Review: Whosit?
Publisher: Parker Brothers
Year: 1976
Tagline: The star-studded guessing game by Parker Brothers

Whosit? cover showing people in outfits like gangster, starlet, judge, cowboy

how we met

I found Whosit? only last weekend at a thrift shop near Milwaukee. It was such a good stop – the kind Bill hates and I love. I only bought games for play, and we didn’t find any for resell. I picked up Whosit? (which I had never heard of) in addition to Downton Abbey, Discretion, TV Scrabble and Can’t Stop all in one glorious location! I was on top of the world.

I do love a dated cover, and show me a dated cover more interesting than this one. Would you not pick this up to look at it? And if not, why are you reading this garble??

FUN FACT: since writing this review I have seen no less than four copies of Whosit? at thrift after going all these years seeing none.

how it plays

Whosit? predates Guess Who? but is commonly described as Guess Who? for adults. This is spot on. Each player is given a character from the deck while the rest are set aside. Your objective is to ask questions to try and determine which character your fellow players are. But they are also trying to figure out who you are.

Example character cards showing a spy, musical star and hero

Are you cartoonish? Yes

Each player is given seven cards for their hand, and each card is a question that you can ask one other player on your turn.

Generally the questions fall into the same categories, with questions that offer you a yes/no answer. Questions are trying to determine:

  • what color room you are in
  • what ethnicity you are
  • whether or not you are smoking
  • whether you are an adult
  • whether you have a hat or helmet
  • etc
  • When you ask someone a question and their answer is yes then two things happen: that card is placed in front of that player face up indicating that it is true of their character and you may draw another card and continue play by choosing either that same player or a different one and asking another question.

    Question cards like Are you black and do you smoke

    A few question cards

    With a no answer your question card is discarded, another card is drawn and your turn is over.

    Every so often you might get a question card that allows you to choose from many questions to ask. These cards go in front of the player as usual if their answer is yes, but there is no indication of which question was asked. As another player you must pay close attention so you can remember what was asked and add it to the rest of your information.

    Ask any question card showing many options

    AMA. As long as it’s one of these dated things

    Where Whosit? really gets interesting is with four special characters that your group may or may not have chosen. The CENSOR always answers no to every question. The SPY and the GANGSTER both always lie to every question. The DIRECTOR says yes or no to any question, but try not to exclude all other characters or it will be clear who you are. Be tricky.

    Once you think you have figured out the possible identity of all other players you can choose to accuse them. This takes place on your turn but can happen after you ask a question and receive a yes, receive a no or without asking a question at all – it’s totally up to you. Each player has a small yellow chip. Once you challenge the players, they discretely place their yellow chip into either the Yes or No slots of the blue challenge box to indicate that the guessing player is right or wrong (note: players must be honest with their chips, even if they are a special character). Ideally this chip placement is done under the table so that no other players see where you place your chip. That way, if the accuser is wrong, no harm done and play continues.

    The blue box and yellow chips

    A clever approach to guessing

    The accuser opens the box to determine how many chips fall into the Yes or No areas of the box. If one or more yellow chips are in the No section then that many guesses are incorrect and play continues. The outcome should not be shared with other players unless all the guesses were correct and the game is over. The first player to identify the character of each of their fellow players in a single guess wins!

    how it went

    I am a sucker for deduction games, but we don’t get them to the table as often as we should given how many I own. We ended up playing Whosit? the same day I picked it up, since it was sitting in the to-be-inventoried pile before heading down to the basement for storage in the ever-growing pile of deduction games.

    The game is super simple. But you still have to be guarded, like in any deduction game. When you are asked a question in Whosit?, you have to be careful not to look at the board – or if you do, look at all of the board (an annoying thing Bill does) and be deliberate where your glance starts and ends. You can easily give away which character you are by letting your eyes stray to your character before answering a question instead of just looking at your face-down card.

    The board showing all characters around the edges and place for cards in the middle

    The board that you will study throughout play

    There are some limitations to only being able to ask questions that are in your hand. If you are unlucky or far enough along in the deduction process that you are getting questions that you already know the answers to for each player, then you can ask someone that you know will answer yes to ensure you can draw another card and continue with your turn.

    One thing that you have heard me gush about is my appreciation for moment-in-time games or games that would not be made today (not necessarily the same thing). Whosit? not only looks dated in its style but uses some dated terminology that is not politically correct when it classifies the ethnicity of characters as either white, black or oriental. This becomes even more shocking when you realize the instructions include a “cheat sheet” on the back that players can reference to understand which characters fall into which ethnicity.

    Snippet of instructions called The Cast that lists which character is black, white and oriental

    They don’t call it a cheat sheet, but it is no less ridiculous

    While this is a big turn off to many players, it is also worth noting that Whosit? has much more diversity in the character representation than many games of the time, and for years to come. So even though some of the aspects of how the characters are differentiated is troubling, it’s an issue that is unusual because this much diversity was unusual in 1976. It’s a step forward. I give props to Whosit? for diversity in its characters. Particularly when I look at Guess Who? which was published in 1979 and included only one nonwhite character, who was then turned white in a later edition.

    play or pass

    Play. Whosit? as a game is simple and fun and very replayable. If the gameplay sounds appealing but some of the drawbacks do not, check out the game Dinosaur Tea Party which appears similar but not exact to Whosit? and is being released by Restoration Games in 2018.