Eight Games

This month Ellie Dix over at Dark Imp games – ingenious creator of the fabulous Buzzle Box and the Christmas Cracker games – asked me to choose eight different games for eight different scenarios. Head over to their website to find out which ones I chose…

Making Games for the Family

My favourite homework to be asked for help with is, unsurprisingly, ‘make a board game of…’ And with the kids going ‘back to school’ on Monday I thought I would share some game making ideas that all the family can get on board with!
They require varying amounts of equipment/ technology and assistance and will appeal to different ages. I haven’t assigned ages to the games – you know your children and now we are at home we can educate them based on what is most appropriate to their needs rather than what month and year they were born in. Things like dice and pawns may be useful for some of them but just use whatever you have to hand – raid the plastic farm animals or the kinder egg toys! No dice? Remember the spinners you used to get on the back of selection boxes? You could spend some time engineering one of those and doing some testing and refining to make sure it is truly random.
You will need: Thin paper, a thicker grade of paper or card, string or tape.
1. Cut out your kippers from the thin paper (traditionally newspaper was used)
2. Make sure they are all identical sizes (you don’t want any unfairness – believe me!).
3. Write names on the kippers.
4. Lay out a starting line and a finish line on the floor.
5. Space the kippers out along the starting line.
6. On ‘Go’ players have to use their thicker piece of paper or card to waft their Kipper repeatedly until it makes it over the finish line.
Educational Value: It depends on how much you let the children do, the cutting out can help them practice their finer motor skills. It’s also surprisingly athletic!!
Snakes and Ladders
You will need: a patio is ideal for this, if not just some concrete and a tape measure, chalks, a sunny day, dice.
Or, a sheet of card, a ruler, colours, dice.
1. Draw out your board taking care to measure the squares 1- 100.
2. Add Snakes and Ladders to your drawing making sure they start and end clearly inside your marked squares.
3. Roll the dice – if you are outside, you can move yourself the number of spaces you roll or if you are playing on a smaller scale move your pawn.
4. If you land on a snake’s head you slip down the snake back to the square its tail ends in.
5. If you land on a ladder you climb up to the space the ladder ends in.
Educational Value: this game involves drawing snakes (the more colourful the better) and ladders. If you wanted, you could do some research and draw some different breeds of snakes. You will need to accurately measure the spaces if you are drawing the board.
If you are playing outside make sure you are respecting the social distancing rules. #stayhome #staysafe
Guess Who!
You will need: a camera, a selection of fancy dress – e.g. hats, glasses, wigs!, cardboard, a printer. I had menu card holders but you don’t need these.
1. Take photos of the family in a variety of poses/ outfits. Or, find existing photos of yourselves. When I made our version for the wedding I was surprised by how often myself and my partner wear different hats – it proved very useful. You need a variety of photos so that you will be able to deduce which image your opponent has in front of them.
2. Print out the photos. You will need three copies of each – you may want to use different colours on the reverse side to differentiate the three decks.
3. Lay out two decks face up – one facing each player.
4. Players choose a card from the third deck (Keep it hidden)
5. Take turns to ask closed questions (yes or no answers only) until you have deduced which card your opponent has.
e.g. Q. Has yours got sunglasses on?
A. No
Person who asked the question turns all the ones with sunglasses on facedown.
Educational Value: computer skills – photos can be edited, photography skills including uploading the photos. The game itself uses questioning and deduction skills.
Themed Top Trumps
You will need: Card – cut into card sized rectangles, colours, pens.
1. Decide on your topic and then decide what headings your cards will have. Choose about 5 headings for categories e.g. height, strength, intellect, danger….
2. Research your topic finding different people, creatures, vehicles, characters, deities… to go on your cards.
3. On each card add an image, a short summary – some interesting facts about the subject of the card, then 5 numbers – one for each heading.
4. For each category think about what will be the highest number and what will be the lowest. They don’t all have to have the same range but you do want a good variety in your cards.
5. When your deck is complete, shuffle it and deal out the cards.
6. Turn over your top card, choose a category and challenge your opponent. Whoever has the highest number wins. The first to lose all their cards is the loser.
Educational Value: research. This really invites some in depth study of a subject or hobby. You can use art or computing skills depending on whether you are drawing or printing cards out.
Beetle Drive
You will need: Dice, Paper, Pencils.
Most of us probably remember Beetle Drive or some variation of it from our childhood. You can mix it up by using different animals instead of beetles if you like.
1. You must roll a 6 to start and when you roll 6 you may draw the beetle’s head.
2. There are other parts which must be drawn in order – e.g. you cannot draw the legs until you have drawn the body.
3. Play continues in a clockwise direction with everyone taking a turn to roll the dice and then draw if they get the number they need. However, you can abandon the turn taking and make it into a race by giving each player a dice of their own.
Educational Value: This encourages children to recognise numbers and the number patterns on the dice.
I made a cat version but you could do any animal or creature you like. I also did a Zombie version for Halloween.
You will need: card, scissors, pencil, colours, images of people.
1. You can either draw people or cut out pictures of people and glue them to the card.
If you are drawing people it may help to draw lines across the card where the segments will be cut.
2. Then carefully cut each person into the same number of segments. In the original game that is hat, face, body and arms and legs.
3. Shuffle the cards then deal out the same amount to each player. Leave the rest in a draw pile.
4. The first person to shout that they have a hat in their hand (or just a head if you are playing with less segments) goes first.
5. Take turns to add to the misfit on the table or start a new one with a hat card.
6. If you add a leg to a misfit the person who plays the matching leg takes the misfit and puts it in a pile in front of them.
7. Legs have to match in order to play the second leg card.
8. The winner is the person with the most misfits in front of them at the end.
Educational Value: Art and creativity.
You will need: card, scissors, glue, magazines, newspapers, greetings cards, brochures, junk mail, a way of keeping score, voting chips and at least 3 players. In order to create the cards it would first help to understand how the game is to be played so I will explain that first.
1. Choose a card from your hand and say something about it – that can be a word, a phrase, a lyric, a line from a film.
2. Everyone else then chooses a card from their hand which matches with what you said. They give you the card.
3. Shuffle the cards and lay them out face up.
4. Everyone (except you) must vote for which they think is your card.
5. If some people guess correctly both you and those who got it correct score 3 points.
But, if everybody or nobody correctly identifies your card – you score 0.
6. Everyone who received a vote on their card earns one point for every vote they received.
Because of the way the game plays the cards are delightfully abstract, strange and detailed. There are always lots of different ways of looking at them and a variety of things to say about them.
You could make a fantastic set of cards using drawing, collage and a free imagination. If you have the game you could add them to your deck.
If you are interested in getting a copy of the game it’s on sale at Travelling Man Leeds.
Educational Value: Art for arts sake! The exploration and creation of art is a fantastic escape from the stresses and strains of the everyday. The game itself is very imaginative with beautiful illustrations. There is also the challenge of distilling down the image on the card into a word or phrase.
Or… just ‘Make a Board Game’
You will need: whatever you like- your imagination is the only boundary here – pens, paints, chalks, paper, cardboard (use a cereal packet cut open), the recycling bin contents, pebbles, pawns, toy dragons, toy dinosaurs, a dice or spinner.
You can make it as big as your garden or tiny – to fit in an old matchbox.
You can research the theme – vikings, dinosaurs, whales… or you can make it entirely fictitious, from the depths of your marvellous brain.
I’d love to see your creations if you’ve been inspired by these ideas. Share your pictures with me over on Facebook or on Twitter.

Eeeek It’s nearly time for Airecon.

Last year was my first Airecon. Airecon is an analog gaming convention which takes place in Harrogate next weekend (8,9 &10 March). We had a fab time playing loads of games from the library and we also learnt how to play Quirk!, Azul, Sagrada and had a game of giant Tsuro. I also treated myself to some new games. I’m looking forward to more of the same this year…
1. The Pre Airecon Warm Up!
I’m really excited to be working with Bez at Airecon this year – I’ll be demoing and teaching Wibbell++. We’re starting early though with a pre Airecon warm up night at The Abbey Inn, Bramley – which will include some Wibbell++ tournaments and maybe even some Yogi. It’s particularly special to me as it marks two years since my launch event at The Abbey so it would be great to see lots of you there. I’ve come a long way in two years. I have moved the business from a potentially crazy idea to an actual business. I know I keep banging on about it but I’m delighted to have been nominated for Best Independent Business in the Yorkshire Choice awards, I’ve been in the Yorkshire Evening Post and I’m going to be on BBC Radio Leeds on the 18th from 2 till 3pm with Liz Greene. When I held the launch party I genuinely had no idea whether the business would work or not I was just going to give it a shot. And two years on Cards or Die is moving from strength to strength. So join us and celebrate. We’ll have some prizes and you can get your gaming brains ready for Airecon!
2. New Games
When I say new games I mean of course that I will be scouring every inch of the bring and buy as well as maybe treating myself to a ‘new new’ game. Last year I came away with Spy Ring which is an absolute classic, Orcs Orcs Orcs and Resistance which are great games too. Handily Mother’s Day falls at the end of March so my super organised children also bought me games – my favourite of which was Honshu. So kids – this is your annual reminder: Mother’s Day is coming – buy some games. On a completely unrelated note I still don’t have a copy of this….. just saying…
3. Team Trevor
Some time ago I got myself added to a list on the internet. Don’t worry – it’s a good list. Janice off of Wren Games created a list of people who engaged in conversations and gave feedback on games related chat and then suggested we should name the list. @BSoMT suggested Trevor and a monster was born -the kind of monster that you have a lot of affection for.
@EarthtoGames described us as ‘a group of like minded twitterers within the board game community with hearts of pure gold and helpful minds to match’. The group constantly expands – anyone can join the group and the chat just use #teamtrevor and add to the nonsense/ high quality gaming ideas.
Many of Team Trevor will be at Airecon and I can not wait to meet them in real life. I have been active on Twitter for two years and many of these people regularly support me and the business so I am very excited about meeting them. I am also slightly nervous that they will realise I’m an idiot but I feel like if you’ve followed me on twitter for two years and haven’t figured that out then that’s your own problem.
4. Open Gaming
The greatest thing about Airecon for me is the amount of open gaming space. As I have said many times before board gaming for me is all about getting together with people – connecting with people. I hope to be spending some time with my family playing new games and having fun together and I know that while I’m working that’s what they’ll be doing (as well as the obligatory bickering about rules). Travelling Man is providing the games library this year so there’s going to be an epic selection of games again.
Airecon is going to be awesome. I can not wait! (1)

A week in war time games.

Board gaming for me is all about bringing people together and I’ve done that every day this week at The Royal Armouries in Leeds. There’s still Sunday left to come and see us. A whopping 1095 people have visited Cards or Die and stayed for a game or two (or more), I’ve told stories about the games, taught people how to play and more importantly listened to stories about and inspired by the games. I love listening to people’s tales and games are often the perfect jumping off point for a great story. People handle the boxes and the memories come – trickling at first, then flooding the senses giving brief glimpses of the past. I have enjoyed snippets of conversation overheard – ‘I’ve got a copy of that in my parents’ attic”We had that exact one”My Grandad made us one of those’.
Tiddly Winks
Picking up a box of tiddly winks a lady in a wheelchair laughed and told me that years ago she was being patronised by a group of – as she referred to them – hooray Henrys – who were expressing their sorrow that she would never be able to take part in any sport. She informed them that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact she and her friend were the UK underwater tiddlywinks champions. She explained to them, at length, the excitement and danger of this niche sport – ‘if you get a tiddly wink in your snorkel it can be fatal’; how vital it is that you always ‘tiddle before you wink’ – her friend went to the loo at this point unable to conceal her laughter any longer. The Henrys were gripped by these tales of high energy, dare devil tiddlywinking. I like to think that at some point in the thirty years that followed it has dawned on them.
This MB classic has been one of the most played games of the week – at times all four copies were in use. A child announced – “we’ve played this on your phone – but here it is ‘in real life’!” As a child who was not allowed to own battleship because ‘it’s a waste of money – you just need a piece of paper and a pencil’ I can fully understand the excitement of the real thing!
On Tuesday as they left, a group of people who had played Battleship were promising their children that they would get some games out when they got home. It’s lovely to be able to share something of our childhood with our own children.
One group came in and asked about playing Risk. I said they would need a couple of hours or could play for a while and just see who was in the lead. ‘Oh no,’ they said ‘we’re not staying that long.’ Then they sat and played battleship for two hours! I love that about games – you can get thoroughly lost in a game and have no idea how long you have been playing. Often we rush about and feel like there is never enough time for anything so it is a luxury to be able to lose ourselves in an activity, to be consumed by it and escape reality for a while.
Shut The Box
Another favourite from this week. People of all ages have played – from tiny ones adding up on their fingers and studiously counting each dot on the dice as they didn’t yet recognise the patterns to Grandmas and Grandads playing on their own while they waited for the children and grandchildren to finish on the crossbow range next door.
This ridiculous game is as luck based as it is addictive – you are trapped endlessly rolling the dice in an attempt to get the exact number needed to ‘shut the box’. I taught it to some people who had never played it before – while demonstrating it once I shut the box. As newcomers to the game they did not understand my elation and said how easy it seemed. ‘Ha!’ I said – ‘take it, play it… you will see’. I popped over to see how they were getting on. The youngest child (while continually rolling dice) ‘It’s a stupid game really, I mean I’m just rolling dice and putting numbers down. You don’t need any skill. You just need to roll dice and add up. It’s just luck’
Me: ‘You can’t stop, can you?’
Him: ‘No!’
This- this is the intrinsic genius of Shut The Box.
Hearts Vs Minecraft
Hearts is the oldest game in my collection. From 1914, billed as an ‘exciting letter game’ from Parker Brothers, its delicate paper dice shaker contains 6 red dice with gold letters on. You have three turns to try to roll the word HEARTS. Simple but lovely and very much of its time.
It also contains advice on how to learn games which I think is priceless and still relevant:
A family played it for a while and really enjoyed it. I don’t think it was ‘exciting’ by today’s standards, but their five year old adored it and succeeded in spelling out hearts over and over again. On the way out they said they had all spent a while in the minecraft session and while the children had thoroughly enjoyed it, the adults had felt a bit out of their depth – a bit left out. They were delighted to spend this time all playing together, enjoying each others company.
When I tell people what I do, they often make the assumption that it’s ‘for kids’ but it really isn’t. At least not exclusively. Board games are for everyone. They are for coming together across boundaries of age, experience, knowledge… and having fun. For grown ups it’s a much needed opportunity to play and forget about adulting for a while and for families it can be a lovely opportunity to get off your screens and just be together.
Sum It
Sum It finally made it out of its box and on to the table. A very simple game in theory, I have been unable to get my head round playing it as I have no grasp of adding up in old money. One visitor remembered being whacked whenever he got his sums wrong but he still remembers how to add up in pre-decimalisation currency and could convert it too. I’m not great at Maths and I’m pretty sure hitting me every time I got it wrong wouldn’t have helped me – although it probably would have got me out of the education system and into work a lot sooner!
Possibly the oldest game known to mankind. It is certainly an ancient game and came in very handy for helping with homework this week. Two children are going away with photos, stories and hastily googled details about mancala. It is another simple game in so far as there are few rules to grapple with and yet there is plenty of strategy to consider. Being an ancient game there are always variations on the rules to stumble upon. A couple told me that they had seen it on a holiday in Egypt carved into a wall top in an ancient temple. Google helpfully suggests that it was perhaps Karnak, Luxor or Kurna.
Nine Men’s Morris
Another game that is simple to learn with a decent amount of strategy and also popular in Roman times. One visitor explained that he had seen it carved into sandstone in South Africa. Unlike more sophisticated strategy games evenly matched players or those with enough experience of the game can eventually force a draw. People also speculated on the name – one person asking if it was to do with Morris dancing – something that crossed my mind before I played it. This has since prompted me to look it up and it seems that in Morris Dancing and Nine Men’s Morris the word morris has different origins. The popular theory is that Morris Dancing comes from either ‘Morey’s daunce’ or Morisco (often associated with Moorish traditions from the mid 15th Century). The Morris in nine men’s Morris derives from the latin word merellus meaning game piece.
Over the week a whole range of games have been played by all different people. I expected that a lot of people would enjoy looking at Risk and Escape from Colditz, I didn’t think they’d get played but even they made it on to the table. While playing this I heard the story of a polish man, a friend of someone’s Grandma who had escaped Warsaw by strangling a guard and swimming the river.
A lady who picked up Ludo and asked if I remembered Frustration. Yes, I said and handed her the copy – just as she was telling me that the one she had as a child was a popomatic one. She grinned at me, took it and played it with her son. He loved popping it and she loved being able to play a game from her childhood with her son.
I’ve delighted in the post-its that went home with games written on – Abalone, Shut The Box, Mancala, The Grizzled – to look up and buy. As well as the promise of games once relegated to cupboards, caravans and attics which will now be freed.
The modern games have been a joy too. Being in a room full of laughter and animal noises is bizarre but lovely. Charades was originally a French game which actually involved solving riddles. Later, as a Victorian Parlour game it took on the form we recognise now where people act things out while others guess what they are doing. It has always been a popular game and remains so now. I brought along modern variations on the theme and so people have played Charades, Animal Ailments, all three versions of Quirk!, Obama Llama (1 and 2), Soundiculous and Randomise. These are games that bring joy to people and it has been fantastic to watch and hear them played.
My favourites, of course, are the slightly grumpy teens. I taught them for seventeen years and now I live with some – you’ve got to love them. A father and a young child settled down to a game of Mancala while the teenagers sat staring into the distance looking disgruntled. I had run through some of the games with them when they arrived but they were unimpressed. 10 minutes into Mancala, I noticed they had started watching the game. I took the second copy over and sure enough moments later they were engrossed in a game too. Often to win the war what is needed is a series of small victories.
So this blog or random collection of tales comes to a close. I’ve had a fabulous week and I hope to see lots of you at events soon. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter to make sure you don’t miss out.

War Time Gaming.

Every day over half term (16-24th February) Cards or Die will be joining the Royal Armouries Leeds in their War Games exhibition. I’m choosing a selection of war themed games and war time games from our collection for you to play or just have a look at. There will be loads of activities on throughout the week – you can see weaponry commonly found in video games, take part in historical and sci-fi scale model gaming, take part in a cyber mission and see war gaming demos.
Here are some of the games Cards or Die will be bringing along:
Blow Football
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Touring England_edited
Playing Cards
Playing cards have been around for centuries and were certainly in both sets of trenches, on all sides of the wars, in homes and in kit bags. By carrying a deck of cards you are carrying an endless selection of games: games of skill, strategy, bluff, luck, push your luck – all the key game mechanics are here. Many of those classic games are still played today – Rummy, Whist, Pontoon, Old Maid, Bridge, Cribbage … the list is endless. Even simple childhood games like snap and Happy Families or Go Fish provide the basis for some great modern card games. Dobble, Twin It, Anomia, Who Did It? all use Snap as their basic premise.
As well as providing a pastime in the trenches, cards provided opportunities for propoganda – the Germans produced decks which depicted German heroes or caricatures of the enemy. Decks of cards were also used to educate – some decks were used to teach basic French vocabulary, while others showed the colours of the allies to help with recognition. Of course just as we do now, people would come together over the games – sharing their experiences and memories, teaching their favourites from home. At a time of shortages cards were the perfect game – cheap to produce and most households would have a couple of old packs of cards they could hand down to bored children.
Word Games
Word Games like Lexicon from 1932 and Kan-U-Go also from the 1930s remained popular for years. I remember Kan-U-Go from our caravan holidays as a child (and I’m not *that* old). Later this penchant for word games led to the development of scrabble.
Family board games.
  • Snakes and Ladders actually dates back to the late 1800s and has always been loved by children. I don’t still have my childhood copy but I do have the wooden shaker that came with it; I still like the sound and feel of it. A simple game that doesn’t take too long and I remember really loving the pictures on mine. Now I have a lovely cloth bag version from M&S. Side note I did a Women’s Institute booking and one of the ladies said it was her favourite game – I expressed surprise and she explained that every time you go down a snake you drink a gin! We won’t be playing this version at The Royal Armouries but I thought I’d share the suggestion!
  • Sorry 1929 – like so many traditional family games this is sure to end in tears. It is very similar in principle to Frustration, Headache, Ludo and its German sibling ‘Mensch ärgere dich nicht’ which literally translates as ‘don’t get angry, mate’. You move around the board landing on people and sending them back to their original base to start again.
  • Cluedo and Monopoly from the 1940s have remained international family favourites and have been treated to many specialised editions. I’ve even seen a Big Bang Theory Cluedo. Many people start with these classics and then move on to bigger and (many would argue better) board games. Monopoly had a very special role in the second world war as Waddingtons manufactured editions with maps, real money and fake documents to be sent to prisoners of war. While I will still happily play Cluedo, I’m not so keen on Monopoly. You can read my further thoughts on that here.
A friend whose brother was in the Navy told me about this one. The rules can vary depending on who you ask -so before you settle down to a game it’s always best to check which house rules you’ll be adopting. Based on Ludo it can be played on a Ludo board but an Uckers board is actually a mirror image. Often Ludo boards were used or hand made boards.
Just as in Ludo you must get all four pieces home before your opponents, if you land on an opponent they are ‘ucked off’ back to the starting point. Once you reach home referred to as ‘the tube’ or ‘pipe’ your pieces are usually safe (although some versions have rules allowing ‘suckback’ or ‘blowback’). Rules vary on whether you need to roll the exact number required to get home.
If your dice goes off the board three times (a ‘bum’ roll) it is declared “off the IPS” (International Playing Surface), you incur a punishment such as losing a turn. Rolls that knock other people’s counters out of place are also considered ‘bum’ or ‘cocky’ rolls and incur penalties.
To start moving round the board you must roll a 6 and place a piece on to the ‘doorstep’ (the first space). A roll of snake eyes triggers ‘out all bits’ which means all of your pieces, and in some versions your opponents too, come out on to your doorstep. Each dice may be used to move a different piece or you use the sum of the dice to move one piece.
Landing on your own piece creates a blob (like a barrier in Frustration or Headache) which prevents opponents from passing but your own pieces can move past. Blobs can be destroyed by landing on them with another blob or ‘sixed’ by rolling a 6 plus the number of pieces making up the blob. Destroyed blobs are sent back to the start. In a two player game, where players have two colours you may end up with a ‘mixi blob’ of two of your own colours – this works as a barrier but can be sent back by landing on it with a single piece. Blobs may be moved around the board but you need to roll doubles.
People who argue over the rules are encouraged to check the underside of the board where the rules are said to be recorded. In fact all they will find are the names of previous sore losers who have ‘upboarded’ either deliberately or in a fit of pique thereby forfeiting the game.
These are just the basic rules but there are advanced adaptations too. I don’t have an actual Uckers board but I’ll have the Ludo board so feel free to have a go at Uckers on it!
We’ll also bring a selection of War Themed Games from Battleships to Homelands.
What will you play first?
Read more here – World War 1 Remembered
Play these and other awesome games at a Cards or Die event.
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Risk. Why is it so loved?

I finally got round to playing Risk for the first time last weekend. When I tell people what I do for a living, there’s a list of games that always come up and Risk is one of them. People have fond memories of playing Risk for hours and I think perversely that has always put me off.
Often the games that trigger fond reminiscences just don’t stand up to scrutiny.
‘Have you got Sorry?’
‘Yes’, I say, handing them a vintage copy.
‘Wow, I remember this. This is the exact one we had.’ they reply, handling the box in awe. Then they carefully put it back and play something else.
‘Have you got Mousetrap?’
‘I loved that when I was a kid. You should get it.’
‘Did you? Or, did you love the idea of it but in reality it took loads of turns to build only to discover you’d forgotten to put the spring in the helping hand. Or the diver veered slightly to the left of the bath tub?’
And then they remember. Blind nostalgia falls away and they remember how bloody irritating it was.
When they ask for Risk I say I have it. In fact I have two copies – a retro version and a modern ‘speed play’ version. Yet few people actually play it, because – they say – because of the time it takes. This has just made me sceptical. Is it the serious gamer’s Mousetrap? Will I be Sorry?
The length of time a game takes has also become a factor. If I’m donating hours of my time, it had better be good. My favourite games are usually shorter. I’d rather play 2 or 3 games than devote an entire evening or day to one game. There are exceptions of course – The Harry Potter Battle Game, Arkham Horror, Forbidden Desert…Not that Forbidden Desert is itself a long game – it’s just that if you won’t stop until you’ve won, you need to set aside a decent amount of time. Pausing between games only to say ‘right’ in a suitably determined tone of voice.
So if you’ve never played Risk or you haven’t played for years and years, there are two questions we need to consider:
Is it really that great?
Why is it so loved?
These are my musings after my first game, a discussion with an enthusiast and some ideas from a twitter conversation.
What’s it all about?
To win the game you must either take over the world. (Bonus points to me for not inserting the Pinky and the Brain gif – again). Or, you can fulfil a special mission for instance kill all the yellow troops, occupy 24 territories or conquer certain continents. The mission cards are optional – they limit the game, making it shorter and more achievable.
Plays 2-6
Age 10+
Time – the rest of your life. Not really – we played for three hours but now that I get it I imagine it would stretch out more. Strategising rather than invading other countries with no plan always takes longer and is a surer way to win!
Official Hasbro timing 1- 8 hours
What you said.
A few people agreed it relied too much on luck while others felt that there was balance between strategy and luck. Broadly, people agreed that they enjoyed it when they were younger or first introduced to more complex games. It can teach strategic game play, the importance of the placement of resources or people and many other games were certainly influenced by it which positions it as a good introductory game for war games or games in general.
Its status as a classic seems unanimously agreed – but then does that mean you should play it or like many ‘classics’ just that it retains a special place in your affections and memories never to emerge from its box again?
The balance of strategy and luck.
The strategy begins right from the off – the placement of your troops should be informed by a longer term plan. Grouping your weeny soldiers together strengthens their claim to a territory. Straightaway you are balancing up the taking of smaller (low value) continents which are potentially easier to take and maintain with higher risk targets that are worth more. Countries with more borders are worth more but are also easier to attack and harder to retain control of.
While I enjoy strategy games, I often prefer a game which has an element of luck to it. I feel like it removes too much predictability – which is important to me (especially when the predictable factor is me getting beaten again!!). I am a big fan of push your luck games, I enjoy the risk and the thrill. It is wholly appropriate that Risk has some push your luck elements. ‘Sod it, I might be totally outnumbered but I reckon I can roll higher dice than you. Yes I’m sure I’ll attack’.
The dice throws add a welcome luck based element to Risk – they decide the winners and losers of battles over territory. The dice are stacked in the defenders favour. So even here there are decisions to make – the number of troops you attack with governs how many dice you can roll and you must weigh that against the fact the odds are not in your favour. You can redress this imbalance by building up troops here but that relies on the person you intend to attack being busy elsewhere and not attacking you!
As the game progresses you are rewarded for your victories with increased reinforcements. Everyone gets reinforcements but this increases with the number of territories you control. This means that for novice players it can be frustrating as you watch others consolidate their powers while you just slip further and further back. It doesn’t mean that the game is over by any means it just makes it harder once you get behind. I felt I was almost waiting for someone to miss something or make a mistake. As I said I’m not a massive fan of super long games and I could see myself becoming disheartened with this set up. A more determined person, perhaps more of a long term strategist would, I’m sure rise to the challenge here and enjoy it.
I can also see that with more players and more experience of the game there is also room to make alliances and pacts to prevent one player becoming too powerful. But these alliances are temporary and will end in betrayal which gives the game an edge that many (but not me) would enjoy.
What have we learnt?
We have learnt that you can’t just invade countries with no strategy – you will lose. You also can’t invade a country and then just abandon your territory – you must leave at least one ‘troop’ behind to defend the country. The better you do, the better you will do – your gains accumulate.
While I may not play Risk again for a while, I’m glad I’ve played it. If you enjoyed it years ago or if you’ve never played it I would definitely recommend having a game. It’s enjoyable, it gets your brain working and above all it teaches you vital skills for if you ever fancy taking over the world.
Cards or Die will be at The Royal Armouries with War Games and war time games including Risk from February 16th until February 24th.

Come along to a Cards or Die event.

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.

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.
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Halloween Games!

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