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Mr Jack (Pocket)- where is Irene Adler?

Ahhh, pressing bits of cardboard out of other bits of cardboard- bliss.
Two weeks ago I stumbled across Mr Jack (Pocket) in Just Games – the games shop in Whitby. (Click on the picture above to visit their excellent website.)
As we love 221B Baker Street and Cluedo in our house, it seemed like a good choice. The portable size and the price appealed too.
Mentioning it on twitter, I found that it is already a favourite of lots of gamers and having played it countless times in the scant two weeks we’ve had it, I can see why.
The Facts
Players: 2 – Mr Jack and The Inspector
Time: 15mins
Age: 14+
Difficulty: D20
While it is easy to learn the basics and easily accessible, you can also play with a lot of strategy. We started off playing in a very straightforward way and soon realised that you can play at a much deeper, more strategic level. Much of this lies in the cleverness of the asymmetry: Mr Jack must avoid detection while The Inspector must discover Mr Jack’s assumed identity before time runs out. The Inspector moves the character tokens around the edge of the board, looking down the alleys for Mr Jack. Meanwhile, Mr Jack must try to either block or maximise their view to stop the Inspector deducing Mr Jack’s identity. The game is well balanced; neither character has any advantage over the other.
Mark considering the strategic brilliance of Mr Jack (Me!).
The Inspector is aided by Holmes, Watson and Toby the dog- their sometime accomplice. The use of Toby may please some Holmes purists- I know I saw it as a welcome addition.
Despite my disappointment once again at the under (and mis-) representation of women in the game. (And I do mean despite – I was disappointed when I opened it) I do really enjoy the game. Every other element is well considered: the design of the alleyways and blocked routes on individual tiles giving the board endless* variance; the seeming imbalance in turn taking which resolves over two turns; the double sided counters which indicate elements of your turn and the double sided turn tracker which shows hourglasses on the flipside which both Mr Jack and the Inspector are locked in battle for. All in all it is a strategic dream and delightfully compact.
*ok. I know there’s some mathematical formula and I could calculate the number of possible variants. I could but I won’t insult your intelligence by doing that for you. I mean I totally could if I wanted. Just so we’re clear.
Perfect to play while you await your tapas (and chips!)
This, however, is not a welcome sight. At all.
The aliases Mr Jack assumes are very disappointing. It does not interfere with game play but once again I am presented with manly white men in manly poses and two simpering women who seem to have only breasts and prostitution to offer. Not only is the characterisation of the women tiresome but also why aren’t half the characters female? And why is everyone white? Add to that a rule book that speaks solely to men. Extremely frustrating and so easily remedied.
So easy, in fact, I can remedy it for you with some quick googling.
Here are some possible additions to begin to redress the white male bias – click on the images to find out more:
Mary Ann – a notorious murderer. It is believed she murdered 11 children, 3 husbands and her mother among others.

Thomas Jenkins, a ship’s cook, was arrested for refusing to give evidence.

Irene Adler
And of course – why on earth would you not have included Irene Adler? She was the only person who Holmes viewed as an intellectual equal – who else could be more likely to give the Inspector, Holmes, Toby and Watson a good run for their money?
“… the best plans of Mr Sherlock Holmes were beaten by a woman’s wit.” A.C. Doyle
Maybe this is all the world is waiting for… the right expansion pack.
Come along to a Cards or Die event and try it out for yourself.

More tea Vicar? Elevenses: the card game of morning tea.

A light game that you can play between games and it won’t spoil your appetite.
The Basics
Elevenses is a game for 2 to 4 guests. It takes up to 30 minutes, but often less. It is a fine blend of strategy, risk and a dash of luck.
As you might expect from any game I’ve chosen, it is beautifully illustrated with willowy 1920s ladies, scrumptious biscuits and a dashing servant.
Each round the players vie for sugar cubes. To earn sugar cubes you must have the highest value of cards (indicated by teaspoons in the top right of the card) on display in your spread when someone declares ‘Elevenses!’.
The Clever Bits
Low value cards feature an action which benefits you when you place it face up in your spread. One of my favourites is Sugar – when you play this, it enables you to look at all your face down cards at any time while it remains face up in your spread.
However, high value cards carry an element of risk. On playing Cakes, for instance, you must show an opponent your hand and they can choose a card to take from you. This means high value cards must be played tactically. The variety of actions you can take is an excellent feature of the game.
Instead of playing a card face up, you can swap cards from your kitchen to your spread face down in arrange actions (up to 2 per turn). This allows you to save cards till later in the game. As long as you can remember where you placed them. Obviously, I mean what kind of fool would forget where they had hidden their Elevenses card? *ahem*
The Elevenses card can only be played once you have 4 cards face up in your spread and it can not be swapped or exchanged. An important part of the game is watching your opponents closely and deducing when they have Elevenses in their hand and when they plan to play it.
A starting server card allows you to keep track of who dealt and played first each round. Essential if, like me you have enough on remembering whose go it is, never mind remembering who dealt!
Before you say it, I only forget whose go it is BECAUSE I’m concentrating. I’m not just instagramming pretty pictures or choosing which biscuit I would eat. Mmmmm…. bourbons…. anyway…
I also like the fact it comes with a card that summarises each card’s action and shows a plan of your spread. (Are you noticing a theme here?)
An Illustration
Me explaining in a suitably posh voice!
Feeling confident? Invite Prue Devine over- she has exacting standards when it comes to morning tea.
Once you have mastered the basic game (even I – with my slender grip on reality/ memory – have managed this) you can play with the expansion pack. It comes with the game so you don’t need to shell out any extra shillings.
The expansion comprises 6 characters, each worth two spoons. To earn the spoons you must ensure your spread contains their specified cards which will entice your character to stay to tea.
Miss Carrington promises to entertain your guests with town gossip as long as you are able to furnish her with sandwiches (crustless, naturally) milk, cups and saucers before someone serves Elevenses.
The expansion adds a good layer of complexity to the game. As well as making sure you keep an eye on other people’s spoons, you also need to track which cards are visible in their spread and consider what they may have in their kitchen. This lends the tea card extra power as when you play it, you can flip an opponent’s card face down.
And finally…
A final touch which I really appreciated was the use of ‘she’ in the rule book and on the cards. OK so it would be perfect if all rule book writers used the neutral ‘they’ or the more grammatically accurate s/he. But they don’t. And, of course, retro games which I have a large collection of all assume players are male. How could women possibly have time to game when they are doing vital household chores. It was so refreshing to open a rule book where the writer had considered me: a woman, a gamer, an equal.
Completely absolutely finally
I couldn’t resist pimping up my Elevenses, so if you play with Cards or Die you’ll find Elevenses looks like this… tea on the terrace? Charming.
Join us at a Cards or Die event to play.
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Terrible Monster

Style and Substance
As you’ve probably gathered by now if you follow me on instagram, twitter or facebook, one of the main criteria for a successful Cards or Die game is aesthetic value. Much can be forgiven if your cards or board are pretty and charming and I have definitely fallen for games which favour style over substance before. But, Terrible Monsters has style and substance – win win. Terrible Monster was unleashed on Kickstarter in 2016 by Sweet Lemon Publishing. The illustrations are by Isabel Bollmann.
Cute Beast – Beautiful but deadly
One of my other priorities when choosing games for the business is that they are low threshold, high ceiling – by which I mean: easy to learn but with enough complexity to give you seemingly endless options and outcomes. Terrible Monster fulfills this perfectly. It is easy to learn and yet has ample twists and turns, making it unpredictable and challenging. Even at a point where I had carefully planned my apparently hapless opponent’s demise (I only needed to get to my next turn) my plans failed and I ended up defeated!
You think you’ve won but then – Boom! You haven’t.
Your objective
Your objective is simply to deal enough damage to kill your opponent. Each player only has 4 life tokens – how hard can it be? <hollow laugh>
Actual hearts – love the artwork
Terrible Monster is a game for two players, lasting 5 to 10 minutes. Your turn consists of: drawing a card from the draw pile, playing up to two cards, maintaining your deck of 5 cards. There are three monsters in the pack and spell cards which have various effects. All of the cards state clearly what you must do when you play the card and some cards work together, so you need to consider your choices carefully. For instance, Terrible Monster deals 4 damage and so when played can end the game… but you need to be able to summon it, and both the Leech and Deduction cards allow your opponent to take Terrible Monster from your grasp!
Counter Tokens – use them wisely
It is also possible to use counter tokens to block your opponent’s actions but the fact that you only have two of these makes blocking a tricky decision. Do you block now or is it only going to get worse? More intense still – if your opponent blocks your action, you can counter that by using two of your tokens, enabling you to go ahead and attack them – but at what cost? Will you wish you had those later, when they summon Terrible Monster?
Strokes of design genius
As I mentioned above, the Terrible Monster card itself is a stroke of genius. It’s a high risk, high gain card. The rules around counter tokens make decisions high stakes which makes for a fun and intense game. Many of the spells let you manipulate the deck, see your opponents cards, move cards around, and snatch victory!
I also love that each player gets their own summary outlining the effects of all cards and a brief outline of all rules including order of play. I know many games have these now, but why not all of them? It’s an invaluable aid. I’ve got enough going on with working out whether I want to use my counter tokens or not, without having to remember what my turn consists of!
If you’re designing a game – DO THIS!
Join us for a game
And here it is, the predictable, yet shameless plug element of the blog – come and see us at Shepley Spring Festival on 19th -21st May or at The Abbey Inn, Leeds on the first Wednesday of every month if you fancy a game. (Did I mention this is one of over 150 games you can choose from?!)
Check out Sweet Lemon‘s website for more brilliant and quirky games.
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2017-04-09 20.30.33

Ssshhh. I have a secret mission for you…

Before you put on your slightly larger glasses…
…let’s be clear, it’s not an impossible mission or a job which requires a certain set of skills, skills that make you a nightmare for criminals. It is however a mission especially for you…
Choose from 55 Missions – with objectives to connect, care, engage, grow, surprise or create. We are about to embark on the biggest card game in the world: Sneaky Cards/ Play It Forward from Gamewright. The deck is registered and ready to be released into the big wide world. All I need now is you.
Taking part is easy – whether it’s leaving a generous tip, baking for a friend or taking a selfie with a stranger – you simply complete the action and pass the card on. You can log the card @sneaky cards and tweet me or contact me on instagram to let me know how you’re getting on.
All that’s left for you to do is choose your mission and get your card: contact me via the website, twitter @cardsordie, facebook @cardsordie, on the first Wednesday of every month at The Abbey Inn, Leeds, or at Shepley Spring Festival (where you can play this card forward – without even breaking sweat).
Here are the cards you can choose from:
This blog post will self destruct in 10 seconds….
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Just got back from enjoying a fantastic festival atmosphere at Mollyfest. Brilliant bands, mud, flowery headbands and a fabulous atmosphere: everything you need. Molly created a very memorable experience for everyone. And as with any festival I’m wiped out today. So, having stared at the computer screen blankly for an hour last night and to save myself from doing that just now, I am just going to share a couple of videos from the event. Enjoy!
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Top 5 Pub Games and A Comparison Graph.

When I read lists on the internet (an activity I spend more time doing than I care to admit) I often wonder what the criteria was. Maybe it’s the teacher in me. (The eagle eyed among you have already spotted the ‘what went well/ even better if’ feedback model that I used on my feedback forms!). You can’t reward anything without having a clear criteria that you have shared. If there’s a top spot to be awarded, we all want to know how the winner got there.
Which brings me to my criteria for the top 5 pub games. And as with all good success criteria, I may have made some of the words up.

1. Portability
2. Low threshold high ceiling (easy to learn but endless levels of possible challenge)
3. Sociability
4. Quality of components
5. Fun

The upshot of this, of course is (aside from the portability measure) you can apply this to any games, for any event and rate them accordingly. If you wanted you could also give numerical scores and make graphs….

1. Mancala

Mancala is a game I stumbled on by accident. I bought a copy of it solely because I liked the box – I took it to the counter, said ‘Is this a game?’ She said ‘Yes, I think so’ and that was it. Sold. A few weeks of showing it to people and asking ‘What’s this?’ and I had discovered Mancala. (Think Fran in Episode 1 of Black Books.

Mancala is so simple; very easy to learn. And packed into it’s own case it is super portable. For the stores at the ends you can use two glasses or you can buy a version with built in stores. (Just make sure the components are still big enough to use.)
As a game for two it is less sociable than some of the others but it is definitely a fun and addictive game. And the fact only two people are playing doesn’t stop people having an opinion on what you’re doing wrong! I left my copy in the pub at past midnight last games night because people couldn’t tear themselves away from it. It’s a permanent fixture for our Abbey games nights.

The components are satisfyingly tactile. In fact they are so appealing that at a recent wedding fayre, despite the fact they look and feel like antique olives, someone tried to eat one which was an awkward moment, as he dried and replaced it!

2. Skull

Skull is a straightforward game of Bluff. It is easy to play but because if relies on bluff and trying to second guess opponents actions, it feels as though it has endless possibilities. It is fun to play with people you know well, or complete strangers so scores high on sociability.
The cards in the game are well made and beautifully illustrated.

Fun levels can be accurately measured by the spontaneous noise all players make when a Skull is revealed. You can of course win by not bidding, but as a fellow player said on Wednesday – ‘That’s the coward’s way out. The worst sort of winning!’
That depends really – winning is, after all, winning!

3. Exploding Kittens

Exploding Kittens is a very entertaining card game in which you try to avoid being exploded whilst trying to get someone else blown up in your place.

The cards are entertainingly illustrated by the oatmeal and of course – as it’s a card game it is designed to be portable.

It can be learnt in about 15 minutes and while it isn’t the most challenging game in the world, there is enough variation to keep you entertained for many happy hours. It is probably my most played game as it appeals to people of all ages, all gaming aptitudes and preferences. I have endlessly bought it as a gift for others and it is probably the game I have taught most so far.


And, you can always add the Imploding Kittens for more challenge and confusion. Just don’t end up wearing the cone of shame!

4. Obama Llama

Last time I got this out at games night, we had a spontaneous moment while we missed Obama. That in itself was a sociable activity, if somewhat tinged with sadness. Then we got on with the ridiculous task of working out what celebrities rhyme with. You roll the dice to determine whether you have to act out your rhyme, give clues or simply describe your allocated celebrity and their rhyme.

It is very entertaining and certainly easy to learn. It doesn’t score highly on having many possible levels to it: there really isn’t any difficulty at all. But, the components are of a decent quality and it is extremely sociable.

5. Travel Downfall or just Downfall

An MB classic. Both sizes of Downfall are a popular choice. It is easy to learn: simply get your counters through in numerical order. If you want to add challenge you can specify that all of one colour must be first or put your counters in, in a random order but still have them come through in numerical order. There is plenty of challenge available. As for quality of components? Considering the game is about 35 years old I’d say we can confidently score that highly. Fun and socialising is often about banter and lively interactions with friends. Downfall is perfect for this.

We spent many happy minutes shouting at each other and reading the same paragraph of the rules to each other whilst emphasising different words. It all ended happily. Well, I went home so I’m assuming it did. Yet another game I had to abandon at the pub.

On reflection, I should add that to my criteria: leavability?
Anyway – just for you. I done a graph.
My complete brain_edited_edited

In which I think about gaming with my elders and review Cortex.

I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again – playing games is good for you; for your social skills and keeping your brain active. In the coming weeks I will be demonstrating the health and social benefits of games in a local retirement home. (By that I mean hanging out and playing games but it’s totally justified and worthy). I’m also hoping to re-learn all those card games I used to know and love but have since forgotten.
This excerpt from a report on Bradfield Residential Home which was rated outstanding by The Care Quality Commission (CQC) spells out the importance of activities in Care Homes:
“A wide range of activities were available, based on people’s suggestions and requests, which people’s family and friends were invited to take part in. Spontaneous activities took place and entertainment was provided… People were supported to do what they wanted when they wanted. People led a fulfilled and meaningful life. Staff spent quality time with people to give them emotional support and comfort. Staff reminisced with people about their life and discussed what was happening in the world.”
Board games fill me with a warm sense of nostalgia, the sight of a vintage MB box takes me straight back to my childhood. Who better to reminisce with than the generation who, after much careful deliberation, chose those very games and played them with their own children and grandchildren?
What could be more sociable than sitting round a board working out how to thrash your opponents? And for a generation who don’t while away their days watching cat videos on facebook, (I’ve included a short one just for you though) board and card games are a perfect way of forgetting about worldly troubles. And let’s face it there’s a lot of those about.
Described as ‘a brain-busting card game’ by its creators, Cortex is definitely coming with me on my visits. The aim of the game is to build a brain by collecting sets of challenge cards. The cards test you on memory, co-ordination, perception, observation, reasoning and touch.
Pictured here, my fragmented brain (before) and my complete brain (after the restorative effects of Cortex).
The touch challenge is ingenious and one that I thought was going to be easy. Turns out that distinguishing a zebra from a teddy bear using only touch is quite tricky.
Spotting the same image repeated and memorising the images on the card are my easiest challenges and these are the cards I find most visually pleasing. I love the retro style prints so maybe that makes it easier for me.
But my nemesis is this chirpy looking guy:
He expects me to label my hands (left is blue, right is red) and number my fingers 1-5. His demands don’t end there though- next I have to match the fingers as shown on his annoyingly cheerful face. I can sometimes co-ordinate myself before my opponent. Rarely, I can put the correctly numbered fingers on the correct part of my face – but never with my tongue still in my mouth. And always in painful slow motion. Most often I just sit staring at my hands in a kind of stupefied panic.
It takes about 15 minutes or less to play a game and up to 6 people can play. Looking forward to sharing my love for this game and possibly even mastering my co-ordination. I’ll let you know how that goes…