You should be playing Dungeon World
Today I get to review some a type of game I don't play very often: A card game. LeCardo is what might be classified as an educational card game, although unlike a lot of educational games, it actually plays well as a game - strategy and competition are part and parcel of LeCardo. The game is designed by Hugh Marshall and Priscilla McIntosh, and published by Leo Marshall Designs.
How play works
The game consists of a standard-sized, 52 card deck, with the rules appearing on a few of the cards and the rest of the cards covered in It works for 2-4 players with a playing time of about 30 minutes. The cards are simple but attractive, with a grid to help line up cards (which isn't really necessary but does help in understanding how the cards can be arranged when it comes to places where four cards intersect), a word, a simple graphic suggesting the meaning of the word, and a point-value used in scoring.
The aim of LeCardo is to make as many compound words and two-word idiomatic phrases using pairs of cards laid side-by-side or top-to-bottom. Some examples are bedside, break-out, and showtime. Hyphenation as well as spaces are allowed. Words & phrases are always read from left-to-right, or top-to-bottom. This last part is something that isn't quite clearly spelled out in the included rules but which the website's tutorial does a better job of making clear.
At the start of the game each player is dealt seven cards and then play proceeds around the table in a clockwise direction. On each turn a player tries to make as many two-word compounds or phrases as they can with the cards currently in their hand. After they've done so, they announce their points and draw back up to seven cards from the decks. Points are scored based on the point values of the two cards involved in the pairing just played.
The game ends when all of the draw deck is empty, and one player has then emptied their hand of cards. At this point the player with the highest point total wins.
I really enjoyed playing LeCardo. I have played several games with my eight-year-old son, as well as my wife, and also tried it with some teenage ESL students, and all liked the game. In fact, after our first play, my son insisted on showing it to my wife. That to me is the sign of a good game. It's educational and yet fun. I live in a multi-lingual family (my wife is German and my children speak both German and English as their mother tongues) and this type of game is the perfect activity for our family.
Aside from the odd multi-lingual family though, in particular LeCardo seems extremely well suited for the classroom environment where it turns learning compound words and phrases in to a fun activity. However, where I think it would really shine is in teaching ESL (English as a Second Language, although nowadays EAL - English as an Additional Language - is the more favored term) since idiomatic phrases are such an important part of everyday English language but can be completely baffling to people trying to learn the language. For example "Turn in your paper" is a hard phrase to really understand when literally translated and there are a lot of compounds that mean quite different things depending on the second word (turn up, turn down, turn in, turn out, turn around, etc.). Thus, I think the game would be a great activity for the EAL classroom and I'm planning on passing on the review copy of the game to our EAL department (I teach at an international school) since I think they can put it to use on a regular basis. I'll then likely buy myself a new copy since I also think, as I mentioned earlier, that it's a great fit for my family.
Incidentally, if you are going to use the game as an educational tool, I would recommend foregoing the "you can play multiple cards in a single turn" approach and instead have players make one pair per turn - this reduce a bit of the competitiveness of the game (it keeps scores closer) and reduces some of the advantages a player with a good grasp of English might have over weaker students. It also reduces much of the analysis paralysis of the game which can slow game play to a crawl.
What about other people? I think the game would also be of interest to ordinary adults, particularly those who are word buffs. While I'm not sure the average player would want to play the game on a daily basis, it's certainly a good game to play with friends after dinner or when the inlaws are visiting - it's super simple to learn and it's Scrabble-like elements are something most people will enjoy.
Is the game perfect? No. My one complaint is that the directions are ambiguous in places and can lead to a lot of confusion. Both my wife and I both struggled at first to figure out the card placement rules (e.g., can you read from left-to-right? This doesn't seem likely but it's not exactly clear) as well as how many cards one could play in a single turn. If you read between the lines, it's clear you're supposed to be able to play as many cards as you can, but this isn't stated explicitly in the directions and based on comments I've seen on the internet, it's something that's caused confusion with others as well. The online tutorial page is very helpful but I would have preferred a card showing an example of play in the deck to help alleviate some of the initial confusion.
The game, for ordinary adults, would be improved by the use of a simple timer (I'd go with a 3-minute egg timer) because the "play as many cards as possible in a turn" can slow play to a snail's pace if you're playing with someone who is really trying to maximize their points or who suffers from the aforementioned analysis paralysis.
Finally, the last issue is one related to word combinations: It's really easy to create some very questionable pairings which are difficult to verify without a dictionary that includes idiomatic phrases. While this isn't such a big deal for friendly play where you can use player consensus to judge the validity of a word or phrase, I can imagine this being a problem with highly competitive play.
I really like LeCardo. I think it's fun to play, especially for families with children who are mastering English. It's also a potentially wonderful tool to use in the classroom, especially if you teach EAL, since it's both fun and challenging. For the price it's hard to go wrong with LeCardo.
Full Disclosure: I was sent a complementary copy of LeCardo to review.