by Louis Sylvester
Since 1978, the biggest prize in the world of tabletop gaming has been the German Spiel des Jahres, or the Family Game of the Year Award. Recently, the nominations for 2020 were announced. Although I am excited about all the nominations, one in particular stood out to me as a fun, easy-to-learn, creativity-inspiring game. Pictures (3-5 players, age 8+) was designed by Christian and Daniela Stoehr and is a delightful family game.
Setting up a game of Pictures takes less than a minute. First you deal out a 4 by 4 grid of random pictures from the photograph deck. Then each player is assigned a set of components which they will use to recreate one of the pictures. The component sets include a pair of shoelaces, color cubes, sticks and stones, a small stack of cards depicting simple images and differently shaped building blocks.
Each player draws a numbered token from the bag that assigns them a secret picture card. For example, if you draw a token that reads A3, your secret photograph card is located in the A column and on the third row down.
Using your components, you attempt to form the image on your secret photo so that your fellow players will be able to guess your card. You will do your best to make your picture recognizable, but it can be quite a challenge to depict a dock full of boats with only two shoelaces or a cluttered fruit market with four short sticks and four small stones.
Once everyone has finished forming their components, players will use a personal scoring sheet to mark down which pictures they think belong to each set of components. Players get points for guessing correctly and points for having their own secret picture correctly guessed. Then the sets of components are rotated to the next player and a new round starts.
Honestly, the victory points almost don’t matter in a game of Pictures. Each game inspires so much laughter that the final score almost seems like an afterthought. Because the set of components are so basic and silly, there is never a good way to clearly form your secret picture. Each round requires the player to get creative. A stick may represent a child and a stone may stand in for a flock of birds. Perhaps that shoelace cluster represents a field of flowers or a group of reaching hands. You will cheer with every successful guess and laugh at how badly each ridiculous attempt seems to miss the mark.
Every year the Spiel des Jahres celebrates a number of excellent games and 2020 is no exception. If you have the opportunity and aren’t afraid to get a little abstract, Pictures is a game that will make the entire family feel like winners.
Sylvester is an associate professor in the creative writing program at Lewis-Clark State College. He is the co-author of “Legends of the Lost Causes” series, a rip-roaring adventure set in the fantasy West. Questions about tabletop games may be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.