“Ok, class. Pencils down. Close your answer booklets. The exam is now over.”
It’s ok. You were just dreaming! You can breathe easy!
We aren’t snapping pencils in sheer exam terror. Rather, we are celebrating games that use the humble pencil (or a pen if you’re a risk-taker– we don’t discr-INK-enate here at Zatu!).
And we can’t be the only ones who wish to pay homage to the glorious graphite as 30 March 2021 is officially named National Pencil Day. In fact, it seems that there is a global celebration going on!
So, in honour of pencils everywhere, grab your favourite 2B or HB and join us in marking your way to victory!
If you want to play a board game to celebrate the wonderful invention that is the pencil on National Pencil Day, then I can think of nothing better than Patchwork Doodle. A game that is all about slowing down, creating something beautiful and enjoying the tactile pleasures that can sometimes only be brought to you by the feel of pencil on paper.
Based on Uwe Rosenberg’s polyomino masterpiece, Patchwork, Patchwork Doodle moves the action from simple Tetris shaped tile laying to a paper and pencil drawing mindfulness session. Players are simultaneously “doodling” the randomly chosen shape onto their own player sheet.
Many other games elicit cries of “come on!” and classic passive-aggressive “you realise it’s your turn, right?” type people can understandably become frustrated by slow play. But not here with Patchwork Doodle. Players seem to be placed into a relaxed mediative state from turn one, as the game takes a more sedate pace. Of course, you could just mark off the shapes onto your board with a quick flick of your wrist. But it never seems to play out like that. Different colours, designs and patterns are employed as each piece is marked off in more elaborate and decorative ways.
Patchwork Doodle encourages players to free their creative side and, with the provided coloured pencils, enjoy themselves in a way they may not have done for many years. Colouring, doodling, drawing, all seem to be childish endeavours. Something many of us left behind as we “grew up.” Well, Patchwork Doodle politely whispers “no” to this; reminding us of the simple innocence of colouring in and the pride we can take in drawing something that looks aesthetically pleasing. Patchwork Doodle suggests to us to slow down (quietly and with no judgment), and have some fun with pencils again. What a joy that is. “Can you pass the purple, please?”
Ah, the humble pencil. One of our most important inventions (after inflatable dartboards and Tamagotchis, obvs!).
I wonder if the pencil of today looks back to its early years, yearning to tell its metallic stylus self everything that is yet to come? Knowing those heady leaded years will be followed by more settled graphite times would give the pencil of old some comfort. Reassured to know that it isn’t destined to be usurped by a bumptious biro.
I have no idea but, if it can, it most definitely should. Because what a jam-packed adventure it has been thus far. The pencil has been an essential part of our history. Wars have been won and lost. Seminal artworks created. And all with the swipe of a humble pencil. But even more importantly(!), Cartographers; A Roll Player Tale would not be the fantastically crunchy game it is without pencils.
A brilliant game in the growing flip and fill genre, Cartographers is all about mapping different regions in the Northern Lands for the very demanding Queen Gimnax of Nalos. On the turn of each card, players must select one of the available shape and terrain types shown and draw it on their own map. Free reign in theory. But, in choosing where to place, players need to bear in mind the relevant scoring rules for that particular round (“season”), as well as the general scoring objective cards offering prized reputation stars over all four seasons.
Whether using a standard pencil to draw patterns depicting various terrain types, or a plethora of colour to identify the regions drawn, there is something incredibly satisfying about creating your own unique play area as you select prime real estate space for the various shapes. Something an email could never hope to achieve.
Compared to other flip and fill games, Cartographers also has more lead in its pencil. When goblin cards are revealed, players must swap maps and draw the indicated shape onto their opponent’s. A single action that potentially destroys all chances of gaining the good graces of Queen Gimnax! But this direct player interaction is a fantastic twist. It ratchets up the tension between selecting a space achieving a relevant scoring objective (either now or in a later season) and one which limits the negative marking caused by those irksome imps!
I love pencils. I love the impermanence. And I love the ability to start over. And with so much going on in Cartographers, the ability to draw.erase.repeat is a blessing in cylindrical form. Happy National Pencil Day!
National Pencil Day? Pencils and tabletop gaming? For me, Dungeons & Dragons spring to mind. Now in it’s Fifth Edition (or ‘5e’), D&D has been around since the ’70s. It’s an epic, co-operative tabletop role-playing game, where you play as a hero. Think of it like creating your own personal Tolkien-esque fellowship with your friends. You roam around a ‘sandbox’ fantasy world, in which you can attempt to do anything! (Well, you can certainly try…) One player is the Dungeon Master. They aim to stitch all the action together, acting as a conduit between the players and the action.
A major part of D&D is you get to create a unique hero. You have your own character sheet on an A4 piece of paper. You fill in certain stat boxes, and keep track of what loot you have! What weapons and armour you’re wearing! What spells you might know or learn! Your current health level! (Gosh, what a lot of exclamation points!) You write these in pencil, then rub them out and update them every time you play. Many folks play D&D as a campaign, spread out over many gaming sessions. Your character – and with it, their possessions – grows over time. Writing in a permanent pen is a rookie mistake! Use a pencil.
One of the best ways to get into D&D is to try out a D&D adventure pack. The Starter Set is a small campaign full of mini-quests. These absorbing adventures tie together to form an over-arcing story. (‘The Lost Mines of Phandelver’.)
The Starter Set comes with D&D dice, the core rules you need to run the game, and a booklet detailing the adventure. It also comes with some pre-generated Character Sheets. You can use these if you want to start playing straight out of the box. But if you want to create your own individual characters, blank templates are a free download away on dnd.wizards.com
Roll and write games have seen a real resurgence in recent years. This new wave of games has brought with it a lot of new ways to play. One of the first games I played in this new generation of roll and writes was Welcome to Dinoworld, and it has really stuck with me.
Each game of Dinoworld will see you trying to build the most successful dino park that you can manage. You have six different types of dinosaurs that you can put into your park and they each have different requirements to be kept happy. You’ll also have some randomized research labs and facilities. The research labs will give you a few ways to gently bend the rules in your favour, but you’re limited on how many times you can use them. The facilities will give you a few new opportunities to score points by arranging your park cleverly.
The players are also competing to be the first park to satisfy one of the three visitors in the middle of the table. These visitors have very specific needs but will net you big points if you manage to satisfy them. You can also spend your dice building paths or beefing up your security, and that last one is important. At the end of the round, if the danger value of your park is too high for the security in your park, the dinosaurs will start damaging their pens. If they manage to completely destroy their pen then they escape, potentially damaging other pens on the way out.
There is also a simpler version of the game in the box where the dinosaurs are more chill and don’t try and break out. This is a great way to learn the dino ranching ropes before stepping up to the full experience that is Welcome to Dinoworld!
Choose your team, limber up, get your puzzling solving hat on, and grab your pencils. It’s time for Cranium this National Pencil Day.
Cranium has been a family, party game classic since 1998, and for good reason. A ‘game for the whole brain’, it took other well-loved mechanics and crammed them all into one big experience. Let’s face it, the game is silly. But it has the power to get the whole family laughing, which is why it remains so popular.
After separating into two teams, you’ll be challenged in various categories to prove your team is number one! The challenges are broken down into four categories. Word Worm, Star Performer, Data Head and Creative Cat. So everybody has a chance to shine*. (*Not guaranteed). Word Worm will see team members trying to solve puzzles, define funny words and complete spelling challenges. Star Performer will bring out the superstar in you, with acting, humming and impersonation tasks. Data Head is for the brainiacs out there, with plenty of tricky questions to answer. And Creative Cats...is where the pencils get their star moment.
Armed with their best graphite-based tools, the Creative Cats in your team will show their prowess by drawing or sketching their way to victory (or sculpting a piece worthy of Picasso if your clay hasn’t dried out.) A category for the quiet ones, the noise and furore drifting away, a sense of bliss descending as the humble pencil serves its master and a Louvre-worthy showpiece is crafted...or, you know, a stick-man gets doodled. Arguably the most fun category the artist grows ever more frantic when their work of art is misinterpreted.
Whilst Cranium might not be the newest game out there, it certainly earns its place as a popular choice. The type of game that shines at parties and gatherings, being able to host a large number of players and easy to understand (everyone knows what it entails), Cranium is the perfect game to get everyone involved in.
When posed with the best pencil game for National Pencil Day, I initially ummed and ahhed about what to pick. Then I took a look at my shelf and realised I was a fool, this question was easy! One game is in my top 3 games, and I had overlooked it! Welcome To Your Perfect Home is a roll and write where you are neighbourhood planners trying to complete the contracts before your opponent to get the highest points, but without scuppering your point-scoring opportunities in other areas. Welcome To is designed by Beniot Turpin and published by Blue Cocker games.
Gameplay for Welcome To is pretty straightforward once the iconography is in your brain. Each round there are three pairs of cards available. One of the cards in each pair shows the number you have to write if you choose that pair out of the three. The other card shows a power that you are able to use if you wish. These help you maximise your points by crossing off places on the scoresheet and increase your score in that area. These are building parks and pools, using estate and temp agencies, and using BIS to duplicate numbers in your street (very helpful when trying to correct mess ups!).
The puzzle of Welcome To is that you want to build lots of parks, you want to build loads of pools, use many estate agency activities, and more temp agencies than your opponent. You want to do lots of everything, which makes the decision about what card to select all the more difficult. It also makes playing this game more satisfying. Base game Welcome To is great, but once you have played this game a lot, you can mix it up with one of the many great expansions which totally switch the game up.