2018-08-31 16.32.41_edited

The Benchmark Games

Some games become benchmarks. You know, you hear about or try a new game and you immediately start comparing it… is it as good as..? Is it as pretty as…? It’s good but it’s a shame the art isn’t as good as…. or the rule book isn’t as clear as…
This is often more about the execution of the design rather than the game itself. It’s not always a negative judgement, it can be a way of categorising games in my head – I often make comparisons when I like the game and just wish one area was more effective. So what are my benchmarks? My points of comparison?
Art Work – Dixit
I’ve yet to receive Fire in The Library and I am excited about how lovely it is, but for now Dixit remains my point of reference when it comes to art work. The cards are beautifully odd. There are many games, like High Society which are gorgeously illustrated but I think it is the oddness of the art and the demand to engage with it in Dixit which most appeals to me. In Dixit, you have to come up with a word or phrase which describes your chosen image closely enough so that some people will correctly identify which image you are referring to, but not so obviously that everybody gets it. This, along with correctly identifying other people’s choices, is how you score points. I think it is the combination of the necessity to minutely study the cards as well as the beauty of them which makes it one of my favourites.
Dixit 2
2017-04-20 16.22.16_edited_edited
2017-04-20 16.06.22_edited
2017-04-20 18.47.43_edited
Beautiful Components
I have so many games that I love the feel of. Mancala in its hand hewn wooden box, dried olives that drop into tin cups – the look and sound of it is very pleasing. Whenever you take the lid off Cobra Paw people immediately reach out to touch it – the chunky dice, the bright colours and the indented characters on the tiles (or clawfuku as they are correctly known – have fun pronouncing that, I know I do). The components of games can be more memorable than the game itself – that’s why people think they want to play Mousetrap until you remind them that the game is incredibly frustrating and deeply crap. For me the game I think of when I think of beautiful, tactile components which add to the game rather than distract from it or hide a terrible mechanic had become Azul. But then I opened Dice Hospital.
In Dice Hospital, each round you admit new patients (dice) to your ward, treat them and discharge them (hopefully). Each round you can add more wards or more specialists to your hospital. Colourful dice are always a good component for me, and these come in a bag that feels really good! Even without the deluxe add ons you can glory in the thickness of the card stock, enjoy the round counter with its little cut out window, be slightly afraid of the meeples with their medicine bottles and enormous syringes.
The deluxe add ons are brilliant though. The cardboard morgue and blood bad tokens are replaced with wooden ones; the ambulance cards with real ambulances. Ok they’re toy ones but they are gorgeously chunky and no longer do we slide a card towards us, instead we brum our ambulances round to the admissions ward. My next job is to paint them – I can’t wait.
The game itself is excellent. So far we’ve played with 4, 3 and 2 players and enjoyed it each time. There is a lot of decision making, planning and balancing to do as well as a degree of luck which always appeals to me.
So many games are still getting this wrong, from the male pronouns in the instructions to the choice of white characters. My choice of female character is a constant source of irritation – oh, I can be a scantily clad blonde or a busty brunette. Come on, we can do better than this – even Cluedo had a better female character selection than that. It’s almost as if there are some white males who want to keep the hobby white and male. I can only hope they really are the persecuted minority they claim to be.
The situation is definitely improving, I think we just need to avoid complacency. There are lots of games that spring to mind who are getting it right: Dice Hospital and Tortuga are two that spring to mind. But there are two that are at the forefront of my mind when I consider representation: Sub Terra and Gobblin’ Goblins.
Gobblin’ Goblins is a fun game of eating gross food (and I don’t use the word gross lightly. If you were wondering nostalgically about white dog poo, wonder no longer – see it’s on the floor)
But I digress…. at the start of the game, you choose a Goblin. And it really is a choice – you can be fat, thin, male, female, small, tall, able bodied, in a wheelchair. Personally I enjoy the fact that I can be a girl even if more than one other girl is playing. My favourite is Granny Knuckles – she’s not winsomely flashing her cleavage – she’s standing on a stool to give the illusion of height and somehow still managing to look menacing. That’s what I aspire to.
Sub Terra
Trapped in an underground network of caves you need to work together to escape in Sub Terra. The elements: gas, floods, rock falls and hidden monsters known as horrors are all working against you. The balance and use of character’s special abilities is vital for your survival. Your choice of character has never been more important. Each comes with a back story which I love – such a well thought-out detailed touch. It was a relief then that the choice really was a choice. Ironically when offered four female roles including Amirah Malik as team leader, I often plump for Jai Singh – the body guard. Just the sentence ‘we’ve decided that the need for him outweighs the security risks’ made me choose him! I get to shield the party from harm – absorbing shocks and generally being really ‘ard! Those horrors won’t mess with my mates. One day hopefully I won’t open a game and say ‘Oh there’s an Asian woman, and a black man. And the woman is in charge of everything. Yes’. It will become normal, not worthy of remark at all. But as it stands we’re not there yet.
Flavour Text
Temp Worker Assassins for me has the most enjoyable explanations and notes on the playing cards. You are a temp and your mission is to use inventive stationery weaponry to kill off the permanent staff. The characters are well named – the health and safety halfling, the legal aid fairy. The weapons are genius – the machine gun stapler, the compact disc shurikens, the unremorseful ruler. Every word from the rule book to the cards is carefully chosen to help immerse you in the theme. It is part of what makes this such a joy to play. I have reviewed it in full here if you want to find out more.
Clear Rulebook
Nothing is clearer and has just the right amount of detail and example scenarios than the Settlers of Catan rulebooks. It is intimidating when you first get it out of the box as it has a game rules, separate almanac and an A3 game overview sheet. However, that just means that the main Game Rules do not get cluttered with boxes of extra information or definitions and footnotes. I’m sure the layout and order of information is an entirely personal thing but for me this is perfection.
The Game Overview has clear colour diagrams of the set up with a brief summary of the game. You can quickly get the idea of the game from this. It is enough to get you started on your first game. The font is a good size, there are clear headings and numbered steps.
So, for me this is a good start – a manageable amount of information. Then I can move straight on to learning it with a first play-through using the Game Rules as a guide.The way I learn games is by playing them. I know other people approach it differently but if I just read, I find it difficult to process all that information. If I get stuck along the way I refer to the more detailed Almanac.
At every stage the instructions are clear and well expressed. And their choice of pronoun? You. See, I told you – perfect rules.
Box/ Packaging
Rather unfairly the benchmark for this one, rather than being a perfect box – is Uno. When I get a game, I instantly want to check it is not as badly packaged as Uno. Worse than a tuck box, it is two stacks of cards wedged sideways into a tuck box. The box isn’t even big enough. This is a familiar tirade and I know that you are shaking your head in empathetic despair not in judgement. For the purposes of this blog I tried to find more positive comparisons, please use them as your benchmark – it’s not too late for you. The good ones are:
Who Did It? – a lovely magnetic box; games from Big Potato Games – the box has a carefully shaped compartment for all the pieces – a place for everything and everything in its place and Weird Giraffe Games spoil us with extra bags so we can organise our cards and playing pieces to our heart’s content. I am trapped by my negative Uno experiences, always I find myself referring back to that infernal box. The message here – I can tolerate a tuck box but two layers of cards in one flimsy tuck box? You may as well pre-wreck my cards before you package the game.
The benchmark is always shifting. There are always new and improved games that smash your expectations into smithereens, pieces that feel and look like nothing you’ve ever experienced, art work that blows your mind. These may not always be the standard that I judge all things by; but today they are. What about you? What are your benchmark games?

Temp Worker Assassins

When I was trying to expand my collection and on the lookout for unusual games Temp Worker Assassins caught my eye. I was attracted by the art work and the premise. You are a temp working at Bureaucrat Castle and you must use items from the stationery cupboard to bring about the demise of your permanent colleagues. Your weapons range from reasonably blunt pencils to a remarkably heavy calculator. I’m such an English teacher that they had me at these modifiers.
The game is played over a week. (In game time – not in real life. It’s not an insane version of Risk!). Each day has a power up which you may choose to claim using one of your four assassins. You start out with a basic hand of stationery weapons which you must strengthen over the 5 rounds. Permanent staff carry varying scores and some stack up so for instance, a set of Zombies will earn extra points if you also kill the Water Cooler Elemental. 
During the hot-desking phase of the game you must place your assassins. You can choose to attempt an assassination; strengthen your deck for this round or future rounds; move another assassin or temporarily power up your attack strength. However, there are a limited number of opportunities to claim these actions. For instance there is only one card which allows you to move someone else’s assassin so once someone claims that, you may have to rethink your plans. In addition to this, you must balance out low value easy kills with building your deck to enable you to take on higher value targets. All before the office closes on Friday. Even before I was swept away on a wave of strategy I was already sold on the fact that they had called this the ‘hot desking phase’. Every word, every turn of phrase is considered and deliberate. For the time I am playing I am immersed in a world of bulletins, audits, compliance and compact disc shurikens. 
One of the things I enjoy about events is wandering round listening to conversations. Snatches of ‘punch it in the face’, ‘Tokyo’s infected – we need to deal with that next’ or ‘My rabbit didn’t poo in the living room…’ Temp Worker Assassins leads to some lovely conversations that must leave casual visitors to the pub wondering. ‘I’m going to use the evil pencil sharpener to add plus one to these three fairly sharp pencils…’ 
This aspect of planning and decision making appeals to me. I like being able to vary my strategy and try different ideas in different games and I enjoy the challenge of adapting within a game; as the cards you turn over for your potential victims vary so too must your strategy.  The five day (round) structure limits the time, so sometimes by Wednesday when your opponent has killed all the typing pool zombies you have to rethink your plans entirely. To think the survival of the Legal Aid Fairy is so fragile that her fate depends on a load of braindead zombies. Oh well, as in art so too in real life.
As well as the flavour text, it was the art that first drew me to the game and for me sets it apart. Each character is detailed and humorously presented; the stationery is horrifying. Even the lack of artwork is genius – the Internal Audit Ninja card features no picture, just the words ‘No image on file. (Also, cameraman missing). The reverse of the cards has artwork which is similar but distinct enough to distinguish the varying card types. 
In Brief
Plays 2-4
Time 45-60 minutes
Age 14+
By David Newton 
Art by Adam Bolton
To win: build your deck strength and kill the highest total value of workers.
Best Bits
Beautifully illustrated with killer stationery and dislikeable victims. 
After a week immersed in your killer role as a temp at Bureaucrat Castle you will never look at a stationery cupboard the same again. 
Come along to a Cards or Die event and play.
2018-10-03 13.36.03_edited

Spirits of The Forest – a review

I always maintain that Kickstarter and having a crap memory make my life infinitely better. Or at least my post. It feels like Father Christmas definitely exists as I receive random presents through the post that I have no recollection of ordering or paying for. Admittedly, he’s a bit confused these days and his presents arrive willy nilly. Last week Spirits of The Forest arrived just in time for my birthday and it felt like Thundergryph games had sent me a gift. I couldn’t tell you how much the game cost as it was past me that treated me to it (or possibly Father Christmas – there’s no way of ever knowing). Either way it’s brilliant!
My hazy recollection of backing it consists of me seeing it on Twitter and thinking ‘that’s beautiful’. I remember clicking on the link, seeing the shiny gemstones and the gorgeous expansion pack and immediately clicking ‘back this project’. The first thing that struck me when I unwrapped it was how stunning it is. I haven’t played with the expansion pack yet as I am still mastering the base pack but the pieces are so lovely it’s tempting to dive straight in. It’s certainly good to know there are lots of layers to be added to the game at some point.
I have no idea what these bits do but look at them! They were lovingly crafted by fairy folk I have no doubt.
2018-10-07 20.51.02_edited
2018-10-07 20.43.05_edited
How to Win
You win by collecting the most of any set of Spirits and/or the most of any set of power sources. If at the end of the round you do not have at least one of each of the Spirits you lose 3 points and if you don’t have at least one of each of the power sources you also lose 3 points.
How To Play
2018-10-03 13.36.03_edited
2018-10-06 19.36.56
2018-10-03 14.49.18_edited
All of the cards are laid out and 8 favor tokens placed on top. Each turn you can collect up to two identical spirits from the outer edge of the playing area. Players can try to reserve the card they want by placing a gem on it. If another player wants that card however, they can have it if they sacrifice one of their gemstones.
It is a simple premise. You collect sets of cards and try to have more than anyone else of one particular set. But you must ensure you have one of each type too. So there is a lot of balancing to do before you even factor in your opponent(s) who are trying their damnedest to do the same and thwart your plans. Also try not to be dazzled by the art work. I have already lost games by completely ignoring the numbers on the cards (which helpfully tell you the number of spirits of that type there is in the pack) choosing instead to collect the prettiest spirits. Heads up – this is NOT a winning strategy. My favourites are the web spiders and the fruits – respectively the gothest 10 and the cutest 6!
Solo Play
Rather frustratingly as with so many other games, the solo rules start off by saying that it’s the same as the multi player game with the following exceptions…
Now, maybe I’m incredibly lazy or slow on the uptake but I’d really just like one set of rules to read. If I’m playing a solo variant I don’t necessarily want to learn the multi player version so that I can then adapt it to one player.
Having said that, the solo version is enormously satisfying and challenging. Your invisible opponent’s bonus power sources in this game remain hidden until you clear 2 and then 3 lines. That combined with the random layout of tiles means that there is just enough luck to make the game unpredictable but not so much that it isn’t worth strategising.
Plays 2 to 4
We have played with 2, 3 and 4 players. Pleasingly while the game is different with more players it isn’t better or worse. So many games have an optimum number of players and yet this does not. The game feels faster with more players but then there is more to weigh up when you are choosing your tiles. It is easier to block someone from collecting a full set of power sources or spirits but then if you choose to do that it is harder to amass a majority. With 2 players the intensity of decision making remains and the hidden bonus tokens feel more valuable as the balance is likely much closer creating a tense game.
I can see this getting a lot of time out of its box: it’s beautiful and satisfying to play; easy to learn but not so easy to master. A delicate balance of set collection and screwing over everyone else’s plans! Each game is different and you are at the whims of the Spirits of The Forest so victory is never certain. Place your gems with care … you are not alone in the forest….
Come along and play at a Cards or Die event.
Meeple like us 1

Guest Blog – Meeple Like Us

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

The important thing here is that it’s not necessary to solve every problem for every game – but every problem you do solve will open the game up to an audience that was previously unavailable. Board gaming is not currently considered a mainstream hobby for those with disabilities, but that can change. It changes in part by showing disabled gamers that this is a hobby they too can meaningfully enjoy, and making the design and production changes that permit them to do so. The economic rewards that come from the SdJ could be a powerful incentive for this.
It’s important to note here too that there is also a social and cultural aspect to accessibility. The attitudes people have towards recreational products are very often shaped by the way in which those products are presented. Adopting wider diversity in art in terms of ethnicity, gender and disabilities is a powerful gesture. It sends a message to those that idly encounter the games – ‘we see you as part of this hobby’. That message in turn indicates that people should consider seeing themselves as part of the hobby. We include new audiences first by ensuring they can play, and then ensuring they feel welcome in these marvellous shared experiences.
A short treatment of this subject cannot possibly hope to be exhaustive in the possibilities or the problems, but all I’m looking to do here is float a notion. We spend a lot of time talking about the SdJ and that alone shows how potentially powerful a catalyst for change it could be if accessibility was one of the judging criteria.
Those wishing to learn more about the issue are invited to join me back on Meeple Like Us where we do weekly deep dives into particular games – including a number of previous SdJ winners and nominees. I am also contactable at dice@imaginary-realities.com for discussion, but I can’t guarantee especially rapid responses there. I’m available on twitter at @meeplelikeus, and I’m very happy to engage with designers and publishers.
Thanks for your attention. We play games for many reasons, but one of the most powerful is to spend quality time with the people we love. The more accessible your games are, the greater the number of our loved ones that can be part of the experience.
2018-06-09 15.51.45_edited

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.
ezgif.com-webp-to-png (2)

Forest of Fate: choose your own demise.

Do you fondly remember Choose Your Own Adventure Books? Fighting Fantasy? I’m sure I even got one free with my weetabix in the 80s, and I loved it.
If these hold fond memories for you, then Forest of Fate is the perfect game for you. Passionate about Role Playing Games and want to introduce non-gamers to your passion? -look no further. Love a gripping story and fabulous artwork in your game – you need this in your life. Don’t value your life, your face or your vital organs? – this was made especially for you.
The first thing I loved about this game was the artwork. It is a visually stunning game and the fact that the cards match the background on the relevant computer page is a brilliant detail. But it’s not just about looks; so far I have introduced it to children from 7 to 13 and several adults too. All of whom have thoroughly enjoyed it.
The Game – A summary
In Forest of Fate, you navigate a random series of encounters in order to complete your quest, hopefully returning home to brag of your conquests. Upon revealing an encounter, your intrepid band of ne’erdowells must decide which of you is best placed to tackle the challenge. Wow the wolves with your dazzling style; beguile the ferryman or use epic force to disarm the sword expert.
Successful challenges are rewarded with items or artefacts that can support you on your perilous journey through the dark forest. But fail and the penalties are high (and honestly – quite gruesome – this is not a quest for the faint-hearted). A tree branch through the abdomen, brutally beaten by a band of thieves or breaking your ankle in dense fog are some of the fates that await the careless. In other words, you sustain heavy life point losses. You can lose 6 points in one go if the Forest Gods are not on your side.
Skills and Abilities
All the expected skills are there to choose from: wits, care, speed, force and guile. And the addition of style as a skill is very enjoyable – by using style, you can “dazzle, seduce or bemuse”.
There are six characters to choose between. The ambiguous images, coupled with the necessary use of second person in the story telling means that anyone can be anyone. We don’t have to endure the all too common tokenism with race or gender. Each character has 4 of the skills above, each rated either great or good. Plus, each has 2 special abilities, but you can only use one on each quest. These abilities come with a cost but benefit the team as a whole – for instance the ability to revive someone or the ability to rewind time and repeat an event. (Hopefully learning from your failure and choosing a skill that doesn’t leave you hanging upside down from a vine.)
The ability cards also enable you to track your life points and when you flip them, the reverse side has another special ability that can be used by your ghost to spitefully try to thwart the remaining group members.
Game Play
Once your quest is chosen and the appropriate number of encounters laid out, face down, in the winding path of your choice, you are ready to embark on your journey.
You reveal the first encounter and work together to decide which brave soul is best equipped to go forward and resolve this event. There are four possible entry points to each encounter, each with four possible skills you could use. But, as you venture deeper into the forest the decisions become less straightforward – you need to weigh up not just who has the skills but also which of you is still strong enough. Choose wrong and one of you will die, possibly transforming into a shade who will hex your party. What use is epic strength when tripping over an exposed tree root could kill you?
Once you have agreed upon your action, you use the website or a printed version of the story book, find the number shown to reveal the next part of the story… and your fate…
You could lose life points, gain artefacts or items which you can cash in to help you on your quest or hang on to as treasure to sweeten your victory. Additionally your status may change – becoming sluggish will slow you down whilst becoming composed will improve your levels of guile.
You wend your way on your chosen path, meeting each new challenge with a combination of skills and abilities, hopefully all surviving, if a little bruised, to tell the tale!
Each game begins with a quest: the Quest can be randomly selected or you can choose carefully to increase your chances. Each quest comes with one artefact or item and some make success easier than others. For instance, the Ancient Amulet allows you to restore up to 3 health for each of the group. Equally, you can increase the difficulty – start at The Dragon’s Mouth – not only are the steps a challenge for anyone with dancers’ knees but you gain a random item to start. And, if your random item choosing is anything like my dice rolling, then you’re screwed.
As I was travelling to St Ives I found a game with
5 possible quests
3 difficulty levels
36 Encounters
Each encounter had 4 sides
Each side had 4 skills
Each skill had 4 possible levels of competency from Fair to Epic
There were 12 possible statuses that affect your skills
Each character had 2 abilities to choose from
Each dead character could choose to invoke a ghostly ability or not
Quests, skills, cats, kits … I have literally no idea how many adventurers were travelling to Saint Ives but I do know this. There are an epic number of variants, and I can’t see how I could ever exhaust this game.
Come along to a Cards or Die event and try it out yourself.
Forest of Fate
2018-06-15 14.28.42
2018-05-06 13.06.17
2018-04-18 14.03.19

Games for a laugh

Board games can be a serious business. Try circulating at an event, trying to capture photos of people having a great time playing games and you’ll soon see: the furrowed brows; the intense examination of a hand of cards; the co-operative players desperately trying to escape The Curse of The Temple. It’s all fun and games till someone loses a die.
In this week’s blog I want to look at the lighter side of board gaming, focusing on 6 games that will make you laugh.
The Cheese Touch
How well do you really know these people – your family, friends and fellow gamers? Thanks to the Cheese Touch, you are about to find out. As you move around the board you have to complete tasks like- miming an action using the adverb on the card (e.g. lazily), the player whose turn it is has 5 chances to get the correct answer; there’s Yes or No – choose a player who you think will give the same answer as you; Who Said What? – match responses with players or Great Minds Think Alike – reveal identical answers to win. Succeed in these tasks and you will be rewarded with movement towards the end of the board… but fail and you will have The Cheese Touch… To win the game you must get round the board first and be free of the cheese touch!
Even if you never read the books, didn’t watch the film or don’t believe that cheese is inherently comical you will still be doing your level best to avoid the cheese touch and laughing as you do!
Cobra Paw
The first thing you need to know about Cobra Paw is that the tiles are called Clawfuku – I’ll let you work on the pronunciation yourself. Roll the dice and identify the clawfuku which matches the symbols shown on the dice. Grab it quick with your stealthy ninja skills, before anyone else. First to 6 (or 7 in a two player game) wins!
But be careful- just because a clawfuku is in front of you does not mean it is yours. At every roll of the dice, they are all up for grabs. You need ‘eyes in your arse’ to win this game!
Despite your temptation to pronounce clawfuku in an aggressive manner – the divit of diplomacy will avert any unpleasantness. In the case of a close call, whichever player has their claw in the divit is the winner of that particular clawfuku.
The game pieces are chunky and colourful, delightfully tactile and the game itself is quick to learn and play and endlessly entertaining.
A quick fire game – like a powered up version of snap. Match the symbols then call out an example from the category on the other person’s card to win the pair. Like so many classic games, it sounds so easy. Then as it gathers speed you realise that you don’t know any animals at all and the only TV shows you remember went off air in the 1970s. Or, worse still the only word you can think of is flatworm and you’re not even sure what that is.
Wild cards add more mayhem by allowing you to match on two symbols. So in the one pictured you could have a match with 2 crosses, 2 zigzags or 1 cross and 1 zigzag. Frankly after ‘a’ glass of wine that can be a challenge too far – if in doubt shout flatworm and hope for the best.
Animal Ailments
A mime in two acts. Animal Ailments demands that you successfully communicate which animal you are. Then through the medium of interpretive dance, charades or simply with the power of your mind – communicate your ailment. You gain cards for miming excellence and for understanding other people’s interesting interpretations! Can you recognise a hungry tiger, a camera shy kangaroo or a snail who is (understandably) scared of birds?
The cards also have power ups, giveaways, extra turns and other abilities which make the game more chaotic and entertaining. And, of course there’s a timer – everything’s funnier when you are under pressure!
A thoroughly entertaining and ridiculous game. We love it!
Quirk and Quirk Legends
Quirk is like Happy Families (if the families were on crack). To win quirks (sets of three cards) you must act out or make the sound of the quirk you are trying to complete. Quirk Legends has the added twist of allowing you to count up how many goodies and baddies you end up with! Both games include tactic and skip cards which allow you to complete actions like – stealing quirks, stealing cards or blocking others’ actions.
The illustrations are lovely too. I particularly like those in Quirk legends. I’ve got a soft spot for the T-Rex though – I’m not convinced they’re a baddy!
It’s obviously great for kids as it is easy to learn and it appeals to their sense of silliness. Recapturing that silliness makes for an entertaining game for adults too. I went for years without rolling down grassy hills and when I had children I rediscovered the joy of it. It’s something I won’t have the chutzpah to do for much longer as I risk embarrassing myself and the children. This game is perfect for giving you permission to be as daft as you like – children or no children.
A thoroughly enjoyable game. In this instance the lack of timer makes it more entertaining as you force your opponent to repeatedly impersonate a wizard whilst sincerely claiming you have no idea which card she’s after. Make ’em earn their quirks!
A word game that has endless possibilities for creative hilarity.
Read more about it in my recent review of it here.
So if you are game for a laugh and you want to challenge your pelvic floor as well as your brain give one of these a go!

Come along to a Cards or Die event and try them out.
2017-10-06 21.41.50 (1)_edited

Don your Deerstalker! A guide to detective games.

Whether you prefer to drink real ale, drive classic cars and shout at Junior Detectives, wear a deerstalker and have sharp cheekbones, or exercise your little grey cells (and if you didn’t read that in a Belgian accent you’ve let yourself down) – you will certainly enjoy these detective games. In our house we love a bit of intense sleuthing and here are some of our choices…
Classics are classics for a reason and Cluedo is no exception. It is yet another Waddingtons Leeds success story. But, unlike Monopoly and despite the macabre theme, it doesn’t inspire actual murder. Internationally successful to this day, the game is widely known as Clue abraod. A reissue of the game in 2008 saw it attempt to align itself with modern culture – you can find out more in Richard Alleyne’s article here. I don’t want to get involved with first names and modern weaponry though, Cluedo for me is about embracing the theme, having a warm milky drink before bed while I peruse and ponder the clues. I still love our vintage version best.
There are three female characters to choose from which is a boon. Although since my daughter adopted this as one of her favourites, I never get to be Miss Scarlet anymore. I am often relegated to the buxom and comforting steadiness of Mrs White and spend the game internally creating a salacious back story – she wasn’t always this matronly you know!
At the time when Cluedo first appeared in the mid-forties it was an important alternative to the roll and move games which were so prevalent. Even as a child in the late 70s / early 80s I was not so spoilt for choice as we are now. Cluedo offered a relief from the day long unpleasantness of Monopoly or the inordinately (and unjustifiably) long games of Frustration and Ludo. I enjoyed it then and now because it uses your brain. Being able to accurately deduce who commited the murder, where and with what implement is still very satisfying. Even when you don’t win, you are invested in the outcome – often the reveal is followed by a comparing of notes and discussion of how close or far off other players were. It is that which gives Cluedo continuing appeal.
Cluedo Card Game
Cluedo but portable? Yes please. The game works well as a card game and sticks reasonably closely to the original. In this version you must use your deduction skills to ascertain the Suspect, the Destination and the Vehicle they are making their getaway in. Action cards determine what players may do on their turns. The addition of destination markers which are all visible help to maintain the mechanic of moving to a room to make your accusation.
There is also a ‘one against all’ variation. One player assumes the role of the fugitive and must form an escape plan while the detectives must thwart the villains plans before they can make good their escape and time runs out.
I love the artwork on the cards, especially the old fashioned modes of escape like the seaplane! All of the cards – photographs and illustrations – have been given a sepia, aged tone. This makes some of the seemingly random destinations all the more enjoyable – Miss Scarlet might have hopped on her hot air balloon bound for Loch Ness, Alton Towers or perhaps even Blackpool Tower! It is a fun variant of Cluedo and easy to take to the pub, so everyone’s a winner!
221B Baker Street
221B Baker Street has 75 different cases to solve (if you buy the most recent version). Cases vary in complexity as well as making different demands of the detectives; for some crimes you need to uncover the motive, killer and weapon while others ask for cause of death, how the victim died or other more obscure details of the case. You start off at Baker Street and then make your way round the board to different locations, collecting and solving clues as you go. You can only read the clue once and there is a time limit of 30 seconds and may not refer back to it – so the notes you take are vital!
When you believe you have solved the mystery you return to 221B Baker street and announce your theory. If you are correct you are victorious and the game ends. Fail and you are suspended from duty – effective immediately – you do not even get to share your notes with fellow officers.
You are able to seal off locations to hide valuable clues or mislead other players. These are fairly easy to unlock and although you are only allowed one key and one Scotland Yard card to seal and unlock locations, they are easy to replace. It is not a feature that we often use when we play, because of the “actual murder” thing (see above!).
While it can seem slow to start, the game soon picks up pace. I enjoy the problem solving and deduction as well as the opportunity to take opium and play the violin erratically.
We enjoy it despite the fact the children find some of the clues too obscure. We usually start out individually and end up in some sort of co-operative game where we work together to solve the crime, or we visit different locations and swap clues. I’m basically quite conflict averse, so we don’t enforce the 30 second rule, or use a much longer time. Not only would it make the game more difficult, but I can’t imagine a scenario in which one of my children would not attempt to kill the other with the clue book rolled up around a lead pipe, in the dining room, when their 30 seconds was up and they ‘HAVEN’T EVEN READ IT ONCE’. I’m a strong believer in house rules and am not a stickler for the printed ones. Games are about having fun and as long as all rules are pre-agreed by the group so that everyone can access and enjoy the game that’s what matters most.
Mr Jack
Mr Jack is a great little 2 player asymmetric detective game. The Inspector employs Holmes, Watson and Toby the dog to track down Jack the Ripper. It is short on diversity of characters but it has many plus points. We took it on holiday with us and played it a lot.
Inspector Morse
Unlike 221B there are only 9 variations to play here (3 cases with 3 question cards each). So it has a clearly limited life on your shelves. Lucky for you I bought it so you don’t have to!
You begin by reading the case book but make careful notes as anytime you want to look at it again it will cost you 10 points (each player starts with 500 promotion points). The object of the game is to move around the board solving clues so that you are able to correctly answer the six questions from the question card. Locations contain clue cards which once read are replaced at the bottom of the pile and if you are unlucky enough to draw the same clue twice that’s just tough – you don’t get to swap it for another!
As you move around the board you also encounter difficulties and positive adding a (possibly unnecessary) element of luck to the game. The square may cause you to lose or gain promotion points at random; move to certain locations or squares or move other players. You can move around the board in a variety of ways though.
There are two endings to choose from which as a group you can decide on at the beginning. You may either return to Morse’s office with your theory, at which point all players hand in their notes sheets which are scored (plus points for correct deductions, minus points for incorrect or missing answers) or, return to Morse’s office and see if you are correct. If you have solved the case then the game ends but if you have not then the remaining detectives slog on while you wait in the pub with an increasingly warm real ale for them.
Despite the luck element this is an enjoyable game, especially if you enjoyed the TV series. Relish the opportunity to say ‘Lewis’ in a suitably angry or disparaging tone every time someone else lands on a bad square! Best played in the pub with a real ale – it’s where you do your best thinking after all.
Get Adler
Get Adler is a brilliant, fun game. In the first half the agents are searching for Adler and in the second half Adler tries to escape while the agents try to catch him. Particularly good for larger groups as it plays up to 9 people. Mechanics wise it combines guess who with fast paced strategy!
I have reviewed Get Adler previously – you can read more here.
And I couldn’t write a blog on sleuthing without featuring a Sherlock gif, could I?
Join us for games for a Cards or Die event.
2016-11-11 18.02.56

How I win at Charity Shopping.

I have always enjoyed an amble round the charity shops and since starting Cards or Die, I can amble with renewed purpose. Or ‘pop in – just for a minute’ as I refer to it when trailing a reluctant trio of kids. But in fact, I am not merely aimlessly ambling. It may surprise you to learn that there is a charity shopping strategy. And, no one expects the charity shopping strategy.
(Dramatic entrance, swirling red cloak) The key element in successful charity shopping is luck. Luck is the main element; luck and a fanatical devotion to bargains. OK… the two key elements are luck, a fanatical devotion to bargains and the willingness to take a risk….
(Goes out, bursts in again) The many faceted elements of successful charity shopping are luck, a fanatical devotion to bargains and the willingness to take a risk. So, ok it’s three. But, many faceted elements sounds much more serious. And bargains are a serious business.
It may seem obvious but luck is a two way street. I’ve had some amazing luck at charity shops: ‘Hey! That’s my Fish!’ for 49p; 221B Baker Street – still shrink wrapped £2.99, brand new Bucket of Doom 99p!
I’ve had some bad luck too – for instance Connect 4 (the co-operative version) and Buffy the Board Game – it turns out this was not the Buffy I was looking for.
The thing to take on board though… (I’ll give you a moment to groan if you wish…) The thing to take on board is the number of near misses I’ve had too. I nearly bought Lost the Board Game. It was in a tin for goodness sake. But, I kept my packaging excitement in check and read some reviews on board game geek and averted disaster. I’m aware that the Connect 4 debacle could have been avoided by asking them to snip the tape* so I could look inside.
(*I’ll come back to this)
Despite using the words ‘disaster’ and ‘debacle’, (prone to drama? Moi?) buying these games would leave me just under a fiver out of pocket. It’s easy to change my language and view this as a charitable donation rather than a waste. Plus the Connect 4 will be useful as spares providing people only ever lose yellow counters…
*Taping up board games. Please don’t. I have invested in massive sturdy rubber bands and at Airecon, in possibly the geekiest conversation I had that weekend, I discovered rubber X bands which are super sturdy for your games.
If you want to look inside a box that is taped up – just ask. They will snip it open with scissors and reseal it. That way no-one has to end up with a ripped or damaged box.
Fanatical devotion to bargains
Raised Catholic, fanatical devotion comes easily to me! The more regularly and frequently you can visit charity shops the better. I can efficiently get round all the charity shops here in Horsforth because I know exactly where the board games are in each one. I can go straight to that shelf and check if there are any new additions. It really can be a quick task. Of course often there may be distractions that result in a new outfit which is a bonus!
I usually have a list in mind of which games I’m looking out for. On that list there are specific games and then sections like games from before 1960, for instance. If you are after a particular game or particular style or make of game you can request shops to ring you if that specific thing comes in. Some will be happy to do this for you. On the plus side you don’t have to trawl round as much, on the other hand you may miss a find that isn’t on your hit list. Part of the excitement of charity shop shopping is that you never know what you might discover so it’s important not to be too focussed.
Going in the car to charity shops in odd, tucked away or far flung places can lead to some bargains too. I’ve had some fab bargains from a charity shop on a housing estate in Ellesmere Port whilst visiting my folks. It isn’t really near much else – a newsagents and a chippy and I’ve had some good vintage finds there. Not to mention a dress that was in the sale for 75p!
Anytime we go somewhere new I always want to have a ‘quick look’ in the charity shops. You just never know what you might find. For some reason in different areas you seem to get different types of unwanted games so it’s worth looking in different places if you can. In Wilmslow I got some fabulous condition retro games in a couple of shops.
The saying ‘One person’s junk is another’s treasure’ springs to mind and I am constantly on the lookout for treasure.
Willingness to take a risk.
Throw caution to the wind and splash out on a game you’ve never heard of! The great thing about this is if it’s a dud you can use it as spares or just redonate it, safe in the knowledge that you have made a donation to a worthwhile cause. But if it’s not a dud…
I’ve bought games that are not listed on board game geek and that I’ve never heard of. Or I simply haven’t checked if they are listed – I like the look of them and at these prices it’s a safe risk to take.
I took a risk with this because when I bought it, I didn’t know what it was. I loved the carved wooden box and how tactile it was. I took it up to the counter and said ‘Is this a game?’ ‘Yes’ they said. And I bought it. Then spent a lot of time saying ‘what’s this?’ and brandishing it at people. Eventually somebody said Mancala and all I needed to do then was learn how to play it.
Mancala is an ancient game and so there are many variations. I did some research and fixed on a set of rules that worked. As with all games as long as everyone is in agreement and understands how to win before you start, it should be fine!
This has been such a popular game at all my events. Quick to learn, strategic and mathmatical: it is the kind of game you want to play over and over. It is possible to get modern versions of it and it comes as part of many of the wooden games compendiums. I highly recommend it.
Space Lines
I had never heard of it and it was clearly a 3d version of Connect 4 which could be a but naff. But, interestingly it plays up to 3 and the picture on the box! Well, that’s what sold it to me. The 3D game of the future, a brave new world where people would shoot coloured lasers out of their fingers. This was the kind of world I wanted a piece of. Once I had got over the disappointment of the lack of finger lasers, I realised that this is actually a really neat game.
Played two player, it is harder than you think to pursue your own series of 4 pegs whilst blocking your opponent. But when three play it becomes very interesting. There is potential for pairing up against one opponent or seeming to and then switching loyalties.Martin at The Abbey has introduced a no talking rule for the three player game which is an excellent idea as it intensifies the dynamics of the game.
Again this is a game with a very simple premise: make a row of four pegs in any direction. Each time you get caught out, you’ll want to play again. The 3D, 3 player element means there are multiple strategies to try out.
A two player strategy game. This time it wasn’t the box itself that encouraged me to buy it, but its award winning status and the tactile nature of the pieces. One player is red, the other black; using your tiles you must make your way across the board from one side to another whilst blocking your opponent’s bid to do the same. This is a gem of a strategy game and I can see why it won the Toy of The Year Award 1974.
In this instance the box itself nearly stopped me buying this one. It was on a shelf with napkin rings (also in boxes) and display plates. So, when I picked up the box I wasn’t sure what to expect. Whoever thought ‘Burgundy and gold, that says fun’? Carefully prising it open I found the instructions which explained that it was a game where you match the colours and try to make a long chain of the same colour, scoring for each square in the chain. To be honest, it sounded a bit dull but it was under a pound and I thought someone might like it. I was both wrong and right! It isn’t at all dull and lots of people like it! In fact it has been re-issued in a nicer box and is well worth trying out. If you like Tantrix (another charity bargain) you’ll like this. It’s pleasing to the eye and mildly strategic. There’s something very satisfying about totting up your ever increasing score as you create longer and longer colour chains.
If, like me you are addicted to charity shops and the board game bargains to be sought out, you may also enjoy Board Game Trading and Chat UK. As I was typing this blog, someone had shared a post – they bought Ticket to Ride for £3.50 and Disc World for £4.25. 154 people reacted to this post so it definitely isn’t just me that enjoys a bargain – vicarious or otherwise!
What are your greatest charity shop finds? Or your most entertaining duds?

Come and check out some of my bargainous finds at a Cards or Die event.

Once upon a time in the West it wasn’t all Doom and Gloom: the beauty of Storytelling Games.

Storytelling is an ageless activity bred of an instinctive human desire to connect with others. Back when we lived in caves and all you needed to do to impress someone was light a fire, we would sit round that fire and tell stories: stories of the mythic beasts we had slain; cautionary stories of the dangers our youngsters should avoid; stories of comical mishaps and misunderstandings. Playing games is an ancient pastime, and it’s no coincidence that games is another great way to connect with other humans. So, what could be better at connecting us than games that tell stories?
Here are some of our favourite story telling style games:
Players use the letters that are revealed to create sentences. Each sentence must use all of the letters in order reading left to right or right to left. You place 7 letter cards and a category card face up to create the board. The category card awards different points depending on the subject of the sentence. Turn over the 3 minute timer and off you go! You need to make sure that the sentence is grammatically accurate and you can use names but not just to use up letters – they need to be an integral part of the sentence. Write as many sentences in the time to maximise your score. The rules claim that the game is outlandish and creative, and the results certainly lend credence to this claim!
A variation allows you to place 10 letters and choose a sequence of those to make your sentence. In this version you score according to the length of your sentence.
The game is played over 5 rounds, so you’ve got time to warm up!
This is a quick, fun party game. It is challenging but it’s the kind of game that once you warm your brain up, you can create all sorts of bizarre and entertaining stories! Have a go at the boards in the pictures to get you started!
Bucket Of Doom
Another classic party game. I was wary of this one at first as it says it’s suitable for ages 17+… some people had seen it in my collection and said the thought it would be like Cards Against Humanity – this didn’t help! 9as you may know, I am not a fan of Cards Against Humanity at all. I’ve played it and I felt that some of the topics were so tasteless that I could not find any humour in them). But, I found a copy of this in a charity shop and it is by Big Potato Games (Creators of Obama Llama which is well loved here at Cards or Die headquarters) so, the conditions were perfect for me to throw caution to the wind and suspend my reservations. And, I’m glad I did.
You have 8 objects and an improbable yet perilous scenario. The scenarios are mainly ridiculous, some are rude and many are nightmarish but they are not offensive. You must use one of your 8 objects to escape the scenario you find yourself in. The group choose the most convincing and entertaining explanation and we have a winner/ survivor. Above all else this game is ridiculous. It demands that you engage your imagination and reach into its farthest recesses to generate plausible absurdity.
So, how will your Bachelor’s in drama get you out of this suicidal whale?
Serving suggestion: definitely the sort of game which is best served with fizzy wine or fine ales.
In Dixit the player who decides on the phrase, word or saying that encapsulates their card is referred to as the storyteller. Each image tells its own story. I have already written a detailed review of Dixit -you can read more here.
I love Gloom; both the game and the Eeyore-like state of being. We have the Cthulhu version. Despite the tuck box (we won’t talk about that it upsets me), this is a brilliant game. The aim of the game is to make your family as miserable as possible before killing them all!
The cards are see-through so that you can stack them up, obscuring or replacing some or all of the existing scores and categories. Event cards intensify the gloom of your family and outline a mishap or terrible event: ‘disappeared in the night’ or ‘was part of a feast’ for example. As these stack up you tell the horrifying story of that character. Storytelling is outlined in the rules as ‘half the fun’: you are encouraged to flesh out (if you will) how these chilling events came to pass. It’s definitely more entertaining if you engage your storytelling brain as well as your maths/ strategic one. This goes some way to settling the ‘Is Maths better than English?’ debate. Or perhaps they work in beautiful harmony? Nonsense, English makes everything better. (This is the answer, no need to comment below).
Whilst trying to make your family as miserable as possible you can cheer up your opponent’s with bargainous books or secured tenures. When you have enough negative points you can cause the untimely death of your family member or as a philanthropic gesture you can limit the unhappiness of an opponent’s family member by putting them out of their misery – literally.
When your entire family have gone to a better place (which given the circumstances wouldn’t take much) then the game ends and you total up the points to see who has spread the most gloom. Fabulously gruesome!
Colt Express
In Colt Express you are all ruthless bandits in the Wild West trying to grab the most loot and prove yourself as the fastest gunslinger. The marshall guards the prize on the train – a briefcase full of money. But watch out, get shot by the said marshall and that really messes up your plans.
One of the immediately impressive and striking things about Colt Express is that it uses a cardboard train rather than a board. It truly is a thing of beauty. You make your way along the train either clinging to the roof or risking life and limb as you swing from carriage to carriage.
Disappointingly the number of female characters is limited to the usual two and one of them is predictably busty. As with so many games I overlook that. If I only bought games which fairly represent the diversity of society my shelves would be significantly emptier.
Colt Express uses a programming mechanic. A round comprises 4 to 6 actions per player and this is detailed on the round outline card. Some of the outline cards dictate that certain cards are placed secretly and some end with an action like the train screeching to a halt – when the outlaws who have chosen to risk the high winds and jolting tracks by creeping along the roof are jettisoned dangerously closer to the marshall.
Each player chooses the action they plan to execute and places their card in the pile. When this is completed, one player then tells the story of the round. This mechanic makes the game quite tricky; to play effectively you need to not only keep track (no pun intended!) of what you’re planning but of what everyone else is doing and where they are, adjusting your plans accordingly.
The storytelling element and the cardboard train are my favourite bits of this game. (It even comes with cardboard cacti!) For me the game is perfect when people enter into the storytelling element of it with enthusiasm. A list of actions becomes a scene from a Wild West train robbery with a cast of rival guns prepared to fight to the death.
Each player has a special ability which lends some more depth to the game and there are two expansion packs available which I’m keen to try out.
Everybody needs good neighbours and you can join forces with yours in The Neighbours board game to create the best plotline ever. I have thoroughly enjoyed playing this game and it’s had good reviews from events too. Now – whenever I read the word “hilarious” in a review part of my soul dies, but honestly Neighbours is hilarious to play (admittedly we consumed wine while we played – a theme is emerging), but it is a fun game – and the plot lines you create have to be grammatically accurate, which pleases me more than I can tell you. Pretend it’s the 80s, pretend it’s sunny, and dive right in!
So what is the story we should take away from this post? Well, once upon a time there was a little girl who eschewed the rules of grammar. She thought that what really mattered was the story, not the way it was written. She was wrong. She lost. Grammar matters kids.
As a poster in my classroom stated:
“Let’s eat Grandma! or, Let’s eat, Grandma!”
It takes a lot more than lighting a fire in a cave to impress people these days… get this wrong and you could have been having quite a chewy dinner…
Join us for board games at a Cards or Die event.