Party games are often implicitly about guessing the reactions and emotions of others. Usually, this intuition is used to gain advantage over opponents, or wheedle out a traitor. Feelinks subverts this expectation by making the whole game about the accuracy of players' intuitions. The question is whether that is enough to sustain interest and provide satisfaction. The answer is... mainly.
Feelinks As A Game
This is a purely co-operative experience. Between 2 and 8 players are confronted with various social situations, and have to guess the emotional response of their fellows. Six emotions are drawn from two decks, one of broadly positive reactions and one of broadly negative. Before a new situation is drawn, one emotion is swapped out to lend variety. After 8 situations have been assessed, the game ends. The total number of correct responses is compared to a chart- this will award 1-4 stars for the team's efforts. It could barely be simpler.
The rules are there merely as a skeleton to support what is likeable and engaging about this game. In no particular order, the best bits are:
1) The card art (see picture). The anthropomorphic animals are charming but not saccharine. They convey the emotions with wit and style, and new players will chuckle with delight at, say, 'Joy'.
2) The quality of the writing. This is where the game really sings. The situations, which could so easily be trite or cringey, are uniformly engaging and thought-provoking. It helps that there are four different decks for different play groups:
a) The family deck, where you react to the news that your friend still wets the bed.
b) The school deck, where teachers think you are gifted, and want you to skip a year.
c) The friends deck, where your sister has hacked a government computer.
d) The societal deck, where you may end up debating NHS privatisation, or underage drinking.
This brings me to...
3) The conversations around the situations. We may think we know our fellow-players, but do we? It's nice to be right about their responses, but it's when we are wrong that the conversations become really revealing. But also when the cracks start to show in what's going on here...
Feelinks As An Interaction
Feelinks is effective at creating a 'magic circle' of play, and it feels nice when you correctly guess your companion's responses. When you don't, however, things can be tricky. If one person in the group has a radically different response to a situation, that person is not wrong. It can be awkward, though, especially with younger players, to prevent the 'odd one out' feeling that their response isn't the right one. I've said that the game can promote interesting conversations- it can promote reflection, but not discussion as such. We are only guessing each others' responses, not probing what those responses mean. This limits how far you can go beyond "you felt like that. Huh."
For this reason, I am sceptical about the idea, suggested in the rulebook, of using this game in a classroom. The average peer group will be too rambunctious to make it a safe space without pretty skilled supervision.
Feelinks is not quite what it claims- the rulebook talks about using empathy to discern the feelings of others. But that's not empathy, strictly. Empathy involves sharing in an emotion, not just guessing it. This seems like a pedantic point, but I think reflects why the experience of the game isn't quite as advertised.
To make one more, somewhat picky, criticism: the two decks of emotions are marked O (positive) and X (negative). The implicit message here is that some emotions are inherently negative. That's not what contemporary therapeutic practice teaches. It doesn't matter, mechanically, but it could reinforce a dichotomy between 'right' and 'wrong' responses.
Feelinks is a fast, diverting party game. It features charming art and interesting, funny situations. If it goes well, there is satisfaction in knowing how well you know your friends. But it's not quite what it sets out to be, and for us, will remain a bit of fun rather than anything deeper.