Decipher

Decipher

Heidelbär Games  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Bill Eberle, Greg Olotka, Peter Olotka
Artist:
Kwanchai Moriya
Publisher: Heidelbär Games
2-4 players 30 minutes ages 10+ MSRP $30
Time to teach & learn: 3 minutes

text-the concept

Decipher is a clever but simple call and response word guessing game. Using your powers of deduction and construction, can you build a word from small letter fragments offered up by a puzzle Maker each round? Decipher the clues the quickest and you’ll score well. Stump the players with a tricky word and you’ll rake in the points.

text-the components

Decipher is the second game in the Letter Piece series from German publisher Heidelbär Games. Each game in the series features 4 brightly colored plastic letter pieces. The pieces fall in to two categories – sticks and curves. There’s a long red stick and a short yellow stick. There’s a wide blue curve and a tight green curve (a U-shape).

Along with these pieces is a construction template showing how each letter in the alphabet can be built using these four shapes. The letter R, for instance, is made using a red stick, a yellow stick and a green curve.

In addition to these letter pieces, there are letter tiles A-Z, one letter per tile. Each tile depicts a letter using its proper construction layout.

These word tiles will be placed in to a Word Rack, a sort of cardboard wallet that can be folded and flipped over. More on this later.

There are tokens for guessing, and scoring bonuses, “No” tokens for the Puzzle Maker, plus a large game board / screen and a score pad.

The most notable and amazing component in Decipher, though, is the box insert. For such a simple game, Decipher has one of the most elaborate game box inserts I have ever seen!

The game is played using the box. There are special areas for each letter piece, larger ones for the letter tiles, and a space for the puzzle Maker’s NO tokens.

The insert serves two functions. It has a slot for the cardboard screen so the puzzle Maker can select a mystery word for the round and collect the needed tiles and letter pieces.

Once selected, the screen lays flat across the storage compartments and becomes the game board. There are separate spaces cleared marked on the board where each letter of the word will be built as you play. Last but not least, the insert as a special angled area for the Word Rack which will face the Puzzle Maker. 

text-the mechanics

Each round in Decipher one player will be the Puzzle Maker and the rest of the players serve as Word Seekers. The Puzzle Maker comes up with a mystery word. Word Seekers will have opportunities to guess the word as each letter in the word is built piece by piece on the board. After each player has played as the Puzzle Maker, the player with the most points wins the game.

A brief word about the Word Rack.

The Word Rack is a simple but ingenious gizmo that helps facilitate the game. The Puzzle Maker selects a word and spells it out placing the correct letter tiles into the word rack. Once selected, the word rack is folded up and closed like a wallet, flipped over and then placed into its special cubby hole in the box insert.

This makes the Word Rack visible only to the Puzzle Maker and the mystery word is now lined up with the spaces marked out on the game board.

Here’s why this is both important and cool.

Each turn, the Puzzle Maker will offer a single letter piece to one Word Seeker. The Word Seeker will then take a guess as to where this letter piece belongs in the word by placing the letter piece on a space on the board. The Puzzle Maker will respond YES or NO. Yes meaning, the piece belongs in that space and is part of a letter ; no meaning it isn’t. 

The Word Rack is a constant and important visual reminder of what letter pieces go with each space on the board. With the mystery word, lined up in its shielded cubby hole, the Puzzle Maker can respond quickly and confidently as each Word Seeker makes a guess.

If the Word Seeker is correct on the first guess, huzzah for the Seekers! You now have some information about what that letter could be. If the first guess receives a NO from the Puzzle Maker, that space on the board will receive a NO token which will cover that shape letter piece on that space on the board and the Seeker must guess again. Eventually, the letter piece will find a home on the board since the Puzzle Maker may only give you pieces that are part of the word. The goal for Seekers is to place pieces with as few NOs as possible since each NO will give the Puzzle Maker points at the end of the round.

As the game progresses more of the mystery word will appear on the board and Seekers may want to solve the puzzle and guess the word. Each Seeker may make only three guesses to solve the puzzle each round. If you solve the puzzle and guess the mystery word, wahoo! The round ends and we move on to scoring. If you are incorrect, the Puzzle Maker will take one of your guess tokens and score it at the end of the round.

If the word is a tricky one and only three letter pieces remain in the Puzzle Maker’s supply, we move into Bonus Mode for the round. With so much information available to the Seekers, each turn becomes a little more deliberate. The Word Seeker who is up must ask the Puzzle Maker for a letter piece. In doing so, the Puzzle Maker will receive a bonus token for extra points at the end of the round. Why so deliberate? Forcing the Seeker to ask for a piece allows players to make guesses at the mystery word before handing bonus points to the Puzzle Maker.

Eventually the round will end with one Seeker guessing correctly or all Seekers running out of guesses.

If a Seeker guesses correctly, they collect the Decipher token for 5 points plus 2 points for each left over Bonus token. The Puzzle Maker receives the Decipher token for 5 points if no one guesses the word. The Puzzle Maker also scores 1 point for each NO token on the board, 1 point for each guess token collected, and 2 points for any bonus tokens. Word Seekers who did not guess the word can also score a few points – one point for each unused guess token.

A new round begins with another player becoming the Puzzle Maker. When all players have had a turn as Puzzle Maker, tally the final score and the player with the most points wins!

text-apart

Decipher is the spiritual successor to parlor game classics like Hangman / Wheel of Fortune. In adding deductive and semi-cooperative elements, Decipher reinvents these timeworn classics for a modern audience.

It might not be obvious at first, but as the game progresses, the Seekers can begin to make important deductions about each letter in the word as the Puzzle Maker places NO tokens on the board (not unlike another classic – Mastermind). Because each letter must be built using a specific set of pieces, even a single NO begins to eliminate some letters from contention altogether. Likewise, when a letter piece eventually finds its home on the board, Seekers can begin to narrow down possible letters based on a single shape. 

If the Puzzle Maker hands you a wide blue curve piece, for instance, you know that it must be part of a C, D, G, O or Q since these are the only letters in the game that use that specific letter piece!

As the Puzzle Maker, the challenge is to dole out the pieces in such a way that will keep the range of letters as open as possible. This will generate more NO tokens and possibly allow you to reach bonus mode for the round.

While there is an individual winner, teamwork among Seekers can help insure the Puzzle Maker never gets to the bonus round. This tacit nudge toward cooperation makes the game feel like a communal effort. It also makes the game more accessible to players who might normally be intimidated by word games. Even though one Seeker may net the big points for a round, most likely there will be a cheer amongst the Seekers when the word is revealed.

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In Hangman, pressure in the game is provided by time. Only so many turns before the poor stick figure meets an unfortunate end. In Wheel of Fortune, pressure in the game is provided by the other players. Someone more clever (or more fortunate) might line up the letters before you.

Decipher combines both these elements into a single experience while adding a third source of pressure – the Puzzle Maker! It is not a guarantee the Seekers will solve every word, but it is very likely, given that all the letter pieces will eventually be revealed. The added challenge to each round in Decipher is to solve the puzzle quickly because the Puzzle Maker stands to gain in many different ways the longer it takes to discover the word.

Simple in concept. Elegant as an object of play. Adaptable to the needs of different players. Puzzle Makers can create longer words for experienced wordsmiths or shorter words for neophytes. Have a large group? Play in teams. Put simply, Decipher is built for Major Fun. 

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Written by: Stephen Conway

Funfair

Release: 3/29/2021    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 90 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

A coaster with 17 loops… a pirate ride that actually sinks… a fairyland with unicorns you can pet… and did I mention – six foot corndogs! How would you build the theme park of your dreams? Funfair gives you a chance to do just that.

Play cards to assemble an exciting mix of five attractions. Add enhancements and staff, match blueprints, and build a showcase feature to bring in the crowds

Funfair nudges players to indulge the simple pleasure of surrendering to a flight of fancy. Build a fantastic world over the course of six rounds – a world to delight the child in all of us – a world that will make your park a must-see destination for generations to come.

Listen in to explore the game and discover why it earns both our Spiel of Approval and the Major Fun Award!

Funfair       

Good Games Publishing |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Joel Finch

Art: Mr. Cuddington

Publisher: Good Games Publishing

2-4 players  30-60 min.  ages 8+   MSRP $40

Time to teach/learn: 10 minutes

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For info on the other segments featured on the show, check out the show notes at The Spiel!

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Interstitial music credits include:

Are You Having Any Fun?  by Alex Pangman (with Bucky Pizzarelli)  |  the song

Fun Day  by Stevie Wonder  |  the song

***

Cloud City

Cloud City

Official Site |  BGG  | Buy

Designer: Phil Walker-Harding
Artist:
Fabrice ROS
Publisher: Blue Orange Games
2-4 players 30 minutes ages 10+ MSRP $35
Time to teach & learn: 3 minutes

text-the concept

You are an architect creating a layout for a network of interconnected skyscrapers. Up and up, higher and higher, the city rises! The City Council will select only one architect’s plan – the most ambitious expansion will gather the most votes and become a blueprint for your very own city in the clouds!

text-the components

Houses have curb appeal. Games have table presence. Cloud City’s 3-D elements are fun and engaging and will draw attention whenever it is played.

There are 96 plastic buildings split evenly between 3 different colors: green, blue and sandy brown. All buildings of a single color are also a single height. Sandy buildings are the tallest, green buildings are medium, and blue are the shortest.

Each color building has a set of 31 matching walkways. The walkways come in 5 different lengths.

48 square city tiles depict different configurations of colored buildings rising above the clouds. Each tile is split into four grid squares and each tile has a mix of two open cloud spaces and two spaces with a green, blue, or sand colored building.

There are also some start tiles, one for each player and some special request cards that add more scoring options.

To play, each player takes a start tile and places matching colored buildings on the corresponding spaces shown on the tile. The remaining city tiles are shuffled and each player receives a hand of three tiles. Three tiles are also  flipped face-up for all to see. Give yourself enough room on the table to build around, since your city is about to expand!

text-the mechanics

Cloud City is a game about building bridges. The more bridges and the longer bridges you can construct to connect buildings of similar height, the more votes you will secure from the City Council. The most votes wins the game.

The game is played over 8 turns with 4 players or 11 turns with 2 or 3 players.

At the end of a four player game, your city will be a square – a 3 by 3 grid of 9 city tiles with buildings rising from each tile and bridges connecting some. 

At the end of a 2 or 3 player game, your city will be a rectangle  – either a 3 by 4 or a 4 by 3 grid of city tiles, again with buildings and connecting bridges.

Each turn in the game you will do two things and have an option for a third.

You will pick one tile from your hand and add it to your city.

You will place matching colored 3-D buildings on the corresponding colored spaces on the tile.

Last but not least, you now have the option to build bridges between buildings. 

The bridges come in five different sizes spanning 1,2,3,5 or 8 spaces. The top of each building is made in such a way that the point of each bridge will nestle down snugly into the roof.

There are a few restrictions to keep in mind when building each bridge.

A bridge can only connect buildings of the same color/height (always a flat walkway – never any ramps).

A bridge cannot pass over an open area without a city tile under it.

A bridge cannot cross over a building of the same color/height.

A bridge cannot lay across another bridge of the same color/ height.

And last but not least, each building may only have two bridges connected to it.

You are welcome to build as many bridges as you like on a given turn, provided you follow these restrictions.

That said, you are never obligated to build a bridge. You always have the option to wait and build on a later turn. 

After playing a tile, placing buildings, and deciding whether to build bridges, you draw a new city tile into your hand either from the face up row of city tiles or the top face down tile from the draw pile.

Play continues until each player’s city is complete (9 tiles in a 4 player game, 12 tiles in a 2 or 3 player game). 

Scoring is simple. Each bridge has a number of points listed on it. Add up all the points on the bridges you have built. This is the number of votes you receive. Most votes wins the game.

text-apart

Each choice allows your city to expand – every new tile offers new buildings and possible connections. But each choice also begins to set the boundaries for your city – giving shape and limits to what you will be able to build in just a few short turns. This means you have to have pay attention to how your city expands and contracts with every choice you make. 

You have to consider how to line up like colored buildings in order to build bridges. Small connections are easier to line up, but they yield fewer points. In order to leave large gaps open for longer bridges to be built, you will most likely have to focus on one specific level and not try to optimize every possible path. The pressure of building in such a small area makes every choice in the game meaningful, challenging, and fun.

Something as simple as the layout of the colored buildings on each tile in your hand becomes extremely important when considering how to keep each level on your city open for longer bridges and higher scores. 

This makes the choice of what tile to take at the end of each turn significant. If you don’t think ahead to your needs beyond the current bridge, your city will fill up and leave you with buildings in the way, preventing longer bridges.

What tile to place is important, but when to place bridges is just as critical. Early on, you can bank on points by connecting smaller, obvious paths. But there’s also risk involved. Because each building can only have two bridge connections, you might close off larger scoring potentials. Wait too long, though, and another building might go up, blocking your path.  

And even when things don’t go according to plan, the game goes so quickly, you’ll be left wanting to try again and make better choices next time. Cloud City condenses the quiet, contemplative fun of a much longer and more involved game into a brief encounter. A short story instead of a novel. No less moving or interesting for its brevity, but certainly more accessible.

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Cloud City is Major Fun because it is condensed, refined. Play a tile, place buildings, build bridges – rules easy enough for players from mid elementary age to retirement to grok the basics and learn by doing. 

It is also hard to overstate the powerful draw of creating a 3-D map of your own to marvel at when the game is done. Your choices make something to be admired and studied whether you win or lose.

Francie enjoys her city after a game.

Cloud City earns our Spiel of Approval because it offers an even deeper level of strategy and gameplay through the addition of special request cards.

These cards provide additional ways to score. 

Some cards deal with bridges: points for building many separate paths, or closed loops, or a path with the highest total value. 

Other cards focus on buildings: points for building the most of a given color, or the most buildings with a single bridge connection.

There are even request cards that take points away! Negative points for crossed bridges or freestanding buildings without any bridges at all.

The rules and flow of the game remain completely unchanged – but the goals you strive for and HOW you play each turn make the game completely new and different. 

The suggestion in the rules is to play with two request cards at a time. We could not resist adding more request cards to our games until eventually we were playing with every request card and every new scoring rule in effect. You will want to work up to this level, but in just a few games, my guess is you will want to take on the challenge of scoring as many possible ways as you can within the same pressure packed small set of turns.

Does the Cloud City need these extra layers to be enjoyable? Not at all. 

The game is open to such a wide range of players and experience levels – this makes Cloud City a lovely introduction to the quiet fun that is possible through strategic thinking and thoughtful play.

Does Cloud City benefit from having these advanced options available? Absolutely!

The game itself builds bridges to deeper and more nuanced decisions without adding complexity. Each decision has more consequences to predict, making for a greater challenge to assemble a winning plan. 

Most of the time, a player must move on from an open and accessible strategy game to find an experience with more layers and depth. It’s a remarkable achievement for Cloud City to house both in one box.

No matter what level of strategy you enjoy, there’s a simple, beautiful elegance to the dance your mind does when you play Cloud City. There are so few turns in each game, every one matters in surprising and fun ways. We don’t need to build this game up. Cloud City, for all its headiness, has set down deep roots in Major Fun.

***

Written by: Stephen Conway

Ubike Tours: Taiwan

Release: 3/15/2021    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 90 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Let’s take a bike trip around northern Taiwan. So much to see!

The night markets in Taichung, the great Buddha statue in Changhua, the Hakka Round House in Maioli, the Science Park in Hsinchu, Da Xie Old Street in Taoyuan, Cape Santiago in New Taipei City and Liberty Square in Taipei City just to name a few…. 

Play scenery cards to visit as many sites as you can over the course of nine stops. The traveler who plans the best and pedals great distances will score well and create a memorable trip.

Ubike Tours: Taiwan draws inspiration from two beloved modern classics: Six Nimmt and the 10 Days In series. It combines familiar mechanisms with a clever press-your-luck element to create a lovely balance of strategy and chance.

Grab a bike, explore each option and be ready to pounce when opportunity presents itself. There’s a fun world waiting for you in Ubike Tours: Taiwan behind the flip of every card.

Tune in explore the game and discover why it is Major Fun!

Ubike Tours: Taiwan       

Big Fun Games |  BGG

Designer: Chih-Fan Chen

Publisher: Big Fun Games

2-4 players  30 min.  ages 8+   MSRP $30

Time to teach/learn: 3-5 minutes

   ***

For info on the other segments featured on the show, check out the show notes at The Spiel!

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Bicycle Race (cover)  by Dirty Catfish Brass Band  |  the song

We Will Rock You (cover) by Los Miticos del Ritmo | the song

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Yura Yura Penguin

Yura Yura Penguin

Official Site |  BGG  | Buy

Designer: Ryoko Yabuchi
Artist: Ryoko Yabuchi

Publisher: Ryoko Yabuchi
2-6 players 10-15 minutes ages 7+ MSRP $28
Time to teach & learn: 2-3 minutes

text-the concept

An iceberg has melted and a whole village of penguins needs a new home! Can you stack together enough ice to build them a place to stay? The wind (or other players…) might make it wobble, so it will take a steady hand to find the right balance to place each level and find a perfect spot for each bird.

Yura Yura Penguin is a charming and clever card-based dexterity game where players build an uneven tower higher and higher, placing blocks of ice and penguins on different levels. Be the first to play all your ice cards and avoid making the tower topple to win the game.

text-the components

Every part of Yura Yura Penguin greets you with a sense of artistic and whimsical beauty. The box sparkles, the rulebook has cartoon penguins to guide you through the instructions. And the pieces you play with… they practically beg you to set the game up. 

There are 48 round ice cards, each one flecked with sparkly reflective bits.  The cards come in three colors: white, light blue and dark blue. Each card has an icon in the center, describing it’s action. There are a few tri-colored Aurora cards which serve as wild cards and contain special icons. The back of each card has a lovely stylized illustration of ocean waves. 

There are 14 cardstock icebergs. The icebergs are scored so they can be folded to form a u-shape. They are flat along their base and jagged along the top.

There are 18 jewel-like ice crystals, large translucent and faceted. They come in three colors that match the colors of the ice cards.

Last but not least are the adorable wooden penguins. The base game comes with four lovely basic birds.

I would highly encourage you to seek out the deluxe version which features 13 additional different painted penguins! These birdies are beyond cute. Each one depicts a different shape, size, or species of penguin.

You’ll find tiny white flippered penguins, banded and crested ones, ones with brush tails or yellow eyes, emperors and babies, and one giant (now extinct)!

In addition to the rulebook, there’s a wonderfully detailed booklet allowing you to get to know each species as well as general information about penguins.

To set up, spread out the ice cards face down in a rough circle to form “the sea.” Each player draws a hand of cards from the sea based on the number of people playing.  A thick coaster-like start card is placed in the middle of the sea to form the foundation of the iceberg tower you’re going to build. Keep the penguins and ice crystals handy, because now you’re ready to play!

text-the mechanics

Yura Yura Penguin is a card stacking dexterity game with a dash of strategy and an emphasis on balance.

Players take turns in clockwise order, taking an action and then playing a card, creating a gloriously teetering tower of ice. 

On your turn you will look at the icon on the card played prior to you. The icon shown gives you a set of instructions to follow. This is your action for the turn. Some icons make you build the tower higher. Others make you place items in the tower (an ice crystal or two,  maybe even a penguin). Special icons on the tri-colored Aurora cards add an Uno element to the game, forcing you to draw cards, reverse the order of play or skip a turn.

When building higher, you stack a u-shaped iceberg card to form a new level.

Ice crystals placed in the tower are placed on the 2nd highest tier with the least number of crystals. This can be a tricky little puzzle to tease out.

Penguins placed in the tower are always placed on the 2nd highest platform. 

Note you’re never adding pieces on the topmost level of the tower, always the 2nd highest level or lower.

If all the pieces have already been placed in the tower, then your job gets even more challenging. You will have to take an existing piece from the tower and move it to a higher position!

Once you have followed the instructions on the prior card, it’s time to place a card from your hand onto the tower. The new card you play must match either the color or the icon on the prior card.

So if the prior card played was dark blue with an iceberg icon, I would first place a new iceberg card on the tower and then have my choice to play a dark blue card or a card with an iceberg icon on top of the iceberg to form a new level to the tower.

The card you select is always played to the top level of the tower. 

It could happen that you do not have a card that matches the color or icon of the previous card. In this case, you’ll draw a card from the sea. If that card plays, great. If not, add that card to your hand and your turn is over.

The goal in Yura Yura Penguin is to play all the cards in your hand. The first player to accomplish this wins OR… if one player causes the iceberg to break or fall the game ends immediately.

Now, let’s be serious. The joy and the fun at the heart of the game comes from building the ice tower higher and higher, only to see it come crashing down. 

Each card you add to the tower can and often will make it more wobbly. And each card you play will dictate a set of instructions for the next player. As the tower starts to sway a little more, maybe you decide to play a card with a penguin icon, forcing the next player to place a wooden bird on a higher level, tipping the balance even more. 

If you manage to rid yourself of all your cards to claim victory, you will probably get a polite round of applause.

BUT you’re even more likely to receive cheers and high fives from bringing the tower down. It’s a special kind of game that finds a way to celebrate defeat as much or more than victory.

What the game really builds toward is an explosion of laughter and delight as one too many cards or birds or ice crystals causes the tower to collapse in a heap.

If only a few small pieces take a tumble, or even a single card falls from the tower on your turn, you are allowed to try and recover and rebuild. But if even two cards fall free, the iceberg is considered broken, and the game ends.

text-apart

The basic game offers a wonderful experience to players who are young and young at heart. The deluxe edition of Yura Yura Penguin, however, makes the game remarkable in ways that are not only about adding fancier components.

The 13 new penguin tokens change the game in dramatic and devilishly fun ways. Instead of the generic penguins, players can agree on a specific set to use for the game OR each player can select a penguin of their own to try and move up through the tower.

My personal favorite, though, adds a delicious element of brinksmanship to each penguin card played. When you are forced to place a penguin in the tower, the player prior to you gets to select any penguin from the supply for you to place! 

Now you might take it easy on someone, giving them a reasonable sized penguin to add to the tower, hoping they will do the same for you later. BUT as the cards stack higher and higher, the GIANT wooden penguin always looms as a threat. And in most games it will be a matter of when and not if this chunky fellow finds a spot to roost adding even more tension and fun to see if the tower will hold.

If this was not enough, the deluxe edition includes a wooden polar bear token that adds yet another way to play. When one of two polar bear cards is added to the tower, the rules of the game change completely.

The polar bear will be placed on the top level of the ice tower and from this point forward all cards and tokens in the game are played on the top level of the tower for the rest of the game. Suddenly the tower builds out instead of up and gets very crowded! You will have to learn an entirely new set of skills to do well and keep the tower from falling.

The flexible and expandable rules provided by the deluxe edition nudge us to see the true fun of the Yura Yura Penguin comes from the many different ways we can enjoy and create a more thrilling wobbly tower.

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From engaging gameplay to the look and feel of the cards and tokens, there is a quiet and remarkable artful attention to every aspect of the Yura Yura Penguin. Each of these many small decisions has an important impact on the game. Even the title helps set the scene. Yura Yura is a word in Japanese that describes the sound of something swaying in the wind and waves.

Collectively the result of these small but artful decisions is an invitation to play that is nearly impossible to refuse. There’s a fun world waiting for you inside this small box – a simple promise to make but never an easy one to fulfill. 

Simple joys like this are often the best and most lasting, i think, because we can lose ourselves in them over and over, regardless of age. 

That is what Yura Yura Penguin provides – an open door to Major Fun.

***

Written by: Stephen Conway

Cupcake Academy

Cupcake Academy

Blue Orange Games |  BGG 

Designer: Erwan Morin
Artist: Stephane Escapa

Publisher: Blue Orange Games 
2-4 players 10 minutes ages 8+ MSRP $22
Time to teach & learn: 3 minutes

text-the concept

Seven minutes separate you and your team of pastry chefs from enrolling at the world famous Cupcake Academy. How many assignments can you complete, exchanging and stacking colored cups on plates, readying them for the kitchen?  Be quick, but be careful. The judges are very picky, so each order has to be just right for everyone to move on. Complete all the assignments before time is up and you’ll enjoy the sweet taste of victory!

text-the components

The components in Cupcake Academy are colorful and charming and help set the mood. 

There are 20 hard plastic cupcake cups in five different sizes and bright colors. The cups nest nicely into each other whether right side up or upside down.

Each player has a set of three personal plate tiles. This is where you’ll stack your cups. The team also shares one large plate tile. This is where you’ll swap cups.

A deck of 60 assignment cards will define your challenges each game. The assignment cards are color coded for two, three, or four players.

A seven minute sand timer drives Cupcake Academy and keeps players on their toes.

To play, shuffle and create a stack of assignment cards based on the number of players. Each player arranges their cups in a single stack on their center personal plate. Place the shared plate within each reach of everyone. When the team is ready, flip the timer, the first assignment card, and the game begins!

text-the mechanics

Cupcake Academy is a cooperative stacking and pattern matching game driven by logic. The goal is to complete all the assignment cards within the allotted time.

An assignment card shows a specific arrangement of cups for each player. The color and size of the cups shown is important. 

The position of the cups on the plates, though, doesn’t matter. So, if I need to have my big green cup on a plate, it doesn’t matter which one of my plates it is on.

In order to complete an assignment, every player must create a layout with the right number and color of cups to match the goal. The shared plate must also be empty.

When complete, flip the next assignment and continue until you complete the stack of assignment cards or run out of time. If you finish all the cards, huzzah! Your group becomes the next class of students at the Cupcake Academy. If you run out of time, not to worry, there’s always next semester (or the next game).

text-apart

A collective logic puzzle is the sweet gooey center of Cupcake Academy.

On the surface, the goal to be accomplished seems so simple. What could be hard about placing the right color and size cup on a plate?

First, remember each player has five cups to begin the round, nested like Russian dolls, with the large pink cup covering the rest. Using only one hand for the whole game, you’ll be unstacking and restacking your cups to try and match the pattern.

If the assignment shown asks for you to have a blue cup and an orange cup showing on your plates, the remainder of your cups are going to have to go somewhere else. This means you are going to have to hide the others by nesting them OR send your cups along to another player. But here’s the thing…

The chefs running the Academy are a tricksy bunch. You cannot simply give or take cups from another player’s plate. You must use the shared plate to transfer cups AND, to make matters worse, there can only be one cup on the shared plate at a time.

The challenge and fun of Cupcake Academy comes from learning when and how to unstack and restack your cups so that you can keep the ones you need, hide others underneath, and send the rest on to your teammates.

You need to understand your own needs, but the game forces you to look at the whole assignment, to factor in the needs of your teammates, too. Together, you have to puzzle out how to pass cups in the right order via the shared plate so that everyone can create the right combination.

Communication is key to success and will almost certainly create hilarious moments of failure, too. It’s almost inevitable that at some point your team will have to scramble to undo an entire chain of swapped cups in order to fix a problem in the pattern.

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Cupcake Academy is a series of interconnected puzzles that blossom into a  fun and challenging game. Time pressure and teamwork create a sometimes thoughtful and sometimes frantic experience that requires focus and contributions from everyone. The better you communicate, the more you’ll accomplish. 

Cupcake Academy is a surprising and wonderful blend. It manages to evoke the old world charm of a slide puzzle (shift pieces, make a pattern) while drawing inspiration from video game culture.  What was once a solitaire experience is now gamified – a layered puzzle with multi-player co-op mode unlocked. It even comes with a checklist of achievements you can unlock as you ramp up the difficulty of the game.

Cupcake Academy can speak to a lot of people, spanning generations. It’s a mash-up of thinky and dexterity elements that feels fresh and different. It is clever enough to engage the brain but hectic enough to unlock the simple magic of Major Fun.

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Written by: Stephen Conway

Calico

Calico

Flatout Games | AEG |  BGG | 

Designer: Kevin Russ
Publisher: Flatout Games, AEG 
1-4 players 30-45 minutes ages 13+
MSRP $40
Time to teach & learn: 5-8 minutes

text-the concept

Your calico quilt starts as a pile of simple fabric in colorful floral patterns. Patiently you cut, fold, and sew each piece into precise shapes and designs. Your goal? Create a cozy refuge, an irresistible napping platform for every cat in the house.

Calico is a charming tile laying game filled with beautiful strategy and art. 

Players compete to create the best quilt. Will you focus on an overall design? Embellish different areas with buttons? Or attract a variety of fuzzy feline friends to help you score?

text-the components

Calico is a beautiful game. Beth Sobel’s illustrations do a masterful job of drawing in even the most casual player for a closer look. The adorable orange tabby cat curled up on the cover of the box sets the tone for the game. The world of Calico is a peaceful warm place on a cold night. 

From the 108 colorful hexagonal patch tiles you’ll use to create your quilt, to the whimsical button tokens, and the five double sided cat scoring tiles (with matching cat tokens), Calico employs cuteness to a degree that should almost be illegal.

Each player has a thick-ridged quilt board on which you will place your patch tiles. There are three spaces marked on the quilt board for your design goals. Each player has six design tiles, so three will be chosen and “sewn” onto your board before the game begins.

Likewise, three cat scoring tiles will be selected at random for all players.

Mix up the patch tiles and place three face up on the table. Then allow each player to draw a hand of two patch tiles and we’re ready to play!

text-the mechanics

The goal in Calico is to place patch tiles in your quilt to score the highest number of points. Designs, buttons, and cats each grant points in a variety of ways.

A turn in Calico is deceptively simple. There are two parts. 

Part 1: Place one patch tile into your quilt. This tile can go into any open space on the board.

Part 2: Draw a tile from the three face up patch tiles available to refill your hand.

Once your turn is complete, a new patch tile is drawn from the bag to replace the face up one you removed.

The game ends when every open space on each player’s quilt board is filled with a tile. Each scoring category will be judged and the player with the highest point total will be awarded the title Master Quilter and win the game.

text-apart

Calico is a game of layered strategy – of color and pattern. There are six colors of patch tile and six different patterns

The challenge and delight in Calico comes from trying to weave different scoring combinations together with the placement of each colored and patterned tile.

In order to appreciate this aspect of the game, let’s look at the three ways to score: buttons, cats, and designs.

Buttons score by color. For each grouping of at least three like colored patch tiles, you place a button on your quilt. If you manage to place six different colored buttons on your quilt, you get a bonus rainbow button.

Cats score by pattern. Two pattern tiles are drawn to indicate each cat’s favorite type of pattern at the beginning of the game. Each cat tile also shows a specific configuration of tiles or a specific number of tiles. If you can create that configuration or the right size group of tiles in one of the cat’s favorite patterns, you get to place a cat token on your quilt. And every time you fulfill a cat’s pattern preference, you get to place a new cat on your quilt. Some cats preferences are easy to meet; others are considerably more difficult. Easy cats score less; picky cats score more.

Design tiles can score by color AND pattern. Each design tile maps out a recipe describing a specific combination of tiles needed to surround it. 

For example, a design tile might want to be surrounded by three pairs of like tiles. You could fulfill this recipe by placing a pair of green tiles, a pair of blue tiles, and a pair of yellow tiles around it. You could also fulfill the recipe by placing two striped tiles and two polka dot tiles, and two floral pattern tiles around it. With some careful consideration and tile placement, you could score this design tile both ways!

Buttons, cats, and designs are independent ways for you to score but their needs will overlap and conflict from the moment you place your very first patch tile on the board. 

To gain points in one area, you most often have to be willing to forgo points in others. The delicious fun and agony of Calico comes from these decisions. Want a quilt covered in cats? You’ll most likely give up making elaborate designs. Decide to focus on buttons? Cats may look elsewhere to nap.

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Calico is not a game about perfection. Your final quilt won’t be perfect. It’s a game about creating something of beauty with what you have on hand. Your decisions create the beauty in the game. And this makes it truly satisfying when you are able to mesh several scoring opportunities together by placing a single tile. 

Calico will entice you to grab your thimble, put on some music, and pour yourself a nice cuppa tea. This peaceful game harbors simple beauty and hidden depth. That makes Calico a wellspring of Major Fun and a worthy recipient of our Spiel of Approval.

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Written by: Stephen Conway

Beasty Bar

Release: 10/12/2020    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 28 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

There’s a party at the club and all the animals from the neighborhood are clamoring to get in! Each turn, a new animal arrives in the line, jostling to get past the bouncer.

The tall Giraffe can step past shorter animals one at a time. The sneaky Weasel scootches past bigger animals. The speedy Cheetah replaces the slowest animal. The hungry Crocodile eats all animals lower on the food chain.

When the line is filled with five beasts, the club doors open and the first two animals in line are let into the bar. How many of your party animals can you get into the Beasty Bar before the night is over?

Beasty Bar is a family of whimsical card games with elements of trick-taking and hand management. Each game features the same core set of rules but adds a new set of animals and abilities to explore. You can play each game separately or combine cards across editions to create your own deck of twelve party animals.

Listen in to discover why we we aren’t lion when we say Beasty Bar is a whale of a good time (and also Major Fun).

The Beasty Bar Family of Games       

Beasty Bar  Zoch Verlag  |  BGG  |  Buy 

Beasty Bar : New Beasts in Town  Zoch Verlag  |  BGG  |  Buy 

Beasty Bar : Born to Be Wild  Zoch Verlag  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Stefan Kloss & Anna Appolzer

Publisher: Zoch Verlag

Artist: Alexander Jung

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

Time to teach/learn: 8-10 minutes

 

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At the Zoo  by Living Brass  |  the song

At the Zoo  by The Metronome Quintet  |  the song

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Artbox

Release: 09/14/2020    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 28 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Here are three circles and a square… Can you make a toaster? Or a banana? 

Working from a common set of shape dice, can you create a simple drawing, hoping others can select your magic word from a grid of cards?

Artbox is a game about perception. How to say a lot with a little. And much like negative space in a painting, what you leave out helps define what everyone gets to see.

Listen in to explore this wonderful game of drawing and deduction!

Artbox           Lavka Games  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Artem Lis

Publisher: Lavka GamesJet Games Studio

3-8 players  30 min.  ages 8+   MSRP $35

Time to teach/learn: 5 minutes

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Little Boxes  by  Pete Seeger  |  the song

Litlir kassar með texta  by Þokkabót  |  the song

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Similo

Similo Title Graphic - Major Fun Award

Release: 08/24/2020    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 109 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Similo is a cooperative game of characters, communication, and deduction. Can you guide your team to the secret character in a grid of cards using only other character cards as clues? A vertical clue means the card is similar to the secret character. A horizontal clue means the card is different. Each round the pressure mounts, because the team has to remove more cards from the grid!

Similo comes in three flavors. You can play with people from history, myth, and storybook legend. If you’re up for a real challenge, you can even combine decks!

Similo is a springboard into the minds of everyone at the table. It provides a puzzle and laughs in equal measure. That’s a sure sign of Major Fun.

Listen in for our in-depth review!

Similo

Horrible Games  |  BGG

Designer: Hjalmar Hach, Pierluca Zizzi, Martino Chiacchiera

Publisher: Horrible Guild

Artist: Xavier (“Naiade”) Durin

2-8 players  10-15 min.  ages 8+   MSRP $10

Time to teach/learn: 3-4 minutes

For info on the other segments featured on the show, check out the show notes at The Spiel!

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Music credits include:

History Repeating  by Kai Hoffman  |  the song

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