3 Games to Play Instead of Chess.

Obviously, by all means play Chess. Chess was fascinating even before the suggestion of using vibrating devices for clues. Chess sets are ubiquitous and the Queen’s Gambit TV series brought with it even more popularity with games stores having to order in extra sets in. The sets themselves can be things of beauty or whimsy. The one pictured above, I found in a charity shop and it’s just beautiful. There are sets for every interest and fandom – we also own a Star Wars set. But it’s not just aesthetically pleasing, it is the ultimate game of wits, tactics and strategy. It’s the game many people feel duty bound to pass on to their children or display proudly in their home. And while there are many variants of Chess itself, if you enjoy Chess or like the idea of it but really haven’t got time to deliberate over which piece to sacrifice next then these suggestions are for you…

  1. In Hive, like Chess, one of you plays black and one white; each piece moves uniquely and it is mastering the interaction of those abilities that will win you the game. Every decision you make in Hive counts and while each piece moves differently, a lot of the bugs move in an intuitive way. Your aim is to ensure the opponent’s Queen is surrounded by bugs (they don’t all have to be yours). It’s quick to play and fairly quick to learn (I kept a cheat sheet on hand to remind what each bug does which helped). It gorgeously chunky and tactile and has no board making it portable and great to play wherever you are.
Quarto by Hachette Games
  1. Quarto is more accessible than Chess but similarly strategic and tactical. It feels more akin to Connect 4 but is fiendishly difficult as you can connect 4 in 8 different ways. (Having said that I’ve played people who make Connect 4 fiendishly difficult!) As is a bit of a theme with my games it is pretty and tactile. Like a Chess set it could easily be left out on display and picked up for a quick game. In the picture you can see the small set but there is a larger one that is delightfully chunky. The real kicker with this one is that on your turn you select a piece for your opponent to place. That means that if you win, you get to hand your final victorious piece to the loser and they have to place it in the winning position. Perfect if you’re ‘quite’ competitive.
  1. Patchwork is very different from my last two recommendations. There is some degree of randomness here in that the layout of the patches differs each time and what you can afford from your choices is going to be limited. However, I don’t think that detracts from the intelligence of the game. You can still be strategic but will have to rely much more on tactical decisions and perhaps the ability to adapt your strategy. I would argue that, that is just as challenging. Also, this is a spatial puzzle and less fiercely competitive than the other games. You will still need to gauge what your opponent will do to determine what you should do but going for screwing them over can easily backfire, leaving you with patches you don’t really want. Here you are trying to maximise your buttons (end score) by tessellating shapes and filling your board. Empty spaces carry a penalty. By now you can probably see a theme in my recommendations. They are similar not only in brain power but are all tactile and nice to look at. In patchwork you earn buttons to spend on more patches and to count as victory points at the end. Obviously I have replaced the cardboard tokens with real buttons – ah but were they fabric covered buttons? Why yes of course. There are lots of other brilliant two player strategy games like Abalone, Quixo, Quoridor, Qawale, Connect 4 as well as Chess of course. Come along to an event and try them out.

Strikerz! For Footy Fans Everywhere.

Get the orange segments ready, we’re kicking off a game of Strikerz.
Strikerz from Caper Games is a quick, fun 2 player game based on a game of Football (or soccer as it says on the box). Just as in football you need to score more goals than your opponent to win. But unlike an actual game of football it takes nowhere near 90 minutes! It takes somewhere between 15 – 30 minutes for a game. It is a fast paced set collection game with a quirky mechanic for taking a shot at goal. And if you are stuck on a draw after the final whistle blows, you get to have a penalty shoot out.
The game itself comes in a tiny box, the size of a pack of playing cards. The box contains the two teams you need (red and blue – particularly pleasing for the Liverpool/ Manchester contingent!); goal cards to keep track of the score; action cards – yellow card, red card, whistle, manager & offside; keeper’s right & left glove for each team plus shoot at goal cards.
How to Play
  • Deal a hand of four cards to each player.
  • On your turn you draw a card either from the deck or the top of the discard pile (as long as it isn’t an action card) and either play a card or, discard one and shoot at goal.
  • In order to shoot at goal you need either four of your team’s jerseys; a set of jerseys comprising a midfielder, a striker and a defender, or a total of cards worth 30+ points.
  • To shoot, you select a ball card kicking the ball either to the left or right of the goal. To defend you select a right or left glove indicating which corner you will jump towards to save the ball. The cards are marked so that when you line them up and flip your card you can see straightaway if you have scored. See images below.
Action Cards
Manager – this card allows you to swap in one of your higher value substitutes.
Red Card – one of your opponent’s cards is removed from the game
Yellow Card – one of your opponents’s cards is placed at the bottom of the discard pile
Offside – draw two cards and discard two cards
Whistle – your opponent misses a turn and you go again.
If you are still on a no score draw when you have played through the deck twice (the two halves) first of all you play extra time (play once more through the deck). Still nil-nil? Then it goes to a penalty shoot out. Take it in turns to shoot at goal.
The shooting is my favourite part. Trying to second guess which card your opponent will play has meant that all those hours watching Derren Brown on the telly haven’t gone to waste. Although at one point I caught my son out – I believed it was the intense staring that had psyched him out but actually I had got my left and right confused. So I also offer that as a tactic. No-one can guess what you’re going to do if you have no idea yourself!
I grew up saturated with football (with a Scouse family it was inevitable) but I’m not the greatest fan myself. Still I really enjoyed this game and definitely if you love football this is one that has been lovingly designed for you. It is so much more than just football themed, instead it mimics a game of football using strikers, defenders and midfielders who must play together well to shoot, subs, red and yellow cards and the shoot at goal mechanism. If you want to get a football lover playing more games with you then this is definitely a way to tempt them in.
It’s a fun, snappy little game and I can’t wait to take it out to events and get people playing.
We are grateful to Caper Games for supporting Cards or Die by donating this copy of the game and also making a donation on our KoFi during this challenging time for the business.

Join us at a Cards or Die event for a game.

FlickFleet: The Uprising

Before we get on to the nitty gritty details of the game there are some things I need to tell you. When I moved in with my partner I had 150 board games, me and my partner had lots of books. They all lived happily together, nestled on the book shelves. As my games collection expanded, our book collection underwent several culls. Now that I have amassed more than 350 games there is not only the issue of space but also of time.
New games arrive, the shelves groan and my family look forward to evenings of me bumbling through rule books and games so that people who come to my events receive seamless teaching because I’ve worked out all the lumps, bumps and confusion on them. They get to play the games where half way through I say ‘Oh no, you can’t do that’ or the game suddenly and unpredictably ends just before they make their killer move.
When I’m out at events leaving them to a peaceful board games evening when they can play familiar games, I have an uncanny knack of taking with me the exact games they were planning to play. Good to know me and my games can still annoy them even when I’m not there!
So you can understand why, when I have a pile of new games occupying the shelf my partner’s books used to live on and I want to learn one – sometimes the response is less than favourable. And so it was with FlickFleet. The shiny box arrived with all the lovely handcrafted pieces. I set it up and played it a few times on my own and while that was fun I didn’t feel confident teaching it at all. I just couldn’t entice anyone into playing with me until Saturday, when finally Mark caved in…
After playing one game of FlickFleet with me mis-teaching bits and re-reading the rule book (which by the way is excellent – thorough and clear) Mark said this:
‘Next month I’m going to spend my war hammer budget on my own copy of this so I can play it if you take it to events’.
To fully appreciate this endorsement the only other thing you need to know is that my partner’s plastic crack addiction is advanced. This accolade despite the mis-teaching and sudden ending!
To be clear, I am thoroughly enjoying FlickFleet. It’s beautifully crafted and tactile which I like and the mechanic – flicking the dice at other crafts but also needing to roll certain numbers when you flick – is loads of fun. For Mark it was the theme that really captured him. While I was lining up my shots he was visualising the collapse of empires. As I learnt the rules he illuminated them with scenes from various Sci-Fi films. At points I had no idea what the film was but he was gesticulating and painting the scene so passionately I didn’t have the heart to say.
And then there’s our playmat. My current playmat/ tablecloth/ backdrop for top quality games photography has been the subject of some derision and I have long maintained it is perfect for every occasion. Encouraged by his new favourite game my partner has treated us to a space themed background – a thrifty alternative to playmats he bought some black oilcloth and sprayed it lightly with silver. (I knew those war hammer paints would come in handy for something). Behold… a stellar backdrop!
Why we love it so.
At its core FlickFleet is a dexterity game. This means it can be frustrating – one flick can destroy an enemy while a seemingly identical flick sees you spinning off the table and into deep space. I think playing it on the same surface while we all got used to it would have given it more predictability which would have been good for my son. He was initially very keen on the game but after playing it on a different surface each time he became disheartened. There are various scenarios in the instruction book and one I found both fun and useful was the target practice one. Each of you competes to avoid articles and be the first to destroy three fighter wings. This was loads of fun and allowed me plenty of practice to hone my technique. There are a good number of scenarios in the instruction book but you can go rogue and just battle by using the strength scores in the book. Or, you can mix and match. There’s really endless flexibility with this game. I enjoy dexterity challenges and I want an element of unpredictability in my games – as Picasso once said ‘If you know exactly what you are going to do, what’s the good in doing it?’
But it isn’t just dexterity, there is loads of strategy to weigh up too. From your choice of fighters at the beginning – do you choose one massive ship or lots of small ones? Should you play defence or just attack with all guns blazing? Do you deploy three less accurate lasers or one catastrophic nuke? The choice of dice here is genius – the lasers are represented by a D10 which is literally less accurate when you flick it while the nukes are a good old cuboid D6. All of the types of ships move differently too so some are easier to move but then quicker to blow up. So from the moment you start setting up the game you are already playing strategically.
Each turn you have two actions, you can move, shoot, call on reinforcements, generate new shields or do vital repairs. But all of these choices are reliant on parts of the ship working properly. Blow up the engine and your opponent is stuck, blow up the shield generator and it’s much harder to fix the shields. So every turn, you are making decisions and trade offs based on the position and condition of your ship and that of your opponent.
So to summarise: it looks gorgeous, feels lovely, challenges you in both strategy and dexterity, has finally made me acknowledge that Cath Kidston fabrics are not the best backdrop for all occasions and inspired a war hammer addict to save their pocket money for something completely unrelated. FlickFleet is nothing short of miraculous.
Live on Kickstarter NOW!
If you’d like to play FlickFleet with any or all of the expansions come along to a Cards or Die event. You can subscribe to the newsletter below to make sure you never miss any events.

Sensor Ghosts, Assembly Re-Sequence & Override and how Wren Games are trying to kill me in outer

I don’t want to say anything negative about Janice from Wren Games, I’m the last person to cast aspersions. She seems lovely – kind, warm, smiley. But I get the distinct impression she is trying to kill me.
Every time I triumph in Assembly – meticulously locking bays in to place, resolving glitches, fixing malfunctions, outwitting the computer then sailing away to victory in my luxury space ship – she adds new challenges. As if I didn’t have enough to contend with creeping about hoping the computer won’t notice me, first there were glitches and now she has added robots. If you thought Assembly was infinitely replayable before (as I did) it’s even more so now. Which makes it…. I don’t know? What’s bigger than infinite? Really bloody addictive, that’s what.
When I reviewed Assembly I had, had only limited success in terms of winning the game but I knew that I loved it. I played Re-Sequence and Override at Airecon and actually won. My elation was soon quashed by seemingly sweet natured Janice who proclaimed ‘It must be too easy – I’ll adjust it’. Any delusions about my own genius have been swiftly disassembled. I keep losing now.
That’s the key word though isn’t it – ‘keep’. I keep playing. Throughout Assembly, its expansions and the new game Sensor Ghosts you feel that success is just at your fingertips. If only you’d turned left, or played that card first or ignored your idiot co-pilot… things could have been so different. And it’s the knowledge that you can eventually succeed that keeps you locked into these brilliant puzzle games. I love the amount of layers that there are. You finish one iteration of the game and there’s another waiting for you, slightly tricksier than the last.
There are elements of the expansion which make it appear easier – I can choose which token to deploy (from the two visible stacks). I can play one or more platform hold cards to skip over those bays as though they are locked. And yet… it still has me beaten. It’s like I’ve been lured in with the modifications that give the illusion of choice and control only to remember the power of that dratted computer.
The idea of being able to play Assembly with 3 or 4 players is incredibly exciting too. I’m equally happy playing solo or with another player – both versions of the game are well balanced, challenging and fun. I’ll definitely be trying out the higher player count versions at UK Games Expo and I’ll let you know how I get on.
Sensor Ghosts
Good news – you do not need to have played Assembly to enjoy dying in a meteor storm. Even though in terms of the story it follows on, the game is unique and definitely a puzzle worth tackling independent of Assembly. Having said that if you like Sensor Ghosts you’ll certainly enjoy Assembly (and vice versa).
Sensor Ghosts picks up the story where Assembly left off (assuming you escaped). You settle back to enjoy the luxurious journey back to earth, regretting only not fitting the bum warmers and massage attachments to the seats. But what’s this? A message from Earth – probably a news clip of them celebrating your heroism and letting you know they’ve put the kettle on and ironed the bunting. In fact Earth are refusing to let you land unless you collect a sample of the virus from the middle of a meteor storm so they can work on a vaccine. Ungrateful sods. You pause your immersion in the game – flip over the box – there it is – that logo – that beautiful diminutive song bird the wren – hell bent on your destruction.
The board in Sensor Ghosts is ever changing and has a randomised layout. You need to balance keeping your shields charged with peeking ahead to see what’s coming as well as planning how you will navigate. There are so many unseen threats in the meteor storm and of course your sensors are playing up, you start to become convinced that your computer might actually be Hal when all along you had prayed it was Holly – inept but not murderous! I like the fact that you can play three cards and choose an action to complete which simultaneously frees you up and sees the card deck dwindle.
Changing direction offers a neat challenge where if you play cards in a sensible sequence you should be able to change course smoothly but if not you have to spend extra navigation cards to enable you to turn. When you are out of Navigation Cards you are out of luck.
Memory cubes are included so that you can choose to mark cards in the field – maybe the best ones or ones to avoid. Either way you must use them wisely as there are only three. Brilliant – enough to give you the illusion that you have help but not enough to let you rely on them. Another example of the perfect balance in this game.
Once you have safely navigated the meteor storm, collected a sample (not just one of the bits of rock that are floating out there and look a lot like the samples!) you can try again, adding in the Escape Pod variant and using the disruption deck. I’ll be honest with you – I’ve played many times and not won yet. Once, I got tantalisingly close to earth – I could just make out the outline of the coast of dear old Blighty when bam! A meteroid hit me. And the Escape Pod? In a move that reminded me of the many times I have sacrificed whole countries in Pandemic, I left them to fend for themselves from turn two. Then forgot they had ever existed. Don’t ever let me be in charge in an apocalypse survival situation.
Although this is only a preview copy so there may be some adjustments in the final copy ,I really like the colours and the space age art work on the counters, cards and box. Even the font is suitably sci fi! The game features the same chunky counters that you find in Assembly which are pleasingly tactile.
I had waited with baited breath for Sensor Ghosts to arrive. You probably know how much love I have for Assembly so I was concerned I might be underwhelmed. I was not. This is another brilliant game and the fact that it comes with Assembly add ons is a real bonus. It is already a regular on my table both solo and two player.
I got some feedback on the game at my most recent event. It was a very positive response but my favourite interaction by far was this:
Me: What impression do you get just by looking at the box?
Him: It looks like you’d die
Me: It’s by Wren Games – they did Assembly.
Him: Oh right we’ll definitely die then. We definitely want to try it!
And because no blog would be complete without at least one photo on the chintzy table cloth – here it is….
I’ll be working with Wren Games (providing she hasn’t actually killed me) next weekend at UK Games Expo. Come and see what all the fuss is about at Stand 2-624.
As always you can try any of the games in my blog at my events. Subscribe to the newsletter below so that you don’t miss a thing.
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Assembly by Wren Games or ‘why you don’t want to get stuck in space with me.’

Update 02/12/2018 – click on the links below to see a how to play video:
My copies of Assembly arrived last week. I’m so pleased with the look and feel of them. The larger cards work great and it’s still portable enough to play on the go. All those stretch goals have meant it has lovely components including a metal die. I upgraded and got extra glitches as well as a play mat and I’m glad I did. I play this game a lot so it’s well worth the additional investment for me.
You were so excited when you were assigned to this platform – building luxury spaceships. But now you rue the day you ever set foot here. A series of meteorites have hit the orbital platform, triggering a deadly virus which has wiped out the entire staff – even Jones, the ship cat, bought it. Everything is malfunctioning and the computer seems determined to keep you here. You are delighted to learn that I have survived and can almost certainly impede your escape plan. You have spent many of our breaks winning my hard earned cash from me in a variety of strategic games.
Our only hope is an incomplete ship. If we can contain the virus by locking the bays and complete the assembly of the spaceship, then we can make good our escape and return to Earth with our vital immunity to the virus. So, not only do our lives depends upon our successful completion of this challenge but so too the future of mankind.
To be fair working with me, death is fairly certain but still, it’s worth a shot. Afterall it’ll entertain us in our last minutes together.
To escape we need to match all the modules to the bays in the assembly line using a limited set of commands. We can communicate but the computer keeps cutting us off as soon as we use a key command word. Time is of the essence.
Assembly is a beautifully compact game. Have a sneak peek here.
Assembly can be played solo or as a 2 player game. It takes between 10 and 20 minutes. I have played it both solo and the two player variant.
I love the look and feel of this game. The layout mimics clock patience. It’s co-operative but with communication restrictions which nicely adds to the complexity. But the best thing for me is that the theme is immersive. Every element, every mechanic, every card strengthens the theme. In my teaching days I babbled on a lot about the importance of writer’s craft and ‘making every word count’ so I appreciate it when I see that in action. You really are battling against a sentient knobhead of a computer fixed on your demise. Even the scoring at the end is well crafted ‘Unfortunately, good attempts don’t make you any less dead’!
I’m still trying to get a run of wins at the basic level but there are challenges that you can add and variations with the malfunction cards (not necessarily more difficult but they lend a different dynamic to the game). When I say I’m still trying, I am playing this a lot. To say it has a strong ‘Again… again..’ vibe is an understatement and the compact nature of Assembly is very handy given how addictive it is.
And I will play it in the rain and on the train and while I’m waiting for my green eggs and ham and at the pub and in the fog and when I should be writing a blog… you get the picture…
Despite numerous losses, the game is winnable – I know I can do it but it’s hard. Which for me means it is perfectly pitched and because you can add difficulties it should remain so.
Time restrictions also add to the challenge. When the command deck is exhausted three times your time is up. Each time you draw the last card you add in one of the set aside command cards – this is an easy way to track where you are up to as well as being integral to the game. The wild card is the last to be added – if only you’d had it at the start, things could have been so different.
There are four basic commands you can use to move the modules onto the correct bay. (Match the symbol on the module to the one shown on the card). You can swap two modules, rotate modules, draw up more modules or lock the bays down. Simple. Apart from, when each deck cycle ends – not only is the command deck shuffled but the computer scrambles all the unlocked bays on the assembly line. So all of the modules that were close or even in the right place are no longer. That computer really is a tricksy beast.
As we speak Wren games are hard at it, designing more challenges. I’m sure they want to see us trapped in a half built luxury spaceship which after all is not a bad way to go.
The game will be live on Kickstarter from May 24th. If you enjoy space, co-operative or solo gaming and you’re up for the challenge, this is one you’ll want to get on!
Click here to make sure you don’t miss out.
You can play Assembly at a Cards or Die event.
You can also check out my tutorials over on Youtube: Solo Play Two Player
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What’s in your bag?

The answer is of course subject to whim and fancy but amongst the plasters, knee supports, notebooks, tiger balm, tissues, pens, paracetamol and parts of games there always nestles a little game. For those moments when you fancy a quick game: the queues, the waits, the cuppa stops or, when you look at your family and think ‘here are some people who need to interact with each other more’.
Geistes Blitz
This is a game of speedy reactions – flip the card then either grab the object shown or if the object does not feature you must work out with lightning deduction which item and colour is not depicted. Grab the wrong object and your go is over and you’ve just helped your opponents along.
The first couple of rounds of this were painful for me. For your first game I would recommend that you play against your peers rather than your heartless offspring. But before I had time to abandon all hope (which can happen remarkably quickly) I grasped it!
And the more rounds you play, the faster you get. It’s addictive, like a kind of hardcore spot the difference.
It quickly earned its place on permanent rotation with a few other games in my bag.
Don’t be fooled by her cute ears- she’s a stone cold victor!
Who Did It?
If you are tired of Poo! but have not grown out of finding faeces funny then this is a good, solid choice.
You need three players for this so although it regularly has a place in my bag it’s better when there are more people (up to 5). Handily, I have created a 5 person family.
Each person gets a hand of animal cards; each card is the potential culprit who has defecated in the living room.
The first player places their card down with the words (for example) ‘My cat didn’t do it, someone’s parrot did it.’
The first player to slap their parrot card on the cat has proved their innocence and declares ‘My parrot didn’t do it, someone’s rabbit did it’…. and so on… until everyone but one player plays all their cards in which case the last remaining player holds the culprit OR, you accuse an animal that no one holds and then you lose the round.
This last condition is the real genius of the game and moves it beyond a game of snap where the fastest reaction wins every time. You must be the fastest and remember the cards which have been played: boss both of these to ensure you don’t end up with the poo.
Zombie Dice.
I know that I have mentioned this one many times but thanks to our added soundproofing (a layer of felt glued to the inside of the insanely noisy box) it’s often rattles round quietly inside my bag. I love push your luck games and the element of probability alongside the tactile nature of the dice makes this game a firm favourite. I’m only disappointed that the markings on the dice aren’t more engraved and distinct as it could be so perfect for players who are blind or visually impaired.
Red dice contain more gunshots; green, more delicious brains and amber, an even mix of fleeing victims, brains and gunshots. Each turn you draw up to three dice and roll to see if you will feast or fail. It’s a low scoring game – once you get your head round that it is much easier to win. But win or lose the repetitive rolling of dice coupled with the thin veil of strategic thinking keeps me quiet for ages. And, as my family will tell you – that’s not to be sniffed at.
Heartcatchers is a fabulous little two player game. And when I say ‘little’ I am not being pejorative – it really is tiny with only 20 cards in the slim box.
The aim of the game is predictably to catch the most hearts, gaining bonuses and avoiding penalty cards. The ‘secrets’ – bonuses and penalty cards are played face down while you capture your opponents card stacks brazenly using face up hearts.
This is a game of bluff, strategy and memory. Do you put a -3 card down under your own stack in the hope your opponent thinks it must be a +3 and captures it? Or do you put the +3 under your own and hope to hang on to it? How long do you risk waiting before you steal the stack you want?
The game is brutally fast. I’ve just about worked out which cards I want when it’s all over. It’s one of those beautiful games that you want to replay immediately using a different strategy. And you can play again and again testing out different strategies whilst trying to second guess your opponent’s.
It’s certainly captured my heart.*
*Look, I’m sorry. I genuinely held that in as long as I could. It had to come out. Is now a good time to point you back to the poo pun?
Solo Puzzle games
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My most recent bag essential has been not one but three solo puzzle games. These are perfect for those moments when you look at your family and think ‘here are some people who need to interact with each other a lot less. Before someone loses an eye’
Each of the games comes with a booklet of puzzles steadily increasing in difficulty, which you can work your way through. They are incredibly absorbing and actually it’s hard to watch someone without joining in. Unless of course you have gone to sit in a different part of the pub while you enjoy the silence from a distance.
Seriously though, these are great for adults and children and although they are solo puzzles, when it comes to problem solving two heads are almost always better than one!
All of the games we review are available to try at Cards or Die events – join us or book us for your own event!
Other previously reviewed excellent games you might want to bag (click on the links to read more)
Join us at a Cards or Die event and try them out.
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Gifts for two game lovers. (And two lovers of games).

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