Eeeek It’s nearly time for Airecon.

Last year was my first Airecon. Airecon is an analog gaming convention which takes place in Harrogate next weekend (8,9 &10 March). We had a fab time playing loads of games from the library and we also learnt how to play Quirk!, Azul, Sagrada and had a game of giant Tsuro. I also treated myself to some new games. I’m looking forward to more of the same this year…
1. The Pre Airecon Warm Up!
I’m really excited to be working with Bez at Airecon this year – I’ll be demoing and teaching Wibbell++. We’re starting early though with a pre Airecon warm up night at The Abbey Inn, Bramley – which will include some Wibbell++ tournaments and maybe even some Yogi. It’s particularly special to me as it marks two years since my launch event at The Abbey so it would be great to see lots of you there. I’ve come a long way in two years. I have moved the business from a potentially crazy idea to an actual business. I know I keep banging on about it but I’m delighted to have been nominated for Best Independent Business in the Yorkshire Choice awards, I’ve been in the Yorkshire Evening Post and I’m going to be on BBC Radio Leeds on the 18th from 2 till 3pm with Liz Greene. When I held the launch party I genuinely had no idea whether the business would work or not I was just going to give it a shot. And two years on Cards or Die is moving from strength to strength. So join us and celebrate. We’ll have some prizes and you can get your gaming brains ready for Airecon!
2. New Games
When I say new games I mean of course that I will be scouring every inch of the bring and buy as well as maybe treating myself to a ‘new new’ game. Last year I came away with Spy Ring which is an absolute classic, Orcs Orcs Orcs and Resistance which are great games too. Handily Mother’s Day falls at the end of March so my super organised children also bought me games – my favourite of which was Honshu. So kids – this is your annual reminder: Mother’s Day is coming – buy some games. On a completely unrelated note I still don’t have a copy of this….. just saying…
3. Team Trevor
Some time ago I got myself added to a list on the internet. Don’t worry – it’s a good list. Janice off of Wren Games created a list of people who engaged in conversations and gave feedback on games related chat and then suggested we should name the list. @BSoMT suggested Trevor and a monster was born -the kind of monster that you have a lot of affection for.
@EarthtoGames described us as ‘a group of like minded twitterers within the board game community with hearts of pure gold and helpful minds to match’. The group constantly expands – anyone can join the group and the chat just use #teamtrevor and add to the nonsense/ high quality gaming ideas.
Many of Team Trevor will be at Airecon and I can not wait to meet them in real life. I have been active on Twitter for two years and many of these people regularly support me and the business so I am very excited about meeting them. I am also slightly nervous that they will realise I’m an idiot but I feel like if you’ve followed me on twitter for two years and haven’t figured that out then that’s your own problem.
4. Open Gaming
The greatest thing about Airecon for me is the amount of open gaming space. As I have said many times before board gaming for me is all about getting together with people – connecting with people. I hope to be spending some time with my family playing new games and having fun together and I know that while I’m working that’s what they’ll be doing (as well as the obligatory bickering about rules). Travelling Man is providing the games library this year so there’s going to be an epic selection of games again.
Airecon is going to be awesome. I can not wait!
2019-01-06 15.23.20

Risk. Why is it so loved?

I finally got round to playing Risk for the first time last weekend. When I tell people what I do for a living, there’s a list of games that always come up and Risk is one of them. People have fond memories of playing Risk for hours and I think perversely that has always put me off.
Often the games that trigger fond reminiscences just don’t stand up to scrutiny.
‘Have you got Sorry?’
‘Yes’, I say, handing them a vintage copy.
‘Wow, I remember this. This is the exact one we had.’ they reply, handling the box in awe. Then they carefully put it back and play something else.
‘Have you got Mousetrap?’
‘I loved that when I was a kid. You should get it.’
‘Did you? Or, did you love the idea of it but in reality it took loads of turns to build only to discover you’d forgotten to put the spring in the helping hand. Or the diver veered slightly to the left of the bath tub?’
And then they remember. Blind nostalgia falls away and they remember how bloody irritating it was.
When they ask for Risk I say I have it. In fact I have two copies – a retro version and a modern ‘speed play’ version. Yet few people actually play it, because – they say – because of the time it takes. This has just made me sceptical. Is it the serious gamer’s Mousetrap? Will I be Sorry?
The length of time a game takes has also become a factor. If I’m donating hours of my time, it had better be good. My favourite games are usually shorter. I’d rather play 2 or 3 games than devote an entire evening or day to one game. There are exceptions of course – The Harry Potter Battle Game, Arkham Horror, Forbidden Desert…Not that Forbidden Desert is itself a long game – it’s just that if you won’t stop until you’ve won, you need to set aside a decent amount of time. Pausing between games only to say ‘right’ in a suitably determined tone of voice.
So if you’ve never played Risk or you haven’t played for years and years, there are two questions we need to consider:
Is it really that great?
Why is it so loved?
These are my musings after my first game, a discussion with an enthusiast and some ideas from a twitter conversation.
What’s it all about?
To win the game you must either take over the world. (Bonus points to me for not inserting the Pinky and the Brain gif – again). Or, you can fulfil a special mission for instance kill all the yellow troops, occupy 24 territories or conquer certain continents. The mission cards are optional – they limit the game, making it shorter and more achievable.
Plays 2-6
Age 10+
Time – the rest of your life. Not really – we played for three hours but now that I get it I imagine it would stretch out more. Strategising rather than invading other countries with no plan always takes longer and is a surer way to win!
Official Hasbro timing 1- 8 hours
What you said.
A few people agreed it relied too much on luck while others felt that there was balance between strategy and luck. Broadly, people agreed that they enjoyed it when they were younger or first introduced to more complex games. It can teach strategic game play, the importance of the placement of resources or people and many other games were certainly influenced by it which positions it as a good introductory game for war games or games in general.
Its status as a classic seems unanimously agreed – but then does that mean you should play it or like many ‘classics’ just that it retains a special place in your affections and memories never to emerge from its box again?
The balance of strategy and luck.
The strategy begins right from the off – the placement of your troops should be informed by a longer term plan. Grouping your weeny soldiers together strengthens their claim to a territory. Straightaway you are balancing up the taking of smaller (low value) continents which are potentially easier to take and maintain with higher risk targets that are worth more. Countries with more borders are worth more but are also easier to attack and harder to retain control of.
While I enjoy strategy games, I often prefer a game which has an element of luck to it. I feel like it removes too much predictability – which is important to me (especially when the predictable factor is me getting beaten again!!). I am a big fan of push your luck games, I enjoy the risk and the thrill. It is wholly appropriate that Risk has some push your luck elements. ‘Sod it, I might be totally outnumbered but I reckon I can roll higher dice than you. Yes I’m sure I’ll attack’.
The dice throws add a welcome luck based element to Risk – they decide the winners and losers of battles over territory. The dice are stacked in the defenders favour. So even here there are decisions to make – the number of troops you attack with governs how many dice you can roll and you must weigh that against the fact the odds are not in your favour. You can redress this imbalance by building up troops here but that relies on the person you intend to attack being busy elsewhere and not attacking you!
As the game progresses you are rewarded for your victories with increased reinforcements. Everyone gets reinforcements but this increases with the number of territories you control. This means that for novice players it can be frustrating as you watch others consolidate their powers while you just slip further and further back. It doesn’t mean that the game is over by any means it just makes it harder once you get behind. I felt I was almost waiting for someone to miss something or make a mistake. As I said I’m not a massive fan of super long games and I could see myself becoming disheartened with this set up. A more determined person, perhaps more of a long term strategist would, I’m sure rise to the challenge here and enjoy it.
I can also see that with more players and more experience of the game there is also room to make alliances and pacts to prevent one player becoming too powerful. But these alliances are temporary and will end in betrayal which gives the game an edge that many (but not me) would enjoy.
What have we learnt?
We have learnt that you can’t just invade countries with no strategy – you will lose. You also can’t invade a country and then just abandon your territory – you must leave at least one ‘troop’ behind to defend the country. The better you do, the better you will do – your gains accumulate.
While I may not play Risk again for a while, I’m glad I’ve played it. If you enjoyed it years ago or if you’ve never played it I would definitely recommend having a game. It’s enjoyable, it gets your brain working and above all it teaches you vital skills for if you ever fancy taking over the world.
Cards or Die will be at The Royal Armouries with War Games and war time games including Risk from February 16th until February 24th.

Come along to a Cards or Die event.

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
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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.
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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!
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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.