The Games Convention Survival Kit

Last year I volunteered at UK Games Expo in Birmingham. It was fantastic. I met loads of lovely gamers, had a great time helping people find their way round and played some fab games too. I also picked up some bargains at the Bring and Buy. This year I am braving Aire Con as a punter, it will be strange not having a role or a function. But I’m going in equipped with some valuable info after last year. I’m taking a survival kit (worth £25) and one lucky winner (in the UK) will receive one too. Simply like, share and follow on facebook to be in with a chance: click on the fb logo below to find us.
Spare Bag
This is essential. Only a fool believes they will stick to their careful budget during a games con. Cut to me wrestling with games under each arm and an over-filled bag which would no longer zip up whilst trying to board a train. Yep! Always take a spare bag like this stylish and thoroughly apt one from Hippo Warehouse.
Good quality refillable water bottle.
Apart from needing to remortgage the house to cover my games habit the next big expense was keeping hydrated and sustained. I wanted to make the most of the experience and I didn’t want to waste time queueing for anything that wasn’t game related! Taking a refillable water bottle is a good call and snacks too. I’m treating one lucky devil to this fancy one –
Hand Sanitiser and Wet Ones
These two have a permanent home in my rucksack. I don’t understand why anyone would not carry them. Most sweaty situations can be relieved by the use of a wet one and there’s something about being out and about all day that makes me appreciate a bit of hand sanitiser. So these are not so much Games Con essentials but life essentials.
Plasters for delicate footsies
The amount of ground you cover at an expo is mindblowing. If we’d walked that amount of steps up a hill we’d be posting smug photos of ourselves up a mountain. Somehow at UK Expo I escaped without needing these but plenty of folk did, so this is more of a just in case item. I feel like the law of sod dictates that if they weren’t in my bag my feet would have blistered and then fallen off; better safe than sorry.
Pawn of your choice: you packed a survival kit why shouldn’t you declare your dominance. Take the pawn colour of your choice and insist on using your own pawn in all games. This is completely reasonable behaviour and will definitely help you make friends*. You’ll notice that black is king/ queen of the castle – the rest of you are dirty rascals! Guess which colour I always play? Also, spare dice (including a lovely Wotan Games die) – you just never know.
*there’s a chance people will refuse to play with you but that’s just their jealousy talking – they wish they’d had the amazing foresight to pack a pawn.
Bottle Opener
Not essential but stylish and very handy, I saw this from Amazing Trading while I was searching for actual essentials and couldn’t resist. This says a lot about my ability to attend a games con with the aforesaid “budget”…
A quick play game
I’ve thoughtfully illustrated a set of cards for you so you can play rock, paper, scissors, lizard, spock with the person next to you in the queue. You could play with your hands but even if I do say so myself, these cards are lovely and there’s a handy ‘what trumps what’ card to help avoid any unpleasantness. This is a super quick game to pass the time.
Other bag sized quick games include: Love Letter, Dobble, Poo, Gobblin’ Goblins and of course just a pack of cards.
Hope to see some of you at Aire Con.
What would you include in your survival kit?
What are your games con essential tips?
Let me know in the comments below!

Get Together with Games

The problem with my elevator pitch is that I never get to the end of it before someone joins in. When I started the business everyone said – you need an elevator pitch. I looked askance and they said – you have to be able to explain the business in less than a minute. (With society’s dwindling attention span that’s probably more like 3 seconds now- but that’s a different blog about how board games will save society). So, I start my ‘pitch’ and before I get to the end I’m in a conversation about board games – I’m scribbling recommendations down in my notebook; they’re asking me for recommendations or we are just reminiscing. But it’s not all reminiscing – the board game renaissance is in full swing.
I’ve been working for this crazy woman for a year now and I have no regrets. I love my new job even when she forgets to give me a day off for two weeks straight. The best thing about my job is bringing people together over board games. (Apart from Monopoly – but that’s a separate blog!)
At one event, a couple worked their way through a series of quickish, ‘light’ games. As they asked me for another recommendation, they shared the fact it was their first date. They had never met in person before. And, it was going well. What more excellent way could there be to get to know someone on a different level than the normal first date chit chat enables you to? Just think what you learn by playing a game with someone: how strategic they are, how serious, how gracious in defeat or victory. And, importantly – whether they are any fun. And this is all extra information – you still chat but if you’re shy and the chat dries up, you have something to focus on and talk about.
When I worked in a hotel in York, working unsociable hours meant I often went to ‘things’ on my own: theatre, cinema, gigs. I enjoyed them but the problem was they were all fairly solitary environments and I would often experience little or no human interaction, even though there were many people there. If there had been games nights or Random Encounter, I’d have definitely hung out there.
I am always so pleased and proud when people turn up to my events on their own. Especially women – as a woman I often felt limited as to where I could go and feel safe so it’s particularly important to me. I want to offer a safe, inclusive space where people can interact with others at a level that they are comfortable with. It’s so lovely to be part of a community where acceptance feels like the norm. That’s not to say we don’t have to work on accessibility and spreading the board gaming love. There are so many people out there working on this – just check my twitter feed, it’s full of hope for an inclusive future. The board gaming world is but a microcosm of the big wide world and if we get it right here then who knows what we can achieve…
Whether it’s at weddings, parties, a quiet night in or a night down the pub – games give us the opportunity to just be together. The pressure to make conversation is removed. We can immerse ourselves in a game – forget all our worries and stresses, ignore the beeping phone and just be.
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#cardsordie bit of escape on New Year's Eve
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All my great gaming experiences are about other people – meeting new people, spending time with ‘old’ friends, teaching and learning new games, remembering old ones. So, dig a game out and get together.
This weekend we’re getting together over a game of Kodama and Koi Pond. Strategy and prettiness; perfect. Then on Monday I’m getting 32 teenagers together for an Exploding Kittens Off – and I can’t wait!
Who are you getting together with and what are you playing? Let me know in the comments below or on our facebook page.
Join Cards or Die at one of our board games events.

Games for Schools: trick kids into learning vital skills through board gaming.

This week’s blog responds to questions from teachers and behavioural support workers who provide a safe space in secondary schools at breaks and lunchtimes for vulnerable youngsters. The answer to whether you should have games and which games you should buy is a relevant one in all learning environments. Games are an excellent way of enabling young people to connect: games have a clear and certain set of rules; there is a focus to your interaction which removes the need for having to ‘do chatting’ and in addition winning and losing are both valuable. Winning and losing are opportunities to teach pupils socially acceptable behaviour, where we are able to demonstrate how to be a gracious winner and how to be resilient when we lose. Failure is vital in learning and games allow us to lose in an environment where pupils are safe to take risks. Losing is often how we learn; we learn not to do ‘that’ again and we learn that losing isn’t the terrible disaster we thought it would be. I have played strategy games with adults and children where the response to losing is an instant ‘Right, I know what I’m doing now. Can we play again?’ Games let us experiment with losing when the stakes are low.
When you’re trying to wangle money out of the high ups for some games you can quote Dweck of course:
“Did I win? Did I lose? Those are the wrong questions. The correct question is: Did I make my best effort?” If so, he says, “You may be outscored but you will never lose.” ― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
or, as I prefer – Michael Jordan:
I have selected a variety of games which reinforce elements of the curriculum and helpfully explicitly linked a valid Learning Outcome so when they say ‘We can’t afford that’, not only can you quote Dweck, you can point to the Learning Outcome and say “See! It’s Educational and Cross Curricular” (they love that!)
Zombie Dice
Zombie Dice is an exercise in probability but kids don’t need to think about that. They just need to be a Zombie and eat as many brains as possible before they are shot. This is quick to learn and quick to play. Roll the dice to determine your fate, score brains, get shot or watch your victim make a run for it. Each turn you roll three dice. You can stop at any time and log your score but if you get shot 3 times you lose any brains you scored that turn.
The dice are weighted to allow you to calculate your risk. Red dice mean you are more likely to be shot, green you are more likely to feast on brains and yellow could go either way. So as they draw the dice you can encourage them to think about how likely it is they’ll have their head shot off!
The standard game is about £12.99 and any number can play.
Learning Outcome: Pupils are learning to work out probability and also to take calculated risks.
Escape from the Curse of The Temple
Escape from The Curse of The Temple is one of our favourites. It’s a co-operative game so, one dies, you all die! You roll the dice to enable you to lay more tiles and find the exit. There are gems to be collected so that you will be able to escape. If you roll black masks your dice will ‘lock’, this means you can’t reroll them until you’ve rolled enough yellow masks or until a teammate rolls them for you. It only lasts 10 minutes so the team work is intense and usually involves a lot of shouting. A CD soundtrack adds to the intensity or, you can play with a timer. It is without fail the game that people want to play again if they lose.
Once you have mastered the basic game there is an expansion pack included with curses that add challenges: you are not allowed to speak; you play with one hand on your head; if your dice goes off the table you’ve lost it! So although it’s a more expensive game (around £37.50) it’s a good investment. It reinforces the idea of learning from failure and also that sometimes it’s fun even when we fail! Up to 5 people can play and it can be played solo so that you are just competing against the game.
Here we are shouting at each other and swearing a bit – we’d had wine which is unavailable at most school break times!
Learning Outcome: Pupils are learning to listen in a busy atmosphere, they make quick decisions and work as a team to achieve a shared outcome.
People have mixed reactions to Fluxx. The title of the game says it all. It is in a constant state of fluxx – each turn you play cards which can change how many cards you pick up; how many cards you play on a turn and even what you need to do to win. I have the Zombie version (are you noticing a theme?!) but there is a basic version too. I have played it with a teenager with Aspergers and I expected that he would hate it but in fact he thought it was funny that the rules were so chaotic and I think it’s been good for him to experiment with rapid change. One minute you’ve got your strategy all sorted, you are definitely going to win on your next turn. Then BAM! rule change, goal change and you’ve lost!
It is quick to learn and you can have any number of people playing. Because losing and winning in this game is so arbitrary it actually makes the game more fun, there is no pressure at all to create a complex, intelligent strategy. There is an element of strategy but that must be constantly adapted which is it’s own challenge.
It costs around £10 and needs 2 or more players.
Learning Outcome: Pupils are learning to constantly adapt to changes and amend their plans accordingly.
Exploding Kittens
Exploding Kittens is a relatively quick game for up to 5 players. The aim of the game is to avoid picking up the Exploding Kitten card and instead try to make an opponent pick it up. The theme is one most people will engage with immediately; the illustrations on the cards are quirky and the text is good fun. Cards carry clear instructions so it is a fun, easy game to play. There is an element of strategy and choices to be considered when playing your cards. The rule that you play as many cards as you like on your go (before picking up a card to end your turn) means that you need to consider how cards work together to avoid the kitten or have it blow up in an opponent’s face!
Definitely a fun choice. It costs around £15.
Learning Outcome: Pupils will plan and adapt plans based on what others do. Reluctant readers will be encouraged to read the cards.
Great Shakespearean Deaths
Available from the RSC, this is basically Top Trumps but with fabulous illustrations by Chris Riddell (a game that can be used to engage reluctant readers, perhaps pointing them towards the Goth Girl novels). There is no strategy or skill involved just some straightforward weighing up of odds and in the style of Horrible Histories, homing in on the gruesome bits of Shakespeare to engage learners. Characters are rated on
  • speed of death
  • gore and brutality
  • fairness
  • piteousness
  • dramatic quality
  • last words
In particular piteousness and fairness could be used to provoke discussion and consideration of the audience’s response to characters as well as Shakespeare’s presentations of them. This could be used to lead pupils into a classic exam question ‘How does Shakespeare present …’
Learning Outcome: Pupils will be more familiar with Shakespearean characters and quotations.
Mr Jack
While it is easy to learn the basics of this and it is easily accessible, you can also enable pupils to employ a lot of strategy. When we first played we played in a very straightforward way and soon realised that there is a much deeper, more strategic level. Much of this lies in the object of the game and the cleverness of the asymmetry: one player — Mr Jack must avoid detection while the second player – The Inspector must discover Mr Jack’s assumed identity before time runs out. The Inspector moves the character tokens (Holmes, Watson and Toby the dog) 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. It is an excellent strategy game for two players with some links to English Literature; Holmes fans will approve of the use of Toby the dog.
Mr Jack costs about £12.99
Learning Outcome: Pupils can strategise and plan, changing their plans as they find out new information.
Another game with a very simple premise, allowing pupils to learn the game quickly, yet with endless strategic opportunities is Tantrix. As a bonus it is made from Bakelite and comes in a handy carrying pouch so is probably the most durable of all the games recommended here.
You choose a colour and then you must form the longest line or largest loop of that colour. There are some extra rules where you must fill certain spaces first and you can’t create 4 sided gaps but other than that, that’s it. The beauty of games like this is that your brain isn’t filled with rules you are instead absorbed by the challenge. It is another game that people want to play multiple times once they have grasped the objective.
Plays up to 4 and there are also solo variations and puzzles that you can play. It costs about £20.
Learning Outcome: Pupils will consider patterns and strategy; taking time to consider their strategy and making predictions about the strategy of others.
There are so many good games out there that can be used effectively in schools (and workplaces) to aid learning and the development of teamwork, this is just a selection to get you started. Even Plato agrees, and he knew loads about stuff:
“Do not keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.” -Plato
Let me know what games are a success at your school.
If you want to find out more about board gaming in schools email me to arrange a visit.
Come along and play these fab games at a Cards or Die event. (3)

Which one of us can be said to be truly to blame? Well, it’s not me.

In fact it all depends on who you ask: May blames Corbyn; Corbyn blames the Tories; Trump blames Obama, or members of staff he sacked, or a book, or just a straw he’s clutching with his tiny baby hands. He also denies climate change, being racist and being secretly fat. And it’s not just people who are in the blame and denial game: rats deny they were to blame for the plague; a horse called Hashtags blames his rider for their defeat in a recent competition and the whole of Australia denies that it’s their fault the UK has flu. Denial and blame are endemic and it has been ever thus. In medieval times however, if you cast about blame in a random and unconvincing manner it might cost you your head.
The Game of Blame is a card game all about shirking your duty: the perfect gift for the politician or rat in your life. It is published by Warm Acre and was written and designed by Richard Wolfrik Galland (of Sabrewolf games).
The aim of the game is to avoid the Queen’s wrath by making sure other players get left with the issues that you were appointed to deal with but spectacularly avoided. Fail and you will be executed or (worse still according to some guy called ‘Romeo’)… banished.
Each player is assigned a role, each with its own special ability. So, you become one of these:
…but your role changes faster than the Trump administration so you’ll need to be on your toes.
Next, draw up issue cards – such as: backfiring battlewands, mutiny, plague and another holy war.
On your turn you can bury issues or add them to the blame pile. If you are forced to take the blame pile and you are the player whose role appears on the most cards, you can run no longer and must accept the blame. The game ends when the draw pile is empty at which point the cards in your hand that are labelled as your responsibility, along with any Treason cards you haven’t offloaded, (these count for a hefty 6 points) are added up and the highest scoring hand loses.
These are the basics – you can check out the full rules here.
By far my favourite thing about this game is how well written it is. The cards are sepia toned with medieval font which unfortunately makes them tricky to read but it is worth persevering. By contrast the summary cards, character cards and Treason cards use a much darker font and are easy to read. I would definitely like to see a darker font on the issue cards in future runs. The text is entertaining and well crafted. Here are a few of my favourite issues (to blame my erstwhile friends for- all’s fair in love, war, politics and taxes!)
On your turn you play up to 3 cards. The number of cards you play dictates what happens next. There’s a turn summary card (I love those).
As a quick fun game this works really well but we have done a bit of adaptation. It says the game takes 30 minutes which is long enough but we were finding it often takes longer. Rounds will pass where the draw pile does not diminish. We have been experimenting with drawing a card each turn and for a really speedy round, taking the blame pile out rather than adding it to your hand. We have yet to finalise our house rules around this but we are enjoying playing around with it. The game has so much potential and we love it enough to fiddle about with the rules a bit – quite a compliment from us!
Do you have games where you have adapted or created house rules? Which ones and why?
I’d be interested to read about your experiences of adapting games, so comment below! (4)

Push Your Luck Games – warning: mild peril.

Push your luck games are the marmite of tabletop. Often involving little or no strategy, instead they rely on risk calculation and a large helping of luck. You can calculate that the odds of being shot in the head are low and then… boom… no head! I know. I’ve been there. Frequently. I guess that’s the other marmite element; I lose my head and then just have another game. It is high speed risk taking with the consequences removed. In these games I assume an air of confident optimism (sadly lacking from other areas of my life) usually resulting in my sudden demise and perhaps reinforcing the theory that in real life everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
‘Big Risks for High Rollers’. Yes! This encapsulates me: a high roller from the 70s.
I picked up Waddingtons’ Stun from the UK Expo bring and buy sale. It plays up to 6 which is always a bonus at events where often people like to play in larger groups.
You have to collect 5 chips to win. And there’s the rub. I’m already hooked because I believe I can win and easily too.
I’m realising now that this explains why I spend a proportion of every decent UK beach holiday with my nose pressed against a 2p machine that’s “just about to drop. I’ll stay here. Change this £1 for 2ps. GO!”
You turn over cards, stopping only when your nerve fails. Turn up a stun card and your turn “ENDS IMMEDIATELY” as it says in the rules. Verbatim. Shouty capitals and all.
There are also Stun Plus and Stun Minus cards with which to scupper your opposition, always an enjoyable aspect in a game.
Stop turning up cards in time, save them and trade them for a chip: slow and steady wins the race. But, where’s the fun in that? One more… go on… I dare you!
by Ludi Creations. Plays 2 – 5. Age 6.
The most striking thing about this game is its beauty. When I saw Daniel Solis’ name on the box I was not surprised at all (Kodama and Koi Pond are also beautiful games). So beautiful was it that it took me a while to realise that it is at its root a push your luck game.
First, let’s take a moment to enjoy the board. I challenge you to open it without going ‘Ahhhhhhh’ in what you believe to be an angelic voice! It’s a pop up book of a board and it’s mini.
Then, we learn that our heroic mice must defeat the red dragon and recover the Sacred Golden Cheese. I was already completely sold on it by this point.
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.
Clever, eh? There’s more randomness than 52 card pick up, there’s second guessing what other people are up to and there’s peril little mouse, so much peril.
You will want to play this many, many times.
Zombie Dice
by Steve Jackson
Another game that accommodates many players, Zombie Dice is a quick fun game that is always a hit at events. You are a zombie, you must roll the dice to find out if you eat braaaaaiiiiins, get shot in the head or if your victim escapes.
Re-roll escaping victims or just keep rolling until you fear for your head. Three shots to the head and your head fully explodes.
But never fear, it will regrow in time for your next turn. It is a low scoring game and grasping that is the route to success.
The best part of this is that the dice are weighted to allow you to calculate your risk. Red dice mean you are more likely to be shot, green you are more likely to feast on brains and yellow could go either way.
Yahtzee boasts that it is a game of skill, not reliant on luck. MB clearly understood that luck sells less than skill but if we’re honest surely being lucky is the only way to win this!
Classic Yahtzee and Yahtzee Word are the sort of games that sound like nothing when you describe them, but are super addictive to play. Roll the dice and collect points for words or sets of dice. Every round you must record a score – you can choose to record a zero for a category and try instead to get an ‘easier’ category. For instance, you may decide there’s no way you will roll 5 of a kind or get a 7 letter word but you may get a 3 letter word or 3 of a kind. So, you put a 0 next to 5 of a kind and go instead for 3 of a kind. It’s hard to capture the addictive nature of them – I think it’s the fact you are pushing your luck – deciding that rather than putting a zero for a low scoring category you will risk it and go for the big scores, which makes it so compelling. You have just as much chance of winning as your opponent. They can not outwit you or just be cleverer or better than you. But maybe these are just the words of someone who lost too many games as a child and is now being destroyed on a regular basis by a smart, ruthless 12 year old.
There are bonus points to be achieved if you score certain amounts or fill certain boxes which lend more importance to the decision making process. Yahtzee word does feel more reliant on skill than Classic Yahtzee as creating words under pressure is a challenging task, and the addition of the timer makes it more pressurised which is always more fun!
I love pushing my luck in these games. Weighing up your options and calculating your chances carefully is the way to boss all of these games. But, to get the most enjoyment out of them…. slowly, carefully, reveal the card or roll the dice, then shout at the cards and dice, shout at people who are winning or losing, and take big risks – after all you won’t really lose your head.
What’s your favourite type of game? Strategy? Luck? Something else?
Come along and play these at a Cards or Die event. (5)

Matchmaker: Pride and Prejudice meets Five Card Stud.

2-4 players
60 minutes
Object of the game
Gain the most prestige (scored using tokens) by creating successful matches, playing host and impressing the most influential people.
The ladies and gentlemen who keenly await your matchmaking expertise have four traits: charm, virtue, rank and fortune. Each character values one trait above all others in their potential partner. (The symbol on their portrait indicates this). Jane for instance values virtue, while that cad Wickham cares only about his fortune.
The game seems simple enough. You propose a match, which another player accepts or declines. You score based on the traits shown on your opponent’s card. The next phase involves rolling the dice which is where it gets clever – the options are weighted, not completely random; If you roll a “?” you change your die to your character’s preferred trait – and this adds up to a 50/50 chance of getting your character’s preferred trait. So choose your matches carefully!
It’s like online dating – mostly chance. It can go horribly wrong, but if you’ve done your due diligence (facebook stalking, twitter stalking, camped in a bush in their garden for a week… not to mention blocked all the fascists from your profile) then your odds are good. Well, much better anyway…
In the first round of this I struggled to get my head round it. It seemed largely chance and I could not understand when to accept and when to decline a proposal. The key to this is understanding your odds and careful comparison of the four trait scores. To say I find this thing called “Maths” challenging would be an understatement; as soon as numbers are involved a big smog of can’t descends over my brain. I worked out the odds but then had no idea what to do with that information. It took my partner (an Austen-phobic maths lover) to work it out.
In subsequent rounds I became more proficient but my partner was not so gripped. While he loved the mechanic of the game he could not get on board with the theme (no lasers or space ships), whereas I loved the theme but found the mechanic challenging.
It reminds me a little of poker (which I am fairly hopeless at – I can bluff, I just have to rely on luck rather than any calculation of odds otherwise part of my brain melts). If you love Jane Austen and you have a decent grip of maths you will love this game.
The game is well designed and the mechanics are the work of an evil genius. The cards are beautifully illustrated with delicate artwork which wouldn’t look out of place in an Austen novel. The use of tokens is practical and a pleasingly tactile way of scoring. I’m just sad that this will not get much play in our house where the English is better than Maths argument still simmers as a dangerous undercurrent in every conversation!
So, I’m on the lookout for the perfect match for this charming and challenging game:

Bring it 2018! I’m ready for you.

So, it’s that time of year again when we discuss resolutions. One year I asked the children about what resolutions they were making:
Child A: ‘You should have blonde hair’
Child B: ‘Yeah and clean the house more’
Me: ‘Not for me, for you… FOR YOU!’
So, I won’t be asking them again! Instead, I shall consult wiser oracles… first up Wilkos…
1. Do more of what makes you happy
As soon as I saw this mug I knew that I could make this a permanent resolution. The nice thing about this resolution is, it’s not measurable. AT ALL. So, when I complete my positives journal (which I try to do daily but realistically do sporadically) I can congratulate myself on my small successes. As long as I do some things that make me happy …a game of Carcassonne, a phonecall, sending a postcard, having a bath with nice bubblebath, refolding the towels in the airing cupboard… We don’t have to achieve world peace in order to celebrate our happiness and our successes. The world is a stressful and messy place and often it is the smallest acts which make a difference to our mental state.
Parks and Recreation is a brilliantly uplifting comedy full of wisdom and kindness (apart from for poor Gerry); the black dog usually goes out for a walk while I watch it so where better to source Resolution Number 2
2. Treat Yoself
I am often incredibly hard on myself. I use words when I speak to myself that I would never say to anyone else because I know they are too cruel, too vindictive. I am locked in an endless battle of varying intensity with the part of myself that hates me and that can be incredibly tiring. So, for me concentrating on the feeling that I deserve to treat myself is a tricky one but worth chasing. I am not talking about investing in a deluxe batman costume for £300 (note the advised use of the word investing) nor am I saying I’m going to start buying every new game that comes out but I can afford to treat myself with time – a wander round an art gallery in the city centre for instance, time to sketch or paint. 2018 will be the year of the well deserved treat.
In 2012 Charlie Brooker made resolutions for other people. Comedy Gold – I have used this blog for non fiction analysis with many, many English classes. Click here to read it. And so, here is my resolution for the world.
3. Don’t be a dick.
There are so many subsections of this I scarcely know where to start. Here’s some top tips:
  • Listen to each other
  • Save giving advice for when you are asked for it
  • If someone doesn’t want you to touch them, don’t.
  • If someone is being friendly don’t automatically assume they want to have sex with you.
  • Be aware of your privileges.
  • Go out of your way to be kind and inclusive.
  • If you have to preface something with a warning about it being offensive/ racist/ sexist…. then don’t say it out loud. At all. Ever.
  • Don’t send something in a private message that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face in public.
  • If in doubt, just be kind.
Of course, if this applies to you you’re more than likely completely oblivious or didn’t even read it, so rather than being informative or transformative information for dicks, this list is more of a celebration of how lovely all you awesome folk are.
The next wise oracle is Kickstarter. Lovely kickstarter allows me to back new games and then sends them to me long after I forget that (a) I backed them and (b) I paid for them already. It’s like Father Christmas actually exists and past me has recommended games for him to buy me!
4. Play More Games
This sounds easy but I have played a lot of games this year. Fortunately, I have kept no record of how long I have whiled away playing board games nor how many excellent people I have encountered through gaming. This means of course that provided I play a lot, this is pretty much a nailed on success. I’m going to start with the ones I’ve got recently and not played at all or enough yet. So, you can look forward to reviews of Matchmaker, Blame, Banishment, and Diesel Demolition Derby.
And before Steven Schwarz says it, I’ll say it – I also need to play Jaipur as he has recommended it to me at every possible juncture. Don’t believe me? Look on Cards or Die’s facebook page. He’s a Jaipur evangelist.
Just as past me is awesome at recommending games so too past me has set some awesome resolutions which I achieve year on year and if it ain’t broke…
Number 5, the same things I always resolve in order to guarantee success: swear more and more inventively; eat the bare minimum of fruit required to avoid malnutrition; eat plenty of chocolate. I’ve said it many times now but every time I eat a square of dairy milk it tastes identical to the last square of dairy milk I ate. This is never true of Satsumas. Fruit is unpredictable – so don’t trust it! And, if you can eat delicious food and play games so much the better; visit Random Encounter to join me in this most challenging of resolutions.
The key to useful resolutions is to choose things you can definitely do, that you can chip away at day by day, especially when your mental health is not as resilient as you would like it to be. I hope that these can contribute to the higher aim of me being better and having a mentally healthier 2018.
And… of course come along to a Cards or Die event!

Don’t miss the Cards or Die ‘back to the grindstone offer’!

So, your team have emerged from their cheese induced stupor, worked out what day it is and arrived back at work. But focussing after the aimless drift of the Christmas period is tough. Give your team a short break that will recharge their batteries; boost their brain power, productivity and team spirit. Let Cards or Die provide a one hour lunch break gaming session for groups of up to 15 people for just £75.
We will bring a bespoke selection of games from retro favourites, modern classics and plenty of quick strategic gems to get everyone firing on all cylinders ready for a productive afternoon.
Just a taster of what we offer – we also offer away day, training packages and bespoke training game design. Get in touch to find out more.
*Price based on Leeds and surrounding areas.
If you are further afield please get in touch for a quotation.
Offer ends 31st January 2018 (6)

Gifts for two game lovers. (And two lovers of games).

A wise old bear once said that it was much friendlier with two. As it is in Winnie the Pooh, so too it is in boardgames. I often come across games which are better with more players and it can be hard to think of games for couples: so here are some suggestions for pairs of game lovers.
Always the first game out at every event. Some people use this as a warm up game, and others play it happily all night until someone tips the table over… As with all the best games there is a simple premise and truckloads of strategy. Push your partners marbles off the board before they push yours off. You may move up to three of your own marbles together in order to push your opponents off the board – but you must always move more of your own than you push of theirs. So, for example, move 3 black, push 2 white, or move 2 white, push 1 black. That’s it. It sounds simple but quickly gets fiendishly difficult. A quick strategic game that you will want to play again and again.
Mancala is an ancient game: hundreds and hundreds of years old. As with many great oral traditions, rules have been passed down, adapted and assimilated into gospel truths. The rules I teach – and consequently the rules we play by in the pub – are as follows: empty any pod and redistribute the olives in a clockwise direction dropping one in each subsequent pod. If the last olive you drop lands in a cup, you get an extra turn. The person with the most olives in their cup wins.
One of the things that I really love about this game is how tactile it is; as soon as it comes out people are interested and want to play. And, just like with Abalone, you play one round and you’re hooked. I end every round convinced I’ve worked out a winning strategy. And sometimes… I have!
There are some beautiful hand crafted versions available on Etsy.
Mr Jack
I found Mr Jack (pocket version) tucked away in the treasure trove that is ‘Just Games’ in Whitby. As big fans of all things Sherlock in our house (my partner enjoys Elementary, my daughter enjoys 221B and I enjoy Benedick Cumberbatch) it seemed an obvious choice. As a bonus it comes in a small box but is set out like a board game, a perfect alternative to card games while you’re on holiday.
While it is easy to learn the basics and easily accessible, you can also play with a lot of strategy. We started off playing in a very straightforward way and soon realised that you can play at a much deeper, strategic level. Much of this lies in the cleverness of the asymmetry: Mr Jack must avoid detection while The Inspector must discover Mr Jack’s identity before time runs out. 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 disrupt their view to stop the Inspector deducing Mr Jack’s identity. The game is well balanced; neither character has any advantage over the other. We have played this a lot.
One of the challenges of promoting Board Gaming Events is finding pictures of people smiling whilst concentrating. Here’s Mark having fun playing Mr Jack:
Terrible Monster
This is a perfect two player game. Your objective is to deal enough damage to kill your opponent. Each player only has 4 life tokens, and the life tokens are actual hearts (for fans of romantic realism)
There are three monsters in the pack and spell cards which have various effects. All of the cards state clearly what you must do when you play the card and many work together, so consider your choices carefully. For instance, Terrible Monster deals 4 damage and so when played can end the game… but you need to be able to summon it, and both the Leech and Deduction cards allow your opponent to take Terrible Monster from your grasp!
This is another of our favourites – you can check it out on Sweet Lemon’s website
Love Letter
What review of games for couples would be complete without Love Letter?
Love letter plays up to four people but is just as good with two. The way it is presented makes it a lovely present; the cards come in a velvet pouch and I pimped mine up by replacing the standard red scoring cubes with love hearts.
Your aim is to get your love letter to the Princess or failing that to the person closest to her. You play with a hand of one, picking up a card and playing one each turn. But – discard the Princess card and you lose immediately! It can be a brutal game but then courting princesses is fraught with danger.
And if you want something completely different, there’s always Naked Guess Who. And yes that’s a real thing. And don’t blame me if you click on the link.
Come along and play at a Cards or Die event. (7)

Wondering what to buy the little legs in your life this Christmas? Games of course!

Friends have been asking me ‘What games should I get my kids this Christmas?’ I know that the subtext here is a. what will keep my darlings gainfully occupied? b. what will I enjoy if I decide to play too? and c. what doesn’t require 2 hours of rule reading and painful adjudication?
Luckily for you, I’ve got the answer. In fact, 5 answers because that’s the sort of friend I am! The games I’ve chosen are quick to learn, will be out of the box more than they’re in it and are also portable, so you can take them to family get-togethers and all play or leave the kids to it. And once they’re safely tucked up in bed, regardless of how much festive spirit you imbibe you’ll be able to settle down to a sensible, grown up game of Poo.
My years as a teacher mean that I can not share these recommendations without going all geeky about the many benefits of learning through play: accidental learning is my favourite. Not only are games an excellent social tool, reinforcing ideas about turn taking, communicating your own ideas and listening to others, but also the games I’ve chosen encourage children to observe, match patterns and images, count and keep score and some games require quick thinking while some require reflective strategy (on as simple a level as you want). Basically what I’m saying is you can drink wine, knock stuff over, fling poo and send your darlings back to school/ nursery with a smug smile: they are so advanced.
So here are my top 5 Christmas Gifts for children…
1. Poo
2-8 players
5-15 minutes
Poo is a card game in which monkeys fling poo at each other and attempt to deflect poo on to others or clean some poo off themselves. Once you have been covered in a pile of 15 flying poos you are out and the last monkey standing wins.
Poo is an easy game. Start with 5 cards, play one, pick one up. The only age restriction is that there is simple reading to be done but this can be worked around by working in mixed age teams. Or, you could just be able to see a younger players cards – there is no strategy in this one so it doesn’t really matter if you know what someone has in their hand.
You may also want to buy some counters to keep track of scores – I got brown ones of course!
There is a Space version available too – it is currently in stock at your friendly local games shop:
Here is some regular, non-space poo:
For first Wednesday games at The Abbey Inn, I treated us to some poo related prizes. This was a cheap party bag but worth adding to the game for a bit of extra fun:
2. Kodama
2-5 players
40 minutes
This is a game which has a very simple premise and involves some strategy. No reading skills are required as you are matching images. It is, though, a very beautifully designed and illustrated game. In our house ages 9 to 71 have thoroughly enjoyed it but it is certainly suitable for younger (or older) ones too!
At the start of the game you choose a tree spirit, and then you grow your tree by adding branch cards that you choose. You score points for making a contiguous line of a certain feature over a number of adjoining cards. E.g. if you add fireflies to this starting trunk you score 1 point for each firefly on an adjoining branch.
There are also season cards which set challenges; if you achieve the challenges then you score bonus points. For very small children it is easy to leave these out for the first couple of rounds and add them in later.
The finished trees after one of our games.
The only possible down side is that your child may demand a tree spirit as their next pet. I know I have.
3. Click Clack Lumberjack
Plays 2-7
5-10 minutes
Like Jenga – but there’s an axe. Try to knock off the bark without knocking down the tree. To play this children will need some dexterity and it involves turn taking. But, again – no reading. You can encourage them to keep track of their own score of +2 for every piece of bark knocked off, -5 for every section of trunk, and optional bonus points if they knock off the bark which hides the bug stickers.
4. Carcassonne
Plays 2-5
30-45 minutes
There is a junior version of Carcassonne but to be honest I am not a great fan of games adapted for children, I’d rather differentiate myself. That way when they are older you’ve still got the game. A much thriftier investment!
Carcassonne is an incredibly popular and award winning game. It involves no reading, and there are lots of ways of reducing or increasing the strategy involved.
You lay tiles to create a landscape based on the medieval fortified town of Carcassonne. You need to match the tiles so that roads, fields, Abbeys or cities can be completed or added to. The way I’ve explained it to children is that the picture must ‘make sense’. Once you have laid a tile you can claim that territory by placing a meeple on it. Depending on where you place your meeple it can become a Knight (which may or may not say ‘Ni’), a farmer, a highwayman or a monk. Your meeple then earns points depending on the length of the road, or the size of the city, farm or Abbey. Players must play tiles carefully to maximise their score.
o help very small children to learn I would remove farmers and monks. Once they have mastered the basic principle of the game they can be re-introduced. Children are learning to create sequences and patterns as well as calculating and comparing possible scores. Again, they can do as much or as little of this as you want. This is definitely a good investment.
The box is not as portable as it is a little larger than the other 4 games it won’t go in a handbag, unlike poo!
5. Dobble
2-8 players
5 minutes
Dobble is a quick, fun and portable game. The tin of cards contains rules for 5 mini games. Turn over a card and if you are first to shout out the image which matches an image on your card you win the card. The person with the most cards wins. While the game is clearly the work of a mathematical genius – every single card has one image which matches with an image on another card – you don’t need to be a genius to play.

This game tests observational skills and encourages quick thinking and unlike snap, rather than testing the speed of your movement it requires you to verbalise your answer quickly.




It has been so successful that there are many variations available including a Star Wars version!

There are so many good games out there and this is just 5 that are a sure fire hit for any age. If you want any other, more specific recommendations or you want to share your family favourites please get in touch!

Come along to a Cards or Die event and play these and more.