Sometimes games astound me. Sometimes they shock me. Every now and then one blows me away. And then there are the games that are so amazing in concept, so outside the box, so simply fantastic I stand and stare in awe and think “This is clever, this is bloody clever.”.
Usually these are computer games, Dixit is not a computer game.
It’s a card game.
In the train of games, Dixit is on a totally different track, and it is staring at our cramped little carriage and laughing hysterically as it enjoys the space and splendour. And we are all pressed up against the glass as we watch it’s gold plated, platinum wheeled, wine and food-filled funmobile travel by. Dixit is not just a clever concept, we are talking about nearly totally uncharted territory here… Games that touch upon something in humans that no other game does, language, not spelling and use of words (like Scrabble) but language itself, the nature of conveying messages, the meaning of words not words themselves.
And the best part is, it’s a family game.
But this is a game theory article, not a review. So let’s talk about family games for a while.
When making family games you have to be very careful. First, you have to make sure it is fun for all ages and this is harder than it seems. As the speed of progression of technology this means that grandma and granddad probably don’t know how to play a computer game (some grandparents are very good with computers, I know, but games need to appeal to a majority of their target audience) so your game is most likely going to be a board/card game.
Board/card games are very limited in comparison to computer games, and you can basically throw the concept of making an action game out the window. I have only seen one board game pull of the action genre well and most miss the mark. Puzzle games adapt fantastically to board/card games, so that might not be a bad idea. Stay away from heavy number handling or complex rules too, because you want the littleuns to get what’s happening.
Physics games do well in a board game setting because the world comes with a built in physics sim, (when I say physics games, I’m talking about Hungry Hippos or Jenga) in fact, they are often better in a family game then on a computer. There is the option of taking out all the strategy and doing Snakes+Ladders. This is great for little kids who have no concept of tactics or gameplay and just want to see little plastic tokens move up ladders. Or a math-based or other thinking game that will make the parents fall in love with the concept of educating their children through fun. Nearly every family game is competitive, because there is no chance of making an AI, but you can make a game in which everyone has to cooperate to achieve a common goal (the parents love this).
Dixit is a card game, and a competitive, strategy, educational one at that.
Now mum and dad and daughter and son are all around the table. You don’t want mummy and daddy to win all the time so chances are, unless you find something that people of all ages are good at (Which Dixit sorta has), there’s going to be a lot of chance and little tactics. Option 3 is to make the game 2-player and get daughter and son to play each other. That way, the adults can go do whatever it is that parents of young children do when they have free time and Lily and Bob can battle a more even match (Connect 4). This allows you to put in all the tactics you want.
Now onto what Dixit is about.
Dixit is a multiplayer game about how we use language. It consists of a collection of cards with nothing more than pictures on them. These pictures are almost always abstract and very beautiful and each player is dealt 6 cards and one is selected to be the “storyteller”.
The storyteller must choose one of their pictures and attempt to summarise it in a sentence. The other players (So in a 5 player game that would be 4) must choose a card from their hand that best reflects what the storyteller has said and put that in the pile. All the cards (including the original) are shuffled and dealt face up. The 4 players must then vote on which they think was the storyteller’s card (who obviously does not get a vote). If nobody OR everybody finds the correct pic, the storyteller gets no points, and every other player gets 2, otherwise the storyteller and whoever found the correct answer get 3. You also gain one point for every vote placed on your image.
So what this means is that the storyteller does not want to be too exact and nor to vague in his description of his card, (which usually leads to sentences like “The many choices of life” or “dancing”) while everyone else wants to pick a card that will trick their opponents AND guess correctly with their vote. When all the cards are gone the person with the most points wins.
What is fantastic about this is that it is challenging for literally everyone. But it has that educational factor in it. It really helps kids learn how to use language in a way that Scrabble does not.
When trying to make a family game you often try to make it educational too, and as mentioned before, the parents love this. Dixit is a fantastic example and yes, it could work just as well on a screen but it’s not intended to exist there.
But it’s more than that, Dixit is really outside the box, it deals with things like abstractness and metaphor. It’s about taking the second route; you can’t describe directly because then everyone’ll get what you mean.
Dixit is meant for a family setting though you might not realise it. Which brings me onto another point.
If an idea can be done on a non-computer setting with very few limitations, then it will be more fun in real life. Computers are great because of everything we can do with them, but the tactile zing of actually holding something physical gives card and other non-computer based games a good edge. However, games are much easier to sell ’cause you don’t have to go to a shop to buy them, which means that if it works for both platforms I guarantee you it will be on both platforms. Simply because that’s how you get it to the most people.
Dixit is an example of a game that does the family setting well - there are very few games that can claim that. And while it IS an idea that comes basically by chance, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few things you can take away from it. For instance, the use of artwork is simply fantastic (everyone loves a bit of art, it’s how most card games sell, well that and the gameplay, rules, booster packs, community etc), and the simple rules mix in with this. NEVER have complicated rules in a family game, it’s bound for disaster, as you need the littleuns to get what’s happening.
So all in all, Dixit is a game that should be admired for a true example of how to combine originality with functionality. I applaud you, Jean-Louis Roubira, You have a new #1 fan. (Until an even cooler game comes along. What? I’m a really shallow person. )
The game can be found here: http://www.libellud.com/en/games/presentation/dixit.html
About the author: Joseph, or Lawsome, as the internet folk call him. He spends a lot of time making games, most of which fall apart or don’t work and are never published, but the few that survive can be found on his account at Yoyogames – http://sandbox.yoyogames.com/users/Lawsome1997. He mainly enjoys writing about game theory but you’ll see him do a few reviews. He avoids games that look generic and would rather play something original than something fun. He has strong opinions on games and can hold his own in an argument, if you tell him that COD MW3 is the best game ever he may bite your head off.