What are you bringing to the table?

Creating an inclusive gaming space is central to Cards or Die’s mission. We want to bring people together with boardgames – here’s some tips on how you can make everyone welcome at your table.

Reads Happy International Women's Day #inspireinclusion

Celebrating Women in Boardgames

This year one of the ways I’m marking the day is by celebrating the achievements of 8 of my favourite female board games designers. Of course, there are many, many more than 8 brilliant female boardgames designers and as soon as I started writing I immediately thought of some more – I have stuck to 8 but please shout me with the ones I missed.


What is Mindfulness?

What is Mindfulness? Mind defines ‘Mindfulness’ as: ‘a technique you can learn which involves noticing what’s happening in the present moment, without judgement. You might take notice and be aware of your mind, body or surroundings.’ That’s it. There is no specific activity you have to do – I love yoga, I use guided meditation from time to time, I dance and I try to sit in the garden and drink a cup of tea most days. And, of course I play boardgames. It doesn’t have to cost the earth and mindfulness looks different for everyone. I thought I’d tell you a bit about what it looks like for me in terms of boardgames. I’d love to hear what it looks like for you.

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Christmas Gift Ideas

If you’re looking for some game suggestions to get the gang playing together this Christmas – look no further; no matter what age the person or what they are interested in there’s a board game (or card game) to suit everyone.


3 Games to Play Instead of Chess.

Obviously, by all means play Chess. Chess was fascinating even before the suggestion of using vibrating devices for clues. Chess sets are ubiquitous and the Queen’s Gambit TV series brought with it even more popularity with games stores having to order in extra sets in. The sets themselves can be things of beauty or whimsy. The one pictured above, I found in a charity shop and it’s just beautiful. There are sets for every interest and fandom – we also own a Star Wars set. But it’s not just aesthetically pleasing, it is the ultimate game of wits, tactics and strategy. It’s the game many people feel duty bound to pass on to their children or display proudly in their home. And while there are many variants of Chess itself, if you enjoy Chess or like the idea of it but really haven’t got time to deliberate over which piece to sacrifice next then these suggestions are for you…

  1. In Hive, like Chess, one of you plays black and one white; each piece moves uniquely and it is mastering the interaction of those abilities that will win you the game. Every decision you make in Hive counts and while each piece moves differently, a lot of the bugs move in an intuitive way. Your aim is to ensure the opponent’s Queen is surrounded by bugs (they don’t all have to be yours). It’s quick to play and fairly quick to learn (I kept a cheat sheet on hand to remind what each bug does which helped). It gorgeously chunky and tactile and has no board making it portable and great to play wherever you are.
Quarto by Hachette Games
  1. Quarto is more accessible than Chess but similarly strategic and tactical. It feels more akin to Connect 4 but is fiendishly difficult as you can connect 4 in 8 different ways. (Having said that I’ve played people who make Connect 4 fiendishly difficult!) As is a bit of a theme with my games it is pretty and tactile. Like a Chess set it could easily be left out on display and picked up for a quick game. In the picture you can see the small set but there is a larger one that is delightfully chunky. The real kicker with this one is that on your turn you select a piece for your opponent to place. That means that if you win, you get to hand your final victorious piece to the loser and they have to place it in the winning position. Perfect if you’re ‘quite’ competitive.
  1. Patchwork is very different from my last two recommendations. There is some degree of randomness here in that the layout of the patches differs each time and what you can afford from your choices is going to be limited. However, I don’t think that detracts from the intelligence of the game. You can still be strategic but will have to rely much more on tactical decisions and perhaps the ability to adapt your strategy. I would argue that, that is just as challenging. Also, this is a spatial puzzle and less fiercely competitive than the other games. You will still need to gauge what your opponent will do to determine what you should do but going for screwing them over can easily backfire, leaving you with patches you don’t really want. Here you are trying to maximise your buttons (end score) by tessellating shapes and filling your board. Empty spaces carry a penalty. By now you can probably see a theme in my recommendations. They are similar not only in brain power but are all tactile and nice to look at. In patchwork you earn buttons to spend on more patches and to count as victory points at the end. Obviously I have replaced the cardboard tokens with real buttons – ah but were they fabric covered buttons? Why yes of course. There are lots of other brilliant two player strategy games like Abalone, Quixo, Quoridor, Qawale, Connect 4 as well as Chess of course. Come along to an event and try them out.
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Your to-do list for Airecon 2023

Sadly, this year Airecon clashes with DERT – a dance competition for rapper dancers (think traditional English dance with swords rather than Ice T). Not content with committing to one thing, I will be there trying to support my own team and my daughter’s team (are they dancing in the same pubs? No, of course not) and then haring off down to Staffordshire Showground to take the games to The Kid’s Festival. I’d love to see you there (click the link for more details) but if you can’t make it or can’t find any small children to bring along then instead I need you to go to Airecon.

And these are all the things you need to do and see at this year’s Airecon so that I can live vicariously through you. Yes you. I’m relying on you. You can do these things in no particular order it’s only fair that you have some agency here.

While you are there you should play games from the library – there’s over 800 to choose from provided by Travelling Man. The great thing about the library is (like at my events) you can try out games and if you like them enough you can treat yourself to a copy but there is no pressure to buy. Once you’ve paid to get into Airecon, you can play games all day long and not buy any. And if you get fed up reading rules or fancy a break, you can go round the stalls and people are only to glad to teach you their game.

Thinking of going alone? Absolutely no problem. Airecon is a really welcoming space and there are folk around to help and point you towards other players. In fact they have a designated person in charge of doing just that – every odd hour from 11am-7pm, Fri-Sun, Dave Wetherall will be in the Gameseekers area to help you find others to game with. He’s easy to find as he usually sports a purple top hat!

Here is your to do list. There are a mere 10 items to complete. Evidence of completion is expected – this can take the form of selfies, blog posts or comments on the interwebs:

  1. Go and win a copy of FlickFleet.

Paul and Jackson will be there running a competition to win a base game and the first expansion. You can read all about how fabulous FlickFleet is here. It’s a brilliant combination of dexterity, dice and strategy – all played out in space.

Space ships in FlickFleet

2. Play Qawale at Hachette Games

Hachette Games are taking a new one that I’m desparate to play. It’s called Qawale and it’s described as 4 in a row meets mancala. I love Quarto, Quoridor and Quixo which are all in my collection. They are abstract, strategic and beautifully made wooden games and I’m sure I’m going to love Qawale just as much.

They are also bringing Food Truck which is another one that is new to me. It looks loads of fun and neatly brings me on to your lunch break. Obviously you will need regular breaks – bag yourself a cute oink games sponsored Airecon mug and that will make your tea cheaper all weekend. Then head over to the food trucks – I’d like Poutine and crepes from Madam Crepes. It looks absolutely delicious. For snacks there’s Honeybadger games tasty array of dice and meeples. Yum.

3. Check out Cake of Doom

Cake of Doom will be launching during Airecon – how exciting is that. I played last year at UKGE – if you enjoy cake, aliens and trying to take over the world then this is for you. If you haven’t played I definitely recommend checking this one out. You can read more about it here and while you’re there maybe subscribe to Tabletop Games Blog for more fab reviews.

4. Plot the revolution with Dissent Games

I love the values behind Dissent games as well as their games. They design games about direct action and politics for the campaigning sector. I have Disarm the Base which you might have played as well as their roll and colour games which I love. They are surprisingly tactical for something that just looks like some nice colouring in! I find them very mindful and often play them on my own. I’ll be needing a refill pad soon. I’m looking forward to the arrival of Library Labyrinth – every character is a historical or fictional woman and these women must collaborate to trap the horrors that have escaped the books in the library.

5. Be astounded by the array of games at Bez’s stand

Bez has created so many fabulous games. I’m particularly enjoying her recent work with all the cool creatures. You may have played ‘A game about WEE WHIMSICAL CREATURES and trying to identify them after someone makes noises’, ‘A game about quickly grabbing creatures that are totally different and counting your beetroots’, ‘A game about drawing creatures, complimenting the drawings, then complimenting the compliments’ or even Yogi at one of my events. There is such a range of fun, creative games that there is bound to be something you love. Bez even has different prices so you can splash out on a game or go for a Bezzy Bargain Bag!

6. Hang out with Wotan Games

Build castles, try to get into the upper echelons of court or lament Brexit and try to do it better. I love stopping by here to play a game, have a natter and set the world to rights. Also Lawrence always seems to share some gem of knowledge that stays with me. If you’ve enjoyed either of the Camelot games at my events, this is where they came from.

Playing Camelot the Court with Wotan Games

7. Sign up to playtest Stop, Drop and Roll’s new game.

The new game is still in development and I keep seeing teasers for it on Twitter. Pugs in Mugs gets played loads at Cards or Die events and while this game looks totally different I’m still excited to find out more. Win their trust with dog photos and then slip in some casual questions about the new title. And most importantly report to me with your findings!

8. Playtest a new one from Ragged Owl Games

I know some of you enjoyed the playtest session at Hyde Park Book Club as part of Leeds board games fest. Airecon has loads of games for you to playtest and this is one that’s on my list. A roll and write called Raze and Raise – how can you resist that level of alliteration?!

Four Score by Ragged Owl Games

9. Pretend to be me and introduce yourself to We Can Play

I’ve been looking forward to meeting these lovelies in real life for ages! I’ll have to wait till UK Expo now. They made the fabulous We Can Play and they are currently working on bringing Ecosfera to life. I haven’t played either of these and they both look epic.

10. Pretend to be me again and promote me on Die Rollin’

Die Rollin’ will be there spreading the good news about board games and board games creation. They are aiming to feature as many people as possible over the weekend so make sure you find them and say hi and tell them all about your exciting projects.

There are definitely more things I am missing both from this list and in real life. So sure, go ahead, add to the list… I’ll just be in Rochdale in two different pubs at the same time, crying into my rapper sword.

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The Portal at Hill House – a review and the beginning of a story.

The Portal at Hill House by Travis D. Hill and Lindi M. Farris-Hill, is a solo journaling game. You have travelled to Hill House where a portal has opened and you must find the objects you need in the house and its outbuildings to close it and save the world. To play all you need is a copy of the booklet, a six sided die, a pack of cards and a notebook (preferably something cute to offset the cosmic horror).
I enjoy descriptive writing but often lack the motivation and ideas to actually write. This game solved that for me. I spent a couple of very enjoyable and absorbing hours crafting a narrative that gradually revealed my fate. To begin the game you need to envision the house, you can sketch or describe it and there are prompts to help you. Next you draw floor plans of the house and any outside buildings. Three rolls of the die determines the three objects that you need to find in order to close the portal. As you move through the house you draw cards to see if the object you need is in that room and the card dictates the ambience of the location, other objects in the location, the condition of the location. At each location you are encouraged to write at least 3 to 5 sentences to describe the place. The prompts which accompanied each card drawn inspired me to write a lot more.
The final card you draw indicates the progression of time. If you run out of time the portal will grow until it engulfs the earth. All is lost. But, if you find the three objects you combine them to cast a spell which will close the portal.
There are gameplay variants including a second set of prompts in the booklet but as you draw random cards anyway and you can change and adapt your setting, I am looking forward to playing the game again and writing a different adventure. You can also add major and minor curses – some of which add specific words to your journal entries.
I thoroughly enjoyed getting lost in this game and will definitely be playing it again.
You can read the start of my journal entries below.
1, The Kitchen.
Little by little, screeching in protest, the door edged open. The noxious stench of rotting food, something dead and something unidentifiable seeped from the widening gap. Pulling my scarf over my mouth and nose, I entered the abandoned kitchen.
From the outside, the house looked in tact; inside was turbulence. On the table, plates, mugs and serving dishes, rotting remnants of a part eaten meal. A chair was upended and the others hurriedly pushed back from the table. Pans still on the hob ready for seconds for a meal that was never finished. Underneath a jaunty sign that read ‘Today’s menu – eat it or starve!’ the ingredients of the meal were strewn across the worksurface. Amongst them, was one of the objects I sought: a jar of salt peter.
I snatched it up, then paused – weighing the heaviness of the jar in my hand. I shook it. Nothing moved. Would there be enough? The lid, airtight of course, did not easily relinquish its contents. We wrestled for a long moment until finally it came free. The jar was half full but the salt peter was compressed into one solid lump. Banging the jar against the work surface it started to separate. There would be enough.
A peal of laughter startled me. A child somewhere in the house. I called out but now there was only silence. I needed to hurry. Pressing the lid firmly on the jar, I headed back through the hall towards the brightness of
2. The Sun Room
A purple light flooded the room which was filled with dead and dying plants. The stench in here was worse. More than the smell of rotting food or of the decomposing plants. A single chair covered in an old painting sheet was angled to give a good view of the gardens. Something moved beneath it. I tentatively lifted the sheet clasping my scarf tightly across my mouth and nose as the putrid smell intensified. On the chair sat a heaving, pulsing lump of some sort of meat. I dropped the cloth and stumbled out of the room into the darkness of
3. The Living Room
Wrenching open a window I tore the scarf from my face and gulped in the fresh air. The queer light streamed in now, the air quivering with motes of dust, the floor covered in a later of plaster. Turning towards a crammed bookshelf I wondered if I might find something useful in here. Peering closely at the ragged books my stomach heaved. They were bound in skin.
I climbed out of the window and headed through long grass towards
4. the greenhouses.
Broken glass crunched underfoot and above me the sky broiled and raged, flooding this strange place with darkening blue and purple light.
An upright piano was set incongruously in the corner, a dead plant and half full wine bottle rested on it. I lifted the lid and ran my fingers across the keys. Nothing. No sound. I realised that despite the broken glass and the large pool of water that had collected by my feet since I’d entered there was no sound at all – no slow drip of water, no crunch of glass, not even my own breathing.
If you fancy having a go yourself The Portal at Hill House can be downloaded or you can buy a physical copy here.
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Babel and the Quest for Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is defined in the Oxford dictionary as ‘a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.’
Games can be a lovely mindful activity. A well chosen game allows you to be fully absorbed in the activity of play – it demands enough of your attention to hold your attention without being too demanding. When we see children playing they are completely mindful, totally in the moment and it would be lovely to be able to capture that feeling as adults and the right game can help us do just that. Of course, the right choice of game depends on individual preference as well as other factors. If engaging with others is causing stress or anxiety then a game that is gently competitive where you focus on what you are doing and don’t need to consider others may be the right choice. Games like Azul, Calico, Fire in the Library, Dice Hospital, Takenoko and Carcassonne can all be played in this way. I often prefer games like this. I would rather focus on maximising my score rather than using energy trying to mess up other people. Often, in games where you are choosing a tile or card from a shared pool, deliberately choosing one your opponent wants means you don’t get the best one for you either.
In addition to the style of play, I prefer tactile components if I am looking to games for a mindful experience. Beautiful counters that you can turn over in your hands like the deliciously weighted counters of Splendor, or the careful building of bamboo towers in Takenoko help to immerse you in the game. In addition, artwork like the quilts in Calico or Patchwork, or the glint of the sun stones in Latice lend a contemplative beauty to the experience. A well chosen game will allow you to engage your senses and really dwell in the moment.
There are also games that can be played solo allowing you to be completely immersed in what you are doing – like Assembly, Spirits of the Forest or some of the Ell deck games. I particularly enjoy Spirits of the Forest as although it is quite thinky you don’t have lots of different things to concentrate on, you are just collecting sets of cards.
Whenever I am looking for ideas a quick tweet usually yields a lot of different suggestions. It was a tweet asking people which games they consider ‘mindful’ that led me to Babel and I’m delighted to have found it. It was a mindful activity and so much more too. Babel is like a solo role playing game with creative writing stimuli as well as being a strong game too. It describes itself as ‘A solo game of language and reality’.
To play Babel, as well as the game booklet, you will need:
  • a Jenga tower (or similar),
  • pen or pencil,
  • journal,
  • pack of cards, (you don’t have to have vintage ones)
  • six sided die,
  • letter tiles (I used Bananagrams).
It also suggests a recording device but I just made notes in a different colour on paper. I’m very old school and plus I felt that the use of something so modern would interfere with my experience of the game. I, of course, added in a cup of tea. I can’t be expected to make my way out of an ancient tower, rediscover my own identity and find humanity’s one unifying language without a cuppa. That’s just silly.
It suggests in the book that the game lasts around 30 minutes. I got lucky first time and played for around 45 minutes. I do think the game length will vary widely depending on how much writing you want to do or feel inspired to do. As the game progressed my journal entries became longer as I relinquished my self consciousness and worry about presentation, grammar or exact word choice and instead became immersed in the story. For a long time the only writing I did was model exam answers or, when I set a class off on a writing task I would complete it at the same time. The end result there, was always that I would share my work and we would scrutinise it – in my mind it could have mistakes and crossings out but it also had to showcase whatever skill we had been working on – appealing to the senses or using semi colons for instance. So it was always a very conscious activity and not at all relaxing. For me mindfulness, while it is a conscious activity by its definition, should contain an element of relaxation or recharge, some sort of break for your brain. I loved the writing I did as part of the game – it was never intended to be shared (let alone deconstructed!) and it flowed freely from my pen spilling ideas onto the page. The prompts were brilliant – a mixture of questions – “whose voice is it you hear in your mind?”; suggestions “You listen to the whispers of the wind, and you hear a song from your childhood.”; statements that put you in the action of the story “…you feel the bricks shift.” and the odd philosophical question “If everyone spoke the same language… would there be less conflict?”
You can see how you could easily spend some hours on the journaling aspect of this game. One of the suggestions is that rather than playing it in one sitting, you could play over a number of days – perhaps mimicking real time so playing one ‘in game day’ per day. As you can tell I have particularly relished the time, space and prompts to help me write creatively and freely. I was happy to set quiet time aside to concentrate on this. But, if writing is not your thing as long as you enjoy the story telling experience then you will still enjoy this game. Instead of writing you could very easily (as the game suggests) use your phone or other recording device to record your experiences.
The game play itself is fun and engaging. There are two ways to win and two ways to lose Babel. At the start of the game you place tiles which spell your true name (at least 10 letters) face down and shuffled onto the Ace of Hearts. If you can reveal all of these tiles then you will win. The remaining tiles stay in a bag or box – these form a pool of Hidden Letters. By drawing one of each letter from this pool you will have discovered the lost alphabet of the Unified Human Language and you will win the game. However, as you draw cards from the Oracle (shuffled deck of cards) should you draw the four Kings all is lost and you remain trapped in the tower for eternity. If when you remove a brick from the Tower itself, it topples then you die – buried inside the ruins. The odds are stacked (excuse the pun) against you. I had a long game but was eventually defeated by the Kings and the Tower then fell anyway (nothing like losing twice in one go!).
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Each turn you roll the die of Fate and it determines how many cards you should draw from the Oracle. You reveal them one at a time, resolving each one by consulting the codex which will instruct you to pull bricks from the tower, remove bricks from the game, take tiles from the Ace of Hearts moving you closer to revealing your true name, reveal tiles from the hidden letters pool – or to return tiles to either of these. The codex will also ask you to consider ideas, remember or reflect on things. As your final action roll the die of Fate again – if you roll a 6 then you can draw a letter from the Ace of Hearts. Once this phase is completed you should complete your journal entry reflecting over the events of the day; perhaps considering your progress, what you have learned and what is to come. You are then instructed to close your eyes ‘for a long time’. When you awake you are ready to play the next day.
The game continues in this manner until you triumph and revel in your rediscovered identity or die in ignominy beneath a heap of Jenga bricks.
Every action in the game is mindful, the roll of the die, the slow reveal of the cards, the painstaking removal and replacement of bricks. The tower in particular demands your full attention. You may find yourself examining it from many aspects before selecting your brick and inching it free. You feel every movement of that tower and see every shake or wobble. This helps to focus your mind on the experience of babel. When I saw the big list of accoutrements I needed to play this game I wondered if it would be silly or gimmicky but it isn’t either of those things. All of the objects enhance the experience and make it truly immersive and mindful.
I will be running a session on Card and Board Games for Mindfulness at The Abbey House Museum on Friday 22nd October 2021 from 2.45 to 3.45.
I’ll definitely have Babel in the bag along with the others mentioned in this blog and others too. I’d love to see you there. Click here for more details.
Make sure you subscribe to the newsletter below and check out Cards or Die events here.
Here is the link if you fancy getting your own copy of Babel.

Feline Felonies – a whole lot of catitude in a tiny tin.

Feline Felonies is one of a trio of new games from Atikin Games. Together the games form Playful Pets – comprised of Animal Alliance, Feline Felonies (both 2-4 player competitive games) and Canine Capers a 1-4 player cooperative game). I’ve received a preview copy of Feline Felonies so the components you see in my pictures aren’t finalised – things like colour and alignment will be rectified for the final posh copies. I think you’ll agree it’s still looking cute. But do not be fooled – this game is anything but cute; it may show you its belly but you’d be a fingerless fool to tickle it!
The board is super nifty – it comes in 6 playing card sized portions. It is a park bordered by 4 rows of houses. A magnetic slide and climbing frame hold the board together – you can sit these on the top or you can flip the board over so that there are no raised bits for your cats to climb over. I love it when out of small packages bigger games appear. Like Deep Sea Adventure which sprawls across the table from its tiny box. I like a game with some table presence.
The components are super cute too – the little cats have this lovely shine and they are nice and chunky. The orange one in particular reminds me of sweets. (Just to clarify I have neither licked nor eaten any of my game pieces so you don’t need to worry about playing them at my events). Clearly designed by a cat connoisseur – the realistic cat toys include the ubiquitous ball of wool, the weird cat toy that we torment them with as well as the hunter’s haul of pencils, flowers, mice (mercifully in one piece), a tuna can and the most prized possession of all – the cat nip! Double sided houses help track stored stolen goods as well as purr points for spending later in the game.
Game play.
The cats move around the board collecting toys, adding more toys, flipping them to their more (or less) valuable side as well as stealing from others before safely depositing their toys at home. At the end, the cat with the most points is crowned top cat.
Each player rolls their dice and then chooses what to spend their purr points on. Cats can spend their points on moving one space per purr point (I can’t even type that without going really scouse); they can spend a point picking up or dropping off one of their treasures or – and this is the really fun bit- they can enter into a battle of stealth and reflexes to purrloin another cat’s treasure.
There are also special actions which allow you to do extra things in addition to your regular actions. For instance if I roll a 5, I can add a toy to the board and that leaves me with 4 purr points to do with as I please. Or, if I roll a 6 I might take a cat nap – move 3 and save 3 points for later. You can choose to take special actions or snub them much as a cat might – you can be as fickle and unpredictable as you like!
However, my advice to you is don’t roll 1s. Cats are not interested in 1s – roll it and your cat will subject you to the disdain I experience when I tell the cat to get down off the table. Rolling a 1 allows your opponent to move your cat who is busy ignoring you. To be fair the cats are doing everything else in this game – all they are asking you to do is use your opposable thumb powers to roll the die. Roll better puny hooman.
This game definitely suits the competitive cat. While it’s fun moving around the board collecting toys and flipping them to make them more valuable it is MUCH more fun trying to steal or flipping other cat’s toys to make them worth less. The stealing action is really satisfying because if you are equally matched, even though the poor kitty you attacked gets to keep their toy, they still have to flip it so it scores less. I feel it really embodies the dickish nature of cats. I’m just relieved there isn’t a thwack the whole lot off the table action.
It’s quick and easy to learn and play. With two players it is really good, competitive fun but with four it is brutal. Some of the games we played were very close indeed so the higher scoring cat nip was useful in ensuring there was a clear winner. Cats don’t want draws. One cat must reign supreme.
This will be available for you to try out at future events.
You can sign up to be notified on 13th July when the game launches here.