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Charades, Noise and Social Ridiculousness

Just before Christmas I received this exciting package from Gamely Games. Three pocket sized boxes of fun – perfect party games to pop in my bag and take to the pub. If you are a Dragon’s Den fan you may have seen Deborah Meaden miming her way through a round of Randomise. In the end Gamely Games walked away from the den with no deal but not without offers. The games are quick to learn but offer hours of entertainment so get the gang round and settle down for a ridiculous games evening!!
Players 4+
Time 30mins
Age 8+
Price £11.99 (available on Amazon or direct from Gamely Games)
Choose one card from each pile, pick a number and then act, draw or describe your way to victory. You can choose from hard or easy tasks. You might be a dramatic Polar bear making sushi or a macho snail doing the ironing. The random nature of the categories combined with your skilful acting is what makes the game so hilarious. It has been a hit with adults and children alike. Most people seem to automatically choose the charades option but the drawing option has proved a good travel game for my children. (Less distracting than charades or arguing while I’m driving!!).
Players 3-10
Time 15mins
Age 8+
Price £11.99 (available on Amazon or direct from Gamely Games)
Surprisingly challenging, Soundiculous requires you to mimic a sound while others guess what sound you are making. What I hear when I make a tumble dryer sound is apparently nothing like an actual tumble dryer! A very simple premise that has had us howling with laughter. Even the noises which we accurately guessed were entertaining. Although personally I thought my beatboxing was me stumbling on a hidden talent, I’m pretty sure that they were still laughing about the tumble dryer. Children can be very unforgiving.
The Pretender
Players 4-6
Time 15mins
Age 12+
Price £11.99 (available on Amazon or direct from Gamely Games)
A game of social deception.
Choose a category and each player is assigned an identical role – apart from – The Pretender (If you’re not singing by now you’re reading this wrong). Each player performs a mini charade relating to the item on the card. It is a balancing act – you must perform clearly enough so that people don’t think you are the pretender but vaguely enough that the pretender can’t work out the answer. The Pretender has the most difficult challenge though. They must act out a charade which fits with the others – this is of course easier if they are last to go.
Players then discuss who they think the Pretender is. On the count of three, all point towards the accused! The wiley amongst us can always deflect guilt and steer the conversation towards an incorrect accusation. The Pretender can save themselves by guessing what the item on the card was.
Often age guides are a bit conservative for my liking and I regularly play games which are ‘too old’ for my family but this one is bang on. For a ridiculous game there is a certain level of skill and cunning required – definitely one for the grown ups!
I also love the look of these games.The designs are quirky and fun. I adore the colours in The Pretender. When they’re not packed in a bag to go to an event, they look great on my shelf!
As always you can try these games out at one of our upcoming events – and if you can’t make those, you can always book a private party!

My Year in Games.

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

3-6 Players
14+ (or younger – our 10 year old loves this)
Less than 30mins
If you find yourself reflecting on the relentless and ever quickening passage of time in a rueful manner. Or, if you enjoy anthropomorphic chickens then this is one especially for you.
To be honest, you had me at time travelling chickens. The theme of this pocket rocket of a game is an absolute joy. You are a group of chickens who have broken all the rules by fiddling about with time travel causing an endless time vortex to be opened. Let’s be grateful chickens didn’t get hold of the Hadron Collider. To escape the vortex you need an Escape Pod and impeccable timing.
First, you set out your timeline in countdown order: 10 down to Escape Window Open. Each turn – before playing your chosen card – players reveal another countdown card. This means that time flies and you career rapidly towards the escape window often without the requisite escape pod. Whenever a time slips away card is revealed, the highest face-up timeline card is removed from play. (It is possible to end up with only the Escape Window card- fortunately it is immune to the ravages and cruel whims of time.)
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The clux capacitor (yes that’s right – take a moment to enjoy that one) is a powerful card. It can enable you to cheat death and temporarily halt the relentless passage of time. It enables you to Turn Back Time and sing classic Cher songs at the top of your lungs.*
Time travel is fraught with danger and if you don’t tread lightly, you can end up erasing your own existence and no chicken wants that. You get two chances though. The first time you draw a You Dead card and learn that a distant relative has killed you, you are frozen out of the game unless you can play a clux capacitor card. You place your character card on the timeline at the moment of your death. You remain there – frozen out, unable to play. You can only watch in tense horror as the cards are taken until either, a clux capacitor which revives you is played, or, until a time slips away card is drawn and you are not just dead but erased from existence. It’s ok though, you’re not so dead that you can’t go to the bar and get the next round in while the rest of us try to escape.
Winning is easy – all you need to do is
  • Pick up the escape pod
  • Hold on to the escape pod
  • Play the escape pod while the window is open
That’s all you have to do. Don’t have the escape pod? Don’t worry you can just swap hands, peek at other people’s cards (legally – with a card, not just with strategic reflective surface placement) and steal it! Or failing that use reverse and cryogenic freezing to buy yourself time to get some more strategic cards. Time is critical in this game and there isn’t much of it.
This is a fun, quick play, take that card game. It’s portable which is always a plus. Great for families or groups of adults – we’re definitely backing it. You can see by the photos how many different places we’ve played it in and we haven’t even had it a week! (and I’ve spared you the flowery tablecloth of doom photos for once). You have two lives, limited time and a random selection of tactics. So how about it McFly – will you play…. or are you too…. CHICKEN??
*It’s more of a house rule than a legitimate part of the game.**
** Actually it’s only me that sings. My family just wait patiently for it to be over.
Come and play it at a Cards or Die event.
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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
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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.
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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.
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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
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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.
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Guest Blog – Meeple Like Us

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

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

If you’ve perused my games menu, you may have noticed that I have a penchant for Zombie games! From a young age (probably too young) I enjoyed watching all sorts of horror films. With the exception of a few well made favourites like The Exorcist, The Shining and Don’t Look Back, I have favoured trash or ridiculous storylines which zombie films have in abundance. I enjoyed Black Sheep (a film about zombie sheep in New Zealand – a twist on the 5 people get stuck in a cabin in the middle of nowhere trope), Dead Snow (nazi zombies who meet a sticky end, also involving a cabin – this time in the wilds of Norway) and of course, Shaun of the Dead.
Shaun of the Dead is one of my favourite films. It’s more than just a pun, it’s a brilliantly funny film. It was also, among other things, a reference to this in my online dating profile that encouraged my partner to contact me. So it has a very special place in my heart.
And Zombie films are not just important in my life, they have persisted in our culture for years. Since Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in 1968 the zombie trope has been ever present. It’s curious because as the easy satire of Shaun of the Dead highlights, the stories are similar, the characters fall into predictable roles with predictable behaviours and yet it is still a popular (if niche) genre. The films have often been used as a comment on consumerism and modern life; I wonder whether that is part of their timeless appeal. The comments Romero was making back then are still just as relevant today. Consumerism, the ethics of it and its role in our lives still preoccupies many people.
Zombies themselves have a special appeal. Shaun of the Dead even ends with people keeping zombies as companions – like a dog but a bit bite-ier! Their slow movements and blank faces make us feel we can definitely triumph in a battle against them. Perhaps the promise of a victory which would save humanity, alongside the glory which would accompany it, appeals to our heroic (while slightly cowardly) side.
And when (not if!) the zombie apocalypse comes will you be ready for it? I have had many discussions about plans for the zombie apocalypse and where would be a suitable place to fight them from. I knew someone who said she wouldn’t go out with anyone if they didn’t have a zombie apocalypse plan. When you’re down the Winchester, having a pint and waiting for it all to blow over, you just need to hope Cards or Die are there with what is becoming an extensive selection of zombie games to help you come up with some strategies!
When I saw Zombies by Todd Breitenstein for just £2.99 in a charity shop I wondered straightaway if it was a bargain or a dud. I’d never heard of it and it was still shrink wrapped. Inside the box there were 100 tiny, plastic zombies and that was ultimately what swung it for me! I mean you can never have too many tiny plastic zombies and until now I didn’t have any. It was packaged like a video which had confused both the person labelling the game and the lady on the till and was boldly labelled ‘This one’s a no-brainer’ so I brought it home with me.
In Zombies you win by being the first to either defeat 25 zombies or reach the helipad and escape. The mechanism for adding zombies is very easy: for named buildings it is written on the card and for other cards you just place the same number of zombies as there are roads. You move by rolling a die, pausing to battle zombies by rolling a die, then you move the zombies by… you guessed it… rolling a die. Every turn you place a tile making sure all roads join other roads, if you place enough dead ends then you can not escape and must continue until one of you has defeated 25 zombies.
At this point, I felt that it was going to be a glorified roll and move game, entirely down to chance. Actually, there is more to it. And I don’t mean the teeny weeny zombies although I’ll be honest, they have swayed me.
There are other elements too – bullets which can be used to boost your die score, 3 hearts which represent your lives and are used to continue fighting a zombie. More of both of these can be collected as you move around the board, placing you in a stronger position to fight. You can move zombies at the end of your turn – this is again dependent on a die roll. At this point you can move zombies towards you or towards your opponent.
There is an element of push your luck here too. If you choose to fight while you are low on life and bullets you can find yourself back at the start. You respawn with 3 bullets and 3 lives but you lose half the zombies you defeated. And to add insult to injury you round up! So if for instance someone (it could be anyone) had 15 zombies, 1 life and 1 bullet and she thought ‘Ha! I’m invincible- I laugh in the face of death’ then died, she would lose 8 hard earned zombies which seems distinctly unfair. Especially as the dice that come with it are rubbish and only roll 1s.
There are also event cards. You start with three and can play them at any point in the game – using them to bolster your plans or scupper your opponent’s. The ability to discard unwanted cards at the end of your turn means you can get rid of cards that don’t fit with your strategy. I say strategy, it’s more Go For Broke than Go! But there is enough strategy to maintain interest and the cards add to the fun. For instance ‘we’re screwed’ or more accurately ‘You’re screwed, I’m winning now!’
We really enjoyed it and while we were playing the bar man came over and said they have it at home and often play. It turns out loads of people have it and enjoy it. It was just a well kept secret… until now….
Throughout the game you must weigh up whether you are strong enough to battle or whether you should try to avoid the zombies and make for the helipad, collecting hearts and bullets as you go. Sacrifice the right event cards to collect more useful ones and you might just make it, or at the very least put up a good fight. And when it’s all over you can still enjoy a pint and a toastie down the Winchester, hopefully none the worse for your adventures.
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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
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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.