Board Game Review

Lucidly Guessing (Dixit)

This review is also incredibly available on Zatu here!

Everyone loves a good story. A fantastic tale captures everyone’s imagination: it will paint a picture in your mind and make you experience every detail. From the people you’re with to the places you visit, a decent story will make you vividly hallucinate to the point where you’re so engrossed, you don’t even realise how time has flown. Dixit by Libellud is a game of stories. You choose a card and then say a phrase, song lyric or go whole hog and give it something special for players to link to the card you’ve chosen whilst also throwing their own into the ring!

Dixit is a very unique game. Libellud themselves describe it as an illustrated game of creative guesswork, and that hits it on the head quite nicely. This game is about being able to balance. Not literally of course. But balance what you say between the obvious and the obscure. Master making things believable with a hint of skepticism. You need to be able to be convincing but questionable. Clear but not clear? Anyway, you need to be able to play so that you’re clear enough to have your card guessed, but not so clear that everyone can guess your card. If you’re too obvious, you’ll not score, but too obscure to be got and you’ll not score either!

To kick off, all players draw 6 cards to have as their hand. Cards are kept secret! The game is then played in turns of players being the main player. The main player says a phrase, a lyric or says a short story and then chooses a card from their hand they think best links to or represents that phrase. All other players choose cards to fit what the main player has said in an attempt to trick others. Players then try to identify which card was chosen by the main player by choosing tokens in secret corresponding to the cards. All players then reveal simultaneously. If everyone guesses correctly, or no one does, the main player gets nothing! Everyone who guesses correct gets 2 points. You get no points for obviousness or obscurity. Should the main player only be caught by only some of the players, they get 3 points and everyone who fooled someone gets 1 per player. Anyone who was correct in this situation gets 3 as well.

There’s an art to this artistic game. Saying too much will give you lots to work with and open up a lot of interpretations, but saying too little will make it too obvious. We found that saying around 7-10 words linked to a common phrase or saying worked best. If we played on inside jokes and repeated phrases from previous games we had no hope of scoring. Sure it was funny, but it didn’t help us in our endeavour to win. Luckily, once you’re over the comedy hidden within some cards you can begin to construct some fantastic links between cards. But it’s not always a sure fire winner, even when you say the best phrase you can there’s always a risk with Dixit that the saying you choose will fit someone else’s card better. Sure that’s what you want to happen in some respect, interpretation is your greatest ally in this game, but when they play that sweet spot card and nail your phrase there’s a moment of “Oh wow!” about it. And there’s never any bitterness amongst players from it, the game is too incredibly relaxed (at least that’s what we found, and we’re tremendously competitive!).

The most prominent thing about Dixit is its artwork – no, surprisingly it’s not the bunny rabbit meeple. The art leaves little to be desired in terms of interpretation – it’s a critic’s worst nightmare! It’s gorgeous, lucid, makes no sense and is exactly what you’d imagine a baby would dream about. It’s unique in every respect. There’s always an element of ‘what on Earth?’ when looking through the deck, but there’s a place for all of the cards and enough elements within them for you to find a focal point for your tale. The interpretation every player takes on the aspects within a picture combined with the different elements on it are what people who’ve played the game truly associate to it, and there’s no way to dislike the artwork; it’s just stunningly whimsical!

Because of its unique feel and relaxed theme, when playing with other players the main question asked is whether Dixit is actually a boardgame… and I’d argue it is. But at the same time, with the right people, it also can be a beautiful storytelling experience. There’s no argument that there’s a competitive element to the game and that you need to strive to win, however it’s not a game you can be frustrated at; your interpretation of a card determines whether you’ll win. We found that this meant we were saying “I see what you did there!” and “Ah I see it now!” rather than the classic competitive grumbles. The game also works excellently when playing with younger players. It’s no surprise that imagination comes more naturally to children, and this game plays perfectly into their hands! There’s no skill necessary other than your ability to articulate what you see or interpret in an imaginative way, and that in itself is a skill no one can ever master. There will never be ‘that’ player who wins every time in this game, but you’ll always get better at it!

So do I love Dixit? Well I’m a survival horror, take that game sort of guy. I’m a big fan of Lovecraftian horrors and fighting impending doom. If I’m not fighting a God-like beast or exploring a desolate building filled with nasties, I’m probably not 100% there. Dixit shouldn’t fit into my category of gaming… It should be too relaxing, too player driven, too “nice”…. And yet it does! I’m proud to admit I genuinely enjoy playing it! There’s something quite amazing about the game. The artwork is captivating and the pace of play and need to look at the abstract in an obscure manner is incredible. I won’t lie, I was a true skeptic at first; I thought I’d much rather be running for my life and taking down my opposition brutally than talking to them about a strange image, but about 10 minutes in I was entranced, and before we knew it we’d used the whole deck of cards!

The artwork. Oh man the artwork! To describe it and try and elaborate on what it is would be to talk absolute nonsense and fumble over my words. To say it’s phantasmagorical is an understatement (and that’s the best word to describe the art!). I previously described it as what I’d imagine babies to dream about, and I stand by that. No adult could produce such imaginative art with such a child-like feel to it. Newspaper’s content becoming stars? A snake metronome draining its colour onto a table? A castle being taken away by balloons? It all sounds like nonsense, but coupled with how the game is played and all of a sudden these three images suddenly make sense within that context and all logic is unnecessary! And even then, I haven’t even mentioned the player board or meeple! Throwing that child-like innocence back out there, your player token is a bunny rabbit and the box is the board.

The game is replay-able. No two ways about it. My instant impression after the first game was along the lines of “We’ve seen all the cards now, why play again?” But honestly, have you actually seen every last detail of every card? No. No way! I’ve played the core game without any expansions a few times and I can honestly say that there are still elements of some of those pictures to surprise me. Couple that with different players’ interpretations of the cards when being the main player and you’ve immediately got a whole new spin on every card. If you are worried that the 80+ cards included in the core game aren’t enough for you, Dixit has over 8 expansions available that all integrate easily into the game!

Slightly off topic, but still relevant! I’ve spoken to some players who have even gone as far as to use Mysterium’s cards in Dixit and vice-versa. The art for both isn’t too dissimilar but it just opens up new avenues for both games.

Player interaction isn’t a hugely key element of Dixit. The game could be played in silence bar the main player’s story, but I guarantee you won’t be silent. There will be endless discussion about each card drawn and how every player interpreted their image or why they chose that card over someone else’s. The other thing to remember is that the game is dependent on players’ ability to convey a message through a card. There is always going to be the immediate reluctance not to say something stupid, and that’s just human nature, however once you’re past that and let loose you’ll be narrating short novels and saying poetic metaphors before you know it! The final thing to know is how easy it is to understand the game. It will take one full turn for everyone to fully understand the rules, regardless of their age!

Something about this game makes it near impossible to take your eyes off of it. It could be the artwork or the story telling, but it just feels like it sucks you in and you become engrossed in every image. There will undeniably be down time as the game is player driven (you’ve got to think up those awesome stories!). However that won’t actually stop the play for long and it’s easy enough to pick back up as everything is done sequentially. Honestly though, any down time will be spent gawping at the stupendously beautiful cards!

This isn’t a game for anyone specifically as everyone can pick up and play. So long as you can look at a picture and associate it to something, someone or somewhere you’ll do just fine! In my time playing boardgames I don’t believe I’ve actually met anyone who has played Dixit and didn’t have positive things to say about it. Sure it won’t always fit your ‘type’ of game, but it’s far too lovely a game to not enjoy! Dixit isn’t without its faults, but it’s not a game you can’t help but find charming. The play is steady, the concept is wonderful and the design it amazing! (Have I mentioned that I like the artwork?)