Ever since it was founded in 1883 Parker Brothers was one of the leaders in the board game industry. Over its hundred plus years in existence Parker Brothers has been responsible for quite a few of the most popular board games of all time. By far the most popular game it ever created was Monopoly. When you create over a 1,000 different board games there are going to be a lot of board games that slip through the cracks either due to being terrible or never catching on. One of these games that slipped through the cracks was the 1978 game Punch Line. So is Punch Line one of those hidden gems or is it one of those games that should have been lost to time. Punch Line has all the makings of a hidden gem if only the scoring was tweaked.
How to Play Punch Line
- Each player takes a board and ten letter strips of the same color. The strips are randomly added to the slots in the board.
- The activity cards are shuffled. Choose a player who will read the cards.
- The timer is put in the middle of the table.
Playing the Game
Each round begins with the reader reading the top of the current card. This line indicates which lines should be switched on each player’s board. The players take the strips from the two rows and swap their positions.
The reader then reads a prompt from the card. The players then try to form a word on their board which fits the prompt. To create a word each player slides the strips left and right which moves a letter into the center of the board. The word that a player spells must appear in the center column of their board. When creating a word a player doesn’t have to use the first row and can skip rows in the middle of the word they create. The word has to be spelled from top to bottom though. Some other rules regarding the words you create:
- You can only create one word but the word can be as many letters as you want.
- Proper names are allowed.
- Contractions, abbreviations and hyphenated words are not allowed.
- If a prompt has the words “a __________” it can also be interpreted as “an _________”.
When a player is happy with the word they have formed on their board, they flip over the timer. This player can no longer change anything on their board. The rest of the players have until the timer runs out to finish up forming their word. When the timer runs out all of the players will score their word.
Each player will take turns scoring the word they came up with in a round. If a player was unable to come up with a word or they misspelled it they will score zero points for the round. Otherwise players will score points as follows:
- Each letter used in the word is worth the number next to the letter.
- If a player uses one of the letters matching their color (the last letter on the left and right side) in one of the center square spaces the letter is worth twice as much as it would normally be worth.
- If a player uses one of the yellow letters in one of the center circle spaces the player will double all of the points scored from their entire word. If a player uses a yellow letter in both of the center circle spaces, the player will triple all of the points scored from their entire word.
- The player that flipped over the timer will score five additional points. These points are added after a word’s score is doubled/tripled.
- If the player creates a word that is six letters or longer they will score five bonus points. These points are added after a word’s score is doubled/tripled.
If none of the players have scored 250 or more points another round is played.
Winning the Game
The game ends when one of more players have scored 250 points. The player with the most points wins the game.
My Thoughts on Punch Line
When I first saw Punch Line on the thrift store shelf I didn’t give the game much thought. It looked like typical long forgotten Parker Brothers game which I had never heard of before. I wouldn’t have even given the game a second look except for the fact that the game was less than $1. I can’t help it that I am a sucker for cheap board games. When I looked closer at the box though I was actually intrigued to see what Punch Line would actually play like. The box made it look like a Match Game/Mad Libs style game where players were tasked with filling in the blanks with a funny response. While I have played other games like this in the past I have to admit that I was intrigued because in general I like these type of games.
After playing Punch Line I have to say that my initial impression of Punch Line was not accurate. In actuality Punch Line is more like a traditional word game than a fill in the blank party game. Basically in Punch Line the goal is to score the most points. You are given a prompt like Match Game/Mad Libs and you have to fill in the blank with a word that you form on your gameboard. Players slide the letter slips left and right in their board in order to form a word. Each letter that is used has a point value which you will score at the end of the round. Once someone has finished with their word they flip over the timer which limits the amount of time the other players have to finish their words. Each player then scores the word they created and another round is played until someone has scored enough points to win the game. While Punch Line is not exactly what I was expecting, I wouldn’t say that I was disappointed with the game.
For those of you who are regular readers of Geeky Hobbies, you know that we have looked at a lot of different word games in the past. In general I wouldn’t say that I am a huge fan of the genre but I also enjoy playing the occasional word game. In relation to the other word games that I have played, I wouldn’t consider Punch Line to be one of the best word games that I have played but it is also far from the worst that I have played. Overall I found it to be a solid but unspectacular word game.
Punch Line shares a lot of the same mechanics as a lot of other word games and yet it feels kind of unique. Basically the main mechanics are nothing new. You spell out words trying to use the letters that are worth the most points. The idea of the letters slides are kind of unique though. You can always see what letters you have available to you but you also have to use them in the order that they are situated in your board. In each round two of the slides are exchanged which means your options each round will change. If you don’t like word games I don’t think these tweaks are going to change much for you but I think Punch Line could be a nice change of pace for people who play a lot of word games.
The key to your success in Punch Line really comes down to how well you can take advantage of the scoring system. Basically the key to doing well in Punch Line is taking advantage of the bonus opportunities in the game. In particular you want to take advantage of using the letters that will be worth double points and the letters that will double/triple the value of the entire word. Basically if you don’t take advantage of these you are going to have a very hard time winning the game. Even the best wordsmith is not going to win if they don’t take advantage of it while the other players do. A three letter word that takes advantage of the bonuses likely will score more points than a word that is six letters or longer. With some of the letters having a base score of ten points, using this letter where it is worth double points will already give you 20 points. Without using the bonuses it will be hard to score more than 20 points total even if you use a long word.
While I think the scoring is interesting and has some good ideas, I think it still needs to be tweaked. Too much value was put into the bonus letters where you are probably best off using most of your effort trying to use as many of them as you can. I just don’t think a three letter word should be able to score considerably more points than a word that is over twice its length. This emphasis on bonus letters means that the best word game player might not always win since it rewards players more for using the bonus letters rather than using the longest words. While I don’t mind the bonuses themselves, I think the base value of the letters should be reduced to at least partially reduce the value of the bonuses.
In addition to tweaking the scoring I think a house rule needs to be implemented where all of the boards start with the slides in the same order. The only mention that the game makes in how the slides should be ordered to start the game is that they can be placed in any order. Each player having a different board layout does add some variety to the words that are created each round but that doesn’t make up for the disadvantage that it gives to some of the players. The order of the slides can be really important for your success in a given round. For example it is beneficial to have the most valuable bonus letters at the top of the board because you are then given more options in how you can use them. With each player having their slides in the same order no player will be given an advantage in the game just because their slides are in a more beneficial order.
Punch Line also needs some ground rules with regards to what answers you can submit each round. Before playing the game I thought the goal was going to be providing a funny response. The game doesn’t reward funny responses at all though. This basically leads players to submitting words that will score them the most points. Unfortunately these will rarely be funny and in a lot of cases probably won’t even make sense for the prompt. While the game doesn’t have a rule against submitting a nonsensical answer, I would recommend implementing it as a house rule because otherwise players will just submit the word that will score them the most points. We ended up adding our own rule where any word you submitted had to make logical sense along with the rest of the prompt. I think this is a good rule since it makes you have to think of a word that actually works for the prompt and prevents players from gaming the system.
I think another house rule you should consider implementing is some sort of rule that rewards players for submitting the funniest/best answer in the round. One of the problems with Punch Line is it doesn’t reward funny/clever responses so it doesn’t pay to waste you time coming up with one. This is a shame because I think the prompts of Punch Line could have lead to some really funny responses. To try to fix this I would implement a voting mechanic where the best response receives five or ten bonus points. If all of the players would vote honestly I think you could just award the points to the player who receives the most votes. With the bonus points being five or ten it would encourage players to come up with good responses while the points aren’t too high where it would detract from the word portion of the game.
As far as components you get what you would expect out of a 1970s Parker Brothers game. I will give the game credit that the boards and letter slides work well. The slides are pretty thin cardboard though so they likely will have some creases after extended use. The biggest problem that I had with the components is that the game only includes 28 prompt cards. While there are 8 prompts per card, I think they could have included more than 28 cards. Playing the same prompt again won’t ruin the game but I doubt the prompt will be as enjoyable the second time you play it. I guess you could easily come up with your own prompts though or you could use the cards from other games with a fill in the blank mechanic.
While Punch Line might not have been the game I was expecting it actually has a lot going for it. It is not fantastic but I think word game fans can find something new in it that you can’t find in other word games. With a game that has been basically lost to time that was more than I was expecting. If you are willing to come up with some house rules to fix some of the issues with the scoring I would even say that Punch Line is a hidden gem.
Should You Buy Punch Line?
For being a game that most people have totally forgotten about I have to say that I was actually kind of surprised by Punch Line. It is not an amazing game but it has some good ideas. While it shares a lot in common with most word games, it also feels kind of unique as well. The idea of the board and the sliders is a nice twist on the typical word game. The idea of having to fill in the blank also could have lead to a surprisingly funny word game. Unfortunately some issues with the scoring prevent Punch Line from being as good as it could have been. The game puts way too much emphasis on the bonus letters where it is almost impossible to win without using them. The game also gives no reward for coming up with clever/funny responses so players are encouraged to just submit whatever word is going to score them the most points. With some tweaks to the scoring though Punch Line could be a real hidden gem in the word game genre.
If you aren’t really into word games Punch Line is probably not going to be for you since the word game aspect plays a much larger role than the fill in the blank mechanics. If you like word games though there is potential in Punch Line. While it shares a lot in common with most word games it also feels kind of unique. If you are willing to come up with some house rules to fix some of the scoring problems I think it would be worth picking up Punch Line if you can get a good deal on the game.