In which I reminisce about halogen days. Or something.

Like most people of my age, I was raised on board games. The sight of the MB logo makes me feel nostalgic and casts me back to an era when playing a game didn’t involve any electricity but did require other people, (unless your brother had tricked you into playing 52 card pick up again -a trick you’d think would only work once), when you could watch the news at the cinema and leave your back door open. Actually, I’m not *that* old. We were the proud owners of this piece of modernity:
I have been cataloguing all of my games.
What could have been a dull admin task has actually been a sojourn into my childhood.
Boggle was a family favourite: portable and quick to play. I remember playing Boggle with all my family – we all loved a word game. But what I hadn’t realised until I started working my way through my games again is that they had adapted the rules for me, as I was the youngest. And for all this time I never knew that you have to cross out the words that everyone got. My memory of playing with my siblings is that it was much more cut-throat. They were obviously nicer than I thought!
Although I do remember playing Escape From Altlantis with my eldest Sister who insisted that we ‘play nicely’. Escape from Atlantis is a game of survival. Each player tries to save their own Atlanteans whilst feeding their opponents to Sharks and Sea Monsters while Octopi lie in wait to destroy their boats leaving swimmers thrashing about in the freezing sea hoping that a friendly dolphin will protect them. ‘Playing Nicely’ pretty much destroys the whole game. Nowadays I’m a fan of a co-operative game but then, not so much.
Even friends of my siblings were not exempt from my demands. While Chris waited for my brother to douse himself in Old Spice or Brut and be ready to head to the pub, he would often sit on the floor and play a game of something. Chris once told me that if you open a golf ball acid shoots out and blinds you. He also once accidentally shaved his eyebrows off whilst trying to ‘even them up’. These odd tales and his willingness to play Perfection endlessly made him a favourite visitor. I remember the first time I played against him and when the timer ended he screamed in a very high pitched manner and clutched his chest. Excellent adulting.
Bank Holidays were for whole family games of Monopoly which lasted days and were played out lying on the flowery carpet in front of the gas fire with it’s coloured glass stones and swirling light effect. Age was a boon here, with the eldest always being banker and the youngest (me) being the first to declare bankruptcy or spent attention span.
My Aunty and my Mum liked to play card games and they taught me Gin Rummy, Pontoon, New Market and others I’ve since forgotten. We would sit in my Aunty’s caravan in North Wales drinking tea, listening to the rain beat on the caravan roof while we bet pennies on the cards. Aunty Terry always played to me, much to the annoyance of my Uncle. She would always promise to stop it and then wink at me conspiratorially. I learnt kindness from her, the fulfilment of victory but luckily didn’t develop a gambling problem.
So for me board and card games are comforting: a warm nostalgic glow like watching slow turning light through fire coloured glass; like watching the butter melt into a crumpet as I patiently wait for Pebble Mill at One to end; like marvelling at the fact that flowery wallpaper and a flowery carpet don’t necessarily match; the comfort of family with all the rivalry and love that comes with it.
Escape From Colditz

Escaping from Colditz and the Exclusion Illusion

There is nothing more enticing to a child than something forbidden. For my year 9s it was a poem. It was a lesson I taught many times. I would distribute anthologies from the AQA exam board and ask them to turn to page 37. In some anthologies they would find ‘Education for Leisure’ by Carol Ann Duffy, but in some – judiciously placed, post 2008 anthologies they would read ‘This page has been intentionally left blank.’
Some kids: “How come mine’s blank?” “I haven’t got a poem” “Why has she got a poem and I haven’t?” “Let’s see”…. and much generic fussing culminating in a general consensus that it was ‘tight’ that they couldn’t all have a poem.
My response was to explain that some of them were blank because the government and the exam board don’t want you to read it. This consolidated the vague and shared sense of injustice into a tangible outrage that ‘they’ would ‘even dare stop me reading that poem’.
I did my best as a responsible adult to assuage their anger by explaining that if I read it to them then they would probably segue from hanging round in hoodies intimidating old folks to actually murdering people. But in the end I gave in and read it to my hushed, conspiratorial audience. Awesome.
For me, it was not a poem but a board game that I was denied access to. And it was my brother’s insistence on playing Escape From Colditz alone, rather than let me ‘ruin it’ that found me in an e.bay bidding war for a copy of the forbidden game. Surely I am big enough now to master its complexities.
Somewhat daunted by the suggested 2.5 hour time limit, my son and I bravely commenced. At the end of 2 days, he had sprung only one PoW and we crowned him the winner. We carefully packed it away in its box and waited for a rainy weekend.
Colditz is complex. One of you assumes the role of German guard and thwarts your opponents every escape attempt. Gleefully calling ‘Appels’ at key moments rendering all their previous moves futile. The thought of adopting multiple roles is a kind of intelligent lunacy. It has made me look at my daft big brother in a whole new respectful light. (But don’t let on I’ve said that though).
And what about you? Don’t worry I have something that you’re not allowed to play. Well, you are allowed but it’s probably too difficult for you: Enigma.
It’s impossible: a combination of maze, riddles and pits of ignorance. I’ve said this to visitors aged 9 and up, always with the same response: ‘Let me have a look then.’ In fairness both Carrie and Brigid got at least one question right. (O.K. it was one but I thought I’d big them up.)
In fact, here’s 2 riddles – solve one (just post your answer in the comments section or tweet me #cardsordie) and you win the ‘smug git of the week’ award plus a much sought after Cards or Die badge. I mean you won’t get it so I’d stop reading here if I were you…
The game is on…Good Luck!

Blog the second – In which my Imposter Syndrome is cured and I apologise for over-sharing ‘the m

It started with an innocuous event: I drove past a hairdresser’s window with a sign which proudly began
‘With over 10 years experience…’
My automatic negative thoughts responded instantly:
‘Oh my God, I’ve just started a business, I can’t put that. I have no experience AT ALL. I’m an idiot…’
Then, before the internal verbal abuse took hold, ‘something very strange’ happened: I answered. From deep within me, a different voice spoke, a voice I have tried (with varied success) to reach through countless CBT* strategies. And that strange but very welcome voice responded:
‘With over 40 years experience of board gaming…’
And there it was. Gone.
Now, I’m not an idiot (contrary to what some people – including part of me- may think) and I know it will take more than this. But it is still a massive step in the right direction for me.
My Imposter Syndrome and the general state of my mental health is perhaps best summarised by one of my inktober creations:
I have been plagued by self doubt for as long as I can remember. My own self doubt, and the part of me that actively hates me, gleefully seized onto the idea of Imposter Syndrome, then worked closely with they-who-shall-not-be-named (OFSTED) and Michael Gove, to systematically destroy me and to reduce a job I loved to a set of sticks to beat myself with.
Even in the dark times, this usually made me smile.
It is hard living with a person who you hate with a desperate sincerity. Don’t get me wrong, I have tried not to give in to ‘her’ -that nasty part of me who is so unforgiving- and I would never let her speak to other people the way she speaks to me. I have battled the air drawn monsters of my mind with varying levels of success and exhaustion. But that day, that moment, felt like victory. I had dealt a fatal blow. Surely she can’t have many life points left.
For the first time ever, the response was heartfelt, not the rehearsed mantras or stock CBT responses, which all work but sometimes even the edges of these seem a little frayed.
So, it is with untold pleasure and pride that I present my response to you:
‘With over 40 years experience of board gaming (including a dark period of being ‘too young to play Colditz, you’ll just ruin it), Cards or Die has all the gaming nerdery you’ll ever need.’
p.s. I take it back, I’m not sorry I shared this.
*cognitive behavioural therapy
2017-01-01 18.09.25

My New Year’s Resolutions. You won’t believe number 492!!*

(*I actually only made 5 but it’s worked for everything I’ve clicked on ever).

This year I don’t want there to be a grey area when he’s making his list (and checking it twice) so in a bid to remain firmly on the good list, I am making resolutions. Now this is not something I usually do. Previous resolutions have been largely modelled on my current lifestyle. (swear more, eat more chocolate, sit still more, continue to tread that difficult border of acceptable levels of personal hygiene etc…) But this year it’s different – everything is different. In December I finished teaching; my career and mental health nemesis for the last 16 years. I don’t normally make resolutions but change is good… which brings me to…

1. Embrace Change.
I have an exciting year ahead and I can’t wait to get stuck into it. I want to enjoy it all, even the crazy hectic times. (Not so much the accounts, maybe I should have a separate resolution about that one…) I’m determined to enjoy it all even if it’s not what I *normally* do.
I’m currently planning the Launch Event for Cards or Die so look out for details soon…

2. Beat my son.

At any game. Even if it involves no strategic thinking. I am past caring.

I believe that when you play against children, you have to let them win around 50% of the time. Otherwise they just become demotivated and refuse to play. I’m now at that tipping point. If I don’t win soon I’m taking my ball home.

He taught me Magic and beat me which was fair enough as he was obviously ahead of me. I could come to terms with that. We worked out Boss Monster together, sussing out the rules, playing a trial round before he thrashed me. Again. And again.

Still, I thought I’ll get better, with practice (I’m all about the growth mindset). Then I taught him Mancala, patiently and clearly explaining possible strategies as we played a trial run through. But again, he is victorious. So my resolution for this year is to learn a game which I can definitely beat him at. Every time. Well, I’ll settle for most of the time. Alright. Just once. I just want to win once.

3. Keep Calm and….

Vistaprint always has a special offer on. Just for me. I know it’s specially for me because my logo is on everything on the website. I resolve to not buy everything just because there’s a mock-up of it with my logo on. But it’s hard dammit Vistaprint. It’s practically impossible. Especially the stickers… oooh I could put stickers on the games… But NO I will be strong. I don’t want to Keep Calm and brand everything in the world. Although, I wonder if they do tattoos…… and family discounts….

4. Keep learning
Play lots of Skull (now Shut Up and Sit Down have de-mystified it for me)

5. And finally… aim high.
Be preposterously ambitious.
This time next year who knows where we’ll be.

2019-01-07 15.56.51

Wordopolis – the capital city of word gaming.

1-3 players
30-60 minutes
Age 8+
I have been lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the Print and Play edition of Wordopolis – the new word game from Caper Games, which is hitting Kickstarter on the 22nd January. As you know I love a word game.
Wordopolis has reminded me of an important life lesson: you buy cheap*, you buy twice. If you take nothing else from this blog – remember that! My first print of Wordopolis was on ‘cardboard’ – I bought a pack of many sheets of this ‘cardboard’ very cheaply. It was like thick paper. It did allow me to have my first play-through of the game and realise that Wordopolis deserves printing on fine and beautiful card. Which – thriftily enough – you can buy books of from The Works for £3!
*The fact that I feel £3 is ‘thrifty’ but not ‘cheap’ tells you all you need to know about my budgeting skills.
So, once you’ve printed it on sufficiently elegant card… then what?
Shuffle the letter cards and place them in an 8 x 8 grid. Draw 4 cards and place some or all of them over letters in the grid to create new words. The grid works like a wordsearch – you can read in any direction as long as it is in a straight line.You score for new words created when you place the letters. The trick is to create as many new words as possible with the strategic placement of letters. While is only played over four rounds it requires a decent amount of thought and planning before placing letters. Think Scrabble rather than Boggle! There are bonuses to be scored dependent on the number of letters in words you create and extra bonuses if you create 10 or 15 new words. Additional care is needed because if you don’t spot words you have created then the other player can claim those points. Even if it is your first play through of the game, your son might mercilessly steal points from you instead of letting you off which you would you have done for him. So just be aware of that – we don’t want any unpleasantness.
This picture shows the 8 by 8 grid and also showcases my shuffling skills which are on a par with my dice rolling abilities.
An interesting anomaly
It bears mentioning that usually I can’t get anyone to play word games with me because apparently I ‘just win so it’s pointless’ so I was pleased that this has a solo variant. As soon as I set it out my son who is 13 took an interest in it and is enjoying playing it with me. I think it’s because instead of making words from scratch you are using some parts of words or groups of letters from the grid so it is not just a test of vocabulary but also of observation. He has also beaten me a couple of times which may suggest that it plays differently to other word games or just that my brain is slowing with age. In the absence of actual science lets just go with – Wordopolis is a unique game: awesome in a range of ways!
It’s good for your brain.
We have played as a group and I have played solo games -all equally enjoyable and rewarding. The game plays in the same way and there are no additional rules to read and learn.The solo game is a tough nut to crack – you need 1000 points to win. A feat I have yet to master. I am positive that it is achievable but it is certainly not very easy. Each time I play, I generally score higher so my brain is becoming attuned to the skill set required to beat it. The ability to improve is always a motivating factor and knowing that other play-testers have beaten the solo variant fills me with hope. (As well as a growing concern that my brain is turning into a fully soaked sponge and it is only a matter of time till bits of it fall off in the bath).
Other Good Bits!
The rules are really straightforward and easy to remember, and scoring and bonuses are on a separate card for quick reference. The randomised nature of the set up means that you can have endless variety in your games. I can’t see myself ever tiring of this. Before I got Moveable Type (another awesome word game with a solo play option) I used to play Boggle or Bananagrams solo. They’re great games – but playing solo, you are just aiming to do better than you did last time and each game stands in isolation. In the solo game of Wordopolis you are aiming for a set score to beat and the game is progressive. I love that most of the letters are already there, so any thinking or planning you do in the first round can benefit you later. When playing with others I much prefer games where the competitive element lies in doing your best and not expending energy trying to thwart someone else. As the thwartee in many of our household games it’s always nice to be beaten without being completely destroyed! And as my family bemoan, an English degree gives me an edge in word games so there’s even a chance I’ll win. Wordopolis also lends itself well to an app and online version which will be available. But for me the lure of the cardboard is still too strong. I’ll be there on January 22nd right at the front of the queue!
If you want to try it out, come to one our events and join me for a game.
Find out more about this game and Caper Games other fab titles (including Get Adler) here .