Welcome to The Niche.

Years ago I started Morris Dancing. Those of you who aren’t fans of ‘the Morris’ may not know that there are different styles of Morris: Northwest, Cotswold, Border, Molly… and there’s just where it starts. Each discipline has its own exacting requirements and those vary depending on who you speak to- debates about what angle and height your knees should be in NorthWest, the disgust at feeble stick thwacking in Cotswold are the thin ends of a niche wedge. I’ve had many, long and heated conversations about what constitutes traditional dance. And that’s all before I start on Sword dancing which I also do – although that’s “Not morris, it’s traditional English Dance” Yep, Morris then?
It had never occurred to me when I started spending more and more time in the board gaming community how similar our communities were until this week. And suddenly there it was.
I love Morris and I love Board Games and I love the people in both communities. We are inclusive, friendly, giving, supportive, lovely; we champion each other and our hobbies; we encourage others to take part and we want to see everyone love our hobby as much as we do. It’s all going so well – like some kind of hippy utopia until someone does it wrong.
Can you game wrong? – oh yes you most certainly can. You can have too many light, filler games, you can like ‘abstract’ games, you may never progress beyond gateway games, you may be the owner of a shelf of shame or never have backed anything exclusive on kickstarter…you might even … brace yourself… enjoy a plain old luck based roll and move game. Just as in the Morris world there is usually someone to helpfully advise you on how straight your line ‘could have’ been or how high your knees ‘could have’ been; so too in board games there are a minority of people with very specific, not to say strong, opinions and I worry that sometimes that element in both of my loves – dancing and gaming – sends out the wrong message and leaves some people feeling excluded. So, I want to just challenge a few conceptions…
The very concept of “Gateway Games” is an interesting one. “Gateway” implies there is something that we should all be headed to, rather than having a plethora of choice about our destination… it suggests that you start with games that are in some way inferior, progressing on to ‘better’ ‘more serious’ games. When, in reality most of us enjoy a wide variety of games – different themes, different lengths, different challenges. In our house it often varies according to our mood, or how much challenge we can cope with. Sometimes it’s a long battle like Escape From Colditz or The Big Book Of Madness; other times it’s a bit strategic like Kodama or Coup… but it might also be Dobble, Cobra Paw, or, dare I say… Shut The Box.
Abstract games like Abalone or Mancala are also frowned upon by some people, and yet are amongst the most popular at events – quick to learn with lots of depth and strategy. The kind of games that after your first loss you have to play again because you now know how you went wrong and you can definitely win next time. I never factor in the fact that my opponent is also becoming more focussed and tactical. So it seems very odd that abstract games should be so dismissed – take for example Mr Jack – it’s not abstract but it is utterly on a par with Abalone in many ways – the rules themselves are fairly simple, and the opening strategies comprehensible by a 9 year old… but the more you play either, the more devious depth you find…
I think my main concern with this is the dismissal of an entire genre. I have come across people who ‘don’t like games’. I maintain that they have just not found the right game. I even made a flowchart to help them. So you don’t like abstract games?… maybe you just haven’t found the right one.
How about the term “filler games”? To me this means one you just have a quick round of whilst waiting for the real meal of the evening to start. But this just seems dismissive – revealing a prejudice towards bigger, complex games that take many hours to play. Sometimes an evening of gaming can be composed entirely of fillers – Love Letters, Gobblin Goblins, Exploding Kittens, Jenga, Terrible Monster… the list goes on. All deliciously light – like a day of eating breakfast food without ever commiting to a whole meal.
They are just shorter. That’s it. Short games for when you want a short game. Again the term suggests some sort of predetermined path. Enter through the gateway games, attend games night and play fillers in between more substantial games. Or don’t. Play what you want, when you want.
And lastly – the “Shelf Of Shame”. We are embroiled in an expensive hobby; many of us joke about how we need to sell a kidney to afford yet another kickstarter or how we need to extend the house to fit all our games in. But we need to be mindful that this doesn’t turn into wallet waving of the highest order. If we want gaming to be as inclusive as possible then bragging about buying so many games that we can’t even play them all really needs some rethinking. There are some great games on kickstarter and there are so many new games coming out all the time it can seem overwhelming. Games cafes, local board game groups and Cards or Die mean that you really don’t need to own everything. One of my driving desires as Cards or Die is to bring people together by sharing a love of board gaming.
Those of you who follow me will know that thrift is a virtue I prize very highly. One of my favourite features on the Board Game Trading And Chat UK facebook group is the threads about charity shop finds. I particularly enjoyed (with hardly any jealousy) people buying up Quinns’ Oxfam donations this week. There are some epic games out there waiting to be discovered. I bagged Bucket of Doom for 99p and Tantrix for £1.99. One of the real pleasures though is stumbling across a game like Trek from the 1960s with every piece present and intact. I love how much people cherish board games and I think that’s because it’s more than just a game. It’s a box of memories, connections and good times.
They’re not all hits of course. Like this co-operative version of Connect 4 I found
I couldn’t be prouder or happier than when I’m dancing or gaming. (On a side note I must mention my dance face – my extreme morris face as my loving friends call it. It’s difficult to smile when you’re counting beats and concentrating! But I know you understand because I’ve taken photos at events and I’ve seen your extreme gaming face. I can not tell you how difficult it is to get pictures of people smiling for my website! But that’s a different story) I love connecting with others and I don’t really care if their knees aren’t high enough or they wibble out of line a bit. (I do care if you bring your sword down on my face but that’s more of a health and safety issue than a dance quality issue.)
So, however you play your games or where or which games you play – it’s all good. Play lots of games, play games you think you might hate, play games you loved as a kid, play them all. Have fun, connect with other human beings. And above all, be kind and welcoming. We are a fantastic community let’s share the love!
Come along to a Cards or Die games event!

Bring it 2018! I’m ready for you.

So, it’s that time of year again when we discuss resolutions. One year I asked the children about what resolutions they were making:
Child A: ‘You should have blonde hair’
Child B: ‘Yeah and clean the house more’
Me: ‘Not for me, for you… FOR YOU!’
So, I won’t be asking them again! Instead, I shall consult wiser oracles… first up Wilkos…
1. Do more of what makes you happy
As soon as I saw this mug I knew that I could make this a permanent resolution. The nice thing about this resolution is, it’s not measurable. AT ALL. So, when I complete my positives journal (which I try to do daily but realistically do sporadically) I can congratulate myself on my small successes. As long as I do some things that make me happy …a game of Carcassonne, a phonecall, sending a postcard, having a bath with nice bubblebath, refolding the towels in the airing cupboard… We don’t have to achieve world peace in order to celebrate our happiness and our successes. The world is a stressful and messy place and often it is the smallest acts which make a difference to our mental state.
Parks and Recreation is a brilliantly uplifting comedy full of wisdom and kindness (apart from for poor Gerry); the black dog usually goes out for a walk while I watch it so where better to source Resolution Number 2
2. Treat Yoself
I am often incredibly hard on myself. I use words when I speak to myself that I would never say to anyone else because I know they are too cruel, too vindictive. I am locked in an endless battle of varying intensity with the part of myself that hates me and that can be incredibly tiring. So, for me concentrating on the feeling that I deserve to treat myself is a tricky one but worth chasing. I am not talking about investing in a deluxe batman costume for £300 (note the advised use of the word investing) nor am I saying I’m going to start buying every new game that comes out but I can afford to treat myself with time – a wander round an art gallery in the city centre for instance, time to sketch or paint. 2018 will be the year of the well deserved treat.
In 2012 Charlie Brooker made resolutions for other people. Comedy Gold – I have used this blog for non fiction analysis with many, many English classes. Click here to read it. And so, here is my resolution for the world.
3. Don’t be a dick.
There are so many subsections of this I scarcely know where to start. Here’s some top tips:
  • Listen to each other
  • Save giving advice for when you are asked for it
  • If someone doesn’t want you to touch them, don’t.
  • If someone is being friendly don’t automatically assume they want to have sex with you.
  • Be aware of your privileges.
  • Go out of your way to be kind and inclusive.
  • If you have to preface something with a warning about it being offensive/ racist/ sexist…. then don’t say it out loud. At all. Ever.
  • Don’t send something in a private message that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face in public.
  • If in doubt, just be kind.
Of course, if this applies to you you’re more than likely completely oblivious or didn’t even read it, so rather than being informative or transformative information for dicks, this list is more of a celebration of how lovely all you awesome folk are.
The next wise oracle is Kickstarter. Lovely kickstarter allows me to back new games and then sends them to me long after I forget that (a) I backed them and (b) I paid for them already. It’s like Father Christmas actually exists and past me has recommended games for him to buy me!
4. Play More Games
This sounds easy but I have played a lot of games this year. Fortunately, I have kept no record of how long I have whiled away playing board games nor how many excellent people I have encountered through gaming. This means of course that provided I play a lot, this is pretty much a nailed on success. I’m going to start with the ones I’ve got recently and not played at all or enough yet. So, you can look forward to reviews of Matchmaker, Blame, Banishment, and Diesel Demolition Derby.
And before Steven Schwarz says it, I’ll say it – I also need to play Jaipur as he has recommended it to me at every possible juncture. Don’t believe me? Look on Cards or Die’s facebook page. He’s a Jaipur evangelist.
Just as past me is awesome at recommending games so too past me has set some awesome resolutions which I achieve year on year and if it ain’t broke…
Number 5, the same things I always resolve in order to guarantee success: swear more and more inventively; eat the bare minimum of fruit required to avoid malnutrition; eat plenty of chocolate. I’ve said it many times now but every time I eat a square of dairy milk it tastes identical to the last square of dairy milk I ate. This is never true of Satsumas. Fruit is unpredictable – so don’t trust it! And, if you can eat delicious food and play games so much the better; visit Random Encounter to join me in this most challenging of resolutions.
The key to useful resolutions is to choose things you can definitely do, that you can chip away at day by day, especially when your mental health is not as resilient as you would like it to be. I hope that these can contribute to the higher aim of me being better and having a mentally healthier 2018.
And… of course come along to a Cards or Die event!
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How do you assign value to your time?

Since starting Cards or Die, I have had numerous conversations about the value of time. How do we decide what to charge for our time? Whatever price you set sends out a message to your customers – too low and they may question your quality; too high and they may baulk at the price. And of course, as ever the anxiety monster looms large in my decision making: what am I worth? The monster has a loud answer to that.
18 years ago, I started teaching. I had looked at what the job entailed and the salary and accepted the job. At that time, if I ran a revision class in the holidays or after hours I earned extra money: £15 for an hour; £120 for a full day. My time had a clear price and value. When someone else is setting your pay, it is easy to value your time as the decision is made for you. You decide whether you want to do that job at the rate you have been offered.
Time passed; funding was cut, pressure increased and so the revision classes ran more frequently and became unpaid. Those that refused to teach them were frowned upon, and those that ‘enjoyed’ their holiday put under a cloud of blame for future failures. Increased pressure meant it was often more important to the teacher than to the student that the student achieve their projected grade. In fact it was rare for people to refuse to teach for free in the holidays and after school. It became the accepted norm. I’m convinced that the scant value that my time had has contributed to my current struggle with the question of valuing my time.
For years a proportion of my time has been given for free. And although the value of the hours I have donated to schools and young people is clearly valuable, that time was not financially valued. Which brings me to today and the question;
‘How do I assign value to my time? What am I worth?’
I find this both challenging and complex. Especially as a small business when the received wisdom seems to be that you have to do lots of things free to get your name out there.
How do I value others?
Well, I always buy the same tea bags: Twinings Earl Grey. Once I bought Tesco’s finest own brand and… they were fine. My unsophisticated palate detected no difference at all. I resolved to buy them in future and I did for a while but in the end I drifted back to Twinings. I have never even tried Tesco value tea bags. I am not telling you this because I am setting my fees in order to keep me in Twinings Earl Grey tea. Rather, I have selected my tea bags based on price and assumed value. If our fees are too low people may assume we are the Tesco Value tea bags. Pricing yourself too low is as damaging as setting prices too high. I want to be the Twinings of board gaming: priced so that people see me as quality they can rely on. The other pitfall of low pricing is that it can then be difficult to raise your prices as you expand.
Equally, I don’t want to be Fortnum and Mason tea; (delicious as I’m sure it is) I don’t want to be an occasional treat that not everyone can afford. I want people to book me more than once and recommend me without having to caveat or explain my price.
When valuing others I consider the following:
  • How much can I afford?
  • How much is what they are offering worth? I consider their time, expertise and possible costs.
  • Can I get the same service elsewhere for a better price? The key here is ‘the same’, I don’t want to pay less and get a worse service, especially for important events. This means that I would research other services.
As I said earlier, my biggest struggle with all of this is over self worth. Judging by the conversations I’ve had with people recently – and I have to say it is mainly women that share this concern- I am not alone. When the voice in your head repeatedly tells you how worthless you are, it is hard enough without then having to create a price structure for your worthlessness. External arbiters then contribute to this because everyone is trying to get the best price and so inevitably I must convince people that I am worth it. Add to this the imbalance which exists between what men charge and what women charge and it is trickier still. Somehow I need to start this by convincing myself of my own self worth. I need to get all those techniques I learnt in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy out again and work through them again. Mental health is relentless, it is a constant battle of varying intensity. But I have passion and determination for my business and I will succeed.
Just as in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy when we learnt about ‘Being your own best friend’, in business I am being my own customer; treating myself how I would treat other businesses. I would expect to pay a fair rate for services rendered. This helps me because, for me, the ‘What am I worth?’ question is so anxiety ridden that I struggle with it. So, in addition to the questions above I also ask myself:
  • How much do I need to earn to be happy and keep the business strong?
  • How can I balance charges to ensure that my business is inclusive and accessible?
So, fellow worriers – apart from the mantra ‘Don’t be the tesco value teabags’, I may not have any answers – but perhaps by considering the questions we can move closer to some… ..I’m still working on this, and if like me you worry endlessly about the answers, know that you are not alone. How do we persuade ourselves we are the Twinings or the Tesco Finest of our endeavours?
How do you manage this thorny issue?
I would love to hear from you: advice, tips, experiences and thoughts.

That Anxiety Business. Again.

For a long time I adopted the ‘fake it till you make it’ approach to aspects of my mental health. It’s by no means a foolproof solution but it has got me through some difficult moments. It has allowed me to seem more confident than I often am and that in itself can make it easier to succeed. It definitely helps that I believe in Cards or Die passionately. I can look at any event and genuinely think ‘You know what would make this better? Board games. Lots of them.’
My most recent anxiety has centred around striking a balance between following up leads and pestering people. I look back on my first round of making contact with potential customers and feel that it was easy, nothing to worry about. Yet, when I give it proper consideration, I know that before I made those contacts I was just as anxious.
I find I am locked in a battle with myself. Again. I ought to know from my previous experience that people aren’t that scary. But it’s easy to forget that when you’re about to start pestering them to pay you to do a thing that they may never have realised they needed! And even easier when the anxiety in your brain is greedily licking its tentacles and waiting to ensnare you.
For some these sorts of worries can be countered by a simple internal dialogue:
You: What’s the worst that could happen?
Also you: They say no.
You: There, that’s no big deal is it?
But with my anxiety these internal dialogues often play out very differently.
Me: What’s the worst that could happen?
Me: They say no.
Me: There, that’s…
Me: (interrupting) and then they get angry and yell at me about wasting their time and how it’s a ridiculous idea that will never work
Me: But…
Me: And then they pick up the nearest blunt object and I try to run but the door’s locked…
And so it goes on. You get the picture. I’m mental. And not always in a fun way.
In the end I have risked the wrath of potential customers. Some people said yes, some said no, no-one attacked me with a blunt object for daring to ask them if they’d like to book me to run board games at their event. Even the ‘no’s have been pleasant encounters – some of them thank me for approaching them, lots of people have wished me luck and said what a great idea it is.
So, having fought and maimed this air drawn demon, I then had to face the horror that is follow up contact. As I’ve said past experience alone isn’t enough to placate this creature. It is concerned only with reinforcing negatives and doesn’t allow me to celebrate success for long. But, I drew myself up to my full height and readied myself for battle once more. And, guess what? It turns out that if people have already expressed an interest in booking you they don’t mind you getting in touch. Some of them even thank you- because people are busy and they sometimes just genuinely forget. Hopefully by recording this, in some way I can encourage my brain to remember this for the next phase.
I am adept at finding things to worry about and embarking on a new business has given ‘it’ plenty of opportunities to surface. It can be exhausting. But, at the moment I am at a really good positive point. I have contacted strangers, chased them up and they’ve booked me!
Why am I sharing this with you? Because if, like me, you’re a bit loopy then next time your brain helpfully kick starts a plethora of worst case scenarios which usually end in a world where cockroaches are the master race, you’ve just got a bit more ammo. You can tell it ‘Hang on- that crazy board games nerd managed it. So can I.’
And if this struggle is not something you regularly endure, then I’m glad. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading a little tale of moderate success in a big, scary world.

Blog the second – In which my Imposter Syndrome is cured and I apologise for over-sharing ‘the m

It started with an innocuous event: I drove past a hairdresser’s window with a sign which proudly began
‘With over 10 years experience…’
My automatic negative thoughts responded instantly:
‘Oh my God, I’ve just started a business, I can’t put that. I have no experience AT ALL. I’m an idiot…’
Then, before the internal verbal abuse took hold, ‘something very strange’ happened: I answered. From deep within me, a different voice spoke, a voice I have tried (with varied success) to reach through countless CBT* strategies. And that strange but very welcome voice responded:
‘With over 40 years experience of board gaming…’
And there it was. Gone.
Now, I’m not an idiot (contrary to what some people – including part of me- may think) and I know it will take more than this. But it is still a massive step in the right direction for me.
My Imposter Syndrome and the general state of my mental health is perhaps best summarised by one of my inktober creations:
I have been plagued by self doubt for as long as I can remember. My own self doubt, and the part of me that actively hates me, gleefully seized onto the idea of Imposter Syndrome, then worked closely with they-who-shall-not-be-named (OFSTED) and Michael Gove, to systematically destroy me and to reduce a job I loved to a set of sticks to beat myself with.
Even in the dark times, this usually made me smile.
It is hard living with a person who you hate with a desperate sincerity. Don’t get me wrong, I have tried not to give in to ‘her’ -that nasty part of me who is so unforgiving- and I would never let her speak to other people the way she speaks to me. I have battled the air drawn monsters of my mind with varying levels of success and exhaustion. But that day, that moment, felt like victory. I had dealt a fatal blow. Surely she can’t have many life points left.
For the first time ever, the response was heartfelt, not the rehearsed mantras or stock CBT responses, which all work but sometimes even the edges of these seem a little frayed.
So, it is with untold pleasure and pride that I present my response to you:
‘With over 40 years experience of board gaming (including a dark period of being ‘too young to play Colditz, you’ll just ruin it), Cards or Die has all the gaming nerdery you’ll ever need.’
p.s. I take it back, I’m not sorry I shared this.
*cognitive behavioural therapy