Game Pile: Dixit

Been a while since I just straight-up gushed about a good game I liked, hasn’t it?

Dixit is a 2008 card game where players take turns trying to connect a chosen word by the active player (the storyteller) to one of a number of cards with dreamlike images on them. Complicating things is that the storyteller starts by picking their card in secret, then announces the word, then each player contributes a card of their own in secret. The cards are shuffled, then revealed, and the players have to choose which of these cards they think is the storyteller’s chosen card to represent the chosen word. If you’re the storyteller and everyone picks your card, they all get points and you don’t; if you’re the storyteller and some but not all the players pick your card, you get points and they do too.

What’s more, if you’re not the storyteller, and someone picks your card, you get points, meaning that even when you don’t control the game, a well-chosen card and word combination can get you points, can get you ahead.

That’s the lot, that’s the whole game. The rest of it is the aesthetic that binds it together. Rather than, say, a cloak-and-dagger spy communication game, or maybe deciphering ancient runes, Dixit opts for a variety of cards showing dreamlike surrealism, or at least, things that pass as dreamlike surrealism to me, a mere plebe who does not appreciate the True Surrealists, I’m sure.

This is a great little card-and-board game, particularly if you have a mixed group of players, because the actual act of puzzling out each individual turn is a lot of fun, and whether or not you win or lose the game at large, your time is made up of a series of tense win-or-lose moments. Getting some points in one hand, duping one player on one card, that can be enough to make the experience fun, and the point track could be completely immaterial.

Yet, there’s teeth to Dixit, and they come in what happens when you start accounting for the points track. On this track, you’re moving a little bunny meeple, and your score is open information, as is the score of all the other players. The game puts them on a track so you can see how well you and other players are doing.

That’s when the game shows its teeth.

Eventually, it comes a time that you’re going to compare a game to poker. It’s not quite a hack trick in board games, but it is something that tips your hand, so to speak, about what you think of poker. Shut up and Sit Down creator Matt Lees compared Skull to poker in his Opener review of same, while complaining about how poker projected an air of being about bluffing and coolness, but was secretly all about math, for example.

Here’s mine. Dixit is like poker.

We talk about a lot of ways to see games, about how some games are numbers games, some games are like roller coasters or ghost trains, some games are slugfests or haymakers or stealthy games, or games about betrayal or so on. Poker to me, and Dixit, are communication games.

If you play poker it can be easy to miss. When you play poker, certainly as you’re learning it, you’re trying to understand the rules, the cards, trying to imagine things that your hands could do, but once you get past that and everyone is getting the same game information from things that are out in the open – like discarded cards, community cards, that kinda thing – then the game comes about communicating with your game actions. You can tell people what you’re doing, how good your hand is, how good you think their hands are, all that kind of information and you’re doing this even without any kind of table talk, without people watching each other’s behaviour.

The core of Poker is about creating a language of how you play that other people feel they can trust and then using that language to lie to people. This is why what order things happen in is really important.

And Dixit is also a communication game. Except, especially once you’ve done learning the mechanics and getting a feel for how other players are thinking, when you want to try and keep a player from winning. You start making extremely specific predictions, extremely careful, narrow offerings based on what individual players are doing, or based on their position in the game. It creates this interesting space where players are sneakily trying to whisper-out-loud around the player in the lead, while that same player is watching for everyone in an attempt to try and steal points like they’re decoding hidden whispers.

Then you can complicate things by adding random cards to each hand – adding a fake player for each round of cards, one card that isn’t played by any player, a place points can just fall out of the game. It’s one of my favourite things about tabletop games – they can be hacked on the spot, new rules introduced that complicate or transform them and it’s seen as acceptable to talk about.

What happens is that Dixit is an incredibly soft game that if you really burrow into it, when you become familiar with it, you might start needing to play with a timer because it’s so easy to get lost thinking your way through possible communication tricks. It’s Codenames where you are always trying to form a team with the player in last place, and recognising the importance of that last place player and them realising that importance makes things complex.

I love a lot about this game. I love how it manages to make its box space work efficiently. I love how all the components are easily divided from one another. I love the little bunny meeples. I love how these little bunnies, the first time I set them down, I thought were ducks, and my nephews thought it was a chipmunk with a big tail. I love that this game is always this game, but how you look at it shows you a totally different mystery.

Dixit is an excellent game, and if I had any complaint with it it’s that its singular aesthetic and loose, dreamlike theme may make it a bit too much like other games that play very differently but feel very similar. I own both Mysterium and Dixit but I’ll rarely get them both to the table in the same night.