Sunday, January 18, 2015

Dixit: The Right Game for Non-Gamers

Dixit is a very light social game for 3-6 players (5 is the ideal number, I believe). It's easy to explain, requires minimal "game skill" or concentration, fun, imaginative, and plays in a short time. The components are pretty.

A natural Dixit comparison is to Apples to Apples, but I think a more apt comparison is to Once Upon a Time. Or Barbarosa. I will explain all of them.

Dixit: Each player holds a hand of six cards, each of which contains an imaginative picture with several elements, colors, emotions, and typically a dreamy fantastic scene (like something out of a Dali painting). Players take turns being the active player. On your turn, you lay one of your cards face down and say a phrase, or a word, or a sound, or act out a pantomime that invokes some element of the card. Each other player lays face down a card from his or her hand that also matches your word or phrase. The cards are shuffled and revealed. Each player (except for you) then votes on which card they think you played, or in any case best matches your word or phrase. You cannot vote for your own card.

The twist: The active player only gets points if SOME but not NONE or ALL players vote for his or her card. Each other player gets points if they voted for the active player's card or if someone else voted for their card. Actually, this mechanic is not new (it derives from other, similar games), but it's effective. For example, in Barbarosa, players had to sculpt clay objects for the other players to guess, but they couldn't be too abstract or too easy to guess.

Play is to 30 points.

Every group I have introduced to this game has liked it or loved it. Kids especially love the license to be creative and the challenge of giving clues that point to your card while still allowing the possibility that another card might be chosen.

Apples to Apples: Each player holds a hand of seven red cards, each of which contains a noun: a person, place, object, event, or idea. Players take turns being the active player. On your turn,you turn over a green card, which contains an adjective. Each other player places one of their red cards face down. The cards are shuffled and revealed. The active player selects the red card they think best matches the green card; they can also select the card they think least matches the card or any card that they want (if you play "Claudia Schiffer" on my turn, I will pick it regardless of what the green card says). The person whose red card is selected takes the green card to represent a point, and play is to a pre-determined number of points.

There are a dozen different versions of the game, for different age levels and some subcultures. Most groups like this game the first few times, but tire of playing it with the same people over and over.

This mechanic of players submitting entries from a limited and humorous hand of cards or other items was reused in several games, most notably Cards Against Humanity.

Once Upon a Time: Each player has a hand of 5-10 plot element cards and a story-ending card ("And they lived happily ever after" or similar). The active player tells a story, trying to incorporate the cards in his or her hand, which are played as they are used. If the storyteller rambles, or passes, another player can jump in with his or her own card to continue the story. The player who plays his or her last card and the story-ending card wins.

Mechanically,  Dixit is similar to Apples to Apples (and other games that used the "hazy clue" mechanic) with the card play, rotating active player, best matches etc. The crucial difference is that the creativity in Apples to Apples lies with a) the players selecting a red card that matches the active green card, and b) the selection of the winning card, which can be done with little to no creativity, or even arbitrarily. In contrast, Dixit is similar to Once Upon a Time with the active player required to exercise creativity in order to "play well". Apples to Apples is essentially "closed": the green apples is picked for you and the red apple is chosen from exactly 7 choices. Dixit and Once Upon a Time require open-ended creative expression from the participants.

Dixit scores over Once Upon a Time in many ways, and in fact I can't stand Once Upon a Time (Note that many people disagree with me about this) and I love Dixit. Once Upon a Time is simply a bad concept. The creativity that is required is restricted by the cards you receive, which are cliche fantasy elements. The fun in true creative indulgence works against the goal of winning, which is to narrowly move from card to card in order to end the game and win. Winning, in this case, puts a damper on the process. If you take out the "game" from the game, and just have fun with the story-telling, it's much more fun, and that's what toys like Rory's Story Cubes are all about.

Dixit, in contrast, rewards you for a single bite-sized burst of free-form creativity, and you don't have to be all that creative: the cards make it relatively easy. The amount of creativity required is accessible even to those who are uncomfortable at the thought of having to tell an entire story. All you need is a word, phrase, movie title, sound, etc. Luck plays a factor with any reasonable clue, since the cards played by the other players determine the likelihood that your card stands alone; by then you are no longer in vested in having to sweat. Dixit provides space for elaborate creativity, but doesn't force it.

As a game, Dixit should suffer the same problems that Once Upon a Time does. If you focus hard in Dixit, you can probably cheat your way to victory by simply naming a color. This clue will probably be on some but not all of the played cards, which is exactly what you are hoping for with more elaborate, fanciful clues. But this doesn't happen when you play Dixit. Maybe it's that there is no time limit for giving the clue, and the clue is a single creative act, not an entire story. Maybe I simply played Once Upon a Time wrong.

Both Apples to Apples and Dixit provide all players with options on all turns, which is nice. Dixit provides points to multiple people (multiple wins) on each turn, which is nicer and friendlier. Both games are playable by non-gamers - i.e. people who consider taking games seriously or investing thought in strategy to be a waste of time. Apples to Apples is funnier, because people's red cards often poorly match the green card. But it's all game; the mechanics are everything. Dixit, by providing that element of play - along with some super interesting cards - is more generally likable.

A single box of Apples to Apples is replayable - the replayability suffers if you play repeatedly with the same group, more so than if you play repeatedly with the same components. Dixit is highly replayable with the same group, but needs new cards to keep it fresh (so get some expansions). Without the expansions, the game is still replayable; certainly more replayable than the typical trivia game where the card is useless once it has been seen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One small comment: I can't play "Once Upon a Time"... it breaks me. I want to 'game it', which is against the spirit of the game, destroying everything interesting about it.

...but I can play - and enjoy "Dixit". I think the interjectional structure removes the problem for me.