NHL Ice Breaker

Filed Under (Family Games) by Will Bain on Mar 25, 2014

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http://i1.wp.com/csegames.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/nhlib-box-comp1.jpg?resize=266%2C341When I was in middle school and high school, I would often fall asleep listening to radio broadcasts of the Indianapolis hockey team, the Ice. At the time, I don’t think I had ever seen a full game of hockey. The basics, of course, are easy: sticks, skates, puck, net. But icing and off sides were complete mysteries to me as were the mechanics of a line change in a game that never seemed to stop.

But even though I had only the most rudimentary mental image of the action on the ice, the commentators sucked me in, and as their voices rose in pitch with each shot on goal, I would grip that little transistor radio until the plastic casing threatened to burst apart.

CSE Games’ combination card game / board game NHL Ice Breaker, does a good job of capturing some of that rapid back and forth that kept me listening to those hockey games. Opponents use cards to move a puck across the game board. The cards are also used to take shots on goal and make defensive saves.

Players battle for control of the puck by playing the highest card or combination of cards. To begin, each player simultaneously reveals one card. High card wins, but the lower player has the opportunity to add another card to form a poker hand (two of a kind). The other player may respond with a better poker hand (a higher pair or a three-of-a-kind). Players go back and forth in this manner until one player passes.

There are four boxes on each card. Each box has instructions for different situations: a pass, a shot on goal, goal tending, and the “ice breaker.” If the puck is being passed, the winner moves the puck as instructed. If someone is taking a shot on goal, the winning hand either scores a point of makes a save. The “ice breaker” box is a special instruction for when the puck lands on one of the many special spaces on the game board.

awardThe game comes with a bilingual rule book and a quick-start rule sheet. We were able to play very well just using the quick sheet and making a few consultations to the more detailed rules. Once you become familiar with the cards, most of your work is cut out for you. Most of the instructions are on the cards. The strategy is light—there are very few times when you won’t just play your best cards right away—but there is good tension especially as one side approaches the scoring zone.

I also appreciated how the game could be played by a single person. It’s not as engaging as a 2 or 4 player game, but the single-player option was an amusing way to pass the time—more so than many other forms of solitaire that I know.

All in all, the game is easy to learn, quick to play, and it has just enough strategy to keep you coming back. If you designate someone as the color-commentator, this game takes on that jittery, impressionistic quality of those radio broadcasts.

1-4 players. Ages 8+

NHL Ice Breaker was designed by Fabio and Paolo Del Rio and is © 2013 by CSE Games.


Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Senior-Worthy) by Will Bain on Mar 12, 2014

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Despite the rather cruel and fickle nature of this particular March, there have been a couple of really pleasant days in which all but the most stubborn or sheltered piles of snow melted away. Spring is in full tease mode. Yesterday I went for a run in shorts and t-shirt. Today I had to push an inch of wet snow off my windshield before I left work.

But those few nice days got me out not just to run but to play a couple games of Murbles that Murray Kramer of Kramer Kreations was nice enough to send to us back in December. Now, Murray is from Pensacola, Florida where I can only assume that a lawn-bowling game like Murbles is a viable year-round proposition. Unfortunately the game reached me in Indianapolis just as we were settling in for what would be one of the snowiest winters on record.

Each set of Murbles comes with a target ball (white) and six other balls in 2 colors. The ones I tossed around the yard were red and blue, but there is a huge variety of colors you can order. As with most bocce-style bowling games, you throw the target murble and then players try to get their murbles closest to the target. With the basic set, two or four people could play by alternating throws. Combine multiple sets and you can have a game for an entire family reunion.

awardAlthough the game will be immediately familiar to anyone who has ever thrown objects over a grassy surface, it is the packaging and materials that really make Murbles stand out. The murbles are three inches in diameter, weigh about half a pound (8 ounces), and come in a colorful canvas bag with the rules printed on it. The murbles are small enough and light enough that children and the elderly can play with them, but they still have enough “heft” so that your throws feel controlled. They are made from a dense, recycled plastic that is also buoyant so you won’t lose them at the bottom of a lake (although prevailing winds and waves might lead you on an extended chase).

Murbles is Major Fun that you can throw in your back pack or the back of your car and then throw around in the great outdoors. Something to usher in the spring and a great reason to get outside and (as my mom would say) get the stink blown off.

[sniff] I’m pretty sure I need to get out more.

2+ players. Ages 6+

Murbles was designed by Murray Kramer and is © 2011 by Kramer Kreations.



Major Fun would like some credit for doing this entire review without making one joke about balls. Not one. Read back through there and check out all the opportunities I had. I tell you what, being this mature is really hard difficult.

Anomia: Party Edition

Filed Under (Family Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on Mar 6, 2014

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PictureAnomia was awarded Major Fun early in 2012. You can check out that review here or keep reading for a brief recap. Anomia’s new Party Edition is the same game but with the addition of more decks of cards so you can play multiple rounds without repeating the same cue cards. Same Major Fun simplicity. Same Major Fun turmoil. Same Major Fun yelling and grabbing and laughing.

The game consists of cards that contain a clue and a symbol. In turn, each player turns over a card from a personal pile. If there are no matching symbols then nothing happens, and the next player turns over a card. If two cards have the same symbol then those two players race to shout an example of the other person’s clue. Winner gets the other card.

The wonder and joy of this game comes from the dysfunction of the human brain under surprising, stressful conditions. Some of the most ridiculous things will tumble out of your mouth when you have to name a kind of chewing gum under pressure. Or your brain will freeze when asked to give but one example of a soup.

awardAlthough only one player turns a card at any one time, any of the other players might have to leap into action at any moment. Once one face-off is resolved, another might appear when the top card of a pile is moved. The players are always engaged. Even when there are no matches there is never any down-time.

The addition of more decks allows for greater replay. Otherwise, Anomia has wisely left a good thing to be a good thing. It’s Major Fun no matter how tongue tied and brain dead it makes you look.

3 – 6 Players. Ages 10+

Anomia: Party Edition was designed by Andrew Innes and © 2013 by Anomia Press LLC.

Space Cadets: Dice Duel

Filed Under (Gamers' Game, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on Feb 27, 2014

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space cadets boxGamers Games are Major Fun for the more experienced gamer. For one reason or another, these games are a bit more difficult or require a greater time investment than the games we generally award BUT we feel that they are well worth the effort.

A while back we gave an award to a cooperative and yet utterly chaotic app called Space Team. It is a fantastic example of how our phone and tablet technologies can be used to not only connect players, but have them physically act together. At the time I thought that this kind of game might be unique to technological devices. Phones and tablets after all are designed to record and respond to a wide range of motions.

Board games? Less tolerant of vigorous activity.

Well, I’m here to tell you that Stronghold has provided the world with a game that effectively splices the strategy of a board game with the frantic and physical activity of an obstacle course. That game, is Space Cadets: Dice Duel.

Space Cadets diceDice Duel is set in space. Two starships have found themselves locked in combat over a region of space that contains wormholes, asteroids, nebulae, and mysterious power crystals. Players divide into 2 teams with the unambiguous mission to destroy the other ship. Each ship comes with a Helm (for steering your majestic ship into glorious battle), Sensors (for locking on to the vile opponent and cloaking your presence), Weapons (for cleansing the galaxy of the alien filth), Shields (for deflecting the villainous armaments of your foe), Tractor Beams (for moving all manner of material and laying mines), and most importantly Engineering (from whence your ship distributes cleansing power to all your Stations).

This would be a lot to track for one person, but fortunately you have a crew. Each of the ship’s systems has its own Station and a set of dice that is color coded for that control panel. In order for any Station to operate, that Station first needs power from Engineering and then it needs the right combination of dice. One of the things that makes Dice Duel so intriguing is that it can engage up to 8 players at a time. It is actually better with more players.

Space Cadets weapon diceWhen the game starts, Engineering begins rolling its dice. It distributes these dice to the Stations (Weapons = 1, Sensors = 2, Helm = 5, etc…) so that those crew members can get their sub-systems up and running. A Station may roll one die for each Engineering die it receives. When a Station gets the result it wants it places the die on the control panel and returns the energy die (or dice) back to Engineering.

All of this rolling and equipping and moving happens at the same time. There are no turns. The team that rolls its dice and communicates its actions fastest has a distinct advantage.

Early in the game, the teams work to get their ships up and functioning. This is a relatively quiet process as the team members roll their dice to stock up. But as soon as one of the ships moves from its start point, the tension and chaos go supernova. There are lots of things that have to happen for a ship to successfully attack another ship and it is inevitable that in the heat of battle, things will go horribly horribly wrong. Your ship might face the wrong way. You might not have enough power in the sensors. You might not be close enough. You might not have the torpedoes facing the enemy. The enemy might move. Imagine trying to teach someone to drive a manual transmission by giving them instructions on the phone.

awardYour enjoyment of this game will hinge almost entirely on your ability to recover from disappointment. Well, and maybe your team’s ability to not turn on each other like a pack of rabid dogs.

The constant dice rolling provides a menacing sound-track to the proceedings and it is utterly gratifying to land a torpedo on your opponent. Gratifying and Major Fun.

The real-time mechanics are very clever and give the game its own frenetic glee. There is a fairly steep learning curve, but it’s not learning the rules that is hard but rather learning how to communicate with your team and time your attacks. The game comes with a lot of pieces, but once you have the control panels set up, the dice mechanics are really very simple. This game is a great example of rather simple rules complicated by human behavior and constantly evolving conditions. That the game is best played with a lot of people (4 on each team) makes it stand out in a field crowded by 3 – 4 player limits.

4 – 8 Players. Ages 12+

Space Cadets: Dice Duel was designed by Sydney and Geoffrey Engelstein and © 2013 by Stronghold Games.

Stop ‘n Go

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on Feb 26, 2014

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4250_StopNGo_023151042507We have a soft spot for speed games here at Major Fun. That soft spot is generally the tips of our fingers and we will gleefully bruise those soft spots if it means that we get a chance to slap a card down just before our neighbor does. Speed games are loud and frenetic and there is never any down time.

Granted, this kind of fun isn’t for everyone and speed games can often be unforgiving to those who are inexperienced. Or lack hand-eye coordination. Or are too old. Or are too young. Or have a heart condition. Or play nice…

…but they are fun!! And Talicor’s Stop ‘n Go does a great job of providing us with a slappy shouty speedy  game that pauses every so often to give you time to regroup.

Players are dealt 15 cards (the rest are placed to the side for later) and the object is to get rid of all cards in your hand. The cards are held face down. Each card has a combination of four basic colors: red, green, yellow, and blue. Each player turn one card face to the table in front of them. When the dealer yells “Stop and Go” each player flips over a card and tries to match it to one of the cards already face up on the table. When a player sees a match, he or she rushes to slap their card on top of that pile and flip over another.

It’s all very intuitive. Speed color matching.

There are also three special cards: Zap is yellow, Pass is blue, and Stop n Go is green and red. When one of these is successfully played to a pile, everything stops and the special card takes effect. Zap allows the player to give each opponent 2 more cards (from the ones set aside). Pass forces everyone to pass their hand to the right or to the left. Stop n Go allows the player to play 3 cards while everyone else has to wait.

This is not a highly strategic game. There is a good deal of luck involved. But the pace is fast and the interruptions due to special cards allow everyone to regroup and prepare for the next onslaught. The game rules awardsuggests that at the end of the round (when someone goes out) you count your cards and record that number. When someone reaches 30 the game is over and the lowest score wins.

We had a blast just playing to see who would go out each round. And betting on who would walk away with a broken finger.

The rules are short and largely intuitive. The cards are well designed. We were laughing and shouting and bruising our fingers like a rock n roll bassist. It’s Major Fun.

2 – 6 Players. Ages 4+

Stop ‘n Go was designed by James D. Muntz and © 2012 by James Games Design. Manufactured and distributed by Talicor.

WORLD PREMIER: King of Tokyo – Rockin’ the Pacific Rim

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Will Bain on Feb 23, 2014



After Christmas, my wife’s family gathers for a reunion in north-eastern Pennsylvania. All five of her siblings have bustling families so, counting our kids, there are over twenty cousins ranging in age from 7 to 30, all packed in to the great-room of a very small retreat center. I love those three days. My wife’s siblings, nieces, nephews, and assorted spouses and significant others are some of the most talented and interesting people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

And do they love games? Oh yes they do.

Last year I brought Kung Fu Fighting which was a big hit among the older nephews. This year, I forgot to pack Kung Fu Fighting but had the presence of mind to bring King of Tokyo (see Major Fun review here). Oh what a wonderful, destructive rampage we wrought…

Rich, the oldest cousin, was so moved that within about 24 hours he had written and composed a theme song for the game (a song our kids sang for a large portion of the seven hour drive home). I mentioned the cousins are talented, right?

So, Major Fun is proud to present the world premier of Rich David’s “King of Tokyo.” Enjoy.

Nothing to Hide

Filed Under (PC Game, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on Feb 16, 2014

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nothing to hideCame across this proto-game today. A clever puzzle game that combines stealth-style game play with a satirical, anti-stealth / surveillance-state story-line.

I’m sorry. My language centers were briefly hyphen-hacked.

Check out Nothing to Hide here. It is in a very early stage but there are seven playable levels and a place for comments. Play a bit and then give them some feedback. I think it looks very promising. You’ll need to run it on Chrome or Firefox. Internet Explorer evidently does have something to hide…

Smart Max and Hooked on Science

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Will Bain on Feb 12, 2014

Cool things in the works for a Major Fun Award winner!

Smart Max, a magnetic construction system from the good people at Smart Toys and Games, has partnered with Hooked on Science to provide Smart Max sets for hands-on science activities. Jason Lindsey of Hooked on Science travels to schools and classrooms in order to provide STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) experiences for a wide range of students.

It’s great to see clever and imaginative games like Smart Max incorporated into our schools. The STEM curricula is a great fit for the kind of creative exploration that is fostered by these construction sets.

Congratulations to Smart Toys and Games. And many thanks to Hooked on Science. Your work is invaluable.

You can check out our review of Smart Max here.

Der Schwarze Pirat (The Black Pirate)

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Toys) by Will Bain on Feb 8, 2014

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Black PirateOne of the things that I most appreciate about table-top games is the way that the game transforms this very flat, very common surface into something exotic. It’s that feeling I got when my sister and I would scatter plastic toy soldiers and cowboys around a room and then spend an hour or so sniping them with rubber bands. These little plastic figures transformed the room into a jungle or a desert or a mountain pass in which we crawled and hid and attacked.

Haba’s table-top pirate adventure game, Der Schwarze Pirat, turns your table into an island-bestrewn sea where colorful pirates hunt and fight for treasure. The game takes place on a large, modular board that is wonderfully painted and detailed. Each player controls a pirate ship which they blow around the board in pursuit of treasure.

Blow, you ask?

Yup. As in “Thar she ________.”

The game comes with a rubber bulb like you would see on the end of a turkey baster. When you squeeze the bulb, a puff (or blast) of air comes out of the hole. You roll a die to see how many puffs you get. The die also tells you if you move your ship or the black pirate ship. Either choice gives you the chance to collect gold.

Several other mechanics make the game interesting:

There is the treasure die. At the beginning of your turn you place treasure on some of the islands (thus enticing pirates to visit those places). The treasure die tells you where to place gold, BUT gold may not be placed at an island that is being visited by a pirate. This means that pirates cannot simply sit on an island and wait for treasure to come to them.

awardSecondly there is the plunder rule. If you crash the Black Pirate into another player’s boat, that player takes out three of their gold coins. Your opponent secretly puts some coins in one hand and the rest in the other. You tap the hand you want and receive the treasure. In this fashion you can earn 0 – 3 points and your opponent has a chance to lose nothing (after all, pirates are a sneaky lot).

With the cold weather we’ve been experiencing here in the Midwest, a game that can take us away to someplace warm and sunny and full of treasure is a welcome respite. Or a recipe for madness. Either way, it’s Major Fun.

Der Schwarze Pirat was designed by Guido Hoffman and © 2006 by Haba.

Mish Mash & Clack!

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Will Bain on Jan 26, 2014

mish mashIt’s the second installment of Amigo week as we award Haim Shafir and Amigo for several games that we received recently. Although the games have some very similar features (for example they are all games of speed and quick reactions) each one has its own idiosyncrasies and charm. They are all very clever and, more importantly, fun.

The games I have for you today are those that are most accessible. These are the games you can play with even the youngest children. Their rules are simple, their mechanics intuitive, and the game play Major Fun.

Mish Mash (2 – 4 players. Ages: 5+)

Mish Mash (also called Kuddelmuddel in German) is a beautifully simple game. There are 80 cards and a bell. Each card has three pictures on it. These are spread face down in the middle of the table around the bell. The goal is to be the first to make a line of seven cards. Each card must share an image in common with its neighbors.

When the game begins, everyone starts drawing cards. The first card is turned face up. If a following card you draw has an image that matches your first card then you place it to the left or the right to form a line. Once you place a card it cannot be moved. If a card does not match, you return it to the pile in the center of the table and pick another.

The first to complete a line of seven cards rings the bell.

It takes just a moment to explain the rules and then the race is on. Luck plays something of a role but so does quick pattern recognition. The game is also very easy to adjust for different skill levels. Those who prove themselves most adept can be required to find more than seven cards. It can also be played in teams so it becomes more cooperative.

The illustrations are cute and the game play addictive. Mish Mash is a great game for the family.

Clack!Clack! (2 – 6 players, Ages: 4+)

Clack! is the one game in Haim Shafir’s quintilogy of speed games that uses dice and a unique playing piece. There are 2 dice: the first has five images (flower, star, footprint, puzzle piece, lightning bolt) plus a blank side; second has five colors (red, yellow, green, blue, purple) plus a blank side. The game also comes with 36 discs. Each disc has three pictures on it (matching the dice) but the pictures will be different colors on each disc.

The discs are shaped so that they can stack. In addition they are also magnetic so they will stay together when stacked.

To play, one person rolls both dice. At that point everyone rushes to stack all pieces that contain the shape and color that matches the dice. To make matters more interesting, the both dice have blank sides. If the blank comes up then players only have to pay attention to the other die. If BOTH blanks come up, players simply try to stack as many pieces as they can.

awardOnce the dice are rolled, the action proceeds rapidly and the sound of stacking discs rings out like tiny fire-crackers. Even more than the games we have looked at with bells, you have to have nimble fingers, both to be victorious and to avoid some bruises. When all the possible discs are taken, the players put the stack off to the side and roll the dice again. When all of the discs are gone, players stack up all their accumulated discs. Highest stack wins.

The clever stacking pieces and the intuitive rules make for addictive and thrilling games. Kids pick up the rules very quickly, and everyone relishes stamping through the discs just as fast as their hands will allow. It’s fun to get the tallest stack but it’s Major Fun to sneak that disc from right under someone else’s fingers.

Mish Mash & Clack! were designed by Haim Shafir and © 2013 by Amigo.