Christmas Gift Guide – Games of course!

I firmly believe that there isn’t an age limit on games. Maybe it was because I was raised on games that proudly boasted their upper limit as 99 years of age. The likes of Spears, Waddingtons and MB knew all along that good games are good for everyone. As adults we don’t play enough. It can sometimes feel like we wait to have children around to give us the excuse to be daft, to let go of our inhibitions and immerse ourselves in play.
Play for the sake of play is perfectly valid but if that isn’t reason enough then think about the other benefits – the escapism of games, the mindfulness of them, the exercise for your brain.
And it’s not just me who thinks so…
“Play leads to brain plasticity, adaptability, and creativity. Nothing fires up the brain like play.” Stuart Brown
“Play stimulates the parts of the brain involved in both careful logical reasoning and carefree, unbound exploration.” Greg McKeown.
So for that reason I haven’t organised these by age or, god forbid, gender. If you want to know what sort of games ‘women’ like then I really can’t help you. At all.
I’ve included a wide variety so there’s just a short description of each game – give me a shout if you want any more details. Each title takes you to a website where you can buy the game – I’ve used amazon a lot for ease but you might want to also look on Zatu Games , Goblin Games or pop into a real life shop like Travelling Man.
Gross Games
These are some of my most popular pub games, it’s not just children who find poo inherently amusing. Quick to learn and fairly quick to play. most of these require a reading age of about 7.
You are monkeys flinging poo at each other. Use cards to deflect poo aimed at you or to clean some poo off. You’ll need some way of keeping score – I went for brown counters of course!
Easy to play – the instructions are on the cards.
Work out which animal did the poo in the living room! Race to get rid of all your cards by being the quickest to match the last card played and making plausible accusations! A cross between snap and a memory game. No reading is required in this one.
This is a swear free take on the classic ‘shithead’, also handily has action cards so you don’t have to begin by trying to remember which card does what! Be the first to get rid of all your cards, try and avoid having to pick up the discard pile. It comes with frankly foul scratch and sniff stickers which I suggest you reserve for the loser.
There’s no reason why gross games can’t be strategic! Be the goblin who gobbles the largest amount of disgusting foods. Collect sets of the same food but watch out for a variety of attacks such as vomiting, stealing and being made to eat your greens. Each goblin has their own special ability. It plays up to 12 goblins.
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Fast Reactions
Be the first player to grab the object which is not represented on the card. In the picture below – working from left to right -you would need to grab the grey mouse, then the blue book and the grey mouse again. If you successfully grab the correct object you keep the card, and the person with the most cards wins. This is an addictive and easily portable game. I’m convinced that it uses part of your brain that nothing else uses! It definitely exercises those little grey cells.
Although a lot of people seem to have this it is an absolute classic and I couldn’t do a gift guide and not mention it. It comes in a small round tin, perfect to pop in your bag or in someone’s stocking. Similar to snap but each card features a number of images – you must match one of these with one on another card. You can also get themed versions – we have Star Wars Dobble and the Harry Potter version is on my Christmas list. There are 5 mini games which are entertaining with children or wine but probably not both!
A frantic dice rolling game for up to 4 people. You each get a set of dice which you race to place on the matching dice images. First to get rid of their dice shouts Zonkers! calling an end to that round. But watch out – fastest doesn’t always mean best. A test of observation, speed and strategy.
This also comes with a number of mini games so it’s great value!
Longer, thinkier games.
A co-operative game where you work together to collect the treasure you came for and escape the island. But the island is slowly flooding which hampers your efforts. If you are thinking of trying co-operative games then this is a great starting point.
If you have enjoyed this then you might want to try Forbidden Desert or Sky as these are similar but more challenging.
A short version of the classic Ticket to Ride Europe which was an instant hit and remains a best seller. Collect cards to enable you to place buses on routes across London. You score bonuses for linking certain places and for completing set routes. A nice strategic game with lovely pieces – who doesn’t love playing with tiny buses! It takes about 30 minutes whereas you can be playing the other versions for over an hour. So it’s a good one to try and there are loads of variations of this available so if you enjoy this you may want to collect some of the others.
Simply roll, move and place your dice to make sets of four or more. A lovely tactile strategy game which like all my favourites is quick to learn but gives you lots to think about. There’s also plenty of opportunity to thwart other people’s plans which is always satisfying.
What could be more christmassy than donning your deerstalker or firing up your little grey cells. Settle down with a nice milky drink and these two classics:
A favourite in our house. Work your way round the board collecting clues about the crime. Each case is different and you must race your opponents to solve it and get back to Scotland Yard with the solution. Some of the clues are a little cryptic and some are quite tricky. Fine for adults but children may need some guidance or to team up.
You have to work out who the murderer is by playing a variety of detective and other tactical cards. Then, once you have uncovered the murderer you must prevent them skipping off into the sunset. The murderer meanwhile will be doing everything they can to freeze you out of society and make good their escape. With 5 or 6 players the murderer has an accomplice. Also works brilliantly as a two player game where the murderer is trying to escape while the detective tries to catch them.
Each card has three letters on, turn over a card and trigger the bomb which will begin to tick loudly! Say a word which contains the letters shown (roll the die to determine whereabouts in the word they must be) and pass the bomb on to the next person. Continue to pass it with each player saying another word containing those letters until the bomb explodes (it has a variable timer so you can never know when it will go!). A great game for big groups – loads of wordy fun.
A speedy game of word recognition. Turn over the cards and shout out as you see the words appear. There are bonus cards for getting targeted word lengths and flettered cards for if you slip up under pressure! You can also push your luck by waiting for a longer word and hoping no one else has spotted your word! Each letter has a different value. At the end of the game you add up your pile of claimed words and the person with the most points at the end wins.
Wibbell++ is not just one word game but a whole system of games. There are instructions for 6 different games in the box but there are many more on the website – they will have you creating stories, making up funny phrases, racing to grab as many cards as you can by matching symbols and letters and outwitting your opponent by being the first to come up with a word containing the revealed letters.
This is always a popular game at my events. This quiz is all based on logos and product knowledge including some picture rounds. You can play up to 6 people individually or play in teams if there are more of you. I have the classic logo game but there are lots of versions available including a christmas one.
The rocks have been around a long time and their knowledge is immeasurable. Pit yourselves against them in this fun trivia quiz game. Work together to come up with an answer of 0, 1 or 2 and then give the rocks in the box a shake to see what they think. The double sided rocks have a 1 painted on one side while the other is blank, so they can land displaying 0, 1 or 2. One of the things I like about this is the quirky questions and the fact that the answer is not just given but explained so you might not start out smarter than a rock but hey at least you are learning which is more than can be said for the rocks!
This is another of my most popular games. The answers are all colours and each player has a hand of coloured cards. Reveal the question then place the coloured card or cards that you think are correct face down. When everyone is ready you reveal your answers. I think the idea that you can make an educated guess rather than being unable to answer really appeals. It also has a nice catch up mechanic allowing you to target the lead player with a colour catcher card so you can (for one turn only) steal some of an opponent’s cards.
Charades based games
Gamely Games have a trio of fabulous games two of which fall into this category and can be played in teams. Soundiculous has you mimicking the sounds of various things – fridges, monkeys, karate! while everyone races to be the first to accurately identify the sound.
In Randomise you select three cards (A, B and C) choose a number 1-3 which gives you a phrase like a confused dinosaur selling lemonade.This can then be communicated through description, charades or through pictures.
The pretender is a social deduction game where you must work out who is only pretending to know what the key word is.
All of these come in lovely small boxes – perfect for posting or for stocking fillers.
My wishlist
This seems like a good as place as any to let the big man know what I would like for Christmas this year. Considering I have been exceptionally well behaved this year I would very much like the following:
Splendor – I’m really enjoying Jaipur and if I remember correctly this is similar but plays 4 instead of 2. Nice and strategic with shiny gems!
Muse Card Game This sounds similar to Dixit and the art work looks absolutely beautiful (can you also send me some people who would play this with me as most of my family will hate it with a passion usually reserved for their disdain for Dixit) and Staccups because it looks like crazy fun and I can imagine the whole family playing this over Christmas.
If you’ve got loads of games or just don’t know where to start, why not buy a gift voucher for a games night. Instead of buying more stuff, why not buy an experience, some time together, memories. Book Cards or Die to run a games night for you – we read the rules and bring the games. All you have to do is get the gang together and tell us where and when! Prices start from £8.95 per person.
I hope this has provided you with some inspiration. And if you do fancy treating me to a festive cuppa or a slice of cake, here’s my Ko Fi link!
Join us at a Cards or Die event.
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Sub Terra II: Inferno’s Edge – choose your own path.

Part One
From the makers of Sub Terra comes an adventure like no other…
Well, actually it’s a bit like Indiana Jones – if instead of triggering a large rolling rock, Indie had unleashed a terrifying torrent of red hot lava. Between 1 and 6 intrepid cavers will adventure through underground tunnels, dodging hazards, outrunning guardians and working together to ‘liberate’ the ancient artefact – no doubt they will put it safely in a museum where it can be ‘properly appreciated’.
In true Indiana Jones style as soon as you lift the artefact even a fraction, it all starts to go wrong – the volcano shudders and one wrong step now will see you fleeing for your lives ahead of lava which cascades through the pathways obliterating everything in its path.
The name of the game is misleading – it sounds like a sequel but it isn’t, which is just as well as ‘sequels suck’ (remember Randy Meeks in Scream?).
Now then – for your own path:
  • I’ve played Sub Terra – go to Part 3
  • I haven’t played Sub Terra – go to Part 2
  • But, is it a sequel though – go to Part 4
Part 2
It doesn’t matter at all that you haven’t played Sub Terra. This is a stand alone game – the mechanics of the game are reasonably quick to get to grips with even if you haven’t tried this kind of game before. The instruction book is clear and helpful.
To begin with you must choose your adventurer. The characters offer a very pleasing range of ages, genders and ethnicity and to be honest that in itself is a selling point for me. In a household of three females and two males I get seriously fed up of having to be an old man because all the female characters have gone. There are 10 to choose from – a pleasing number for a 6 player game. This straightaway gives you a number of replays with varying combinations of special abilities. Each character has two abilities such as healing, protecting others, sniping enemies, blowing up walls, rerolling dice. Some of the abilities last all game and some have limited use.
On your turn you take two actions which combine revealing tiles, moving through the tunnels, healing, picking up items, attacking enemies and digging your way out through collapsed tunnels. If, after you have taken your actions you decide to take another action you can, but it will cost you a health point.
Then comes the hazard phase- roll the die to learn your fate. There are many hazards that can befall you in the tunnels from spike traps to poison arrows that can fire over an alarming distance, cave ins, red hot lava to unsure footing which can also cost you health. And then there’s the Guardians. The Guardians have been appointed to guard the treasure – they are not on board with your museum plans. At the end of each round they advance towards the nearest explorer and if you roll the dice badly they will kill you. They’ve been down there years though and between you and me, I don’t think they’re as sprightly as they used to be. Sometimes they reach your tile but are too knackered to attack until the next turn giving you time to counter attack while they lean on the wall, panting.
Each round you count down towards the eruption of the volcano. But once you lift the artefact from its place everything intensifies. Instead of rolling one hazard die you now roll two, and if the volcano tracker still has spaces left you count down twice as fast. You have to reveal all the tiles and collect three keys in order to reveal and pick up the treasure and then still escape so timing is everything.
Once the volcano tracker is on zero, as soon as someone rolls hazard dice for lava, the volcano erupts. If you haven’t already grabbed the treasure, it’s game over. If you are in possession of the artefact, you need to run! Every time someone carelessly rolls lava you must flip over all tiles that are adjacent to lava. Yes ALL adjacent tiles – it cascades. And the worst thing is that the opening tiles are four tiles in one! It’s alright though, if you’re lost to the fiery fury of the caverns you still get to roll the dice so you can still intensify everyone else’s misery. After all – just because you’re dead shouldn’t mean you get overlooked.
The game looks gorgeous too – there are nice touches like the trace of the disintegrated bridge on the flip side of the tile. Last time I checked kickstarter there was talk of ultraviolet touches.
  • Go to The Conclusion
Part 3
Randy Meeks resident film critic in Scream postulated that successful sequels must stick to 3 rules:
“1. the body count is always bigger
2. the death scenes are always much more elaborate – more blood, more gore…
3. never, ever, under any circumstances, assume the killer is dead”
Inferno’s Edge definitely delivers on the intensifying of the death scenes. As well as the cave-ins we survived in Sub Terra, now we have to face spiked traps and spring loaded spears which fire an impressive distance. The cowardly reveal won’t save you here. You might as well explore – leaping fearlessly into the unknown.
So far our body count has been bigger. The lava surges at an alarming rate spilling over onto other tiles. You’ll never be more glad you chose the Rogue with their bonus sprint action!
As for rule 3, while the horrors of version 1 can leap out at you at any point, the lava and the cave ins even destroys their equivalent here. So it doesn’t deliver the full horror of the constantly resurrecting killer but to be fair it’s just as well – you’ve got enough on trying to run faster than lava.
Despite this compelling evidence it isn’t really a sequel as such. The game does have many of the same basic mechanisms making it quick to learn. It is still co-operative and you are still trying to escape a cave system while fleeing from some of the same kinds of hazards. If you enjoyed Sub Terra then you will certainly enjoy this twist on it. It is different enough and fleeing the oncoming lava is both thrilling and infuriating!
On your turn you can still take two basic actions – for instance for one action you can reveal a tile which just involves placing it down or you could explore where you reveal a tile and immediately step onto it.
There are keys that you need to collect on certain tiles – without those you can not retrieve the treasure so there is a clear time pressure evident. Every round you count down to the eruption of the volcano and as soon as you grab the treasure, this intensifies.
One of the most important things for me is that true to form the diversity of the characters is bang on. I had hoped to see the same characters pursuing new adventures but there are 10 different new characters with a variety of genders, ages and races so you should never be in a position where all the female characters have gone. This has happened to me more times than I care to mention. It makes me so happy to see representative characters as standard. Each of the characters has two special abilities – some of the standards are there like health, protecting others, digging through rubble, sprinting. But there are new ones too: bonus reveal actions, re-rolling dice a limited number of times and my favourite – sniping. You can now take out a guardian that is in your line of sight but up to three tiles away.
And now:
  • I didn’t like Sub Terra / there are elements of Sub Terra that I really didn’t like – go to Part 4
  • How is it different? – go to Part 5
Part 4
If you didn’t enjoy Sub Terra I would still urge you to give this a go. It genuinely is different enough and not just because we have different characters with some different abilities to choose from. This is not a sequel, rather it is a stand alone game with some mechanical and stylistic similarities to the original game.
  • But, how is it different? – go to Part 5
Part 5
From the outset, you have a different purpose. Whereas in Sub Terra it was all about escaping, in Inferno’s Edge you must first venture under the volcano to retrieve the treasure and then you must escape. Double the game but it isn’t twice the length, it just packs a lot of action in.
You can still exert yourself to get an extra action but whereas before you rolled to see if you lost a life, this time you just pay for the action with a health point. And if you run out of health points you no longer just lie around and wait for someone to rescue you – once per turn you can crawl painstakingly either towards the exit or the rest of your party.
The cards from Sub Terra are replaced with hazard dice. Pre volcano eruption each player rolls a hazard die at the end of their go, triggering hazards. A new hazard – stumbling – has been added, this costs you a health point. Post volcano eruption you must roll both dice – you really don’t want to stumble now. There’s something satisfyingly tactile and tense about the dice roll that I don’t get from turning cards over.
In Inferno’s Edge it is Guardians rather than horrors that pursue you through the darkness. As well as activating twice at the end of the round, Guardians, who guard the treasure and want to stop you getting your mitts on it, can either move towards the nearest player or spawn depending on your die roll. They move in such a way that sometimes you get a stay of execution – a guardian will have exhausted themselves getting to you and waits for the next turn to launch an attack. I like to imagine them leaning on a wall, panting whilst breathlessly ranting about treasure and certain death. You can also destroy guardians by attacking them and rolling 4 or more as long as you do it before they get their breath back.
You get the same high quality components and the same style of artwork which I really like but this time the pathways are very clear – especially when you flip to the lava side of the tiles. I know this was a concern raised about the Sub Terra tiles.
The Conclusion.
Inferno’s Edge is a gripping game. I love the characters and their abilities; the fast flowing lava and the challenge. Each game is different as you are still at the mercy of the randomly generated path and the random hazards. But the balance of abilities that you choose gives you enough strategic power over the game to let you believe that if it wasn’t for that one decision (usually made by someone else, I hasten to be add) you’d be attending a special preview night at a museum somewhere in London where people marvelled at your tales of bravery and derring do. While, in the wings some guardians wait to strike and take back what is rightfully theirs in what could well be the sequel…. just as soon as they’ve got their breath back…
You can play this now at a Cards or Die event.
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Co-operative Games: All for One and One for All.

Cooperative games are a perennial favourite at Cards or Die events. I enjoy them and I wonder whether there’s something easier about playing a co-op with a stranger than playing a competitive game. There’s certainly an amount of awkwardness in playing games like Coup or Skull where you need to lie to win! Games where in order to win you need to completely destroy your opponent definitely have less of a friendly vibe.
The object of a co-operative game is that you work as a team to defeat some external force. All for one and one for all – if one dies you all die! Usually each person has their own special ability that they contribute to the team and it is by using those abilities prudently and strategising as team that you can triumph. At Cards or Die, I’m all about including everyone and getting people to connect with others. Co-operative games are perfect for that: brilliant for team building, for groups where someone struggles with losing and ensuring that everyone in the group is given equal status. I have built up quite a collection but here I’m just going to look at three very different styles of game within the co-op genre.
Forbidden Desert
In Forbidden Desert you are stranded adventurers who must recover the scattered parts of a legendary flying machine and escape the Desert in order to win. But it’s never that straightforward, is it? The wind blows, the land shifts, the sands deepen, water runs low and the sun beats down. And any or all of these things can kill you.
  • The board is set out with a gap in the middle and when the wind blows, the tiles shift and sand builds up on them. This restricts your movement and if you run out of sand to place then you lose.
  • Each player starts with a water reserve which they must keep an eye on throughout the game. You can not run out of water. Cards like sun beats down will reduce your water if you are in an exposed place.
  • Every time you draw a Sun Beats Down card you also move the Sand Storm meter up one. This means you must turn over more cards which increases the danger. If you reach the skull and crossbones marker then, you’ve guessed it, you’re dead.
It’s not all bad news…
  • Special actions allow each character to complete bonus actions like sharing water, move in different ways or move others to safety.
  • In addition, you can gain equipment tiles which allow you to blast sand out of your path or airlift people to safety.
  • There are tunnels where you can shelter from the Sun and wells where you can replenish your flask.
  • The flying machine is very tactile and lovely. If you can just find all the pieces and get it going….
  • There is a lot to consider in this game and a variety of ways to strategise yourselves to safety or to certain death. We have lost many, many times but still we come back for more. Sometimes straight after we’ve played!
If you’ve already played Forbidden Island – it’s more complex than that but less complex than their new offering: Forbidden Sky.
What have we learnt?
If you must wander about in the desert, take a shelter and some water.
Plays 2-5
Time 45mins
Age 10+
Big Book of Madness
Big Book of Madness is one of the more complex games on the Cards or Die Menu. You are aspiring magicians and in your quest to master more spells, and unlike actual students, you ventured to the library and opened the Big Book of Madness. This can only end well! It turns out The Big Book of Madness contains not only spells but hideous creatures which you must now battle. You can quickly learn spells from the library but be quick. If you don’t learn fast enough you will go mad! (And lose the game).
  • Madness cards. Each player has their own deck of cards and over the rounds you must strengthen your deck of and try to avoid weakening it with madness cards. (It is partly a deck builder). Madness cards are added if you run out of cards or as a result of monster attacks.
  • If you fail to defeat a monster it makes it increasingly difficult to defeat subsequent monsters. This can be disheartening if it happens early on in the game.
The good news
  • As well as each player possessing a special ability, players can also play cards in a ‘support’ slot which means that other players are able to use that card.
  • You can add to your collection of spells and as it is co-operative by learning spells you are strengthening the group and giving yourselves more options when deciding how to tackle the monsters.
  • The illustrations are gorgeous – you can slowly go mad whilst admiring the art.
  • As with Forbidden Desert, by starting the tracker in different places you can increase the difficulty level once you have mastered the basic game.
What have we learnt?
Don’t open books. Hang on, no. Don’t go in libraries? If you all work together you can defeat all evil and save the world. Yes, that’s better – let’s go with that.
Plays 2-5
Time 90 minutes
Age 14+ (Younger players can definitely cope with this)
And then we held hands…
I bought this as a wedding present for some friends before I realised the premise behind the game. It is a game about two people and their failing relationship! About the least appropriate wedding gift in the world! That aside, I now have my own copy and find it both challenging and enjoyable. To be honest the game plays well as an abstract and you don’t need to worry too much about the theme. But then I would say that. Well, that’s the dangers covered!
Grounds for Divorce
  • The game is played in silence – or at least, you may not discuss the game.
  • You must both reach the centre space on consecutive turns.
  • If a player can not move into a clear space on their turn then you lose.
  • You must also both end the game emotionally balanced, indicated by a stone placed on a scale- you must both be on 0 at the end.
Marital Bliss
  • If you love Dixit this may appeal as it is a very visual game.
  • In actual fact you are using the colours (emotions) on the cards to plan a sequence of moves.
  • Triumphing in a game that requires observation and perhaps some intuition is very rewarding.
  • Much like Magic Maze (also played in silence) there is not room for one person to dominate and just instruct the other. This can be a downside in co-operative gaming where one person assumes a leadership role which involves them directing everyone else. Thankfully, this is not a common occurrence and if you know someone like that then this would be a great gift for them. (Not as a wedding gift though).
  • There is room to increase the difficulty level if you are still speaking to each other after your first attempts.
So, What have we learnt?
Communication is important but silence is importanter.
Always read a full review and description of a gift before buying it.
Plays 2
Time 30-45mins
Age 12+
If you enjoy cooperative games you might want to also check out Sub Terra, Magic Maze, Escape from the Curse of The Temple, Assembly, Forbidden Island, Pandemic, Outfoxed. All of these games are in the Cards or Die collection. If you want to make sure they are in the bag, get in touch and request them at a Cards or Die event near you.
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Halloween Games!

As well as amassing more Halloween decorations than one house can feasibly use, I have also got quite a few horror themed games. In time for Halloween I thought I’d give you a quick rundown of the Cards or Die horror collection. I’ll just fetch them from the cellar… I’ll take this torch… It does work, you just need to hit it… There we go… Back in a bit…
This game offers a horrific scenario and spine chilling puns. Remove your patients’ teeth without setting off the ‘buzzer’ to win. You have to question how effective you’ve been as a dentist if you are removing this many teeth. Still, at least you’re not feeding anyone to a giant plant. If you haven’t watched this clip with the sound on, the ‘buzzer’ is a high wheedling scream. It’s enough to set your teeth on edge.
Go on… watch it with sound… I dare you!
Escape Zombie City
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A brilliant co-operative adventure complete with spooky sound track and Scooby Doo esque van. You start off travelling on foot through the city rolling dice to determine whether you can reveal another city square and where you can move to. As in all great horrors you must determine whether you will stay together or split up and explore! Each city tile laid spawns zombies, which then periodically shamble towards the graveyard. You must find the exit tile and collect supplies (again using the dice) in order to escape which you do by meeting back at the churchyard and hopping in the van, screeching towards the exit. Do this before three Zombies reach the church grounds and before time runs out (you have a more than generous15 minutes!) to win.
The game requires no turn taking, you must all play at once. You roll your dice repeatedly until you get the right combination either on your own or working with others who share your board space. Roll all cursed dice and your dice are locked – you may no longer roll until someone comes to your rescue. You see, splitting up is never such a great idea.
And when you find that it gets too easy and you’re just slaying zombies and strolling out of there, you can add in additional challenge cards spawning more and bitier zombies with side effects like paralysis, broken arms or vertigo. These side effects see you rolling one of your dice at a time, losing a dice or keeping one arm behind your back.
Geistes Blitz
A fairly new addition to the collection this one is a game of speed and brains. Flip the card and then either grab the item shown or, with lightning fast deduction skills, work out and grab the item and colour that is not represented. Be the first to grab the correct item to win the card and get the most cards to win.
The description of it doesn’t really do it justice – it’s such a good laugh to play. And the more rounds you play, the faster your brain and hands work. It’s addictive – like a hardcore spot the difference. It’s another game I like to let my children win at, you know to help them with their self esteem.
Best played with short nails – it’s a bit grabby!
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In Gloom you are assigned a family to ‘look after’. You must ensure that they stay alive long enough to become thoroughly miserable – preventing any happy events that threaten to befall them at all costs, deflecting them on to other more fortunate families.
The see through cards stack on top of each other and you may alter the fate of your own family or that of someone else’s by obscuring or adding to previous scores. You are invited to add to the story of your families demise, fleshing out the ghastly events with gruesome detail.
It’s all about timing. Family members have to attain a level of misery before they are dispatched. You need to minimise your opponent’s unhappiness while maximising your own in order to win. The moment the families shuffle off this mortal coil must be impeccably strategised. Who’d have thought miserable death could be so entertaining?!
Zombie Drive
Beetle Drive is a brilliant game for kids and adults. Each part of the beetle is assigned a number and you roll that number on your dice to draw that part. The first person to draw a complete beetle wins. You can team up or play against each other. The best bit is that all you need is a bit of paper, dice and some pens.
When the children were little I started a habit which persists to this day – carrying games in my bag. I’m a massive fan of portable games, games you can play in a small space or with limited resources. You can adapt Beetle Drive as I have and do it with any animal/ being.
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Zombie Dice
I know that I have mentioned this one many, many times but thanks to our added soundproofing (a layer of felt glued to the inside of the insanely noisy box) it can often be found rattling around quietly inside my bag. I love push your luck games and the element of probability alongside the tactile nature of the dice makes this game a firm favourite. I’m only disappointed that the markings on the dice aren’t more engraved and distinct as it could be so perfect for players who are blind or visually impaired.
Red dice contain more gunshots; green, more delicious brains and amber, an even mix of fleeing victims, brains and gunshots. Each turn you draw up to three dice and roll to see if you will feast or fail. It’s a low scoring game and once you get your head round that it is much easier to win. But win or lose the repetitive rolling of dice coupled with the thin veil of strategic thinking keeps me quiet for ages. And, as my family will tell you – that’s not to be sniffed at.
Here are some links to some of my reviews of other Halloween Favourites:
It is at this point, with horror, I realise I have never reviewed one of our family favourites – Temp Worker Assassins. You must assassinate the permies to secure your job in the company – overcoming typing pool zombies, legal aid fairies and health and safety halflings. I will rectify this grievous absence in my reviews as soon as possible. Look out for that review coming soon!
And if you’re looking to add to your collection check out the Quirk! Halloween Special over on Kickstarter which promises to be a bootiful addition to your ghastly games collection!!
All of these horrific games are available to play at Cards or Die events– including (soon) Quirk! Hallows.
2018-03-15 14.36.09

Magic Maze, and team building without having to talk to anyone.

We all love work don’t we, and what do we love more than work? A training day. And the best type of training day? Joy of joys – a team building day. Well, what if I told you that for part of your team building day you can’t talk to your colleagues? If, like me you prefer to work in splendid isolation then this may be the team building day for you!
Cooperative gaming is all about working together as a team to overcome adversity or challenge. A kind of all for one and one for all mentality. You need to strategise and move as a team to survive. But in these silent games communication is no longer enough -you have to engage your empathy. No-one can just take control here and make all the decisions, so you are truly playing as a team.
Magic Maze
There are four heroes in Magic Maze: a mage, a barbarian, an elf and a dwarf. Our intrepid heroes must steal a vial, a sword, a bow and an axe respectively before escaping the shopping mall. Yes, that’s right – a shopping mall. Deliciously ridiculous – you must suspend your disbelief before we even start playing.
The game has 17 different scenarios and can be played solo or for up to 8 players. I like the fact that scenario 1 allows you to learn the mechanics of the game and as such is not too challenging at all. By scenario 3 you will have learnt all the rules of the game. Learning the rules in stages makes it very accessible.
Unlike other games anyone can move the heroes. You are not assigned a particular colour or role, instead you are assigned a movement ability. The cards depict different movements and abilities – North, South, up and down escalators, the ability to travel to vortexes or the ability to reveal and place another tile/ part of the magic maze. You all play at once, there is no turn taking which makes keeping track of where you are up to increasingly challenging.
Another unusual feature is the length of time you need to play. The game is played in real time and only takes around 15 minutes. It reminds me of Queen Games’ Escape from Zombie City and Escape the Curse of the Temple – both of which I thoroughly enjoy. There are differences though. The speed of play means you can play a few games of it and you can really feel your team getting better at it the more rounds you play. In common with the Escape games it is an intense experience so 15 minutes is enough for my nerves. After that I need time to regroup, discuss tactics with the team and then we can go again!
But of course, the most unusual feature of this game is that it is played in silence. The only way to communicate is to move the large red ‘Do Something Pawn’ in front of a player and look at them pleadingly whilst thinking ‘loudly’.
In order to play successfully you need to consider why other people are moving pawns in a particular direction; you need to consider what their strategy is. If everyone or even anyone tries to enforce their own strategy on others your team will fail. Unlike other cooperative games where you can agree strategy and adaptations as you go along in this game you need to observe and adapt on the go. You also need to be aware of what each characters’ abilities are so you know which person needs to move next. It epitomises team work – know the strengths and abilities of your team, be observant, be empathetic and be patient.
There are some opportunities to speak. When you land on a timer (another move that must be carefully activated to give you the maximum chance of triumphing) you may speak until someone moves a pawn. As soon as a piece is moved you must resume the game without speaking. And of course, all the time you are talking time is slipping past before your very eyes!
There are two halves to the game. In the first half you must work together to position the heroes so that they can all steal the objects at the same time. But, don’t forget to keep an eye on the timer, as you also need to be able to get a pawn to the timer space so that you can flip it and gain more time. A common tactical error in the first run through of the game.
One of the players is able to travel to vortexes which is a handy way to move the heroes to different tiles quickly but don’t get too used to it. In the second half, the vortexes are closed which makes getting around significantly trickier. Then you must work together to escape the mall undetected. As with all great games it is tricky but ultimately achievable and you can increase the difficulty level so that is always true.
The ‘Do Something Pawn’ has become something of a bone of contention in our house. I have recently turned the timer on its side in order to pause the game and remind my lovely family that ‘We don’t bang the pawn aggressively in front of one another and we don’t bang it over and over again in front of the same person DO WE?’ That’s right, we do not.
When I taught there was a game I played with groups (especially groups who were ‘struggling to bond’ shall we say). You all stand in a circle and you throw the ball round the circle. After you have thrown the ball you sit down. You remember who you threw it to. Then, we time it and you have to try to beat your time. The class have to trust me in order for this to work – even when they don’t trust each other. The second timed attempt – when they are trying to beat their own time is always (ALWAYS) a disaster. They shout at each other, they throw too hard or too high for the kid trying to catch, they are impatient and unforgiving.
So, I stop them – we pause. ‘What went wrong?’ I ask. I wait till they have blamed kids who couldn’t catch, kids who dropped the ball. Then I tell them that I did it with other classes who dropped the ball and they did it a lot faster. Then I ask the kids who couldn’t catch it ‘what could we have done differently?’. The answers were always the same – throw it gentler, slower, lower. Throw it to ‘that’ person in a way that ‘they’ can catch. If they drop it, don’t shout. Shouting makes you drop the ball and then fumble it. They work this all out themselves with various degrees of leading from me. Like I said they trusted me – it was a safe environment.
Then, we do it again. The transformation is amazing. They invariably smash their time and they know that everyone is an essential part of that victory. Working as a team is about working with individuals, observing, adapting. Magic Maze reminds me of this experience. Watching people play is magical. As adults we still need reminding of the basic values of teamwork and Magic Maze is a perfectly fun way to do it.
One of the Cards or Die training and team building experiences uses Magic Maze. When we say we offer unique team building packages, we’re not joking!
Board gaming doesn’t get more niche than this! If you enjoy cooperative games then you really need to up the ante and get involved with silent, or limited communication, cooperative games. You might also want to check out Assembly and Get Adler which both limit communication. Cooperative games really test whether you are a lone wolf or a team player – and playing in silence pushes this to the limit.
Join us for a game at a Cards or Die event.

Games for Schools: trick kids into learning vital skills through board gaming.

This week’s blog responds to questions from teachers and behavioural support workers who provide a safe space in secondary schools at breaks and lunchtimes for vulnerable youngsters. The answer to whether you should have games and which games you should buy is a relevant one in all learning environments. Games are an excellent way of enabling young people to connect: games have a clear and certain set of rules; there is a focus to your interaction which removes the need for having to ‘do chatting’ and in addition winning and losing are both valuable. Winning and losing are opportunities to teach pupils socially acceptable behaviour, where we are able to demonstrate how to be a gracious winner and how to be resilient when we lose. Failure is vital in learning and games allow us to lose in an environment where pupils are safe to take risks. Losing is often how we learn; we learn not to do ‘that’ again and we learn that losing isn’t the terrible disaster we thought it would be. I have played strategy games with adults and children where the response to losing is an instant ‘Right, I know what I’m doing now. Can we play again?’ Games let us experiment with losing when the stakes are low.
When you’re trying to wangle money out of the high ups for some games you can quote Dweck of course:
“Did I win? Did I lose? Those are the wrong questions. The correct question is: Did I make my best effort?” If so, he says, “You may be outscored but you will never lose.” ― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
or, as I prefer – Michael Jordan:
I have selected a variety of games which reinforce elements of the curriculum and helpfully explicitly linked a valid Learning Outcome so when they say ‘We can’t afford that’, not only can you quote Dweck, you can point to the Learning Outcome and say “See! It’s Educational and Cross Curricular” (they love that!)
Zombie Dice
Zombie Dice is an exercise in probability but kids don’t need to think about that. They just need to be a Zombie and eat as many brains as possible before they are shot. This is quick to learn and quick to play. Roll the dice to determine your fate, score brains, get shot or watch your victim make a run for it. Each turn you roll three dice. You can stop at any time and log your score but if you get shot 3 times you lose any brains you scored that turn.
The dice are weighted to allow you to calculate your risk. Red dice mean you are more likely to be shot, green you are more likely to feast on brains and yellow could go either way. So as they draw the dice you can encourage them to think about how likely it is they’ll have their head shot off!
The standard game is about £12.99 and any number can play.
Learning Outcome: Pupils are learning to work out probability and also to take calculated risks.
Escape from the Curse of The Temple
Escape from The Curse of The Temple is one of our favourites. It’s a co-operative game so, one dies, you all die! You roll the dice to enable you to lay more tiles and find the exit. There are gems to be collected so that you will be able to escape. If you roll black masks your dice will ‘lock’, this means you can’t reroll them until you’ve rolled enough yellow masks or until a teammate rolls them for you. It only lasts 10 minutes so the team work is intense and usually involves a lot of shouting. A CD soundtrack adds to the intensity or, you can play with a timer. It is without fail the game that people want to play again if they lose.
Once you have mastered the basic game there is an expansion pack included with curses that add challenges: you are not allowed to speak; you play with one hand on your head; if your dice goes off the table you’ve lost it! So although it’s a more expensive game (around £37.50) it’s a good investment. It reinforces the idea of learning from failure and also that sometimes it’s fun even when we fail! Up to 5 people can play and it can be played solo so that you are just competing against the game.
Here we are shouting at each other and swearing a bit – we’d had wine which is unavailable at most school break times!
Learning Outcome: Pupils are learning to listen in a busy atmosphere, they make quick decisions and work as a team to achieve a shared outcome.
People have mixed reactions to Fluxx. The title of the game says it all. It is in a constant state of fluxx – each turn you play cards which can change how many cards you pick up; how many cards you play on a turn and even what you need to do to win. I have the Zombie version (are you noticing a theme?!) but there is a basic version too. I have played it with a teenager with Aspergers and I expected that he would hate it but in fact he thought it was funny that the rules were so chaotic and I think it’s been good for him to experiment with rapid change. One minute you’ve got your strategy all sorted, you are definitely going to win on your next turn. Then BAM! rule change, goal change and you’ve lost!
It is quick to learn and you can have any number of people playing. Because losing and winning in this game is so arbitrary it actually makes the game more fun, there is no pressure at all to create a complex, intelligent strategy. There is an element of strategy but that must be constantly adapted which is it’s own challenge.
It costs around £10 and needs 2 or more players.
Learning Outcome: Pupils are learning to constantly adapt to changes and amend their plans accordingly.
Exploding Kittens
Exploding Kittens is a relatively quick game for up to 5 players. The aim of the game is to avoid picking up the Exploding Kitten card and instead try to make an opponent pick it up. The theme is one most people will engage with immediately; the illustrations on the cards are quirky and the text is good fun. Cards carry clear instructions so it is a fun, easy game to play. There is an element of strategy and choices to be considered when playing your cards. The rule that you play as many cards as you like on your go (before picking up a card to end your turn) means that you need to consider how cards work together to avoid the kitten or have it blow up in an opponent’s face!
Definitely a fun choice. It costs around £15.
Learning Outcome: Pupils will plan and adapt plans based on what others do. Reluctant readers will be encouraged to read the cards.
Great Shakespearean Deaths
Available from the RSC, this is basically Top Trumps but with fabulous illustrations by Chris Riddell (a game that can be used to engage reluctant readers, perhaps pointing them towards the Goth Girl novels). There is no strategy or skill involved just some straightforward weighing up of odds and in the style of Horrible Histories, homing in on the gruesome bits of Shakespeare to engage learners. Characters are rated on
  • speed of death
  • gore and brutality
  • fairness
  • piteousness
  • dramatic quality
  • last words
In particular piteousness and fairness could be used to provoke discussion and consideration of the audience’s response to characters as well as Shakespeare’s presentations of them. This could be used to lead pupils into a classic exam question ‘How does Shakespeare present …’
Learning Outcome: Pupils will be more familiar with Shakespearean characters and quotations.
Mr Jack
While it is easy to learn the basics of this and it is easily accessible, you can also enable pupils to employ a lot of strategy. When we first played we played in a very straightforward way and soon realised that there is a much deeper, more strategic level. Much of this lies in the object of the game and the cleverness of the asymmetry: one player — Mr Jack must avoid detection while the second player – The Inspector must discover Mr Jack’s assumed identity before time runs out. The Inspector moves the character tokens (Holmes, Watson and Toby the dog) 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. It is an excellent strategy game for two players with some links to English Literature; Holmes fans will approve of the use of Toby the dog.
Mr Jack costs about £12.99
Learning Outcome: Pupils can strategise and plan, changing their plans as they find out new information.
Another game with a very simple premise, allowing pupils to learn the game quickly, yet with endless strategic opportunities is Tantrix. As a bonus it is made from Bakelite and comes in a handy carrying pouch so is probably the most durable of all the games recommended here.
You choose a colour and then you must form the longest line or largest loop of that colour. There are some extra rules where you must fill certain spaces first and you can’t create 4 sided gaps but other than that, that’s it. The beauty of games like this is that your brain isn’t filled with rules you are instead absorbed by the challenge. It is another game that people want to play multiple times once they have grasped the objective.
Plays up to 4 and there are also solo variations and puzzles that you can play. It costs about £20.
Learning Outcome: Pupils will consider patterns and strategy; taking time to consider their strategy and making predictions about the strategy of others.
There are so many good games out there that can be used effectively in schools (and workplaces) to aid learning and the development of teamwork, this is just a selection to get you started. Even Plato agrees, and he knew loads about stuff:
“Do not keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.” -Plato
Let me know what games are a success at your school.
If you want to find out more about board gaming in schools email me to arrange a visit.
Come along and play these fab games at a Cards or Die event. (9)

Can Sub Terra adequately prepare you for the apocalypse?

There are three things which I feel summarise my excitement about Sub Terra which was recently brought to life through KickStarter:
1. After two play throughs I ordered ultra violet lights.
2. After the first game I’ve had requests that next games night we build a blanket fort in The Abbey Inn and play in there with the new lights and the soundtrack (Another stretch goal that was unlocked.)
3. I keep making people feel the cards and tiles. (2mm punch board, black core boards and matt finish, black core card; all bonus stretch goal features which make this game a delight to hold). You think I’m weird. I’m not weird. Once you’ve stroked the cards you’ll see that this is a normal reaction.
Such is the excitement and joy Sub Terra generates. I could leave it at that really; it tells you everything you need to know. But why use 240 characters when 8 pages will do?
You are trapped in an underground network of caves and tunnels. You must work together to find the exit and escape before your torch lights run out or the horrors get you. There are other threats too: cave ins, gas leaks, floods and the dodgy background of one of your fellow cavers. One of the pure joys of this game for me is the fact that the cavers are a diverse mix of race and gender. Finally, a games designer who has got it so right. So right that when I play with my family, I don’t have to be a boy character because all the girls have gone. And, in the immortal words of Lotto from 8 mile “This shit is a horror flick, but the black guy doesn’t die in this movie …” Now Louis may die but as the medic it’s very, very unlikely.
You can outrun the horrors – a pack of vague, shadowy figures who pursue you through the darkness. Hiding from the horrors is another option but it takes up precious time. There is no place for cowardice, as to me this is the equivalent of hiding in a wardrobe: if they don’t spot you, you are still trapped, you still have to get past them and get out. Also you’ve been holding your breath because it was really loud and now you have a headache.
But don’t worry, there’s always Jai – our dodgy but hench bodyguard – who can fight them off. The interplay of characters special abilities is finely balanced which makes it all the more important that you DON’T SPLIT UP!
This, my friends is a horror film basic. Our complete disregard for this on our first game made me question the years spent watching horror films in the firm belief that I will be ready if/ when the apocalypse comes. I had plenty of time for contemplation while I lay drifting in and out of consciousness for hours, surrounded by the scratching, scurrying sounds of the horrors.
Your turn has two or three phases. On your turn you can choose between exploring – where you reveal and leap into the next section of cave with reckless abandon – or just revealing which allows you to peak cautiously into the next chamber, perhaps using a mirror so the horrors don’t see you. Being over cautious means you won’t find the exit in time but be too daring and you find yourself gasping for breath in a gas leak or plunged into icy waters where you must drift unconscious until the medic arrives. Provided the medic hasn’t chosen this moment to get a round in.
We found that exploring on our first phase and revealing in the second worked best as on our second phase sometimes we could mitigate the effects of our earlier recklessness, but ultimately to escape you must take risks.
The optional third phase of your go is exertion. Of course, in these dangerous surroundings, it can exhaust you, draining your health. Or, you can be lucky and exert yourself with no ill effects. Just as in life, fate is capricious and is decided on the throw of a die.
The caverns and tracks you reveal have challenges like ledges, slides and rough terrain as well as the more obvious dangers noted above.
So, what have we learnt:
1. Don’t split up
2. Use your strength wisely
3. Hiding is futile
4. Be friends with the medic
5. Be lucky.
It is a challenging game, which if played well (by which I mean in a blanket fort with UV lights and the sound track on) definitely might completely partially equip you with the skills you need to survive the apocalypse.
Come along and have a game at a Cards or Die event.