Rhino Hero: Super Battle

Rhino Hero: Super Battle   Official Site  |  BGG  

Designer: Scott Frisco, Steven Strumpf
Publisher: HABA
2-4 players  20 min. ages 5+  MSRP $30

text-the concept

The big city can be a dangerous place. It’s a good thing your new high rise apartment building has its own team of superheroes to protect it! Rhino Hero and super friends Giraffe Boy, Big E and Batguin are on patrol as the building goes up, trying to reach the highest floor. Build with a steady hand and roll well in your battles and your hero will fly high!

Rhino Hero: Super Battle is a mega-scale stacking game. Using folded cards, players build a cardstock skyscraper and hope to move their wooden superhero token toward the top of the structure. When two heroes meet on the same level, a dice battle occurs knocking one to a lower floor. The hero at the highest level when the building comes crashing down wins the game.

text-the components

This game has a lot of really fun components! There are 48 wall cards, 24 short and 24 tall ones. These cards are heavy duty cardstock. Each wall folds in half to make an L-shape.

There are 30 floor cards, also heavy duty cardstock. They are slender and rectangular. The front side of each floor has game icons.

There are three square base tiles. You’ll start your building using these.

The four wooden hero tokens are by far the most charming parts of the game.

Four pesky spider monkey tokens will make life difficult for you as you build.

And last but not least, there are 3 dice. Two are used for battles. One used for climbing the building.

The whimsical artwork by Thies Schwartz really helps establish the world of the game. There are animal characters living their wacky lives inside each apartment. The art also has a very nostalgic quality, the style is very reminiscent of art from old Little Golden Books.

To play, lay out the three base tiles together, separate the walls into two stacks and shuffle the floor cards and deal three floors to each player. Then flip three floor cards face up. Each player selects a wooden hero and you’re ready to play!

text-the mechanics

Each turn in the game goes like this: build, climb, battle, draw.

To build, you select one of the floor cards in your hand and play it. Each floor card has icons showing short walls, tall walls and possibly a monkey. Look at the icons on the floor card you play and select those walls from the supply. These are your building supplies for the turn.

Building must go in a specific order: first walls, then the floor, then monkeys. The first few wall cards will be placed on the base tiles. Some part of the wall must touch the yellow circles on the tile. Once you are building on higher floors, you can place your walls wherever you like – just remember you dont want the building to fall on your turn!

Now here’s the tricky part. You must place your floor on top of the walls you just placed. The floor must be flat. No angles or slides allowed! This can be especially tricky if you play a floor card that forces you to place walls of two different sizes. The tall walls are exactly twice the height of the short walls so as the building goes up, you will have opportunities to stack short walls on top of each other to form a level that is even with a tall wall.

If there’s a monkey on your floor, you take a monkey from the supply and hang it from the edge of your floor. There are only 4 monkeys in the game, so as the building goes up, you may have to move a monkey from one floor in the buiilding to a new one.

After building, you climb! Roll the light blue die to see where your hero lands. Based on the roll, move your hero up (or down) that number of floors in the building. Count each distinct level with a floor, then place your hero in the building.

If your hero lands on a level with no other heroes, you draw a replacement floor from the face up floor cards or from the top of the deck.

If your hero lands on a level occupied by another hero, a super battle occurs!

text-apart

These battles give the game an added dimension of strategy, luck and fun.

The crazy building you and your fellow players create will become a sprawling structure which means there may be multiple floors at the same height. Any time you move your hero to a new floor, you want to take a moment to look closely and make sure there are no heros on floors at the same height.

The battle is a simple fast dice-off. The attacker is the new hero just arriving on the level. He or she rolls the red die. The defender rolls the blue die. The high roller stays on the level, the low roller must move down one level. No ties are possible in the game since the dice are not standard. The red die has all even numbers 2-4-6 and the blue die all odds 1-3-5. With those odds, it pays to be the attacker!

The hero that moves down after the battle does another level check. If there’s a hero on this level, you guessed it… another battle occurs! This means a single move by a hero can result in two or three battles as they careen down the building. It also means everyone is invested and involved on every turn, since you never know when you could be called to battle.

When the dust settles one hero will remain higher than any other in the building. That player gets the gold medal. Your outlook on the game changes the minute you get this medal. If another player causes the building to collapse, you win! But beware! If you cause the building to collapse while you have the medal, everyone else wins!

The battles are random, no doubt, but this element gives the game great balance. It’s not just the player who has the steadiest hand who is destined to win like most other stacking games. Your choices of what floor to use and where to build certainly have a big impact on the outcome of the game. But, timing and luck are just as important. You need to work your way to the top before hoping to see the cards come crashing down. And since there are so many battles, almost every game will lead to a sprawling crazy structure as players are forced to build higher and higher.

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HABA’s first title in the series, Super Rhino (inexplicably renamed Rhino Hero in later editions), is simpler. Build a single tower up and up, moving Super Rhino higher and higher, trying to play all your roof cards before the structure falls. It’s an amazing, lovely and much beloved game. I have played it hundreds of times.

When I heard HABA was working on a follow up to Super Rhino, I was excited but also a bit worried.

It’s a risk to mess with that level of success. Make too many changes and you’ll lose the essence of the original. Too few changes, and you’ll wonder why they didn’t just do a reprint of the original.

Rhino Hero Super Battle is more ambitious. The scale is grand. And there are certainly more variables to consider on any given turn. But the essence of the original is alive and well.

Will this house of cards stand or fall?

Rhino Hero: Super Battle gives us a second question to ask:

Will my hero climb higher before the building falls?

At its core the game combines King of the Hill with the simple joy of building a crazy house of cards.

Super Battle’s ambition is rewarded with extra layers of tension and laughter.

Bigger than the original? Yep. You betcha. But not better. This isn’t a contest. Rhino Hero: Super Battle offers us a different flavor of Major Fun.

With any luck, you’ll get a chance to assemble your superfriends for a card climbing extravaganza and see for yourself.

December 2017

***

Codenames: Duet

Release: 11/21/2017    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 60 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

The party game Codenames took the game playing world by storm in 2015. Teams compete to find the secret names of their agents using a grid of word cards and two simple clues: a word and a number. It’s engaging, creative and loads of fun.

Duet offers us a tense two player transformation of the original. You and your partner must contact 15 agents using a grid of word cards and a very limited number of clues. The big problem is each of you only know half the agents in play!

More puzzle than party, Codenames Duet offers a totally different challenge and experience through the same basic set of rules. By all rights, Duet is a game that should not work. Reimagining a lively party game as a thoughtful deductive puzzle for two is a huge leap. And yet Duet sings in harmony with its older cousin – a familiar melody but clearly its own tune.

Listen in to discover why we celebrate this remarkable and resilient game design, in all its forms, as Major Fun!

Codenames: Duet

Czech Games Edition  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Vlaada Chvatil, Scott Eaton

Publisher: Czech Games Edition

2 players  15-30 min   ages 12+   MSRP $19.95

Music credits include:

Hard Day’s Night   by Banda Plastica   |   the song

Tijuana Sound Machine  by Nortec Collective  |  the song

***

Wordsy

Wordsy   Official Site  |  BGG  

Designer: Gil Hova
Publisher: Formal Ferret Games
1-6 players  20 min. ages 10+  MSRP $25

text-the concept

In Wordsy, players use a grid of letter cards to form a word each round. Some letters are worth more, others less. If you’re quick, you could score a nice bonus but only if your word scores more than the others. At the end of 7 rounds, the player with the most points wins the game.

text-the components

Wordsy comes with a deck of 76 letter cards. 60 of the letters are common. 16 letters are rare. The rare letters have a golden color and icons showing the bonus points they score.

There are also 4 column cards that will determine the point value for letters during the game (5-4-3-2).

The game also comes with a scorepad, a sandtimer and pencils. There’s also a no-flip card and a card used in solo play.

text-the mechanics

Each round, a grid of 8 letter cards will be dealt to the table. The letters will be separated into four columns and a point card will be assigned to each column. The leftmost column is worth five points, the next 4 points, 3 points, and 2 points.

There can never be more than two of the same letter in the grid and there can never be more than 2 rare letters in the grid. When everyone is ready, the round begins and the goal is to form a word using the letters in the grid.

If the two letters in the 5 point column are T and L, then you’ll have a lot of incentive to use those letters. If your word has a T and an L you’ll get 5 points for each.

If the 3 point column has a B and and H, you’ll get 3 points for a B in your word. Since H is considered a rare letter you get a bonus point, the H is worth 4. So if my word was THIMBLE I’d score 17 points.

You can use the letters in any order and the word you make can be any length (the longer, the better). No peeking at other people’s words!

Each player will have a sheet from the score pad and will write down a single word for the round.

The first person to finish will put the other players on the clock by flipping the 30 second sandtimer. You must have a word written on your sheet by the time the sand runs out.

When the round ends, each player will read their word aloud and announce his or her score. If you were the fastest player to find a word AND your word scored more points than most or all others (depending on the number of players) you get a bonus. If you were not the fastest but your word scored more points, you get a bonus. These bonuses increase in later rounds.

Between rounds, the mix of letters in the grid shifts. The four cards in the lower point columns (3 and 2) are discarded and the cards columns 4 and 5 slide down. Four new cards are then added to the grid in the high point columns.

It’s lather, rinse and repeat for six more rounds.

The fastest player from the prior round takes the no-flip card, meaning he or she cannot flip the timer in the next round. This means someone different is guaranteed to be the fastest player each round.

At the end of the game you get rid of the two lowest scoring words and add your points, including any bonuses. Highest point total wins the game.

text-apart

To this point, Wordsy follows some pretty standard conventions we have come to know and love when playing word games.

It has some Boggle in its DNA. There’s a random grouping of letters each round BUT….

Instead of a grid of letter dice we have a grid of letter cards AND all the letters in Wordsy are not created equal. Some letters are clearly more important than others based on their position in the grid. This makes you look at the letter grid in a way that’s fresh and different, prioritizing letters in high point columns or rare letters with bonus points.

Wordsy is a Scrabble cousin, too. The goal each turn is to come up with the best scoring word you can given the options available BUT here’s the big one…

You can use any letters you want to make your word, even letters that are not part of the grid!

This changes everything. You can add as many non-scoring letters as you need to get to a word that uses the juicy scoring ones. Unlike Boggle, you can’t complain about a weird gibberish jumble of letter cubes turning up. Unlike Scrabble, you can’t complain that your rack of letter tiles resembles the mating call of some angry monkey because it’s all vowels.

Suddenly the grid of letters on the table is not a limitation; it’s an opportunity. Wordsy challenges you to be creative, the game wants you to play with letters and words to find one that fits well with the scoring rules you are presented with each round.

This means the variety of words found each round will most often be wildly different, since players have so much freedom to find them.

That moment of discovery each round is what makes Wordsy special and different and fun. You arent just rearranging fixed letters like a puzzle to find the best fit. The game asks you to add your own imagination to find the right combination of letters that ARE NOT THERE. You’re more invested in every word you find because you had to add something to find it.

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Wordsy is familiar but fresh. It is easy to teach and learn. It encourages creative thinking. And it will not wear out its welcome over time since each new grid of letters provides a new challenge.

This makes Wordsy a modern classic. The fun it offers is evergreen and can grow with players over a lifetime of games. It also makes Wordsy a Keeper, the highest honor any Major Fun game can achieve. If you are a fan of word games, make room on your shelf for Wordsy. I’m confident it will stand the test of time.

***

Bonk

Bonk   Official Site  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: David Harvey 
Publisher: Competo , Marektoy
2-4 players  10 min. ages 8+  MSRP $60

text-the concept

Bonk is a fast paced game of dexterity and daring feats of physics. Using a rotating wooden slide and a few little metal balls, your team’s goal is to knock a wooden ball from its perch in the center of the board into the opposing team’s goal.

text-the components

Bonk feels like a pub game from a bygone era. The game itself is a beautiful wooden box with four angled areas marked with wooden barriers. Two angled areas at each end point toward a goal, which is a gap containing a small wooden ‘nose’ a small arrow shaped block that will guide the scoring ball to the edge of the board.

Each angled area has a hole in the board. This hole is for the large wooden slide each player will use to play the game. The slides are tall and black and remind me of a part of a roller coaster, the part where you are just coming down the hill and screaming your head off. They also remind me of the big water slides or blanket slides you see at county fairs. The slide has a groove for the metal balls to whizz down and onto the board. The base of the slide is round and there’s a peg that you’ll place into the hole in one of the angled areas so that you can rotate the slide in all directions.

There are 12 metal balls, 6 for each team and one larger wooden ball, the ball you’ll try to hit during the game.

text-the mechanics

Bonk is played over a series of rounds. Each round, you and your teammate slide metal balls down your wooden slides attempting to knock a wooden ball into the goal on the other side of the board. When one team scores, you get a point and reset. The first team to five wins.

To begin, everyone high fives and all balls are left on the edge of the board. Once the high fives are done (some might want to shout BONK !) then the mayhem begins !

Pick up a ball, place it at the top of your slide, rotate your slide to aim, and whoosh let the ball roll down and into play. Hopefully it will knock into the ball but very often you will miss, so it’s lather rinse and repeat. The problem is you have a very limited number of balls, so if you go for the rapid fire approach, you may end up giving all the balls to the other team. If you go to slow, you may lose before you have your first shot lined up. Each round is a bit of glorious controlled chaos that is the essence of silly fun. You might be laughing too much or watching the ball bounce around and even forget to keep shooting.

text-apart

The sheer novelty and creativity of Bonk certainly sets it apart from most games. Not often you get to hone your skills at rolling balls down a slide hoping to nail a target and make it move.

But that’s just the start. There’s one element I have forgotten to mention.

The wooden game board, the playing surface itself is not flat ! It is curved, meaning the board is basically a small hill. The crest of the hill is the center of the board (where the wooden ball starts) so t he board slowly slopes downward toward each team’s goal.

This means the wooden ball just needs the slightest nudge to start rolling downhill toward a goal and the angled beams that defined each players slide area serve a second purpose, they will guide the ball down toward the goal like a funnel.

You might think this means the first team to even touch the ball will score. Not so ! The board is big enough that you have time to react at least once or twice unless the shot has perfect aim.

Bonk is definitely a game where the more your practice and play with the slides, the better you get and the more you’ll see the potential for crazy angled shots.

Without the time pressure the curved board provides, a game round in Bonk could drag on with players chasing the ball from corner to corner without scoring. With the curved board and angled beams toward the goal, each round is a frenzy of activity leaving you wanting to set up and try again.

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Bonk is engaging. Just seeing it on a table makes you want to play.

It just looks fun! And it delivers on that promise again and again.

There’s no barrier to entry with Bonk. Anyone can play. And that unlocks a special kind of fun you can share with everyone. And there certainly are not enough great games that do this.

Just sit down and give it a go. Whether or not you knock the ball around on your first try or your fifteenth, just the act of sending the balls down the slide is reward enough to make you want to keep playing.

This makes Bonk Major Fun of the highest and simplest order. Fun you can share with anyone, any time. The only winning that really matters with Bonk is that you play. You win any time you play, whether you ever score a point.

***

Word Slam

Release: 10/17/2017    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 50 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Word Slam is a team-based word guessing game.

One teammate provides clues in the form of word cards on a rack.

Can your team guess the target word first?

Now this might sound like many other party games BUT… Word Slam does something different. Something noteworthy. Something ridiculously simple and ridiculously fun.

Word Slam forces each team to use a fixed set of words as clues.

The challenge and the joy in the game comes from the very clever omissions from the decks of words you use as clues. The word you want is never there, so the game pushes you to be creative with the words provided. To find freedom inside the limitations imposed.

This simple twist – limiting the language you can use to communicate with your team makes Word Slam both frustrating and fun, because, in a very real way, the fun comes from the frustration.

Listen in to learn more about the game and why we think it is unequivocally Major Fun!

Word Slam

Thames & KOSMOS  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Inka & Markus Brand

Publisher: Thames & KOSMOS

3-99 players  45 min   ages 12+   MSRP $39.95

Music credits include:

Boy Meets Goy   by Benny Goodman   |   the song

***

Boom Blast Stix

Boom Blast Stix   Official Site  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: uncredited   
Publisher: Moose Toys
2+ players  5-10 min. ages 6+  MSRP $15

text-the concept

Boom Blast Stix is a spring loaded trap. 32 springs and 32 traps to be precise. Your goal is to set one of these mini traps, place it on the pedestal and hope you don’t set the pile of springs sproinging off in every direction!

text-the components

The game comes in a large plastic tube used to store the 32 plastic stix, ingeniously engineered little yellow springs.

Each of the stix is a triangular spring. There’s a flat tab one side which makes it easy to hold. The other two sides are sort of like a ball and socket joint. There’s a nubby round end and a hollowed out end sort of like a glove. To set the spring, you bend the nubby round end so that it fits into the glove with a satisfying little click.

The lid to the tube is a red pedestal, the actual playing surface for the game. The top of the lid is concave, so the stix will nestle down into it as the first few are placed. If you want some height, you can leave the lid on and play on top of the tube. You can also take the lid off and place it directly on the table.

Scatter the springs around the table so everyone has some within easy reach, place the pedestal (high or low) on the table and you’re ready to play !

It’s worth noting that very young kids should only play Boom Blast Stix with supervision. The springs are not dangerous so long as you stay a reasonable distance from the pedestal as you are placing the springs. The stix will click and pop when they go off and fly around which will cause a great commotion but their bark is much worse than their bite.

text-the mechanics

There are two easy steps to Boom Blast Stix.

Step one : pick a stix from the pile and set the spring.

Step two : gently place your stix on the red pedestal.

Now what you want to happen is… nothing. As long as the pile of stix doesn’t explode, you heave a sigh of relief and it’s the next player’s turn.

If the stack of stix explodes. BOOOM! The springs wil go flying in every direction with shouts and screams and laughs soon to follow.

If for some reason you knock any stix off without making everything explode, you have to replace the stix you dislodged, making it even more likely you’ll be the one to set off the springs !

text-apart

Two things set Boom Blast Stix apart. One is obvious. One not so much.

The obvious thing is the stix, the springs themselves. They are wonderfully engineered to feel balanced and they snap together with a very satisfying feeling and click that makes them seem like they will hold on for a good while. Notice I said seem… because the truth is sometimes you can just look at or barely breathe on a spring and… SPROING it will go off ! The whole game is built around these springs and if they were not fun to set and set off, the whole game would crash and burn. These little gems are fun to set and sproing even when you’re not playing the game. I may have spent as much time flipping and dropping the springs just for fun as I have actually playing the game.

The non obvious thing is this. Boom Blast Stix reminds us that losing is actually winning with some games. Technically, you lose if you detonate the pile, but, really, who are we kidding? The whole hope of the group is to see the pile of stix go off. So, really, you’ve just giving everyone what they want – an excuse to laugh and shout… and a reason to set it up and try again. You want to keep going as long as you can, of course, and the tension mounts the more stix there are in the stack. But the person who triggers the explosion is the one who gets to experience the heart and soul of the game. You don’t feel like the loser of anything. You gain. Everyone does. A scream, A raucous laugh. A smile. A dive for cover. And most important – a memory of that crazy moment that could last far beyond the game or even the night.

It sounds a little dippy I know, but trust me, Major Fun knows about such things. Boom Blast Stix reminds us that losing can sometimes be the best way to win when you really know how to play.

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Dumb fun can be the absolute best kind of fun. And that’s the kind of fun you find in Boom Blast Stix.

It’s a visceral reaction, almost instinctual when we encounter it. It takes no forethought or strategy to recognize. It simply is. We all have this ability as children and as adults it can easily get lost or obscured by the pressures and stresses of the daily world and routine. What makes Boom Blast Stix unequivocally Major Fun is the fact that it can trigger or even reawaken that innate sense of mindless fun present in every one of us. We don’t have to question it – simply give into the moment and enjoy what it offers – that small moment of risk and joy we all know, we all remember and we all cherish.

***

Fuji Flush

Release: 9/7/2017    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 34 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Fuji Flush is a wonderfully simple card game.

Your goal is to flush all the number cards from your hand, one card at a time. There are lots of low cards in the deck and fewer high cards.

The higher number you play, the more likely you are to flush it BUT here’s the twist. If two players play the same number, they are added together. This means low cards can often band together to beat high ones.

It’s a game about strength in numbers. And the more people you play with, the more fun the game becomes.

Fuji Flush

Stronghold Games  |  2F Spiele  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Friedemann Friese  Artist: Harald Lieske

Publisher: 2F Spiele, Stronghold Games

3-8 players  10-20 min   ages 7+   MSRP $14.95

Music credits include:

Free Fallin’       The Almost  |  the song

Farrah Fawcett Hair    Capital Cities  |  the song

***

Twangled

Twangled    Mindware   |  Buy

Designer: uncredited   
Publisher: Mindware
4-8 players  5-15 min. ages 6+  MSRP $25

To those of us who like party games, especially party games that make people laugh, in particular party games like Knots, have we got a game for you!

It’s called Twangled. It would remind you mightily of the traditional, classic, puzzling, physical and often hilarious game Knots if it weren’t for: a set of eight elastic bands, in four different colors, with a loop at each end; and a spinner you kick. Which, aside from reading the rules and playing the game itself, is how you know that it’s not Knots. No. Not knots at all.I explicate by cleverly quoting the rules thus: “Players grab a colored band – making sure that at least one band of each color is taken before doubling up any colors. Players stand in a circle facing inward – making sure not to stand next to someone with the same band color. Place the kick spinner in the center of Get Twangled! Determine a player to go first. On your turn, kick the spinner and perform the action as indicated without letting go of the bands. For example, if a player spins ‘Under Green,; that player must move his or her entire body underneath a green band. The player may have to do other necessary moves to get under the green band, such as step over a yellow band. If using more than one of a band color, you must perform your action on the band furthest from you. Once a player has completed the action, play passes to the person on the left, who then kicks the spinner and performs his or her required action. Now it is time to get unTwangled. Without ever letting go of the bands, players work together to figure out how to return to the starting formation. Communication is key as players direct each other to move over and under bands.”

On the other hand, you don’t really need to know the rules to figure out how to play. It’s just about intuitive. And the parts that aren’t don’t matter. And if you know how to play Knots, you already know more than enough to figure the rest out.

Much of the not-Knots quality of the game can be traced to the stretchiness of the bands, which can be compared to and contrasted with the unstretchiness of the human arm. And then there’s the spinner, which is not part of the traditional game of Knots and yet functions admirably well as a novel device for causing people to become Twangled, in deed. Speaking of whom, Twangle is designed to be played by four to eight players, ages six to decrepit.

Yet another surprising and oft-delightful differentiation caused by the stretchiness factor: the aftergame. So hilariously logical is this aftergame that I fear I would spoil it should I say more. I suppose, if you don’t discover the hilarious logic of the aftergame yourself, you could write and ask us. To give you fair warning, it’s an undocumented feature that apparently appears serendipitously. I shall say no more other than: Major Fun. In deed!

Mole Rats in Space

Release: 8/15/2017    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 38 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

It might come as a suprise to learn that mole rats make perfect astronauts.

Or maybe we should call them ratstronauts?

Their skin can’t feel pain. They can lower their metabolism and breathing. They’re resistant to cancer and can even survive without oxygen for a time.

You and your fellow players are mole rats living on a space station in a galaxy far far away.

Suddenly, the alarm blares… INTRUDER ALERT! The station is being overrun by intergalactic snakes!!

It’s up to your team to gather the right emergency supplies and find a way to the last escape pod before time runs out. Just don’t forget the duct tape!

Listen in to discover why we think this cooperative game is great for kids and adults and is most definitely… Major Fun!

Mole Rats in Space

Peaceable Kingdom  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Matt Leacock  Publisher: Peaceable Kingdom

2-4 players  20 min   ages 7+   MSRP $20

Music credits include:

Mr Spaceman    The Byrds |  the song 

Space Funk    The Baker Brothers  |  the song  

***

Beasts of Balance

Beasts of Balance   Sensible Object  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: George Buckenham, Alex Fleetwood  
Art: T. Burrell-Saward, L. McCarthy, C. Shaw
Publisher: Sensible Object
1-5 players  15-30 min. ages 7+  MSRP $99

text-the concept

Beasts of Balance allows players to build and destroy a new world each time you play. Using wonderful and whimsical three dimensional animals, you populate your world by stacking each one on a platform called a plinth, hoping to create new hybrids, score points and keep each creature from going extinct.

Beasts of Balance is a playful hybrid. It combines the simple almost primal act of stacking with technological elements that enhance and expand gameplay in fun and unexpected ways.

text-the components

The game comes with a lovely assortment of chunky three dimensional pieces representing animals, forces of nature and artifacts.

The animals include : a bear, a shark, an octopus, a warthog, a toucan, and an eagle. These are the literal building blocks of life for your new world.

The forces of nature are : fire, water, earth and air. Each has a specific shape and color and each element combines with the others to form ten different shapes/pieces.

The artifacts are four different shapes, some simple, some complex, and each will have its own effect on the game.

All these pieces will be balanced upon the plinth, a circular platform with a special symbol printed on one side.

Now all these things come in the box, but in order to play, there’s one additional thing not included in the box you’ll need… an app ! It’s free to download and it’s not a gimmick. It’s essential to gameplay and is available on all major mobile and tablet platforms.

To set up, put the plinth in a place where everyone can reach it easily and spread out the pieces. Start the app and you are ready to play!

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One one level, Beasts of burden can be described in a single, simple sentence : Stack pieces on the plinth to score points until the stack falls down.

At its heart, this is the entire game. You select a piece, any piece, and place it on the plinth, hoping not to bring the whole thing crashing down. On this level, this is a game you’ve probably played a hundred times before.

And yet…

With the addition of technology, Beasts of Balance delivers a richly thematic experience that is packed with fun discoveries and meaningful decisions.

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It’s these technological enhancments that we should explore because they make Beasts of Balance both innovative and unique. The these tech twists come in several flavors.

Since Beasts of Balance uses an app to guide you through the game, it will come as no surprise that learning and playing the game feels like playing a video game. Rather than read rules, launch the app and simply follow the instructions. It will guide you through a typical turn which goes like this:

Select a piece, identify the piece to the plinth, and then place the piece on the plinth.

Each piece has a special symbol printed on it. Find this side of the piece and place it against the matching symbol on the plinth and watch what happens. Voilà ! Like magic, the app now displays a picture of the piece you have selected. The app and the plinth can keep track of what pieces are part of the world you create as long as you identify each piece to the plinth. The app will even remind you if you forget!

Once placed on the plinth, the world you build isnt just on the plinth. It’s on the screen, too. The animal or element or artifact will have an impact on the world depicted on the screen.

The bear will appear on land. The shark in the sea and so on. Elemental pieces will grant bonuses to creatures aligned with that element.

But here’s the thing… I’m not going to tell you what all the pieces do! Because the game itself leaves these wonderful discoveries to the players AS YOU PLAY! You might select a piece the first few times you play just so you can learn what effect it has on the game. Each one interacts with the app in ways that will leave you smiling and provide even greater challenges and decisions once you understand how they interact.

Without giving away some of the small mysteries you get to experience in the game, I will say that animals can evolve into wild and wonderful creatures as your world gets bigger and each animal is constantly at risk of extinction. As you play and learn, each piece you play will begin to suggest possible courses of action and each will have consequences on your world.

Eventually, inevitably, your world will come crashing down. But this is not immediately the end of the game. The app reacts with a volcano on the verge of eruption.

Since it knows what pieces should be part of your world, if collectively everyone can place all the fallen pieces back onto the plinth before the volcano blows, the game will continue. If not, kerblooey! Game over. Check out your score if you want. Reset the app and you’re ready to go again.

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Here’s the beauty behind Beasts of Balance. Score really doesn’t matter. You play this game for the joy and the fun of seeing how each world will turn on both on the screen and on the plinth. The games you remember will most likely not be because you score a bunch of points, but because somehow you managed to balance the massive eagle on top of 11 other precariously perched pieces. Or the crazy hybrid animal you created, the majestic and saved to your menagerie even though your world crumbled after just a few turns. Or the game where everyone scrambled to get 8 pieces back onto the plinth just before the volcano exploded!

The Game evokes moments of joy and fun that would be impossible without the harmony the game creates between the physical and digital worlds. It is interactive in the truest sense. You interact with the pieces, the tech and each other as you play. Winning and losing is secondary to the process of play. And each time you play, you’re likely to learn some new wrinkle or new path yet to be explored.

Given the quality of the components and the app (and the development that went into both), I don’t think Beasts of Balance is overpriced, but at $100, the price will certainly be a barrier to entry for some, if not many. I think Sensible Object, the publisher, made the right choice by not skimping on any aspect of the game. It does limit the market for the game, of course, but the result is a game that feels truly innovative and feels like it has stayed very true to the original creative vision behind the game. If you have the extra income, you’ll be happy with your investment. If the game is beyond your budget, seek it out at a game store or convention so you can get a chance to give it a go.

Beasts of Balance presents players with a shining example of a game that embraces the spirit of playfulness. This same joyful impulse lives at the core of any game worthy of being called Major Fun.

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