Buzzworthiness: Dixit

I seem to be on an SdJ kick with my reviews here lately.  Today, it’s the 2010 winner

image by BGG user Dottot_Destino
image by BGG user Dottot_Destino

Dixit is a Jean-Louis Roubira design that was originally published in 2008 by Libellud.  The 2009 multilingual edition won the Spiel des Jahres in 2010.  Dixit is a party game for 3-6 players (more with the subsequent expansions and sequels) that plays in about 30 minutes.  In the game, players are taking turns being storytellers.  They describe a card from their hand, and all players try to figure out which card was being described.

Dixit comes with 84 oversized cards, 36 voting tokens (1-6 in six colors), 6 wooden rabbits, and a score track insert.  Each player is dealt a hand of six cards.  When it is your turn to be story teller, you will select a card from your hand and give a short phrase description of it.  You want to be vague, but not too vague.  The reason for this will become apparent in a moment.

After coming up with the description, each other player looks at their own hand of cards and selects one that they feel best fits the stated description.  The storyteller shuffles all of this cards with his own, then reveals them, marking each with a number.  The other players then try to decide which is the card the storyteller selected, and selects that number from their own set.  All players simultaneously reveal, and scoring happens.

  • If no one selected the correct card, all players (except the storyteller) get two points.
  • If everyone selected the correct card, all players (except the storyteller) get two points.
  • If some (but not all) selected the correct card, they each get three points, and the storyteller also gets three.
  • Each vote on an incorrect answer also scores a point for the person who played it.

So, as you see, your goal as the storyteller is to be just cryptic enough that some people can figure it out, but not everyone.  Here’s an example:

DCards

The storyteller gives a clue of “The world’s a stage.”  The other three players turn in cards, and they are revealed.  When the guesses are revealed, players A and B have said that it’s the picture of the stage in the woman’s stomach, and player C says it’s the masks.  As it turns out, it’s the masks, so the storyteller and player C get three points each.  Additionally, player C added the stomach stage, so she gets two extra points.

Play continues until the last card has been drawn, or when someone reaches 30 points.  The player who is furthest ahead on the score track wins.

COMPONENTS: The conversation about Dixit has to begin and end with the art.  The art is the game.  Marie Cardouat illustrated the cards in this and a number of other Dixit titles.  The art is very surreal, and each card is unique.  The pictures don’t really mean anything, it’s one of those cases where you make your own meaning.  There’s a lot you can get out of each card, and they’re big enough (about 12×8 cm) that all the detail is easy to see.

Of the other components, the cardboard tokens are nice enough and the wooden rabbits are pretty cool.  I do want to complain a little bit about the insert board.  It’s a good cost-saving idea, but it’s not terribly stable.  The spaces are a little on the small side so that several pieces can’t fit simultaneously, and if anyone bumps the box, the rabbits are going everywhere (I guess that’s thematic).  There is a box in the middle to store the components, and that stabilizes things a bit.  I think I’d rather just use a scorepad, however.  Later titles in the series started using a board.

THEME: There’s no theme in the game.  That’s not to say that you can’t come up with some good stories, there’s just no overarching narrative that holds things together.  The game has a surreal, dreamlike quality to it, so I guess you could say that was the theme if you wanted to.

MECHANICS: Ever since Apples to Apples came out in 1999, it feels like a lot of party games have imitated the “everyone gives cards to a judge” format.  Dixit puts a twist on it by taking away the inherent subjectivity of that approach.  The storyteller chooses a card from their own hand and other players add a card to the mix to try to throw the others off.  There’s no profit in choosing cards that you think are wrong – at best, everyone will think it is wrong and you’ll at least score two points; at worst, you’ll be wrong and are giving points to another opponent for choosing their card.  So you’re always trying to find the best thing.

At the same time, the storyteller can play to their audience.  If you have an in-joke with another player involving a giant teddy bear, and play the card with the giant teddy bear with a reference to that in-joke, you’ll be able to get that player to match up with you while others may be unlikely to.  Party games frequently have this meta-game aspect, it’s part of what makes them good for social situations.  At the same time, this is not going to be a riotous, laugh-out-loud type of game for you – it’s really a lot more introspective than a lot of games.

I like the way voting occurs in this game.  It’s all simultaneous, and it is done using tokens to lock in your answer.  This helps keeping people from changing their votes, or seeing what others have said before making their choice.  Also, scoring works a lot better than in many party games because it makes sense.  The storyteller is rewarded for subtlety, but is penalized for being too obvious or too cryptic.  The other players are rewarded for their ability to hoodwink their fellows, as well as to picking up on the hints of the storyteller.  It works, and I think it makes Dixit more of a game than most entries into the party game genre.

STRATEGY LEVEL: The strategy in this game is kind of subtle.  I already mentioned the meta-game aspect of the experience, and that will play into how you phrase your stories/sentences/word choices.  This is not a game where you will be talking out loud, motley because you don’t WANT everyone to do well.  I called it introspective earlier, and I think that’s a good description.  Your strategy will be done internally, and really you are trying to make the most meaning you can from some pretty abstract cards.

ACCESSIBILITY: Being a party game, Dixit is fairly accessible to a lot of people.  It is more intellectual than something like Taboo or Charades, but it should be picked up pretty quickly.  The toughest thing is figuring out how to word your phrases as the storyteller, and that may be a barrier for people.  And this is not really a bar game, nor is it a game for a kegger – this is really for the quieter, calmer parties.  Maybe even libraries or museums.

REPLAYABILITY: With 84 cards in the box, and more through expansions and sequels, there is a lot of replayability in Dixit.  The varied pictures are always suggesting new phrases to you, and you most likely won’t play the same way twice.  Different players will see different things, and you’ll be surprised how differently a card can be described from game to game.

At the same time, for me, this is not a game I want to play all the time.  I generally don’t like party games, and while I find this better than most, it’s one I only want to play occasionally.  If I play it too much, it does start to get quite old, and I start to get annoyed that I’m getting “bad cards”.  For the record, I don’t think there are bad cards, but I do reach a point psychologically where I just can’t think of anything for what I have, and I get grumpy.  In the end, I think I just prefer more strategy than Dixit has to offer.  But, I also know people who would play this all the time given the opportunity, so take that as you will.

SCALABILITY: You can play with 3-6 people, though the 3-player version is a variant.  Later titles in the line significantly increased the number of players, and that’s good since I tend to feel that the more the merrier here.  The more players you get, the more the storyteller benefits by having more chance that SOMEONE will pick up on their hints.  It also means there’s an increased chance that a LOT of people will get it right, so you need to be even more creative to limit the impact.  So, while it plays with 3-4, I wouldn’t want to play with less than five.

FOOTPRINT: Dixit doesn’t take up a lot of space.  The box is the scoreboard, though you can just use a piece of paper.  All the other space you need is space for the cards to be laid out during voting.  Therefore, it’s a game you can play in some tight spots, as well as in a number of different locations and circumstances.

LEGACY: The Spiel des Jahres committee does not often award party games.  However, in 2010, two were nominated, so I have a feeling that’s what they were looking for.  And I think it’s a fine choice, even if I was rooting for Roll Through the Ages that year.  I think it succeeds where a lot of party games fail in that it can actually be played as a GAME.  In fact, while most party games can be played as an activity without worrying about scoring, Dixit cannot.  The scoring system, while convoluted, makes you more aware of how to phrase things in such a way that not everyone can get it.  Plus, it’s one of the gold standards for the way art can be a central aspect of the game.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  It’s a pretty brilliant game that manages to combine some great art with a good gaming experience.  I would recommend this over most party games on the market.  It may not be the rowdiest of games, but it’s definitely worthy of its praise.  Thanks for reading!

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2 comments

    • I haven’t played Balderdash since I was a kid, so I can’t speak to that one. I do prefer Dixit to Telestrations, if only because I think it’s a better game. Telestrations definitely evokes more laughter, but it starts to feel tedious after a while, particularly when you play with people that are just intent on forcing the final answer to be wrong. It’s a fine activity, but if I want a party GAME, I’ll choose Dixit.

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