What are good beginner board games?

Our beginner game tips:

  • Carcassonne: Transport yourself to the old, medieval, hilltop town of Carcassonne, in this tile and worker placement game, that is an all-time classic.
  • Splendor: Take on the role of gem merchants, battling through the renaissance to mine raw materials, transform them into precious stones and then sell to the rich and affluent. 
  • Sushi Go: In this fast-paced card game, the goal is to grab the best combination of sushi dishes, drawing a card each round, sets offer the biggest point rewards but you aren’t the only diner.
  • Spyfall: In this hit social deduction game, it’s a race for the one hidden spy to work out where in the world they are, before the players who know the details flush them out asking questions around the table.
  • King of Tokyo: A press-your-luck game where you play mutant monsters, gigantic robots and other monstrous creatures, rampaging the city and vying for position as the one and only King of Tokyo.
  • DIXIT: Winner of the 2010 Spiel des Jahres award (Family Game of the Year), this party game is all about using your imagination and your skills of interpretation. 


This classic see’s players selecting a face-down tile from the centre of the table, and placing it to continue the landscape already forming. While you have some freedom there is the one key rule in Carcassonne. Roads must continue roads, castles must continue castles; you cannot cut off a feature. Then comes the key decision, do you place a meeple on one of the available features on that tile, securing sweet victory points, or do you keep hold of your meeples and await another placement opportunity that may yield more points?

This dilemma is what keeps people coming back to the game, you can choose to focus on your own score, or be a little more Machiavellian instead sabotaging peoples attempts to build longer rivers and sweeping castles.

With its simple yet rich game mechanics and eighty-four tiles that can be configured into numerous combinations, Carcassonne appeals to beginners and veteran gamers alike.

  • Player Count: 2-5
  • Time: 30-45
  • Minutes Age: 8+


Splendor is a game of chip-collecting and card development. Players are merchants of the Renaissance trying to buy gem mines, means of transportation, shops—all in order to acquire the most prestige points. If you’re wealthy enough, you might even receive a visit from a noble at some point, which of course will further increase your prestige.

On your turn, you may collect gem tokens, or buy and build a card, or reserve one card probably ruining someones well-laid plans in the process. If you collect chips, you take either three different kinds of chips or two chips of the same kind. If you buy a card, you pay its price in chips and add it to your playing area. To reserve a card—in order to make sure you get it, or, why not, your opponents don’t get it—you place it in front of you face down for later building; this costs you a turn, but you also get gold in the form of a joker chip, which you can use as any gem.

All of the cards you buy increase your wealth as they give you a permanent gem bonus for later buys; some of the cards also give you prestige points. In order to win the game, you must reach 15 prestige points before your opponents do.

  • Player Count: 2-4
  • Time: 30-45
  • Minutes Age: 10+

Sushi Go

Good things come in small packages, in this battle for sushi supremacy everyone is looking for their perfect meal deal. This ain’t no all-you-can-eat buffet though, instead, while you are handed a host of tasty treats, you can only take one each turn, so grab what you can from the card-based conveyor belt and see what’s been left for you by your friends. Early on in the game, your choice doesn’t matter too much, but as the food starts to run out watch as your so-called friends stab you in the back for the last dumpling. 

It’s simple to play and has a friendly art style that makes this the perfect Sushi starter to get people into playing board games.

  • Player Count: 2-5
  • Time: 15-20
  • Minutes Age: 8+


Your mission should you choose to accept it…Well, you don’t really know what your mission is in Spyfall, by the time you’ve picked up your card you’re already in way over your head and the clocks ticking.

At the start of each round, players receive a secret card informing them of the group’s location. Except for one player, who receives the SPY card instead of the location. The Spy doesn’t know where they are, but wins the round if they can figure it out before they blow their cover!

Players then start asking each other questions during the intense 8-minute rounds.

Non-Spy players want to ask questions and give answers that prove to the other players that they know where they are. But watch out! If your questions and answers are too specific, the Spy will easily guess the location and win, so you need to practice a bit of subtlety. But if your questions and answers are too generic, you might be accused of being the Spy. The Spy will also sometimes be asked questions (just like any other player would) and have to come up with questions of his own, without knowing anything about where he is! If you listened carefully to the other players, you’ll be able to come up with a plausible question or answer… hopefully.

With a sequel that bumps the player count and a number of spin-offs including a DC version, Spyfall is a great game for larger groups.

  • Player Count: 3-8
  • Time: 30-45
  • Minutes Age: 12+

King of Tokyo

King of Tokyo see’s you inhabit a giant monster and become the last creature standing in the city.

Each turn you will take the pleasingly chunky dice and roll away. If you aren’t happy with the results you can re-roll, Yahtzee style, as many dice as you like. After a maximum of three rolls, you are stuck with your results and will use them to attack other players, heal yourself, gain energy to buy power cards or earn victory points.

The dice faces themselves show the numbers 1-3, a lightning bolt, a heart, and a claw. Claws are used to attack, hearts to heal and lightning bolts gain energy. Numbers can be exchanged for victory points but only if you have at least three of the same number at the end of your rolls.

Power cards are purchased with energy cubes and let you ‘break’ the rules of the games in some way. For example, one card lets you roll extra dice, another lets you leave Tokyo without taking damage and so on.

The trick is to take control of Tokyo at the right time. In Tokyo, your attacks hit all the other players, but all the other player’s attacks hit you and you cannot heal! The other snag is the only way you can leave Tokyo is after another player attacks you, the upside is that player must replace you in Tokyo. This means choosing when to attack is incredibly important and rolling an unwanted claw on your last re-roll can be devastating!

  • Player Count: 2-6
  • Time: 30-45
  • Age: 8+


This hugely popular party game that’s all about using your imagination and your skills of interpretation.

In this storytelling title, it’s every person for themselves – either the first to 30 points, or whoever has the most points when the deck runs out.

Dixit comes with 84 unique cards, each with wonderful, vivid and sometimes quite surreal artwork on them. Players start with a hand of six cards, and one player will start as the ‘Storyteller’. They will pick one of their cards and describe it in a sentence. This can be as wild, bland, creative or imaginative as they please. Then everyone will discreetly pick a card from their hand that they think best matches that sentence. All cards are shuffled and revealed face-up. Then players have to secretly vote using tokens (which are simultaneously flipped) on which card they think belongs to the Storyteller.

If everyone picks the Storyteller’s card (or if no one guessed right), then everyone scores two points, except the Storyteller. If only some people guessed correctly, then they and the Storyteller score three points. If others pick your own card when you are not the Storyteller, you alone score 1 point per vote for your card. (You are not allowed to vote for your own card!).

Therefore, it quickly becomes a case of the Storyteller having to balance proceedings – if they’re too vague in their descriptions, they risk alienating everyone from guessing their card. But at the same time, they cannot make it too obvious, because then everyone will know it and they’ll score nothing! At the end of each turn, everyone receives a new card to their hand, and then the next player becomes the Storyteller.

In some ways, Dixit is less of a board game and more of a fun activity you can experience with friends or family.

  • Player Count: 3-6
  • Time: 30 Minutes
  • Age: 8+

Play on?

So that’s our list of starter board games, whether you like things on board based, with bluffing or beating monsters to a pulp there’s something in this six-pack to help get you started in the world of games.
If you think we’ve missed something drop a comment on the video or reach out online to let us know.


Alternatives to Cards Against Humanity

However, that careful trepidation into going obscene is actually a descent into who can be the most offensive. It’s at that point that you stop playing a game that is charming and it becomes a competition in vulgarity.

It’s also, and I’m sorry to break it to you. Not a very good game. Objectively, it requires barely any strategy and simply playing the top card of the deck alongside your own entries will see the deck of cards picking up points as quickly as any human player. It’s a punchline generator but how much of that joke have you truly participated in?

Apples to Apples

If you like dem apples

Look, I don’t want to include Apples to Apples here but I’d be completely remiss to leave it out. It’s the game Cards Against Humanity is based and is, therefore, the most obvious replacement. The gameplay is exactly the same as players take turns being a judge and trying to make the best match. The judge picks a winner and that player gets a point.

Because of the more family-friendly theme this game works perfectly for younger players you might have in your group. It also plays four to ten people so scales well enough that it fits into our good alternative to Cards Against Humanity. Probably not for everyone though so we’ll move on.


If you fancy Dixit its here

Dixit is an absolutely beautiful game full of oversized cards each depicting a unique and ambiguous image. On your turn you say something about your chosen card, it can be a sound, a sentence, a word, a sonnet, pretty much anything you want to say about it. Then each player submits their own card secretly into a stack that is shuffled and then revealed. The game is then to guess which card the original player chose. 

The scoring has an interesting element because if everyone guesses your card or no one guesses your card you gain zero points. Instead, if there’s a situation between those two you gain three points and anyone else’s card got a guess gains one point. The game continues until the deck is empty and the winner is the player with the most points.

Dixit doesn’t scale to as many players as Cards Against Humanity , only playing for three to six players but it allows you to flex your creativity and deduction skills. Over the past few years, Dixit has been surpassed by Mysterium, a similar style of game that adds a layer of complexity to the game, which while welcome adds a level of thinking that perhaps pushes it beyond this category of alternatives.

Cash N Guns

Want to spend some cash? Its here

Cash N Guns is another older game that may have fallen out of favour that you should give another look to. Gameplay is very different to Cards Against Humanity, however, it really ticks the boxes that allow for more players and most importantly, lots of shouting at your friends.

The game sees you play the role of a gangster after a successful heist. Now you just have to split the loot up. Shouldn’t be too hard right? Aside from the fact you’re all armed and your greed demands you walk away with the lions share.

The main mechanic is bluffing your way out of trouble. You can defend your cash grab with your foam gun. Unfortunately, you’ve spent half a round during the heist, with only three bullets and some duds, can you manage to convince your colleagues to back out of the fight to avoid being shot?

It’s a silly game for four to eight players and lasts around 30 minutes but the silliness and volume of the game can truly escalate in that time.


Fancy your own copy? Its here

In recent years, Codenames would easily sit in this spot as a fun team game that sits well in the six to eight-player category. But Decrypto changed it up, levelling out the difficulty and allowing the laughs to be shared with the entire team rather than sitting on the edge of the table, alone with only your inner monologue as your companion.

You see in Decrypto, you split into teams and have four secret words that the other team is trying to guess. Each turn, one player on the team gets a secret code with three numbers relating to those words. That player on the team then has to give one-word clues to allude to the code. Before your own team can guess though, the other team has a chance and if they are successful they gain a point. First to two correct guesses wins. However, part of the beauty of the game is that if your team fails to guess correctly you gain an incorrect token. Similarly, if you fail twice, you lose the game.

So there’s a tightrope of trying to be discreet enough that the other team can’t guess your clue but still manage to get your team (who a reminder, can see the original words) to understand you.

It requires a lot more thought than the other games in this list but manages to be absolutely hilarious and games are very quick allowing for mixing up the teams and just one more game.

Say Anything

Obligatory Shopping Link Here

Finally, in my list of alternatives, we arrive at Say Anything. A fun party game that just unleashes your own in-jokes, wit and intelligence in a game where you are the brains behind the answers and therefore deserves the praise for your funny quips, retorts and remarks.

The game plays for three to eight and on each turn a different play poses a question. It’s then up to the other players to answer that question secretly on a mini dry-erase board. Then in turn each player reveals their answer (hopefully to much hilarity). Then, the question-poser (probably not the official term) secretly selects their favourite answer. The other players bid on the winner. They have two tokens allowing them to spread their bets or go all in. The favourite answer is then revealed and points are dished out.

This game is pure fun. It allows you to say anything (sorrynotsorry) in response to a varied set of questions and that freedom of expression is what makes it surpass the punchline generator of Cards Against Humanity. 


There’s more games you could look to; Spyfall, Exploding Kittens, Wits and Wagers, Resistance Avalon and more but the main point is, there are fun alternatives to play. These alternatives will not only let you avoid the murky and quite frankly tired jokes you’ve made before but give you a sense of accomplishment for the great jokes, the great plays and the great times you have playing with your friends.


Drinks In Games: A Virtual Bar Crawl

Sometimes I see a nice sunset in a game and think to myself ‘I would love to have a pint there’ then proceed to lift my cumbersome body and stagger towards the fridge for a cold beer. My in-game counterpart doesn’t have the same anthropomorphic advantage. They remain sober after so many days of saving the world, whilst in reality I’ve got a little buzz on and a takeaway menu dangerously close to me.

Whilst waiting for my food, I thought about all the places in games characters could visit for a refreshing drink. Allow me to take you on a tour of pubs, taverns and bars where NPCs and protagonists can bump elbows and share stories over a frosty one…

Final Fantasy VII

  • Drinks: Draft Beer and Cocktails
  • Food: Party Food
  • Atmosphere: Slightly Militant

This is probably my personal favourite bar in gaming, I’d be considered a local down at the Seventh Heaven. Playing the original as a child and the recent remake, I’ve accumulated many hours drinking and playing darts in this honourable establishment. Tifa owns and operates this bar whilst assisting an undercover group of militants, there’s never a quiet night.

There are a number of vibrant cocktails on offer, from the Cosmo Canyon to the Lifestream. There’s a jukebox in the corner that plays Certified Bangers and a dartboard to spark up some local competition. In terms of mini-games, Square Enix need to put less effort into the squats and more into the darts. I want to feel like van Gerwen when I nine-dart Wedge and leave him regretting the day he ever challenged a man with too much time on his hands.

Once you’ve worked up an appetite playing darts, Tifa can knock you up a wide range of grub which the citizens of the slums deem ‘very good’ – that’s the equivalent of a Michelin star around here. The final feature of the bar is a retro pinball machine, however if you attempt to play the machine you may be lowered into the basement of the bar and initiated into a group of freedom fighters. They really need to put up a sign.

Streets of Rage 2

  • Drinks: Bottled Beer (viable weapon for the proceeding scrap)
  • Food: Apples and Chicken
  • Atmosphere: Lively Locals

Say what you like about the atmosphere on these streets but you leave Barbon’s bar out of it. This lovely little speakeasy is a welcome break from the city hustle, the bartender makes a mean old fashioned and the grand piano suggest they have occasional music nights – this place exudes class. 

If any riff-raff become lively and start causing trouble in the establishment then I’ve heard the local police officers are quick to resolve things, though the owner does make a habit of dealing with trouble himself. This would leave an NPC free to join in the action if they so wished to, for the price of a few beers you can leave this fine boozer feeling like Patrick Swayze in Roadhouse.

The Sims 

  • Drinks: ‘Juice’
  • Food: Depends On Chef’s Ability
  • Atmosphere: Late Night License

I’m not the biggest fan of the series myself, however I’ve spent my share of hours creating functioning neighbourhoods for my masses before destroying their lives in some form of therapeutic disaster simulator. In Sims 4, you can construct your own swanky bars and restaurants if you have the coin. Isn’t life in the Sim universe already challenging enough? Then you throw an addiction to alcohol into the mix? You can’t flaw the sense of realism in this game.

WAIT… a small amount of research has revealed to me that Sims don’t drink booze? They rely on juice to get by? It’s good to see the developers are trying their best to avoid leaving another generation reaching for the bottle but we are a lot wiser than that. You think Sims don’t drink? You couldn’t be more wrong.

Have you HEARD a Sim talk? They are chatting incoherent babble, don’t tell me it’s Simlish please – give me a four pack of Guinness and two whiskeys, I’ll be fluent in ‘Simlish’. The second you log-off for the night, the Sims get wild. The juice is packed with alcohol and they are all on it, looking for a bit of WooHoo. The morning rolls around and they’ve all pissed themselves and need help getting out of the pool. All this means their ‘juice’ is some strong stuff and I would love to visit a Sim’s bar given the chance.

NB: The same nightlife rule applies to Animal Crossing, all the villagers gather in a wooden shack and down moonshine to drown the sorrows created by Tom Nook’s capitalist agenda.

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

  • Drinks: Free
  • Food: Hopefully
  • Atmosphere: None

In complete contrast to the last, this entry is less about a wild night out and more about embracing the solace. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture takes place in a lonely English country town called Little Tipworth. Lonely because all the occupants have experienced a slight holy acquisition.

Which means the pubs are empty. There are two in the town so take your pick and mosey on over to your own private-public house, the drinks are free. Assuming in this circumstance I just popped out for a smoke and missed the rapture – I would want a pint.

During the events of lockdown and coming out of it, I’ve been to a few pubs who practise social distancing and learnt to enjoy a pint on my own. It doesn’t really get more alone than this but if you’ve got a few podcasts to listen to I’m sure you’ll be fine. Forget about the fact you didn’t get accepted for a better life.

Did I mention the free drinks?


  • Drinks: Plenty
  • Food: B.Y.O.B – Bring Your Own Bullymong
  • Atmosphere: Bandit Banter

Pandora is a horrible yet unique world, bandits roam the streets, beast rule the land and there’s a war taking place between massive military manufacturers. Through all this chaos, in a city fittingly named ‘Sanctuary’ you will find Moxxi’s Bar. It’s a welcome alehouse that plays the music low, pathing the way for prominent voice acting to take place. I would share a beer with a number of the vault hunters, but it would be Handsome Jack you’d want to hear stories from.

Named after the voluptuous cougar that owns the joint, Moxx-tails are the drink of choice. We’ve got everything from the eloquently named ‘Penargilon Kangaroo’ to the more simple ‘Brick’s Fist’. Once consumed they grant a number of bonuses that any budding vault hunter could quickly become addicted to.

If you are wondering what these concoctions could taste like then check out the Borderlands-themed drink created by the guys at Loading Bar.

Shameless plug

Also note the bar can sometimes fly on ship so that’s takeaway pints confirmed in the Borderlands universe.

After a certain amount of time, I thought I better ask some friends to ensure that this virtual bar crawl I was assembling was approved by other functioning alcoholics…

Broken Sword

Suggested by: Andy Kelly
  • Drinks: Real Ale
  • Food: ‘No Food Today’
  • Atmosphere: Traditional Taproom

Mac Devitt’s is a pleasant pub tucked away on the cobbled coast of Lochmarne in Ireland, though the location may be fictional I can tell you it’s pretty close to most rural Irish bars. There’s one bus a day from Dublin that runs there and when you arrive there’s a warm pint of real ale waiting for you – served properly in a pint glass. None of this London nonsense where you get a cold Guinness in a chalice.

You can take out a room with a marvellous view, at night there’s a sunset that would make Kevin McCould blush. If you’re looking for food then you are in the wrong place, their menu simply lists ‘no food today’ but like most small villages by the sea in Ireland you are never too far from someone who will sell you fish. Walking there after the pints is the issue.

They don’t get much more wholesome than this, Mac Devitt’s made me think about other adventure game boozers like the biker bars in Full Throttle, The Drunken Druid from Simon the Sorcerer and the location I probably had my first underage virtual beverage in – Scumm Bar from Monkey Island. The nautical soundtrack still plays in my head till this day.

The Witcher

Suggested by: Cian Maher
  • Drinks: Pilsners and Potions
  • Food: Hearty Meat and Potato Dishes
  • Atmosphere: Wholesome

Let’s be honest, when I mentioned the word ‘tavern’ earlier this is where your mind went. This or Skyrim, Amalur, Dragon Quest – basically whichever huge mythical RPG you chose to spend your days roaming around. The reason I chose Witcher for my virtual pub crawl is simple… Gwent.

I want to sit down with my tankard of mead and enjoy a few rounds of Gwent against the locals. Scamming coins here and there in order to purchase a chicken dinner straight from the back room of the tavern. I’d wait for a witcher to show up and then hand out ludicrous fetch quests purely for the thrill of it.

There are bards, dancers and the occasional fisticuffs, entertainment is bursting out of the seams of this place. I’ve heard if you walk down the back alley there are people who can stock your gourd full of exotic potions for the right price – just don’t try to ride home after.

Last Call

We’ve reached the end of our first crawl, we’ve sunk many pints and I think it’s time for a water and bed. I’m sure there are plenty of locations you’d love to see added to the list, so shout them at me on Twitter.

A few people mentioned GTA, Mass Effect and other clubs so my next article might have to be a night out on the virtual town – clubs and greasy places to eat after your night. Until then, drink responsibly and always tip the bar staff.


The Witcher 3: Highly Polished?

Revisiting familiar media is a natural reaction to troubled times. Given that we’re in the middle of an international pandemic, it’s fairly safe to say that times are, indeed, troubled. Many of us turned to Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter as surely as we turned to banana bread and Tiger King. While my friends were re-reading Twilight, I spent my home-bound weeks replaying The Witcher 3 for the eleventh time.

To say The Witcher is familiar to me is a bit of an understatement: I read Sapkowski religiously as a kid and was absolutely astounded when the first game was announced. Seeing Geralt in a 3D on my screen was a dream come true (my other dream was to see him in 3D IRL, that did not come true yet). To emphasise how much of a nerd I was, I’m going to confess I came second in a local The Witcher writing competition when I was 16. The main prize was The Witcher 2, but all I got was a Geralt-themed Razer mouse mat that I was too ashamed to claim.

So, after finishing the game (and getting the same ending for the eleventh time), I decided to use my Witcher expertise for good. I’m here to help those of you who may have missed the Slavic undertones in your favourite quests. All three games are ripe in references to Eastern European culture, from lines that NPCs yell at you as you pass them to entire questlines. Hopefully, I’ll be able to shine a light on the hidden meaning behind the world, the quests, the characters and the monsters of The Witcher 3. I bet it’ll make you appreciate CD Projekt Red even more!

Spoilers ahead.

The world

The world of The Witcher 3 is heavily influenced by Slavic folk. It doesn’t shy away from established fantasy optics, but it has its own, distinct visual language. The result was a familiar-yet-novel experience for audiences outside of Poland.

From thatched huts, whitened with lime or chalk, to decorated dowry chests, the Northern realms are full of references to Slavic culture.

Lublin Open Air Village Museum

If you ever dreamt of transporting yourself to Velen (sans monsters, of course), Lublin Open Air Village Museum is where you need to go. You can even get that Witcher rush of adrenaline if you come too close to one of the feisty goats that roam the Museum freely.

Colourful, decorated huts of White Orchard and Velen are directly inspired by the village of Zalipie in southern Poland, just a 90-minute drive from Kraków.

The folk decoration of Pająki — colourful hanging ornaments made of blotted paper and straw —are immediately visible at the White Orchard Inn at the very beginning of the game.

The interior of the White Orchard Inn and a Pająk created by Karolina Merska of Folka
Pic via Reddit

The free city of Novigrad takes inspiration from the formerly-free city of Gdańsk, with devs going as far as including a model of its famous crane. Just like Gdańsk, Novigrad is a bustling trade city and an important international port. Gdańsk’s architecture stands out amongst Polish cities, and there’s a clear parallel between Gdańsk and Novigrad both layout and architecture-wise.

The cursed tower on Fyke Island is also a real place (though far less cursed IRL). Called Mysia Wieża (Mice Tower), it’s tied to a folk story related to a 9th-century proto-Polish ruler named Popiel. As the legend goes, the greedy king Popiel’s corruption and misrule led to a rebellion. As he locked himself in the tower, a host of mice scurried in and ate him alive.

Similarly, in The Witcher, we find out the former inhabitant of the tower, a selfish nobleman, refused to share food with his subjects, who in turn stormed the tower and murdered everyone inside. His daughter, left in a magical slumber by a mage, was eaten by rats.

The landscapes of The Witcher are heavily influenced by Poland, too. From Teutonic Order-inspired ruins scattered across Velen and White Orchard, through towering mountains and flat pastures, to hollyhocks adorning villages.

The quests

Dziady illustrated by
Czeslaw Borys Jankowski.

The aforementioned Fyke Island hosts another quest that heavily borrows from Polish legends and literature. At some point, a character named Pellar (Guślarz) will ask you to assist him in an ancient ritual called Forefather’s Eve (or Dziady). Dziady is a Slavic feast commemorating the dead. It’s also the title of Adam Mickiewicz’s epic poem that’s considered to be one of the masterpieces of European romanticism.

Similarily to the Forefather’s Eve quest, the plot of Mickiewicz’s masterpiece centres around ghosts being summoned from beyond the grave by the villagers to help them reach salvation.

Bald Mountain is not only the site of a quest based on a Polish folk story but also a real place (sans the cool tree). Bald Mountain was actually an ancient Pagan cult site, where Slavs held Dziady feast regularly and where Polish witches gathered on Midsummer (in Poland known as Kupala Night).

Bald Mountain (Łysa Góra)

The main storyline of Heart of Stone is inspired by the Polish legend of Pan Twardowski, a nobleman who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for magical powers, with the intent of never fulfilling his end of the bargain. Using a magic mirror he got from the devil, Twardowski summoned the deceased wife of King Sigismund Augustus. Due to a clause in the contract between the devil and Twardowski, the latter was supposed to give up his soul in Rome which he planned to never visit — but was outwitted by the devil who took his soul in an inn named “Rome”.

While Heart of Stone is heavily influenced by the legend of Pan Twardowski, the character of Olgierd von Everec is closely tied to Kmicic from Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novel The Deluge (Potop). Just like Olgierd, Kmicic is a rowdy nobleman who becomes increasingly likeable over the course of the story.

Daniel Olbrychski playing Kmicic in a 1974 film adaptation

One of the side-quests of Heart of Stone takes you and Geralt’s friend Shani to a village called Bronovitz for a wedding. Bronovitz (Bronowice) is also the setting of The Wedding, a play by Stanisław Wyspiański. The play itself was inspired by a real wedding that Wyspiański himself attended. Bronowice is now one of 18 districts of Kraków.

The monsters and the characters

The word “witcher” (“wiedźmin”) itself comes from “vedmak” (“wiedźmak”), which literally means a male witch and was mostly used as an insult. The profession of a witcher, however, is Sapkowski’s original concept.

Multiple creatures of The Witcher series are inspired by Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon mythology (amongst many others), however many are taken directly from the Slavic pantheon.


Noonwraith (or Południca) was believed to be a spectre of a woman dressed in white that roams fields around midday, kidnaps children and causes madness. She was meant to cause bouts of confusion, neck aches and dizziness, which all match the symptoms of heatstroke.

One of the toughest in-game enemies, Leshy (Leszy or Borowy), is also one of the best-known Slavic deities. Humanoid and masculine, he was to guard forests and swamps. Even though some believed Leshy to be evil, in most cases he was thought to behave towards humans as humans behaved towards nature. He could have led travellers astray as much as guide them safely out of the forest.


Some believed Leshy to be married to Kikimora of the swamp — however, the Kikimora of the Witcher world differs significantly from Pagan beliefs. Kikimora was an evil presence that woke newborns up at night and harmed domesticated animals, but she was also considered to be the sleep paralysis demon of Slavic people. She was portrayed as an old, small, thin woman, which contrasts with the portrayal of Kikimoras as spider-like monsters in The Witcher series.

Godlings (ubożęta or bożęta) were, unlike the Kikimora, considered to be a positive household presence. Godlings were protective sprits that brought luck and prosperity in exchange for leftovers, gifted to them on Thursdays. They weren’t, however, seen as children like Johnny and Sara from The Witcher 3 — more often, Godlings were portrayed as small bearded men.

There are many other creatures, characters and monsters inspired by Slavic culture and mythology in The Witcher games, enough to fill a book (or at least a couple of articles). The merger of the fantasy cliches like ghouls and vampires with Slavic beliefs is what makes the world so enticing to fans worldwide. Eastern European folk stories are familiar enough to be palatable to the mainstream gaming audience while remaining distinct. CD Projekt Red have done a brilliant job translating these cultural differences into a cohesive work of art.

With Cyberpunk 2077 coming soon-ish, I’m excited to discover references the Polish CDPR devs surely hid in the game. Watching the recently released gameplay footage I already spotted a nod to a long-standing Polish meme and I hereby promise to cover it (and, inevitably, many others) after the release of the game.


You Didn’t Play CAH, They Played You.

Over the years it has cemented itself in the bestseller lists and very few come close to how impactful it’s been in tabletop gaming. Considering its success, it’s interesting how unassuming and unknown the makers of the game are to the general public.

And it’s because, like a marketing agency nefariously operating in the background, so are the creators of Cards Against Humanity. Why is that? Well, the eight creators behind CAH aren’t in fact game designers, they are a marketing company.

If you truly think about it, Cards Against Humanity isn’t a game, it’s a PR stunt. For the past couple of decades, PR agencies across the world have been “remixing” things to generate attention for their clients. Whether that’s pizza for bees, Christmas dinner but in a can (twice), Greggs upscaling as Gregory & Gregory or selling Apples to Apples but with dark-humoured answers.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s done so often because it works. And more importantly, it’s worked very well for the CAH company. These marketers are bloody good at their job. Can you honestly name a tabletop marketing campaign? Off the top of my head, all I know are the ones that CAH did. 

Just as tabletop gaming was becoming more mainstream (thank goodness) they made more noise and drove more attention to themselves through a slew of PR stunts than any other company has ever attempted.

Not only have they managed to make noise, they’ve done it annually on Black Friday. On a day when all companies are vying for your attention, CAH marketing has risen above the rest and got noticed.

The First Stunt

It first started in 2013, with many companies racing to the bottom with their prices to shift stock, Cards Against Humanity, zigged when everyone else zagged. They, actually, raised the price for their game by $5.

The result? Articles in The Guardian, USA Today, Polygon, Buzzfeed and more. And wide-spread attention on Reddit, a key target audience for the product.

One of the designers of CAH, Max Temkin blogged about their first Black Friday ‘anti-sale’ on Tumblr, sadly now deleted but still accessible via the web archive. In it, Temkin says it took a while to convince his colleagues, but the resulting sales for the day were “A little better than last year” [2012] and managed to hold onto the top spot in Amazon’s Best Sellers charts. Not only that, they saw a bump in sales the day after as buyers were waiting for the price to return to normal. 

With quoting Max Temkin, it needs to be stated he was the subject of a number of serious allegations which saw the rest of the CAH management team issue a strong statement in response, launching internal investigations and saw Temkin leave the company.

Senseless Stunts

You could consider that if that first stunt hadn’t worked, there wouldn’t be any bigger, greater attempts. But it did work. The attention that stunt generated enticed the CAH team to create an annual event, doubling down on being pointless, yet news-worthy.

The next year saw a brand new sale. To buy bullshit. Actual, real-life excitement from a bull. Which sold out in under two hours. That meant 30,000 people received boxes of shit.

That’s right. 30,000 people actually agreed to this.

It’s said people were surprised to find out what they had bought…was actually what they had bought.

There is an interesting twist to this stunt though. This is the first year CAH donates money to charity and while I’m cynical enough to believe it might be for the added media attention it does add a more lovable roguish aspect to the stunts. 

I won’t go into detail of all the stunts, from 2015 onwards, CAH has allowed people to give the team $5, allowed people to pay to dig a big hole, released a Pringle’s knock-off named Prongles, had a 99% sale off of items CAH had around their office and last year pitted their writing team versus an artificial intelligence to see who was funnier.

As the years have progressed, so has their revenue. Last year’s AI battle brought in over $170,000 to the company on the day and I’m sure countless sales of the two expansions that were created from it.

Quantity and Quality.

2017 things get more interesting. The makers of CAH take it up a notch with two additional campaigns that get them noticed.

The first is a continuation of their classic stunt playbook. The day after the Superbowl they post an article about the failure of their Superbowl ad. Not only does it poke fun at traditional advertising strategies but also names one of the world’s largest agencies, Wieden+Kennedy and claims they were “burdened by conventional thinking”.

Of course, the stunt being, they never actually aired a Superbowl ad. 

If ever there was a moment to announce you’re opening up as an agency, this was it. Yet, they didn’t. They drew a lot of attention and then went back to the drawing boards to see what they could come up with next.

And once they had got their traditional Black Friday shenanigans out of the way with, they started with the second of their additional campaigns this year. With a much loftier goal:

Cards Against Humanity Saves America

With a taste for bigger and bolder, CAH struck again with a bigger marketing campaign called Cards Against Humanity Saves America which shifts gears to be a more purposeful campaign. Which, if you’ve ever been to a PR or Marketing panel event in 2017 (or since, I mean seriously…) you’ll know was all the rage. 

It was simple, you pay $15 and you’ll get a tiny bit of land  at the Mexican and American border to disrupt Trump’s border wall plan along with six more surprises.

However, to be fair to them, they weren’t tepid in their language. They went into it in full force.

Donald Trump is a preposterous golem who is afraid of Mexicans. He is so afraid that he wants to build a twenty-billion dollar wall that everyone knows will accomplish nothing.

CAH Press Release

In many cases, brands will make the mistake of trying to be progressive without actually taking any real action or using a completely beige language.

Your marketing experts did neither.

And it worked. They saved America got lots of media attention and sold out after a few hours. 

If you’re interested the campaign website is still live today and you can read more about the surprises, which all tackled pertinent issues at the time. However, it seems to be the last politically driven campaign the company has released. Whether the work that went into it didn’t equate to sales, or if the partisan tone didn’t sit well with half of their audience, who knows.

Cards Against Familiarity

With 2020 offering a wealth of inspiration, what’s next for the party game for terrible people? When you’ve offended everyone there is to upset to get noticed, promoted stunts that haven’t happened and seen your game stocked by every major retailer on the high-street where’s left to go?

You can enjoy the print and play version for free here

For the game that set itself apart as the party game for horrible people, it’s a little jarring to see it rebooted as a family-friendly title, but with blockbuster films, video games and mainstream all targeting the lucrative PG13 audience.

A smart agency would certainly be pitching something similar, it’s marketing 101 to expand your audience segment but surely stems outside the boundaries of the company’s core values. 

What’s more interesting though, is this comes out a couple of months after the company got into the news for allegations of a sexist and racist workplace. News that may have bypassed the many parents who have heard about CAH in passing & can now buy a version that all can play during the coming holidays.

Whatever your feelings towards the game, not only has it consistently sold, the people behind the game have out-marketed the rest of the tabletop industry for years. And it’s not the product that’s achieved that. The one lesson all the edge-y games on Kickstarter who hope to repeat their success should learn is, having some dark humour in your game doesn’t guarantee success. 

No, it’s the years and years of wild marketing ploys, schemes and stunts that keeps people talking about you.

You thought you played Cards Against Humanity? Think again, they played you.


Making Hidden Moves

Board gaming isn’t impossible during lockdown – we had quite a lot of success with some cleverly placed cameras in zoom calls, an absolute blast with The King’s Dilemma over Tabletop Simulator, and some incredibly tense Scythe battles in Scythe Digital; but something was still missing for me.

Treehouse Boardgame Cafe

As TableTop meetups were impossible, and I still had piles of board games amassing throughout lock-down that I wanted to dig into – when a copy of Escape From the Aliens in Outer Space arrived I decided to take a new approach, and create a digital version. The idea was to learn a skill, alongside learning a new board game in a totally different way.

For anyone unfamiliar with Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space (as I was until I purchased it during lockdown); it’s a hidden identity, secret location game published by Osprey Games. During the game, players must navigate a space station, with humans attempting to escape via escape pods – and aliens attempting to kill all the humans before they’re able to escape. As a print & play version was already available, the idea would be that this software would only have to handle the logistical side of the game that would be difficult to handle over zoom – namely the distribution of hidden roles and in-game items – and so I got to work.

As a Unity developer by day, I had already decided on which engine I’d be using for the project – and after a little bit of digging and asking around on Twitter I was pointed to Photon Unity Networking (PUN). PUN offers developers a free plan for up to 20 concurrent users, a whole bunch of data, and an API that handles all the boring stuff – perfect for rapid prototyping.

There’s a great Introduction to Multiplayer tutorial, written by Ray Wenderlich, and the PUN 2 Asset from the Unity Asset Store comes with some great examples of using Photon with Unity. If you’re a developer looking to quickly prototype an online game, it’s the perfect place to start.

The game in its original form
Connecting to a game using the mutilated example lobby.

After finishing tearing apart some examples to get a working lobby, and implementing a primitive solution for distributing roles – I started to get carried away. It turns out the very same principals used to achieve this initial task gave me the building blocks I needed to go ahead and digitise the whole game.

The player log in action

I quickly discovered there are a lot of small decisions involved in digitising a board game; especially when adapting a game with a large amount of hidden information. With EFTAIOS, it was important that players have enough data in order to make informed decisions about other player’s locations and roles – but not so much that the discussion, and thus the social deduction & player interaction element, is lost. This shouldn’t be a puzzle that players solve independently.

After a small amount of testing, I opted to add a player log to keep track of player movements and actions; which despite offering players the same information that they would receive in the tabletop versions, was provided in an easier to read format. A slight compromise on my original intentions – but giving all the players the same data-set to read from and discuss really helped the game continue to flow when playing remotely.

One of the other ways I attempted to keep the original flavour of the game, was to ensure player’s couldn’t deduce another player’s role by the number of mouse clicks they were doing. Despite the alien players having a greater range of movement, and the ability to attack – ensuring that you would have the same number of mouse clicks regardless of role was key from the start. 

Player movement and turn flow

Digitising board games also opens up a bunch of avenues that could enhance the overall experience. There’s still features I have planned for this little project; by utilising player data in interesting new ways. In particular, opening up the possibility for playing back a game timeline is super exciting, and would create a great visual aid for new players to understand the flow of the game – as well as an interesting conclusion for games with “close shave” situations.

This project took me a few weeks on and off – definitely longer than I had ever planned – but it was a super rewarding experience.

If you’re a board game obsessed programmer like me looking for a new hobby project I’d definitely recommend it.

More than anything, it’s a great way to get your friends to play your favourite game now that the zoom quizzes are starting to become a little bit tired.