Spyfall

Filed Under (Gamers' Game, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on Aug 30, 2015

spyfall

Though Spyfall contains 240 cards (and 30 baggies), it is not a card game, at all, at all. It is a game of subtle questioning and even more subtle answering. And, once you get familiar with it, it’s O so totally Major Fun.

One player is the Spy. The rest of the players aren’t. They’re the ones who are trying to figure out which one is the Spy. The Spy, on the other hand, is trying to figure out where the players are.

Well, of course, they’re right around the table with everybody else. But that’s not the point. They’re also in one of thirty different imaginary locations, determined by the random selection of one of thirty different baggie-packed collections of cards. Each baggie contains (well, will contain, after you sort them out as instructed) 8 cards (beautifully rendered) showing one particular location, and one Spy card. The location cards also include the identity that the player who gets that card is supposed to have – but that’s only to make the game more appealing to the sophisticated Spyfall player you are so destined to become.

Say the location is a submarine (no, don’t say it, think it). You could be the commander, the navigator, the sonar operator, the radio operator, etc.

When it’s your turn, you get to ask anybody a question. Naturally, if you’re not the spy, you could wind up asking that question to the spy herself. By, you know, chance. And you really have to be careful not to be so specific in your question (e.g. “what do you see out of the periscope?”) to make it too obvious, but, on the other hand, you do want to ask a question that the spy might answer incorrectly (“what do you do for exercise?”).

Party GameSo what I’m saying here is that this game requires what they call “subtlety.” And it takes a while to master the art of subtlety to such a degree that you don’t out-subtle yourself. So it’s not one of your, well, obvious games. It’s easy to understand what you’re trying to do. But not so easy to figure out how to do it. That’s why we decided to call it a gamer’s game.

But it’s well worth the effort, because the fun is wide and deep, and you’ll want to play it again and again with everybody who either already knows how to play, or has a very good and patient sense of humor. It’s cooperative. It’s intelligent. It encourages cleverness. It’s a great way to get to know people, and yourself, too.

Spyfall takes about 5-15 minutes to play each round and is designed for 3-8 sneaky, but astute players (or teams). Depending on how many players, and how many rounds you decide to play, the game will take anywhere from 15 minutes to well over an hour. It is designed by Alexander Ushan, with art by Uildrim and Sergey Dulin, and is published by Cryptozoic Entertainment.

Schatz-Rabatz (Treasure Trouble)

Filed Under (Kids Games) by Bernie DeKoven on Aug 27, 2015

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Schatz-Rabatz is a game of luck and speed. There are two versions: one, for younger players, is all about luck, speed and a little about visual and spatial discrimination (if you want to look at it that way); the other is all about skill.

The main elements of the game are the treasure chests, the wooden pieces that you try to fit into the treasure chest, the cards that tell you what pieces are eliminated (younger version) or what pieces to look for, the score cards and a sand timer.

In the younger version, a card is selected and placed face down on the table. The pieces (treasures) are placed in the middle of the table, in easy reach of all the players. Each player gets a treasure chest. The sand timer is started, and players race to fill their treasure chests. Naturally, you can fit in fewer large pieces than small. When time is up, you must put the lid on your treasure chest, and, if you have to, remove any pieces until you can fit the lid on correctly. The card is turned over. Any pieces depicted on the card are eliminated. The rest are counted for your score. The player with the most pieces remaining wins that round. Like I said, it’s mostly luck, which, for the right children at the right age, is exactly what everything is about. Also, the more players there are, the more the game is about making sure the other players don’t get the piece you’re looking for.

family-kids1In the older version, the cards are placed face up, so you can see what pieces you don’t want to collect. So there’s really no luck involved – only speed and skill (go for the smallest pieces first, try to fit in as many as you can, be sure none of the pieces you have selected are shown on the playing card, be sure everything fits). All this adds a certain amount of what one might call cognitive dissonance, and what another might call more fun – especially the older other.

All in all, a novel, and entertaining game, primarily for children and the adults who love them. Designed by Karin Hetling with art by Johann Rüttnger, Schatz-Rabatz is recommended for children ages 5 and up (small parts). It is produced by Noris, and is available in the US from Amazon.

Crash Cup Karambaloge

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

crash cup box
Crash Cup Karambaloge – yes, that’s the name of the game all right – reminded me of (pardon my literacy) a book by H. G. Wells (yes, that H. G. Wells) called Floor Games (there’s a PDF version here). It’s a book about H. G. and son playing miniature war games, using everything in the house they could find that would support the fantasy.

Crash Cup KarambalageCrash Cup Karambaloge is not a model war game, but it is in the same spirit. It’s a car-racing game, played with cardboard pieces, wooden supports, pucks, and score keepers. It’s really a starter set – even though it comes complete with everything you need to play, plus a rule book containing four different versions.

You play it on the floor, or on a table – any space wide and flat enough to build your race track. Much of the delight of the game comes from its simplicity, and the elegance of the little device you use to propel your vehicle (puck) through the race course – or whatever it is that you choose to build together.

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Everything about it reflects the kind of fun we advocate – simple, but intriguing mechanics; inviting skill, imagination and creativity – all in all, a genuine invitation to family play.

Recommended for children 6 and older, Crash Cup Karambaloge can be played with 2-6 players. It was designed by Heinz Meister and is available in the US from HABAUSA

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Thumbs Up!

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on Aug 24, 2015

thumbs up

We at Major Fun are nothing if not suckers for colorful dexterity games. It’s not like we are particularly good at them, it’s just that they are so darn cute!! The best ones are silly and involve a lot of involuntary shouting.

dexterity-family-kids-partyThere is nothing in the rules for Blue Orange’s dexterity game Thumbs Up! about shouting. It’s just something I felt strongly compelled to do when trying to arrange the colorful rings on my thumb in the right order. Each player is provided with 8 rings (2 blue, 2 red, 2 green, and 2 yellow). When everyone is ready, a challenge card is flipped over and players race to stack the correct number of rings in the right order. For example, the challenge card might show 5 dice: 2 red, a green, a yellow, and a blue. Each die shows one number from 1 to 5: green 1, red 2, red 3, blue 4, yellow 5. Player must stack 5 rings on their thumbs in this order.

The player who is fastest wins the round and earns the card. The player who first collects 5 cards wins the game.

It’s a simple and engaging formula. As you get better, there are several variations that change up the rules. We also found ways to handicap some of the fastest players in order to prevent one person from dominating. However you decide to play, the rounds are fast and frantic and excitement builds with each challenge card.

The rules are completely intuitive and fit on a small square sheet of paper. You can combine sets for larger groups or adapt the rules for team play.

Major Fun likes it and, given the opportunity, he’s gonna put a ring on it.

2 – 6 players. Ages 6+

Thumbs Up was designed by Alexandre Droit and is © 2015 by Blue Orange Games.

Ozobot Bit

Filed Under (Learning Games, Thinking Games, Virtual Toys) by Bernie DeKoven on Aug 19, 2015

ozobot bit
Surely you remember Ozobot, the Major Fun award-winning robot that you program with colored lines and can play with on paper or on your tablet (with free, downloadable Major Fun Awardgames even)?

Now. you lucky people, there’s Ozobot Bit – smaller, with all the same museum-ready packaging and computer-enhanced abilities to follow paths that you draw with colored markers on a piece of paper or electronically on your tablet, and more: the opportunity to get far more deeply into the art and joy of programming using Google’s OzoBlockly visual programming language.

Ozobot Bit comes with two shells (each a different color) (OK, they’re helmets), a selection of pre-programmed playing mats, a calibration card, instructions, and USB charger – all housed in an expensive-looking, museum-quality plastic box – all in all, making a sweet, fun and robust connection between playing with a toy and learning to program with Java.

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From Evollve, Inc. Ozobot Bit is recommended for school-age children to play with by themselves or in pairs.

Jumbo Bananagrams

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games, Word Games) by Bernie DeKoven on Aug 10, 2015

jumbo-bananagrams

It always amazes me how much a game can change when you change its scale. Today’s example: Jumbo Bananagrams.

Yes, it’s Bananagrams – your basic, Major Fun, Keeper-award-winning crossword-making word game. Bananagrams jumbofied, however, becomes a team sport.  Because the letters are so large, and the game can take up so much more space, it becomes that much more engaging for the fortunate many.

word-party-family-kidsSay, for example, that you’re playing Jumbo Bananagrams with the equivalent of 4 players. Given the sheer hugeness of it all, you decide to play with four teams instead – let’s say teams of 4 players each. So, now you have 16 people playing. You know how much of the table a normal regulation Bananagrams game can take up? Well, with Jumbo Bananagrams you can easily use a whole lawn, or living room, or basketball court. And each time a new letter is added, everybody on your team has to be involved in figuring out where to put it, how to rearrange the letters to maximize the manifest cleverness of it all. O, the excitement! O, the teamwork! And if you happen to have a business of some kind, with a staff in need of exploring their abilities to work together, or just to have fun together, well, now you have a near perfect team-building activity.

And, of course there are many, many other games that all these large (3×3-inch), floppy letters inspire. Can you, for example, toss them so they spell a word? Can you make a relay race? A mixer for a conference of perhaps 144 people (take a letter, any letter – OK, that’s your letter; now run around and find other letter/people with whom you can make an impressively large word, or a word that rhymes with Google maybe, or a palindrome potentially.

And, yes, teachers can use these for thinly disguised educational purposes, engaging an entire class in a literacy exercise or vocabulary exercise or just plain exercise. Jumbo Bananagrams being not just a game (an excellent game, in fact) but a tool for genuinely fun, real-time, all-embracing personal, family and professional growth.

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Ring It!

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on Aug 6, 2015

ring it

You know those pat-your-head-and-rub-your-tummy kind of games? Ring It! is kind of that kind, except it’s more like a see-the-match-and-clap-your-hands-and-ring-the-bell-first kind of game. And the fun, she is major in deed.

Ringit_Tin_New_FlatYou get 90 round cards and a bell in a highly portable tin. These cards, as illustrated, have numbers on them that come in different colors. There are also some designs on the edges of the cards, also as illustrated. For the basic game, you get an equal amount of cards (10), put them in a face-down pile, and take turns turning over the top card in your pile and placing it another pile, face-up. If either the color or number match, or if two Ring It! cards show up, you try to be the first to clap and ring the bell. If correct, and first, you get all the cards that are in play. If not, all the cards in play are discarded as well as three of the mistake-maker’s cards.

Then there are “trick cards” that look just like Ring It! cards, except for the small skull of don’t-clapitude.

party-familySpeaking of clapitude, there are variations, O, yes. Maybe instead of the clapping thing you do the rubbing the belly thing, or the fake sneeze thing or the pig squeal. Or you do the thing and then Ring It whenever the borders of the cards match, or when two numbers can be added to make a third number on another card, or when two colors could be mixed to make a third (blue and yellow make green) or, well, you get it – basically, a game that you can make almost impossibly difficult or possibly even more fun than you thought possible.

Major Fun for 2-9 children as young as five-years old and as old as you, at least. Designed by Thierry Denoual from Blue Orange Games.

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