I played Dixit at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party, and can’t wait to play it again. Everyone who played it absolutely loved it. Dixit plays on the intersection of the visual and verbal parts of the brain in a way that is just about perfect. Unlike games like Pictionary, a lack of artistic talent is no impediment. And unlike Scrabble or Taboo, a large vocabulary or particular facility with language isn’t really required, either.
The basic game play is very simple: everyone is dealt out some cards, and then each player in turn chooses a card from their hand. Everyone else then chooses a “matching” card from their hand, the chosen cards are all shuffled together, and everyone tries to identify the original card. So far, much like a lot of games out there. Where the wonderfulness comes in is in the details.
First of all, the cards are gorgeous original works of art. Each is in a modern fantastic style, full of details and whimsy.
And they run the gamut of moods and subject matters, some quite representational, some very abstract.
So, the art is inspirational. Which is a good thing, because the next detail that you need to know is how the cards are “matched.” The first person chooses one of their cards and, keeping it hidden, “describes” it. Now, the trick is, you don’t want to literally describe the image. Rather, you should choose an aphorism, cliché, or other poetic or euphamistic phrase or sentence—or even just a word—to describe the image on the card. You are not so much describing, as evoking, the image. The reason for this is that, as you’ve seen, no two of the cards are alike—or even necessarily very similar. So you want a description that is broad enough that a large number of cards are likely to fit it.
The scoring is the next clever part of Dixit, and helps to naturally reinforce appropriate descriptions. If everyone guesses which card is yours, you get no points. If no one guesses which card is yours, you get no points. The way to get points is to get some—but not all—of the other players to identify your card. So, you want your description specific enough that some people will get it, but not so specific that everyone gets it. Fulfilling that pair of conditions tends to leave a lot of wiggle room for the other players to identify cards in their hands that could also fit your description, which is what makes the game interesting.
(There’s also point scoring for the rest of the players in a round, but that’s more straight-forward: guessing the right card gets points; tricking people into falling for your card scores points.)
So, some examples from my first two games:
The description the initiating player gave was just one word: “lonely”. This was one of our best rounds, with people’s guesses spread about evenly between the 5 cards. At first, the sun card looks like a ringer—but look at the sun’s expression, and you see a puzzled, or even hurt, sun being shut out by everyone. The bassinet in the deep dark woods, the sad clown alone, the untouched marionette, and the left-behind toys are all fairly obvious fits for the description. In this case, the clown was, in fact, the original card. But this round is a particularly excellent example of how, given an appropriate poetic description, everyone might have a very appropriate card in hand, making the guessing stage quite tricky.
This was probably one of the most interesting rounds we played. The description given was “complex mathematics”. Can you guess which one it was? In this case, as in a lot of rounds, there were a couple cards that are definite stretches for the description—it’s extremely unlikely that a player would’ve looked at the ladybug fortress or the egg city (are those eggs? or are they stones?) and come up with that description, but the other three? Maybe.
The description the initiating player gave for this round was “Choices, choices”. And my, what a choice it was. A compass on a map; a little boy about to cross a rainbow bridge—while looking longingly over his shoulder at something; a rabbit soldier faced with 3 doors; a maze; a shelf or shop display of toys; and someone looking into an opened pea pod or leaf with various things on it. At first, everyone discounted the first two cards, but the more we thought about it, the more we all agreed that they all were real possibilities. 
“He was so very sorry.” Take particular note of the cat licking up the tears of the mounted deer head: this image simultaneously creeped out and depressed several players—many of the cards can be very moving.
The makers of the game refer to it as a “storytelling game”, but I think that’s really stretching the definition of storytelling. Yes, you can tell little stories—well, more like vignettes—but if you get too specific, nobody will be able to match them well, and your card will be too obvious. From demos of the game, and our own play experience, this sort of evocation of mood, or pithy sayings and poetic euphemisms, are the best way to go, and produce the most satisfying game.
“As time goes by.” Most of us quickly narrowed it down to the cosmic pocket watch or the people in an hourglass—but which one? And are you sure you can discount the abandoned dollhouse? Or the ring and braid, which made me think of Gift of the Magi, and the passage of time.
This set is one of the more delicious, in my mind. The description was just “the duel”, and the cards chosen run the gamut from literal duels (the ants and possibly the snails) through stand-offs (the dragon and boy), to metaphorical duels of values or ideas.
The description was “first, love thyself”. And the cards, again, represent this in a number of ways. I think this is a perfect example of how, while only a couple players had really good fits for the description, the more you think about it, the harder it is to discount the others. The fact that a couple of us had recently re-watched the Disney Beauty and the Beast and had the image of a glowing/flaming flower under glass fresh in our minds, didn’t help clarify matters.
If you follow any of the links to my Flickr stream, you can see a few more. Several of our rounds weren’t as well-tuned as the examples I’ve given here—or on Flickr. But almost none of them were obvious—all made you think to figure out the right card. And the replay value is wonderful, because the cards have so much detail and room for interpretation in every one of them. We played twice, so several of the cards were used to initiate rounds with very different descriptions. And, in other cases, a card was used to match another’s description that was very different from when it was itself described. Add in multiple brains and their varied experiences, and I can’t see this game growing old any time soon. It’s also a game that is playable by very young children, without losing interest for all but the most jaded of adults.
If my word isn’t enough, Dixit also has won numerous awards:
- 2009 Golden Geek Best Board Game Artwork/Presentation Nominee
- 2009 Golden Geek Best Children’s Board Game Nominee
- 2009 Golden Geek Best Innovative Board Game Nominee
- 2009 Golden Geek Best Party Board Game Nominee
- 2010 Spiel Des Jahres Winner
 the planetary abacus was the original card.
 I’m not sure, but I think it was the rabbit with the 3 doors
 the giant crying teddybear and the boy with a…slingshot? stethoscope?
 the hourglass was the original
 the dueling snails was the original
 the flower plucking it’s own petals was the original