Dreams can reveal a lot about ourselves. They allow our imaginations to run free, synthesising memories of real world experiences with powerful emotional states and the utterly fantastical. We could even consider dreams to be reflective of modern board game design as a whole, where established concepts integrate freely with bold and innovative ideas. Perhaps it is fitting then that When I Dream is a game about dreaming that revisits and reworks some familiar mechanics in order to deliver a fresh experience.
Welcome to the Dream World
When I Dream, by Chris Darsaklis, is a real-time party game for between four and 10 players that plays out in roughly 30 minutes. The game takes place in the world of dreams where each round one player (the dreamer) attempts to recount elements of their dream using clues given to them by the other players (the dream spirits). Players score points depending on how effectively they fulfil these roles with the ultimate goal being to accumulate the highest score.
At the start of the round night falls and the dreamer gathers a number of dream spirit cards equal to the total number of players and deals everyone a face-down card. All the non-dreamer players look at the card that they were dealt without revealing it. Dream spirit cards represent the inhabitants of the dream world and determine scoring objectives for the round. Fairies will be looking to help the dreamer, boogeymen will hinder them, and sandmen will try to maintain a balance between the other dream spirits. It is important to note that the exact ratio of roles varies depending on the number of players and the card that is assigned to the dreamer always remains hidden which creates a degree of unpredictability.
The dreamer covers their eyes and the dream spirit players shuffle the deck of illustrated dream cards to create a draw pile. Each dream card contains two single word elements, one of which remains covered for the duration of the round. The sand timer is flipped, and the dreamer now has exactly two minutes to correctly guess as many elements as possible by interpreting verbal clues given to them by the other players.
Starting with the player to the left of the dreamer and then moving around the table, each dream spirit must offer a single word clue which may or may not relate to the element shown on the topmost dream card. If they hesitate or are unable to supply a word they may pass to the next player who may in turn play a word or pass. At any moment the dreamer may interrupt to guess the element or, if they are completely stumped, pass. If they guess correctly the topmost dream card is placed on the right hand side of the draw pile, conversely if they guess incorrectly or pass the card is placed on the left hand side. Play then resumes as before with the newly revealed dream card.
Once the two minutes are up day breaks and scoring occurs. At this point the dreamer is given the opportunity to recount their dream by attempting to incorporate all of the single word elements that they have guessed during the round. Once the dreamer has attempted this, they uncover their eyes and all of the other players reveal their dream spirit cards.
The dreamer and fairies score one point for each correctly guessed dream card, and boogeymen score one point for each card that was incorrect. The dreamer scores an additional two bonus points if they managed to recount all of the elements contained on the dream cards that were correct. Sandmen compare the number of dream cards on each side of the board. If the number of cards is the same they score one point for each correctly guessed card plus two bonus points, if there is a one card difference they score a number of points equal to the greater of the two numbers, and if there is a difference of two or more cards they score a number of points equal to the smaller of the two numbers.
The dream cards on the board are rotated and flipped and placed at the bottom of the draw pile and the next round starts with the player to the left of the dreamer becoming the new dreamer. The game ends once every player has had the opportunity to be the dreamer for a round.
We are the Music Makers....
Like the best party games, When I Dream incorporates a number of highly interactive elements into its core gameplay. Dream spirits are challenged to think on their feet as they try to communicate ideas as efficiently as possible whilst also disguising their roles. Creative thinking, word association and memory all play a part in the overarching strategy of the game and due to the imposed time limit and speed of play, each round carries a strong sense of urgency. Because of this, players will always feel involved as their individual actions provide vital context for everyone around the table.
Likewise, group dynamics established by individual personalities and existing relationships amongst players add further nuance to proceedings. Fairies and dreamers will find anecdotal references to shared experiences particularly useful in boosting each other's scores, whilst boogeymen can disrupt this type of play by subtly twisting words and their associated meanings. Opportunistic sandmen will find themselves having to rapidly switch roles throughout the round as they desperately try to maintain a balance between correct and incorrect elements. This may seem chaotic at first but after a few rounds you’ll realise that the game is at its best once everyone starts to relax and feed off of each other's ideas and energy organically.
The theme of dreams is cleverly integrated into both the mechanics and presentation of the game. As the dreamer you will find that you start to create brief mental images of the words that are thrown your way, and attempting to construct a coherent narrative using these fragments feels particularly thematic when day breaks at the end of a round. As boogeymen and sandmen revel in subtle misdirection, fairies must utilise inventive wordplay in order to keep the dreamer on the right track.
The suggestion that players are mischievous spirits tinkering with the fabric of dreams is a novel concept, and the rich variety of beautifully illustrated dream cards featuring artwork from a host of different artists, (including contributions from Vincent Dutrait, Julien Delval, Regis Torres and Christine Deschamps) combined with details such as the bed shaped card holder, sleep mask and evocatively designed score tokens, contribute to an overall feeling of quality.
Most gamers would be remiss not to acknowledge the profound influence of Jean-Louis Roubira’s Dixit as a landmark design that helped to popularise board games in the late 2000s. The game was defined by both its simplicity and its left-field approach to player interaction that saw individuals interpreting signs and indicators contained within surrealistic imagery to convey messages pertinent to only a small proportion of the group. Players that have spent some time with this game will immediately recognise parallels in the design of When I Dream.
Like Dixit, individuals will frequently find themselves challenged to contribute ideas on the spot, which youngsters or non-native speakers may find difficult. Furthermore, players who prefer to plan out their moves in a more thoughtful and structured manner may struggle to adapt to the rapid pace. Our group also found that frequent Americanisms in the English language version seemed counter-intuitive, considering the fact that accurate wordplay is a fundamental gameplay mechanic!
Final Thoughts on When I Dream
Minor criticisms aside, When I Dream ultimately manages to accomplish what it sets out to achieve with fast, engaging gameplay, wonderfully detailed components, and a compelling theme. The fact that every round has the potential to be different thanks to the continuously shifting player roles and ample selection of double-sided dream cards, adds a lot in the way of replay value, so if you’re looking for an imaginative, easy to play game that strongly emphasises player interaction and works well with a large group, your dreams may have come true!