Cardboard Children – DOBBLE

Dobble comes in a little tin. It’s the kind of little tin that you imagine soldiers might have used during one of the great wars to keep things dry. Like cigarettes and love letters. It’s the kind of tin they’d use to house an expensive pate in a French delicatessen. It would easily fit in a bedside drawer or sit on a mantelpiece. It would fit anywhere, in any home, and it really should.

Inside the tin you will find a thin pamphlet that details the game’s rules. The game could not be easier to explain. This tiny rulebook mainly offers a variety of ways to play the game – different ways to structure it. On only the second page of text within the rulebook you will find this: “That’s it, now you know how to play Dobble!” The next 12 pages are simply ways to have more fun with this lovely game.

Dobble is inexpensive. We’ve been trained to believe that expensive things are of a higher quality. This is not so. Many of the very best things cost little, or nothing. And Dobble is an example of a game that will give you a great deal of pleasure for very little cost. It is, after all, only a set of 55 cards.

55 cards that will have you laughing and screaming with joy.

If you take any two Dobble cards, you will see 8 symbols printed on each. Perhaps you will notice a cute little cat. Or maybe a taxi cab. Or a clown’s face. But you will certainly notice that each card has completely different symbols.

Wait. No.

Actually, now you’ve noticed that there is a matching pair of symbols, one on each card. The little cat on one card. And the little cat on the other.

That’s it, now you know how to play Dobble!

Lay four Dobble cards out before you and you will see a wide array of symbols. Tree. Carrot. Zebra. Candle. Moon. Anchor. Bomb. But any one of those cards and any other one will share a pair of matching symbols. Only one pair. But it will be there. Can you spot it? How fast can you spot it?

To play standard Dobble, every player starts with one Dobble card face down in front of them. In the middle of the table there will be a stack of face-up Dobble cards. Let’s imagine the first card on the stack has these eight symbols: Carrot, Tree, Snowflake, Dolphin, Sunglasses, Flower, Dog and Teardrop. When the game begins, every player flips their card face-up. Now, you will know for sure that one of the symbols on your card will match one, and only one, of the symbols on the card on top of the stack. If you spot it, you call it out, and you take the card from the middle stack and add it to your own. Now a new card is revealed in the middle, and you must make a new match. The player with the most cards at the end of the game is the winner.

“DOFFLAKE!”

There is no such thing as a Dofflake. But this is the kind of word you will call out during a game of Dobble. The stress of trying to match the symbols at speed, before your opponents, will tie your mind and tongue in knots. Here is a list of some other words you can expect to shout or hear shouted during a heated Dobble match.

“CAXI CAT!”
“SUNFINE!”
“GHOSGLASSES!”
“MILK MILK BABY BOTTLE MILK!”
“QUADYBIRD!”
“EXQUENCHUN MARK!”

And of course:

“PANDLE PENDLE PENCIL!”

At points, two players will shout a match at almost exactly the same time, and will both grab for the card. This creates a moment of great tension, as fingers grip and turn white and someone shouts “ME ME ME ME ME!” and someone else shouts “NO, YOU SAID CAXI CAT!” Usually the least gracious player wins these encounters.

At other points, someone will confidently shout “GHOST!” and grab the card. And then they will sheepishly say, “No, there isn’t a ghost.” Everyone will groan, but only until they realise they need to get back to looking for “padpocks” or a “Canada leaf” on a card they thought was already out of the game.

One player will almost certainly try to memorise every symbol on their card, perhaps by using an ancient Roman “memory palace” technique. They will try to quickly place each symbol into an area of a palace that exists in their mind as a virtual construct, creating connections that enable them to easily remember every purple dragon or pair of scissors. And then you will bear witness as that palace crumbles, leaving the player screaming “BOMBFIRE!” at a card that shows neither bomb nor fire.

If a player is lucky, he or she might slip into a trance-like state that we refer to as “going Full Dobble”. In a Full Dobble state, the player makes instantaneous connections, eyes darting from card to card at great speed. These fleeting periods of almost supernatural ability are uncommon, and can’t be prepared for. As someone who has went Full Dobble on a number of occasions, I can say that there is the sensation of being touched by the grace of Dobble – it is a gift to be thankful for, and never questioned.

As we move into the Christmas period, I ask that you don’t pass by Dobble when you see it on sale. It is readily available, cheap, and is a distillation of all the things that make games great. It has a neat central device. It cannot be entirely learned. It supports up to eight players, from kids to adults. And it fills a room with hoots of laughter.

It also comes inside a cute little tin, the kind you’d hide some treasures in.

19 Comments

  1. Scrote says:

    I do believe I must purchase this RIGHT NOW

    Thanks!

  2. Borodin says:

    Cheapest UK price is £9.99 with free postage from Powo!

  3. Kefren says:

    Sounds a bit like Jungle Speed. I think every house should have a game like that, though whether you need more than one (e.g. Jungle Speed plus Geister?) is an interesting question The nice thing with Jungle Speed is the unbreakable totem (shame handskin has no immunity to fingernails). Congratulations on going Full Dobble.

  4. Devenger says:

    I can attest to what a lovely, tight little game this is with a group of willing fellow fools. You can cycle through all the games in less than half an hour and have a very varied and often confusing experience. I’m still a bit puzzled about some of the images – one of them, is it an ice cube or a ghost? Or am I thinking of two different images? – but this just adds to the fun, as people dispute your interpretation.

  5. Humppakummitus says:

    Never go full Dobble.

  6. jgf1123 says:

    There’s some interesting math behind the cards. For instance, it is possible to create a deck of 57 cards, each card with 8 symbols on it, with 57 symbols appearing 8 times each, such that any two cards have exactly one symbol in common. Makes you wonder which of the 57 cards they left out.

  7. mooken says:

    Note that across the pond, dobble is called Spot It, and there are 30+ versions of the wacky thing.

    • Scrote says:

      Woops! I ordered it from New Zealand, didn’t see this… oh well. I’ll still enjoy it when it arrives.

      In 2017.

  8. Premium User Badge

    zapatapon says:

    Strange feeling: first time ever that a game is featured in CC that I already own. Because I don’t play boardgames. Usually I read this column to do it vicariously. But not this time! I actually know first-hand how playing the game feels! And it’s exactly like Rob described — lots of fun. (I actually play Dobble with my kids. They love it.)

  9. Wyatan says:

    Play with kids.
    It’ll teach you humility.

    I’m a gamer. That means I tend to be good at games. Thus, when I play games with my family, the expected result is that I win, whatever that game is. We still have a lot of fun, they try their best, but well. I just win.
    We had a game of Dobble last Chrismas. And my 7-year old nephew started to take an uncomfortable lead.
    So I started calling matching symbols with authority, and quickly snatching the cards.
    Only… they were not matching symbols.
    Yup, I cheated my way through, and none saw through it.
    Because it didn’t matter: my nephew matched symbols faster than I made them up.
    I lost.
    And then I went on a rant about how unfair that was: I’d made the effort to cheat convincingly when the little brat had just naively played the game, crime should pay, etc…
    We had a good laugh. :D

    • Ross Angus says:

      You monster (I’m glad your story had a happy ending, though).

      • Guzzleguts says:

        when you cheat against kids you lose on a whole new level

  10. Toothball says:

    Sweet, a game I already own! I can relax for one week.

  11. Caelyn Ellis says:

    That’s the housemate’s Christmas present sorted. Thanks, Rab!

  12. padger says:

    Yes! Dobble is perfect.

  13. webs1 says:

    Quick question for those that already own Dobble:
    I read on Amazon that replayability is not high due to the players learning the cards by heart pretty fast.
    How is your stance on that?

    • Gertjan says:

      This a game about speed recognition, not about memory, so I don’t know what anyone would mean by learning the cards. We have a couple of different Dobble variants at our house, because it’s nice to have different themes, but the replayability of this game with children is through the roof.

      • webs1 says:

        Hm, one of the commenters stated that they had adjusted quickly to the search mechanism of the game. Maybe he just meant that the got bored, which would amount to a simple question of taste.
        Thanks for your opinion, though, I guess, we will get it when our kid is older.

        • dldorsey says:

          You won’t have to wait too terribly long. My kids are 5 and 3. They’re quite competitive with me and my wife.

          As previous entries indicate, it’s mildly embarrassing.