tabletop

Top Of The Table – Dixit

by Matt Miller on Jun 28, 2013 at 12:00 PM

The height of summer demands a game that is both simple and engrossing – something that is rewarding for the whole family to play together with ease and without extensive explanation or complication. This month's recommended tabletop game hits all those notes. Dixit's blend of storytelling, art, and a twist of psychology is engrossing and rewarding, game after game.

Dixit won acclaim upon its initial release for its innovative approach to gameplay, which encourages imagination and interaction between players. In fact, the game nabbed the coveted Spiel des Jahres award in 2010, along with a host of other accolades. The game succeeds through its gorgeous cards, each filled with custom art. Players offer up brief "stories" inspired by the cards, followed by a fast-moving guessing game as players try to match cards to the stories. Rounds play out at a brisk pace, and encourage imagination and friendly deception in equal measure.

Getting Started

Dixit is designed by Jean-Louis Roubira, and published here in the United States by Asmodee. The unusual name is a latin translation of the words "she or he said." Since its initial launch, several versions of Dixit have become available, and each offer minor variations in the basic pre-game prep. No matter the version you play, setup is always a breeze. Players start their colored marker at the beginning of a scoring track. Then each player is dealt six cards as a starting hand from a shuffled deck.

The simplicity of setup makes the game an easy choice for quick game sessions where your group might only have 30 minutes to play, for a long summer car ride in the back seat, or outside at an afternoon picnic.

Explaining the initial rules can confuse young or new players for a few minutes, but my experience playing with groups of all ages has been that everyone picks up the game capably after the first round of play.

Gameplay

Each round, one player becomes the storyteller, and comes up with a single word, phrase, or sentence inspired by one of their cards. I've included a number of example images in this article of the unusual and beautiful art that is depicted on the cards, which help to illustrate how many strange interpretations a player could bring to the table for any one image.

After the storyteller tells their brief "story," each of the other players examines their hand and chooses a card that relates (as closely as possible) to the word or sentence that has been given. All players, including the storyteller, then put their cards face down on the table. The storyteller shuffles them, then lays them out one by one in a row. Players then try and guess which card belongs to the original storyteller.

The tricky part emerges because of the way the storyteller is scored. If everyone guesses his/her card, then the storyteller gets no points. But if no one guesses the storyteller's card, he/she also gets no points. The other players receive points in both scenarios. This discourages the storyteller from making things too easy or too difficult. For the first leftmost image below, it would be a mistake for the storyteller to say: "Two teddy bears in a window," since everyone would easily guess the card. Likewise, using the phrase "Red cars and airplanes" would be a foolishly vague and misleading story; no one would guess your card. Instead, a good story for this first card might be: "The benefits of a positive outlook."

Other players can also earn points when other players guess their card instead of the storyteller's card. And hold your horses, cheaters; you can't vote for your own image. After the round completes, the storyteller role passes to the next player, and the game continues until all cards have been drawn.

This simple structure leads to a wealth of fun interactions with other players. The guessing game begins to take on a psychological twist, as you think about what your particular friend or family member would think about any given card. Storytellers inevitably come up with innovative interpretations of the same cards, or even different ways to tell a given story. In the groups I play with, we encourage an anything-goes attitude towards the storytelling, so that players can sing, mime, or even just make a single sound to be the story for their card. Inevitably, the whole group ends up laughing along with each other at the crazy cards each player picks to represent a given phrase. While the competitive angle is present to determine a final winner, the game rarely feels built around the competition. The fun of coming up with explanations for your cards and the subsequent guessing game never ceases to be amusing.

[Next up: What are the different versions of Dixit? And where can I pick up the game?]

Theme and Story

Needless to say, Dixit doesn't build itself around any particular thematic concept. Cards run the gamut, depicting strange and melancholy scenes, vibrant and whimsical magic, and surreal conceptual pieces that set the imagination alight. Even so, the cards are united in their picture-book styling and broad options for interpretation.

Likewise, for a game that has no set story, it is nonetheless a game that is fundamentally built around storytelling. Each card is like a glimpse into the middle of a particularly surprising dream, and you create the story to match what you see there.

Complexity

Dixit lends itself well to diverse player groups, including children and adults that are inexperienced with gaming. Nonetheless, I found that my long-time gaming friends adored Dixit for its psychological twist, and for the chance to stretch one's imaginative muscles. Because the game is learnable in a few minutes by newcomers, it's become a go-to option in my household for get-togethers with diverse groups of family or friends. A single playthrough rarely lasts more than 30 to 40 minutes.

Dixit's childlike imagery and low-competition style may not be a great fit for players purely interested in strategy and clear objectives in their game. In my experience, the game doesn't lend itself to developing increased skill over repeated playthroughs, and it's hard to be "better" than other players once you understand the basics.

What Else Do I Need To Know?

Dixit's success has resulted in a broad array of options for getting started with the game, but I'm personally a great fan of the artwork depicted in the original release. Dixit 2, Dixit 3, and Dixit Quest all offer expansions, while Dixit Journey (a repackage of Dixit 3) and Dixit Odyssey offer standalone experiences with mild variations on the scoring system. The cards from various versions can be combined in any way you see fit. 

The original base game tends to run for under $25 at most online retailers. If you're hungry for a copy, check out Cool Stuff Inc., Thoughthammer, or Amazon, or take a drive to your local hobby store, which likely has some version of the game in stock.

Dixit is a surefire hit for diverse groups of players, but I don't want to undersell its potential for being a breath of fresh air for more experienced groups. The low price of entry, innovative gameplay, and evocative art offer a little something for everyone.

Looking for more great tabletop games for those times you're ready for a break from the digital gaming scene? Check out our write-ups on AscensionTannhauserCastle RavenloftYomiStar Trek: Fleet CaptainsAgents of SMERSHA Touch of EvilMage Wars, and The Adventurers: Pyramid of Horus