Christmas Gift Guide – Games of course!

I firmly believe that there isn’t an age limit on games. Maybe it was because I was raised on games that proudly boasted their upper limit as 99 years of age. The likes of Spears, Waddingtons and MB knew all along that good games are good for everyone. As adults we don’t play enough. It can sometimes feel like we wait to have children around to give us the excuse to be daft, to let go of our inhibitions and immerse ourselves in play.
Play for the sake of play is perfectly valid but if that isn’t reason enough then think about the other benefits – the escapism of games, the mindfulness of them, the exercise for your brain.
And it’s not just me who thinks so…
“Play leads to brain plasticity, adaptability, and creativity. Nothing fires up the brain like play.” Stuart Brown
“Play stimulates the parts of the brain involved in both careful logical reasoning and carefree, unbound exploration.” Greg McKeown.
So for that reason I haven’t organised these by age or, god forbid, gender. If you want to know what sort of games ‘women’ like then I really can’t help you. At all.
I’ve included a wide variety so there’s just a short description of each game – give me a shout if you want any more details. Each title takes you to a website where you can buy the game – I’ve used amazon a lot for ease but you might want to also look on Zatu Games , Goblin Games or pop into a real life shop like Travelling Man.
Gross Games
These are some of my most popular pub games, it’s not just children who find poo inherently amusing. Quick to learn and fairly quick to play. most of these require a reading age of about 7.
You are monkeys flinging poo at each other. Use cards to deflect poo aimed at you or to clean some poo off. You’ll need some way of keeping score – I went for brown counters of course!
Easy to play – the instructions are on the cards.
Work out which animal did the poo in the living room! Race to get rid of all your cards by being the quickest to match the last card played and making plausible accusations! A cross between snap and a memory game. No reading is required in this one.
This is a swear free take on the classic ‘shithead’, also handily has action cards so you don’t have to begin by trying to remember which card does what! Be the first to get rid of all your cards, try and avoid having to pick up the discard pile. It comes with frankly foul scratch and sniff stickers which I suggest you reserve for the loser.
There’s no reason why gross games can’t be strategic! Be the goblin who gobbles the largest amount of disgusting foods. Collect sets of the same food but watch out for a variety of attacks such as vomiting, stealing and being made to eat your greens. Each goblin has their own special ability. It plays up to 12 goblins.
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Fast Reactions
Be the first player to grab the object which is not represented on the card. In the picture below – working from left to right -you would need to grab the grey mouse, then the blue book and the grey mouse again. If you successfully grab the correct object you keep the card, and the person with the most cards wins. This is an addictive and easily portable game. I’m convinced that it uses part of your brain that nothing else uses! It definitely exercises those little grey cells.
Although a lot of people seem to have this it is an absolute classic and I couldn’t do a gift guide and not mention it. It comes in a small round tin, perfect to pop in your bag or in someone’s stocking. Similar to snap but each card features a number of images – you must match one of these with one on another card. You can also get themed versions – we have Star Wars Dobble and the Harry Potter version is on my Christmas list. There are 5 mini games which are entertaining with children or wine but probably not both!
A frantic dice rolling game for up to 4 people. You each get a set of dice which you race to place on the matching dice images. First to get rid of their dice shouts Zonkers! calling an end to that round. But watch out – fastest doesn’t always mean best. A test of observation, speed and strategy.
This also comes with a number of mini games so it’s great value!
Longer, thinkier games.
A co-operative game where you work together to collect the treasure you came for and escape the island. But the island is slowly flooding which hampers your efforts. If you are thinking of trying co-operative games then this is a great starting point.
If you have enjoyed this then you might want to try Forbidden Desert or Sky as these are similar but more challenging.
A short version of the classic Ticket to Ride Europe which was an instant hit and remains a best seller. Collect cards to enable you to place buses on routes across London. You score bonuses for linking certain places and for completing set routes. A nice strategic game with lovely pieces – who doesn’t love playing with tiny buses! It takes about 30 minutes whereas you can be playing the other versions for over an hour. So it’s a good one to try and there are loads of variations of this available so if you enjoy this you may want to collect some of the others.
Simply roll, move and place your dice to make sets of four or more. A lovely tactile strategy game which like all my favourites is quick to learn but gives you lots to think about. There’s also plenty of opportunity to thwart other people’s plans which is always satisfying.
What could be more christmassy than donning your deerstalker or firing up your little grey cells. Settle down with a nice milky drink and these two classics:
A favourite in our house. Work your way round the board collecting clues about the crime. Each case is different and you must race your opponents to solve it and get back to Scotland Yard with the solution. Some of the clues are a little cryptic and some are quite tricky. Fine for adults but children may need some guidance or to team up.
You have to work out who the murderer is by playing a variety of detective and other tactical cards. Then, once you have uncovered the murderer you must prevent them skipping off into the sunset. The murderer meanwhile will be doing everything they can to freeze you out of society and make good their escape. With 5 or 6 players the murderer has an accomplice. Also works brilliantly as a two player game where the murderer is trying to escape while the detective tries to catch them.
Each card has three letters on, turn over a card and trigger the bomb which will begin to tick loudly! Say a word which contains the letters shown (roll the die to determine whereabouts in the word they must be) and pass the bomb on to the next person. Continue to pass it with each player saying another word containing those letters until the bomb explodes (it has a variable timer so you can never know when it will go!). A great game for big groups – loads of wordy fun.
A speedy game of word recognition. Turn over the cards and shout out as you see the words appear. There are bonus cards for getting targeted word lengths and flettered cards for if you slip up under pressure! You can also push your luck by waiting for a longer word and hoping no one else has spotted your word! Each letter has a different value. At the end of the game you add up your pile of claimed words and the person with the most points at the end wins.
Wibbell++ is not just one word game but a whole system of games. There are instructions for 6 different games in the box but there are many more on the website – they will have you creating stories, making up funny phrases, racing to grab as many cards as you can by matching symbols and letters and outwitting your opponent by being the first to come up with a word containing the revealed letters.
This is always a popular game at my events. This quiz is all based on logos and product knowledge including some picture rounds. You can play up to 6 people individually or play in teams if there are more of you. I have the classic logo game but there are lots of versions available including a christmas one.
The rocks have been around a long time and their knowledge is immeasurable. Pit yourselves against them in this fun trivia quiz game. Work together to come up with an answer of 0, 1 or 2 and then give the rocks in the box a shake to see what they think. The double sided rocks have a 1 painted on one side while the other is blank, so they can land displaying 0, 1 or 2. One of the things I like about this is the quirky questions and the fact that the answer is not just given but explained so you might not start out smarter than a rock but hey at least you are learning which is more than can be said for the rocks!
This is another of my most popular games. The answers are all colours and each player has a hand of coloured cards. Reveal the question then place the coloured card or cards that you think are correct face down. When everyone is ready you reveal your answers. I think the idea that you can make an educated guess rather than being unable to answer really appeals. It also has a nice catch up mechanic allowing you to target the lead player with a colour catcher card so you can (for one turn only) steal some of an opponent’s cards.
Charades based games
Gamely Games have a trio of fabulous games two of which fall into this category and can be played in teams. Soundiculous has you mimicking the sounds of various things – fridges, monkeys, karate! while everyone races to be the first to accurately identify the sound.
In Randomise you select three cards (A, B and C) choose a number 1-3 which gives you a phrase like a confused dinosaur selling lemonade.This can then be communicated through description, charades or through pictures.
The pretender is a social deduction game where you must work out who is only pretending to know what the key word is.
All of these come in lovely small boxes – perfect for posting or for stocking fillers.
My wishlist
This seems like a good as place as any to let the big man know what I would like for Christmas this year. Considering I have been exceptionally well behaved this year I would very much like the following:
Splendor – I’m really enjoying Jaipur and if I remember correctly this is similar but plays 4 instead of 2. Nice and strategic with shiny gems!
Muse Card Game This sounds similar to Dixit and the art work looks absolutely beautiful (can you also send me some people who would play this with me as most of my family will hate it with a passion usually reserved for their disdain for Dixit) and Staccups because it looks like crazy fun and I can imagine the whole family playing this over Christmas.
If you’ve got loads of games or just don’t know where to start, why not buy a gift voucher for a games night. Instead of buying more stuff, why not buy an experience, some time together, memories. Book Cards or Die to run a games night for you – we read the rules and bring the games. All you have to do is get the gang together and tell us where and when! Prices start from £8.95 per person.
I hope this has provided you with some inspiration. And if you do fancy treating me to a festive cuppa or a slice of cake, here’s my Ko Fi link!
Join us at a Cards or Die event.

Kitty Cataclysm, Wibbell++ and why it’s good to get a parcel from Bez.

If you’re familiar with the just a card campaign you’ll have heard that every time someone supports an independent business the owner does a happy dance. I imagine that when the last copies of Wibbell Plus Plus and Kitty Cataclysm were posted that Bez of Stuff By Bez did at least one happy dance. If you’ve ever received a package from Bez you’ll know that it’s a thing of joy and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for? Treat yourself.
My most recent parcel arrived in a trademark envelope festooned with fabulous red drawings, a little comic and a cat which I have enjoyed colouring in. It is now on the wall in my study reminding me to take it easy sometimes.
But it’s not just about the packaging. Inside there was a copy of Kitty Cataclysm and a copy of Wibbell Plus Plus – two small box card games which both offer something unique. In fact Wibbell Plus Plus is a whole system of games while Kitty Cataclysm is a punny chaotic cat game!
Kitty Cataclysm
Plays: 2-5
Age: 10+
Duration: 2-10 minutes.
In Kitty Cataclysm players compete for meowney. In fact, the game is littered with cat puns. I’m here all week…The game ends when a player is ready to start their turn but has no cards in their paws. At that point you count up your meowney and determine who is the fattest cat.
It’s fast paced and fun. Each card has clear instructions which makes the game quick and easy to access. When you play the card into your kitty you simply do whatever the card says. You can make others get rid of cards, lose cards deliberately yourself, steal cards, donate cards, give cards away, draw extra and various combinations of those actions. So you can prolong the game and try to amass more meowney or you can try to end the game if you think you are ahead. You can look through your own kitty but you can’t touch anyone else’s. So this decision is always a bit risky plus you might try to end the game while someone else is hell bent on prolonging it! I like that element of it.
I also really like the sudden ending. There is no playing on until you get a winner. Everyone plays then everyone stops. No-one is aimlessly twiddling their thumbs waiting for it to be over. For me that’s a winning mechanic.
The inventive puns are paired with fabulous drawings. The cats’ facial expressions are brilliant – accurately encapsulating all cat emotions from irritation, through slyness to smugness. I think that’s all of them isn’t it?
Quick to learn, fun and portable. It’s a perfect addition to your bag. As always if you fancy trying before you buy you can play it at any Cards or Die event.
Wibbell Plus Plus
Plays: 1+
Age: 8+
Duration: 5 to 45 minutes
Wibbell Plus Plus isn’t a game – it’s a whole games system. To date there are more than 20 brilliant and diverse games listed on the website that you play with these cards. The games are in different stages of completeness – some are established core games (the instructions for 6 core games come in the box) others are more experimental. The whole purpose of the games system is to encourage this experimental approach. Every 1st August Bez will announce a new featured ‘core’ game. We, the players, are encouraged to submit game ideas in whatever stage they are at.
The existing games are fun and varied. Grabell is a fast paced pattern or letter matching game which requires no spelling or word based ability. Faybell is a storytelling game where you work together to craft a tale, using the cards to determine elements you should include. Helpfully the instructions come with a list of useful words for awkward letters. Phrasell is a game which uses the cards as prompts for phrases about a predetermined topic – this can be as silly as you want and often is! Coupell requires you to make words with the cards, swapping them around to make sure that everyone’s scores are perfectly balanced by the end. In Wibbell players compete to be the first to shout out a word which uses all the required cards, the more you win, the more cards you have to include.
One of my favourites from the many games listed on the website is Many a Mickel Makes a Muckel. The rules for this solo game are not included in the box. You are trying to create high scoring words by trying to place each new card you turn over in one of the three words you are working on. Discarded cards count as negatives and reduce your overall score. The card list included in the box and the numbers on the cards which indicate how many of that letter are in the deck are invaluable aids in this game.
By far the most exciting element of this games system is the organic element of it. One of the things which I think gaming allows is for adults to access that free and creative part of them which is so often locked away sometime during adolescence when we begin to feel we should pursue ‘worthwhile’, ‘serious’ things in our free time. Here is a box of beautifully lettered cards with a gorgeous finish -you can play existing games or you can just play around with them. You have not only permission but in fact an invitation to play without rules and make your own up. The creation of games is intrinsically playful. When children open games they just play with a joyful disregard for rules. Someone recently told me that her children used to love Carcassonne – they just made pictures with the tiles and played with the meeples. As adults it’s hard not to intervene – ‘you’re doing that wrong’ ‘it’s not meant to be used like that’. It’s a game. They are playing with it. That’s it’s use right there.
One of the great things about the retro games in my collection is that it takes you back to a time when you just enjoyed stuff, when the floor really was lava and you had to negotiate the living room without touching it. As we get older we get caught up in doing things the right way, in getting it right, in following the rules. Wibbell plus plus is so exciting because it offers a route straight back to limitless play and experimentation. Use the cards as a springboard for your own freedom and creativity. So play the games, get creative or just spell out your name… you know… whichever!
Try out some of Bez’s games at one of Cards or Die’s events.

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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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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Movable Type – Winning at Words.

When I unwrapped this game and looked at the cards, I felt I had opened a game which had been personally designed for me. I love word games – you can read more about some of the other Cards or Die word games here. One of the frustrating things for me is how little the rest of my household enjoy them and so I rarely get to play. However, my 13 year old and my 11 year old both enjoy this one and, even if they didn’t, there’s a solitaire version. One of the things the children particularly enjoy is the fact it’s quite tactical – you can start planning your final word in round one; pay attention to which letters others are collecting and thwart their plans. There is nothing my offspring enjoy quite so much as decimating each other in a game. I like the planning element and the fact you can deliberately place letters which win you author cards which help later. It’s also beautifully designed; they look like they’ve been meticulously carved and stamped. The choice of authors on the bonus cards is right up my street – among the authors you can win are Edgar Allen Poe*, Ada Lovelace, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jane Austen and I’m going to make William Shakespeare the last one I list here. They have chosen fantastic writers to champion your cause. And finally, I know a song about it. I have a song for most occasions and sometimes I have to resort to adapting one (see ‘We built this settee. We built this settee from i-keee-aaaahhh’ for reference) but not this time thanks to the marvellous Commoner’s Choir. I’m even in the video – bonus points if you spot me!!
*On World Book Day, I went to school dressed as a raven and spent the day freaking children out. That probably tells you most things you need to know about me!
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A synopsis
Movable type is a word building game played over 5 rounds. During the first four rounds you are collecting letters to use in your final word. It will be this word which decides the winner.
Players 1 to 6
25 minutes
Designed by Robin David, Visual design by Tiffany Moon and Additional art by Alisdair Wood.
Playing in a group
This game is equally enjoyable with 2 or 6 players. Obviously the more people who play, the longer it takes as people need thinking time to plan and then re-plan if someone pinches the letter they needed! If you want to go all out and allow dictionaries then it takes even longer – you have been warned. Although it rules out any unpleasantness and it’s nice not to have a relaxed game without time pressures. We have enough of those all day.
The key thing is to start collecting the most useful letters then formulate a reasonably flexible plan for the word you will play in the fifth round.
Playing Solo
When you play the solo version of the game you must pit your wordly skills against the formidable Bronte Sisters. At the end of each round you add some cards to your collection just as you do in the multi player version then all of your unused cards go to the Sisters. At the end of the game the word you spell from your collected letters must beat the total points those unused cards amount to. Throughout the first four rounds you can score bonuses which allow you to trash cards or add extra to your collection which allows you to play more tactically.
There’s three of them, they’ve written some pretty good books and they’re ganging up on you so this is not going to be a stroll in the park. Helpfully, though there are hard and easy modes available so you can beat them and then step up the difficulty which is a feature I always welcome.
The fine print
You begin by drafting your cards. You are dealt five cards and you must choose 1 to keep, passing the remaining 4 on. You repeat this process until you have a new (and if you’re me, a much crapper) set of 5 cards.
You then play your highest scoring word, or perhaps a word which fulfils one of the challenges and earns you an author card. To end each of the first four rounds all of you choose cards to add to your collection which you will use in the final round – the winner chooses more than the other players. So winning in the early rounds puts you in a good position.
There are common letter cards which can be used by all players and a single letter can be used as a double. So, for instance to spell the word ‘letter’ you would only need to play the letters ‘LETER’. I’m both regretting using the word letter as I feel I’ve overused it and also realising how many other words have double letters in them!
In the final round you use the cards in your collection, any author cards and any of the newly dealt common cards that you want to create (hopefully) the highest scoring word and attain literary greatness.
The conditions for a tie in the end say that the first person to publish a novel would be declared the winner. We had two issues with that. Firstly my partner’s Mum has published 6 novels so no-one wants to tie with her and secondly it implies that if no-one has published a book yet the announcement of winner is delayed till such time as the condition is fulfilled. Flash forward to a phone call from one of my delirious offspring announcing both the publication of their first novel and pointing out they are now the proud winner of that game of Movable Type we had 20 years previously. Boom. Double whammy!
I thought a few words from my daughter, Molly would be a fitting way to sum up our family’s reaction to this game:
Hi, my name’s Molly (I’m the one playing with the rubber
band in the top picture). I really enjoyed this game, it took us a few rounds to remember the rules – she says trying to remember the rules – some of them were slightly confusing so you would focus on remembering the rules then realise you need an “N” not a “W” to spell banker. I’m very good at English (as you can tell from my immaculate spelling during the game) which made movable type a bit easier although if you struggle with it, the game might not be as enjoyable. I really recommend this game for most ages, for people who love reading and love writing but always keep a dictionary on hand!
Movable Type is available to play at Cards or Die events
or you can treat yo’self to a copy here:

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

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

Word Up! The guide to word games!

Word games are my favourite but least played games. The double edged sword of an English degree and English teaching for 17 years means that not only will no-one play with me but if they do concede, the expectations are so high that I often just crumble under the pressure. Then win. I’m the person you all look at when they say ‘Literature’ in the pub quiz or when anyone wants to know what any word means. I don’t know what every word is and I haven’t read every book. Even writing this blog I can feel the weight of your expectations. You may assume I know loads of good words. Please re-read that last sentence and adjust your expectations accordingly.
So in no particular order we have:
1. Scrabble
To be honest this is not one of my favourites but it’s the classic word game and its popularity endures. It has made an easy transition to an online format. Created by Alfred Butts in 1938, the word scrabble comes from the Dutch ‘schrabbelan’ (which means to claw or scrape). Ironic really when you think how many rows you’ve had about whether words are ‘foreign’ or not! I am rubbish at scrabble. I stare at my letters endlessly and if you judged me by the words I play you might conclude that I’ve never read a book in my life!
If you want more Scrabble facts – click on the image below
2. Upwords
Upwords works by stacking letters on top of each other (as the name suggests). When you look at reviews this is a popular alternative to scrabble – less intense, less time consuming and scoring is straightforward. Having more options due to the ability to stack on words and not feeling under pressure to use ‘difficult’ letters makes this more enjoyable and accessible for me.
3. Option
The variation here is that letters are on a prism with one blank side and two letter sides. The letters are white on a burgundy background or burgundy on white. As the name suggests this gives you lots of options! Scoring is more complex though – you can score bonus points by completing a word in the same colour letters and of course there is more consideration needed about how to achieve the highest score. You can flip letter prisms to make new words (providing both the new word and the existing word still makes sense). It’s a rarer game than Scrabble or Upwords which are readily available in many charity shops.
4. Bananagrams
There are many reasons I love Bananagrams, apart from the fact it’s fun to say and the game employs banana based terminology: it’s compact and portable and plays up to 8.
You race to create a grid of words using up all your tiles, which you can rearrange at any point. There is a time pressure but I get absorbed in my own grid, and I love it when I remember obscure words and they fit neatly in my pattern! Even better still, when I risk deconstructing part of my grid and it pays off. Of all the word games we have here at Cards or Die, this and Boggle (see below) are my favourites.
5. Yahtzee Word
A recent addition to the Cards or Die collection, this is already proving popular. A family at a recent event played this all afternoon. Like regular Yahtzee it is challenging and fun. Roll the letter cubes and then complete words from 2 letter and up. Unlike Yahtzee, you must complete the rounds in order – every round you must record a score, choosing whether to gamble and re-roll for All Consonants or Yahtzee Words (which use every letter) or play it safe and record your three letter word! We’ve always avoided using the timer when we’ve played at home but it’s there if you want extra challenge (i.e stress!!).
6. Boggle
Another favourite of mine since childhood. You have 3 minutes to spot as many words as you can (the letters have to be touching) which is enough time for it not to be stressful… mostly. Rather than just a race to get the most words, the fact that any duplicated words are deleted from your score means that really you are trying to spot unusual words, which is a nice twist. Like Scrabble it has made a successful transfer to the virtual world and in fact variations of it used to be in the newspapers too. I also love the fact that whenever I post Boggle pictures, people immediately start playing – go on… what have you got?
7. Kan-U-Go
When I googled Boggle to check the timer length because Boggle is upstairs and I’m sitting at the computer (it’s not laziness, I’m efficient) I was reliably informed by ebay and amazon that it’s vintage! It’s from 1986!! But Kan -U- Go – that’s proper vintage that is! My version is from 1934 – a ‘thrilling and absorbing’ game for 2 to 7 players. I probably wouldn’t go for ‘thrilling’ but it is a good game. Be the first player to get rid of all your cards by playing words of 5 letters or less. It’s a quicker game than Scrabble or its variants, and as you can see, you need to make sure you have plenty of space.
8. Lexicon
There are three possible variations of Lexicon but the most common version is a 2 to 4 player game in which you aim to get rid of all your cards by playing a word, adding to a word that has been played or substituting a letter in an existing word. Remaining players add up the score of the letters in their hand, lowest score over a set number of rounds wins, or, as you reach 100 you are eliminated.
9. Roots
Another retro classic – this time from the 70s. Roots requires you to play the highest scoring word or words from your hand with the aim of being the first to reach 100 points. Spelling out your family name when you hold one of the family cards gives an instant win opportunity. Bonus and penalty cards add an extra layer of challenge but basically this is a straightforward family friendly game.
Word games are brilliant for testing your brain and competing against both yourself and others. I find them satisfying because when I don’t win, I can still be pleased with my achievements. Sometimes I dig up some absolute pearlers from the depths of my brain – words that have rattled round in there for years devoid of meaning. The look on people’s faces when you play one of those is priceless, improved upon only by their expression when they say ‘Is that even a word? What does it mean?’ and you respond ‘Definitely. And I haven’t the foggiest.’ Games which provide opportunities for smugness are the best kind of games and definitely don’t cause arguments in our house. At all 🙂
Join us for games at a Cards or Die event.
2019-01-07 15.56.51

Wordopolis – the capital city of word gaming.

1-3 players
30-60 minutes
Age 8+
I have been lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the Print and Play edition of Wordopolis – the new word game from Caper Games, which is hitting Kickstarter on the 22nd January. As you know I love a word game.
Wordopolis has reminded me of an important life lesson: you buy cheap*, you buy twice. If you take nothing else from this blog – remember that! My first print of Wordopolis was on ‘cardboard’ – I bought a pack of many sheets of this ‘cardboard’ very cheaply. It was like thick paper. It did allow me to have my first play-through of the game and realise that Wordopolis deserves printing on fine and beautiful card. Which – thriftily enough – you can buy books of from The Works for £3!
*The fact that I feel £3 is ‘thrifty’ but not ‘cheap’ tells you all you need to know about my budgeting skills.
So, once you’ve printed it on sufficiently elegant card… then what?
Shuffle the letter cards and place them in an 8 x 8 grid. Draw 4 cards and place some or all of them over letters in the grid to create new words. The grid works like a wordsearch – you can read in any direction as long as it is in a straight line.You score for new words created when you place the letters. The trick is to create as many new words as possible with the strategic placement of letters. While is only played over four rounds it requires a decent amount of thought and planning before placing letters. Think Scrabble rather than Boggle! There are bonuses to be scored dependent on the number of letters in words you create and extra bonuses if you create 10 or 15 new words. Additional care is needed because if you don’t spot words you have created then the other player can claim those points. Even if it is your first play through of the game, your son might mercilessly steal points from you instead of letting you off which you would you have done for him. So just be aware of that – we don’t want any unpleasantness.
This picture shows the 8 by 8 grid and also showcases my shuffling skills which are on a par with my dice rolling abilities.
An interesting anomaly
It bears mentioning that usually I can’t get anyone to play word games with me because apparently I ‘just win so it’s pointless’ so I was pleased that this has a solo variant. As soon as I set it out my son who is 13 took an interest in it and is enjoying playing it with me. I think it’s because instead of making words from scratch you are using some parts of words or groups of letters from the grid so it is not just a test of vocabulary but also of observation. He has also beaten me a couple of times which may suggest that it plays differently to other word games or just that my brain is slowing with age. In the absence of actual science lets just go with – Wordopolis is a unique game: awesome in a range of ways!
It’s good for your brain.
We have played as a group and I have played solo games -all equally enjoyable and rewarding. The game plays in the same way and there are no additional rules to read and learn.The solo game is a tough nut to crack – you need 1000 points to win. A feat I have yet to master. I am positive that it is achievable but it is certainly not very easy. Each time I play, I generally score higher so my brain is becoming attuned to the skill set required to beat it. The ability to improve is always a motivating factor and knowing that other play-testers have beaten the solo variant fills me with hope. (As well as a growing concern that my brain is turning into a fully soaked sponge and it is only a matter of time till bits of it fall off in the bath).
Other Good Bits!
The rules are really straightforward and easy to remember, and scoring and bonuses are on a separate card for quick reference. The randomised nature of the set up means that you can have endless variety in your games. I can’t see myself ever tiring of this. Before I got Moveable Type (another awesome word game with a solo play option) I used to play Boggle or Bananagrams solo. They’re great games – but playing solo, you are just aiming to do better than you did last time and each game stands in isolation. In the solo game of Wordopolis you are aiming for a set score to beat and the game is progressive. I love that most of the letters are already there, so any thinking or planning you do in the first round can benefit you later. When playing with others I much prefer games where the competitive element lies in doing your best and not expending energy trying to thwart someone else. As the thwartee in many of our household games it’s always nice to be beaten without being completely destroyed! And as my family bemoan, an English degree gives me an edge in word games so there’s even a chance I’ll win. Wordopolis also lends itself well to an app and online version which will be available. But for me the lure of the cardboard is still too strong. I’ll be there on January 22nd right at the front of the queue!
If you want to try it out, come to one our events and join me for a game.
Find out more about this game and Caper Games other fab titles (including Get Adler) here .