The fine art of Board Games

On the 7th and 8th July it is The Horsforth Walk of Art. It will be the first year that Cards or Die have taken part and I couldn’t be more excited. Art is a passion of mine; I don’t visit a city without taking in the art gallery. Some of my favourite places are The Yorkshire Sculpture Park (especially the Deer Shelter), the pre-raphaelites section of Birmingham city art gallery and when I lived in York I used to spend a disproportionate amount of time sitting in front of Sea by David Nash. This passion is evident in my board games collection too – I like the confusing beauty of Dixit; the pleasantly tactile Ticket to Ride and the dark comic book brilliance of Gloom. So we’ll be putting up the gazebos and you’ll have full access to the complete Cards or Die collection! In advance of that, I thought I’d preview some of our more overt art games that you can try at any of our events.
Masterpiece – The Classic Art Auction game
1970 Parker Brothers
At the end of the game the winner is the player who has amassed the largest fortune in paintings and cash.
This was one of my sister’s favourite games and it turns out there was a copy in the attic of my parents’ house. At an event last year someone requested it and so, as I do, I kept an eye out for it. I finally found a copy in a charity shop in Derby. Last week, I found a copy in the attic. ‘Oh, didn’t you know that was there?’ said my siblings… Proof that siblings can be annoying even when you’re 43. Anyway, I now have two gorgeous copies of this retro classic. And one of them was free. Perfect.
Each player has a value chart and starts with the princely sum of $15million.
You each draw a painting which you display face up in front of you and a value card which you slip under the painting so that no-one can see it.
As you move around the board you complete various actions as you try to add to your starting fortune:
1. Bank Auction – players may bid for the painting displayed on the easel. The highest bidder takes the painting and the top value card. Again, placing the value card under the painting out of sight.
Let’s just pause for a moment to enjoy that… ‘the painting displayed on the easel’. It comes with an easel!! Just me that’s excited..? Ohkay… we’ll move on
2. Private Auction – other players may bid on one of your paintings. Again, the highest bidder wins the painting and the value you had already attached to it. You may also buy from players for a fixed amount.
3. Collect money from the bank or a value card. If you choose a value card you may attach it to the painting of your choice.
4. Buy or sell paintings to the bank.
5. Inherit paintings from the bank vaults.
When the last painting is drawn and the last action completed the game ends and you count up your assets!
Like many retro games the premise is simple but it’s an incredibly enjoyable game. The pleasure of conning friends out of imaginary money for the sake of art is almost like a modern work of art in itself. I imagine Damien Hirst could conjure up some sort of installation depicting this very circumstance.
Face to Face
2009 Alex Beard – Untamed Games
A cubist strategy game, Face to Face requires you to play a tile from your rack that fits the existing pattern and colour. Game pieces match when they are Eye to Nose, or Nose to Mouth, and of the correct colour. You score at the end of each round and the game ends when a player reaches 100 points. Points are scored based on which pieces your opponent has failed to play.
Corners have been cut in the design and printing of the game. The components are not well finished and the design as a strategic game is flawed.
There are some design flaws such as the cutting of the tiles which has left some pieces with extra edges of the wrong colour that you just have to ignore.
The tile racks are flimsy and don’t stay upright. They aren’t big enough or strong enough to hold the 11 starting pieces you need. This means that you can’t keep your hand concealed from your opponent. A definite issue if the game is strategic.
As new pieces are drawn from a face down pile and the pieces vary in size and shape, you are able to select pieces which are more likely to fit in the available shapes and spaces on the board. This diminishes the strategic element of the game.
The restrictions on piece placement mean that the game is reliant on you drawing enough nose pieces and it ends up feeling protracted and imbalanced.
On the plus side…
It is an unusual set of game pieces and I mean that in a positive way. The cubist art on them is quirky and effective. The fact that they are varied shapes and sizes is perfect for creating ‘unique cubist compositions’ as it boasts on the box. It seems such a shame to just bin this game off when we could be enjoying the theme of it. You can persevere with the original rules making adjustments to scoring, for example playing to 50 instead of 100. But we decided we would take house rules to another level:
1. Deal out 12 pieces per person face down.
2. Simultaneously all players reveal their pieces.
3. Start building cubist faces. Each face must have: a nose, a mouth and 2 eyes.
Pieces that touch another piece must be matched by colour.
4. When you have used all the pieces that you can, draw 3 more.
5. When the last piece is drawn the winner is the person with the most complete faces.
However you choose to play it’s fun to make cubist faces!
Picture This
1993 Spears Games
A potentially hilarious mixture of Pictionary and Charades. I say hilarious… equally you could discover that you have the miming skills of Picasso and the drawing abilities of Lionel Blair. Anything could happen! ‘Picture This’ requires you to roll 2 dice. One die dictates whether you mime, draw or choose between them, while the second die determines the category. Categories such as wind instruments, poets and childhood ailments test your skills and your wits!
You create your works of art or your small scale theatrical performances in the allotted time and your team gains points by correctly identifying the category.
An MB classic from 2000.
The family game of quick-draw!
Sketch the words that appear on the cards for your teammates to identify. In the time honoured tradition of hilarious games which are improved only by playing them in the pub, you are against the sand timer. So whether you are sketching contact lenses, a relay race or big cheese – you must render your masterpiece quickly and expertly if you are to triumph.
So, whether you want to create your own masterpiece or try your luck at the auction house, come and visit us on the walk of art – or anytime and have a go!
Come along to a Cards or Die event.

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

Storytelling is an ageless activity bred of an instinctive human desire to connect with others. Back when we lived in caves and all you needed to do to impress someone was light a fire, we would sit round that fire and tell stories: stories of the mythic beasts we had slain; cautionary stories of the dangers our youngsters should avoid; stories of comical mishaps and misunderstandings. Playing games is an ancient pastime, and it’s no coincidence that games is another great way to connect with other humans. So, what could be better at connecting us than games that tell stories?
Here are some of our favourite story telling style games:
Players use the letters that are revealed to create sentences. Each sentence must use all of the letters in order reading left to right or right to left. You place 7 letter cards and a category card face up to create the board. The category card awards different points depending on the subject of the sentence. Turn over the 3 minute timer and off you go! You need to make sure that the sentence is grammatically accurate and you can use names but not just to use up letters – they need to be an integral part of the sentence. Write as many sentences in the time to maximise your score. The rules claim that the game is outlandish and creative, and the results certainly lend credence to this claim!
A variation allows you to place 10 letters and choose a sequence of those to make your sentence. In this version you score according to the length of your sentence.
The game is played over 5 rounds, so you’ve got time to warm up!
This is a quick, fun party game. It is challenging but it’s the kind of game that once you warm your brain up, you can create all sorts of bizarre and entertaining stories! Have a go at the boards in the pictures to get you started!
Bucket Of Doom
Another classic party game. I was wary of this one at first as it says it’s suitable for ages 17+… some people had seen it in my collection and said the thought it would be like Cards Against Humanity – this didn’t help! 9as you may know, I am not a fan of Cards Against Humanity at all. I’ve played it and I felt that some of the topics were so tasteless that I could not find any humour in them). But, I found a copy of this in a charity shop and it is by Big Potato Games (Creators of Obama Llama which is well loved here at Cards or Die headquarters) so, the conditions were perfect for me to throw caution to the wind and suspend my reservations. And, I’m glad I did.
You have 8 objects and an improbable yet perilous scenario. The scenarios are mainly ridiculous, some are rude and many are nightmarish but they are not offensive. You must use one of your 8 objects to escape the scenario you find yourself in. The group choose the most convincing and entertaining explanation and we have a winner/ survivor. Above all else this game is ridiculous. It demands that you engage your imagination and reach into its farthest recesses to generate plausible absurdity.
So, how will your Bachelor’s in drama get you out of this suicidal whale?
Serving suggestion: definitely the sort of game which is best served with fizzy wine or fine ales.
In Dixit the player who decides on the phrase, word or saying that encapsulates their card is referred to as the storyteller. Each image tells its own story. I have already written a detailed review of Dixit -you can read more here.
I love Gloom; both the game and the Eeyore-like state of being. We have the Cthulhu version. Despite the tuck box (we won’t talk about that it upsets me), this is a brilliant game. The aim of the game is to make your family as miserable as possible before killing them all!
The cards are see-through so that you can stack them up, obscuring or replacing some or all of the existing scores and categories. Event cards intensify the gloom of your family and outline a mishap or terrible event: ‘disappeared in the night’ or ‘was part of a feast’ for example. As these stack up you tell the horrifying story of that character. Storytelling is outlined in the rules as ‘half the fun’: you are encouraged to flesh out (if you will) how these chilling events came to pass. It’s definitely more entertaining if you engage your storytelling brain as well as your maths/ strategic one. This goes some way to settling the ‘Is Maths better than English?’ debate. Or perhaps they work in beautiful harmony? Nonsense, English makes everything better. (This is the answer, no need to comment below).
Whilst trying to make your family as miserable as possible you can cheer up your opponent’s with bargainous books or secured tenures. When you have enough negative points you can cause the untimely death of your family member or as a philanthropic gesture you can limit the unhappiness of an opponent’s family member by putting them out of their misery – literally.
When your entire family have gone to a better place (which given the circumstances wouldn’t take much) then the game ends and you total up the points to see who has spread the most gloom. Fabulously gruesome!
Colt Express
In Colt Express you are all ruthless bandits in the Wild West trying to grab the most loot and prove yourself as the fastest gunslinger. The marshall guards the prize on the train – a briefcase full of money. But watch out, get shot by the said marshall and that really messes up your plans.
One of the immediately impressive and striking things about Colt Express is that it uses a cardboard train rather than a board. It truly is a thing of beauty. You make your way along the train either clinging to the roof or risking life and limb as you swing from carriage to carriage.
Disappointingly the number of female characters is limited to the usual two and one of them is predictably busty. As with so many games I overlook that. If I only bought games which fairly represent the diversity of society my shelves would be significantly emptier.
Colt Express uses a programming mechanic. A round comprises 4 to 6 actions per player and this is detailed on the round outline card. Some of the outline cards dictate that certain cards are placed secretly and some end with an action like the train screeching to a halt – when the outlaws who have chosen to risk the high winds and jolting tracks by creeping along the roof are jettisoned dangerously closer to the marshall.
Each player chooses the action they plan to execute and places their card in the pile. When this is completed, one player then tells the story of the round. This mechanic makes the game quite tricky; to play effectively you need to not only keep track (no pun intended!) of what you’re planning but of what everyone else is doing and where they are, adjusting your plans accordingly.
The storytelling element and the cardboard train are my favourite bits of this game. (It even comes with cardboard cacti!) For me the game is perfect when people enter into the storytelling element of it with enthusiasm. A list of actions becomes a scene from a Wild West train robbery with a cast of rival guns prepared to fight to the death.
Each player has a special ability which lends some more depth to the game and there are two expansion packs available which I’m keen to try out.
Everybody needs good neighbours and you can join forces with yours in The Neighbours board game to create the best plotline ever. I have thoroughly enjoyed playing this game and it’s had good reviews from events too. Now – whenever I read the word “hilarious” in a review part of my soul dies, but honestly Neighbours is hilarious to play (admittedly we consumed wine while we played – a theme is emerging), but it is a fun game – and the plot lines you create have to be grammatically accurate, which pleases me more than I can tell you. Pretend it’s the 80s, pretend it’s sunny, and dive right in!
So what is the story we should take away from this post? Well, once upon a time there was a little girl who eschewed the rules of grammar. She thought that what really mattered was the story, not the way it was written. She was wrong. She lost. Grammar matters kids.
As a poster in my classroom stated:
“Let’s eat Grandma! or, Let’s eat, Grandma!”
It takes a lot more than lighting a fire in a cave to impress people these days… get this wrong and you could have been having quite a chewy dinner…
Join us for board games at a Cards or Die event.
2017-06-11 17.15.18_edited

Dixit. A game of beauty, voting and darkness.

Words can not adequately express my love for this game. But as it is a game all about communication, I’ll give it my best shot.
Dixit is a board game based on voting, communication and gorgeous art. How perfectly appropriate for this week. The cards are beautiful and sometimes dark. Handbag vomit card is one of my favourites (I don’t think this is it’s official name). Mainly because it resonates with my own personal handbag issues:
One of the lovely things about Dixit is the odd nature of it: many of the illustrations are very strange; you keep score by moving wooden rabbits (rabbeeples if you will) round the board. Why? Why not. Dixit has a fantasy ‘once upon a time’ feel that encourages players to unleash their imagination.
How do you play?
Dixit is a simple game to learn.
  • Each player has a hand of 6 cards.
  • Player 1 chooses one card from their hand. They describe the card using a word, a phrase, a line from a song, a sound: anything which for them encapsulates the image. The put the card to one side, face down.
  • The other players now choose a card from their hand which best matches the phrase Player 1 has said. They hand their chosen card to Player 1.
  • Player 1 shuffles all the chosen cards, along with their own choice and then lays the cards out face down. As they lay them out they number them.
  • The other players must then vote on which card they believe Player 1 chose. They place their numbered voting chips face down and reveal their choices simultaneously.
  • If no-one or everyone correctly identifies Player 1’s card then Player 1 score nothing. Nothing at all. Not a sausage. (Other players score points for correct identification and for having people vote for their chosen card.)
And this, this is the nub of the game. You must be specific enough to enable people to identify your image but vague enough that not everyone gets it. This is a skill which requires adept communication and throws up interesting and diverse challenges whether playing with friends or strangers. For me, this is the beauty of the game.
Not only is Dixit a fun, entertaining game but it also has serious social skills benefits. It encourages empathy and imagination. A perfect game for those who may find those skills challenging.
It also makes it an ideal game for team building exercises. Playing with people you ‘sort-of know’ is at times funny and always enlightening.
Plus it gives you the opportunity to say Rabbeeples. I mean, really, what more could you ask for from a game?
Share your handbag vomit pictures with me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook @cardsordie
Now with added expansion pack. Join us at one of Cards or Die’s events to play: