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Friday, 7 December 2012

Two holiday games for the book lover

At this time of year, I usually go out and buy a couple of summer videogames, but having recently watched the Wil Wheaton hosted web series TABLETOP about tabletop gaming, I  decided that 2012 was the year of the boardgame for me. I was surprised to find that actually a good boardgame is not that expensive, and if you shop around you can buy a good one for half the price of something new for the Playstation 3. On top of that, my collection is distinctly book-themed, including the Lovecraftian ARKHAM HORROR, and the backstabby boardgame iteration of GAME OF THRONES, pleasantly designed prior to the arrival of the TV show, and as such featuring all-original artwork.

As we approach the holiday season, many of you might be looking for unique gifts for the bookworms amongst your family and friends, or alternatively for something fun to bring out once you've pulled all the crackers and everyone is too full to leave the table. With that in mind I thought I'd take the liberty to recommend two storytelling boardgames that have popped up in my travels, and which can be enjoyed by adults, and many children too.

Dixit is a storytelling boardgame in the purest sense. Designed in France, it is noticeable because it is playable in any language. There is nothing to read--all the stories are made through the playing. The box DIXIT comes in contains a set of 84 gorgeously and enigmatically illustrated cards, with beautiful artwork by the artist Marie Cardouat (Google her, you'll soon discover what I mean). After all of the players are dealt a hand, one player takes the role of storyteller and chooses a card, describing it in one sentence. Each of the other players picks a card of their own that they feel might confuse the others at the table, given the storyteller's description, and the cards are shuffled, revealed, and each player votes on which one they think might be the storyteller's. If you trick the other players into voting for your card, you earn points. If you are the storyteller and people vote for your card, you earn points too.

Sounds simple, right? If you describe the card really bluntly, you'll win. There's the catch. The beauty and delight of DIXIT comes down to one simple rule: the storyteller gets NO points if everyone guesses their card correctly. So as storyteller, you ideally want every single person at the table to identify your card, except one. How do you do that? Subtlety, reference, metaphor... you decide. You're the storyteller, after all.

If DIXIT sounds a little bit too sweet for you, and you're a bit more of a Lemony Snicket family, there is always GLOOM. GLOOM is a card game heavily centred around the Victorian world of the penny dreadful novel, in which each of the players takes control of an unfortunately positioned family. As play progresses, cards are drawn, and the player's aim is to bring about as much misfortune to their own family as possible, hopefully ending in their untimely demise. As much as there are cards that say things like "bitten by a rabid dog" however, there are positive cards, signifying donations by surprise benefactors, or a trip to the circus, that you can use against the more distraught members of the other player's families, in an effort to bring them back up in their happiness.

The fun of GLOOM is not just in its whimsical cruelty and blessing, but also in the fact that as you play cards, you narrativise the game in progress. Through the strategic placement of events, a unique and hilarious story unfolds every time, as each player explains the sequence of actions that, for example, caused the twins in their family to become trapped on a train.

For a game so predicated on the miserable, it's actually a hilarious, creative, and extremely enjoyable experience to play GLOOM. For those with a sense of humour verging slightly more towards the macabre, it's bound to be a hit.

Keep me posted in the comments below about your thoughts on these games if you have played them before, intend to play them, or how they are received if you do decide to buy them. I'd also love to know if you have any book-themed or storytelling boardgames that you'd like to recommend yourself. I'm always on the lookout for more.

Other then that, it only remains for me to wish you all the joy that the next few weeks might bring, including, perhaps, one or two games, and more than a little reading.

Lyndon Riggall

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