Am I the only one who finds the ‘party games’ nomenclature weird? I was brought up on Hollywood’s definition of party meaning: loud music, pookah shell necklaces, dancing, drugs, that one dude yelling ‘Party’, alcohol, and more recently, sexual harassment. Nowhere in that idea is someone lugging around a 12-player party pack of Telestrations, asking the DJ to cut the noise for a rules explanation. However, if you know of a party like that; put me on the guest list.
When I Dream, designed by Chris Darsaklis, is a 4-10 player party game. One way to describe it is imagining a Venetian pleasure palace. If you’re unfamiliar, they blindfold you and rub fruits over your body. You have no idea what’s being rubbed where, but it’s meant to be stimulating. When I Dream uses words instead of fruits, and confusion instead of stimulation. There’s really no similarity except that in both situations you’re blindfolded. Oh well, not all similes can be winners.
How to Play
The game begins with role cards being distributed to each player. The deck of mostly one-word cards is placed in the centre of the table, and one person dons a blindfold and becomes the Dreamer, or soon to be victim of wallet theft. A two-minute sand timer is flipped and the player next to the dreamer begins the round.
Everyone takes turns giving a one-word clue about the card on top of the deck to the dreamer. These clues can’t be a derivative of the word, sound like the word, or be the word itself. If someone breaks these rules, they take a 1-point penalty and the card is discarded.
At this point everyone is throwing words at the dreamer like it’s verbal dodgeball. The dreamer has a choice of guessing what the word is, or passing. If they guess correctly the card is placed in the bright yellow happy box, otherwise it gets placed in the blue nightmare box. Passing also puts the card in the nightmare box, which is fair enough, because you should never give up on your dreams.
The three roles in the game are: the fairies, the boogeymen, and the sandmen. Fairies and the dreamer earn one point for every correctly guessed card. The boogeymen earn one point for each incorrect card. The sandmen work a bit differently. They get bonus points at the end of the round if the number of correct and incorrect cards are equal.
After two minutes, the dreamer gets a bonus round where they must name all correctly guessed cards in the form of Martin Luther King’s ‘I had a dream’ speech. Doing so gives them +1 to their speech proficiency and awards them a couple extra points. The next person becomes the dreamer and a new round begins. Once everyone has had a dream, add up the points and declare a winner.
When I Dream hits all the beats for a good party game. It’s easy to teach, it has a novel gimmick, there’s teamwork, it has a quick consistent pace, there’s moments of hilarity and humility, and most importantly, it’s enhanced with alcohol.
What’s interesting to me, is that each of the roles brings a new perspective and gameplay elements to an otherwise simplistic task of giving a one-word clue. To analyse it fully, we need to break it down role by role.
The Dreamer: The guessing of words isn’t as straight forward as it first appears. Sure, you’re trying to guess the card, but on top of this, you’re also trying to find out who you can trust. Sometimes a suspicious clue giver is just trying an alternate line of clues. For instance, you hear the words office, puncture, stationary, red, and you may think red is the odd one out. Until you remember the red stapler from Office Space. In game, you don’t have the time to make these in-depth assessments and instead need to rely on your gut. As the round plays out your gut gets better and better at weeding out the nasties, but by that time it’s usually too late.
The other part of this is discerning when to make your guess. Too soon, and you haven’t heard enough truthful information. Too late, and you’re just wasting time. Also, there’s only so many obvious clues for each word. Meaning that you get the most useful clues first, and if you can’t get it with them, it makes people become more creative and tangential, diluting the ideas you first thought of.
The sleep mask adds an unquantifiable element to this game. Being blindfolded adds stress. Not from anything external, but from losing your sight for an extended period. It’s uncomfortable and keeps you on edge, making you lean in and pay attention to the clue givers. However, it also makes you eager to answer. Since you’re the centre of attention there’s an unspoken need to do well and not disappoint.
Finally, after the round is over and the dreamer weaves their tale. It’s fun to hear the stories they come up with stumbling through both correct and incorrect words – they have no idea which is which. It’s ridiculously hard to remember them all, especially after the mental gymnastics you’ve just gone through. That is, unless you’re Mike Ross, which brings up another question: does a photographic memory still work when you can’t see?
The Fairy: Having to get a person to guess a word out of the 171,476 words in the English language is an uphill battle. With a five second limit, it gives you little time to think of the perfect clue. You must decide quickly if you’re going to continue the current line of clue giving, or change the angle of attack. That’s not all though, you also need to weed out those who are supplying false information and refute them. All of this, one word at a time.
The Bogeyman: As a bogeyman (or bogeywoman) your goal is to resemble a trustworthy clue giver, but also doing enough to throw the dreamer off the trail. It’s like a job interview, outright lying is obvious. However, embellishing the truth is much more compelling. Since the dreamer doesn’t know they’ve been tricked, it’s a victimless crime, except for the anguished looks from the fairies round the table.
Here’s a bogeyman example that I’m proud of, but probably shouldn’t be. The word was gorilla. The words hairy, monkey, big, were thrown out by others. When it came to my turn I said orange, this lead the poor, dumb, magnificent dreamer to immediately guess orangutan. The angry looks of everyone around the table, was delicious. Such a great gaming moment.
The Sandman: The sandman (…or sandwoman) gets to play Judge Judy and executioner. Siding with whichever faction is behind, they get the best experiences of both previous roles. Though usually they’re with the fairies. They also need to time the end of the round, as a quick answer could throw out the balance they’ve worked so hard to achieve.
The gimmick with the blindfold allows for trepidation when introducing the game and selecting the first dreamer. No one wants to look silly, especially when playing in an office environment.
Next up, the scoring system needs work. As the dreamer, you don’t know who’s on what team, so if the current winner is a fairy, a point for you, is a point for them. To get the best point differential is to guess all the cards you got correctly during the bonus round. Therefore, the best strategy is to guess one card correctly, and then stay silent for the remainder of the round. This makes it easy to remember what card you guessed. Done right, the scores end up with the fairies, and sandmen getting one point each, boogeymen get no points, and the dreamer wins with three points. This isn’t in the spirit of the game, but then the game doesn’t reward the dreamer for taking a lot of guesses. Which I think is to the games detriment.
The biggest disappointment for me was that the components broke. After the second game the blindfold broke, which I was fine with, but then the sand timer started stopping intermittently. Repos Production probably didn’t account for the Australian humidity, which feels like you’re walking through jelly. At the same time, when you buy something there’s the expectation that it should work.
When I Dream also faces all problems word games face. Such as restricting its accessibility across languages. The game is extremely difficult for people who aren’t strong at English. On top of this there’s a lot of localised words, or words not common in day to day talk. A couple of them off the top of my head: melon, mason, minotaur, parasol and bell pepper – which in Australia we call capsicum for some reason.
Lastly, when you play it enough you get a vague idea of the what the words are going to be. This takes a bit of the shine off When I Dream, because it makes it easier to guess some of the words. Especially those that have a small clue pool.
I really enjoyed this game. The mechanics are simple, so it’s easy to bring out and get going. When it works, and people are leading and misleading the dreamer, it works extremely well. However, there are enough problems, namely the scoring system, and component quality to make me hesitant to give it full marks. Therefore, I won’t. However, I still highly recommend this game, and can’t wait for the inevitable adult only sequel: When I Wet Dream.
Unfortunately not the perfect dream, but almost. So close! Have you played When I Dream? What are your thoughts? What about other party games?
Thanks for reading my review. In 2021, I’ve provided an updated opinion about this game. You can read it as part of my Back to the Future series.
I’ve also started ranking all of my board games in one dreamy list. You can see When I Dream’s initial ranking below.