Happy Salmon

happy fish

The game is called Happy Salmon. You might wonder why this particular salmon is so happy. After all, salmon have a hard life with the, you know, swimming up river and the jumping and the bears and the dying. Could it be so happy because it won a Major Fun award? Or is it because it knows how happy it will make the people who get to play it?

This is one smug salmon. And deservedly so. The game is quick (takes maybe a couple minutes to play). It’s easy to learn. It gets everybody moving. Everybody involved. And, best of all, it makes people laugh.

You could think of it as a card game – that’s because it’s played with a special deck of cards. But it’s really a people game.

It goes like this:

There are six sets of 12 cards, each a different color. First, give one set to each of 3-6 players who are at least six years old. There are four different cards: Happy Salmon, High 5, Switcheroo and Pound It! Each card has an associated action. Your objective is to be the first to get rid of all your cards. You can only do that if you can find someone who’s playing the same kind of card. You can tell, because that person is either trying to get you to High Five or to Fist Bump (Pound) or change places (Switcheroo) or Happy Salmon (put your wrist along the other player’s wrist and wiggle your hand in a salmon-fin-like manner).

You’ll probably play many rounds of the game before you put it back in its neat, salmony zipper pouch. And next time you play, you might want to try the completely silent variation (though it is likely that the laughter will escape you).

Luckily, there are two great videos showing the game in action. First, here’s one with kids playing:

And now, one for the growns:

O, the fun! O, the sheer Majorness of the fun!!

Designed by Ken Gruhl and Quentin Weir, from Northstar Games.

Karuba

Release Date: 8/1/2016 Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Running Time:   35 min Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Karuba is an island with hidden treasures. Your goal is to lead your team of adventurers through the jungle along the smartest route to riches. Each turn you have a  choice: place a tile to create a path to the treasure temples OR discard the tile and move one your team’s pawns along the path. You might even run across some gold or diamonds along the way.

Deceptively simple, Karuba uses a bingo like system to offer players a wonderful strategic puzzle for players young and old.

Tune in to learn the mysteries of Karuba why we think it deserves the Major Fun Award!

Karuba

HABA  |  BGG

Designer: Rudiger Dorn  Publisher: HABA 

2-4 players  20 min.  ages 8+  MSRP $35

Music credits include:

Der Lowe schlaft heut nacht   by Henri Salvador |  the song

Jungle Rock   by Hank Mizell  |  the song

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Oogi, Plui, Nello, Mox and Bilibo, too

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Alex Hochstrasser, the inventor/designer of all Moluk toys, is completely devoted to producing toys that are as simple as posslble, as close to indestructible as he can make them, easy to understand, inviting, and deep enough in their invitation to play to keep you on the brink of wonder and delight.

PluiBrush - Sunny - CloudyTwo of his most recent products include Sunny and Cloudy – sensory toys designed to complement his  popular Plui Rain Cloud.

They are both what you might call brushes – the rays from Sunny and the rain from Cloudy follow the fantasy, but introduce a new layer of engagement and tactile experience.

Sunny, as you can see, spins. If you spin it gently. Alex writes:

“The spinning is one of the core functions of the Sunny brush, and kind of works best if you gently set it in motion with your breath. If you accelerate it too aggressively it just wobbles and stops. I keep the Sunny brush on my desk as a fidget toy. It helps me think and concentrate.”

Which brings us to yet another remarkable thing about Alex’s toys: they are as enticing to adults as they are to children – especially to young children and older adults (like me).

I spent a couple hours in the company of these toys. I was enthralled. They took me away to the kind of play I experienced as a young child, but haven’t been invited to for maybe 70 years.

Then there’s Plui. Allow me to illustrate:

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01 Awardplui_colors_newThen there’s the Plui Rainball, half of which is now not only removable, but also squeezable. Ah, squeezability. A new portal to physio-conceptual watery delights.

OK. So you can see why all of these toys, that’s right, all. Including the surprisingly simple, yet surprisingly surprising Nello and all the Oogis (especially maybe the glow in the dark one) and the world’s most expressive squeezy ball, the Mox, and, of course, the enthusiastically praised Bilibo; have each and all been granted the coveted honor of displaying the Major Fun award prominently wherever they are found.

And you can understand why we, especially, are so appreciative of toys that have such a wide range of appeal and are yet so elegantly simple.

Defender of the PlayfulAlex comments: “We market the toys for children, but one of the main goals is to create play things that transcend the traditional age and gender categories of the toy industry. Ideally they are beautiful and intriguing objects that trigger your curiosity and your urge to play and explore, regardless of how old you are.”

And that, dear fun-seeker, is the reason why Alex Hochstrasser has, himself, been declared Defender of the Playful.

Deep Sea Adventure

Release Date: 6/14/2016 Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Running Time:   37 min Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Deep Sea Adventure is a wonderfully simple press your luck dice game from Japan with a devilishly fun twist: when you press your luck, you press EVERYONE’S luck!

Glittering treasure entices your team of divers to swim down into the depths. Each roll brings you closer to greater riches. The problem is, everyone shares the same oxygen supply! If too many divers get greedy, no one may make it back to the boat!

The higher scoring treasures are on tokens deeper below the boat. The more treasure you take, the more oxygen you use from everyone’s supply, making it more difficult for each player to make it back to the surface with their loot. Playing it safe may insure your survival but one good haul from the depths could net you the victory.

Tune in to learn more about this hidden gem and discover why we think it’s Major Fun!

Deep Sea Adventure

Oink Games  |  BGG  | Amazon

Designer: Jun Sasaki  Publisher: Oink Games  

2-6 players  30 min.  ages 8+  MSRP $22

Music credits include:

Deep Sea Diving Suit by The Lucksmiths  |  the song

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More Puzzle Blox

Brainwright's Fine Art Puzzle BloxThe Modern Art version of Puzzle Blox has already received a Major Fun Award. And the Fine Art Puzzle Blox, which uses the exact same mechanics (130 cubes which can be arranged into six different images, a plastic box within which to assemble the cubes, and posters the size of the box to help you determine what probably goes where), turns out to be as attractive, challenging, and Major Fun award-worthy as the Modern Art version.

disney puzzle bloxThere is yet another addition to the line – Disney Puzzle Blox. The mechanics are similar, but the cubes are larger and fewer (63 cubes instead of 130). Though the puzzle is understandably recommended for a younger audience (8 and up), it is enough of a challenge to entice deep parental engagement (which may need to be stifled when the kids are playing with it). There are, as you might have deduced, six different puzzles: Mickey, Goofy, Donald Duck, Mickey and Minnie, Minnie herself, and Mickey and Pluto. The space around the figures has fewer obvious details (so the challenge becomes a bit more interesting) but there are always subtle distinctions – spatters, streaks, and geometric designs – to guide players to puzzle Valhalla.

Though the manufacturer recommends that you place the poster for the particular puzzle you are trying to solve inside the box, we’ve found it easier to tape it to the outside (using only a couple pieces of tape). That way, as you make your way through the puzzle, you can lift the whole thing up, remove the poster, and see if the image beneath the puzzle you’re trying to solve is also correct. It proves not only to be a good clue, but adds to the magic and the fun of the puzzle.

cropped-majorfunaward-600.jpgAll in all, both are welcome additions to the line, and we applaud its extension. We especially applaud how the concept has been extended downward, to include younger as well as older players (the larger blocks are easier to handle and manipulate and discriminate between, making the puzzle that much more accessible to seniors as well as juniors).

Our kudos to Brainwright. The fun awaits you.

Nitro Glyxerol

Release Date: 6/1/2016 Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Running Time:   36 min Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

It makes old people young again, turns wallflowers into stunning beauties and can turn dust, dirt or dung into gold! It smells wonderful and tastes even better. You can even reach the speed of light if you have enough!

What is it? Nitro Glyxerol of course! The only catch: every batch has to be mixed fresh… and you never quite know the results until you’re done…

Nitro Glyxerol is a chemical mixing dexterity game. Shake and slide colored cubes through a maze to the long neck of your flask shaped mixer as fast as you can. But be careful! Precision is as important as speed in this game. The order of the cubes must match the pattern of cards laid out on the table. Collect cards to score points but beware of the dreaded mouse poop cube. If you prove to be a successful mixer. It could get in the way!

Nitro Glyxerol

Official Site  |  BGG  |  Amazon.de 

Designer: Luca Borsa, Andrea Mainini  Publisher: Zoch Verlag

2-4 players  20 min.  ages 7+  MSRP 30 EUR 

Music credits include:

Womabass by Oliver Heldens and Tiësto  |  the song

***

Other links:

Wombat square poop:  video  |  wiki

Too Many Cinderellas

Too Many Cinderellas   Grail Games  |  BGG  |  Amazon  

Designer: Nobutake Dogen, Nao Shimamura 

Publisher: Grail Games, Taikikennai Games  2-4 players 10 min  ages 10+   $12.95

text-the concept

Prince Charming has met and lost is soulmate: Cinderella. While he searches high and low using a forgotten shoe, you and your fellow players have a different plan… to convince the prince to marry a Cinderella of your choosing! In order to do this, you will play rumor cards limiting the traits the Prince should focus on in his search. You hope, in the end, your Cinderella will stand out among the rest and the Prince will marry the person (or cat) you chose for him.

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Too Many Cinderellas is a very compact game. It comes with 18 Cinderella cards, 9 wooden yes/no tokens and 9 plastic diamonds. The cards feature whimsical art by Hinami Tsukuda.

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At its heart, Too Many Cinderellas is a light-hearted logic game. Each player is dealt four cards. Two cards will be played as rumors and two cards will be kept in-hand as possible Cinderellas for the Prince to marry.

Rumors create the logic puzzle at the core of the game. In order to understand them, we need to take a closer look at the cards.

Each card has a split identity – it can be a rumor OR it can be a Cinderella – a possible Cinderella for the Prince.

The main portion of the card shows an illustration of the Cinderella and characteristics that define this person. A Cinderella can be young or teenaged or an adult or a senior, for instance. A Cinderella could have brown hair or blonde or black. A Cinderella might wear glasses or like rice or be royalty. 

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A Cinderella doesn’t even have to be a woman. Cinderella could be a man… or even a cat!

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There are easy to understand icons along the side of each card that describe each Cinderella’s defining traits.

Remember, though, each card has a second identity or use – as a rumor. At the bottom of each card is a thought bubble containing a simple sentence. This sentence is the rumor and will begin to define who Cinderella isn’t. So a rumor might say Cinderella is not a senior OR Cinderella is does not like rice OR Cinderella does not have brown hair.

So, now that you see how the cards are put together, the game goes like this.

Each player, one at a time, will offer up a card as a rumor to the group by playing it to the table. The group will then vote on whether this rumor is true or not. Players will secretly choose a yes or no token and then everyone will reveal their vote. If all vote YES, the rumor is true and will help define who Cinderella is not.

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If even one person votes NO, then the rumor is false and will not be considered when the Prince chooses his Cinderella.

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Here’s the rub. You only get one NO vote for the entire game round! Once used, your NO token is placed on the rumor card you quashed. This means you must choose wisely when voting NO or you may end up being forced to vote YES on rumors you don’t want.

This process continues until all players have offered up two rumor cards and each rumor has been put to a vote. One final random rumor is drawn from the deck and added to the table just as if someone had played it. It can be included or dismissed depending on the final vote.

After all rumors have been voted up or down, each player offers their best Cinderella to the Prince, meaning a single Cinderella card that conforms to the restrictions laid out by the rumors. For instance, at the end of a round, the rumors might say: Cinderella is not an adult, is not dark haired and does not like cake. Any Cinderella card in your hand that avoids all these traits could be offered up as a possible match to the Prince. Most times, the Prince will have several Cinderellas from which to choose. In this case, he will select the Cinderella with the lowest value (printed in the upper left corner of the card). So your best hope of making a match for the Prince is to play the lowest value Cinderella card that fits the logic puzzle for the round!

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You can play a single game round in about 5-6 minutes as a stand-alone game or you can earn a diamond each time the Prince selects your Cinderella. First to three wins.

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The big moment in Too Many Cinderellas comes as the logic puzzle is finished each round. This moment is what sets the game apart.

Do you have a Cinderella card that fits with all the restrictions placed by the rumors?

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If one of the true rumors says Cinderella is not an adult and both your remaining Cinderella cards are adults, then you might be out of luck this round. BUT, if you’ve planned wisely, you’ll have to resist the urge to cheer when you make it through the round with a lovely Cinderella card for the Prince to consider.

Your goal is to play rumor cards that do not eliminate your own Cinderella cards from contention AND restrict or eliminate Cinderella cards in other player’s hands. The fact that every card has both a rumor and a potential mate for the Prince makes this process challenging and a lot of fun!

You have one NO, so you can eliminate one horrible rumor that might eliminate many of your Cinderellas. But this NO will only get you so far. The game nudges you strongly to pay attention to what other people are playing and try to make educated guesses about what they might be holding and how they might vote on any given card.

It’s good to look at your cards and have a plan when the round starts but you may have to switch things up if an untimely rumor slips through. In other words, the game mixes long term strategy with strategy of the moment. 

Each round you define Cinderella by omission. We learn what he or she is not, so anyone outside those restrictions is allowed. This is an important and powerful concept and the game manages to teach it in such a simple, fun way.

It’s a simple process to play Too Many Cinderellas but the game offers an engaging and ever-changing puzzle that each player can try to manipulate to his or her advantage. And if you make mistakes, the game is forgiving and short enough you will be eager to jump in again and do better in the next round.

There are a few cards with special actions that allow an extra no token or a no token to be removed and even one to reverse the tie breaker (high card wins instead of low). These special abilities keep the game fresh and allow for the rumors/rules for each game round to change a lot with the play of a single card.

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Too Many Cinderellas proves that logic games do not have to be dry or boring. They can be whimsical and fun. I love the fact that the Prince’s perfect Cinderella could be an elderly gentleman who loves books, a cat with a wig, or a dude in a dress. In fact this sense of whimsy and fun can easily take over the game. I’ve seen groups of players abandon the need to win to make sure that the cat becomes the best Cinderella for the Prince. This might defy conventional logic for some, but it tracks perfectly with the higher logic of fun.

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Side note:  kudos to Grail Games (based in Sydney Australia) for bringing this game to a wider audience. The game was originally published in Japan by Taikikennai Games in a very limited form. Micro games are an increasingly well known genre outside of Japan, based on the wild success of Love Letter and its ilk. I’m glad to see more and more publishers interested in the creative possibilities in this genre, especially when they find gems like this one.

Plexi Puzzles

Plexi Hex

There are currently three Plexi Puzzles offered by Brainwright. They are beautifully made acrylic puzzles, all designed by Kate Jones (an exceptionally devoted designer and producer of truly elegant, and often profoundly puzzling puzzles). They are as much works of art as they are invitations to play.

Each of the three is as major in the fun it offers, each in a different way. They all include a tray (with transparent cover for storage and display), and a booklet of many different puzzles that can be explore with the pieces.

The Iamond Hex Plexi Puzzle (shown) is composed of 12 angled shapes made by combining equilateral triangles in various configurations – similar in conceptual and geometrical design to Pentominoes. The recommended minimal age is 10. I am almost 75. And let me tell you, both myself and my local ten-year-old found the puzzle to be more than sufficiently puzzling.

Then there’s the Roundominoes Plexi Puzzle – also acrylic, also beautifully made and presented with its own storage and assembly tray, offering an even greater variety of different puzzles to explore. This one is composed, as you might guess, of circles. There’s the 7 red singleround pieces (as you might imagine them to be) and the 7 orange doublerounds (two singlerounds connected), and then the 7 blue triplerounds, and an assortment of “bridges” (pairs of purple, orange and green circles with an extra thingy that fits around a round; and one light blue circle with thingy). Because there are so many more puzzles to explore, younger players (the recommended minimal age is 8) and even I found the puzzle more, well, friendly.

Finally, the Plexi XL, a set of 16 pieces built from hexagons. There’s one piece that’s a simple single hexagon, two pieces that are double hexagons, and the rest are “polyhexagons,” the shapes that result from joining sets of three, four or five hexagons in every possible combination. This puzzle is a larger format than the other two. It also has a recommended minimal age of 8. And the variety of puzzles described in the accompanying booklet is the most extensive of all.

These puzzles are, as I’ve tried to imply, not easy. But they are all enticingly beautiful, well-made, and opportunities to get deeply engaged in exploring the many the wonders of mathematical, geometrical and topological connections. For those of us who appreciate this kind of thing, these are about as Major, fun-wise, as you can get.

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Favor of the Pharaoh

Release Date: 5/2/2016 Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Running Time:   48 min Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Roll like an Egyptian!

Favor of the Pharaoh is a recipe filling roll-and-keep dice game based on an earlier title: To Court the King. Starting as a lowly peasant, you rise through the ranks of ancient Egyptian society by rolling increasingly difficult combinations to gain abilities, bonuses, and special dice. When the final round begins, the player who rolls the most dice with the highest matching number will gain the Favor of the Pharaoh!

This is the first game to merit BOTH the Major Fun and Spiel of Approval awards! The basic game is easy to learn and adaptable for younger or less experienced players. Double sided level bars allow for more strategic and thoughtful play. Put simply, you can tailor the game to fit almost any group at your table. Familiar yet fresh, Favor of the Pharaoh is a worthy recipient of both honors and, perhaps, a spot on your game shelf, too.

Favor of the Pharaoh

Official Site  |  BGG  |  Amazon 

Designer: Tom Lehmann  Publisher: Bezier Games

2-4 players  45 min.  ages 12+  MSRP $59.99 

Special edition also available with 64 additional dice: $79.95

Music credits include:

Walk Like an Egyptian  by The Cleverlys  |  the song

***

Other Links:

Capital Gaming Expo

The Loft

Snakes & Lattes on College

Ottawa Redblacks

Dr. Eureka

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Dr. Eureka   Blue Orange  |  BGG  |  Amazon  

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Designer: Roberto Fraga   Publisher: Blue Orange  2-4 players 10 min  ages 6+   $20

text-the concept

The lab is a hectic place and Doctor Eureka needs the help of his trusty assistants to complete his experiments. One by one new recipes for amazing formulas come from Doctor Eureka and its up to you to mix the right molecules in three different test tubes as fast as you can. The first player to mix five formulas will earn a seat along side the good doctor as one of the best and brightest scientists.

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If you’re mixing molecules, you have to have the right equipment. Each player has 3 clear plastic test tubes. Placed in the tubes are two colored plastic balls, the molecules: two purple, two orange, and two green. The balls are made so they *just* barely fit inside the test tubes.

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In addition to your lab equipment there are 54 formula cards which have different recipes on each one. There’s also a sand timer.

TO begin, each player will arrange their molecules in their tubes so that each one has two balls of the same color: so 2 purple, 2 orange, and 2 green.  Shuffle the formula cards and you’re ready to play Dr Eureka!

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Dr. Eureka is a simultaneous pattern matching game. To begin a round, flip over the top card from the formula deck and place it on the table where everyone can see it easily. Flip the timer and start mixing!  The card will show three test tubes with a specific pattern of molecules. 

One tube might have an orange in the bottom, then a purple and then a green. The next tube is orange purple and the last tube has a single green molecule.

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Your job is to match this pattern on the card by pouring the molecules from tube to tube. First player to make the match declares Eureka and wins the card.

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There are some devilishly fun restrictions and rules that govern how you can mix your molecules.

First and most obvious is that you are not allowed to touch the balls directly. This means your main mixing method will be to pick up the tubes and pour the molecules from tube to tube.

Second, no spilling is allowed. If you pour any balls out onto the table, you’ve ruined this batch and are out for the round.

Third, each tube must match the pattern on the card BUT that’s not all.  The tubes must be placed on the table so they match the pattern as well. So the balls have to be in the right order and the tubes have to be in the right sequence.

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Last of all (and this one is tricky!) you are allowed to flip any of your tubes upside down to make them match the pattern. Remember, no spilling is allowed! So if you try to flip your tube and the balls drop out, you’re done.

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So the art and science of Dr Eureka comes down to a clever mix of speed and caution. You have to finish first but only the player who can match the pattern without dropping any balls will win the card.

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Dr Eureka straddles the line between puzzle and game. You can play the game simply as a mental challenge; and it is a wonderful little brain teaser. It reminds me of the slide puzzles I used to play with at my grandparent’s house.

But the real fun begins when you add time pressure and other players. You can help but laugh and lose yourself in the game as you watch or hear your fellow players struggling to match the pattern right along side you. Go too fast and you’re sure to pour balls all over the place. Mix too deliberately and someone else will match the card and snatch the card before you.

The game is a great value as well.It’s rare these days to find a game with this many unique components at such an affordable price. The full retail price is $20. The 12 large test tubes and 24 colored balls are very sturdy and will last a lifetime.

It is truly a game for all ages. I’ve played with 6 year olds and 69 year olds and the joy of shouting Eureka ahead of everyone else is universal. You can easily add more or less time to each round to adjust to the skill level of players at the table. And if you want even more challenge you can try the advanced mode where players bid to solve each formula in a certain number of moves.

Simple joys are often the best. Dr Eureka champions this concept in so many ways. The game is engaging, fast and fun. The rules are so intuitive, you almost know how to play simply by setting the game up. And yet the challenge and enjoyment you’ll get after dozens of games won’t diminish. Playing well requires creativity and quick thinking – there’s an art and a science to it – making the most efficient moves while refining your pouring techniques.  You don’t have to hold a higher degree to understand why Dr Eureka is Major Fun.

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