‘When In Rome’ is a board game you play with Alexa, when she wants to cooperate

There are tons of games you can play with your Amazon Alexa devices, some better than others. While a few require special buzzer-in buttons, When in Rome is the first to require a $30 board game. It’s a travel-centric trivia game that takes about 40 minutes and two teams to play. But it’s also completely dependent on Alexa. If you don’t have a speaker (or screen, or microwave) with Amazon’s assistant, all you’ll have is a board game and some plastic pieces.

One of the best things about this game is that it encourages you not to read the rules. There’s a little booklet that comes with it, but it’s fairly straightforward and you have Alexa to guide you through. You set up the board, enable the skill in your Alexa app, and you’re ready to go. Alexa will ask you to split into teams and then help you choose who starts.

“Alexa is very robotic,” a friend commented about the speaker’s monotone delivery.

Teams move from city to city — as long as there’s a connecting flight, denoted by dashed lines on the board — answering multiple-choice questions from locals. There are both three-point easy questions and five-point difficult questions from categories such as arts and culture, sports and games, myths and legends, and food and drink. If you answer correctly, you get the points and the local becomes your friend. You can then use the city as a sort of connecting flight in subsequent turns, and the local will refuse to let the other team answer a question for points. At various points in the game, Alexa will tell you there’s a seven-point souvenir in a certain city, so you’ll want to make it there faster than your opponents. If you have a friend in Montreal, you can make it from New York to London in a single turn.

Our game was almost over before it really began. Alexa prompted us to say, “Alexa, we’re ready,” once we were sorted into teams. “Alexa, ready,” someone said. Oh, fiddlesticks. “I’m ready when you are!” came the reply. After much overlapping speech of trying to get Alexa to snap out of it (“I was born ready, or at least very well-prepared. Let’s do it!” the assistant said at one point), we finally got the speaker back on track by asking to play When in Rome again.

There were a few other moments where saying the wake-word literally took us out of the game. “Alexa is very robotic,” a friend commented about the speaker’s monotone delivery. The speaker perked up and paused our game. Alexa’s tone is especially noticeable when it butts up against the lively chatter of Laura from Sydney, Australia or Hin from Hong Kong (who are, apparently, “genuine, local people.”) Plus, the game gets in its own way when a character says “Alexa,” causing the flow of words to stop and Alexa to respond, “Sorry, I didn’t get that.” When we asked for the score, Alexa told us France had beaten Belgium — she was referring to the World Cup and not whether the red or blue team was winning.

In some ways, it’s a game that would be enhanced by having a screen.

It could be a bit difficult to tell the easy from the hard questions. Sometimes both had throw-away answers; Montreal’s baseball team was clearly not the Flappy Chickens and Rio de Janeiro’s residents likely go by a term other than “gorgeous.”

In some ways, it’s a game that would be enhanced by having a screen. It took a bit of Googling — after the game was over, we weren’t cheating — to find out how to spell nyama choma, Nairobi’s famous dish. Also, we’re convinced the game has the answers to one of its questions about a neighborhood in Cairo mislabeled. The blue team guessed “B,” but Alexa said that was wrong. The local, Mohammad, went on to explain why “B” was actually correct. It wasn’t a question of Alexa mishearing, though that happened once, too. Alexa’s mistake ended up costing the blue team the game, though in reality they won.

Are these minor quibbles? It depends on how much patience you have. Alexa doesn’t always like to be interrupted but tends to repeat some instructions over and over. The questions themselves can be a bit information-dense and filled with unfamiliar words, so you might ask your speaker to repeat it. (This might be especially true if it’s the Fourth of July and some players have been drinking.)

Alexa-centric quirks aside (is it Lie-ma or Lee-ma? For Alexa, it’s both), When in Rome is a fun trivia game. We played two games and didn’t have any repeat questions, and presumably its makers, Voice Originals, could add more to the Alexa skill in the future. Having locals ask the questions and add in some of their own stories may inspire some wanderlust. You may just be able to tote along some fun facts on your next trip, provided it’s to one of the 18 cities on the board.

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