My Year in Games.

2018 has been a great year for Cards or Die. We’ve brought lots of people together with board games and played thousands of games! Here are our highlights…
I love visiting board game cafes and our family started the year by visiting Treehouse Board Games Cafe, Sheffield. It’s great to try games before you commit to buying and I love being taught the rules without having to wade through rule books. Exactly what Cards or Die offers at all of our events but nonetheless it’s good to be on the receiving end of great service and expertise. We played loads of new games including Colour Brain which we now have in stock – a brilliant quiz game with multi choice answers so you can always have a go. Answers that others don’t get earn you points, so unusual knowledge is rewarded.
In February I was back in school but instead of teaching, I was getting learners to work together and compete positively. They had loads of fun playing Exploding Kittens and Dobble. Since then I’ve done some work at The Lighthouse School in Leeds, working with young people with autism. Games are such a fabulous way to get people to interact with each other especially if communication is challenging. The fact that games give your communication a clear focus and purpose actually makes other communication easier and more comfortable. One of the only things I miss about teaching is working with young people – passionate, slightly crazy young people. So going in and playing daft games while reinforcing learning about social skills and helping groups to bond has been loads of fun.
In March my family and I went to Airecon. Two days of gaming – we tried loads of new games. I got the opportunity to play Quirk! before my Kickstarter copy arrived. My daughter was hooked on Animal Ailments and we backed it that day – her first kickstarter project. (What have I started?!) My favourite game of the weekend was Azul – it’s so tactile and gently strategic. Unfortunately I had to wait till my birthday in October before we finally tracked down a copy but since then it’s been our most played game. Another highlight was meeting the lovely Bez who I’ll be working with demoing their games at Airecon 2019 and UK Expo too.
We did some events in cafes this year as well as pubs and bars- a chance for people to have a night off from cooking and enjoy some board games with the family. This meant that I’ve enjoyed loads of delicious food from a range of local cafes. Plus slightly further afield at Mrs Smith’s Harrogate which even offers weight loss friendly meals which is awesome and delicious. It’s also given me the opportunity to support some local good causes like The Courtyard Cafe in Horsforth and in January we’ll be at Keepers Coffee for an Exploding Kittens tournament and cake!
Board Games at Weddings are perfect for those who don’t want to spend the whole night on the dance floor and is a great shared activity for people who don’t know one another. I always take a variety of games including retro favourites, co-operative games and party games too. I’m looking forward to the weddings we’ve got booked for next year and hoping to get some more booked in too.
What a fabulous summer 2018 was. We spent lots of fun Sundays at Hyde Park Book Club gaming in the sunshine. We’re there every third Sunday and hopefully in 2019 from about May onwards you’ll find us set up outside and soaking up the sun!
This year was the first time Cards or Die has participated in the Horsforth Walk of Art. Despite competing with the football on one of the days we still had an excellent turnout with lots of people having a break from their wanders at the Board Game tent – two gazebos full of board games choices! Because we were at home, people had the full collection to choose from whereas usually I have to take a selection to events. With over 300 different games on the menu it’s usually impossible to give people access to all of them. The children had fun baking for the event and playing games on the day so it was a real family event. The giant Pass the Pigs had their first airing!
n August I took a selection of games to the Furnace Social Club at West Yorkshire Playhouse for a great night of gaming and relaxed networking. Pit went down very well as always. First released in 1909 it’s a timeless classic- great for parties and large groups. It involves lots of shouting and my version comes with a deliciously retro orange metal bell which I think should be included in every edition. You compete to corner the market on the product of your choice, collecting a set by trading with others. Once you’ve got the complete set you get to ding the bell and trading ends! Fast paced, shouty fun.
After a long, long wait during which time I learnt that it is far easier to get a million board games made than it is to get two printed (!) I finally got my first bespoke board game completed. I delivered it to Gateway Family Services for them to use in their training of staff on care navigation. I thoroughly enjoyed the creative process of designing it. I think that playing games is a brilliant training device – the game I designed is purpose built to train in a specific area and I have designed it flexibly allowing different areas to be focussed on in different playthroughs. People engage with games because it’s fun and different. Learning through play can be stimulating and challenging, allowing people to experiment with different scenarios and risks; to balance working as a team with individual responsibilities and to celebrate each other’s contributions.
I also delivered some team building in Wrexham. I taught the teams Escape Zombie City – a frantic co-operative game where you have to work together under pressure to achieve progressively more difficult outcomes. Nothing bonds people like surviving a zombie apocalypse together! It was interesting to watch the dynamics as people were moved to different teams. It was certainly not the team building they were expecting and it was great to receive lots of lovely feedback.
During half term I had my first booking at The Horse and Bamboo theatre over in Rossendale. A lovely little theatre with some excellent productions. The event was packed out – in fact we had to get mats out for people to sit on as there weren’t enough chairs and tables! This group didn’t seem to mind as they got stuck into a game on Gobblin’ Goblins – a game of gross foods and tricky goblins. We’re back there on the 27th January 2019.
Every November a group of – I’m not going to say old …. – longstanding friends and I go off somewhere. This year we glamped on a bus in Shropshire. There are a few constants in this arrangement – prosecco, some sort of spa/ hot tub experience, great food and I bring the games. We played Geistes Blitz, In A Bind, Logo Game, Outburst, Whist and Who Did It? I laughed so much when we played Who Did It? that my face hurt. Enjoying games with friends is one of the things that inspired me to start Cards or Die and when you teach a game that people love it’s such a great feeling. Games really can bring people together in such a positive way.
What a fantastic end to my year! I’ve been nominated for Independent Business of The Year. I’d love it if you could take a moment to vote for me – although just the nomination is amazing to be honest. I work hard and I passionately believe that my business can be a force for good. I want to play my part in tackling social isolation, in helping people get together and not feel alone; to support others with mental health difficulties and to support good causes like The Courtyard Cafe and Keepers Coffee and Kitchen. This nomination means a lot and when times are challenging I know it will help me to keep doing the thing!
Join us at a Cards or Die event.

Board Games Hauls and Piles of Shame.

My advertising posts often proudly announce the number of board games in my collection. (Currently 310). Like everyone else I prop up, retweet and add to the jokes about the piles of shame; question the necessity of taking clothes to Essen to when you could just fill your case with new games. However, I also see the danger of these throw away comments and jokes. Regularly I feel disquiet about owning games I haven’t played while I’m still backing new ones on Kickstarter. Sitting around joking about how much money we can waste is a position of privilege that I don’t even want to aspire to.
Being part of the Board Gaming community is not about collecting and bragging. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. Even with my large collection, I am sometimes on the receiving end of sniffy comments about the range of my games; the ‘seriousness’ of them. The phrase ‘proper games’ has been bandied about in a disparaging manner. People who like to reel off a checklist of games I ‘missed out on’ from Kickstarter sometimes come to my events. I try to discourage this sort of conversation. I’ll happily compete with anyone to build the most profitable settlement, get the most cards or get rid of all the cards – whatever the game demands. But I’m not playing this game. In a hobby that is already niche we really don’t need to be marginalising people.
If my business didn’t require me to have a large collection of games including some up to the minute releases then I would not have a collection of this size. Nor would I want so many games. I have played each of my games (bar the newest 5 or 6) at least once. Many of them I have only played once. Some of the games in my collection are for others, I don’t particularly enjoy them but other people do and that’s why they have earned their precious shelf space. Too many of my games I have not been able to play enough. It’s great to have choice but it’s far better to be able to play something enough that you can thoroughly explore and appreciate it. I feel like a smaller collection would allow me to enjoy my games more.
I have placed myself in an odd position – I feel a fraud denouncing consumerism, the greed and sense of entitlement with which we constantly shop. I despair at my children who as soon as they see something, are weighing up its cost; Ebay, google, amazon temptingly at their fingertips. I feel trapped by it all and it is at these moments I feel the mad desire to charity shop all my worldly good and go live on a bus. But it would be difficult to run a board gaming business if I only kept Honshu and Catan.
I wanted to write something as the influx of Essen hauls flood our social media feeds. I don’t begrudge anyone spending their hard earned cash on board games – there are far worse vices. But I wanted to remind us all that it’s not ok to make people feel like they need to play certain games or spend a certain amount of money to be part of the Board Gaming Community. Being part of a community is about making sure everyone is included and in this particular community a love of board games should be at the root of that. I don’t care whether you backed the latest Kickstarter, whether you have all the expansions or whether you have 1000s of serious games. You don’t have to own the ‘right’ games, the ‘proper’ games or any games for that matter to enjoy board games. It has not escaped my irony detectors that the same people who are so disparaging about Monopoly often have a very capitalist approach to the hobby!
Social Media offers us a glimpse of other people’s lives that they have edited, filtered, presented; it fulfils the nosy neighbour part of me. It’s lovely to see gorgeous photos of games I haven’t played and I love watching the Kickstarter campaigns start at zero and inch towards the finishing posts or smash straight through them. Social media enables me to engage with games designers and share their victories even when I can’t afford to back everything I would like to. Even I remind myself that I can’t support everyone and I can’t have everything – no matter how pretty it looks in the picture and I have a legitimate reason for adding to my collection regularly. I think it bears mentioning that when we see these pictures from me and others, we are looking at someone’s work -whether it’s events, reviewing or photography. Most people really don’t need to own that many games!
Whether as a child it was about prising an elder sibling away from the TV to play with me; family holidays in a caravan playing card games while the rain pattered on the ceiling or now, as an adult, prising an x-box controller out of a child’s hand because I still need someone to play with me – I just want to get people together with board games. That might be a Kickstarter preview or it might be Cluedo, as long as we are playing together and escaping the drudge of day to day life, it doesn’t really matter. It shouldn’t cost money (or at least not a lot!) to feel that warm nostalgia and to get people playing together.
Keeping the costs down:
  • Charity Shops – I’m always on the look out at Charity Shops especially for retro games. You can get some real bargains. Recently I got a Ticket To Ride expansion for £1.50!
  • I try to keep my events free or low cost as far as I practically can to make sure they are accessible to as many people as possible and I know lots of local board gaming groups operate on a similar premise. If you’re not sure of your local group, message me and I’ll point you in the right direction. Of course if you’re in Leeds I’d love to see you at some of my events.
  • I really like the idea of the legacy games where groups of friends share the cost of a game and get together regularly to play it. It doesn’t have to be a legacy game that you could share the cost of.
  • Some libraries have started stocking board games which is fantastic. If you’re lucky enough to live in Ipswich – that’s one example.
  • Most cities have board game cafes where you can try out whichever games you fancy without committing to buying the game.
  • Some traditional games are loads of fun and all you need is a deck of cards or sometimes even just pen and paper – Beetle Drive, Flip the Kipper and Battleship are all good fun. Any time my children have been set homework where one of the choices was make a board game, they have always opted for that. All you need are dice, card, pens and imagination!
I suppose, in short, what I’m trying to say is – the board gaming community I’m a part of welcomes you, and we’re striving to be kind, thoughtful and above all excellent to each other.

Check out my free events here and come along and play some games.

Some trivial reminiscences – a blog from a lapsed #BGG

This week I have a guest blog from the fabulous Zebra Marketing and Communications.
I grew up in a card playing family. My father’s mother – my Nanny Dosh, short for Doris obviously – taught me a host of family favourites (and the harmonica) when she used to babysit me. And my mother’s aunt – my Great Aunt Madge – taught me other games on her annual visits up North. Many a weekend was spent playing games like ‘Load the Donkey’ and ‘Beat your Neighbour Out of Doors’. Later my parents taught me other games like Pontoon (21s), Cribbage, Gin Rummy and others that you could bet a few coppers on (we took card games seriously in our house). Board games, other than the obligatory Kerplunk, Monopoly and Operation, didn’t really feature.
That all changed with the advent of Trivial Pursuit. Launched in 1979, I seem to remember it got very popular in the mid-eighties and no dinner party my parents attended at that time was complete without it. The Trivial Pursuit craze continued and by the time I was in my late teens and early twenties even many impoverished students sported – albeit a tatty version – the Trivial Pursuit box (or the budget ‘travel’ edition) in their shared house or bedsit.
We found some of our friends were like-minded in their love of games and Trivial Pursuit soon progressed to Articulate, The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game, Let’s Buy Hollywood and many, many others. By the time we bought our own house, the top of my bedroom wardrobe looked more like that of a 12-year-old than an adult with a mortgage and a full-time job.
Games were played regularly throughout our twenties and even now we are known to use phrases that entered family lore around that time. ‘It’s an ‘ing’’ (for a ‘doing word’) or name a double-barrelled monkey (‘Mr Orang-Utan’ of course!) However, as friends moved away, some to literally the other side of the world, and others started families of their own, the games were played less and eventually were moved into the garage and then finally, apart from a couple that survived the cull, ended up in the local charity shop.
I gave little thought to games over the following years until a friend of mine had the inspiration to set up a board gaming business (Cards or Die). It sounded like such a fun idea for a business, but it wasn’t until I witnessed Ann in action, at another friend’s birthday camping festival that I truly appreciated the level of effort and thought that has gone into her business. Cards or Die’s games selection spans a wide spectrum and there is something for everyone. But what really makes it work is the encouragement, recommendations and advice that Ann provides all players – teaching them new games or reminding them of the rules of games played in the past. It turns a game into so much more.
Needless to say, the group of friends I was with barely left the games tent for the rest of the festival and the fun we had reawakened my love of games (as well as reinforcing my position as Connect 4 champion). I think the time is right to invest in some new games and I believe Ann may have a few recommendations for me…
I’m always happy to recommend games – check out the games section of the website for ideas or message me!

Brain Games – come and have a go if you think they’re hard enough!

It might just be me but this heatwave has slowed my brain down. I feel sluggish, struggle to concentrate long enough to find out whether the lie detector result is surprising on Jeremy Kyle and I lose my car keys twice a day (which is an increase of 50%). It got me thinking that I should play some games which increase my brain power. So I raided the Cards or Die library and had a go at these brainy games. Have a go at them yourself – I’ve included a sample from each game. I’m not asking for much – I don’t want enough brain power to develop psychic powers and take over the world… although…
To be honest I’d just settle for less time searching for my sodding car keys and less time getting lost on journeys. So, here are my findings.
Spears Games 1993
The fact that the winning conditions of this game require you to reach the end of an optical illusion tells you everything you need to know about the brain power required here. There are two paths – one shorter than the other.
Play in teams or as an individual and solve the riddles and puzzles to move along your chosen path. It’s a tricky game that appeals to the more cryptic brain.
Here are a few examples to get those little grey cells working!
Verdict This has not made me any cleverer (and certainly hasn’t made me feel any cleverer) but it is perfect for people who enjoy riddles and problem solving. And perfect for the pub as it doesn’t take up much space.
Alexander Duncan 1998
Enigma is similar to Mindtrap in that it in order to win you must solve riddles. You can play as a team or as individuals to move through the maze. The winner is the first to arrive in the centre and then solve a final riddle without being given a clue. As you move through the maze you will land on riddle points (blue triangles). Solving the riddle without a clue will earn you the right to move further towards the centre, request a clue and you still advance – just not as far. Get it wrong here and there is no consequence. However, if you fall into a pit of ignorance (A blue and gold diamond) then you must solve a riddle without a clue to escape and move on. This can (and when we played, definitely did) lead to many missed turns.
Honestly, this game is way too clever for me. Getting lost in a pit of ignorance is not much fun after a while it’s all a bit too much like trying to drive to… well, most places. But if you thrive on exercising your brain then you should try this one out.
Sci-Fi Trivia
MMG 1994
My daughter recently asked a question about a game in our local Geek Retreat, she prefaced it with the words “You’re a nerd genius, you’ll know this…”
That would serve well as a preamble for any of the questions featured here.
A roll of the die determines which question you or your team will answer from the following topics: The Golden Age, Multi Media, New Wave, Cult Movies, Cult TV or The Classics. If you leave aside the confusing and arbitrary nature of these categories and don’t try to work out when any of them refer to, you can enjoy a challenging game which will test your memory and knowledge.
Pleasingly the rules refer to he/she throughout. (See, it’s really not that difficult. You may also note that I have used second person when explaining to you how to play- I don’t find it a challenge not to assume everyone is a white man. But I digress, that’s a whole other blog).
This is not a quiz for those of limited Sci-Fi commitment. It is not enough that you watched Star Trek once or that you were delighted when they announced that woman off of Broadchurch* was going to be Dr Who. However, if you are a nerd genius then this is the quiz for you.
(*I know it’s Jodie Whittaker. I’m being sardonic.)
Random House 1988
In this game for 3 to 8 players (or teams) you work towards your graduation from the University of Reversity by solving as many backwards words as you can. There are Exam cards which you collect throughout the game with trickier spellings on. These are saved until you or your team reach the University to sit your final exams – you can also get rid of these by landing on the same space as an opponent. There are clues on the cards that you can choose whether to use. All of the backwords are helpfully spelled phonetically to enable you to read them easily.
Here are some examples – of course we need to remember that hearing them read aloud is A LOT more challenging than seeing them written down!
I enjoy word games so I like the challenge of this one. It’s so much harder than you expect it to be. I’ve read about children who invented secret codes and languages using backwards spelling, so if you’re one of those kids you should find it a lear ezeerb!
Brain Box
Green Board Game Co 2007+
Brain Box is much more my level. There are no riddles or specialist knowledge here – just plain old observation and memory. The parts of my brain that this uses are the ones I worry about most and am keen not to lose. There are different Brain Boxes to choose from – The World, Roald Dahl and The 1990s!
You have a scant 10 seconds to study the card you are given, you then roll the die and your opponent asks you the corresponding question. Have a go at the one below – scroll to the bottom for the questions.
I enjoy this game; it’s fast paced, fun and you can play it with all the family. It doesn’t rely on specialist knowledge or skills, which makes it more accessible. Admittedly it is the least challenging game here but it still exercises my brain and I’m happy with that!
Captain Macaque 2016
Of all the brain games, this is my absolute favourite. The aim of the game is to build a brain by collecting sets of challenge cards. You win the challenge cards by being first to cover the card with your hand and give the correct answer. The cards test you on memory, co-ordination, perception, observation, reasoning and touch.
The touch challenge is ingenious and one that I thought was going to be easy. Turns out that distinguishing a zebra from a teddy bear using only touch is quite tricky.
Spotting the image featured most frequently and memorising the images on the card are my easiest challenges and these are the cards I find most visually pleasing. I love the retro style prints so maybe that makes it easier for me.
But my nemesis is this chirpy looking guy: He expects me to label my hands (left is blue, right is red) and number my fingers 1-5. His demands don’t end there though- next I have to match the fingers as shown on his annoyingly cheerful face. I can sometimes co-ordinate myself before my opponent. Rarely, I can put the correctly numbered fingers on the correct part of my face – but never with my tongue still in my mouth. And always in painful slow motion. Most often I just sit staring at my hands in a kind of stupefied panic.
See how quickly you can solve the following:
Maze – which is the exit?
Colour – which word is written in its own colour?
Pairs – which is there two of?
Spatial Awareness – Which shape fits in the space?
Described as ‘a brain-busting card game’ by its creators, Cortex is certainly a game that challenges you in lots of different ways. The nice thing about this game is that everybody seems to excel in one skill or other, whether it’s memory, colour recognition or touch. It means that some cards are easier than others which gives it a pleasing balance. No-one wants to be so challenged that they feel like they’re losing all the time. That’s just not fun.
Overall Verdict
I’m not sure whether playing these games has actually made me cleverer or just highlighted which bits of my brain don’t work so well. Either way, I’ve had fun trying and it’s all about the taking part. Right? Now where did I put that copy of Dobble…?
So… how did you do?
The Answers
Calvin_image 1

Guest Blog – Calvin Wong Tze Loon (@ithayla)

Hi I’m Calvin and you may have read a twitter thread I did about cultural appropriation; what it is, why it’s Not Good, and how to avoid it. (click here)
One of the more common ways the hobby tends to perform cultural appropriation is Asian-themed board games (usually ancient, feudal, or imperial Japan/China) where no one involved with the actual production is Asian – unlike the three games I’m spotlighting today!
Three Kingdoms Redux
Designers Christina Ng Zhen Wei and Yeo Keng Leong. Artist Ray Toh.
The heaviest of the bunch, 3KR is a worker placement game set during the decades-long conflict between the Three Kingdoms of Wei, Wu, and Shu.
Featuring constantly-fracturing alliances, economic management, and political maneuvering, the game’s greatest conceit is the workers themselves; dozens of historical figures from scribes to kings, great generals and logisticians.
Each of the game’s three factions has dozens of these characters, which you gain over the course of the game and deploy to upgrade technology, grow rice, and wage war – and each has unique stats, special abilities, combat prowesses…
Wielding your workers properly is the heart of 3KR, which is also one of the most gorgeous and thinky eurogames I’ve ever played. If you’re looking for something deep, historically and thematically rich, Three Kingdoms Redux is a masterpiece of asymmetrical design.
The Legend of Korra: Pro Bending Arena
Designers Sen-Foong Lim, Jessey Wright
Earth. Fire. Air. Water. These words either stir a great poetry deep in your heart, or you haven’t watched the show.
TLoK: PBA is a two player head-to-head board game based on Pro-Bending: a three on three team sport where an earth, fire, and water bender use their powers to manipulate the elements and try to knock the opposing team out of the arena.
Featuring iconic characters from the series and intense, fast cardplay, TLoK:P- Korra will have you thinking about positioning, defense, and trying to figure out your deck construction as you try to outwit and outmaneuver your opponent.
Korra brings kick-butt action in an accessible package – once you’ve figured out some rules quibbles, the gameplay is more than deep enough to keep you going for a long, long time.
Designers Chih-Fan Chen, Chi Wei Lin. Artist Meng-Jung Yang
Releasing this Essen, Paleolithic is a family weight worker placement game set in pre-historic Taiwan and it looks LIKE THIS
Move your tribes people and animal companions around, gather resources, and earn artifacts to score points. Colorful, delightful, and fast, Paleolithic is a fantastic introduction to the worker placement genre with such amazing production values.
For additional complexity, the Seafarers and Dawn of Humanity expansions add more decisions (AND ANIMALS. YOU CAN GET A MAMMOTH) but not so much so that younger players won’t be able to keep up.
Thank you for reading! Thanks also to Ann and Eilidh for inviting me to do a guest post – and I hope you have a great time at your next gaming session no matter what you play.
2017-03-25 15.43.18

The Dangers of Gateway Games

It starts off innocently enough; a mild interest, or reminiscing. Maybe you visit your parents and come home with an armful of ‘soft games’: Connect 4, Kerplunk and Cluedo. They sit, neatly tessellating on the shelf till one rainy day you get them out. You play ‘Connect 4’ five or six times until you feel it’s too easy. You need something harder.
As you chat, you remember you once owned Downfall. And it was good. Then to e-bay and oooh – they don’t just have Downfall but also Deflection. You haven’t heard of it but it says MB so it must be good. I mean, that’s the dealer you got Connect 4 from and while you couldn’t identify him in a line up, he was reliable and he’s only asking for a bit more money for Deflection.
Deflection arrives with Downfall. They are beautiful. Exactly what you needed, much harder. Before you slide the tray or turn the wheel you are thinking carefully, planning your moves. No more glibly dropping counters for you. You have progressed.
You need to speak to someone, so you ring your sister. She reminds you of Bank Holiday weekends playing Monopoly and you crave that time again. You read online that Monopoly is no longer cool. The new board gamers you associate with in board game dens under railway arches (draughts!) laugh when you mention it. They assume you are being ironic and you are too scared to admit the truth. Secretly, you order it on e-bay. It’s just the travel version. All your games still fit on one shelf. You’ve got this. You’re in control.
You spend your days scouring the charity shops. You buy Game of Life, Go for Broke. You lie to your new friends. Which turns out to be easy because not only do you want all the retro games but you need the latest, strongest new games too. You love playing Codenames, and Ultimate Werewolf. You were delighted when the Exploding Kittens Expansion Pack arrived.
Once you went cold turkey and spent a week not going on Kickstarter. They sent someone round to check you were still alive; that your groaning shelves hadn’t collapsed, trapping you under the plethora of games you now own, leaving you surrounded by loved ones who miss you but know it’s the way you’d have wanted to go.
You need these new friends in your life, they understand that you lie to your family about the cost of games. You’re currently working with one of them to formulate a justification for buying Pandemic before payday. He recently spent his wedding fund on some netrunner cards (his fiance was complicit). If anyone can bail you out, he can.
Before you know it, your games don’t tessellate, your daily e.mails from kickstarter are out of control and you can no longer afford the extension you so desperately need to store all your board games in because you spent all your money on board games.
Need help? Is your habit out of control?
Get in touch. We can’t help you, you’re beyond that but we can empathise, and we can recommend some games that will take the edge off…
Come along to a Cards or Die event and play some games!
Meeple like us 1

Guest Blog – Meeple Like Us

It’s almost time again for the Spiel des Jahres – it’s the closest thing we have to Oscars for board games. What I’d like to take this guest post opportunity to do is talk about the role the Spiel des Jahres can play in helping ensuring our hobby becomes as inclusive as it possibly can be.
The various categories of the Spiel des Jahres are important. You know that already otherwise you wouldn’t be here reading this article. The awards, and their nominees, are an intense subject of speculation amongst board-game connoisseurs the world over. There are real cultural and economic rewards that come from being nominated, and greater rewards still for the games that win. More than anything else, what success in this respect implies is accessibility in various senses of the word. A winner will be mechanistically accessible to those that play – you won’t need to be an expert to understand or excel. A winner will be economically accessible to those that look to purchase it – it won’t be eye-wateringly expensive and full of luxury plastics. It will be logistically accessible to people across the world – it’s a game you’ll find in German supermarkets and anywhere they sell hobbyist games. Winning one of the Spiel des Jahres awards means the public removal of a number of barriers that may have previously stood between a game and genuinely mainstream success and recognition.
Figure 1 –The whimsical and charming Dixit – one of the best games in my experience for introducing new players to the world of modern board-gaming.
However, there is another meaning to the word ‘accessible’ that is often under-emphasised in our hobby. That is in terms of accessibility to gamers with disabilities. There is a huge, largely untapped market of gamers out there who find their enjoyment of games complicated by the lack of support for physical, visual, communicative or cognitive impairments. For these gamers, sometimes all the Spiel des Jahres award does is emphasise that their participation in board gaming culture can only ever be partial. There are few things as culturally isolating as being unable to join in on the fun everyone else seems to be having.
In some respects, this is only to be expected. To make complex economic management mechanisms accessible to players with cognitive impairments would need so much to change that it wouldn’t in any sense be the same game. Dexterity games will never be a good fit for those with physical impairments. Pattern matching games are rarely a good choice for people with visual impairments. That is undeniable. It’s also perhaps undesirable that this change – the inaccessibility in a game is where all the fun comes from and we need to be careful about agitating for ‘less fun’ in games. The golden age that we are currently experiencing with regards to board gaming is one that is fuelled by a glorious variety of themes and mechanisms. That can only work if game designers are free to explore innovative and adventurous designs and to find the fun within.
Figure 2 – Five Tribes has a number of problems with regards to colour blindness, but there are elements of its fundamental design cannot realistically be made more accessible without it being a very different game. Some problems can be fixed, some cannot.
It is not the case that every game can be made accessible to every gamer. However, it is usually the case that every game can be made more accessible than it currently is. The spectrum of interaction within which individual players may be functioning is extremely wide. The distance between someone being able to play, and being completely unable to play might only be as wide as a few centimetres of die cutting, or a few shades on the artist’s palette. Greater accessibility is not only within relatively easy grasp of all developers, it’s something that can only increase the potential audience for these remarkable games. Awards like those offered by the Spiel judges will give a publisher a generous slice of the market pie, but accessibility means that the pie will be bigger for everyone. I would very much like to see the Spiel des Jahres incorporating elements of accessibility in its judging processes as a result. There are a few areas of maximum leverage in board gaming – this is one of them.
Figure 3 – Here we see some custom meeple designs as viewed by those with full chromatic vision (top left), Protanopia (red-green colour blindness), Deuteranopia (a different kind of red-green colour blindness) and Tritanopia (blue-yellow colour blindness). Other than the colour, there is no way to tell them apart.
For a little context, I’m a computing lecturer in Aberdeen, Scotland. I’m not associated with the Spiel des Jahres in any capacity other than as an interested observer. As part of my academic work in the area of accessibility for games, I run a blog called Meeple Like Us. We do the same kind of reviews that are produced by many people who are enthusiasts in the area. Our unique element is for every review we also publish a comprehensive accessibility analysis of the game we just discussed. We assess games in terms of the impairments we have mentioned above, but also in terms of likely emotional impact and socioeconomic factors of representation. Our job is to help gamers with special access requirements to find the games that work for them, and highlight the problems that mean certain titles won’t be suitable. I have had a lot of feedback showing that there really is an appetite out there for accessibility issues to be considered in mainstream tabletop gaming. The Spiel des Jahres awards have certain restrictions that go along with them, such as ‘must have been published as a German language edition’. That’s an accessibility requirement. There’s room in this reward for much more to be encouraged.
I won’t single out any particular games here for commentary because that would be neither helpful nor fair. If there is one thing I have learned during this process it’s that even games that look and play in a similar fashion often diverge completely in their accessibility profiles. I’m often as surprised as anyone by what an accessibility teardown ends up revealing. As such, there are no ‘representative’ games that can stand in for the whole. The images selected for this post have been chosen largely at random from the games we have previously covered on the website.
Figure 4 – For those with physical impairments, attempting to position trains in tight quarters can be difficult. Ease of verbalisation really helps with situations like this.
The results of the project so far have shown that overall the story regarding the accessibility of board games is far from positive. However, and this is more important, it’s also shown that there are a lot of easy fixes that can really make a difference. For a few simple examples:
  • Try to avoid paper money – it is rarely accessible to those with physical or visual impairments. The usual compensatory strategies people have for real life paper money (such as the folding method) don’t function correctly in the rapid churn of a game economy.
  • When using cardboard tokens, give different units tactile distinctiveness. Don’t just change the size, change the shape. Go from circle, to hexagon, to square, to crescent. That makes it possible to tell the difference by touch alone. Currency of indistinguishable denominations is not visually accessible. Look at the coins in your pocket as a model for how tokens should be handled. If tokens have to be hidden, provide a screen, or a bag, or just tell people to keep them hidden in a cup.
  • Consider colour blindness – not just in terms of colour palette, which is only a partial solution. Make sure colour isn’t the only way you’re providing key information to players. Supplement it with iconography, or textures. Be aware there is a wide spectrum of colour blindness – it’s not just about picking the right colours, although that certainly helps.
  • Consider how easy it is to describe an action a player might undertake. Even gamers that are completely unable to interact with a game can still fully enjoy it. We refer to ‘verbalisation’ in our teardowns to describe this. You can play a meaningful game of chess without ever touching a piece, simply by making use of the unambiguous grid referencing system of the board.
  • Consider whether your rules can be made more modular, so that additional complexity can be slotted in to place as time goes by. This allows not only an easier learning experience for everyone, but for groups to find the sweet-spot where the cognitive abilities of players are neatly accommodated.
  • If you can avoid using custom dice, consider alternate options. Visually impaired players will often have specialised braille or oversized dice they use and these often cannot easily be incorporated without the use of a lookup table or some other awkward compensation.
None of these are hugely costly, although an adventurous publisher might also consider things like QR codes linking to audio narration for long passages of text; embossed boards that lend themselves to tactile exploration; or any number of other compensations. Some manufacturers have seen ‘accessible components’ as a business opportunity all of their own. I would like to see the floor raised here without incurring additional expense to those that are currently excluded from full participation in the hobby. There is a lot we can do to make games more accessible as they emerge out of the box.
Figure 5 – This is an oversized, accessible six sided dice. It’s sitting atop one of the casino tiles from Lords of Vegas. Even if you had enough of these dice in your house, you couldn’t use them to stand in for the ones in the box because of how they’re used.

The important thing here is that it’s not necessary to solve every problem for every game – but every problem you do solve will open the game up to an audience that was previously unavailable. Board gaming is not currently considered a mainstream hobby for those with disabilities, but that can change. It changes in part by showing disabled gamers that this is a hobby they too can meaningfully enjoy, and making the design and production changes that permit them to do so. The economic rewards that come from the SdJ could be a powerful incentive for this.
It’s important to note here too that there is also a social and cultural aspect to accessibility. The attitudes people have towards recreational products are very often shaped by the way in which those products are presented. Adopting wider diversity in art in terms of ethnicity, gender and disabilities is a powerful gesture. It sends a message to those that idly encounter the games – ‘we see you as part of this hobby’. That message in turn indicates that people should consider seeing themselves as part of the hobby. We include new audiences first by ensuring they can play, and then ensuring they feel welcome in these marvellous shared experiences.
A short treatment of this subject cannot possibly hope to be exhaustive in the possibilities or the problems, but all I’m looking to do here is float a notion. We spend a lot of time talking about the SdJ and that alone shows how potentially powerful a catalyst for change it could be if accessibility was one of the judging criteria.
Those wishing to learn more about the issue are invited to join me back on Meeple Like Us where we do weekly deep dives into particular games – including a number of previous SdJ winners and nominees. I am also contactable at dice@imaginary-realities.com for discussion, but I can’t guarantee especially rapid responses there. I’m available on twitter at @meeplelikeus, and I’m very happy to engage with designers and publishers.
Thanks for your attention. We play games for many reasons, but one of the most powerful is to spend quality time with the people we love. The more accessible your games are, the greater the number of our loved ones that can be part of the experience.
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Zombies!!! The Game.

If you’ve perused my games menu, you may have noticed that I have a penchant for Zombie games! From a young age (probably too young) I enjoyed watching all sorts of horror films. With the exception of a few well made favourites like The Exorcist, The Shining and Don’t Look Back, I have favoured trash or ridiculous storylines which zombie films have in abundance. I enjoyed Black Sheep (a film about zombie sheep in New Zealand – a twist on the 5 people get stuck in a cabin in the middle of nowhere trope), Dead Snow (nazi zombies who meet a sticky end, also involving a cabin – this time in the wilds of Norway) and of course, Shaun of the Dead.
Shaun of the Dead is one of my favourite films. It’s more than just a pun, it’s a brilliantly funny film. It was also, among other things, a reference to this in my online dating profile that encouraged my partner to contact me. So it has a very special place in my heart.
And Zombie films are not just important in my life, they have persisted in our culture for years. Since Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in 1968 the zombie trope has been ever present. It’s curious because as the easy satire of Shaun of the Dead highlights, the stories are similar, the characters fall into predictable roles with predictable behaviours and yet it is still a popular (if niche) genre. The films have often been used as a comment on consumerism and modern life; I wonder whether that is part of their timeless appeal. The comments Romero was making back then are still just as relevant today. Consumerism, the ethics of it and its role in our lives still preoccupies many people.
Zombies themselves have a special appeal. Shaun of the Dead even ends with people keeping zombies as companions – like a dog but a bit bite-ier! Their slow movements and blank faces make us feel we can definitely triumph in a battle against them. Perhaps the promise of a victory which would save humanity, alongside the glory which would accompany it, appeals to our heroic (while slightly cowardly) side.
And when (not if!) the zombie apocalypse comes will you be ready for it? I have had many discussions about plans for the zombie apocalypse and where would be a suitable place to fight them from. I knew someone who said she wouldn’t go out with anyone if they didn’t have a zombie apocalypse plan. When you’re down the Winchester, having a pint and waiting for it all to blow over, you just need to hope Cards or Die are there with what is becoming an extensive selection of zombie games to help you come up with some strategies!
When I saw Zombies by Todd Breitenstein for just £2.99 in a charity shop I wondered straightaway if it was a bargain or a dud. I’d never heard of it and it was still shrink wrapped. Inside the box there were 100 tiny, plastic zombies and that was ultimately what swung it for me! I mean you can never have too many tiny plastic zombies and until now I didn’t have any. It was packaged like a video which had confused both the person labelling the game and the lady on the till and was boldly labelled ‘This one’s a no-brainer’ so I brought it home with me.
In Zombies you win by being the first to either defeat 25 zombies or reach the helipad and escape. The mechanism for adding zombies is very easy: for named buildings it is written on the card and for other cards you just place the same number of zombies as there are roads. You move by rolling a die, pausing to battle zombies by rolling a die, then you move the zombies by… you guessed it… rolling a die. Every turn you place a tile making sure all roads join other roads, if you place enough dead ends then you can not escape and must continue until one of you has defeated 25 zombies.
At this point, I felt that it was going to be a glorified roll and move game, entirely down to chance. Actually, there is more to it. And I don’t mean the teeny weeny zombies although I’ll be honest, they have swayed me.
There are other elements too – bullets which can be used to boost your die score, 3 hearts which represent your lives and are used to continue fighting a zombie. More of both of these can be collected as you move around the board, placing you in a stronger position to fight. You can move zombies at the end of your turn – this is again dependent on a die roll. At this point you can move zombies towards you or towards your opponent.
There is an element of push your luck here too. If you choose to fight while you are low on life and bullets you can find yourself back at the start. You respawn with 3 bullets and 3 lives but you lose half the zombies you defeated. And to add insult to injury you round up! So if for instance someone (it could be anyone) had 15 zombies, 1 life and 1 bullet and she thought ‘Ha! I’m invincible- I laugh in the face of death’ then died, she would lose 8 hard earned zombies which seems distinctly unfair. Especially as the dice that come with it are rubbish and only roll 1s.
There are also event cards. You start with three and can play them at any point in the game – using them to bolster your plans or scupper your opponent’s. The ability to discard unwanted cards at the end of your turn means you can get rid of cards that don’t fit with your strategy. I say strategy, it’s more Go For Broke than Go! But there is enough strategy to maintain interest and the cards add to the fun. For instance ‘we’re screwed’ or more accurately ‘You’re screwed, I’m winning now!’
We really enjoyed it and while we were playing the bar man came over and said they have it at home and often play. It turns out loads of people have it and enjoy it. It was just a well kept secret… until now….
Throughout the game you must weigh up whether you are strong enough to battle or whether you should try to avoid the zombies and make for the helipad, collecting hearts and bullets as you go. Sacrifice the right event cards to collect more useful ones and you might just make it, or at the very least put up a good fight. And when it’s all over you can still enjoy a pint and a toastie down the Winchester, hopefully none the worse for your adventures.
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Magic Maze, and team building without having to talk to anyone.

We all love work don’t we, and what do we love more than work? A training day. And the best type of training day? Joy of joys – a team building day. Well, what if I told you that for part of your team building day you can’t talk to your colleagues? If, like me you prefer to work in splendid isolation then this may be the team building day for you!
Cooperative gaming is all about working together as a team to overcome adversity or challenge. A kind of all for one and one for all mentality. You need to strategise and move as a team to survive. But in these silent games communication is no longer enough -you have to engage your empathy. No-one can just take control here and make all the decisions, so you are truly playing as a team.
Magic Maze
There are four heroes in Magic Maze: a mage, a barbarian, an elf and a dwarf. Our intrepid heroes must steal a vial, a sword, a bow and an axe respectively before escaping the shopping mall. Yes, that’s right – a shopping mall. Deliciously ridiculous – you must suspend your disbelief before we even start playing.
The game has 17 different scenarios and can be played solo or for up to 8 players. I like the fact that scenario 1 allows you to learn the mechanics of the game and as such is not too challenging at all. By scenario 3 you will have learnt all the rules of the game. Learning the rules in stages makes it very accessible.
Unlike other games anyone can move the heroes. You are not assigned a particular colour or role, instead you are assigned a movement ability. The cards depict different movements and abilities – North, South, up and down escalators, the ability to travel to vortexes or the ability to reveal and place another tile/ part of the magic maze. You all play at once, there is no turn taking which makes keeping track of where you are up to increasingly challenging.
Another unusual feature is the length of time you need to play. The game is played in real time and only takes around 15 minutes. It reminds me of Queen Games’ Escape from Zombie City and Escape the Curse of the Temple – both of which I thoroughly enjoy. There are differences though. The speed of play means you can play a few games of it and you can really feel your team getting better at it the more rounds you play. In common with the Escape games it is an intense experience so 15 minutes is enough for my nerves. After that I need time to regroup, discuss tactics with the team and then we can go again!
But of course, the most unusual feature of this game is that it is played in silence. The only way to communicate is to move the large red ‘Do Something Pawn’ in front of a player and look at them pleadingly whilst thinking ‘loudly’.
In order to play successfully you need to consider why other people are moving pawns in a particular direction; you need to consider what their strategy is. If everyone or even anyone tries to enforce their own strategy on others your team will fail. Unlike other cooperative games where you can agree strategy and adaptations as you go along in this game you need to observe and adapt on the go. You also need to be aware of what each characters’ abilities are so you know which person needs to move next. It epitomises team work – know the strengths and abilities of your team, be observant, be empathetic and be patient.
There are some opportunities to speak. When you land on a timer (another move that must be carefully activated to give you the maximum chance of triumphing) you may speak until someone moves a pawn. As soon as a piece is moved you must resume the game without speaking. And of course, all the time you are talking time is slipping past before your very eyes!
There are two halves to the game. In the first half you must work together to position the heroes so that they can all steal the objects at the same time. But, don’t forget to keep an eye on the timer, as you also need to be able to get a pawn to the timer space so that you can flip it and gain more time. A common tactical error in the first run through of the game.
One of the players is able to travel to vortexes which is a handy way to move the heroes to different tiles quickly but don’t get too used to it. In the second half, the vortexes are closed which makes getting around significantly trickier. Then you must work together to escape the mall undetected. As with all great games it is tricky but ultimately achievable and you can increase the difficulty level so that is always true.
The ‘Do Something Pawn’ has become something of a bone of contention in our house. I have recently turned the timer on its side in order to pause the game and remind my lovely family that ‘We don’t bang the pawn aggressively in front of one another and we don’t bang it over and over again in front of the same person DO WE?’ That’s right, we do not.
When I taught there was a game I played with groups (especially groups who were ‘struggling to bond’ shall we say). You all stand in a circle and you throw the ball round the circle. After you have thrown the ball you sit down. You remember who you threw it to. Then, we time it and you have to try to beat your time. The class have to trust me in order for this to work – even when they don’t trust each other. The second timed attempt – when they are trying to beat their own time is always (ALWAYS) a disaster. They shout at each other, they throw too hard or too high for the kid trying to catch, they are impatient and unforgiving.
So, I stop them – we pause. ‘What went wrong?’ I ask. I wait till they have blamed kids who couldn’t catch, kids who dropped the ball. Then I tell them that I did it with other classes who dropped the ball and they did it a lot faster. Then I ask the kids who couldn’t catch it ‘what could we have done differently?’. The answers were always the same – throw it gentler, slower, lower. Throw it to ‘that’ person in a way that ‘they’ can catch. If they drop it, don’t shout. Shouting makes you drop the ball and then fumble it. They work this all out themselves with various degrees of leading from me. Like I said they trusted me – it was a safe environment.
Then, we do it again. The transformation is amazing. They invariably smash their time and they know that everyone is an essential part of that victory. Working as a team is about working with individuals, observing, adapting. Magic Maze reminds me of this experience. Watching people play is magical. As adults we still need reminding of the basic values of teamwork and Magic Maze is a perfectly fun way to do it.
One of the Cards or Die training and team building experiences uses Magic Maze. When we say we offer unique team building packages, we’re not joking!
Board gaming doesn’t get more niche than this! If you enjoy cooperative games then you really need to up the ante and get involved with silent, or limited communication, cooperative games. You might also want to check out Assembly and Get Adler which both limit communication. Cooperative games really test whether you are a lone wolf or a team player – and playing in silence pushes this to the limit.
Join us for a game at a Cards or Die event.

The fine art of Board Games

On the 7th and 8th July it is The Horsforth Walk of Art. It will be the first year that Cards or Die have taken part and I couldn’t be more excited. Art is a passion of mine; I don’t visit a city without taking in the art gallery. Some of my favourite places are The Yorkshire Sculpture Park (especially the Deer Shelter), the pre-raphaelites section of Birmingham city art gallery and when I lived in York I used to spend a disproportionate amount of time sitting in front of Sea by David Nash. This passion is evident in my board games collection too – I like the confusing beauty of Dixit; the pleasantly tactile Ticket to Ride and the dark comic book brilliance of Gloom. So we’ll be putting up the gazebos and you’ll have full access to the complete Cards or Die collection! In advance of that, I thought I’d preview some of our more overt art games that you can try at any of our events.
Masterpiece – The Classic Art Auction game
1970 Parker Brothers
At the end of the game the winner is the player who has amassed the largest fortune in paintings and cash.
This was one of my sister’s favourite games and it turns out there was a copy in the attic of my parents’ house. At an event last year someone requested it and so, as I do, I kept an eye out for it. I finally found a copy in a charity shop in Derby. Last week, I found a copy in the attic. ‘Oh, didn’t you know that was there?’ said my siblings… Proof that siblings can be annoying even when you’re 43. Anyway, I now have two gorgeous copies of this retro classic. And one of them was free. Perfect.
Each player has a value chart and starts with the princely sum of $15million.
You each draw a painting which you display face up in front of you and a value card which you slip under the painting so that no-one can see it.
As you move around the board you complete various actions as you try to add to your starting fortune:
1. Bank Auction – players may bid for the painting displayed on the easel. The highest bidder takes the painting and the top value card. Again, placing the value card under the painting out of sight.
Let’s just pause for a moment to enjoy that… ‘the painting displayed on the easel’. It comes with an easel!! Just me that’s excited..? Ohkay… we’ll move on
2. Private Auction – other players may bid on one of your paintings. Again, the highest bidder wins the painting and the value you had already attached to it. You may also buy from players for a fixed amount.
3. Collect money from the bank or a value card. If you choose a value card you may attach it to the painting of your choice.
4. Buy or sell paintings to the bank.
5. Inherit paintings from the bank vaults.
When the last painting is drawn and the last action completed the game ends and you count up your assets!
Like many retro games the premise is simple but it’s an incredibly enjoyable game. The pleasure of conning friends out of imaginary money for the sake of art is almost like a modern work of art in itself. I imagine Damien Hirst could conjure up some sort of installation depicting this very circumstance.
Face to Face
2009 Alex Beard – Untamed Games
A cubist strategy game, Face to Face requires you to play a tile from your rack that fits the existing pattern and colour. Game pieces match when they are Eye to Nose, or Nose to Mouth, and of the correct colour. You score at the end of each round and the game ends when a player reaches 100 points. Points are scored based on which pieces your opponent has failed to play.
Corners have been cut in the design and printing of the game. The components are not well finished and the design as a strategic game is flawed.
There are some design flaws such as the cutting of the tiles which has left some pieces with extra edges of the wrong colour that you just have to ignore.
The tile racks are flimsy and don’t stay upright. They aren’t big enough or strong enough to hold the 11 starting pieces you need. This means that you can’t keep your hand concealed from your opponent. A definite issue if the game is strategic.
As new pieces are drawn from a face down pile and the pieces vary in size and shape, you are able to select pieces which are more likely to fit in the available shapes and spaces on the board. This diminishes the strategic element of the game.
The restrictions on piece placement mean that the game is reliant on you drawing enough nose pieces and it ends up feeling protracted and imbalanced.
On the plus side…
It is an unusual set of game pieces and I mean that in a positive way. The cubist art on them is quirky and effective. The fact that they are varied shapes and sizes is perfect for creating ‘unique cubist compositions’ as it boasts on the box. It seems such a shame to just bin this game off when we could be enjoying the theme of it. You can persevere with the original rules making adjustments to scoring, for example playing to 50 instead of 100. But we decided we would take house rules to another level:
1. Deal out 12 pieces per person face down.
2. Simultaneously all players reveal their pieces.
3. Start building cubist faces. Each face must have: a nose, a mouth and 2 eyes.
Pieces that touch another piece must be matched by colour.
4. When you have used all the pieces that you can, draw 3 more.
5. When the last piece is drawn the winner is the person with the most complete faces.
However you choose to play it’s fun to make cubist faces!
Picture This
1993 Spears Games
A potentially hilarious mixture of Pictionary and Charades. I say hilarious… equally you could discover that you have the miming skills of Picasso and the drawing abilities of Lionel Blair. Anything could happen! ‘Picture This’ requires you to roll 2 dice. One die dictates whether you mime, draw or choose between them, while the second die determines the category. Categories such as wind instruments, poets and childhood ailments test your skills and your wits!
You create your works of art or your small scale theatrical performances in the allotted time and your team gains points by correctly identifying the category.
An MB classic from 2000.
The family game of quick-draw!
Sketch the words that appear on the cards for your teammates to identify. In the time honoured tradition of hilarious games which are improved only by playing them in the pub, you are against the sand timer. So whether you are sketching contact lenses, a relay race or big cheese – you must render your masterpiece quickly and expertly if you are to triumph.
So, whether you want to create your own masterpiece or try your luck at the auction house, come and visit us on the walk of art – or anytime and have a go!
Come along to a Cards or Die event.