Okay, Blurble is more than just 300 nouns in a box, but that is part of the fun. Let me fill you in a bit.
Grant Bernard invented Blurble years ago and played it with his friends, and now he’s raising funds on Kickstarter to make it more than just a clip-art-on-index-cards thing with a very limited audience. Since he’s also in Portland, I got in touch with him and asked him to come tell me a bit more about the game.
Here’s the gist: Blurble consists of a huge deck of cards, each with a cartoon image of some noun: a lawnmower, a mummy, an envelope, an armadillo. When a card is flipped over, the two active players try to come up with a word that starts with the same letter as the image on the card. Your word has to have at least three letters, and you can’t use numbers or proper nouns.
That’s the basic idea. There are rules on how the deck is passed, how you score, variations on the details, but at the heart of the game is the way your brain freezes up in the face of this very simple task. It reminds me a little of other party games like Snorta or Anomia, although those involve shouting out something (animal noises, words) when your card matches somebody else’s. On its surface, it doesn’t sound like much of a game. But once you get going, you’ll realize that the fun of the game is the absurd sounds that come out of everyone’s mouths as they’re trying to think of words to say.
The Blurble website also has some ideas for how to use the cards with kids, and while I think it’s a good start, it may be a little too easy. I think using them to get kids to think about letters and words is a great idea, as is just using them as a big pile of nouns to play around with. One of his ideas is similar to Rory’s Story Cubes — draw some cards and make a story out of them — and is in fact one of the ideas I had myself when I first saw the images of the cards.
I borrowed a prototype deck from Bernard and showed it to my kids. My eight-year-old got the idea right away, though my five-year-old couldn’t compete speed-wise. When we slow down and let her think about it some, she can still come up with words that match the letter (though she’s not reading quite yet). I think it could be very good practice for her, thinking about letters. My kids loved just playing with the cards, though, as you can see from the photo below. They spread them all out, and started playing their own make-believe game with them, pairing up various animals and characters with instruments, setting aside a big collection of fruits, and so on.
I asked them what they thought of Blurble, and my eight-year-old said she liked them because you could do so much with them. She really liked the artwork on the cards, and liked the fact that there were so many categories of things: magical/mythological creatures like mermaids and elves, real animals, foods, and so on. The two of them spent a big chunk of the afternoon playing with them, and have needed a lot of encouragement to actually put them away. (I’ve already pledged for a deck myself.)
The artwork is done by Erin Koehler, a local artist that Bernard found on Etsy, and it’s great. The illustrations are cute, with enough detail to make them interesting but not so much that you get bogged down in them. (You can get this very cool image as a poster or puzzle among the Kickstarter rewards.)
I happened to be going to a church retreat this weekend, and of course I took a few board games* with me to play. Blurble was one of them, and I taught it to a couple of adults and teenagers. I didn’t have the rules in front of me (and no internet access) so I didn’t remember exactly things like whether you could use a word that had been used before (no) but we had a good time with it. We did find, depending on how you decide to pass the deck and where the next player starts, that it can be a disadvantage sitting next to somebody who is really good — because chances are they’re going to get the deck, beat you at it, and then continue on, not giving you the chance to win the deck for yourself (which you really need to be able to score more points). There are some variations that may alleviate this, though.
Overall, in playing it, I think it’s a little more freeform than something like Anomia, in which you have to come up with a word fitting a particular category. In Blurble, your word can be a noun, adjective, verb, almost whatever you like. It’s still harder than you might imagine, but hardcore gamers might prefer something with some more rules and regulations.
Bernard told me a little bit of his process coming up with the words. First, he just started by writing down all of the nouns he could think of. And then he had his friends send him nouns. But he was worried about missing some really good ones, so then he actually sat down with his Webster’s dictionary and just went through it, page by page. It took him about 20 hours, looking for words he thought would make great illustrations, and he put these all into a spreadsheet, rating them based on what might look interesting on a card. “Accordion”? Great. “Angle”? Not so interesting. He also went back and made the letter ratios proportional to the frequency in his dictionary: lots of S words, few X words, for instance.
Then, he went through again to see what nouns might be too ambiguous. Would somebody see the couch and think “sofa”? How about the refrigerator — that could be a “fridge.” As he’s playtested the game, he’s removed some others like “pushpin” because a lot of people call it a “thumbtack.” At some point this could become a linguistics nightmare: are you going to call that a can of “soda,” “pop,” or “Coke”? But a unicycle is a unicycle, and a penguin is a penguin. Some words are pretty unambiguous, and those are the ones that Bernard was really going for. He’s now planning to go to his local coffee shop and rope people into looking at slides of the images, giving their quick, first-impression names for things, to see if he’s misread anything, and then he’ll have illustrations re-done or strike more cards from the set. (One I noticed this weekend was a rabbit: is it “rabbit” or “bunny”? Or maybe “hare”?)
What’s left, then, is a pretty hefty stack of nouns, which you can use to play this official Blurble game, or just whatever else you can think of. As parents of geeky kids, I’m sure you could come up with a whole lot of other uses for the cards, which are kid-friendly.
To back the project, visit the Blurble Kickstarter page. A deck of 300 cards will run you $18, and there are lots of options to get T-shirts, puzzles, posters, and multiple decks. You can also go to the Blurble website for more information about the game.