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.
2019-09-24 21.18.17
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.

Gorgeous Components from LongPack Games

Since I started Cards or Die I have reviewed many, many diverse games and I have never knowingly missed an opportunity to witter on endlessly about the joy of nice components. So here it is, at last – a whole blog about gorgeous components all very kindly sent to me from Long Pack Games. So whether you are looking for some design inspiration or you just fancy having a look at some lush components – here you go! They sent me a Designer Pack which showcases their products as pictured above and a massive box of games – pictured below.
I can’t claim to have played all of them…yet…. but I have assiduously examined their components.
I try to avoid negative comparisons in reviews but boxes are the one area in which I fall down. When I’m judging the box you have chosen to put your beautifully designed game in I am unavoidably considering the packaging hell that is Abalone in it’s weird hexagonal box, Uno in a double width tuck box, and that one that I can never get the lid off – it involves a lot of shaking and usually takes two people. I forget the name which is why it catches me out each time – no-one wants to start a board game with a box wrestle.
I am happy to report that all of the boxes that LongPack games sent me tessellate pleasingly and they all opened easily (not too easily though – when packaging your game you also need to consider will it survive a Rodney Smith box toss?). The boxes for Caracho and Throw Throw Burrito even had a cut out for ease of opening.
Usually my favourite box type (yes I have a favourite box type – what of it?) is a magnetic closer like the one Valentine’s Day comes in but they also sent a drawer style box with their Designer Pack in that may be a contender for favourite box design.
The best box by far though was the Slide Quest box which is an integral part of the game. The levers, which allow you to steer your knight to victory avoiding traps and monsters, rest in cut outs on the box: ingenious.
The punchboards in many of the LongPack games come with a corner thumb hole so that you can easily free them from their box and get punching. These beauties are destined for Scrap Store Leeds so they can have a second lease of life. Nearly every piece popped out cleanly or with just a little wiggling.
In the designer pack the little press out factory had multiple layers to press out. Even though it was already 3d this added a really effective edge to the model.
The board for Catalyst locks together like a jigsaw enabling the game to fit in a small box and still have a thick sturdy game board. In Crown Of Emara the board joins like this and is also double sided – giving you a choice of a lighter, plainer graphic if that suits you better.
Slide Quest comes with a clever little gadget for saving your game so that you can pack away mid way through and not lose your progress. What a brilliant idea, especially for younger players and for games that require a lot of setting up. You can see it in the picture above.
Playing Pieces.
They offer a variety of quirky pieces – the small shiny hearts in Valentine’s Day, the cool cardboard cars in Curacho, the double sided islander and boat pieces in Blue Lagoon. In Happy Bunny little plastic carrots of varying lengths are ‘planted’ in the box – you work co-operatively to bring the biggest and best carrots home for the bunny’s family. Nemo’s War has actual jewels – which always makes me want to play a game! While Just One comes with wipe clean plastic easels and whiteboard pens with attached rubbers.The chunky wooden components in Crown of Emara are particularly lovely. I love wooden pieces in a game – tactile pieces are a feature of many of my favourite games and wooden pieces transport me straight back to childhood – the little huts in Blue Lagoon are a particular favourite.
Throw, Throw Burrito, which involves collecting a matching set of cards so that you can launch squashy Burritos at each other, comes with super soft squishy Burritos. After numerous outdoor games and people with questionable aim, I have had to wash these with soapy water and they’ve come up great! So, I’m optimistic that they will stand the test of time!
Many of the games also included ample plastic bags to sort your pieces into. This is something that Weird Giraffe Games and some others always do and although I imagine it is a low cost addition I love the fact that someone has thought of it. It makes a difference and is definitely worth considering.
I am very conscious that a lot of the parts I have mentioned have plastic involved. It is possible to avoid plastic completely as Blue Orange have demonstrated in many of their games and some of the games here have managed. LongPack games do use eco-friendly raw materials too as well as using non-toxic printing ink, non-toxic play mats etc. They have said that they are working closely with their clients and suppliers and producing more green products than ever before. They have also planted lots of trees around the factory to contribute towards offsetting their carbon emissions. The plastic pieces do seem well made and I would hope that they will be usable for a long time. Of course to properly test that I would have to schedule this review for when I’m passing the games on to great-grandchildren. When I look at the components in some of my retro games I am amazed how long they have remained intact and I hope that these games will have long and productive lives.
LongPack of course produce cards of various thickness and finish and dice with all sorts of designs as well as standard dice. The picture shows the dice that come with the car racing game – Caracho. LongPack also offer consultancy so you can always chat to them about your ideas. I know that the fact I haven’t played all of these means that there will be parts that I have underappreciated, that play into the mechanic or work really well but I hope this has given you some ideas whatever stage of design you are at.

You can try out these fab games at a Cards or Die event.

C*****mas Cracker Games from the Dark Imp

I know you don’t want me to use the C word. Even though I absolutely love and embrace it, even I normally wait till Halloween is over before I start shopping and incrementally bedecking the house! But you can always rely on those Imps at Dark Imp Games to mess with the natural order of things and here they are with a Christmas Cracker so packed full of sustainable, eco friendly, gamey goodness that it’s impossible to avoid talking about CHRISTMAS! There I said it!
Christmas Crackers are an intrinsic part of many people’s traditional celebrations – even if the tradition involves forgetting to put them out and then opening them all on boxing day like we did so many times at my parents’. Over the years I have tried to avoid all the plastic throwaway junk that come with them – the tiny comb, the golf tee, the fortune fish, the moustache. While these small gifts are entertaining for a few minutes, sometimes longer with the little legs in the family, they inevitably end up in landfill. I have bought more expensive crackers but even the higher end of the cracker ‘gift’ range includes a lot of useless tat. The Dark Imp Christmas Cracker offers an impressive solution to this quandry.
The cardboard cracker contains 6 games and while it doesn’t bang or contain hats it does come with 6 puzzles and cheesy jokes that no Christmas Cracker would complete without. The whole package is eco-friendly – no plastic novelties here and no sneaky plastic coating that makes otherwise recyclable materials head straight to landfill. Instead you get sturdy cardboard and wooden pieces and an ethically produced cotton drawstring bag.
All the games play up to 6 people. The games are quick to learn, fun to play and are strategic enough to entertain all abilities making it a brilliant gift for any family. There is a variety of complexity so you can choose the perfect game to match your mood, alcohol level or food coma status! While you could just leave it on the games shelf and play these clever little games all year round, ours is going to live with the Christmas decorations and become part of our traditions on Christmas day.
The aim in Imprudent is to win the most cubes by playing cards with matching features. When you play cards you either draw up and/ or take cubes depending on the number of cards you play. The more cards you play, the more cubes you get and the fewer cards. The tricky part is you don’t just draw up cards, if you can’t go or get low on cards you need to buy them from the draw pile with your cubes. The first to get to 15 cubes triggers the end of the game.
We loved balancing trying to gain cubes with having enough cards in hand. It took us a couple of rounds to get our heads round which strategies to implement and we’ve had fun trying different ones out.
In IMPressive you need to collect the most sets of imps with matching features by selecting cards from the draw pile or the row of cards to the right of it. You can take the furthest card for free or you can pay cubes to take a different card. They become more expensive the closer they are to the draw pile. When you choose a card that has cubes on already you gain those too. But as you start with only 5 cubes it’s important that you choose carefully. You also need to watch out for what others are collecting to make sure you can get what you need to win.
IMPetuous is a game of speed. Turn over cards and race your opponents to shout out which is the most common feature visible. This is brilliant with 6 – loads of chaotic shouting out and the pressure to be the first to shout out the right answer makes this a great laugh for everyone.
To win IMPassive you need to manipulate the value of the imps and select the right score cards. The game takes place over only 4 rounds so each play must be carefully considered – it’s imperative in fact! From your hand of four cards you select 2 scoring cards (these allow you to score the number of cubes next to that colour imp at the end of the game). By playing cards from your hand you can either move the imps (using the colour) or place cubes (next to the screen of the matching number). You can also swap which cards it is you will score for. In this way you can manipulate your imps and your score cards to make sure that at the end of the game you have score cards which match the imps with the most cubes. But you also need to consider that you score additional points for the screen number your imp is next to – so the higher the number, the higher the score.
There is a tremendous amount to consider in this quick, little game. On top of weighing up what you are going to aim for you also need to consider your opponents – will they be trying to get their imp to the high scoring screens or will they stick to the lower scoring ones but try to get more cubes behind them? What strategy lies behind their impenetrable facial expression? Should you focus on achieving your goal or try to mess up your opponents? So many choices…. so little time…. which leads me neatly on to …
IMPatient is a racing game where by voting for your imp you can watch as it hurdles its way to victory. But if two people vote for the same imp, it doesn’t move and if three people vote for it, it goes backwards. Before revealing our voting cards we scrutinised each other’s faces in an effort to deduce what had been played. I wouldn’t fancy playing Derren Brown at this one!
Each player shows how many cubes they are placing behind their screen and then you choose whose cubes you will try to claim. Win cubes by being the only person to lay claim to a set of cubes. You could play it safe or take a risk but whatever you do you are banking on no-one else doing the same. I love this mechanic. It makes me wish I’d invested more time honing my mind reading skills.
We have really enjoyed learning all these new games. So many of them encourage you to have fun trying out various ideas and strategies and the reliance on that unpredictable human element makes them different every time.
Will this replace crackers in our house? While it isn’t exactly the same as 6 crackers with snaps, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with wasting money on something each year that impacts the environment so negatively and I’m more than happy to have this as a replacement. I’m amazed by the diversity in these games – with just some cubes, 6 screens, 6 imps and one deck of cards Dark Imp games have created something impeccable. So, whether you are looking for something to replace your crackers or something additional to add to the table – this is a fabulous idea.
Give it a try at one of Cards or Die’s events – it’s always in the bag over the festive period.

Quirk! Now with added mischief!

Quirk! is a quick to learn and play card game for 2 – 6 players aged 5+. You can adjust the level of challenge and the length of play from 15mins to up to 60mins. It contains two decks which makes it super flexible.
The object of Quirk! is to collect the most sets of three cards (called Quirks) – you do this by acting out the creature on your card and taking cards from your opponents.
How to Play
You start with three character cards, if you fall below three, you draw up. Character cards form sets of three and the person with the most sets wins! So just remember that three is the magic number and you are half way to learning how to play!
Now for the fun bits! On your turn you choose a card in your hand, choose an opponent and act out the creature on your card. You can use sounds and actions but you mustn’t describe the character or say its name. If your opponent has one or two of that card they must give them to you.
And if they think your pirate is a parrot and give you the wrong cards? That’s their loss – you get to keep the cards. But maybe rethink your plans to audition for the next Pirates of the Caribbean film.
Pro Tip – even if you know what they are doing I like to feign confusion for a good while so that they really have to work for the card. That means that even if you sacrifice a card you are laughing! This is especially satisfying if you have graduated to the more challenging deck. I’m always playing with the secret secondary objective of ‘How long can I make someone be a Bigfoot for?’
If you are unsuccessful and you don’t gain a card, you must ‘Go Quirk!’ – which means you pick a card up from the draw pile.
As soon as you get a set of three or a ‘Quirk’ you place it in front of you face up. Once 13 Quirks are face up on the table, the game ends and you count up your Quirks to find out who won.
Action Cards
These special cards are used once and then removed from the game so use them wisely. They allow you to disrupt others plans! You can stop someone in their tracks, preventing them from asking you for a character. There are 5 steal cards which allow you to steal complete Quirks from your opponents but only 3 block cards which prevent people from stealing. Each deck has it’s own set of these so you can play about with these balances if you want to.
Double the Decks = Double the chaos!
I absolutely love the fact this comes with two decks – it gives you so much flexibility. You can adjust difficulty by substituting some of the easier ones for more challenging ones or simply adding extra sets for a longer game. If it’s additional chaos you crave sling in some extra Mischief or actions. You can use a mixture of characters to up the challenge or stick to the easier deck if you prefer.
The game is suitable for 5 years plus but I have played it with younger ones and just removed the action cards to make it super easy. There’s no reading requirement in the game apart from the Mischief Cards which do have visual prompts so that makes it more accessible too. The action cards are colour coded but the artwork is clear and distinctive and symbols are also used for clarity. For instance the block cards feature a large shield.
You may recognise the distinctive artwork, the title or the game itself from the earlier version of Quirk. That’s because Emma May from Emmerse Studios has worked closely with Gibsons Games to bring you new characters, a simpler, clearer design, a honed mechanic and new mischief cards. The work Emmerse Studios is doing on character development is really clear from this new design and I’m loving watching Mischief grow!
The Mischief cards add a fun and chaotic challenge to the game making you redistribute your hard earned Quirks, passing hands on or gaining an extra card. These cards are played and come into effect immediately. My two absolute favourites are the statue still/ sounds only for a round and the actions only for a round. It is also worth noting that each deck has it’s own set of Mischief cards so you could add extras in. As if I wasn’t making you work hard enough for that Big Foot card – these are a gift!! Plus the sight of Mischief wielding a megaphone brings a smile to my face!
Over the year Mischief has become a character all of his own – starring in his very own book all about having the courage to be yourself. So, if you are enjoying this character in Quirk it’s worth checking out the book too.
Quirk is a great family game for all ages and the fact it plays up to 6 players is brilliant. And when I say all ages – I really mean ‘all’. Like many great family games, if you get a group of adults playing it, it is just as entertaining. We just need to give ourselves permission to let go, have fun and embrace our quirkiness!
Make sure you have a game when you’re next at a Cards or Die event.
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BuzzleBox – a bundle of games, puzzles and family time.

The Buzzlebox, created by Dark Imp Games is a selection of games and puzzles delivered to your door for the whole family to play with and figure out together. At the moment there are two themed choices available- Gardens and Chickens or Doughnuts and Cake. With a Space themed box on it’s way soon. Dark Imp games very kindly gifted us the Doughnuts and Cake box. There are 5 of us in my family – all with different, yet often, overlapping tastes in games. The children are 15, 13 and 12.
As soon as you start opening the box, the fun begins. There were stickers on the box which related to one of the three puzzles. These stickers were everywhere – on the back of things, on the letter, inside a packet of card games – a really simple touch that made it immediately engaging. It’s also worth noting that there is no excess packaging or plastic which is a breath of fresh air when so many companies overlook the importance of this.
Doughnut Dash
I approached Doughnut Dash with trepidation. Anyone who knows me or has ever been in the car with me knows that my sense of direction is non-existent. So, when I saw the direction cards and read some of the sugar rush action cards – my heart sank. However, I am happy to report that I navigated the game successfully (multiple times) and I really enjoyed it. There are cards which clearly label the directions and the cards that allow you to change direction all contain an example which I’m sure was put there for younger players but was totally vital to me!
You are running a pair of impish thieves who must make their way round the factory stealing doughnuts from the shelves and from other thieves that they encounter. The theme is brilliant with lovely wooden components that are pretty and bright. We played it with 2, 3 and 4 players and it was brilliant each time. My only complaint is that it didn’t play 5. It is rare that we can get all 5 of us to play the same game at the same time – for once they were all interested in playing together and so we played in different groups but it was a shame we couldn’t play all together.
I have spoken to one of the Dark Imps and it turns out they have psychically resolved my concerns by designing the next box (which is Space themed) to include a 3-6 and a 2-9 player game which is awesome. I look forward to ordering one of those!
One of the really nice things about this game is that you can try out different strategies – there are lots of different layers to the game which gives us plenty of incentive to play it again and again. For instance the Sugar Rush cards help you out by allowing you to adjust which direction you travel in or to swap some cards but if you can save them they are worth points at the end of the game. And the more helpful the card, the higher the value if you can avoid using it. Another clever idea is the rainbow frosted doughnuts which actually start off costing you points but if you can collect a set they are incredibly valuable. It makes collecting them a risky strategy but then choosing not to collect might leave them all for one other player – do you want to give away those points? It’s questions and balances like this that make the game fun and varied.
Top Cake
In Top Cake you are a hotelier competing to create the finest cake at the industry’s leading luxury trade show. You must bid against other hoteliers to grab the finest layers to construct your showstopper. But of course, it’s not so easy: bids are hidden, a reverse cards allows you to switch so that the lowest bid wins, a snatch card allows you to trump any bid but only once per game, the first player token doubles as a tantalising 1/2 point bid and if you match bid cards with another player your cards are returned to you! These are a few of the intricacies which make this such a great, thinky game. Played over 5 rounds you need to think quickly and decisively. Cake waits for no man!
Of course, you’ve also got the attraction of building a deliciously illustrated cake or a spooky looking cake which of course I gravitated towards. Unfortunately some swine snatched my bat cake topper. I’d have won if it wasn’t for those pesky bat stealing kids.
Top Cake plays 2 to 4 players and is definitely more fun with more people. Like Doughnut Dash your strategies are strongly influenced by what other people do; you need to continuously adapt. In this way the games in the box are perfectly designed. They are supposed to ‘help you reclaim family time by playing board games together’ and they definitely achieve that. There is a lot of interaction in all the games in the box, you need to be acutely aware of each other and each others’ decisions.
Even as I was still unpacking the box, I uttered the word ‘puzzle’ , pondered aloud about where all the stickers were and what they meant, and my 15 year old was immediately all over it. He absolutely loves a good puzzle. The first task of finding all the stickers in various places had him hooked. He was so keen to get going and the girls were working so rather than keep him waiting (or worse, risk loss of interest!) I actually photocopied the puzzles so he could get stuck in straightaway.
Despite 15s head start he graciously gave the others the thinking time they needed and didn’t blurt out all the answers so we were able to work together to get one of the puzzles completed. We don’t have a great family record in this area.
On recent holidays we have completed treasure hunts that you can buy from the Tourist Information shops. They are great fun and everyone loves doing them but they are always a source of contention. This fun holiday activity always culminates in me clutching the clues to me so no-one else can see and a strict ruling about not blurting out answers before other people have chance to think or speak. My son is particularly talented at both puzzles and irritating his siblings so these measures are necessary. So I was ready – hence the photocopying and the ‘Don’t tell your sisters any answers and DO NOT give them clues unless they ask for them’ ruling. However, I’m sure other (less mad) families won’t need to worry about that.
The first puzzle we did was a good mix of clues carefully pitched to play to each of our strengths; some the children couldn’t have got and some that my partner and I had no idea of that the kids got immediately. I thought it was well balanced and we were forced to work together which is both the purpose and the attraction of the Buzzle Box.
Unfortunately we were stumped by the other two puzzles – they were just too tricky for us. But, by following the link on the puzzle card we got some clues which led us to our three cake related words. I’ve chatted with one of the Dark Imps and she is looking at both the difficulty level of puzzles and considering different ways of helping people to access clues in later boxes. Once you have all the clues you can unlock the secret page on the website.
Coaster Game
One of our favourites was the 2 player game on a coaster. The one we got was quick to learn and quite straightforward. You each choose an image on the grid and then ask questions to deduce the whereabouts of your opponent’s chosen image. The images are cute and colourful, the game is very appealing and can be played over and over again. Our 12 year old particularly enjoyed this one. It played 2 players but was fairly quick so it was fine to just take turns playing. It’s the kind of game I tend to have in my bag to whip out if anyone uses the ‘B’ word. That’s bored by the way. I’m not sure board games can stop them swearing, if anything they make my partner worse!
You can also buy most of the component parts of the Buzzle Box separately on the website. But honestly I think the box is such good value that the coasters and place mats are the only things I would consider buying separately. The coasters are sold in packs of 120 for only £16.99- they are perfect for weddings or for board games or family cafes. They are a perfect little gift or freebie to give to people if you’re in a games related business.
Game Cards
This pack of three games just needed a deck of cards, pen and paper. I really liked the fact that it included a 1, 2 and 3 player game as it meant that we could all play them kind of at the same time. I’ve had a lot of fun playing the solo game – it’s a patience type game with a puzzle element. My 13 year old really loves traditional style card games so this whole pack was right up her street. I can see the Gooseberry Fool game being a regular family games night feature and I know she’ll want to teach her friends when she can get together with them again. Gooseberry Fool uses a trick taking mechanism which is very familiar and easy to understand. But more importantly it’s a fun little game.
The instruction cards are clear and easy to follow but there is also a link to a ‘how to play’ video which is always helpful.
The Buzzle boxes cost £49.99 and for that you get: 6 original games; 3 puzzles all centred around an engaging theme;
as well as family time, away from distraction, screen free. We really enjoyed ours and the hours of entertainment we have had from it so far make it excellent value. There are loads of reasons to treat the family to a Buzzlebox or it would make a great gift for another family. For us it will the perfect addition next time we are going on holiday. We always take games with us and having tried one of the boxes I would be confident taking this pack of new games as a holiday treat. We usually go camping in the UK so it will be perfect for that ‘occasional’ rainy day!
Join us at a Cards or Die event and try out some of Dark Imp’s awesome games.