Super Genius

Filed Under (Kids Games, Learning Games) by Bernie DeKoven on Aug 2, 2015

supergenius

 

Super Genius First Words is one of a series of (gasp) educational games from Blue Orange Games. Why, you ask, do I gasp thus? Because it has been my experience, repeatedly, that when people put those two words together, the game part is sacrificed for the sake of making the so-called educational part educational enough. (Here is a little article I wrote about education and games, which should explain my bias, probably in more depth than you want.)

This is what Blue Orange has to say about Super Genius First Words:

This reading matching game focuses on closed syllable and short vowel words and helps prepare early readers for more complicated language skills to come. There is always a match between any two cards. Find the pair between a word and its image, two images or two words.

Developed hand-in-hand with learning professionals, this Super Genius game was specifically created with early learners in mind.

And here’s what I have to say:

First of all: I had to add a new category to this site so I could give this game, and all the games in this series, the kind of award it deserves.

family-kids1Second: This game is fun – fun enough to play even if you already know everything you thought there was to know about closed syllables and short vowel words. So much fun that you can play it with your early-reading children with all your adult knowledge and reading proficiencies, and still lose. Because they’re better and faster. And that’s the truth.

Based on the same mechanic that makes Spot-It, in all it’s manifestations, as Major Fun a it has proven to be (there’s always a match between any two cards), makes the each of the Super Genius games we’ve played (Super Genius Reading 1, Super Genius Reading 2, Super Genius Addition, Super Genius Multiplication) genuinely, significantly, major fun.

And, yes, OK, learning happens. And, for the people who buy these games for their kids, that’s precisely the point, and the value. But for all of us, champions of fun that we are, the real point is that these games are a genuine invitation to fun, for all of us.

It’s to be amazed by. It’s to be inspired by. It’s to make you want to play.

The Super Genius games are designed by Frédérique Constantini. Lowest recommended age depends on the complexity of the subject matter, from five-year-olds to eight. The games can be played by 1 to 6 players (there are solitaire and cooperative versions). The cards are large, rectangular, clearly and attractively illustrated. The games are packaged in a sturdy box that close with a magnetic flap (which proves necessary, because these games are going to get played a lot). And, as already mentioned, come to us from those gifted lads and lasses of Blue Orange Games.

Rock Me Archimedes

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on Jul 26, 2015

rock me archimedes

We had to endure several hurdles before we got to the game itself. The first was the package. It was the first time in all our our deep and extensive examination of new games that we encountered such a cleverly and uniquely designed package – the shape perfectly conforming to the game, elegantly inviting us to a unique experience. And if you let it balance on the curved part, it works just like the game works!

The next hurdle: opening the box to discover that the game was, in fact, as beautiful, as different, as inviting as the box intimated. A long wooden board covered with a pattern of cleanly carved pits and channels, resting on an equally beautiful semi-cylindrical base within which fits a removable wooden tray holding two sets of marbles and a large wooden die. And the rules – clearly written, cleverly presented on a sheet of heavy paper exactly as long and wide as the board, easy to understand in a few minutes reading, and inviting the players to explore variations and invent their own.

And then, the final hurdle, playing the game and discovering how genuinely challenging and truly fun it was.

Major Fun AwardIt’s a balance board. Placing marbles on the board changes the balance. One player tries to get four of her marbles to one end of the board, the other to the other – without letting either end of the board touch, even everso briefly, the surface the board is resting on. You can place or move your marbles towards either end of the board – yours or your opponent’s. Why you’re opponent’s? So you can prevent her from having enough spaces open to win the game. But if you focus too much on that strategy, you won’t get your marbles to your end of the board.

And then there are the variations.

And then you realize, because the basic physics of the game are so interesting, so inviting, you can play with almost anyone. Maybe not the game that is described, but fun nevertheless. So, yes, you can play with a five-year-old. And yes, you can even play cooperatively, or in teams. And yes, by all means, put it on your coffee table. In the box, maybe, for the sake of the surprise.

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Designed by Matt Buchanan in collaboration with the Marbles Brain Workshop, Rock Me Archimedes is a two-player game recommended for children ages 8 and up, takes about 20 minutes to play, and is available from Marbles the Brain Store.

Tugie

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games) by Bernie DeKoven on Jul 24, 2015

tugie

Tugie looks like a stacking toy, but it’s really a pulling-off-the-stack toy. To be more specific, it’s a pulling-off-the-stack-without-causing-any-of-the-other-pieces-to-fall-off toy.

It’s made of wood (except for the metal pole that the Tugies fit onto and the Tugie tail strings). Ah, warm, wonderful wood. There are thirteen Tugies of five different colors. There’s also a wooden die. Which Tugie you have to pull off the Tugie pole depends on which color you roll. There are three Tugies of each of four Tugie colors, and the grey one. You roll the die and try to tug a Tugie of the chosen color off the pole without making any of the other Tugies fall off. If you succeed without making any other Tugie fall off, you put that Tugie back on to the top of the Tugie pole. Fallen Tugies, unfortunately, become yours. If you manage to collect six fallen Tugies, the game is over.

One side of the die is white. If you roll that, you have to pull TWO Tugies off the pole at the same time!

dexterity-kidsAt first, it’s pretty easy. But as the game goes on, the Tugies slide around just a tad, and with each tad become that much more likely to fall. So you have to look carefully, choose the one Tugie that looks like it will not disturb any of the others, and pull everso carefully (unless you are a Tugie yanker – there’s more than one way to tug a Tugie).

The grey Tugie is also known as the “Tugie Topper.” You’re only supposed to select from a Tugie that is below the Tugie Topper. If, however, the color you roll is not below the Tugie Topper, you get to tug any Tugie. If the Tugie Topper reaches the bottom of the Tugie stack, you must, obviously, tug the Tugie Topper and return it to its rightful position on top of the Tugie stack. It is intriguing to note that when the Tugie Topper does reach the bottom of the Tugie stack, there are all these delicately balanced Tugies above it. We’re just saying…

It’s a quick and sweet game. It takes only a few minutes to learn. Some games are very short. Most last around fifteen minutes. Easy, straightforward, major fun is what it is.

Tugie was eveloped by Robert Korzeniowski and Marbles: The Brain Store. It’s recommended for people at least 5-years-old, and available from Marbles the Brain Store

Spinderella

Filed Under (Kids Games, Magnetic, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on Jul 24, 2015

spinderella
There are three spiders. They have a magnetic personality, despite their apparent spiderness. There are two game boards. One game board is suspended over the other. Two of the spiders (Peter and Parker) live on the top board, the other hangs somewhat menacingly by its web (OK, string) between the two boards. The string is connected to two magnets, and to  Spinderella. Peter connects through the top board to one of the magnets, Parker to the other. Moving the Peter and Parker apart or close together raises or lowers Spinderella. Peter and Parker, depending on where they are positioned, change where Spinderalla hangs. If you can figure it all out, you’ll be able to move Peter and Parker so that Spinderella can get close enough to the ant of your choice (also magnetic), to carry that poor ant back to the starting point. In sum, it’s all about the spiders.

There is some set-up time involved. Fortunately the instructions are well-illustrated and compassionately brief.

Each of up to four players gets three ants. Their goal is to be the first to get all three of their ants across the windy ant-track to the safety of the ant home. All ants share the same starting place and the same home. Kind of sweet, no?

There’s also a tree trunk. It’s hollow – and just big enough to cover an ant and protect it from Spinderella, and tall enough to make any ant who happens to be on top of the tree trunk a very tempting Spinderalla morsel.

Spinderella - set up

There are three dice. One die is determines whether you are moving the spiders (and, hence, Spinderella), an ant or the tree trunk. Another die determines how many spaces Peter and Parker can move. And the third how many spaces your ants can move. On your turn, you roll all three dice.

You roll the dice, you get to move either the spiders, your ants, or the tree trunk. If you roll the tree trunk, you can also move your ants. Ants can land on top of each other or on top of the tree trunk. If one ant lands on another, the bottom ant, when it moves, carries the top ant with it.

thinking-family-kidsSo, you get the general idea. What you can’t quite get from the description is how innovative, and especially how fun the game turns out to be. Getting Spinderalla to move where you what her to be is obviously the most challenging and fun-provoking part of the game, though trying to escape the growing menace of Spinderalla is equally fun. The fact that you all get to move her (if the dice are right), so what appears to be a good move for you at one moment in the game might get you in big trouble (ant-capture-wise) the next move, adds significantly to the joyful angst of it all. Hiding under the tree trunk is very clever, unless you want to move that particular ant.

Designed by Roberto Franco with art by Doris Mathtäus, Spinderella can be purchased from the German manufacturer who claims that it is suitable for children 6 years old and up. It will soon be available in the US from Lion Rampant Imports.

Joinks

Filed Under (Creative, Toys) by Bernie DeKoven on Jul 21, 2015

joinks

There’s a new construction toy called “Joinks.” It goes without saying that this is a Major Fun toy, otherwise you wouldn’t see it here.

We are significantly enthused. The keys to our enthusiasm are the amazing flexibility of the silicone connectors and the well-made, smooth, warm to the touch wooden dowels you connect with them.

The connectors (one might call them “Joinks”) are wonderfully forgiving – you can make them do just about anything you imagine they should do. The sleeves are just tight enough so the dowels always fit snugly, yet not so tight that you really have to make any effort to get them to fit.

kids-toys-creativeThere are six different kinds of connectors. One has a suction cup on one end so you can semi-firmly attach your creations to the, for example, wall, or, for another example, your forehead. Then there’s the sleeve (that’s what I decided to call them) for connecting two rods together, the three-sleeve connectors, the four-sleeve connectors, the five sleeve connectors and these strange little balls that you put on the end of the dowels for architectural panache.

Even the box it comes in is carefully thought out. Made of sturdy cardboard, it works like a sorting tray, so that every component has its place.

It’s not about making anything. It’s about playfulness, experimentation, creativity, exploration, fun. The video says it all:

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Recommended for builders three-years old and up (I, Mr. 73-year-old LOVE this toy). Original design by Richard Elaver of Designer Craftsman. Joniks comes to you from the frequently Major Fun-awarded Fat Brain Toys.

Crab Stack

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on Jul 16, 2015

crabstack

Crab Stack is a strategy game for 2-4 players.

It has all the characteristics of a Major Fun game: it plays in less than 20 minutes, it takes maybe five minutes to learn, it’s well made, the rules are clearly written and mercifully short, it’s unique, and, from time to time, it makes you laugh (because, despite your massive intellect and strategic brilliance, you will, in deed, be taken by surprise.

We liked the three-player version best, though it’s fun with two or four players as well. With three players, the surprise factor is much more evident. That’s also true of playing with four people, but then you have to wait longer between turns. With two players, it gets a little head-to-head, if you know what I mean. Fine for the competitively-inclined, but we like it most when we’re playing for the fun of it. And there are few strategy games that are really fun to play with more than two people.

Each player gets nine wooden crab tokens, or token crabs, depending on your fantasy preferences. Three of these crabs are short, three of medium height, and three tall. The short crabs can move further. The tall crabs can land on top of any crab they they wish. So you get a kind of logical bifurcation here: the shorter crabs can move further, but they also are more restricted in terms of what kinds of crabs they can land on. And, because crabs are like that, they can only move on top of other crabs.

The board is hexagonal. There are different color spaces. The colors indicate which spaces are used when you set up for different numbers of players, otherwise, they just add to the crabby aesthetics of it all.

thinking-family-kidsOf special strategic interest and opportunities for crabbish cunning, there’s the “Wave rule.” Crabs, as we all know, are extremely social creatures, and, of necessity, not only travel only on each other, but also can not stand to be separated from crab crowd. Should any crab group find itself isolated, it succumbs to the conceptual wave, which washes the entire crab cluster off the board into conceptual oblivion.

The object of the game is to be the last player whose crabs can still move.

There’s no luck in the game. It’s all strategic reasoning. But it’s got just enough humor, and a strong enough fantasy, and it’s not what you’d call a crab-eat-crab game, all of which helps nourish the playful and only mildly competitive nature of the game; making it especially good for family play. It kind of makes you want to have crabs for pets.

Brilliantly designed by Henri Kermarrec and playfully illustrated by Stéphanie Escapa, Crab Stack is for 2-4 players who are maybe eight-years old, maybe eighty. And it comes to us, wouldn’t youknow, from Blue Orange Games.

Bananagrams WildTiles

Filed Under (Family Games, Word Games) by Bernie DeKoven on Jul 15, 2015

bananagrams-wildtiles2-2x
Bananagrams, as we have so enthusiastically indicated, is Major Fun. Indubitably. Entirely. Add 6 wild tiles, and the fun makes a quantum leap into something new, and at least as major, fun-wise, as its wild-tile-less predecessor.

As you would immediately assume, a wild tile (the funny monkey-looking ones) can be any letter you need it to be. As you might not anticipate, until you’ve played a game or few, is what that wildness does to the game. Because, see, in the process of playing Bananagrams, you often find yourself having to rearrange your tiles. You know how when one player uses up all her tiles and calls “peel” and everyone has to take another tile from the, um, “bunch,” and that new tile just won’t fit in unless you can figure out a way to use some of the letters you’ve already so brilliantly used and mix them up, and maybe every word they’re connected to, so you can find a way to incorporate that one stupid tile into your vast, and once demonstrably brilliant assemblage; or you can just wait and hope that when someone else calls “peel” the new tile, plus the one you’ve been trying to work in, will magically give you just the letters you need; or maybe you can just “dump” that tile back into the “bunch” and draw word-familythree, yes THREE new tiles? Well, see, if one of those tiles is wild, you just might be able to substitute another tile and use that wild tile again to build another word that turns out to be not only totally, perfectly different, but also far longer, more cunning, and lexicographically brilliant. And if you happen to have two wild tiles, O, the possibilities you will find, and furthermore, O-wise, the complexity, the sheer, delightful complexity to which you will find yourself so totally heir!

What joy those little monkeys bring! What welcome opportunity to, shall we say, monkey around and around! What wonderfully new twist to it all! Major fun just when you thought the fun couldn’t get majorer.

Cat Stax

Filed Under (Puzzles) by Bernie DeKoven on Jul 13, 2015

cat stax

Cat Stax is a puzzling thing.

You get 12 cat-like pieces, each of a different color and shape. You get two decks of 24, two-sided cards. One deck is for the puzzles, the other for the solutions. This makes it very easy to control your cheating impulses, or to lose control entirely – which, as you progress through the puzzles, you may in fact do.

Each puzzle shows you a grid and which of the cats you’ll need to fill in the grid, perfectly (no hanging cat parts allowed). This is all fun and familiar to your average cat puzzle-solver, until you arrive at puzzle #7 – the first puzzlesTWO LAYER cat puzzle, wherein the reason for the name of the game becomes tantalizingly evident. Two layers, as in some cats don’t lie down like the good little puzzle-piece-cats you think they should be. They stand up. And later, you discover that some cats don’t just stand on their feet, but on their back ends or front ends or heads, even. And, later on, by the time you get to puzzle #23, you get three layers of cats! And on and on until you find yourself trying to figure out how to make a three-layer cat stack using all 12 cats!

The puzzle comes in a travel box with a transparent lid (easier to keep track of your cats that way). The manufacturers are quick to note that it you might very well arrive at a totally different, but entirely acceptable solution all on your own, because, as we have all been so oft told, there is more than one way to stack your cats.

As you make use of the two decks (puzzle deck and solution deck) you’ll come to appreciate ingenuity and compassion embodied in this minor, but brilliant innovation.

Cat Stax was invented by Bob Farron and designed by Mike Mendolese. from Brainwright

Spin Monkeys

Filed Under (Family Games, Gamers' Game, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on Jul 12, 2015

spin monkeys

There are times, few and far between, when we discover a game that has such a funny premise (monkeys riding bumper cars in the jungle), such an elegantly designed game play, so challenging and yet so lightly competitive that, despite the length of the game (over 45 minutes) and the recommended age (13 and over) (though we decided many of the ten-year-olds we know would love this game), and the somewhat complex rules (though clearly written, well-illustrated, and intelligently organized), we can’t help but give it a Major Fun award. Because, frankly, that’s exactly the kind of fun we had playing it.

more monkeys
(image via After Play)
The game is played on a large board of interconnected circles. The Monkey token (one of a different color for each player) features a compass design marked off in 45-degree increments. The decks of movement cards (139 of them) tell you how to orient your bumpercar. How many movement cards you have tells you how far you can go. The field is strewn with bananas (5 pts), oranges (2) and apples (1).

There’s a lot more to the game – which is one of the reasons we were surprised that the game turned out to be as Major, funwise, as it did. For the first couple games, you’ll probably need to refer frequently to the rules, which is why it is especially fortunate that the rules are so clearly written and organized. party-familyAnd, oddly enough, all that looking up doesn’t make the game any more challenging to learn or any less fun to play. So, for instance, you find yourself turned the wrong way and you bump into one of the edges of the board, so you have to turn 45 degrees clockwise and give up a card which means you can’t go as far (fast) next time, and if you bump into the edge again after you turn, you have to give up another card and then turn again. Or after you manage to land on a banana you leave a banana peel in its place, and then there’s the thing that happens when you land on a banana peel, or when two bumper cars bump. Because the way the game works, it gives you that bumper car ride feeling anyway. You don’t really have to know all the rules until you absolutely have to. It’s not like there’s a complex strategy or anything. You can still play. You can still have fun. You kind of just monkey around, so to speak. And when you do need, if you’ll forgive the expression, “bump” into something new or unexpected, you just consult the rules and monkey forth.

And one more kudo: in the rules, when they refer to the player, they always say “she.” One small step for playkind, no?

Designed by Mark Sellmeyer, rules by Deanna Benjamin, illustrations and graphics by Mirko Suzuki, for 2-8 players (says the box – we recommend no more than 5), 13 and up (10 is probably OK too), available from Rio Grande Games.

Go Nuts, again

Filed Under (Family Games) by Bernie DeKoven on Jul 12, 2015

Go NUTS!

This is the third time we’ve given the same game a Major Fun award. It’s been around a while, but it keeps on proving itself over and over to be, well, major fun.

Go Nuts is a dice game for 2-4 players. There are nine dice. Four of them, the Dogs and Houses dice, are distributed, one to each player. These dice have images of a house on five sides, and of a dog on the remaining side. We’ll learn more about these dice later. The other five dice have three Squirrel sides, two Acorn sides, and one Car side.

On their turn, players roll all five dice. They get one point for every Acorn they roll. Then, if they wish, they can roll again. More Acorns, more points. Any of the dice that are rolled to their Car side are put aside. But the rest of the dice (squirrels and acorns) remain in play.

Towards the end of your turn, you may be rolling as few as one or two dice, because all the other dice have become Cars. This makes it increasingly likely that you will roll all Squirrels. At this time, you, well, Go Nuts. That is you shout “Go Nuts,” lose all your accumulated points, but keep on rolling and rolling your remaining dice, scoring new points. While you’re happily rolling and accumulating, the other players are all hastily and with great focus rolling their Dog and Houses die. Which requires a lot of hasty and focused rolls as, if you remember, only one side of the dice has a Dog on it. As soon as they roll a Dog, they stop rolling. When the last player rolls a Dog, you, too, have to stop rolling. You then take your total score (except for all the points you lost before you started to Go Nuts), and thus endeth your turn.

Major Fun AwardNeedless to say, Going Nuts is in itself a moment of intense, and one might even be tempted to say, Major FUN, keeping everyone somewhat frantically, and most definitely hilarilously involved, no matter who’s turn it is. It’s clearly worthy of serious consideration by anyone, from 8 years old and up, who knows what fun is for.

One more rule of note. If you have only one die left, and you roll an Acorn, you pick up all your dice, roll again and again (as often as you dare), and continue to accumulate points. On the other hand, if you have only one die left, and you roll a Car, you lose all your points, everything, entirely, the same way you’d lose them if you rolled a squirrel, only instead of getting to Go Nuts, you just stop going.

The rules of Go Nuts beckon you to roll just one more time, just in case. Gamers call this kind of game press your luck. I call it the kind of game that makes you, to coin a phrase, go nuts!

Designed by Brian Spence, Garrett J. Donner, and Michael S. Steer