My Year in Games.

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

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

Christmas Gift Ideas (spoiler alert: they’re all games!!)

Christmas is a time for getting together – eating, drinking and being merry. Whether you’re looking for a way of getting the family communicating this Christmas; trying to find common ground between a 5 year old, a 14 year old and a 90 year old or just fancy a change from your usual Christmas activities – these games will be just the ticket.
A couple for all the family.
Geistes Blitz
One of the greatest things about Geistes Blitz is that it is a very levelling game -just because you are an adult, you do not have the upper hand here. This appeals to the truly competitive as you can beat your 5 year old with a clear conscience and the less competitive who often ‘adjust things’ to avoid younger family members losing heart.
The name literally translates to spirit lightning and you need lightning reflexes to win at this one. Be the first person to grab the right object to win the card, get the most cards to win. If the object is shown exactly on the card then it’s easy you just grab the green bottle, the blue book – whichever the card depicts. However, the majority of the cards are not so straightforward. Instead you must grab the object which is not represented on the card either by object or colour. E.g. in the cards shown above, reading left to right – it is the grey mouse, blue book and grey mouse again. After a while bizarrely it is the cards that show the object in the correct colour that people stumble over.
It’s a pleasingly tactile game and as you are grabbing the objects rather than the cards, as you might in similar games, it promises to remain in good playable condition for a long time.
Plays 2-8 people
Time 10-15 minutes Age 8+ (we have played it with ages 5+ successfully)
Price £13.99
This game is also about reactions but it is your ability to accurately solve a challenge first that is tested. This is another leveller as I have found that different people favour different challenges. Cortex claims to challenge each part of your brain and that certainly seems true. It’ll get those little grey cells moving again after you’ve had too much Christmas dinner.
The Challenges
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This guy
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Colour challenge – identify the word written in matching colour
Maze – Find the way out
Dexterity – Touch the right part of your face with the fingers shown (this is my personal nemesis)
Duplicates – Spot the duplicate image
Memory – as soon as you can confidently recite the five items shown, cover the card and go for it!
Spatial Awareness – work out which shape fits in the gap (some of these are 3d shapes!)
Frequency – spot the image which features most
Touch – relying on touch alone, identify the card. This is worth two brain pieces – even the games designers admit this is a tough one!
When you win two of any challenge type you swap the two cards for a brain piece. The first to complete their four piece ‘brain jigsaw’ wins! *If you dispensed with the brain pieces and used pen and paper instead there is no reason this game can’t play up to 8.
Plays 2-4*
Time 15-20 minutes
Age 8+
Price £13.99
Outfoxed – One for the little legs.
Work together to solve the clues, reveal suspects and deduce which dastardly fox stole Mrs Plumpert’s Pie. As a team you need to decide whether to roll for clues or suspects and if you don’t roll the required symbols the fox starts to make their escape! This is a fun introduction to co-operative board games or just to board games in general.
Co-operative games are good for every age but particularly for players who may struggle with waiting for their turn or find losing difficult. Your team unites against a common enemy or challenge, in this case – the wily fox. While there is turn taking with the dice, movement of pieces and use of the Evidence Scanner (which everyone wants to use!), because everyone is involved each turn there is no waiting around. So you can reinforce important skills in patience and team work without the frustration. It should offer a calm time in an otherwise chaotic day. Especially if you’ve just played Geistes Blitz!
It’s a beautiful looking game with nice, quirky components. Everybody wants to move the fox and check the Evidence Scanner – especially the adults who are just helping and making sure it’s done right. After all it’s good for grown ups to practice team work and turn taking too!
Plays 4
Time 15mins
Ages 5+
Price £17.99
The Logo Game – One for the Grown Ups
I finally caved in and got a copy of this because whenever I went into a board games cafe someone was playing it and in some cases queuing for it. Since I added it to the Cards or Die Menu it’s been a popular choice at games nights.
I think the quiz element of it appeals to lots of people and the mixture of question types based on a topic we are all surrounded by makes it fun and accessible. Younger children struggle as some of the logos are older or for products they’re not familiar with. Having said that as you can play in teams not just as individuals some children may enjoy being part of a team. On the whole though – it’s one to save for the grown ups. A lot of my board games are popular because of their nostalgic value and I suspect The Logo game plays into that too. You can spread the Christmas Cheer by telling the children how chocolate bars used to be bigger!
Plays 2- 16
Time 40 minutes
Ages 12+
A Retro Classic – Outburst!
It wouldn’t be Cards or Die if there wasn’t some element of retro. Even though, it sticks in my craw a bit to call a game made in the 80s retro even I have to accept that it was a long time ago now. Despite my advancing years I struggle on some of the categories – the political figure ones and things like men’s names. It gives us a glimpse back to life in the 80s and a chance to beat the youngsters! Oh God I am old aren’t I? When did this happen? (These are rhetorical questions – under no circumstances should you answer them in the comments).
You can tell that Outburst! is an enduring classic because Hasbro re-issued it and as far as I can tell it’s the same game but with more up to date categories. But if you can get an original from the charity shop then so much the better. The age on the Hasbro version says 16+ In the version I have it is mainly that the categories are suggestive rather than that the answers are rude. However, there are some cards I remove if younger players are present – things you can buy from a vending machine for instance. Outburst challenges each team to name up to 10 ‘things’ in a category – foods served at a dinner party, things made of elastic… But the tricky part is – you have to name the exact things on the card or you don’t score. Roll the dice to determine bonus answers and the number of spaces to move if you hit the bonus answer. It’s all wonderfully arbitrary. You may well be able to name 25 winter sports but if only 2 of them are on the card you score 2! It is frustrating and entertaining. In many ways it encapsulates the essence of Christmas as it is best enjoyed whilst ‘in drink’!
Plays 4 – 10
Time 20 minutes
Ages 16+
If you’re looking for a unique gift experience for family or friends, why not treat them to a Cards or Die board games night. Get in touch for details.

Board Games Hauls and Piles of Shame.

My advertising posts often proudly announce the number of board games in my collection. (Currently 310). Like everyone else I prop up, retweet and add to the jokes about the piles of shame; question the necessity of taking clothes to Essen to when you could just fill your case with new games. However, I also see the danger of these throw away comments and jokes. Regularly I feel disquiet about owning games I haven’t played while I’m still backing new ones on Kickstarter. Sitting around joking about how much money we can waste is a position of privilege that I don’t even want to aspire to.
Being part of the Board Gaming community is not about collecting and bragging. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. Even with my large collection, I am sometimes on the receiving end of sniffy comments about the range of my games; the ‘seriousness’ of them. The phrase ‘proper games’ has been bandied about in a disparaging manner. People who like to reel off a checklist of games I ‘missed out on’ from Kickstarter sometimes come to my events. I try to discourage this sort of conversation. I’ll happily compete with anyone to build the most profitable settlement, get the most cards or get rid of all the cards – whatever the game demands. But I’m not playing this game. In a hobby that is already niche we really don’t need to be marginalising people.
If my business didn’t require me to have a large collection of games including some up to the minute releases then I would not have a collection of this size. Nor would I want so many games. I have played each of my games (bar the newest 5 or 6) at least once. Many of them I have only played once. Some of the games in my collection are for others, I don’t particularly enjoy them but other people do and that’s why they have earned their precious shelf space. Too many of my games I have not been able to play enough. It’s great to have choice but it’s far better to be able to play something enough that you can thoroughly explore and appreciate it. I feel like a smaller collection would allow me to enjoy my games more.
I have placed myself in an odd position – I feel a fraud denouncing consumerism, the greed and sense of entitlement with which we constantly shop. I despair at my children who as soon as they see something, are weighing up its cost; Ebay, google, amazon temptingly at their fingertips. I feel trapped by it all and it is at these moments I feel the mad desire to charity shop all my worldly good and go live on a bus. But it would be difficult to run a board gaming business if I only kept Honshu and Catan.
I wanted to write something as the influx of Essen hauls flood our social media feeds. I don’t begrudge anyone spending their hard earned cash on board games – there are far worse vices. But I wanted to remind us all that it’s not ok to make people feel like they need to play certain games or spend a certain amount of money to be part of the Board Gaming Community. Being part of a community is about making sure everyone is included and in this particular community a love of board games should be at the root of that. I don’t care whether you backed the latest Kickstarter, whether you have all the expansions or whether you have 1000s of serious games. You don’t have to own the ‘right’ games, the ‘proper’ games or any games for that matter to enjoy board games. It has not escaped my irony detectors that the same people who are so disparaging about Monopoly often have a very capitalist approach to the hobby!
Social Media offers us a glimpse of other people’s lives that they have edited, filtered, presented; it fulfils the nosy neighbour part of me. It’s lovely to see gorgeous photos of games I haven’t played and I love watching the Kickstarter campaigns start at zero and inch towards the finishing posts or smash straight through them. Social media enables me to engage with games designers and share their victories even when I can’t afford to back everything I would like to. Even I remind myself that I can’t support everyone and I can’t have everything – no matter how pretty it looks in the picture and I have a legitimate reason for adding to my collection regularly. I think it bears mentioning that when we see these pictures from me and others, we are looking at someone’s work -whether it’s events, reviewing or photography. Most people really don’t need to own that many games!
Whether as a child it was about prising an elder sibling away from the TV to play with me; family holidays in a caravan playing card games while the rain pattered on the ceiling or now, as an adult, prising an x-box controller out of a child’s hand because I still need someone to play with me – I just want to get people together with board games. That might be a Kickstarter preview or it might be Cluedo, as long as we are playing together and escaping the drudge of day to day life, it doesn’t really matter. It shouldn’t cost money (or at least not a lot!) to feel that warm nostalgia and to get people playing together.
Keeping the costs down:
  • Charity Shops – I’m always on the look out at Charity Shops especially for retro games. You can get some real bargains. Recently I got a Ticket To Ride expansion for £1.50!
  • I try to keep my events free or low cost as far as I practically can to make sure they are accessible to as many people as possible and I know lots of local board gaming groups operate on a similar premise. If you’re not sure of your local group, message me and I’ll point you in the right direction. Of course if you’re in Leeds I’d love to see you at some of my events.
  • I really like the idea of the legacy games where groups of friends share the cost of a game and get together regularly to play it. It doesn’t have to be a legacy game that you could share the cost of.
  • Some libraries have started stocking board games which is fantastic. If you’re lucky enough to live in Ipswich – that’s one example.
  • Most cities have board game cafes where you can try out whichever games you fancy without committing to buying the game.
  • Some traditional games are loads of fun and all you need is a deck of cards or sometimes even just pen and paper – Beetle Drive, Flip the Kipper and Battleship are all good fun. Any time my children have been set homework where one of the choices was make a board game, they have always opted for that. All you need are dice, card, pens and imagination!
I suppose, in short, what I’m trying to say is – the board gaming community I’m a part of welcomes you, and we’re striving to be kind, thoughtful and above all excellent to each other.

Check out my free events here and come along and play some games.

Some trivial reminiscences – a blog from a lapsed #BGG

This week I have a guest blog from the fabulous Zebra Marketing and Communications.
I grew up in a card playing family. My father’s mother – my Nanny Dosh, short for Doris obviously – taught me a host of family favourites (and the harmonica) when she used to babysit me. And my mother’s aunt – my Great Aunt Madge – taught me other games on her annual visits up North. Many a weekend was spent playing games like ‘Load the Donkey’ and ‘Beat your Neighbour Out of Doors’. Later my parents taught me other games like Pontoon (21s), Cribbage, Gin Rummy and others that you could bet a few coppers on (we took card games seriously in our house). Board games, other than the obligatory Kerplunk, Monopoly and Operation, didn’t really feature.
That all changed with the advent of Trivial Pursuit. Launched in 1979, I seem to remember it got very popular in the mid-eighties and no dinner party my parents attended at that time was complete without it. The Trivial Pursuit craze continued and by the time I was in my late teens and early twenties even many impoverished students sported – albeit a tatty version – the Trivial Pursuit box (or the budget ‘travel’ edition) in their shared house or bedsit.
We found some of our friends were like-minded in their love of games and Trivial Pursuit soon progressed to Articulate, The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game, Let’s Buy Hollywood and many, many others. By the time we bought our own house, the top of my bedroom wardrobe looked more like that of a 12-year-old than an adult with a mortgage and a full-time job.
Games were played regularly throughout our twenties and even now we are known to use phrases that entered family lore around that time. ‘It’s an ‘ing’’ (for a ‘doing word’) or name a double-barrelled monkey (‘Mr Orang-Utan’ of course!) However, as friends moved away, some to literally the other side of the world, and others started families of their own, the games were played less and eventually were moved into the garage and then finally, apart from a couple that survived the cull, ended up in the local charity shop.
I gave little thought to games over the following years until a friend of mine had the inspiration to set up a board gaming business (Cards or Die). It sounded like such a fun idea for a business, but it wasn’t until I witnessed Ann in action, at another friend’s birthday camping festival that I truly appreciated the level of effort and thought that has gone into her business. Cards or Die’s games selection spans a wide spectrum and there is something for everyone. But what really makes it work is the encouragement, recommendations and advice that Ann provides all players – teaching them new games or reminding them of the rules of games played in the past. It turns a game into so much more.
Needless to say, the group of friends I was with barely left the games tent for the rest of the festival and the fun we had reawakened my love of games (as well as reinforcing my position as Connect 4 champion). I think the time is right to invest in some new games and I believe Ann may have a few recommendations for me…
I’m always happy to recommend games – check out the games section of the website for ideas or message me!
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What’s in your bag?

The answer is of course subject to whim and fancy but amongst the plasters, knee supports, notebooks, tiger balm, tissues, pens, paracetamol and parts of games there always nestles a little game. For those moments when you fancy a quick game: the queues, the waits, the cuppa stops or, when you look at your family and think ‘here are some people who need to interact with each other more’.
Geistes Blitz
This is a game of speedy reactions – flip the card then either grab the object shown or if the object does not feature you must work out with lightning deduction which item and colour is not depicted. Grab the wrong object and your go is over and you’ve just helped your opponents along.
The first couple of rounds of this were painful for me. For your first game I would recommend that you play against your peers rather than your heartless offspring. But before I had time to abandon all hope (which can happen remarkably quickly) I grasped it!
And the more rounds you play, the faster you get. It’s addictive, like a kind of hardcore spot the difference.
It quickly earned its place on permanent rotation with a few other games in my bag.
Don’t be fooled by her cute ears- she’s a stone cold victor!
Who Did It?
If you are tired of Poo! but have not grown out of finding faeces funny then this is a good, solid choice.
You need three players for this so although it regularly has a place in my bag it’s better when there are more people (up to 5). Handily, I have created a 5 person family.
Each person gets a hand of animal cards; each card is the potential culprit who has defecated in the living room.
The first player places their card down with the words (for example) ‘My cat didn’t do it, someone’s parrot did it.’
The first player to slap their parrot card on the cat has proved their innocence and declares ‘My parrot didn’t do it, someone’s rabbit did it’…. and so on… until everyone but one player plays all their cards in which case the last remaining player holds the culprit OR, you accuse an animal that no one holds and then you lose the round.
This last condition is the real genius of the game and moves it beyond a game of snap where the fastest reaction wins every time. You must be the fastest and remember the cards which have been played: boss both of these to ensure you don’t end up with the poo.
Zombie Dice.
I know that I have mentioned this one many times but thanks to our added soundproofing (a layer of felt glued to the inside of the insanely noisy box) it’s often rattles round 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 – 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.
Heartcatchers is a fabulous little two player game. And when I say ‘little’ I am not being pejorative – it really is tiny with only 20 cards in the slim box.
The aim of the game is predictably to catch the most hearts, gaining bonuses and avoiding penalty cards. The ‘secrets’ – bonuses and penalty cards are played face down while you capture your opponents card stacks brazenly using face up hearts.
This is a game of bluff, strategy and memory. Do you put a -3 card down under your own stack in the hope your opponent thinks it must be a +3 and captures it? Or do you put the +3 under your own and hope to hang on to it? How long do you risk waiting before you steal the stack you want?
The game is brutally fast. I’ve just about worked out which cards I want when it’s all over. It’s one of those beautiful games that you want to replay immediately using a different strategy. And you can play again and again testing out different strategies whilst trying to second guess your opponent’s.
It’s certainly captured my heart.*
*Look, I’m sorry. I genuinely held that in as long as I could. It had to come out. Is now a good time to point you back to the poo pun?
Solo Puzzle games
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My most recent bag essential has been not one but three solo puzzle games. These are perfect for those moments when you look at your family and think ‘here are some people who need to interact with each other a lot less. Before someone loses an eye’
Each of the games comes with a booklet of puzzles steadily increasing in difficulty, which you can work your way through. They are incredibly absorbing and actually it’s hard to watch someone without joining in. Unless of course you have gone to sit in a different part of the pub while you enjoy the silence from a distance.
Seriously though, these are great for adults and children and although they are solo puzzles, when it comes to problem solving two heads are almost always better than one!
All of the games we review are available to try at Cards or Die events – join us or book us for your own event!
Other previously reviewed excellent games you might want to bag (click on the links to read more)
Join us at a Cards or Die event and try them out.
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Games for a laugh

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

Come along to a Cards or Die event and try them out.

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.
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Wondering what to buy the little legs in your life this Christmas? Games of course!

Friends have been asking me ‘What games should I get my kids this Christmas?’ I know that the subtext here is a. what will keep my darlings gainfully occupied? b. what will I enjoy if I decide to play too? and c. what doesn’t require 2 hours of rule reading and painful adjudication?
Luckily for you, I’ve got the answer. In fact, 5 answers because that’s the sort of friend I am! The games I’ve chosen are quick to learn, will be out of the box more than they’re in it and are also portable, so you can take them to family get-togethers and all play or leave the kids to it. And once they’re safely tucked up in bed, regardless of how much festive spirit you imbibe you’ll be able to settle down to a sensible, grown up game of Poo.
My years as a teacher mean that I can not share these recommendations without going all geeky about the many benefits of learning through play: accidental learning is my favourite. Not only are games an excellent social tool, reinforcing ideas about turn taking, communicating your own ideas and listening to others, but also the games I’ve chosen encourage children to observe, match patterns and images, count and keep score and some games require quick thinking while some require reflective strategy (on as simple a level as you want). Basically what I’m saying is you can drink wine, knock stuff over, fling poo and send your darlings back to school/ nursery with a smug smile: they are so advanced.
So here are my top 5 Christmas Gifts for children…
1. Poo
2-8 players
5-15 minutes
Poo is a card game in which monkeys fling poo at each other and attempt to deflect poo on to others or clean some poo off themselves. Once you have been covered in a pile of 15 flying poos you are out and the last monkey standing wins.
Poo is an easy game. Start with 5 cards, play one, pick one up. The only age restriction is that there is simple reading to be done but this can be worked around by working in mixed age teams. Or, you could just be able to see a younger players cards – there is no strategy in this one so it doesn’t really matter if you know what someone has in their hand.
You may also want to buy some counters to keep track of scores – I got brown ones of course!
There is a Space version available too – it is currently in stock at your friendly local games shop: http://www.gamescrusade.co.uk/
Here is some regular, non-space poo:
For first Wednesday games at The Abbey Inn, I treated us to some poo related prizes. This was a cheap party bag but worth adding to the game for a bit of extra fun:
2. Kodama
2-5 players
40 minutes
This is a game which has a very simple premise and involves some strategy. No reading skills are required as you are matching images. It is, though, a very beautifully designed and illustrated game. In our house ages 9 to 71 have thoroughly enjoyed it but it is certainly suitable for younger (or older) ones too!
At the start of the game you choose a tree spirit, and then you grow your tree by adding branch cards that you choose. You score points for making a contiguous line of a certain feature over a number of adjoining cards. E.g. if you add fireflies to this starting trunk you score 1 point for each firefly on an adjoining branch.
There are also season cards which set challenges; if you achieve the challenges then you score bonus points. For very small children it is easy to leave these out for the first couple of rounds and add them in later.
The finished trees after one of our games.
The only possible down side is that your child may demand a tree spirit as their next pet. I know I have.
3. Click Clack Lumberjack
Plays 2-7
5-10 minutes
Like Jenga – but there’s an axe. Try to knock off the bark without knocking down the tree. To play this children will need some dexterity and it involves turn taking. But, again – no reading. You can encourage them to keep track of their own score of +2 for every piece of bark knocked off, -5 for every section of trunk, and optional bonus points if they knock off the bark which hides the bug stickers.
4. Carcassonne
Plays 2-5
30-45 minutes
There is a junior version of Carcassonne but to be honest I am not a great fan of games adapted for children, I’d rather differentiate myself. That way when they are older you’ve still got the game. A much thriftier investment!
Carcassonne is an incredibly popular and award winning game. It involves no reading, and there are lots of ways of reducing or increasing the strategy involved.
You lay tiles to create a landscape based on the medieval fortified town of Carcassonne. You need to match the tiles so that roads, fields, Abbeys or cities can be completed or added to. The way I’ve explained it to children is that the picture must ‘make sense’. Once you have laid a tile you can claim that territory by placing a meeple on it. Depending on where you place your meeple it can become a Knight (which may or may not say ‘Ni’), a farmer, a highwayman or a monk. Your meeple then earns points depending on the length of the road, or the size of the city, farm or Abbey. Players must play tiles carefully to maximise their score.
o help very small children to learn I would remove farmers and monks. Once they have mastered the basic principle of the game they can be re-introduced. Children are learning to create sequences and patterns as well as calculating and comparing possible scores. Again, they can do as much or as little of this as you want. This is definitely a good investment.
The box is not as portable as it is a little larger than the other 4 games it won’t go in a handbag, unlike poo!
5. Dobble
2-8 players
5 minutes
Dobble is a quick, fun and portable game. The tin of cards contains rules for 5 mini games. Turn over a card and if you are first to shout out the image which matches an image on your card you win the card. The person with the most cards wins. While the game is clearly the work of a mathematical genius – every single card has one image which matches with an image on another card – you don’t need to be a genius to play.

This game tests observational skills and encourages quick thinking and unlike snap, rather than testing the speed of your movement it requires you to verbalise your answer quickly.




It has been so successful that there are many variations available including a Star Wars version!

There are so many good games out there and this is just 5 that are a sure fire hit for any age. If you want any other, more specific recommendations or you want to share your family favourites please get in touch!

Come along to a Cards or Die event and play these and more.
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Let them win: why you should let children win at games.

I want to begin by clarifying: I am not an advocate of mollycoddling children. Mollycuddling? Yes Coddling? No. When under pressure and outnumbered by whingy teens and moany toddlers, I have uttered the words ‘tough’, ‘life is hard’ and ‘get over it’. Often in the same sentence.
And, I still maintain you must let them win. More specifically they have to start by winning a higher proportion of games than they lose.
Losing at games is valuable and character building. We use it to foster resilience, but as adults competing against our peers we forget all too quickly what it’s like to play an imbalanced game. As the youngest in a family of four I remember well the people who always beat me and those who let me win. Much as losing is lauded as a necessary and useful experience, how many of us – hand on heart- enjoy a game if we know there is no chance of winning? If you have a game on the shelf which you never, ever win, the odds are it’s not your most played game. The building of resilience alone is not enough to motivate us to play. So, if you want someone to play with in the future, letting them win is essential.
By allowing children to win you are doing two things: showing them that they can win and modelling what good losing looks like (hopefully). Showing them that they can win keeps them motivated. It allows them to experience the joy of winning and allows you to reinforce the behaviour of a gracious winner. (Again, hopefully).
I am determined to instill these skills in my children. Losing can be disappointing enough but sitting there, nursing your bruised ego as someone victoriously dances around you thrusting a winning hand towards you with the words ‘In your face!’ is the last thing you need. No-one wants that gamer at their table. And for me, I want my children to be inclusive and included.
When you allow them to win, it also allows you to be a gracious loser. Congratulate them. Share their joy. Discuss how they won; let them give you tips, regardless of the fact you helped them win. Reset the board , shuffle the cards and show them that defeat can make you more determined than ever.
Of course, everything in balance. Don’t let them win every time. I have always viewed it as a sliding scale – as toddlers I made sure they won a good bit more than they lost. They had the best memory in pairs, the keenest observation skills in Dobble and were just generally luckier.
As they get older and more proficient, they win less. They don’t notice. They generally take losing in their stride because they know winning is something they can do. By the time they’ve reached the ripe old age of 12, I go for the win every time. With them being steeped in games since birth and having young, agile brains means I get more chances to model being a gracious loser than I might like. I might have been told off by a 10 year old for dropping my final card with the words ‘In your face’. That might have happened. I am only a person after all. But as long as we strive for perfection that’s alright, I think.
So, what happens at your table – are you hard-arsed winners, limp losers or somewhere in between? What balance of wins and losses have you “arranged” with your children over the years? Leave a comment below.

Come along and play some games at a Cards or Die event. I won’t let you win! Unless I lose in which case it was definitely to shield your delicate ego.