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To summerise… how to build character over the Summer Hols without getting cold or wet.

This summer holiday I have added yet more games to the Cards or Die menu of gaming loveliness, most of which have been pocket sized and easy to travel with.
Two of our recent additions are Fluxx (Zombie) and We Didn’t Playtest This At All. Based on similar theories of brutality, speed and chaos they are both great fun and I am convincing myself that they are character building. I’m basing this on the fact that so far everytime we’ve played, at least one of the children has stormed off in a strop or fought back tears of defeat whilst wailing ‘But I had a plan’ or ‘I’d nearly won’. As a parent, I feel I am duty bound to describe this as character building. Amazingly, and perhaps despite their character building qualities, they have all been keen to play both games again.
A quick comparison
Zombie Fluxx We Didn’t Playtest This
Playing Time 10-40mins 1-5mins
Players 2-6 2-10
Age 8+ 13+
Difficulty D6 D6*
Predictability Low Low
Fun High High
* Basic- you can play this whilst imbibing fine wines
Both games allow you to strategise but you must be prepared to adapt, ditching one strategy and adopting a completely new one on a minute by minute basis. And sometimes you will lose just because and there is nothing you could have done to prevent it. Which can feel arbitrary and unfair. Because it is. If you object to Exploding Kittens or Uno on the basis that they are too reliant on luck and not strategic enough then these are not the games for you. But… if you want to build character then look no further.
A bit more summery….
(Summer – summary….do you see what I did there? If you’ve groaned that is the response I wanted. Thank you)


As the name suggests Fluxx is about constant change. Nothing is fixed. You begin with a hand of three cards and The Basic Rules: draw 1 then play 1. From there on in, it all goes to hell in a handcart. Players can introduce new rules which affect how many you draw, play and discard. New rules take effect immediately so if you place a draw 3 card on top of the basic rule card you immediately draw another two cards.
At the beginning you are goal-less. No one knows what they need to do to win. Madness I tell you! As soon as a player places a goal card then this dictates which cards you must have to win. New goals can be placed at any time cancelling out the previous card. One minute you need a shotgun and a chainsaw to win and the next you need a car and some gasoline: one minute you’re squaring up to fight and the next you are running away screaming.
Just like a normal goal except if you fulfil these conditions, you all die. The Zombie Apocalypse is complete.
A good tip is to place these face up in front of you as soon as you can. You will need some random combination of these to win.
Action cards are used once and then discarded. “Simply” follow the instructions on the card to lend yet more chaos to the game.
These are played automatically, often have negative effects, and can prevent you from winning.
You can play without the zombies – but who in their right mind would leave these visions of loveliness out?
f you love Fluxx you should definitely give We Didn’t Playtest This At All a go. It has less rules, less structure and less sense. It’s also faster so you’ll be a strong resilient gamer in no time. (Remember when you want to throw the cards at your opponent and scream something sweary about fairness a. life’s not fair and b. it’s character building)
We Didn’t Playtest This At All
(Best played with a banana)
To play you draw 2 cards and play 1, following the instructions on the card as you place it.
For example, you ask opponents ‘Do you want a present?’ Card types appear more than once so although Yes is a safe answer for one card (who doesn’t like presents) No is a safer answer when the present attacks and kills you. There is barely time to reflect on your safe escape from the reaches of a poisonous gift snake before you are working out whether to put your finger on your nose or not while someone counts to 4.
Chaos Cards add extra depth* to the game… for example you may not point, you must address players by a different nickname before each draw.
Delicious. Ridiculous. Nonsense. A great party game.
*whimsical twaddle
Come along to a Cards or Die event and try them out.
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Mr Jack (Pocket)- where is Irene Adler?

Ahhh, pressing bits of cardboard out of other bits of cardboard- bliss.
Two weeks ago I stumbled across Mr Jack (Pocket) in Just Games – the games shop in Whitby. (Click on the picture above to visit their excellent website.)
As we love 221B Baker Street and Cluedo in our house, it seemed like a good choice. The portable size and the price appealed too.
Mentioning it on twitter, I found that it is already a favourite of lots of gamers and having played it countless times in the scant two weeks we’ve had it, I can see why.
The Facts
Players: 2 – Mr Jack and The Inspector
Time: 15mins
Age: 14+
Difficulty: D20
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, more 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 assumed 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 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.
Mark considering the strategic brilliance of Mr Jack (Me!).
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.
Despite my disappointment once again at the under (and mis-) representation of women in the game. (And I do mean despite – I was disappointed when I opened it) I do really enjoy the game. Every other element is well considered: the design of the alleyways and blocked routes on individual tiles giving the board endless* variance; the seeming imbalance in turn taking which resolves over two turns; the double sided counters which indicate elements of your turn and the double sided turn tracker which shows hourglasses on the flipside which both Mr Jack and the Inspector are locked in battle for. All in all it is a strategic dream and delightfully compact.
*ok. I know there’s some mathematical formula and I could calculate the number of possible variants. I could but I won’t insult your intelligence by doing that for you. I mean I totally could if I wanted. Just so we’re clear.
Perfect to play while you await your tapas (and chips!)
This, however, is not a welcome sight. At all.
The aliases Mr Jack assumes are very disappointing. It does not interfere with game play but once again I am presented with 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.
So easy, in fact, I can remedy it for you with some quick googling.
Here are some possible additions to begin to redress the white male bias – click on the images to find out more:
Mary Ann – a notorious murderer. It is believed she murdered 11 children, 3 husbands and her mother among others.

Thomas Jenkins, a ship’s cook, was arrested for refusing to give evidence.

Irene Adler
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
Maybe this is all the world is waiting for… the right expansion pack.
Come along to a Cards or Die event and try it out for yourself.

That Anxiety Business. Again.

For a long time I adopted the ‘fake it till you make it’ approach to aspects of my mental health. It’s by no means a foolproof solution but it has got me through some difficult moments. It has allowed me to seem more confident than I often am and that in itself can make it easier to succeed. It definitely helps that I believe in Cards or Die passionately. I can look at any event and genuinely think ‘You know what would make this better? Board games. Lots of them.’
My most recent anxiety has centred around striking a balance between following up leads and pestering people. I look back on my first round of making contact with potential customers and feel that it was easy, nothing to worry about. Yet, when I give it proper consideration, I know that before I made those contacts I was just as anxious.
I find I am locked in a battle with myself. Again. I ought to know from my previous experience that people aren’t that scary. But it’s easy to forget that when you’re about to start pestering them to pay you to do a thing that they may never have realised they needed! And even easier when the anxiety in your brain is greedily licking its tentacles and waiting to ensnare you.
For some these sorts of worries can be countered by a simple internal dialogue:
You: What’s the worst that could happen?
Also you: They say no.
You: There, that’s no big deal is it?
But with my anxiety these internal dialogues often play out very differently.
Me: What’s the worst that could happen?
Me: They say no.
Me: There, that’s…
Me: (interrupting) and then they get angry and yell at me about wasting their time and how it’s a ridiculous idea that will never work
Me: But…
Me: And then they pick up the nearest blunt object and I try to run but the door’s locked…
And so it goes on. You get the picture. I’m mental. And not always in a fun way.
In the end I have risked the wrath of potential customers. Some people said yes, some said no, no-one attacked me with a blunt object for daring to ask them if they’d like to book me to run board games at their event. Even the ‘no’s have been pleasant encounters – some of them thank me for approaching them, lots of people have wished me luck and said what a great idea it is.
So, having fought and maimed this air drawn demon, I then had to face the horror that is follow up contact. As I’ve said past experience alone isn’t enough to placate this creature. It is concerned only with reinforcing negatives and doesn’t allow me to celebrate success for long. But, I drew myself up to my full height and readied myself for battle once more. And, guess what? It turns out that if people have already expressed an interest in booking you they don’t mind you getting in touch. Some of them even thank you- because people are busy and they sometimes just genuinely forget. Hopefully by recording this, in some way I can encourage my brain to remember this for the next phase.
I am adept at finding things to worry about and embarking on a new business has given ‘it’ plenty of opportunities to surface. It can be exhausting. But, at the moment I am at a really good positive point. I have contacted strangers, chased them up and they’ve booked me!
Why am I sharing this with you? Because if, like me, you’re a bit loopy then next time your brain helpfully kick starts a plethora of worst case scenarios which usually end in a world where cockroaches are the master race, you’ve just got a bit more ammo. You can tell it ‘Hang on- that crazy board games nerd managed it. So can I.’
And if this struggle is not something you regularly endure, then I’m glad. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading a little tale of moderate success in a big, scary world.
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Retro Games – and what they reveal about you.

Having scored woefully on a board games quiz: ‘How many 2016 games have you played?’ (about 3 if you’re wondering), I thought I would make my own list. I scored 100%. 50 out of 50. Some people might call it cheating; I like to call it alternative competing.
So… how many of these retro faves have you played? And, more importantly what does this say about you and your future? Complete the quiz to find out.
Click the image for the link:
Score 1-18 Woeful.
You have beautiful skin, an enviable stamp collection and are a long way from experiencing the tropical moments of menopause. Unfortunately you are also unhealthily attached to a squirrel who lives in next door’s garden. Your love is unrequited. This can only end badly. Wear red and attend a Cards or Die event (maybe first Wednesday at The Abbey Inn) to escape your impending doom.
Score 19-35 Average
You are of medium height and can not get heels which fit comfortably. Your stationery drawer is a disgrace – there are pens and paperclips in all of the sections. Last time you packed Monopoly away you did not check carefully enough and have now lost the top hat. That won’t matter until next Thursday when 5 suited strangers arrive at your door and demand to play. Don’t worry, the piece is under the sofa. All will be well.
Score 36- 49 Irritatingly Impressive
Other people aspire to be you: your board games are alphabetical, you are tall and your hair is impervious to rain. But beware – you are one triumphant victory at Operation away from enraging your best friend. Win again and they will beat you to death with the Charlie Horse. Play Pit instead, the cards are not lethal. Also, you are very old.
Score 50 Awesome
Congratulations! You’re me! You are the ultimate winner at life. Your key skills are time optimism, fanatical devotion to stationary and being gracious in defeat. You regularly let people win at games due to your inner beauty and generous spirit. You will win the lottery three months on Wednesday. Do not blow it all on games.

Come along to a Cards or Die event and play some of these classics.

More tea Vicar? Elevenses: the card game of morning tea.

A light game that you can play between games and it won’t spoil your appetite.
The Basics
Elevenses is a game for 2 to 4 guests. It takes up to 30 minutes, but often less. It is a fine blend of strategy, risk and a dash of luck.
As you might expect from any game I’ve chosen, it is beautifully illustrated with willowy 1920s ladies, scrumptious biscuits and a dashing servant.
Each round the players vie for sugar cubes. To earn sugar cubes you must have the highest value of cards (indicated by teaspoons in the top right of the card) on display in your spread when someone declares ‘Elevenses!’.
The Clever Bits
Low value cards feature an action which benefits you when you place it face up in your spread. One of my favourites is Sugar – when you play this, it enables you to look at all your face down cards at any time while it remains face up in your spread.
However, high value cards carry an element of risk. On playing Cakes, for instance, you must show an opponent your hand and they can choose a card to take from you. This means high value cards must be played tactically. The variety of actions you can take is an excellent feature of the game.
Instead of playing a card face up, you can swap cards from your kitchen to your spread face down in arrange actions (up to 2 per turn). This allows you to save cards till later in the game. As long as you can remember where you placed them. Obviously, I mean what kind of fool would forget where they had hidden their Elevenses card? *ahem*
The Elevenses card can only be played once you have 4 cards face up in your spread and it can not be swapped or exchanged. An important part of the game is watching your opponents closely and deducing when they have Elevenses in their hand and when they plan to play it.
A starting server card allows you to keep track of who dealt and played first each round. Essential if, like me you have enough on remembering whose go it is, never mind remembering who dealt!
Before you say it, I only forget whose go it is BECAUSE I’m concentrating. I’m not just instagramming pretty pictures or choosing which biscuit I would eat. Mmmmm…. bourbons…. anyway…
I also like the fact it comes with a card that summarises each card’s action and shows a plan of your spread. (Are you noticing a theme here?)
An Illustration
Me explaining in a suitably posh voice!
Feeling confident? Invite Prue Devine over- she has exacting standards when it comes to morning tea.
Once you have mastered the basic game (even I – with my slender grip on reality/ memory – have managed this) you can play with the expansion pack. It comes with the game so you don’t need to shell out any extra shillings.
The expansion comprises 6 characters, each worth two spoons. To earn the spoons you must ensure your spread contains their specified cards which will entice your character to stay to tea.
Miss Carrington promises to entertain your guests with town gossip as long as you are able to furnish her with sandwiches (crustless, naturally) milk, cups and saucers before someone serves Elevenses.
The expansion adds a good layer of complexity to the game. As well as making sure you keep an eye on other people’s spoons, you also need to track which cards are visible in their spread and consider what they may have in their kitchen. This lends the tea card extra power as when you play it, you can flip an opponent’s card face down.
And finally…
A final touch which I really appreciated was the use of ‘she’ in the rule book and on the cards. OK so it would be perfect if all rule book writers used the neutral ‘they’ or the more grammatically accurate s/he. But they don’t. And, of course, retro games which I have a large collection of all assume players are male. How could women possibly have time to game when they are doing vital household chores. It was so refreshing to open a rule book where the writer had considered me: a woman, a gamer, an equal.
Completely absolutely finally
I couldn’t resist pimping up my Elevenses, so if you play with Cards or Die you’ll find Elevenses looks like this… tea on the terrace? Charming.
Join us at a Cards or Die event to play.
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Dixit. A game of beauty, voting and darkness.

Words can not adequately express my love for this game. But as it is a game all about communication, I’ll give it my best shot.
Dixit is a board game based on voting, communication and gorgeous art. How perfectly appropriate for this week. The cards are beautiful and sometimes dark. Handbag vomit card is one of my favourites (I don’t think this is it’s official name). Mainly because it resonates with my own personal handbag issues:
One of the lovely things about Dixit is the odd nature of it: many of the illustrations are very strange; you keep score by moving wooden rabbits (rabbeeples if you will) round the board. Why? Why not. Dixit has a fantasy ‘once upon a time’ feel that encourages players to unleash their imagination.
How do you play?
Dixit is a simple game to learn.
  • Each player has a hand of 6 cards.
  • Player 1 chooses one card from their hand. They describe the card using a word, a phrase, a line from a song, a sound: anything which for them encapsulates the image. The put the card to one side, face down.
  • The other players now choose a card from their hand which best matches the phrase Player 1 has said. They hand their chosen card to Player 1.
  • Player 1 shuffles all the chosen cards, along with their own choice and then lays the cards out face down. As they lay them out they number them.
  • The other players must then vote on which card they believe Player 1 chose. They place their numbered voting chips face down and reveal their choices simultaneously.
  • If no-one or everyone correctly identifies Player 1’s card then Player 1 score nothing. Nothing at all. Not a sausage. (Other players score points for correct identification and for having people vote for their chosen card.)
And this, this is the nub of the game. You must be specific enough to enable people to identify your image but vague enough that not everyone gets it. This is a skill which requires adept communication and throws up interesting and diverse challenges whether playing with friends or strangers. For me, this is the beauty of the game.
Not only is Dixit a fun, entertaining game but it also has serious social skills benefits. It encourages empathy and imagination. A perfect game for those who may find those skills challenging.
It also makes it an ideal game for team building exercises. Playing with people you ‘sort-of know’ is at times funny and always enlightening.
Plus it gives you the opportunity to say Rabbeeples. I mean, really, what more could you ask for from a game?
Share your handbag vomit pictures with me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook @cardsordie
Now with added expansion pack. Join us at one of Cards or Die’s events to play:
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Terrible Monster

Style and Substance
As you’ve probably gathered by now if you follow me on instagram, twitter or facebook, one of the main criteria for a successful Cards or Die game is aesthetic value. Much can be forgiven if your cards or board are pretty and charming and I have definitely fallen for games which favour style over substance before. But, Terrible Monsters has style and substance – win win. Terrible Monster was unleashed on Kickstarter in 2016 by Sweet Lemon Publishing. The illustrations are by Isabel Bollmann.
Cute Beast – Beautiful but deadly
One of my other priorities when choosing games for the business is that they are low threshold, high ceiling – by which I mean: easy to learn but with enough complexity to give you seemingly endless options and outcomes. Terrible Monster fulfills this perfectly. It is easy to learn and yet has ample twists and turns, making it unpredictable and challenging. Even at a point where I had carefully planned my apparently hapless opponent’s demise (I only needed to get to my next turn) my plans failed and I ended up defeated!
You think you’ve won but then – Boom! You haven’t.
Your objective
Your objective is simply to deal enough damage to kill your opponent. Each player only has 4 life tokens – how hard can it be? <hollow laugh>
Actual hearts – love the artwork
Terrible Monster is a game for two players, lasting 5 to 10 minutes. Your turn consists of: drawing a card from the draw pile, playing up to two cards, maintaining your deck of 5 cards. 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 some cards work together, so you need to 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!
Counter Tokens – use them wisely
It is also possible to use counter tokens to block your opponent’s actions but the fact that you only have two of these makes blocking a tricky decision. Do you block now or is it only going to get worse? More intense still – if your opponent blocks your action, you can counter that by using two of your tokens, enabling you to go ahead and attack them – but at what cost? Will you wish you had those later, when they summon Terrible Monster?
Strokes of design genius
As I mentioned above, the Terrible Monster card itself is a stroke of genius. It’s a high risk, high gain card. The rules around counter tokens make decisions high stakes which makes for a fun and intense game. Many of the spells let you manipulate the deck, see your opponents cards, move cards around, and snatch victory!
I also love that each player gets their own summary outlining the effects of all cards and a brief outline of all rules including order of play. I know many games have these now, but why not all of them? It’s an invaluable aid. I’ve got enough going on with working out whether I want to use my counter tokens or not, without having to remember what my turn consists of!
If you’re designing a game – DO THIS!
Join us for a game
And here it is, the predictable, yet shameless plug element of the blog – come and see us at Shepley Spring Festival on 19th -21st May or at The Abbey Inn, Leeds on the first Wednesday of every month if you fancy a game. (Did I mention this is one of over 150 games you can choose from?!)
Check out Sweet Lemon‘s website for more brilliant and quirky games.
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Festival Dreams

You wake up late to the smell of coffee and the sizzle of bacon crisping up. The sun streams into the tent, as you unzip it, fresh air floods in. Gentle music drifts towards you, the folkiness of a melodeon or a favourite song you had almost forgotten. Someone hands you a fresh coffee and a bacon butty made with love and soft white bread and you sit in the doorway of the tent on an airbed that hasn’t deflated at all overnight, watching the festival site waking up.
Isn’t this what happens to you every morning at festivals?
OK, ok, this is not a true record of my own experience. I have Earl Grey not coffee. The bed is flat and feels like rocks, and the sound that often seems to herald the morning is this lot (even when they’re ironically playing Brahm’s Lullaby, they’re anything but soothing).
If in reality you lie there trying to work out if you can hear rain or whether it’s the sound of many flags flapping, and you realise that much as you don’t want to get up, if you lie here much longer on your deflated airbed you might not be able to get up at all (how does a muddy field feel like rocks anyway?), then what you need to do is to grab a cuppa and make your way to the games tent.
So come visit us at Shepley Spring Festival – May 19th – 21st. Come into our lovely red gazebo, we’ll look after you. We’ll sit you in a nice proper seat, wrap you in soft blankets and teach you games to distract you from your back pain. After all the sound of rain is soothing – it must be true, the internet says so…
…and doubly soothing with the sound of falling Jenga blocks and connect four clattering down…

Summertime Rolls

It’s Summer. I know it must be because lots of Morris Dancers got up at ridiculous o’clock this morning to dance the sun up for us. And that’s got me thinking about Summertime games for those lazy summer evenings. While you read on, why not have a background track to get you in the Summer mood…
Neighbours the Board Game
What evokes summer more than throwing a shrimp on the barbie, watching Bouncer splash about in the pool with Scott and Charlene, and cracking out a classic retro game?
Everybody needs good neighbours and you can join forces with yours in The Neighbours board game to create the best plotline ever. I have thoroughly enjoyed playing this game and it’s had good reviews from events too. Now – whenever I read the word “hilarious” in a review part of my soul dies, but honestly Neighbours is hilarious to play (admittedly we consumed wine while we played), but it is a fun game – and the plot lines you create have to be grammatically accurate, which pleases me more than I can tell you. Pretend it’s the 80s, pretend it’s sunny, and dive right in!
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If for you, Summer is a time of fine wines, medieval castles and drinking dodgy homebrew (that’s basically what Monks did, isn’t it?) then Carcassonne is the game for you. Create your own beautiful settlement with luscious farm lands and well tended gardens. Watch out for robbers and farm boundary confusion (it’s just like The Archers) and ask yourself the perennial Carcassonne question: why do farmers lie down?
Or if you’re feeling really decadent, why not check out the real Carcassonne:
The Morris
And finally, as I eluded to earlier, nothing makes summer for me more than the Morris. Here’s my boy dancing the sun up last year (photo courtesy of Karen Fretwell). My summer is always full of dancing and colour.
On May 19th -21st, I’m excited to be celebrating all things folk at Shepley Spring Festival, bringing with me 150 games. Amongst them is Nine Men’s Morris, which dates back to the Roman Empire, and is referred to by Shakespeare as an outdoor game in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (‘The nine men’s morris is filled up with mud’- Summer and rain how very English; how very festival). Not only does it epitomise Summer but it is the ultimate retro game!
Pit your wits in this traditional strategy game – place and move your pawns carefully, creating ‘mills’ (lines of three), allowing you to remove one of your opponent’s pieces from the game. The game ends when there are no more legal moves left or one player is reduced to two pieces in play. It’s a relatively straightforward strategy game. For me, that makes the perfect strategy game , a few simple rules but lots of potential depth – good for quick play and not too difficult to concentrate on with your pimms or prosecco – another Summer requirement.
But if you can’t wait for Shepley, come and see us at The Abbey Inn, Horsforth on Wednesday night. There won’t be Morris dancing but there will be many, many good games…
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Ssshhh. I have a secret mission for you…

Before you put on your slightly larger glasses…
…let’s be clear, it’s not an impossible mission or a job which requires a certain set of skills, skills that make you a nightmare for criminals. It is however a mission especially for you…
Choose from 55 Missions – with objectives to connect, care, engage, grow, surprise or create. We are about to embark on the biggest card game in the world: Sneaky Cards/ Play It Forward from Gamewright. The deck is registered and ready to be released into the big wide world. All I need now is you.
Taking part is easy – whether it’s leaving a generous tip, baking for a friend or taking a selfie with a stranger – you simply complete the action and pass the card on. You can log the card @sneaky cards and tweet me or contact me on instagram to let me know how you’re getting on.
All that’s left for you to do is choose your mission and get your card: contact me via the website, twitter @cardsordie, facebook @cardsordie, on the first Wednesday of every month at The Abbey Inn, Leeds, or at Shepley Spring Festival (where you can play this card forward – without even breaking sweat).
Here are the cards you can choose from:
This blog post will self destruct in 10 seconds….