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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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Gobblin’ Goblins and the importance of biscuits.

I need to start this review by coming clean. People have understandable reservations about trusting the veracity of some reviews, especially when the reviewer got a free copy of the game. It is true, I did get a free copy but it’s worse than that. I won. I actually won. I even won the first game! All I can say is – bear that in mind as you read the review. My victory doesn’t invalidate the review but it may make it insufferably smug.
I’ve won all the badges!
This raises an interesting philosophical question which probably needs exploring in greater depth (lying on a couch maybe). Am I a naturally smug winner or if I won more often would I be less of a ** when I won?
** insert expletive of choice here.
Mmmm, scabs….
The first game was such a good first game with so much variety that at no point was the phrase ‘Who shuffled these?’ uttered. I think that’s a pretty good start.
Best Bits.
As we know by now, I’m all about the art and I love the art work on these cards. Not only are the Goblin characters beautifully illustrated – hang on, ‘strikingly’ illustrated- but the details on the cards are lovely. Erm… not lovely… brilliant. To quote Mark as he picked up White Dog Poo, “These are disgustingly specific”. Much as though many people reflect nostalgically about the demise of white dog poo, no-one wants it in their hand.
The descriptions of the food add to the entertainment of the game – especially if you read them in your best M&S* voice.
*careful with the letter order there – that’s a different kind of voice altogether.
All of the description is well crafted. Having banged on at kids for 17 years about ‘making every word count’ in their writing, I can say that every word on these cards has earned it’s place and I appreciate both the craft and the graft of that.
Sharks? With lazers? Deal me in. Show me where to click.
How do you win?
Well, as an accomplished winner I am uniquely placed to explain this. To win (as I did) your Goblin has to gobble the most cards but watch out; gobble the wrong colour or foods your goblin hates and you will lose points. Gobbling fave foods and biscuits, on the other hand, will gain you bonus points. Try to nom the extra tasty biscuit (like I did) to secure your victory.
A good, simple premise. However… your opponents will try to force you to eat foods you are allergic to, will snatch foods from your plate or even make you vomit up part digested foods. Goblins are not only gross, they’re also quite rude.
Action cards add enough strategy to make it fun and the interplay of the characters’ special abilities adds depth.
I also love that it plays up to 12 people which makes it great for parties. It is already getting lots of love at home and my son took it to his after school games club where it had an equally positive response. I can’t wait to take it to my upcoming events.
N.B. I am happy to offer tutorials but unfortunately, I can not guarantee that you, like me, will be a winner. I assume it’s still fun if you lose. Back it and find out!
It’s just about to be dished up on Kickstarter – and it’s already ready to serve as far as we’re concerned. Update it smashed the Kickstarter and is available for purchase.
You might also enjoy Arkosa.
Check out their website for more grossness:
Come along and play this at a Cards or Die event.
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To summerise… how to build character over the Summer Hols without getting cold or wet.

This summer holiday I have added yet more games to the Cards or Die menu of gaming loveliness, most of which have been pocket sized and easy to travel with.
Two of our recent additions are Fluxx (Zombie) and We Didn’t Playtest This At All. Based on similar theories of brutality, speed and chaos they are both great fun and I am convincing myself that they are character building. I’m basing this on the fact that so far everytime we’ve played, at least one of the children has stormed off in a strop or fought back tears of defeat whilst wailing ‘But I had a plan’ or ‘I’d nearly won’. As a parent, I feel I am duty bound to describe this as character building. Amazingly, and perhaps despite their character building qualities, they have all been keen to play both games again.
A quick comparison
Zombie Fluxx We Didn’t Playtest This
Playing Time 10-40mins 1-5mins
Players 2-6 2-10
Age 8+ 13+
Difficulty D6 D6*
Predictability Low Low
Fun High High
* Basic- you can play this whilst imbibing fine wines
Both games allow you to strategise but you must be prepared to adapt, ditching one strategy and adopting a completely new one on a minute by minute basis. And sometimes you will lose just because and there is nothing you could have done to prevent it. Which can feel arbitrary and unfair. Because it is. If you object to Exploding Kittens or Uno on the basis that they are too reliant on luck and not strategic enough then these are not the games for you. But… if you want to build character then look no further.
A bit more summery….
(Summer – summary….do you see what I did there? If you’ve groaned that is the response I wanted. Thank you)


As the name suggests Fluxx is about constant change. Nothing is fixed. You begin with a hand of three cards and The Basic Rules: draw 1 then play 1. From there on in, it all goes to hell in a handcart. Players can introduce new rules which affect how many you draw, play and discard. New rules take effect immediately so if you place a draw 3 card on top of the basic rule card you immediately draw another two cards.
At the beginning you are goal-less. No one knows what they need to do to win. Madness I tell you! As soon as a player places a goal card then this dictates which cards you must have to win. New goals can be placed at any time cancelling out the previous card. One minute you need a shotgun and a chainsaw to win and the next you need a car and some gasoline: one minute you’re squaring up to fight and the next you are running away screaming.
Just like a normal goal except if you fulfil these conditions, you all die. The Zombie Apocalypse is complete.
A good tip is to place these face up in front of you as soon as you can. You will need some random combination of these to win.
Action cards are used once and then discarded. “Simply” follow the instructions on the card to lend yet more chaos to the game.
These are played automatically, often have negative effects, and can prevent you from winning.
You can play without the zombies – but who in their right mind would leave these visions of loveliness out?
f you love Fluxx you should definitely give We Didn’t Playtest This At All a go. It has less rules, less structure and less sense. It’s also faster so you’ll be a strong resilient gamer in no time. (Remember when you want to throw the cards at your opponent and scream something sweary about fairness a. life’s not fair and b. it’s character building)
We Didn’t Playtest This At All
(Best played with a banana)
To play you draw 2 cards and play 1, following the instructions on the card as you place it.
For example, you ask opponents ‘Do you want a present?’ Card types appear more than once so although Yes is a safe answer for one card (who doesn’t like presents) No is a safer answer when the present attacks and kills you. There is barely time to reflect on your safe escape from the reaches of a poisonous gift snake before you are working out whether to put your finger on your nose or not while someone counts to 4.
Chaos Cards add extra depth* to the game… for example you may not point, you must address players by a different nickname before each draw.
Delicious. Ridiculous. Nonsense. A great party game.
*whimsical twaddle
Come along to a Cards or Die event and try them out.