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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.

Arkosa – Don’t Pet The Nerffles.

Arkosa is the new game from Toon Hammer Games creators of Gobblin’ Goblins. While this game is on a different planet, the familiar text, tone and character that I love so much are present. I absolutely love the art work and the way the theme has been executed. Arkosa is a game for 2 to 4 players, it takes 25minutes per player or thereabouts and is suitable for ages 13+. I’m assuming as with so many games this is a reading age consideration as there is nothing in the text or the game itself that is unsuitable. Although having said that, only one colony can escape the treacherous planet of Arkosa – the rest of you will be stranded there forevermore which is a disturbing thought.
The game plays over three rounds from the time when you crash land on the planet to the time when the escape shuttle takes off with one lucky player and their band of hapless but loyal colonists. If you have built the bunker with the finest rooms, a happy colony and maybe put in a few well placed bribes then your reputation will precede you and you will be chosen to escape.
There is more to the name of the game than merely sounding good. As game designer Angela Dickens explains “Arkosa used the word ‘Ark’ because that fits well with the theme. Also, ‘Arkose’ is a type of sandstone and Arkosa is very sandy duney planet!” It is in these unforgiving sandy dunes that your fate as a colony leader is made or broken.
Each player starts with four founding colonists. As we have come to expect from Toon Hammer the characters are a rum bunch. There are characters like Movoo the mood hoover bringing everybody’s morale down, Combustible Joe who is at constant risk of exploding and the more useful Quaz Oberman who can fix your power shards. Each round you must decide whether to recruit new colonists into your bunker weighing up their usefulness against how fun it will be to play them! Who doesn’t want to announce they’ve got ‘Boeuf’ and play this beauty.
Your Colony and You.
Each turn you can choose to put a colonist to work to gain necessary resources – you will need scrap and magtape to build new rooms, food and nitrogen to ensure the basic survivial of your colonists and power shards to attach to rooms to generate more resources. Or, you can put them to work exploring – this costs some resources but you can gain resources and recruit new colonists to your bunker. Exploring is a risky business on Arkosa and there are many hazards which may befall the intrepid colonist: tentacle mites, explosions, clouds of pestilence and of course the famously volatile Nerffle. Of course there are good things too – sometimes you’ll meet a prescient Jargle or just find a really nice flag.
The risks of exploring are threefold! Indicated here by the three alertness levels of the dreaded Nerffle.
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Repuation is everything on Arkosa – it is your passage to freedom after all. To build your reputation you need to keep the morale of your colonists up too. Morale is a tricky and clever mechanism in the game. The morale tracker is relatively short giving you the opportunity to max out your morale score. By doing this you score extra reputation points. In addition each round your morale converts to reputation. So, keeping your colonists well fed and nitrogened as well as happily occupied is good for you all. Exiling colonists or using their happiness to offset the cost of resources costs you reputation. Colonists who are injured on their travels may benefit from a visit to Dr Sawbones a dubious character with questionable practices. It’s all in the luck of the draw really – sometimes he helps, sometimes – let’s just say – he’s less helpful.
So, what have we learnt so far – make sure you have enough food and nitrogen, don’t let anyone injure themselves and make sure you’ve got the right combination of rooms. And above all do not wake the Nerffles. That seems straightforward enough!
Your player board has some rooms ready built on it. But, for you to be able to gain rewards like extra scrap, map tape or morale from it each room needs to have an active power shard on it. Certain events can mean that power shards are deactivated and once placed they are not so easy to move around. Of all the resources they seem the trickiest to acquire. As in all good resource management games, it is impossible to do everything. You are constantly trying to balance and weigh up your decisions. A visit to Disco Dystopia ups the morale in the bunker for instance while the Aphid Farm produces plenty of food but you only have one power shard! You are also doing lots of planning ahead so that you can get all your rooms, colonists and resources lined up just right to benefit you in future rounds. You can also score bonuses for building rooms in certain places specified on your player board. But Arkosa is a hostile planet and the combination of event decks, raid events and the unpredictable nature of the other colonists mean that your best laid plans often go up in a cloud of pestilence. The game always feels really balanced and the three round structure means that your plans are relatively short term which I like.
In the second round it won’t shock you to learn that bribes and corruption are introduced to Arkosan life. Now you have the additional option to score some quite significant bonuses by collecting the resources indicated to pay for the bribe. Will it be a bug rotisserie or a statue of The Savior that will secure your place on that escape ship? But be careful, the bigger the bribe, the bigger the risk. Any bribes not fulfilled count as minus points. Quite rightly when you are discovered trying to unsuccessfully bribe officials your reputation takes a hit. Imagine not only being abandoned on Arkosa but remaining there with that stain on your record!
Once you are confident and know your way around Arkosa – when you can pop down to the Space Bar for a swift half and make it back before Dr Sawbones talks you into some new and groundbreaking surgical procedure – then you can move on to more advanced or just different variants. They are currently perfecting a solo game. We’ll definitely be trying them all out once we get our tentacles on the kickstarter. We have just about mastered the starter game which is perfect for learning what to do. And also perfect when each child in your family decides to learn the game with you at separate times. Ah, teenagers. I wonder if there’s any spaces on that next shuttle to Arkosa…
Make sure you are following Toon Hammer for updates.
II’ll soon have a copy of this for you to play at Cards or Die events – join us!
Rule Breakers

Rule Breakers – Games Jam Inspiration

The choices for this category of the 100 Novels that shaped the world are:
Rule Breakers
A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
Bartleby, the Scrivener – Herman Melville
Habibi – Craig Thompson
How to be Both – Ali Smith
Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter
Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
Orlando – Virginia Woolf
Psmith, Journalist – P. G. Wodehouse
The Moor’s Last Sigh – Salman Rushdie
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name – Audre Lorde
You can find the complete list here.
So, it is nearly time for you to get your entry together to the Leeds Libraries Games Jam. You can find all the details you need to enter here along with details of the cash prizes to be won. Just a reminder that your game can be in any format. I’ve concentrated on board games because that is my area but feel free to explore and enter in the format that suits you. There is also no expectation that you attended any of the sessions. They were simply to help and provide some inspiration. So if you have attended all of the workshops or none of them, read all these blogs or just some of them. I would start planning around the following prompts:
You can do this by copying and pasting these headings into a word document, a table or I know I would be spreading out some big sheets of paper and cracking out the post its and sharpies. You do you. But whatever you do – start planning big! I can’t wait to see what you create.
Novel the game is based on
Number of players
Will there be a solo option?
In the solo option will you play against yourself? A robot/ dummy player? The game?
Your audience – Age? Interests? Board gamers?
Name of the game
A mixture?
Other Components
Art Style
Mechanics to use
Real world links?
Choose your own adventure?
Will you use sound in your game?
How structured do you want your game to be?
Future expansion possibilities?
Real life elements to include?
Other elements to consider…
Rule Breakers
Games creation has all sorts of jumping off points. Sometimes it’s a dream you had, a game played with the wrong rules or with no rules just the components, a feeling that you need to plug a gap or meet a specific need; it can be a theme that you love or a character; a message you want to convey or explore; an image or set of images that you saw(just a reminder that there is a Leeds Libraries FlickR account with loads of images linked to the BBC 100 novels list); an urge to create, to leave your mark on the world; home schooling boredom that made you look for different approaches; playing a game that’s nearly good but needs some tweaking or maybe it’s a novel that you want other people to love as much as you do. The BBC 100 Novels that Shaped the World is a rich seam of inspiration. How could you take one of those books and make a game? How could you explore the world or the character of the novel in such a way that people would go off and read the novel? Whatever your inspiration there is so much fun to be had playing around with those ideas, making, breaking, remoulding, and coming up with something that works as a game. And if you decide to take it further the joy of seeing your creation go out into the world and bring others joy.
We have already looked at some games that have broken the rules like …and then we died which has no real win condition just an end point. We all agreed that was a game but if you asked me before I played it ‘Does a game have to have a win condition to be a game?’ I’d have said ‘Yes’. We looked at Tales of Evil’s Fusion Events which bring real life elements and objects into the game. Some games are such rule breakers that they shake our very understanding of what a game is.
In this week’s workshop we looked at games that break the rules in some way – games that do something unexpected, truly original. This is quite a wide and varied selection of games.
When we think about what makes a game, a game we might reasonably expect a set of rules that tells us from the outset what we can do and how we can win. We expect to have a hand limit for the amount of cards we can hold, a fixed number of actions. Fluxx takes those expectations, tears them into tiny pieces and throws them over a waterfall.
In Fluxx as the name suggests, the only constant is change or even ‘Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose: the more things change, the more they stay the same’. I’m pretty sure both of those quotations come from novels. Fluxx begins easily enough: you deal each player 3 cards and you begin with the basic rules of draw one, play one. There is no goal at all to begin with until someone plays one. But that goal is replaced when someone plays another goal. If an ungoal is played then that replaces the win condition with a lose condition – if this is met then all players lose. Meanwhile cards are played which change the number of cards you draw, play and your hand limit. As well as the usual range of action cards you get in all card games.
It is a bit of a love it or hate it game. It can be incredibly frustrating as you may have the two cards you need to win only to have someone change the goal just before you play the second card. It also means the play time is difficult to estimate- it says 10 to 40minutes on the box but we have had both shorter and longer games! But it is also very entertaining. Revel in the chaos!
We Didn’t Playtest This At All and We Didn’t Playtest This At All Either
Both of these come from the same kinds of brains that created Fluxx. Except it is even more chaotic. The playing time on this is 1 to 5 minutes and again we have had both shorter (Yes really) and longer games. Playing PC ‘Everyone still in the game wins’ or The End ‘At the end of your next turn everyone loses! Including you’ can bring the game to an abrupt end, especially if one of those is the first card played. Sometimes it has taken longer to set up than it does to play. Bearing in mind ‘set up’ involves opening the box and dealing two cards each that’s quite some feat.
The thing that we love best about this ridiculous game is the text on the cards.
‘Zombies’ reads ‘Play face up in front of you. If a player doesn’t say ‘AHH! Zombies!’ before playing a card on their turn, zombies eat their brains and they lose. Unless they have a banana. Zombies are afraid of bananas. They’re a natural predator.’
This entertained us no end – especially because the box states ‘BONUS Chaos pack included! (and a banana!*)
*Banana sold separately.
There is no banana card either so unless you have a real banana about your person then you’d better remember to do the Ahh Zombies noise before you play each turn.
Like Fluxx some people find this game too silly and too chaotic but it has always been a hit in our house. We’re a bit silly like that.
This game by Ludi Creations has a beautiful pop up board which reminds me of pop up story books. You are all mice who are competing to recover the sacred golden cheese which is being guarded by a dragon of course. Not only is the pop up board element unique as far as I know, it has a strange and clever card playing mechanism too. Mythe is a push your luck game which means that you need to know when to stop drawing cards. I am terrible at this and always go for one more even when the odds are stacked heavily against me. This means that I usually lose but on the positive side when I do win, I win big!
The clever bit in Mythe is that, rather than drawing up from a central pile, you draw cards from other players’ hands (one by one) stopping before you hit an obstacle card. When you finish your turn by advancing on your cheese quest or by fatally overestimating your mousely strength, you give cards away to other players.
So, you just give away all the good cards and then draw them back up next go? Right?
No. Because to defeat that pesky dragon before your cheese becomes fondue you need to hold a legacy item. Obviously. How else would a mouse defeat a dragon? Also, by the time your turn comes round the other player may have a very different hand.
We’ve talked a few times about player numbers and this is a good example of one that I feel shouldn’t have a two player variant. In the two player variant you have to include a dummy hand. The game is much, much better when played with 3 to 5 players.
Sub Terra
You are trapped in an underground network of caves and tunnels. You must work together to find the exit and escape before your torch lights run out or the horrors get you. There are other threats too: cave ins, gas leaks, floods and the dodgy background of one of your fellow cavers. The board is treated with UV paint so that you can play it in your blanket fort with UV torches for the full immersive horror experience! They also put together a spotify play list to add to the atmosphere which I love.
I have banged on about inclusivity a lot over the course of the workshops and we have seen lots of games that get it so very wrong. One of the pure joys of this game for me is the fact that the cavers are a diverse mix of race and gender. Finally, a games designer who has got it so right. So right that when I play with my family, I don’t have to be a boy character because all the girls have gone. And, in the immortal words of Lotto from 8 mile “This shit is a horror flick, but the black guy doesn’t die in this movie …” as the medic it’s very, very unlikely that Louis will meet a sticky end.
The characters came with little booklets telling you about their back stories and there is a comic book which you can get if you enjoy the story of this game. All of these extra bits are not essential to the game but they do make for a more immersive experience. What would you add to your game? A soundtrack? A menu? Games don’t have to be a complete experience but they can be.
Even small shifts can completely befuddle and challenge your players. Anomia is a fast paced matching game – when you match a symbol with another player, the first person to shout out an example from the correct category wins the pair. Easy and very similar to many other snap based games. Except, in Anomia you shout out an example from the category printed on the card in front of the other player. This is incredibly hard for some reason and the fast paced nature of the game compounds the difficulty making it incredibly entertaining. It can be hard enough to think of sensible answers under time pressure without trying to think of an answer that’s on the other players’ card!
This uses a compass and magnets to dictate movement. I have honestly never seen any other game like it. Thematically it reminds me of Tales of Evil which we looked at in an earlier session. A child has gone missing and your gang must investigate and rescue the missing child. It also has that Stranger Things vibe as a monster from the Duskworld is responsible for the disappearance. You succeed in rescuing the missing child by collecting his scattered memories and bringing them together.
It is a co-operative game. Your movements are governed by the cards that you play and these cards allow you to rotate and move the miniatures around the board but be careful – don’t get too close to the monster! Despite the fact that it is a really cool and quirky mechanism we found that the magnets weren’t always so easy to control and ultimately it can be very frustrating. I think with a little refining of the components it could have been a fantastic game and we certainly enjoyed it enough despite the glitches.
Cash and Guns
You are a gang of robbers who are squabbling over how to split up the loot from a successful heist. This is a quick to learn, quick to play game of bluff and double crossing. You divide the loot by pointing your foam guns at each other and seeing who will have the courage to stay in and who will end up shot! The brave ones who don’t get shot divide the loot between them. Each player has 10 bullet cards to play (one for each round) – seven are blanks and three are live. This means you know how many live bullets someone has left – the question is, does the foam gun they are pointing at you have one of their remaining live bullets in and how much do you want that painting?!
It’s loads of fun and was an instant hit in our house. It’s a permanent fixture on the favourites shelf.
I don’t have this one and haven’t played it yet. It was designed by Catherine Stippell for her uncle who is blind. She wanted to create a game that he could play with others and not be at a disadvantage. For blind players people often suggest co-operative games but that can mean that the player who is blind ends up steered round the game by others and is also having a mammoth memory test as they try to remember where things are on the board, what cards they and other players have. It can be a deeply unsatisfactory experience. In Nychtophobia players wear black out glasses and rely on their sense of touch and work together to escape a predator hunting them in a dark forest. There are a couple of different game modes and people have found it thrilling, tense and even terrifying. It has been on my list of games to try for a while now.
Cat Cafe
Roll and Write games are enormously popular and I wanted to give them a mention as they are a very accessible way to design a game both for the designer and for your prospective audience.
In a Roll and Write game, you roll the dice and usually choose some dice to reroll or choose dice to use. Each turn your choice of dice will dictate what you record on your paper. Yahtzee and Beetle are early and very familiar examples of this style of game. Roll and write games have recently seen an upsurge in popularity.
The modern example that I am most familiar with is Cat Café by Alley Cat Games. In this game you are creating a cat café which will appeal to the most cats and each feature you add has a unique way of scoring. Each turn you choose dice from those rolled – one die decides which level of your play tower you will add to and the other decides what you will add. Some points are scored immediately and some at the end of the game. For instance, cushions score based on the level they are on – cats like to be high up so higher levels score more while mice score more if they are close to other mice (safety in numbers presumably!).
The winner is the one with the most points. It always surprises people how strategic and complex the game is. It looks simple, but trying to maximise your points each round as well as considering how to limit other people’s points means it really isn’t.
One of the nice things about it is that on each sheet it shows all of the scoring criteria so that once you’ve played a couple of times, you don’t need the rule book. Everything you need is on the sheet that you write on.
I love playing it and in terms of design and in order to play it – you just need some dice, some paper (perhaps printed with the categories and scoring) and a pencil. You can make your game as easy or challenging as you like. You can make the drawing a key part of the game or an incidental part. When we play Cat Café we always draw our mice and balls of yarn very carefully even though that is not a pre-requisite!
As always we will end with some more questions for you to consider:
  • What would be on the soundtrack to your game? Favourite tracks/ tracks that suit your theme?
  • How will your game be different to other games?
  • What components does your game need?
  • How could components add to your game?
  • What will your board look like?
  • What will your cards look like?
  • What will the dice/ die look like?
  • What will the pawns be?
  • How will you make sure your game is accessible?
I hope you are all ready for the Games Jam this weekend – I can’t wait to see your entries!

Come along to a Cards or Die event and try some of these games out.
Crime &Conflict

Crime and Conflict: Games Jam Inspiration

The novels chosen for the Crime & Conflict section are:
American Tabloid – James Ellroy
American War – Omar El Akkad
Ice Candy Man – Bapsi Sidhwa
Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
Regeneration – Pat Barker
The Children of Men – P.D. James
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
The Quiet American – Graham Greene
The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid
The Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith
You can find the full list here.
In this week’s workshop we looked at Crime themed games and also at the mechanics of programming, asymmetry and the use of silence in board games. You do not need to attend these sessions to enter the Games Jam and you can find out more about how to enter and how to be in with a chance of winning cash prizes here.
Colt Express
In Colt Express you are taking on the role of a wild west gunslinger who has boarded a train to steal as much loot as possible (including a daring steal from the Marshall himself!), punching and shooting the other thieves to end up with the most rich stuff. You can also earn a sharp shooter cash prize.
The game uses a cardboard train which players move from carriage to carriage and along the roof of. I also have a stagecoach expansion with horses, whiskey and yet more loot. As well as the DeLorean expansion from Back to The Future, which I absolutely love – it enables time travel of course.
Each round players take turns to select their actions and place them in a pile. Some actions are played in a tunnel so they are hidden (placed face down), sometimes two actions happen in quick succession. At the end of the round some events are triggered which may benefit or damage your characters.
Actions are chosen from each players deck of cards. So, the game also uses a deck wrecking mechanic because if you are shot you receive a bullet card that goes into your deck. If, at the start of the round where you plan to play 4 actions, 3 of the cards you draw to form your hand are bullet cards this blows a massive hole in your plans! You can pick up extra cards instead of having a turn but that means you are still missing out on one action. You need to not get shot. Easier said than done when everyone is gunning for you.
You need to watch out for the Marshall. One of your actions can be to move the Marshall. You need to get them away from the valuable case in order to steal it but get caught in the same carriage as the Marshall and they’ll shoot you with no hesitation leaving you injured and up on the roof!
If you end the round as the only player in the DeLorean then the other players must close their eyes while you climb beneath one of the carriages and remain hidden there until all players have chosen their actions for the round. Just before the story is relayed you leap into the carriage and wreak havoc with everyone’s carefully planned card selection!
The actions are all inter-reliant. For instance if I want to shoot someone, they need to be in another carriage whereas if I want to punch someone they have to be in the carriage with me. If I play these cards and those conditions are not true then my bullet goes wide and I swing my punch into fresh air.
The programming mechanic means that we each play all our turns for the round in order – placing our cards in a pile. Then, someone is nominated story teller and the fun begins. The story teller now flips the deck (so that the first card placed is on the top now) and tells us the story of the round. Guns are fired, people are punched, loot is dropped and grabbed. Sometimes our carefully planned actions work out perfectly, other times the person you were going to shoot has ducked out of your reach.
A programming mechanic is where players plan all of their actions in advance, they make decisions and lock in their choices. Then once everyone is planned the actions play out. It is clever because it involves a lot of planning and working out. You need to really keep a close eye on what other people are doing or what you predict they will do and try to plan accordingly.
As with many other games each character has a special abilities on their card – Cheyenne can steal in the same action as punching someone for instance while ghost can play a card secretly. The characters and character art is unfortunately very disappointing as it is far from representative and instead uses tropes we have long since tired of. There isn’t much more to say on this – honestly I feel tired even typing these words. Please just do better.
It’s worth having a think here about expansions too. Some designers have their expansions planned out when they are making the base game and others don’t. It’s entirely up to you but as you are basing your game on a novel there may be room to record some preliminary ideas about possible expansions as you are working on this game. I’m an advocate of recording all ideas in some format no matter how sketchy or vague they seem. You can always look back on them later and decide if they have any real mileage.
The cardboard train and the extra components – the addition of cacti and skulls make this a really visually appealing and tactile game. People always comment on it when it’s out on a table and moving the characters along the train does make the game more fun, it makes the story more immersive and takes you back to simpler times when you played with characters and created stories for them. For me it was the Fisher price village! Colt Express lives on our favourites shelf and I’m always sorely tempted to treat myself to a nice play may for it to sit on.
In Mysterium a house is being haunted by a restless spirit. In order to help the spirit rest you need to work together to solve the mystery of their murder. One player will play the role of the ghost – communicating in visions (using the cards) to the other players who are visiting psychics. We have touched on the use of silence in games in a couple of the other workshops. The ghost (of course) operates in silence. The psychics use the visions to deduce who the murderer was, where the murder took place and what weapon was used. Lots of people recognise Cluedo in this game which is no bad thing.
It’s an unusual game because the ghost and the psychics are playing very differently and completing different actions even though they share a common goal. It also adds to the replayability of the game as you can play different characters as well as the game relying on different interpretations of the images.
Often at events that I run, people start by playing or at least picking up and chatting about retro games that they are familiar with and have fond memories of. If your aim is to explore a novel or encourage people to go away and read a specific novel then using a familiar game as a starting point may help you to reach more people and make your game more accessible. It all depends on your audience. In the workbook I have asked you to think carefully about and identify audience before you even begin designing. Audience is key.
Each turn the ghost gives each psychic a vision – the ghost has been traumatised understandably and in the first phase of the game we are narrowing down the suspects with each psychic receiving their own suspect, location, and weapon. In the second part of the game the ghost presents a shared vision pointing towards the culprit, weapon, and location. The psychics then vote secretly on which they think the answer is. If the majority get it right then the game is won and the spirit is set free. Get it wrong and the spirit is bound to the house, destined to repeat this exhausting exercise until some more skilled psychics can solve the mystery!
The game is best played with 4 or more players as you can then use clairvoyancy tokens – these allow you to demonstrate your amazing skill by predicting which of the psychics are right. If your predictions are accurate then you have higher levels of clairvoyancy enabling you to see more of the final shared vision.
It doesn’t always feel like a co-operative game because of the guessing who is right and because each player is trying to identify their own set of suspicions at the start. Even at the final stage voting is completed privately with no discussion or communication at all. This means that although you are working together, it doesn’t feel like it and the ending can feel like only those who voted correctly have won with the other players losing. This can make it feel even more asymmetric – you start off working together but by the end you are really concerned with being the one that gets it right.
Having said that, it’s an enjoyable game. We always enjoy solving the mystery (or at least trying to). We do play without the timer but you are supposed to limit the time the psychics take to reach their conclusions. I just feel like you can’t rush these things and I don’t want be responsible for angering any spirit guides.
The art work reminds me a lot of Dixit – there is lots of room for flexibility, discussion and interpretation. It also means that the clues are always challenging even when you know the ghost. The components are also beautifully made from the board that the ghost organises their card behind, the ravens that signal how many assists you’ve had, the clock that counts down the hours of the séance and the crystal balls that the psychics place next to their suspects – it is all thematic and gorgeous. Even the clairvoyancy chips are little planchettes which I love.
Mr Jack (Pocket).
Before we look at this one it is worth noting that in the workshop we ended up discussing how problematic this game really is. We wondered why there was the need to link Jack (the ripper) with the fictional Sherlock Holmes? Why use Jack the Ripper at all? The under (and mis-) representation of women in the game is once again crushingly disappointing. The aliases Mr Jack assumes are manly white men in manly poses and two simpering women who seem to have only breasts and prostitution to offer. Not only is the characterisation of the women tiresome but also why aren’t half the characters female? And why is everyone white? Add to that a rule book that speaks solely to men. Extremely frustrating and so easily remedied. I did some research on historical criminals and there is loads of information out there. The images in the library’s flickR account might be a good starting point.
And of course – why on earth would you not have included Irene Adler? She was the only person who Holmes viewed as an intellectual equal – who else could be more likely to give the Inspector, Holmes, Toby and Watson a good run for their money?
“… the best plans of Mr Sherlock Holmes were beaten by a woman’s wit.” A.C. Doyle
If you can’t think of any ideas for your game entry for the Games Jam then please make an Irene Adler expansion for this or a Hound of the Baskervilles version. I’ll buy it!
Inside the tiny box there are 9 squares which form the board (district) which Mr Jack is hiding in. Mr Jack must avoid detection by taking on an alias while The Inspector must discover Mr Jack’s assumed identity before time runs out. The game is for two players. The Inspector moves the character tokens around the edge of the board, looking down the alleys for Mr Jack. Meanwhile, Mr Jack must try to either block or maximise their view to stop the Inspector deducing Mr Jack’s identity. The game is well balanced; neither character has any advantage over the other.
The Inspector is aided by Holmes, Watson and Toby the dog- their sometime accomplice. The use of Toby may please some Holmes purists- I know I saw it as a welcome addition. It’s always nice to see some under used and under explored characters show up. We’ve talked a few times about using the game as an opportunity to explore characters that show up fleetingly in the novel or who you feel are overlooked. Why can’t that character be a dog? – Paul Auster wrote a whole novel from the point of view of the dog!
The design of the alleyways and blocked routes on individual tiles gives the board masses of variance. The seeming imbalance in turn taking which resolves over two turns; the double sided counters from which you select your actions; the hourglass tokens both Mr Jack and the Inspector pursue which form a neat way of keeping track of your turns show care for the details of the game design which are sadly lacking when it comes to the theme. It’s a shame because it is a brilliant and innovative little strategy game.
221B Baker Street.
Featuring board gaming’s favourite detective 221B is a great game of sleuthing! Travel around the board finding and deciphering clues to work out the answers you need. Each mystery varies slightly in what you are required to find out – it could be motive, weapon, victim’s identity, the murderer, how or where the crime was committed. You read the mystery and then set off on your mission to solve the crime. Once you think you know you head over to Scotland Yard to tell them what you have found. If you are correct the game ends, if not, you keep your suspicions to yourself and the other detectives keep on sleuthing.

Cluedo in style you move around the board and when you enter a location you look in the book to see if there is a clue. But, it’s harder than Cluedo because there are various levels of clues some in two or three parts some more cryptic than others. In design it is a little like the choose your own adventures that we looked at in session 1 as each mystery has its own set of clues to find and solve. So each game is like a story in itself. This kind of game must have taken a great deal of planning but it’s worth it as it is such good fun to play.

Questions for you to peruse!
How important is the artwork here?
How important will artwork be in your game?
What is a programming mechanic?
What is asymmetry in games?
Does your game need a board? What alternatives could you use?
What components do you like? Is touch important to you? In your game?
How do you feel about expansions – is it something your game could accommodate in the future? Is it something you want it to accommodate or would you rather it stood alone?
Can you use sound or silence in your game?
Could you use familiar games to help hook your audience? Which games would you like to use? Which ones do you think would appeal to your audience?
Think again about your audience – how dark do you want to go?!

Next week we will be looking at Rule Breakers – games that are a bit unusual and don’t fit our usual expectations. You can book onto the workshop here.

Come and play some of these games at a Cards or Die event.
Life death other worlds

Life, Death and Other Worlds – Games Jam Inspiration.

In the second workshop for Leeds Libraries I focussed on Life, Death and Other worlds. The purpose of the workshops is to inspire you to create your own game and enter it to the Games Jam at the end of the month. You don’t need to attend all of them. I thought I would share what we had got up to in case you missed it.
Just a reminder that your entry can be a board game or a video game and it can be in any state of completeness. Even if you just have the bare bones of an idea – get it entered. You never know what it might become. More details here
The Games Jam is inspired by the BBC list of 100 novels that shaped our world. You can see the ones that were chosen for this category in the list below.
Life, Death & Other Worlds
A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin
Astonishing the Gods – Ben Okri
Dune – Frank Herbert
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Gilead – Marilynne Robinson
The Chronicles of Narnia – C. S. Lewis
The Discworld Series – Terry Pratchett
The Earthsea Trilogy – Ursula K. Le Guin
The Road – Cormac McCarthy
The Sandman Series – Neil Gaiman
We started this session with a game of …and then we died by Emma Larkins. It is a really flexible game as it plays (to quote from the rules) 1-8ish. I love that ish on the end. It makes you want to go further – and so we did! We played with 17 people. One of the other interesting things about this game is that there is no win condition. It is a collaborative story telling game. I think most people approaching a game design would have in mind that for a game to be a game, there have to be ways of winning and losing but is this necessarily true?
The Oxford dictionary defines it as “an activity that you do to have fun, often one that has rules and that you can win or lose” But surely we don’t need to be limited by that. Fluxx messes about with our understanding of the role of rules in games. There is room for games that play with our ideas around winning and losing. To me as long as it fulfils the first part and is an activity that promises fun I am happy to count it as a game. I could be wrong of course (that can happen apparently) and it’s a point I’m interested to explore.
Anyway… back to the game. The story goes, we have all met an unfortunate ending and the only clues that tell the tale of our untimely demise are fragments of memories and the letters marked on the deck of tarot cards. Of course we had a group tarot reading before we went on our ill fated adventure and of course we disregarded any advice or warnings in the cards. We were those sort of people. We probably had one torch between us and we packed that with the words ‘I’m not sure how great these batteries are but it should be fine’.
Each player creates a word from the fragments and points at a player who must add a sentence to the story including that word. Together we piece together our story ending with the words …and then we died.
Because we were on zoom although each person made a word, we all wrote our own individual stories. We didn’t all know each other and when you are playing this with a group you would usually reach agreement on the tone or direction of the story. There is space with this game to play it however you want or need to. It can be serious, silly, irreverent, emotional – whatever the group decides. With a large group that discussion becomes more difficult and I would never want anyone to feel uncomfortable so we worked privately with the option of sharing at the end.
These were our words if you fancy a go…sold, rent, sat, star, Pam, run, rain, wall, dove, good, cull, rode, pig, lash, sack, fate, slash …and then we died!
We took a light and frivolous attitude to grammar and the inclusion of a proper noun. We were more interested in finding out exactly how and maybe why we’d died. Some things are more important than grammar. Not many but some.
Here are some of our examples. Remember these are written with the constraints of time, word choice and the fact we were most of us strangers. So do be kind. Also please revel in their brilliance, their creativity, their imagination.
This one is by Nicole Maddock.
A strange old man SOLD me a scruffy looking cat. I decided to RENT a car to take her home. The cat SAT on the front seat and looked at me grumpily. I could see she was not going to be a STAR pet. I named her PAM. When we got home, I opened the car door and she immediately began to RUN away. The heavens opened and RAIN came pouring down. I saw Pam leap over my neighbour’s WALL. A DOVE flew past and she chased it at full pelt. I gave chase, and was making GOOD progress. I feared that she would CULL every bird in town. Grabbing my bike, I RODE after her. Without warning, my neighbour’s pot-bellied PIG also gave chase. The rain continued to LASH down, as the pig and I chased Pam the dove-killer. Finally, I caught up with Pam and threw her in a SACK. The FATE of this cat was in my hands. I heard a tearing sound, and saw Pam’s claws begin to SLASH furiously through the sack, then into my flesh and the pig’s. And then we died.
Leeds Libraries wrote this.
Yesterday I SOLD my potato to the girl next door. They RENT a beautiful cottage. A mini is SAT in the driveway. She said she is going to do STAR potato printing. Her name is PAM and she is into astronomy. One day she is going to RUN to the moon. When it rains she will use the RAIN drops as steps. A WALL of stars will illuminate the way. A DOVE will greet her half way to teach her how to fly. It will take Pam a GOOD amount of time to reach the moon but she is determined. When she reaches the moon she will CULL the cheese. Pam RODE a rainbow back down to earth. A Flying PIG joins Pam. The pig loves an eye LASH extension and is the talk of the universe for its beauty. With a SACK of cheese they make their way to Leeds. What will be their FATE. SLASH from Guns and Roses plays a song and then we died.
This is Russel James’ story.
Sold all my carrots and paid my rent and then sat under a star with Pam before she went for a run in the rain. We climbed a wall and saw a dove it was generally all good until she decided to go on a cull, she rode a pig and gave it a good lash, she got the rest of them in the sack. I think it was fate that they got the slash. And then we all died.
Another lovely thing about this game, if you are thinking about your own design, is its thematic nature. It is easy to immerse yourself in the story with these beautiful tarot cards and the typewritten font of the clues.
We really enjoyed playing it and I loved hearing the stories. Feel free to get involved, use the words above to write a story and share it in the facebook group.
The next game we looked at was Assembly by Wren Games. This started life as a solo or two player game. You can play with 4 but that is more of an expansion. You are trapped on an orbital space platform that manufactures luxury space craft. A meteor hits – the whole crew is wiped out by a mysterious illness – you (and one other?) are immune and survive. You must finish making one of the luxury spacecrafts and get back to earth. The computer is programmed to stop you leaving and contain the infection. You play against the computer.
This was an interesting one to consider. It is one of my favourite games. I love the puzzly-ness of it. You can adapt and uplevel the difficulty of the game very easily which I think is a really good feature. I appreciated being able to play an easier first couple of games and then gradually step up the difficulty. I have now invested in the expansions – when I first played I never would have expected to need extra layers of difficulty!
The two player game can be played in silence, the game comes with some essential sign language. Or, you can just use one question each. Once you use key words the computer shuts down your communication to prevent your escape. I love that this carries on the theme and is another easy way to up the difficulty without changing the game you are playing.
Here we thought about our player numbers and designing a game with that in mind. It can be frustrating to buy games which claim to play say 2 to 4 but actually don’t work very well with 2 players. Or some games say 1 to 5 but actually the solo game is very much tacked on to the main game and doesn’t really work very well. It is important at the design stage to consider these questions and decisions. There is nothing wrong with limiting your audience. If you want a game that plays three and appeals to sci-fi fans then that is absolutely fine and actually may result in a better more tightly themed and focussed game.
The final game we looked at was Dixit. It plays 3 to 6. I think most people assume that games start at 2 and end at 4. Your game does not have to have those limits! It says it is suitable for ages 8+. In fact because it’s all about imagination children are often better and less inhibited in this game than adults. This has a 3 player lower limit as it uses a voting mechanic which won’t work with less than 3. It is best played with 4 or more actually so it gives us another opportunity to consider player numbers.
One player is nominated as the story teller each turn and they go first. They choose one of their cards to to say a sentence or word about. People play it in different ways – it can be a quote, a word, a lyric, a line from a film, a short sentence…. Everyone else then chooses a card from their hand to pass to the story teller who lays the cards out in a line. Everyone but the story teller then votes for one card that they think belongs to the story teller. You gain points by some people guessing which card is yours. But if everyone gets it you get 0 points and if no-one gets it you also score 0 points. So the key is to say something vague but not too vague. You also gain points for correct guesses and for people choosing your card if you are not the storyteller.
The game is different every time and it’s fascinating to me to play with people who you know less well. I absolutely love the vagaries and imagination of it but I know that it can be a very divisive game. It certainly is in our house. Some people hate the abstract nature of it. I guess one of the things to think about is that Dixit is a really big selling game and some people hate it! Not everybody has to love the game you design. You need to love it and then you can share that love and your vision with others who will love it too.
The voting mechanic is very popular especially in party games. Cards against Humanity is a game that also divides opinion. I for one, dislike it intensely. I know people will think me a killjoy but it is just offensive to me and it is one I will never have in my collection. I would like to take this opportunity to point you towards some fun and non-offensive alternatives.
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Bucket of Doom 17+ and Wing It 12+ are played in a very similar way but are loads of daft fun. Wing It could be played with younger ones I suspect that the age guide is dues to the amount of reading you need to be able to do.
We had looked at art in Dixit and …and then we died and there are lots of places that you can get art inspiration and resources for your game design. Have a look at the Leeds Libraries FlickR for images that link with the novels and the categories for the Games Jam. A quick google search turned up loads of other material available online – the Met New York, MOMA New York, The Tate – these were just the top ones on my search.
As always we’ll end with some questions for you to mull over:
  • How many people will you have playing your game?
  • If you have a solo option – will the person play against the game or against themselves?
  • Which other games have you played that use a voting mechanism?
  • Is it useful for your game?
  • How does it work here?
  • Why is the art-work important?
  • What did you like/ dislike about it?
  • How can you use art to help tell a story in your game?
  • What other factors were useful – like packaging / design ideas?
  • Did you like the freedom and vagaries of …and then we died? Would a freer structure suit your game?
  • Dixit is a fairly divisive game. People seem to love it or hate it. Start to think about the audience for your game. Who will love it?
  • What else does your perfect player love?
This Thursday we will be focussing on Crime and Conflict with a close look at Mysterium, Colt Express, programming and asymmetry. Join us!
Come along to a Cards or Die event and try these games out.

Adventure Games – Game Jam Inspiration

Working with Leeds Libraries I’ve been delivering workshops to help people get inspired to design their own entry to the Games Jam. You can find more details on the competition here
The Games Jam itself takes its inspiration from the BBC 100 Novels that shaped our world. The list is diverse and eclectic; it sparks discussion and debate effortlessly. The novels that made the grade for the Adventure section are:
City of Bohane – Kevin Barry
Eye of the Needle – Ken Follett
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
His Dark Materials Trilogy – Philip Pullman
Ivanhoe – Walter Scott
Mr Standfast – John Buchan
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
The Jack Aubrey Novels – Patrick O’Brian
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkien
The object of the Games Jam is to bring these novels to life through games and inspire new readers. The games can be any sort – digital or analogue. Of course, I’m approaching it from a board games angle but you can’t expect any more from a person who can’t keep their mario kart on the track.
In the first session we focussed particularly on co-operative games. Co-operative games involve players working together to achieve a common aim or to defeat a shared enemy. Some popular examples are Forbidden series – desert, island and sky; Magic Maze, and probably the most famous of all – Pandemic. There are also plenty of co-operative games aimed specifically at children – Outfoxed, Slide Quest, SoS Dino.
Co-operative games are often referred to as co-op games and they commonly feature:
  • Players working together against a puzzle – they may need to solve a series of puzzles to escape. The Exit games which are board game versions of Escape Rooms are puzzle based.
  • Players may play against the game itself or the situation – often trying to escape something or rescue someone.
  • Each character usually has a special ability – there’s often a medic with restorative powers as well as skills specific to the challenges present in that particular game eg water carrier, scout…
  • As you are working as a team you usually need to share knowledge, skills, cards and there are often limitations on actions which allow you to share, hindering your progress – for instance you have to be on a shared space with the person you want to trade information with.
  • There are always issues of balance inherent in co-operative games – for instance if I decide to use my actions travelling to share information with someone then I can’t do other necessary actions like healing someone or moving someone to safety. There are always difficult decisions and trade offs to be made.
  • There are extra events that can benefit or disadvantage the team usually in a deck of cards – in some co-op games as soon as one person dies you all lose – in others like Sub Terra and Forest of Fate there’s a penalty but you can finish without the rest of your team.
  • There are challenges built in to the mechanics of the game – characters actions, the game events, pieces that move against the players – sand that builds up in the desert impeding your movement, horrors in Sub Terra that hunt down the player nearest to them …
  • Usually in rule books we start with a win condition. Complete the following actions, have the highest score and you will have won. However it seems more usual to list an alarming array of ways to lose in co-operative games! If one of you dies, if you run out of water, if there’s too much sand, if a certain tile is removed, if a marker reaches a certain point…..
Within and around these common features there is endless diversity in co-operative games. They come in all sorts of themes with all sorts of stories, mechanics, tricks and pitfalls. They are very popular.
One of the concerns that sometimes comes up when we look at co-operative games is that in some groups, one dominant person can lead the whole group’s experience. Needless to say, having one or two people in the group tell everyone what they should do on their turn is neither co-operative nor enjoyable. In a group where you don’t know people very well it can be difficult to deal with and beyond learning the game you may only really learn who you don’t want to play with again! If that is a recurrent problem in a group that you play with frequently a good alternative is to play a game like Magic Maze. In Magic Maze you are a team of heroes off to the mall to steal all the equipment you need for your next adventure. Because you are stealing, you must be stealthy. Therefore, this game is played in silence. Each of you has your own ability and you share control of the four heroes. There is no way to force other people to do what you want them to do. You can suggest that they should ‘do something’ by placing the ‘DO SOMETHING pawn’ in front of them and gazing beseechingly into their eyes but ultimately the team that wins really must work together. You must observe what other people are doing and adapt your actions. Oh and there’s a timer! Magic Maze stops the alpha gamer in their tracks and is a perfect leveller.
When played well and with a team who are keen to work together co-op games are loads of fun. You experience success and losses together, all berate the player who turns over the wrong card together (!), and you can end on a real sense of shared achievement. It can help unite your group if you have people at both ends of the competitive spectrum. Lots of people with children really enjoy them as it gets rid of that situation where one child either always loses or at least feels like they do. It is interesting to play them both with strangers and with people who you know well as sometimes the challenges show us different sides of people that we wouldn’t normally see. (And I do mean that in a positive way!)
For the purposes of the Games Jam and the theme of Adventure we focussed on games with a Choose Your Own Adventure mechanic which take players on an adventure: Tales of Evil and Forest of Fate – they both have strong use of setting and a strong storyline.

While the books are there to offer inspiration, setting, character and story there is no pressure to stick to them rigidly. We discussed the possibility of exploring the experience of characters who are perhaps overlooked in the novels, the use of choose your own adventure for characters to have adventures outside the confines of the novel, and to explore the world of the novel. There are few limits in this competition – the novels are more of a springboard than a constraint.

I always describe Forest of Fate as ‘like Dungeons and Dragons lite’ – you can develop your character as much or as little as you wish. It uses some of the main characters you would expect to find in DnD: thief, warrior, shaman, sorcerer, bard, ranger. The game comes with an online reference that you can use online or print out or, if you play it a lot you can treat yourself to the book.

Each character has a range of skills and a choice of two special abilities. These are the skills your party must use to make it through the Forest of Fate. As you go on your journey you may also gain items and artefacts which will help you.

I chose to share this game as I think it has so much flexibility designed into it. Each card that you pass through as you journey through the forest of fate has four different sets of numbers to take you to different locations in the book. Your skill level then dictates where you go next on your journey. There are lots of choices to make and as I said if you fancy you can role play your character and if you don’t you don’t have to.

Instead of characters who die going out of the game they have the option to take on a ghostly ability. When they die they can choose to become a vengeful spirit hellbent on messing up the remaining party who they blame for their death.

The second game we looked at was Tales of Evil. This is an 80s themed adventure game. Think Stranger Things – someone has gone missing and your gang need to find them. The theme of this one is brilliant it really is an immersive experience. All of the components are thoughtfully designed to add to the story. As you move around the game board you will have decisions to make – there may be areas to search where you may find weapons or other useful ‘stuff; areas that are blocked off, passages that you can risk going through. There are monsters to battle sometimes as a group, sometimes individually.

The game also includes Fusion events which I believe are unique to this game – for example you may have to creep in the room to not wake a monster. If there is any noise – your phone rings, someone knocks at the door, the dog barks – then the monster wakes and you follow the story this way. If you get through in silence then you follow that path! Or, it might be freezing fog and you have to find gloves. Set the timer and run! The idea behind this is a kind of horror movie vibe where the movie starts to seep into your real life. It’s very effective and adds to the tension and fun of the game.

Tales of Evil is a fairly complex game and here I have just given you a rough overview, just enough hopefully to get you thinking. The book which accompanies the game begins with a teaching round which is brilliant. It walks you through all the features you will come across as you progress through the story and explains how each element, mechanic, or component works. I loved this as I am the sort of person who learns each game by having a practice run through. I can not learn simply by reading the rule book. I have to layout the game, move the pieces and experience it.

Another lovely feature is that people are encouraged to write their own stories using the format in the book. Link here: http://www.talesofevil.com/toecreator/

One issue with the game is that despite achieving a balance of female/ male characters and dressing those females appropriately, there are too many white characters. When you’re designing a new game you must think about inclusion. Think about your audience. If you don’t see yourself represented in something – film, magazines, adverts, games why would you engage with them? I don’t know why you wouldn’t make a game as inclusive as possible.

Next week’s online session will be on the theme of Life, Death and Other Worlds. Find out more and join us here.

In the meantime if you are thinking of designing a game for the Leeds Libraries Games Jam have a think about these questions.

Think about complexity? How involved do you want it to be?
How long should your game last?
What age/ reading age is it for?
Are they board gamers?
The winning conditions in Forest of Fate were varied and basically involve some of you surviving! In Tales of Evil you win by rescuing the lost child and solving the Mystery of the Demon Puppet Mistress. (I haven’t finished it yet so I don’t know!) What will winning look like?
How easy will it be to win? Lose?
Your game?
Is a co-operative game what you want?
What are the good things and bad things about co-operative games in your opinion?
Is choose your own adventure a good vehicle to explore the novel in your game?
Make a note of which elements you want to include?
Even if the players don’t determine everything, could you include some choices?
How much luck will be involved?

Come along to a Cards or Die event and play some games.