This month Ellie Dix over at Dark Imp games – ingenious creator of the fabulous Buzzle Box and the Christmas Cracker games – asked me to choose eight different games for eight different scenarios. Head over to their website to find out which ones I chose…
Since I started Cards or Die I have reviewed many, many diverse games and I have never knowingly missed an opportunity to witter on endlessly about the joy of nice components. So here it is, at last – a whole blog about gorgeous components all very kindly sent to me from Long Pack Games. So whether you are looking for some design inspiration or you just fancy having a look at some lush components – here you go! They sent me a Designer Pack which showcases their products as pictured above and a massive box of games – pictured below.
I can’t claim to have played all of them…yet…. but I have assiduously examined their components.
I try to avoid negative comparisons in reviews but boxes are the one area in which I fall down. When I’m judging the box you have chosen to put your beautifully designed game in I am unavoidably considering the packaging hell that is Abalone in it’s weird hexagonal box, Uno in a double width tuck box, and that one that I can never get the lid off – it involves a lot of shaking and usually takes two people. I forget the name which is why it catches me out each time – no-one wants to start a board game with a box wrestle.
I am happy to report that all of the boxes that LongPack games sent me tessellate pleasingly and they all opened easily (not too easily though – when packaging your game you also need to consider will it survive a Rodney Smith box toss?). The boxes for Caracho and Throw Throw Burrito even had a cut out for ease of opening.
Usually my favourite box type (yes I have a favourite box type – what of it?) is a magnetic closer like the one Valentine’s Day comes in but they also sent a drawer style box with their Designer Pack in that may be a contender for favourite box design.
The best box by far though was the Slide Quest box which is an integral part of the game. The levers, which allow you to steer your knight to victory avoiding traps and monsters, rest in cut outs on the box: ingenious.
The punchboards in many of the LongPack games come with a corner thumb hole so that you can easily free them from their box and get punching. These beauties are destined for Scrap Store Leeds so they can have a second lease of life. Nearly every piece popped out cleanly or with just a little wiggling.
In the designer pack the little press out factory had multiple layers to press out. Even though it was already 3d this added a really effective edge to the model.
The board for Catalyst locks together like a jigsaw enabling the game to fit in a small box and still have a thick sturdy game board. In Crown Of Emara the board joins like this and is also double sided – giving you a choice of a lighter, plainer graphic if that suits you better.
Slide Quest comes with a clever little gadget for saving your game so that you can pack away mid way through and not lose your progress. What a brilliant idea, especially for younger players and for games that require a lot of setting up. You can see it in the picture above.
They offer a variety of quirky pieces – the small shiny hearts in Valentine’s Day, the cool cardboard cars in Curacho, the double sided islander and boat pieces in Blue Lagoon. In Happy Bunny little plastic carrots of varying lengths are ‘planted’ in the box – you work co-operatively to bring the biggest and best carrots home for the bunny’s family. Nemo’s War has actual jewels – which always makes me want to play a game! While Just One comes with wipe clean plastic easels and whiteboard pens with attached rubbers.The chunky wooden components in Crown of Emara are particularly lovely. I love wooden pieces in a game – tactile pieces are a feature of many of my favourite games and wooden pieces transport me straight back to childhood – the little huts in Blue Lagoon are a particular favourite.
Throw, Throw Burrito, which involves collecting a matching set of cards so that you can launch squashy Burritos at each other, comes with super soft squishy Burritos. After numerous outdoor games and people with questionable aim, I have had to wash these with soapy water and they’ve come up great! So, I’m optimistic that they will stand the test of time!
Many of the games also included ample plastic bags to sort your pieces into. This is something that Weird Giraffe Games and some others always do and although I imagine it is a low cost addition I love the fact that someone has thought of it. It makes a difference and is definitely worth considering.
I am very conscious that a lot of the parts I have mentioned have plastic involved. It is possible to avoid plastic completely as Blue Orange have demonstrated in many of their games and some of the games here have managed. LongPack games do use eco-friendly raw materials too as well as using non-toxic printing ink, non-toxic play mats etc. They have said that they are working closely with their clients and suppliers and producing more green products than ever before. They have also planted lots of trees around the factory to contribute towards offsetting their carbon emissions. The plastic pieces do seem well made and I would hope that they will be usable for a long time. Of course to properly test that I would have to schedule this review for when I’m passing the games on to great-grandchildren. When I look at the components in some of my retro games I am amazed how long they have remained intact and I hope that these games will have long and productive lives.
LongPack of course produce cards of various thickness and finish and dice with all sorts of designs as well as standard dice. The picture shows the dice that come with the car racing game – Caracho. LongPack also offer consultancy so you can always chat to them about your ideas. I know that the fact I haven’t played all of these means that there will be parts that I have underappreciated, that play into the mechanic or work really well but I hope this has given you some ideas whatever stage of design you are at.
You can try out these fab games at a Cards or Die event.
I know you don’t want me to use the C word. Even though I absolutely love and embrace it, even I normally wait till Halloween is over before I start shopping and incrementally bedecking the house! But you can always rely on those Imps at Dark Imp Games to mess with the natural order of things and here they are with a Christmas Cracker so packed full of sustainable, eco friendly, gamey goodness that it’s impossible to avoid talking about CHRISTMAS! There I said it!
Christmas Crackers are an intrinsic part of many people’s traditional celebrations – even if the tradition involves forgetting to put them out and then opening them all on boxing day like we did so many times at my parents’. Over the years I have tried to avoid all the plastic throwaway junk that come with them – the tiny comb, the golf tee, the fortune fish, the moustache. While these small gifts are entertaining for a few minutes, sometimes longer with the little legs in the family, they inevitably end up in landfill. I have bought more expensive crackers but even the higher end of the cracker ‘gift’ range includes a lot of useless tat. The Dark Imp Christmas Cracker offers an impressive solution to this quandry.
The cardboard cracker contains 6 games and while it doesn’t bang or contain hats it does come with 6 puzzles and cheesy jokes that no Christmas Cracker would complete without. The whole package is eco-friendly – no plastic novelties here and no sneaky plastic coating that makes otherwise recyclable materials head straight to landfill. Instead you get sturdy cardboard and wooden pieces and an ethically produced cotton drawstring bag.
All the games play up to 6 people. The games are quick to learn, fun to play and are strategic enough to entertain all abilities making it a brilliant gift for any family. There is a variety of complexity so you can choose the perfect game to match your mood, alcohol level or food coma status! While you could just leave it on the games shelf and play these clever little games all year round, ours is going to live with the Christmas decorations and become part of our traditions on Christmas day.
The aim in Imprudent is to win the most cubes by playing cards with matching features. When you play cards you either draw up and/ or take cubes depending on the number of cards you play. The more cards you play, the more cubes you get and the fewer cards. The tricky part is you don’t just draw up cards, if you can’t go or get low on cards you need to buy them from the draw pile with your cubes. The first to get to 15 cubes triggers the end of the game.
We loved balancing trying to gain cubes with having enough cards in hand. It took us a couple of rounds to get our heads round which strategies to implement and we’ve had fun trying different ones out.
In IMPressive you need to collect the most sets of imps with matching features by selecting cards from the draw pile or the row of cards to the right of it. You can take the furthest card for free or you can pay cubes to take a different card. They become more expensive the closer they are to the draw pile. When you choose a card that has cubes on already you gain those too. But as you start with only 5 cubes it’s important that you choose carefully. You also need to watch out for what others are collecting to make sure you can get what you need to win.
IMPetuous is a game of speed. Turn over cards and race your opponents to shout out which is the most common feature visible. This is brilliant with 6 – loads of chaotic shouting out and the pressure to be the first to shout out the right answer makes this a great laugh for everyone.
To win IMPassive you need to manipulate the value of the imps and select the right score cards. The game takes place over only 4 rounds so each play must be carefully considered – it’s imperative in fact! From your hand of four cards you select 2 scoring cards (these allow you to score the number of cubes next to that colour imp at the end of the game). By playing cards from your hand you can either move the imps (using the colour) or place cubes (next to the screen of the matching number). You can also swap which cards it is you will score for. In this way you can manipulate your imps and your score cards to make sure that at the end of the game you have score cards which match the imps with the most cubes. But you also need to consider that you score additional points for the screen number your imp is next to – so the higher the number, the higher the score.
There is a tremendous amount to consider in this quick, little game. On top of weighing up what you are going to aim for you also need to consider your opponents – will they be trying to get their imp to the high scoring screens or will they stick to the lower scoring ones but try to get more cubes behind them? What strategy lies behind their impenetrable facial expression? Should you focus on achieving your goal or try to mess up your opponents? So many choices…. so little time…. which leads me neatly on to …
IMPatient is a racing game where by voting for your imp you can watch as it hurdles its way to victory. But if two people vote for the same imp, it doesn’t move and if three people vote for it, it goes backwards. Before revealing our voting cards we scrutinised each other’s faces in an effort to deduce what had been played. I wouldn’t fancy playing Derren Brown at this one!
Each player shows how many cubes they are placing behind their screen and then you choose whose cubes you will try to claim. Win cubes by being the only person to lay claim to a set of cubes. You could play it safe or take a risk but whatever you do you are banking on no-one else doing the same. I love this mechanic. It makes me wish I’d invested more time honing my mind reading skills.
We have really enjoyed learning all these new games. So many of them encourage you to have fun trying out various ideas and strategies and the reliance on that unpredictable human element makes them different every time.
Will this replace crackers in our house? While it isn’t exactly the same as 6 crackers with snaps, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with wasting money on something each year that impacts the environment so negatively and I’m more than happy to have this as a replacement. I’m amazed by the diversity in these games – with just some cubes, 6 screens, 6 imps and one deck of cards Dark Imp games have created something impeccable. So, whether you are looking for something to replace your crackers or something additional to add to the table – this is a fabulous idea.
Give it a try at one of Cards or Die’s events – it’s always in the bag over the festive period.
Quirk! is a quick to learn and play card game for 2 – 6 players aged 5+. You can adjust the level of challenge and the length of play from 15mins to up to 60mins. It contains two decks which makes it super flexible.
The object of Quirk! is to collect the most sets of three cards (called Quirks) – you do this by acting out the creature on your card and taking cards from your opponents.
How to Play
You start with three character cards, if you fall below three, you draw up. Character cards form sets of three and the person with the most sets wins! So just remember that three is the magic number and you are half way to learning how to play!
Now for the fun bits! On your turn you choose a card in your hand, choose an opponent and act out the creature on your card. You can use sounds and actions but you mustn’t describe the character or say its name. If your opponent has one or two of that card they must give them to you.
And if they think your pirate is a parrot and give you the wrong cards? That’s their loss – you get to keep the cards. But maybe rethink your plans to audition for the next Pirates of the Caribbean film.
Pro Tip – even if you know what they are doing I like to feign confusion for a good while so that they really have to work for the card. That means that even if you sacrifice a card you are laughing! This is especially satisfying if you have graduated to the more challenging deck. I’m always playing with the secret secondary objective of ‘How long can I make someone be a Bigfoot for?’
If you are unsuccessful and you don’t gain a card, you must ‘Go Quirk!’ – which means you pick a card up from the draw pile.
As soon as you get a set of three or a ‘Quirk’ you place it in front of you face up. Once 13 Quirks are face up on the table, the game ends and you count up your Quirks to find out who won.
These special cards are used once and then removed from the game so use them wisely. They allow you to disrupt others plans! You can stop someone in their tracks, preventing them from asking you for a character. There are 5 steal cards which allow you to steal complete Quirks from your opponents but only 3 block cards which prevent people from stealing. Each deck has it’s own set of these so you can play about with these balances if you want to.
Double the Decks = Double the chaos!
I absolutely love the fact this comes with two decks – it gives you so much flexibility. You can adjust difficulty by substituting some of the easier ones for more challenging ones or simply adding extra sets for a longer game. If it’s additional chaos you crave sling in some extra Mischief or actions. You can use a mixture of characters to up the challenge or stick to the easier deck if you prefer.
The game is suitable for 5 years plus but I have played it with younger ones and just removed the action cards to make it super easy. There’s no reading requirement in the game apart from the Mischief Cards which do have visual prompts so that makes it more accessible too. The action cards are colour coded but the artwork is clear and distinctive and symbols are also used for clarity. For instance the block cards feature a large shield.
You may recognise the distinctive artwork, the title or the game itself from the earlier version of Quirk. That’s because Emma May from Emmerse Studios has worked closely with Gibsons Games to bring you new characters, a simpler, clearer design, a honed mechanic and new mischief cards. The work Emmerse Studios is doing on character development is really clear from this new design and I’m loving watching Mischief grow!
The Mischief cards add a fun and chaotic challenge to the game making you redistribute your hard earned Quirks, passing hands on or gaining an extra card. These cards are played and come into effect immediately. My two absolute favourites are the statue still/ sounds only for a round and the actions only for a round. It is also worth noting that each deck has it’s own set of Mischief cards so you could add extras in. As if I wasn’t making you work hard enough for that Big Foot card – these are a gift!! Plus the sight of Mischief wielding a megaphone brings a smile to my face!
Over the year Mischief has become a character all of his own – starring in his very own book all about having the courage to be yourself. So, if you are enjoying this character in Quirk it’s worth checking out the book too.
Quirk is a great family game for all ages and the fact it plays up to 6 players is brilliant. And when I say all ages – I really mean ‘all’. Like many great family games, if you get a group of adults playing it, it is just as entertaining. We just need to give ourselves permission to let go, have fun and embrace our quirkiness!
Make sure you have a game when you’re next at a Cards or Die event.
The Buzzlebox, created by Dark Imp Games is a selection of games and puzzles delivered to your door for the whole family to play with and figure out together. At the moment there are two themed choices available- Gardens and Chickens or Doughnuts and Cake. With a Space themed box on it’s way soon. Dark Imp games very kindly gifted us the Doughnuts and Cake box. There are 5 of us in my family – all with different, yet often, overlapping tastes in games. The children are 15, 13 and 12.
As soon as you start opening the box, the fun begins. There were stickers on the box which related to one of the three puzzles. These stickers were everywhere – on the back of things, on the letter, inside a packet of card games – a really simple touch that made it immediately engaging. It’s also worth noting that there is no excess packaging or plastic which is a breath of fresh air when so many companies overlook the importance of this.
I approached Doughnut Dash with trepidation. Anyone who knows me or has ever been in the car with me knows that my sense of direction is non-existent. So, when I saw the direction cards and read some of the sugar rush action cards – my heart sank. However, I am happy to report that I navigated the game successfully (multiple times) and I really enjoyed it. There are cards which clearly label the directions and the cards that allow you to change direction all contain an example which I’m sure was put there for younger players but was totally vital to me!
You are running a pair of impish thieves who must make their way round the factory stealing doughnuts from the shelves and from other thieves that they encounter. The theme is brilliant with lovely wooden components that are pretty and bright. We played it with 2, 3 and 4 players and it was brilliant each time. My only complaint is that it didn’t play 5. It is rare that we can get all 5 of us to play the same game at the same time – for once they were all interested in playing together and so we played in different groups but it was a shame we couldn’t play all together.
I have spoken to one of the Dark Imps and it turns out they have psychically resolved my concerns by designing the next box (which is Space themed) to include a 3-6 and a 2-9 player game which is awesome. I look forward to ordering one of those!
One of the really nice things about this game is that you can try out different strategies – there are lots of different layers to the game which gives us plenty of incentive to play it again and again. For instance the Sugar Rush cards help you out by allowing you to adjust which direction you travel in or to swap some cards but if you can save them they are worth points at the end of the game. And the more helpful the card, the higher the value if you can avoid using it. Another clever idea is the rainbow frosted doughnuts which actually start off costing you points but if you can collect a set they are incredibly valuable. It makes collecting them a risky strategy but then choosing not to collect might leave them all for one other player – do you want to give away those points? It’s questions and balances like this that make the game fun and varied.
In Top Cake you are a hotelier competing to create the finest cake at the industry’s leading luxury trade show. You must bid against other hoteliers to grab the finest layers to construct your showstopper. But of course, it’s not so easy: bids are hidden, a reverse cards allows you to switch so that the lowest bid wins, a snatch card allows you to trump any bid but only once per game, the first player token doubles as a tantalising 1/2 point bid and if you match bid cards with another player your cards are returned to you! These are a few of the intricacies which make this such a great, thinky game. Played over 5 rounds you need to think quickly and decisively. Cake waits for no man!
Of course, you’ve also got the attraction of building a deliciously illustrated cake or a spooky looking cake which of course I gravitated towards. Unfortunately some swine snatched my bat cake topper. I’d have won if it wasn’t for those pesky bat stealing kids.
Top Cake plays 2 to 4 players and is definitely more fun with more people. Like Doughnut Dash your strategies are strongly influenced by what other people do; you need to continuously adapt. In this way the games in the box are perfectly designed. They are supposed to ‘help you reclaim family time by playing board games together’ and they definitely achieve that. There is a lot of interaction in all the games in the box, you need to be acutely aware of each other and each others’ decisions.
Even as I was still unpacking the box, I uttered the word ‘puzzle’ , pondered aloud about where all the stickers were and what they meant, and my 15 year old was immediately all over it. He absolutely loves a good puzzle. The first task of finding all the stickers in various places had him hooked. He was so keen to get going and the girls were working so rather than keep him waiting (or worse, risk loss of interest!) I actually photocopied the puzzles so he could get stuck in straightaway.
Despite 15s head start he graciously gave the others the thinking time they needed and didn’t blurt out all the answers so we were able to work together to get one of the puzzles completed. We don’t have a great family record in this area.
On recent holidays we have completed treasure hunts that you can buy from the Tourist Information shops. They are great fun and everyone loves doing them but they are always a source of contention. This fun holiday activity always culminates in me clutching the clues to me so no-one else can see and a strict ruling about not blurting out answers before other people have chance to think or speak. My son is particularly talented at both puzzles and irritating his siblings so these measures are necessary. So I was ready – hence the photocopying and the ‘Don’t tell your sisters any answers and DO NOT give them clues unless they ask for them’ ruling. However, I’m sure other (less mad) families won’t need to worry about that.
The first puzzle we did was a good mix of clues carefully pitched to play to each of our strengths; some the children couldn’t have got and some that my partner and I had no idea of that the kids got immediately. I thought it was well balanced and we were forced to work together which is both the purpose and the attraction of the Buzzle Box.
Unfortunately we were stumped by the other two puzzles – they were just too tricky for us. But, by following the link on the puzzle card we got some clues which led us to our three cake related words. I’ve chatted with one of the Dark Imps and she is looking at both the difficulty level of puzzles and considering different ways of helping people to access clues in later boxes. Once you have all the clues you can unlock the secret page on the website.
One of our favourites was the 2 player game on a coaster. The one we got was quick to learn and quite straightforward. You each choose an image on the grid and then ask questions to deduce the whereabouts of your opponent’s chosen image. The images are cute and colourful, the game is very appealing and can be played over and over again. Our 12 year old particularly enjoyed this one. It played 2 players but was fairly quick so it was fine to just take turns playing. It’s the kind of game I tend to have in my bag to whip out if anyone uses the ‘B’ word. That’s bored by the way. I’m not sure board games can stop them swearing, if anything they make my partner worse!
You can also buy most of the component parts of the Buzzle Box separately on the website. But honestly I think the box is such good value that the coasters and place mats are the only things I would consider buying separately. The coasters are sold in packs of 120 for only £16.99- they are perfect for weddings or for board games or family cafes. They are a perfect little gift or freebie to give to people if you’re in a games related business.
This pack of three games just needed a deck of cards, pen and paper. I really liked the fact that it included a 1, 2 and 3 player game as it meant that we could all play them kind of at the same time. I’ve had a lot of fun playing the solo game – it’s a patience type game with a puzzle element. My 13 year old really loves traditional style card games so this whole pack was right up her street. I can see the Gooseberry Fool game being a regular family games night feature and I know she’ll want to teach her friends when she can get together with them again. Gooseberry Fool uses a trick taking mechanism which is very familiar and easy to understand. But more importantly it’s a fun little game.
The instruction cards are clear and easy to follow but there is also a link to a ‘how to play’ video which is always helpful.
The Buzzle boxes cost £49.99 and for that you get: 6 original games; 3 puzzles all centred around an engaging theme;
as well as family time, away from distraction, screen free. We really enjoyed ours and the hours of entertainment we have had from it so far make it excellent value. There are loads of reasons to treat the family to a Buzzlebox or it would make a great gift for another family. For us it will the perfect addition next time we are going on holiday. We always take games with us and having tried one of the boxes I would be confident taking this pack of new games as a holiday treat. We usually go camping in the UK so it will be perfect for that ‘occasional’ rainy day!
Join us at a Cards or Die event and try out some of Dark Imp’s awesome games.
Get the orange segments ready, we’re kicking off a game of Strikerz.
Strikerz from Caper Games is a quick, fun 2 player game based on a game of Football (or soccer as it says on the box). Just as in football you need to score more goals than your opponent to win. But unlike an actual game of football it takes nowhere near 90 minutes! It takes somewhere between 15 – 30 minutes for a game. It is a fast paced set collection game with a quirky mechanic for taking a shot at goal. And if you are stuck on a draw after the final whistle blows, you get to have a penalty shoot out.
The game itself comes in a tiny box, the size of a pack of playing cards. The box contains the two teams you need (red and blue – particularly pleasing for the Liverpool/ Manchester contingent!); goal cards to keep track of the score; action cards – yellow card, red card, whistle, manager & offside; keeper’s right & left glove for each team plus shoot at goal cards.
How to Play
- Deal a hand of four cards to each player.
- On your turn you draw a card either from the deck or the top of the discard pile (as long as it isn’t an action card) and either play a card or, discard one and shoot at goal.
- In order to shoot at goal you need either four of your team’s jerseys; a set of jerseys comprising a midfielder, a striker and a defender, or a total of cards worth 30+ points.
- To shoot, you select a ball card kicking the ball either to the left or right of the goal. To defend you select a right or left glove indicating which corner you will jump towards to save the ball. The cards are marked so that when you line them up and flip your card you can see straightaway if you have scored. See images below.
Manager – this card allows you to swap in one of your higher value substitutes.
Red Card – one of your opponent’s cards is removed from the game
Yellow Card – one of your opponents’s cards is placed at the bottom of the discard pile
Offside – draw two cards and discard two cards
Whistle – your opponent misses a turn and you go again.
If you are still on a no score draw when you have played through the deck twice (the two halves) first of all you play extra time (play once more through the deck). Still nil-nil? Then it goes to a penalty shoot out. Take it in turns to shoot at goal.
The shooting is my favourite part. Trying to second guess which card your opponent will play has meant that all those hours watching Derren Brown on the telly haven’t gone to waste. Although at one point I caught my son out – I believed it was the intense staring that had psyched him out but actually I had got my left and right confused. So I also offer that as a tactic. No-one can guess what you’re going to do if you have no idea yourself!
I grew up saturated with football (with a Scouse family it was inevitable) but I’m not the greatest fan myself. Still I really enjoyed this game and definitely if you love football this is one that has been lovingly designed for you. It is so much more than just football themed, instead it mimics a game of football using strikers, defenders and midfielders who must play together well to shoot, subs, red and yellow cards and the shoot at goal mechanism. If you want to get a football lover playing more games with you then this is definitely a way to tempt them in.
It’s a fun, snappy little game and I can’t wait to take it out to events and get people playing.
f you’ve been to any of my events you’ll know that usually you can tell me which game you have enjoyed and I can reliably recommend something you’ll like. And, if you want to play a game but don’t have enough players I can suggest a good alternative. But occasionally my brain goes a bit wibbly. For example the people who told me they had enjoyed Ticket to Ride so I then wittered on at length about other games with trains in until they stopped me and said ‘We’re not especially interested in trains….’ Then there was the couple who wanted to play Who Did It? but you need three players for that so I recommended my two other poo themed games – Poo! or Dino Dump. They were surprised that I was able to hone in on that theme and offer alternative poo themed games. Well! Great news. There’s more where that came from!
Tapeworm is the new family card game from Edmund McMillen (creator of The Binding of Isaac, Super Meat Boy and more…) featuring cute, confused, gross and slightly sinister worms. The art work is fabulous – lots of gross details like worms on worms, bright colours, even the angry red worm looks quite sweet! However, google caution is advised – if you’re searching make sure you include card game and don’t, don’t click on images!
The game itself is quick to learn, quick to play and the mechanics are not difficult at all making it perfect for families with little ones. As long as you can colour match, you can play. Each player starts with 5 cards and the winner is the first to get rid of all their cards. On your turn, you draw a card and place one of your worm cards on a matching colour segment. You can keep playing matching cards until you play a card with a head on or a card which changes the colour. You can also get rid of bonus cards if you can steer your worms into a circle.
So despite the worms wiggling their way through the ‘tunnels’ it all seems very gentile. Cute even? Right? Wrong. As well as getting rid of your cards on your turn you also get to mess up your opponents’ plans using special actions. Perfect.
You can get rid of your crap cards by swapping them with others, discarding to the top of the draw pile, you can chop the worms up removing some dead ends from play, make others pick cards up. Generally dump all over their plans! And yes I’m still laughing at poo- I know I’m a rubbish adult.
The scissors cards (pictured left) let you cut a segment or segments of a worm of the corresponding colour away. On the right you can see the special symbols for swapping, peeking, digging and making someone pick up a card.
Unveil and apprehend the murderer in this clever sleuthing card game.
Playing Time 30mins
“It is the brain, the little grey cells on which one must rely. One must seek out the truth within” Poirot.
In Death on the Cards you must work together, exercising your little grey cells to identify the murderer! The game is well packaged with charming art work. You might argue that there are more important factors in choosing games but a literature related pun, a sturdy box with a magnetic closer and pretty cards go a long way in my book!
The game plays very differently depending on the number of players. With 5 or 6 players you have both a murderer and an accomplice to uncover. With just 2 players, you know who the murderer is from the get-go so it’s just a straightforward but frenetic game of cat and mouse. I was pleasantly surprised that it works just as well with any number of people. It’s a different game but just as much fun.
The basic premise is the same however many players you have – the murderer must exhaust the draw pile to reveal the ‘Murderer Escapes’ card which depicts them gleefully skipping off into the distance with nary a care in the world. Meanwhile the detectives try to prevent them from depleting the draw pile. In addition, should the murderer reveal everyone’s secrets the murderer wins while should the murderer’s secrets be revealed the murderer loses.
Each player is given 3 secrets at the beginning – you might not be the murderer but you’ve all committed various social faux pas and we all want more details on your involvement in the ‘vicarage incident’ . When all 3 of your secrets are revealed you are frozen out of the game unless you are the murderer in which case you’ve been rumbled. If the murderer succeeds in revealing all three of everyone’s cards then they have escaped. Once they’ve heard all your despicable secrets they’ll be able to set up a lucrative career as a blackmailer so you need to work together to make sure that definitely doesn’t happen.
You must closely observe the other players in order to work out who the murderer is. Are they deliberately drawing lots of cards? What kinds of cards are they playing? What cards are they discarding? Or are you just going to go on instinct? As Christie herself once said “Instinct is a marvellous thing. It can neither be explained nor ignored”.
There are 7 different detectives that you can use to force others to reveal secrets. To play them you need to collect a matching set or use the Harley Quinn wild card with them. And, once played you can add to an existing set in order to repeat that action. They’re all there: Poirot and Marple of course, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford and my new favourite – Lady Bundle Brent. Each detective acts slightly differently and each card has a different quotation from that character. It is nice touches like this that really make the game for me.
The actions are cleverly balanced to benefit either the murderer or the detectives. For instance Look into the Ashes cards allow you to choose a card from the discard pile while the Early Train to Paddington allows you to move six cards from the draw pile to the discard pile: each of these affects the speed the draw pile reduces thereby either abetting or hampering the murderer’s escape.
The Point Your Suspicions card is a fun card which, timed well, can have a significant impact on the game. When played all players point to the person they suspect. Although it just forces the most pointed at player to reveal a secret, there is much to be deduced from people’s actions here. Remember “If you are to be Hercule Poirot, you must think of everything” No clue is too small to be overlooked by your keen detective’s mind.
The Not So Fast, You Fiend! card allows you to counter most actions – a very useful mechanism. Similar to the Nope card people are often familiar with in Exploding Kittens. Each player starts with one of these cards but when to play it? Do you cancel this action or wait in case something even worse is in store for you?
The game comes with player aid cards which summarise your turn for you. Plus all the cards have clear instructions on and that along with a well written instruction booklet makes the game quick and easy to learn. It’s well worth lingering over the flavour text though.
Agatha Christie’s Death on the Cards is a triumph – it has been a hit at home and at events. Whether you are taking tea at the vicarage, enjoying a train journey, sojourning up the Nile or simply having friends for supper – it really is the perfect addition to your evening.
Every month Lisa Bourne of Time to Change Leeds, holds a board gaming meet up at Abbey House Museum. It is one of a range of events that she runs to raise awareness of mental health and also tackle social isolation. I go every month and now co-host the event, supplementing the museum’s selection of games with some of my fun, unusual ones as well as helping to publicise the event. It is not a formal group by any means, there is no need to book or reserve a place, it’s just an opportunity to meet in a safe environment and chat – or not – whatever you need. And that’s where the games start to come into their own.
Playing games gives the group a focus which is not them. There is no sitting round, awkwardly avoiding eye contact and waiting for someone to share something, there is no pressure at all. Often we play a game and chat just happens, sometimes around the game itself and sometimes about our lives, our experiences, what’s going on for us. There are no experts there, just other people who have experienced or are still experiencing mental health difficulties. I am happy to talk quite openly about my difficulties and I understand that, that’s me, not everyone talks as much as me. To misquote a saying I heard about Autism recently ‘Once you’ve met one person with mental health difficulties, you’ve met one person with mental health difficulties.’ Whether we talk or not, we are still connecting and sharing a fun experience.
When I’m struggling with my own mental health I can often manage a game of something. Depending what mood I’m in, I will usually choose a game I’m familiar with that absorbs my attention either because of theme or strategic demands but that is not too challenging. When I’m feeling rubbish, the last thing I need is a game which is too difficult and reinforces my feelings of inadequacy. That is quite a delicate balance and entirely personal. So, for the games we always have a selection of games we are all familiar with which may trigger feelings of nostalgia maybe memories of simpler times as well as newer games which are light-hearted and fun. Last time, we played Hide the Pickle and we laughed. That has got to be good for you. Right?
When I went for therapy around the time of my breakdown, one of the first things I remember the counsellor suggesting was that I should do fun things which brought me joy. This sounded more insane than I felt. ‘Joy?’ I thought, ‘fun?’ – neither of those emotions were featuring in my life much at that point. They seemed like distant memories – the sort of thing other people did. The ability to play without reservation is something we seem to lose around the time we start secondary school; we become obsessed with ‘being more grown up’ ‘being sensible’, not indulging in ‘stupid’ or ‘childish’ pass times. As a fully grown adult I beseech you to do stupid, childish things, have fun, play games. Games are not just for children – there’s a reason those Haba, MB and Spear’s games say aged 4 – 99 on the box. The ability to throw off the shackles of adulthood and enjoy a game is not necessarily an easy movement of mindset but definitely worth the effort.
The right board game will encourage you to immerse yourself and forget about the real world, giving you control over your actions and outcomes on a small scale. That can be challenging when my mental health is poor as my concentration can be wobbly so I’m not talking about a 3 hour game of Risk. Even short games can be pleasantly absorbing.
I have maintained for a long time that board games are good for your mental health. This theory goes beyond – ‘they’re good for me therefore they’ll be good for you’. And don’t get me wrong I am in no way suggesting that I have ditched my medication and just play board games while choirs of angels sing ‘allelujah, she’s healed’ above me. In fact, I have recently increased my medication because …well… life…
While I’m sharing, I can also tell you that I’m trying to get into a meditation habit using Headspace and doing regular NLT with Becky Antrobus. It is amazing and by the end of the session I feel clarity and so much calm, again – as part of a wider treatment plan – I would recommend finding out more about it. But above all – I am taking my medication. Just as for a broken limb I would take painkillers as well as doing physio to build up the muscles. Only a sadist would suggest you ditch the painkillers and hit the gym. And I’m not that cruel – not even to myself.
So here is a brief run down of some of the games we’ve played and why they’ve been great for us. I can only really comment on my personal choices and those of the people who’ve attended. I’m definitely open to suggestions and I’m more than happy to play pretty much anything. (I won’t have games that are offensive).
In this game you grow beautiful, sprawling trees and attract kodama (tree spirits) to your tree. There are creatures, flowers and clouds that adorn the cards and gain you points. It is competitive but it is such a gorgeous game that it’s easy to become absorbed in your own actions and forget what others are doing. There are also layers of difficulty you can add as you become more familiar with it.
Are you dumber than a box of rocks?
I should warn you, it turns out most people are. This is a quirky trivia game where you play together against the rocks! The answer to each question is 0,1 or 2 so there is always the possibility that you could have an intelligent guess! The challenge is to reach agreement and of course outwit the rocks.
This is not one of mine. A regular at the meet ups brought it along for us to try and it is very entertaining. The aim of the game is to outrun death by correctly deducing whether the stupid death on the card is true or false. As you can imagine, even with such a morbid subject there are lots of laughs in this one.
Love Letter is another pretty one – I do like my games to be visually appealing. I also added little heart gems to score with replacing the little wooden cubes it came with. The game involves a lot of deduction which I can happily immerse myself in. You only have two cards in your hand and you must play one of those so decision making isn’t protracted but it can be the difference between the safe delivery of your love letter to the princess and you being cast out of court for ever. (Well until we start a new round…)
Jenga, Pass the Pigs, Battleship
Classic games that need no introduction – these are just three of our favourites at the meet ups. They are not involved or complex enough to make conversation difficult and often reminiscing is a good conversation starter anyway.
Wordopolis, Fletter Fuse
I love word games and unfortunately don’t get to play them so much at home as my passion for them is not shared! Lisa and I love a word game and so I was pleased when some of our regular visitors embraced them too. These are two differently paced games – in Wordopolis you create a grid (a bit like a word search) and carefully place letters to create new words. Although it is made for playing competitively, we have played this together – patiently studying the grid and slowly mulling over alternatives. Fletter fuse is much faster paced – you turn over cards and make words from the upturned letters. The longer you wait to claim a word, the more letters there are available meaning you can experiment with different strategies and test your vocabulary. You know it’s gone badly wrong when you finish the game, tot up your score and grab a fresh cuppa… and when you come back your worthy opponent is still adding their score up. Despite being completely eviscerated, I’d still play again.
Hide the Pickle
Last meet up we played this. It’s a silly one where you swap, steal and bluff to try to be the player that has the pickle when the game ends. The cards are very entertaining with brilliant illustrations and comical flavour text.
These are just some of the games that we have played – it doesn’t really matter what we play, it matters that we get together. Board games provide fun, low key socialising and absorb you, allowing you to escape into other worlds, other parts of your mind. Go on, try it – ‘you have nothing to lose but your chains.’ (Marx).
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As the ‘games haul’ posts insinuate their way on to your various social media feeds, making you wonder if you missed out on the next big thing, and the moaners moan about the size or the temperature or something; I’m bringing you something a bit different.
It’s hard not to get drawn into these threads. Negativity begets negativity and our brains are still hardwired to focus on the negative. But we must resist. Our happiness depends upon it – adjust the focus or use a different lens entirely. There is a place for negative feedback and it is vital for any event to receive it in order to grow and improve. I still carry that teacher mantra though – public praise, private ‘suggestions of areas to improve’! Sure by Sunday morning, I thought I’d been there a week and Eldritch Rach thought it was evening. And yes it was hot. And it was brillliant.
Even the most negative of incidents was promptly dealt with and the offender expelled from Expo. I’m not going to go into this here- it has been covered elsewhere and carries too many triggers to open up here. Suffice to say that as an individual the UK Expo response to this makes me feel safer there.
Board games without people are just lifeless boxes filled with meaningless chits and worthless tokens. It is the people that breathe life into them, that make them funny or tense or moving. It is the fabulous people of Expo and the time spent uniting with fellow nerds that I want to focus on.
The Expo started for me with the Press Show. I chatted to lots of people, finally met Angela and Dan who I’ve chatted to online for years and booked in to play a demo of Arkosa – the new one from the creators of Gobblin Goblins. The thing that I enjoyed most about the press show was the enthusiasm of the games creators – I love chatting to people who have passion and belief. It’s infectious. In particular I remember meeting the folks from Pet Evil which is soon to be on Kickstarter; marvelling at the research that went into Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell the board game of English magic published by Osprey Games; playing a pattern making game with my eyes shut while two complete strangers gave me directions and talking penguin puns with Team Custard Kraken the makers of Penguin Brawl.
After that I caught up with Emma from Emmerse Studios and Amelia – Quirk Expert! We drank wine and played ‘Bilder’ a game in which you use the different shaped blocks to build or re-enact the thing on your card while idiots shout things at you which are very obviously wrong. They then draw a card and build something obscure while you make astute and intelligent guesses about the content of their card. That’s how I remember it anyway.
Lots of games by StuffbyBez: Yogi, Kitty Cataclysm and the Wibbell++ system of games.
I spent some time at Expo demoing games for both Bez and Wren Games. One of the heart warming things about teaching games was how easy it was to get strangers playing together. They sat, enjoyed a game, compared experiences, swapped stories and recommendations and then disappeared back into the crowd. These were quick games so often we didn’t hang out for long but I loved sharing some time with people and watching them learn. One of the things I miss about teaching is that interaction when you open something new up to a person and place it in their hands; to witness that sense of wonder, fun and freedom to explore is a miraculous thing.
Assembly and Sensor Ghosts by Wren Games
Most of the booths there are demoing games. I could quite happily spend the days playing different games without spending anything above the ticket price. As much as I love teaching, I love learning. Letting someone who is passionate teach you is a joy. I visited Yay games and played Ominoes and then Snaggit. Snaggit is a new one – a fun twist on observational/ grab it games that requires some imagination. I managed to Snag a copy (!) and I know it will be a sure fire hit at events. I also hung out on the Wotan bus for a while, setting the world to rights with Lawrence and watching and learning some games. There were loads of people playing Brexit but I couldn’t bring myself to join in with that. One of the most entertaining games to watch and indeed play is Ramasjang – a chaotic card game where players add to the basic rule set by making each other do accents, noises, physical actions, whatever they think of. I also learnt the much calmer Castle Build. Over on Redwell Games I was taught Six Gun Showdown which was loads of sharp shooting fun too. If I wasn’t working, I would have made more use of the Board Games Library and the open gaming spaces. Plus there are loads of events and seminars to take advantage of.
A crack collective of indie game developers, artists, reviewers and generally lovely and supportive types got together at the Gaming Rules podcast to explain our existence. Today, using a sobriquet still frowned on by Janice they survive as board gamers of fortune. If you have a games related problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find us….maybe you can tweet #TeamTrevor. It was great fun to catch up with the Team Trevor folks in real life, especially as it was the Crafting Jones’ birthday so we could have cocktails! Any excuse!
Pictures by Emma May of Emmerse Studios
I also attended the Gaming Rules/ Paul Grogan top tips for teaching games seminar. It was fascinating to hear ideas about different approaches to teaching as well as, through audience participation, people’s experiences of different teaching methods. The drip feed approach that Paul advocates resonated with me and I definitely already use elements of it. It’s sparked my curiosity and desire to find out more. Of course other non-gaming-rules events were also available! I missed Jollyboat and The Dark Room which are both awesome. And the only tannoy message I deciphered all weekend was the announcement of the Happy Salmon tournament which I can only imagine was hilarious.
The absolute best bits of UK Games Expo have revolved around hanging out with people: whether it was finally meeting the lovely Katie Aidley in real life; playing Arkosa and thoroughly enjoying the well crafted flavour text and a good game; putting faces to names and avatars or drinking cocktails in the Sky Bar on Sally’s birthday – it was an absolute blast and I can’t wait to do it all again.
I did add games to the Cards or Die collection – some kindly donated, some purchased. Come along and try them out at one of our events. But that’s not my abiding memory of UKGE – it won’t reduce to a pile of cardboard, that is really just a vehicle. My memories and the reason I’ll be back next year is to connect with lots of slightly crazy, passionate, nerdy, kind, gorgeous individuals through gaming. If you want to get involved in that vibe, join us at a Cards or Die event soon – check out our events page for more details or subscribe using the form below so you don’t miss a thing.