Gaming Unplugged: Dixit

October 18, 2009

One of the mass-market games that you can pick up at any random store’s “game aisle” is the classic Mattel/Parker Brothers definition game Balderdash. While Balderdash is a great game that has withstood the test of decades, there are few issues with the emphasis on reading, writing, and even etymology that keep it out of the reach of some potential players. French designer Jean-Louis Roubira has taken the basic Balderdash model and removed all of the reading and literal elements, replacing it with more universal images and imagination in the form of Dixit.  

At the start of the game, every player receives six numbered voting tokens and is dealt six oversized cards, each containing a dream-like image painted by Marie Cardouat. Each round, one player is the “storyteller”, who chooses one of the cards in his hand and puts forth a description of it; this description can be pretty much anything, form one word to one sentence, or even a little music or sound effect. Each other player selects a card from their hand based on that description and puts it face-down in the middle of the table; the Storyteller then collects all of the cards and randomly displays them face-up, using his numbered tokens to distinguish each one. Each other player then secretly votes on which one of the cards belongs to the Storyteller (unlike Balderdash and other games, you cannot vote for your own entry).

Scoring is usually straightforward; each player who correctly identifies the Storyteller’s card earns three points, as does the Storyteller. Additionally, any votes that go to other cards earn that card’s owner a point. However, there are a pair of wrinkles; if everybody or nobody correctly identifies the Storyteller’s card, then everyone but the Storyteller scores two points and the Storyteller gets nothing (in the event of nobody guessing correctly the points for votes are still awarded as normal). This is to ensure that the clue given by the Storyteller is neither too obvious nor too obscure. There is a possibility of inside references and other personal obscurities being used by players who are familiar with each other, but it is a minor problem in the grand scheme of things, especially as the number of players increases (to the maximum of six, although there’s no reason to prevent more from playing as teams).

 At the end of the round, each player draws a new card to replace the one used and the next player around the table becomes the new Storyteller. Play continues in this manner until the deck has been exhausted, at which point the highest score wins. The box itself serves as a scoring track, with rabbit-shaped meeples running around a path of stones surrounding the storage space for the cards; while probably unnecessary (and a much larger box than this game would otherwise require), it helps to add to the whimsical nature of the game and can be somewhat forgiven.

What makes Dixit truly fun, aside from the exceptionally surreal artwork, is the creativity factor. There are countless ways to describe the 80+ images contained in the game, whereas 80ish words only have so many potential (plausible) definitions. Dixit can be enjoyed by anyone with an imagination (recommended for ages 8 and up) with language skills not really being much of an obstacle.