Illusion

Illusion

NSV|  Pandasaurus  |  BGG

Designer: Wolfgang Warsch
Publisher: NSV, Pandasaurus
2-4 players 20 minutes ages 8+
MSRP $15

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Illusion asks the simple question: Can you trust your eyes? All you need to do is put cards in order, from low to high, based on just one color. Everything is right before you— if you can believe what you see.

Illusion takes child like concepts of shape and color, more and less, and turns them into Major Fun for everyone at the table.

Illusion has players ranking cards with abstract shapes, based on which card has more of one particular color. Each following player must either accept the order as correct, or challenge the existing order.

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Illusion uses 110 cards. 12 cards make up the arrow deck, with 3 in each of the four colors(red, green, yellow, and blue). In addition, there are 98 color cards. These each have an abstract pattern on the front, using the four colors. The backs all state the ratio of each color on the card, ranked in percentages.

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Shuffle the 12 arrow cards and flip one face up. This card will indicate which color matters for each player this round. The 98 color cards are shuffled, and the deck is placed face up. Now the top card of the color deck is placed in line with the arrow card. 

After choosing a starting player, that person takes the next card from the color deck. Without looking at the back, the start player must order the two cards from lower to higher based on the arrow color.

Now, you, as the next player, have a decision to make. Are the two cards in the correct order, from least to most of the color in question? If you think they are, then it’s your turn to add another card to the queue. Ignoring the three other colors, where does the new card fit in? Least? Most? Middle?

On the other hand, you may decide the cards aren’t ordered correctly. You then question the validity of the entire row. Flip over all the color cards. On the back of each card are the percentage of the color in question. Did you guess correctly?

If you did, you receive the arrow card as a reward. It counts as one point to your score. The goal is to score 3 points, or to have the most points if you play through all 12 arrow cards.

However, if the row was in correct order, the previous player gets the point.  Then, discard all the color cards, and begin a new round. In either case, the player who was awarded the card is the new start player.

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1). Illusion asks you to consider math differently. Typically, math is all about formulas and numbers and ratios. I give you a certain amount of info, and you apply the theorems to find the exact answer. And, that’s just about as fun as that sounds.

Forget that. Illusion demands you use your eyes, your gut, your feelings, to determine if this card has more red than another. The exact numbers are hidden. You need to go on your instincts. The game even uses terms like trust and believe.

2). Illusion asks you to question what art is. The color cards are computer generated. Squiggles, lines, geometric shapes, and the occasional letter or number. Is this art? Strictly speaking, no. And yet, there’s a subtle beauty in every color card. Aside from serving a mathematical function, each one stands as a small piece of art, conforming to the demands of the game.

And, as you judge each card for its value, the simple beauty of the shapes and colors takes hold. You are taking in art and evaluating it, not only for its beauty, but also for its conformation to the rules of math.

3): Illusion is tricky without being overly complex. Those little triangles of green might add up to more than that big splotch on the other card. It’s magic is more slight-of-hand than make-an-elephant-disappear.  It’s charm is simple, subtle, and impishly deceiving.

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Illusion challenges your brains in a different way. Illusion is smart, without being smarter than its audience. And this makes it easily accessible to most ages.  But even though you’ll be thinking or seeing in new ways, Illusion never forgets that the end goal is fun.

Illusion is, as its name suggests, illusory. It poses a simple question—More, or Less? But the complexity which results from that question poses a challenge for young and old.

And that challenge is most certainly Major Fun.

Written by: Doug Richardson

Just One

Release: 3/4/2018    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 73 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Just One is a cooperative party game. A stack of 13 cards stands between everyone playing and perfection. Each round clues will be given and a guess will be made in hopes of finding the magic word for the round. But in each case, whether you’re a clue giver or word guesser you get JUST ONE.

The tension in the game comes from each player’s imagination and trying not to get in synch with anyone else at the table. Can you use your powers of inference, using your knowledge of the word and the knowledge of the people at the table to figure out what path they might be on so you can avoid it and find one of your own?

And by shifting the competition away from each other to a question of how well can we all do, it celebrates the joy of playing over the joy of winning. It’s not even funny how Major Fun that is.

Listen in for a full review and discussion.

Just One

Repos BGG  |  Buy

Designers: Ludovic Roudy, Bruno Sautter

Artist: Eric Azagury

Publisher: Repos Production

3-7 players  20 minutes   ages 8+   MSRP $25

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

***

Music credits include:

Just One of Those Things  |  the song
performed by Ella Fitzgerald written by Cole Porter
A Day in the Life  |  the song
performed by Manhattan Jazz Quintet  written by The Beatles
Just a Bum  |  the song
performed and written by Greg Brown

***

Reef


Reef

Next Move Games|  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Emerson Matsuuchi
Publisher: Next Move Games
2-4 players 30 minutes ages 8+
MSRP $40

text-the concept

In Reef, players explore the fragile beauty of nature’s coral reefs. Each player controls one tiny bit of ocean, adding bright coral pieces to their real estate. Choose carefully which coral to add, and Neptune will reward you with his approval. Can you create a masterpiece of the sea?

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The first thing you notice when you open Reef is the 112 chunky pieces. Evenly divided between four colors: green, yellow, purple, and orange-red. Big and tactile, each color is formed in a distinct shape, but also stacks well with any other color.

From these pieces you will build your own coral reef. Your challenge is to look ahead and build in a way which meets the demands of the cards you choose. Do so, and you’ll claim mastery of an undersea kingdom!

In addition to the pieces, there are 88 point tokens in various denominations, a deck of 60 cards, and 4 player boards.

Each player takes one of each color reef piece, three 1-point tokens, and two cards at random from the deck. Then, on your player board arrange the pieces, one on each of the four center spaces.

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Reef is a game of pattern building and recognition. Using cards you’ll gather colorful pieces to build your reef, hoping to stack them into the right configurations to score.

A turn in Reef is simple. You either draw one of the face up cards from the display, or you play a card from your hand.

If you draw a card, you may take any one of the three face up cards for free. The top card of the deck is also available, but at a cost. You must pay a 1-point token to take this card, putting the token on the lowest point value card in the row.

Playing a card from your hand allows you to grow your reef. First, take the two pieces depicted on the top of the card into your stock. Now add these two to your player board, placing them either on an open space, or on top of other pieces already in your reef, regardless of color. The only restriction is that no stack may ever exceed four pieces high.

After, score the pattern at the bottom of the card. If the pattern doesn’t match your board, it scores no points. For every match, take the number of points shown on the card.

For example, a card might show an example of three red pieces arranged at a right angle(or an ‘L’ shape). Below this might be a number 4. For each separate instance this pattern appears on your board, you score four points. Keep in mind that the only pieces which count are the ones atop each stack.

A pattern might also show a specific number, such as a yellow piece with a number 2. Here, the only stacks which can be considered for scoring are those which are two high, and whose top piece is yellow.

Once you draw a card, or play a card, the next player in clockwise order will take a turn. The game continues in this manner until at least one set of pieces, or the draw deck runs out.

At the end of the game, you score the cards left in your hand, if any. But, if there are multiple matches on a card, only one match will score. Add up all the point tokens you’ve collected, and the player with the highest total wins!

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I will emphasize three elements of game play which make Reef a new classic among abstract games. All three allow players to learn and enjoy facets of more complex games without becoming bogged down in tedious study.

1).The ease of entry. The 8+ age suggestion seems right, but even a seven year old could play this game. The big chunky pieces even invite them to play. Maybe they won’t win. But teach it to a nine year old, and watch them run the table.

2).The dread, delicious ending. Of course, you want to go into the final scoring with cards in hand. But so often cards will score multiple times before the end, and only once after. Which cards do you try to get played before the game ends?

3).The smooth introduction of strategy game elements to casual gaming. Without even realizing it, players step into a world familiar to strategy gamers. Concepts such as hand management, chaining of actions, and pattern recognition.

The finest of all abstract games, Chess and Go, use these last two elements in deep ways. Masters of either game spend entire lifetimes exploring those depths. Reef allows us all to play with these elements, and begin to explore. Reef makes the deep simple and enjoyable.

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Next Move was founded on the idea of introducing simple, but engaging, abstract games to the public. Starting with the hugely popular Azul(a Spiel of Approval winner in 2018), and now with Reef, they’ve managed to bring games with wide appeal more directly into public view. By doing so, they serve us all by helping to expand our hobby.

Some have criticized Reef for its pieces being less impressive than Azul’s patterned tiles. I think this misses the fact that Reef aims to attract a slightly younger audience. Reef’s pieces are fun to look at and fun to play with. Of course the underlying game is compelling in its own right, but the three dimensional reef pieces enhance our enjoyment of the game.

In the end, what we can ask from games is that they allow us to explore a path to fun, and to let us ask our common question: “What would it be like if?” Reef invites us all to build an underwater kingdom. Few of us will ever even visit a coral reef, but here we can grasp the pieces of our choosing and build a tabletop empire of coral.

Whether you are seven or seventy, the ease of play, coupled with the challenge and joy of creating an undersea landscape, makes Reef worthy of the Major Fun Award.

Piepmatz

Release: 2/18/2018    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 74 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

A flock of little songbirds gather at the feeder to eat. One by one, different birds hop on the perch and carry away their meals, large and small. Can you gather the best collection of bird and seed cards as the feeder empties while avoiding greedy squirrels and angry crows?

Piepmatz is a beautiful and beautifully simple card game for players of all ages. It’s easy to learn but provides an enjoyable, ever-changing puzzle to sort out each turn.

It takes creative vision to find a game in something so seemingly ordinary. That vision is a sure path to Major Fun.

Listen in for a full review and discussion.

Piepmatz

Lookout  |  BGG

Designers: Ben Pinchback, Matt Riddle

Artist: Klemenz Franz, Mike Langman

Publisher: Lookout Games

2-4 players  20-30 minutes   ages 10+   MSRP $15

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

***

Music credits include:

The Birds   by  Ottorino Respighi  |  music

Space Oddity  by David Bowie (Antonin Charvat)  |  music

Ancestral Plane  L. Goransson

(Uzowuru & Kleinman Remix) | music

Birds on a Wire  by Jarbas Agnelli  | music

Grantchester Meadows  by Pink Floyd  |  music

***

Monster Crunch

Monster Crunch

Big G Creative |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Forrest-Pruzan Creative
Publisher: Big G Creative
2-5 players 20 minutes ages 9+
MSRP $20

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It’s Saturday morning. You and your monster friends are bored and hungry. There’s only one way to settle this: make breakfast into a battle. Get your bowl and spoon and ice cold milk ready to go. Crack open your box of sugary cereal cards and play as many as you can over the course of three hands. The monster who munches the most cereal wins and walks away the champion of breakfast!

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There are 180 very colorful cereal cards, divided into five 36 card decks. Each deck looks like a box of cereal with a classic General Mills monster: Boo Berry, Count Chocula, Frankenberry, Fruit Brute, and Fruity Yummy Mummy. Each deck has 3 cards numbered 1 through 12.

Each player starts with one of these decks, a matching bowl and a tile that explains your monster’s special powers.

The bright and attractive artwork draws you into the game. And there’s an undeniable nostalgia factor in play as well. If you’re of a certain age, the game will almost instantly pull you into pleasant memories of hours spent staring at these characters at the kitchen table with cartoons blaring in the background

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Monster Crunch draws its inspiration from a style of classic card game called a ladder game. Why ladder? Each round, you must play a card (or a set of cards) that increase in value – up and up like rungs on a ladder. Each round ends when you get to the top of the ladder because everyone else cannot or does not want to play.

Ladder games are a very popular genre both in Asia and in the West and there are many different variations all played with a standard deck of cards. Zheng Shangyou is the most famous in China. In the West, it’s President. And many modern card games have introduced their own spin on this classic: The Great Dalmuti, Gang of Four, Lexio, and Tichu just to name a few.

Enter Monster Crunch, adding its own voice to this chorus.

The game is played in three hands of 12 cards. On your turn you will play a single card to your bowl to stay in for the round or you will pass. The card you play must be equal to or higher than the previous card played (climbing the ladder). If I play a 3 to my bowl, then you must play a  3 or higher to your bowl or you must pass.

Eventually, as the numbers go higher and higher, you will be forced to pass. When you do, you will bank all the cards you played to your bowl. These cards will form your score for the game. You’ll also get a milk token when you pass if you’re not the last player in the round. Rounds continue until one player gets rid of all his or her cards. The player that ends the hand will score 12 points (1 point for each card). The other players will score any cards banked during the hand.

Most points after three hands wins the game.

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Monster Crunch adds two fun twists to the ladder genre: milk tokens and monster abilities.

Normally, each round you may only play a single card to your bowl and this card must be equal to or higher than the previous card played. For each milk token you spend, you may play an additional card to your bowl. The additional card can match the card you play OR the be the next consecutive number. If I play a 7 and add a milk token, I can play another 7 or an 8.

In both cases, whenever you use milk tokens, you add up all the cards played to form a single number. If I played the 7-8 with my milk token, the number for the next player is 15!

With milk tokens, you can create a numbers that are higher than the highest numbered card in the deck! Milk tokens give you a new way to see every hand you play. They add an element of flexibility and strategy that’s simple to understand but fun to manage

Each monster also has two special powers to use during the game. Yummy Mummy can swap a card from its hand with one in the score pile. Count Chocula can reverse the rules for a round so that players must play cards equal to or lower than the previous card.

Each power can have a significant impact on a particular round, so the trick is knowing when to make best use of them as the game moves forward.

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Monster Crunch provides a wonderful introduction to the ladder game genre. It is innovative but ridiculously accessible. Play a card equal or higher than the last one – there’s the essence of the game. Monster Crunch gives players permission to bend or break this basic rule. Deciding when and how to play outside the normal rules makes the game more rewarding and more fun every time you play.

The draw of nostalgia and its bright and happy art is powerful and compelling but without a  rock solid game beneath, Monster Crunch would get soggy and dissolve like cereal left sitting too long in milk.

Lucky for us, Monster Crunch packs a one-two punch filled with Major Fun.

Special Note:

This review appears in the Winter 2018/19 issue of Casual Game Insider Magazine.

CGI publishes a wonderful selection of articles and reviews on a quarterly basis.  In 2019, a Major Fun review will be featured in the next several issues.

The Spiel, Major Fun and CGI share a common goal: opening doors to the wider world of play. We hope this cross promotion will invite more people into the game community.

***

The Short List

We play hundreds of different games every year. Each and every one is given due consideration for our two award programs: The Major Fun Award and The Spiel of Approval.

Out of these hundreds only 12-15 games are selected per award. And these are the games we cover with in-depth audio and written reviews.

Every year, though, inevitably, there are games that might not be a good fit for the award criteria but are games we really enjoy nonetheless.

So, starting this year, we are going to do a round up of games that made our short list. It’s not a comprehensive list by any stretch, but rather a snapshot look at some games that may have slipped past your attention.

Think of  the Short List as an Honorable Mention category from this point forward.  These games didn’t make the final cut, but we think they’re engaging and fun.

Read on to explore the list.

I bet you’ll find at least a couple you’ll be itching to try! 

Big Money     BGG  |  Wonderforge

The Chameleon     BGG  |  Big Potato

Conex     BGG  |  HABA USA

Fruitenzy    JLS Productions

MacGyver     BGGPressman

Pool Party     BGG  |  Blue Orange

Venture Party     BGG  |  Golden Bell

The Mind

The Mind   NSV |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Wolfgang Warsch
Publisher: NSV, Pandasaurus
2-4 players 15 minutes ages 8+
MSRP $15

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Have you ever been in The Zone? Maybe you found it playing music. Everyone in the orchestra playing in perfect time. That pure sweet sound is impossible to forget. Or you found it on the basketball court – each teammate anticipating the moves of the next – it’s like poetry – no one can stop you and no one can miss. It’s special, being in The Zone – a moment of perfect harmony – being totally in synch with everyone around you. Special because The Zone is so hard to find and special because it’s so hard to stay in The Zone once you do! If you get there even for a few fleeting seconds, it’s like magic. The Zone leaves its mark on you and you’ll strive to find it again and again.

The Mind is a cooperative card game that wants its players to find The Zone…and stay there as long as they can! Over the course of several rounds, your team must find a common wavelength to play numbered cards in order to a single stack hoping to reach your goal.

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The Mind has a deck of 100 cards numbered 1-100.

There are also 5 life cards and 3 throwing star cards.

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The Mind is played over 8, 10, or 12 rounds, depending on the number of players. The goal for your team is to reach the end of the final round with at least one life remaining. If your team runs out of lives, you lose.

In round one, each player gets one card. Round two, two cards and so on. A round ends when all cards have been played.

One at a time, players will add a single card to a central stack, trying to play all cards in ascending numerical order a la Solitaire.

We’re in Round 2. My hand is 8, 22. Your hand is 15, 73. We want to the stack to go 8-15-22-73. If a card is played out of order, any cards skipped over are shown, discarded, and the team loses a life.

Beyond simple, right? And, yes, even now I can sense some eyes rolling.

But there’s one key element I have yet to mention and this is….

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While playing The Mind, you cannot communicate verbally with your teammates! You cannot indicate the numbers on your cards with gestures or sounds! You must communicate mentally with your teammates and find a way to play every card dealt out for the round in order to the stack.

It will seem crazy at first – perhaps to the point that you might question whether this is actually a game.

But then it will happen. Your team will find The Zone. Somehow, some way, your team will navigate through a minefield of consecutive cards. I play the 68, followed by 69 and 70 from the next two players and you’ll feel the magic. When, not if, this happens, there will be smiles and cheers all around.

How does this happen? What transforms The Mind from a game of Silent Solitaire to a game of telepathic synchronicity?

The Mind asks you to play based on reading your fellow players and not the cards.

While direct communication isn’t allowed, we all transmit a wealth of subtle social clues and cues. The closer we all pay attention to what is happening at the table, the more we are able to observe and interpret. It’s like a new language your team creates and learns as you play.

A subtle glance from the player to your left. A nuanced placement of cards from the player on your right. These things take on meaning and help your team connect and occasionally find The Zone. And when you do, win or lose, there are few feelings better to experience at the game table.

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The Mind is fueled by a powerful kind of playfulness – the joy of playing together in harmony, in synch. Each new game and each new team will present a new set of challenges, a new language to learn, a new opportunity to create those moments where everything lines up. And even when it all goes horribly wrong. No, especially because things often go horribly wrong, it makes those moments in The Zone ones you’ll remember long after you leave the table. Simple, ingenious, and consistently compelling, The Mind drills deep into the essence of Major Fun.

Special Note:

This review appears in the Fall 2018 issue of Casual Game Insider Magazine.

CGI publishes a wonderful selection of articles and reviews on a quarterly basis.  In 2019, a Major Fun review will be featured in the next several issues.

The Spiel, Major Fun and CGI share a common goal: opening doors to the wider world of play. We hope this cross promotion will invite more people into the game community.

***

 

Flamme Rouge & Peloton

Flamme Rouge   Stronghold Games  | LautepelitBGG  |  Buy

Designer: Asger Harding Granerud
Artist: Ossi Hiekkala
Publisher: Stronghold Games, Lautepelit
2-6 players 30-45 minutes ages 8+
MSRP $60 (base game) / $40 (Peloton)

text-the concept

You’re a cyclist pedaling through the pack, hurtling over hills, around corners, sweat soaking through your jersey when you see it, a flash of color – a signal – THE signal that the real race is on. The red flag, the Flamme Rouge, means only one kilometer separates you from the finish line. Can you fight off exhaustion and challenges from other cyclists to maneuver your team using two decks of cards to take the lead in the final stretch?

text-the components

Flamme Rouge is a race game with a modular board. There are 21 track boards that fit together in dozens of different configurations to form race courses. There are six suggested layouts included but once you’re familiar with the game, you could build your own tracks, too. The track boards include straightaways and curves both sharp and soft. The Peloton Expansion adds 9 more boards with new terrain elements, like hills and cobblestone paths.

Each player controls two colorful cyclists in the game: a Sprinteur and a Rouleur. And each cyclist has its own detailed miniature.

Each cyclist has a corresponding deck of numbered energy cards tailored to that cycilist’s abilities.

The Sprinteur, you guessed it, sprints, so his or her deck has more high and low valued energy (movement) cards. The Rouleur is the steady workhorse, so his or her deck has more cards in the middle range.

The Peloton expansion adds pawns and cards for two additional players so 6 people can play.

There are also corresponding exhaustion cards for each type of deck. You’ll want to avoid these when you can, but it’s almost inevitable you’ll get tired as the race charges on.

Each player has a personal board which has a space for each cyclist’s deck and a notched space indicating where cards should be played.

To begin, simply build a track from the guides included, shuffle each deck and place it on your personal board. Assign starting positions and you’re ready to race!

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The goal in Flamme Rouge is to get one of your cyclists across the finish line first

Each player has two separate decks, one for each cyclist, so you’ll be cycling (yes, pun intended!) through two different decks on each turn of the game.

The flow of a turn is very simple. Pick one of your cyclists. Draw four cards from that cyclist’s deck.

Select one card from your hand and place it face down to your personal board. The cards you didnt pick go face up at the bottom of the chosen cyclist’s deck.

Reveal all cards and move the selected cyclist the number of spaces indicated. The bike closest to the lead moves first.

If you’re in the clear, it’s smooth sailing. You can even move through spaces with other players since bikes are small but you can never end up in an occupied space. If you’re blocked, you will lose the extra movement. After you finish movement your bike slides to the right most lane when possible.

After each player has moved one of his or her cyclists, repeat the same process with the other cyclist. Draw 4 cards, pick one secretly. Reveal and move each cyclist starting with the front runner. Cards not used go face up on the bottom of the deck.

Choose a bike, choose 1 of 4 cards, move that bike the number of spaces indicated on the card. That’s the essence of Flamme Rouge.

At the end of a turn, we check to see if there are any packs of cyclists able to slipstream and catch up with the group in front of it. A pack can be as few as a single cyclist or several provided they are all adjacent to each other. A pack that is separated by exactly one empty square space moves forward to form a larger pack.

Now look at this pack and see if there is a pack in front of it that is separated by exactly one square space on the track. The result is: it is often very difficult to separate yourself from the pack as the race moves forward. If a pack can stay within a single square, it can reel you in!

This is the main flow of the game. But there’s one element left that will inform every decision you make. Exhaustion.

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Exhaustion is what sets this game apart! The race in Flamme Rouge is driven by a curious kind of deck building.

What’s deck building? It is a mechanism that first came to life in a game called Dominion and has since found its way into hundreds if not thousands of games over the past decade.

A core element in deck building is that players begin the game with identical decks of cards and the decisions a player makes will change the makeup of his or her deck. This means, for good or ill, each deck will diverge and become an expression of each player’s choices.

It is probably more accurate to call Flamme Rouge a deck preservation game instead of a deck building game, because each card you choose to play is removed from the game!

Your Sprinteur rockets down the board with a 9 energy card? Great. Enjoy it. But that 9 is now gone, never to return. And you only have so many 9s available.

So a key decision point each round isn’t simply to find the highest number in your hand, it’s how and when to preserve some of the higher numbers by NOT playing them so you’ll have them to use later on.

You have to manage your energy as the race moves on or run the risk of running low just when you need it the most.

And here comes exhaustion to make this decision even more challenging

At the end of each turn, after playing cards and after slipstreaming to bring packs together, we look at the board and see which cyclists have open spaces in front of them. The leader or leaders at the very front of the race will, of course, have empty spaces in front of them. BUT if the cyclists have spread out, there may be others throughout the track with open spaces facing them. Each cyclist like this must draw an exhaustion card and place it in his or her deck.

Exhaustion cards are all ranked 2, the lowest cards in the game.

This means the longer you are in the lead, the more tired you get. The more tired you get the more exhaustion cards become part of your deck. Of course, at the same time you’re spending higher ranked cards that are permanently leaving your deck, too.

That makes Flamme Rouge a game of exquisite balance.

You dont really want the lead but you want to be close to the lead. You can’t play too cautiously or you’ll lose the main pack and get exhausted just trying to keep up! Even deciding which cyclist to move first can become deliciously tricky since you might be able to help each other out or you might be able to cause problems for others when moved in the right sequence.

Such a rich and rewarding challenge confronts you from the moment you see that red flag waving. Deciding how to preserve your energy, your cards, becomes the main goal at some point BUT knowing when to spend it is just as important if you’re going to make a push to finish first.

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Without the Peloton expansion, Flamme Rouge is a worthy recipient of the Major Fun Award Since it relies on such simple actions and decisions, you can teach it to a wonderfully wide range of players, regardless of experience. Draw 4 cards, pick one, move that number of spaces. Check for slipstreaming. Then anyone with open spaces in front takes an exhaustion card. There’s the game in a nutshell. You can start playing without even knowing or appreciating it’s subtle emphasis on balance and you’ll see how that game will reel everyone in for a fun and exciting finish. 

But Flamme Rouge is also a game that will open up to more thoughtful and strategic decisions the more you play.

With the addition of the Peloton, Flamme Rouge also earns our Spiel of Approval! There are now track spaces with additional considerations to factor in. Cobblestones add chokepoints to the track which create a race within the race to avoid getting blocked or slowed down. There are rules for breakaways, building your own tracks and adding a peloton and muscle team to the race, driven by a simple set of AI rules. None of these elements clutter the game. They only serve to enhance the experience and make it a more rich experience for those who want to explore it more. You can even split up the teams of cyclists to allow 12 players in one race!

Flamme Rouge is a wonderful investment for many different kinds of fun. This is a rare find indeed. It retains its core identity as a beautifully simple race game built around balance: when to reserve and when to spend your energy. And the more you play, the more you can change the game to suit your mood or your playstyle or the people you’re playing with. And each time the game will give back to you in a new way.

The race game as a general concept is one that any player will understand almost instinctually. The most common image you might conjure up when someone says board game is a simple track with pawns racing to the get to the end. Flamme Rouge manages to find its own balance between this childhood classic and the world of modern games. Just like the cyclists in the game, the game itself tries to preserve simplicity of gameplay while providing players with the motivation to dig deeper and explore its subtleties. You dont need to win every race or any race when you play Flamme Rouge to discover the fun it offers. And that’s the kind of beautiful balance each of our awards strives to celebrate!

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Maki Stack

Release: 10/2/2018    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 89 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Mom told you, don’t play with your food.

Maki Stack says forget that.

Sushi isn’t just delicious ; it’s fun to build towers with it, too!

Using your fingers like chopsticks, listen close and see if you can stack your wooden maki faster than the other team.

Then try it blindfolded!

So much Major Fun packed into a simple set of blocks and cards.

Listen in for a full review and discussion.

Maki Stack

BGG  |  Blue Orange  |  Buy

Designer: Jeff Lai

Artist: Stéphane Escapa

Publisher: Blue Orange

2-6 players  10-15 minutes   ages 7+   MSRP $25

For info on the Game Night Grab Bag segments featured on the show, check out the show notes at The Spiel!

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Music credits include:

Black Room  by Jun Mayuzumi   |   the song

Ye Ye  by Shuri Eiko   |   the song

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Drop It

Drop It   Kosmos  |  Kosmos & Thames  | BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Bernhard Lach, Uwe Rapp
Publisher: Kosmos, Thames & Kosmos
2-4 players 20 minutes ages 8+
MSRP $30

text-the concept

The name says it all. Gravity is your friend and enemy in this game. Take turns dropping wooden pieces between two clear panes. Some areas you want to avoid; others, you’ll cash in for big points. The player best able to bend the laws of physics to his or her service will win the game.

text-the components

Even from across the room, Drop It makes an impression.

It becomes a beautiful mosaic of shapes and colors as you play. The main component of the game is a vertical game board which stands over 12” tall.

The board is two panes of clear plastic with a gap wide enough to accommodate the 36 colorful wooden player pieces. Slanted lines separate the plastic panes into distinct areas (drop zones) and each drop zone has a semi-opaque dot. There are additional slots on the sides and at the bottom for double sided landing zone boards.

Each player begins with 9 wooden pieces in bright primary colors: 3 circles, 2 squares, 2 diamonds and 2 triangles.

There’s also a score board and markers for each player color.

text-the mechanics

Pick a piece and drop it into the game board. If all goes well, that piece will score. That’s what you’ll do each turn. Do this alternating between each player until all pieces have been played and the player with the highest score wins.

It’s hard to overstate the simple joy of watching the pieces drop into the board and cause others to slide and shift (sometimes even vault!) to new locations in ways you might not expect. There will be a lot of laughs as the board builds in new and crazy ways.

And on one level Drop It really is that simple.

BUT…

Deciding which piece to select and where to drop it is heart of the game.

There are some basic restrictions that will determine whether or not the piece you drop will score points.

Your piece cannot come to rest on a piece with the same shape. So no squares touching other squares.

Your piece cannot come to rest on a piece with your color. So, if you’re blue, no blue pieces touching other blue pieces.

Also, as you stack pieces higher and higher, no piece can extend above the edge of the board.

Any time a piece you drop breaks one of these rules, tough luck! That piece will not score points.

If you manage to avoid these restrictions, then your piece will score points based on the highest drop zone it lands in. The lowest zone is 1 point, the next is 2 points and so on until you get to 8 points at the top. This means if most of a piece is in the 5 point zone but a small corner of your piece is poking over into the six point zone, you score 6 points.

There’s also a bonus dot in each drop zone. If any part of your piece overlaps with a dot you score bonus points. The dots come in three sizes: large medium and small. Large dots are 1 point, medium 2 points and small dots are worth 3.

The shape and color restrictions make Drop It a vertical logic puzzle. There’s a meaningful decision to make not just a feat of dexterity to perform.

text-apart

The side and bottom landing zone boards really make Drop It shine.

In addition to the basic restrictions, which apply anywhere, the bottom edge and sides of the board now have restrictions based on the landing zone boards you agreed to use at the beginning of the game.

The landing zones make edges off limits based on specific shape and color.

One bottom landing zone board, for instance, is divided equally between the four shapes in the game. If I drop a circle piece and it lands so it touches the circle landing zone… wah wah! No points for me.

Same goes for the sides. If your piece slides over to touch the landing zone side with a forbidden color or shape, no points for you.

This means on any given turn you have to consider what shape and color piece can land on any other already in play AND what shape and color piece can land against the edge of the board.

Each turn provides players with a chance to make a meaningful strategic decision. And this is the wonderful surprise waiting for you in the game.

text-final

The simple joys of playing with gravity paired with puzzle logic makes Drop It a rewarding surprise full of many different flavors of Major Fun.

There are rules and variants to dial down the challenge for younger players and for more experienced droppers, the landing zone boards could be mixed and matched to create even more challenging restrictions.

The game gives on many levels – from the tactile joy of manipulating the pieces and watching them tumble and click into place – to the satisfaction and mischeivous glee of selecting the perfect piece to avoid any restrictions AND make life a little bit more challenging for your opponents.

Perhaps we should turn to Sir Isaac Newton since we’re talking about a game with gravity.

He said:

“Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.”

Drop It needs no embellishment. Its simple truth comes from a set of basic wooden shapes and a small set of restrictions. And within that simplicity we find layers and levels of fun that are rewarding in unexpected ways. What more could you ask of any game that’s Major Fun?

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