Diamonds

Filed Under (Family Games, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 14-04-2015

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diamondsA good deal of my down time in college was spent playing card games. At lunch we would play Hearts and Euchre. After dinner we played Spades and Bridge. And during [Post-Colonial Comparative Ontological Super-Symmetry] lectures we played a raucous home-brewed game that combined the best elements of Speed, Pit, and what we called “Go Fish Yourself.” We never actually went to class so please feel free to insert any course title inside the brackets.

Had Diamonds existed 25 years ago, I feel confident in saying that we would have welcomed it into our busy schedule of card games, role-playing games, board games, and video games. Even now, when I find myself a putative adult with parenting and career responsibilities, I would gladly make time for a game or two of Diamonds. It has nice strategic depth like Spades and just a little meanness like Hearts.

In short, Diamonds is a trick-taking card game. The deck consists of 60 cards divided into the four traditional suits: Clubs, Spades, Hearts, and Diamonds. One player leads a card and the others follow suit if they can. The highest value card of the lead suit wins the trick. There is no trump suit.

The game comes with a big mound of plastic gems that are piled in the center of the table (called “The Supply”). Players earn diamond tokens each trick and these diamonds determine the player’s score at the end of the hand. Diamonds can be stored in one of two places: behind a small screen called “The Vault” or in front of the screen called “The Showroom.” At the end of the hand, gems in the Showroom are worth 1 point each and gems in the Vault are worth 2 points apiece. How you earn the gems and how they come to be in your Showroom or Vault is the clever aspect of this game.

Each suit allows you to take an action that will help you accumulate diamonds. The diamond suit allows you to take one gem from the supply and put it in your Vault. Hearts allow you to take one from the supply and put it in your Showroom. Spades allow you to move a gem from your Showroom to your Vault. Clubs allow you to steal a gem from another player’s Showroom and place it in your Showroom.

You get to use these actions in several situations. If you win the trick (you have the highest card of the lead suit) you get to take the action. If you do not have the lead suit and must play something else then you also get to take that card action. For example, if I lead Hearts and you don’t have one, you can play a Diamond and then take a gem from the supply (putting it in your Vault). At the end of the hand, players count up how many cards they have of each suit. The player with the highest in each suit also gets to take that action. Finally, if you take no cards (no tricks) the entire hand, you may take 2 gems from the Supply and put them in your Vault. You can earn a lot of points this way.

01 AwardOne of the things we really like about the game Diamonds is that you almost always score something during a hand. Heck, several players can score in the same trick. It is very difficult to play a hand and score nothing. As a way of keeping players involved and invested, this is brilliant. There is also a great tension that builds through the game because you might not know how many gems a player has behind the screen.

As is suggested by the name, the suit of diamonds is the best suit as it allows you to put gems directly in your vault; however, the other suits are effective and fun and make for exciting gameplay. In a four-player game, only 40 cards are dealt so it is possible that there might not be many diamond cards in circulation. If that’s the case, hearts and clubs are the only way to earn gems and you need spades to get them safely into your Vault. And because we at Major Fun have mean little hearts, there was a good deal of glee had when we could use clubs to steal diamonds from each other.

Diamonds is a Major Fun twist on standard card games. It is certainly the safest way to be a diamond thief.

2 – 6 players. Ages 8+

Diamonds was designed by Mike Fitzgerald and is © 2014 by Stronghold Games LLC.

Jenga® Giant™

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 13-04-2015

Jenga Giant
Jenga® Giant™ is, as you might conclude, a giant version of Jenga. You play it just like you’d play Jenga®. Everything you know about Jenga® makes this game as fun as it is. Only with Jenga Giant the fun is, shall we say, even more major.

Why even more major? Because when those blocks come a-tumblin’ down, man, do they come a-tumblin’! We’re talking loud. We’re talking spectacularly loud. By the second or third time you play, and you know full well how much of a spectacle it is, and how loud it is, the tension is even greater, the game even that much more exciting, and attractive, which makes it especially good for parties.

It is made of “54 precision crafted polished Jenga® Giant™ Premium Hardwood Blocks each 6″x2″x1″” (premium hardwood, but not from endangered rain forest, jungle, or similar areas). This “precision crafted polished” feature of the game is what makes it work so well, and why you could very well drive yourself beyond the limits of the home craftperson should you try to make your own. Blocks that can slide without making the whole thing fall are blocks that slide the way only a precision crafted polished block could slide – smoothly, smugly, validating your Jenga-like acumen.

There is nothing cheap about Jenga Giant. Nothing. But after you play it at one or several of your parties, you’ll have no trouble at all justifying the expense. And neither will your guests.

To further the party-like aspect of Jenga Giant, and for a relatively minuscule investment, consider purchasing a ChalkInk marker so that you can write messages, erasably, in a subtle but clearly legible white, right upon your beautiful Jenga blocks, added rules and other hilarity-provoking things. We take, for example, from The Big List of Drinking Jenga Tiles (not that drinking is necessary or even essential for the majority of the added fun):

  • The next person must take their turn sitting on your lap.
  • You must play the rest of the game wearing no shoes or socks.
  • You must keep physical contact with the person to your right for the remainder of the game.
  • Any time you sing the Jeopardy theme song, the person taking their turn must complete their turn before you finish the song.

(Fortunately, the Jenga Giant blocks are giant enough for just about any message you can think of.)

The only reason we don’t recommend Jenga Giant for kids? Kids might get a bit too carried away to remember not to play near fragile things like on your beautiful dining room table or too close to the proverbial china closet. O, they will have fun. Big fun. But there are times when one must ask: what price fun?

dexterity-party

Rory’s Story Cubes – Mix and Max

Filed Under (Cooperation, Creative, Family Games, Keeper, Word Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 27-03-2015

story cubes enchanted

As you no doubt know, Rory’s Story Cubes® has achieved that most coveted of all Major Fun awards, the Major Fun Keeper! In their ceaseless attempts to make a good thing better, Gamewright has recently introduced what they are calling the Story Cubes Mix: small sets of three cubes each, each with their own theme. Currently, there are: Clues (mystery detective images), Prehistoria (dinosaurs and their ilk), and Enchanted (fairy tale). Each box and set of cubes is a different color – making it easier to sort one set out from the other, when so moved. Though, in truth, mixing them together stimulates even more creativity. It is my great pleasure to inform you that each of these has received a Major Fun award.

They are each very affordable, each wealthy enough with iconic imagery to engage the story-telling heart and direct it towards a different world. And, when used to supplement any of the existing Story Cube sets, each takes the story a different way, each serving to add yet more to the mix of inspiration for aspiring story-makers.

And for those who have not yet purchased the basic Story Cube set, try using a Mix to supplement your next story-reading. Take any book that you and your kids like to read together, and, at mutually agreed upon moments, roll a cube or two or three, interpret the symbols, and add them to the story. It’s a whole new way to read together.

story cubes maxAnd then there’s Rory’s Story Cubes® Max, the original Story Cubes made larger. Mixing a Mix with the Max (excuse me, I couldn’t help myself) makes a mix even that much easier to unmix – should the need arise.

Major Fun Keeper AwardEach of the various instantiations of Rory’s Story Cubes complement and extend the value of the others. The Max set invites those of us who don’t see as clearly as we think. It’s size and heft is even more inviting – especially for adult and group play.

The invitation to creative, story-telling fun just keeps getting majorer and majorer.

Rush Hour Shift

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 25-03-2015

Rush Hour Shift
Rush Hour Shift is a strategy game based on ThinkFun‘s popular Rush Hour puzzle series. )If your not familiar with charm of these puzzles, you can play with the basic concept of this intriguing little puzzle online.)

Major Fun AwardThe game board is in three parts, loosely connected so that you can shift (hence, the name of the game) either end of the board up or down. There are 12 “blocking vehicles” of three different lengths, and ten different ways to arrange the vehicles on the board. These vehicles can be moved, they just can’t be moved sideways, nor can they move over each other (which explains why they are called “blocking” vehicles). There’s also a deck of 32 movement cards which determine how far you can move your “hero car” and/or whether you get to shift one of the two ends of the game board.

After the game is set up (according to any one of the ten arrangements shown in the rule book), each player gets four cards. From then on, players alternate turns, selecting one of their cards, discarding the card face-up, following the movement rules (how far you can move, whether or not you can shift the board end), and then taking another card from the draw pile. The game ends as soon as one player has managed to maneuver his or her hero car off the board.

It’s a quick game, success depending on chance, logic, and being strategic enough to make the correct decision between preventing your opponent from winning or creating your own path to victory. There’s one additional strategic deliciousness – if a vehicle is positioned so that it bridges between a shifting end and the non-shiftable center board, that end is locked, and remains unshiftable until the blocking vehicle is moved.

All in all, Rush Hour Shift proves to be a unique and remarkably engaging combination of strategy game for two people as young as eight or as old as you. Everything works to keep you engaged – the elegant design of the board, the different lengths of the vehicles, the variety of starting positions, the luck of the draw. Kids may be attracted by the toy-like appearance of the game (and so might you), but it turns out to provide a significant challenge worthy even of someone of your esteemed logical prowess.

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Qwixx

Filed Under (Family Games) by Marc Gilutin on 24-03-2015

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qwixxHmmmm……

What were those criteria for a game to be Major Fun again?

1. Game can be learned in 15 minutes or less?

CHECK!

2. Played in under an hour?

Check!! Two or three times.

3.Fun enough to play over and over again?

Check!

4. Suitable for a wide audience?

Check!.

Qwixx! Tell me what game I’m thinking of.

:-)

I just did.

Now, those criteria:

1. Qwixx is easily understood. By kids even. 8 and up. Maybe younger.

How is it played?

Each player has a score sheet (pictured).

The remainder of the game is….wait for it……

Six Dice!

qwixx scorecardTwo white dice and one each of Red, yellow, blue, and green

(which match the rows on the score pad)

Red and Yellow numbered from 2-12. Blue and Green, from 12-2.

When it’s your turn, you (the “Active Player”)roll all six dice.

Then everyone (Participation! Yay!) has the *option to use the two white dice as two red, two yellow, two blue, or two green and cross off that total # in the appropriate space on the score sheet.

Once that’s happened, the “Active Player”(only)has a further option: She MAY add the pips of one white die and one colored die  and cross off the number in the row matching the colored die.

Like a white 2 and a red 2 can cross off the  red 4 on her score sheet.

But here’s the thing about crossing off. Once you make a check mark on a particular row, you can’t put any checks to the left of it. So planning can be challenging.

There’s one more thing. The “Active Player” MUST put an X somewhere on his sheet. If he can’t or doesn’t want to (because he’ll have too many empty spaces on the left side, he must fill one bad one on the bottom right of his scorepad. (Those are -5 points at the end)

What now?

The game continues with the players taking turns as the “Active Player” until the game ends.

One more special rule:

The last number in each row (12 for red and yellow. 2 for Blue and Green) cannot be crossed off unless you already had at least five or more Xs in that row.

If you do, you put an X in the 2 or 12 AND you also get an X in the “Lock” space to the right.

That color is now closed (unavailable for any future Xs ) for the rest of the game. If the game isn’t yet over, that die is removed for the rest of the game.

When two of the colors have been locked in that manner…or when one player has put 4 BAD Xs in the bottom right, the game is over.

Scores are added up using the formula at the bottom of the score sheet.

2. &  3. The average game takes 20 or so minutes, which makes #3 a certainty. Everybody wants more. Usually immediately.

(The first game of Qwixx we played, I devastated the opposition with 109 points!!

(Inside my addled brain, I’m saying “Finally. A game I’m good at. Maybe even great!”)

Everybody wanted to play again so we did.

I scored 21.

(Cue comedic trombone sound: “Wah! Wah! Wah!!”)

But, truth be told, I enjoyed the second time as much as the first. Oh joyous Major Fun!!

4. Qwixx is easily understood by kids of just about any age. (The publishers say ‘8 and up’ although I know a couple of six year olds….

But here’s something else about Qwixx….a very attractive something…..

Major Fun awardTHERE’S NO DOWN TIME!!!

“No Whaat time???” you ask.

“Down Time” for a player of games, which I am….and so are you….

is when  it’s your turn, the other players end up sitting there (patiently?) waiting for you to do your thing.

This can really minimize the fun aspect of a game.

Some more complex games suffer terribly on account of this. This and

“Analysis Paralysis”.

Why yes, you’re right. It DOES rhyme.

Some players are a little too……um….”deliberate” in their choice of moves. I’m being polite here. They take a long time, even when it’s not really called for.

Not fun. Not even minor fun. Let alone Major Fun.

Qwixx doesn’t have that! YAY!!!

Quixx engages everyone. On everyone’s turn. There’s always something to do. Or at least the potential to. So you remain involved. For the whole game.

More games should do this.

Until they do….play Qwixx!!!

Fun? Major!!

Anti-Qwirkle

Filed Under (Family Games, Keeper) by Marc Gilutin on 09-03-2015

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As fellow (Major) Funseekers, you’re no doubt familiar with Qwirkle. One of the first “Keepers”, if memory serves.

Well, after we’d played it  most Tuesday nights for a year or two, my friend “Two Hour Bob” and I (2-H-B couldn’t sit still for much more than that) started messing with the rules……as gamers do.

First, to avoid the end game getting bogged down by trying to figure out what our opponent had left in his hand, we’d take four random tiles out of each game before we started without looking at them. Success!!

Lots of friends have picked up on this and. maybe, someday, it will be an official rule.

But then, one very silly night, I asked 2-H-B,   ” Why not  try ‘ANTI-Qwirkle’?”.

“Auntie Whom??”

(A reminder for those of you who need it on the basic rules.):

There are tiles of six colors and six shapes.

Three of each of each. (I love saying that!)

A turn consists of  playing one or more of the six tiles from your hand in a straight line, intersecting with at least one tile already on the board. Sorta like that word game.

The rules allow you to play either Same Shape/Different Color or Same Color/Different Shape.

No exceptions.

EXCEPT… this one Tuesday night, we were feeling…exceptional.

And we changed the rules (Sorry, Susan!)

anti-qwirkleInstead of having one and only one thing in common with the other tiles played that turn, each one could have no shared attribute. No same color, no same shape as any of the others in its row or column.

So you could play a red square, a blue diamond, and a yellow star in the same row or column, etc, but none of their properties could match.

This was fun.

Major.

And scoring? Man, did we score!

Because of the nature of the new set of rules, ‘only’ getting a Qwirkle was a  disappointing turn. Many turns ended up falling in the 15-20 point range. Or more.

So, even though you’d never ‘UNkeep’ a Keeper, there’s something fun to try with your copy of Qwirkle next time it hits the table.

Let us know how it went.

Chickyboom

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 06-03-2015

ChickyBoom

The game’s called “Chickyboom.” It’s called “Chickyboom” because that’s what happens when Chicky slides off the balance bar: Chicky goes “boom.” Well, not exactly “boom.” But boom enough to make you laugh.  So, you might have, well, lost, but never you mind, little chicky, it’s hard to take the game seriously, especially when you’re playing with such funny-looking chickies.

ChickyBoom
There’s a lot about Chickyboom that makes it an exceptional invitation to play. You probably won’t be able to tell until you’re able to accept that invitation. It’s not just that the game is made of finger-pleasing wood. Or that the point value (if you’re playing for score) is so clearly indicated on each point-worthy piece. Or that everything is painted so brightly. Or even that the Chickies are so darn cute, and it’s fun to pick them up by the little felt “feather” that sticks up from their heads: it’s the elegance of the way everything works.

The roof (well, it looks rooflike) of the base (which could easily be imagined to be a chicken coop or hen house or something chickeny) is gently curved, so that it’s relatively easy to build the “rocking perch” (the see-saw-like board which is balanced on top of the chicken-coop-like thing). There are small legs on the bottom of the balance board which make it a wee bit more forgiving when it comes to balancing it. As does the gentleness of the curve of the coop roof.

And then there are the one-point wagon wheels, which, though not as heavy as the three-point hay bales, and less than half as thick, are wider and more accommodating (for, perhaps two chickies or a chicky and a bale. And as for the chickens, there are two kinds: the fatter three-pointers and the smaller two-pointers. With all these variables, and the effect of where they are placed on the balance board, combined with what other pieces are also on the board, and where they are placed, and how those pieces are stacked, and what happens when the balance board starts a-rockin’… all adds up to a game that’s worthy of hours and hours of serious contemplation and just as many hours of much hilarity.

The stacking part of the game is at as much fun as the unstacking. And what if you can remove two pieces at a time, or just one? Or have to use chopsticks?! Or play cooperatively, using only one finger per player.

And if the stacking part gets too challenging, you could, conceivably, turn the balance board over, using the two red rods on the underside (now topside) as stops to prevent pieces from falling off too easily.

And then there’s the “you don’t really need to keep score” rule: “the last player to collect a piece from the perch without making it topple wins the game!”

Chickyboom was intelligently designed by Thiery Denoual and is available from Blue Orange games.

Major Fun Award

Pyramix

Filed Under (Family Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 01-03-2015

pyramix
Pyramix is a light and lovely little strategy game for 2-4 players. The lovely part of it is as much how it works as how it plays.

The secret, oddly enough, is the tray.

I explicate:

You get 56 cubes (not dice, cubes – wait for it). There are three kinds of cubes (well, four, if you count the Cobra cubes): Ankhs, Cranes and Eyes – in four different colors. And you put the cubes in the tray, stacking them until you get a pyramid. And the thing is, stacking them is, like, a no-brainer. No steadiness of hand or acuity of eye is required because of the tray. You kind of just pour, so to speak, the cubes into the tray and they stack, as it were, themselves.

So why are these cubes and not dice? Because every side is the same, only the cubes are different. See, not dice. Cubes.

The game is all about removing the cubes, which also works in a lovely and endearing-like manner. You can remove any cube as long as: two or three sides are visible, it isn’t touching a Cobra cube, and removing it doesn’t result in an empty space in the tray. If you look at the pyramid a little more closely (which you will be doing, a lot), you’ll notice that there are generally speaking an ample number of cubes for the picking, some of which at the near bottom of a whole line of cubes. And when you take one of those away, the cubes on the top all slide down, revealing yet more possibilities, or perhaps another Cobra.

Every cube you remove is worth points: the Eyes are worth three, the Cranes two and the Ankhs one. The Cobras aren’t worth anything, which doesn’t matter because you can’t remove them anyway. So, strategically speaking, the Eyes have it.

When all legally removable cubes have been collected, the game is over. You remove any Cobras and any Cobra-adjacent cubes from the tray, count all the cubes you have of the same color – the color, not the kind. And the player who has the most of a particular color gets to claim all the cubes of that color that are in the tray as hers. So, strategically speaking, you most definitely want to be collecting cubes of a particular color while you’re also trying to collect cubes of a the higher-scoring kind.

You’re going to be spending a lot of your time turning the pyramid around, inspecting every side, and appreciating how easily the base turns.

It all turns out, as it were, to present a challenge that is easy enough for an eight-year-old to understand, and rife enough with strategic implications to entice serious contemplation by your resident contemplators.

Suffice it to say: fun-wise, what we’re looking at here is major.

Major Fun Award
Pyramix was designed by Tim Roediger, with art by Lisa Goldstein. We recommend it wholeheartedly. It takes maybe 15 minutes to play. It takes even less time to learn. You’ll want to play at least a few rounds (or spins) before admitting defeat. There’s no game quite like it. Yet.

Menu Mash-Up

Filed Under (Family Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 30-10-2014

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Menu_Mash_Up_product_shot_contentsParty games accommodate snacking in ways that other games don’t. Speed games engage the hands and eyes too much. Word games and strategy games consume too much intellectual bandwidth. But party games are made to be played with friends at a casual pace.

Menu Mash-Up doesn’t just accommodate party food, it has the distinction of being a party game that could actively encourage players to put the game aside for a while in order to prepare a full meal.

The mechanics are simple—think Apples to Apples but with ingredients. There are three kinds of cards: ingredients, preps, and dishes. Players have a hand of ten cards: 7 ingredients (papaya, caviar, asparagus, saffron, etc…) and 3 preps (cookies, baked, flambéed, omelet, etc…) Each round begins with one player (the Diner) drawing a Dish card. These cards describe what the other players (the Cooks) need to prepare such as Romantic Dinner, Tickle the Senses, Break the Bank, and Bring the Pain. The cooks put together any number of their ingredients and preps in a way that will most appeal to the diner. These cards are placed in an ingenious folder that looks like a menu and passed to the Diner. The Diner shuffles the menus, reads them out, and then chooses the winner for the round.

Some of the Dish cards are have special instructions. The Diner might have to roll a die for the number of ingredients or the Cooks might have a 45 second timer. These serve to spice things up as it were.

01 AwardIt’s a tried and true party game mechanic but the responses to the various dishes are incredibly varied. The game also comes with a set of Linking Cards that anyone can use—words like “with,” “followed by,” “on.” Cooks have 10 cards PLUS the Linking Cards to arrange in any order they want. They can fill the order with multiple courses or one simple item.

One of the things I loved about the game was how it swung between funny and tantalizing. There were lots of combinations that made us laugh but the ones we talked about the most were the ones that sparked our gustatory imaginations. And you could tell the really powerful ones because everyone would sit back for a moment with a faraway look and sigh a collective “mmmmmm.”

Silly, sumptuous, and absolutely Major Fun.

3 – 7 players. Ages 12+

Menu Mash-Up was designed by Karen Hudes and is © 2013. The game is produced by Chronicle Books.

Fastrack – NHL Edition

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games) by Will Bain on 24-08-2014

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NHL FastrackFastrack by Blue Orange Games is Major Fun. It is a Keeper.

Thanks to a partnership with CSE Games (a Major Fun winner in their own right) Fastrack now comes in an NHL edition.

The game remains the same: try to get all of the discs to the other side of the board. To do this you must fling them with an elastic band through a narrow slot in the board. Your opponent is trying to do the same thing. Through the same narrow slot.

Madness ensues!

01 AwardThe game is brilliant. Fast paced and nerve jangling. What has been added in this edition is NHL themed artwork. The board is designed like a hockey rink. The discs are hockey pucks. NHL logos adorn the edges. It’s a nice touch.

2 players. Ages 5+

Fastrack was designed by Jean-Marie Albert and is the NHL edition is © 2014 by Blue Orange Games.