Tell Me a Story: 3 Games of Creative Storytelling

Geek Culture

Dixit

Dixit cardsDixit cards

Which picture best represents "a delicate balance"?

Overview: Dixit is a tricky one, because you’re trying to tell a story about a card in your hand without giving away too much. The illustrations by Marie Cardouat are wonderful and look like something out of a picture book, somewhat reminiscent of Mary GrandPré’s cover illustrations for the U.S. Harry Potter series. Some of the picture have dark undertones to them and others are pure whimsy. Dixit won the 2010 Spiel des Jahres (kind of the Best Picture of board games) and is well-deserving of the prize.

Dixit boxDixit boxPlayers: 3 to 6

Ages: 8 and up

Playing Time: 30 minutes

Retail: $34.99

Rating: Mesmerizing. The gameplay can be a little tricky at first but it’s an excellent family game.

Who Will Like It? If you like the pictures you see here, the game is almost worth it just for the oversized picture cards alone. Think of it as a more creativity-dependent version of Apples to Apples, though the scoring mechanic is actually more complex than that. It’s not, strictly speaking, quite as much about storytelling as Rory’s Story Cubes or StoryWorld, but does require some creative thinking.

Dixit in playDixit in play

Components: The game contains 84 large illustrated cards (roughly 3″ x 5″), 6 wooden rabbit tokens, 36 cardboard voting tokens (numbered 1 to 6 in each color). The box serves as the scoring track and holds the cards and bits in the center, which means the box is much larger than it needs to be, but it’s pretty cute and works well while you’re playing the game. The cards themselves are standard cardstock and I believe I’ve already mentioned how lovely the illustrations are. The size does make the cards a bit difficult to shuffle, but on the other hand they don’t really need to be shuffled much anyway.

Dixit scoring trackDixit scoring track

Dixit's box serves as the scoring track.

Gameplay:

It’s pretty nice when a game’s rules can fit on a single page. The only reason Dixit‘s rulebook looks large is because it’s in eight different languages. Each player takes as many voting tokens as there are players (numbered from 1 to the number of players) and six cards.

The players take turns being the storyteller. The storyteller picks an image from his hand and makes up a sentence that describes it: it can be a single word or a long sentence or a line from a song. Then the other players each select an image from their hand that they feel best fits the storyteller’s phrase and hands it to the storyteller. The storyteller mixes up these cards with his own and places them on the table in any order.

Each player looks over the cards and tries to guess which one belongs to the storyteller, and selects a voting token corresponding to their vote (1 is the card on the left, 2 is the next one, and so on). Once everyone (excluding the storyteller) has selected a voting token, all players reveal their votes and scores:

  • All players (excluding the storyteller) get 1 point for each vote their card got.
  • If all the players found the storyteller’s card or if nobody found it, everyone except the storyteller one scores 2 points.
  • In any other case, the storyteller and the players who found his card get 3 points each.

Then each player draws back up to 6 cards and the next player becomes the storyteller. The game ends when the last card is drawn from the deck, and the player with the highest score wins.

There are slightly different rules for three players just to add some more cards to vote for, but that’s the basic idea.

Dixit cardsDixit cards

The story is "Put your troubles behind you." Which card would you pick?

Conclusion:

What makes Dixit really interesting to play is the scoring mechanism. Because the storyteller only gets points if some but not all of the others guess the right card, you have to hit the sweet spot between being general and specific, between precise and vague. Of course, there are some times in which another player has a card which fits your story so well that they get most of the votes instead. Many of the pictures have a somewhat sinister feel to them, sometimes fairly subtle, and these in particular can be a good source of inspiration for a story.

It can be pretty tough to get started, though. Most people are a little hesitant to make up a story or sentence and it’s a lot easier to look for a card that matches somebody else’s story. However, once everyone gets into the game it is a lot of fun. It’s a good conversation piece, particularly when all the cards come out and everyone is studying the images. The game is language-independent; since there are no words on the cards (maybe one or two have scattered alphabet letters) it doesn’t require reading and can be played in Spanish or Russian or Chinese, as long as everyone understands each other. It can also work for a wide range of ages — just because you’re older or have played more games doesn’t mean you have an advantage.

I’ve played Dixit with a couple different groups of players, and everyone (even those who didn’t think they could tell stories well) has really enjoyed it. It plays fairly quickly so even those who aren’t as charmed by it probably won’t mind playing a quick game. I’d heard a lot about Dixit since PAX Prime last fall, and finally bought a copy for myself recently.

I highly recommend Dixit. If you like what you see but the price seems a little steep, you can start with the Dixit 2 expansion instead. You’ll get 84 new pictures (not the ones pictured here) in a smaller box, but you’ll need to provide your own method of voting and keeping score.

Wired: Beautiful, fanciful illustrations that you could frame and hang on the wall if they were any larger; nifty scoring system rewards a careful balance when telling your story.

Tired: Large cards can be awkward to shuffle; box is cute but much larger than it needs to be.

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