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.
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.
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.
“MILK MILK BABY BOTTLE MILK!”
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.