In that regard Cranium Scribblish really succeeds since you can have a blast playing the game especially if the players artistic skills are questionable. If you don’t take the game that seriously you can have a lot of fun with Cranium Scribblish. Since it is based off a public domain game though you can easily just make your own version of Cranium Scribblish with just paper, writing utensils, and your imagination.
If you don’t really care for silly party games, I don’t see Cranium Scribblish working for you. If you already have a game like Telestrations the only reason to purchase Cranium Scribblish is to get the extra cards. If you don’t already own Telestrations it all comes down to whether you want the cards and the other components which make the game easier to play. If you are fine with just using your own paper and writing utensils you could basically play the game without purchasing it. If you can get a good deal on the game though I think it is worth picking up Cranium Scribblish.