NHL Ice Breaker

Filed Under (Family Games) by Will Bain on 25-03-2014

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http://i1.wp.com/csegames.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/nhlib-box-comp1.jpg?resize=266%2C341When I was in middle school and high school, I would often fall asleep listening to radio broadcasts of the Indianapolis hockey team, the Ice. At the time, I don’t think I had ever seen a full game of hockey. The basics, of course, are easy: sticks, skates, puck, net. But icing and off sides were complete mysteries to me as were the mechanics of a line change in a game that never seemed to stop.

But even though I had only the most rudimentary mental image of the action on the ice, the commentators sucked me in, and as their voices rose in pitch with each shot on goal, I would grip that little transistor radio until the plastic casing threatened to burst apart.

CSE Games’ combination card game / board game NHL Ice Breaker, does a good job of capturing some of that rapid back and forth that kept me listening to those hockey games. Opponents use cards to move a puck across the game board. The cards are also used to take shots on goal and make defensive saves.

Players battle for control of the puck by playing the highest card or combination of cards. To begin, each player simultaneously reveals one card. High card wins, but the lower player has the opportunity to add another card to form a poker hand (two of a kind). The other player may respond with a better poker hand (a higher pair or a three-of-a-kind). Players go back and forth in this manner until one player passes.

There are four boxes on each card. Each box has instructions for different situations: a pass, a shot on goal, goal tending, and the “ice breaker.” If the puck is being passed, the winner moves the puck as instructed. If someone is taking a shot on goal, the winning hand either scores a point of makes a save. The “ice breaker” box is a special instruction for when the puck lands on one of the many special spaces on the game board.

awardThe game comes with a bilingual rule book and a quick-start rule sheet. We were able to play very well just using the quick sheet and making a few consultations to the more detailed rules. Once you become familiar with the cards, most of your work is cut out for you. Most of the instructions are on the cards. The strategy is light—there are very few times when you won’t just play your best cards right away—but there is good tension especially as one side approaches the scoring zone.

I also appreciated how the game could be played by a single person. It’s not as engaging as a 2 or 4 player game, but the single-player option was an amusing way to pass the time—more so than many other forms of solitaire that I know.

All in all, the game is easy to learn, quick to play, and it has just enough strategy to keep you coming back. If you designate someone as the color-commentator, this game takes on that jittery, impressionistic quality of those radio broadcasts.

1-4 players. Ages 8+

NHL Ice Breaker was designed by Fabio and Paolo Del Rio and is © 2013 by CSE Games.

Murbles

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Senior-Worthy) by Will Bain on 12-03-2014

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Despite the rather cruel and fickle nature of this particular March, there have been a couple of really pleasant days in which all but the most stubborn or sheltered piles of snow melted away. Spring is in full tease mode. Yesterday I went for a run in shorts and t-shirt. Today I had to push an inch of wet snow off my windshield before I left work.

But those few nice days got me out not just to run but to play a couple games of Murbles that Murray Kramer of Kramer Kreations was nice enough to send to us back in December. Now, Murray is from Pensacola, Florida where I can only assume that a lawn-bowling game like Murbles is a viable year-round proposition. Unfortunately the game reached me in Indianapolis just as we were settling in for what would be one of the snowiest winters on record.

Each set of Murbles comes with a target ball (white) and six other balls in 2 colors. The ones I tossed around the yard were red and blue, but there is a huge variety of colors you can order. As with most bocce-style bowling games, you throw the target murble and then players try to get their murbles closest to the target. With the basic set, two or four people could play by alternating throws. Combine multiple sets and you can have a game for an entire family reunion.

awardAlthough the game will be immediately familiar to anyone who has ever thrown objects over a grassy surface, it is the packaging and materials that really make Murbles stand out. The murbles are three inches in diameter, weigh about half a pound (8 ounces), and come in a colorful canvas bag with the rules printed on it. The murbles are small enough and light enough that children and the elderly can play with them, but they still have enough “heft” so that your throws feel controlled. They are made from a dense, recycled plastic that is also buoyant so you won’t lose them at the bottom of a lake (although prevailing winds and waves might lead you on an extended chase).

Murbles is Major Fun that you can throw in your back pack or the back of your car and then throw around in the great outdoors. Something to usher in the spring and a great reason to get outside and (as my mom would say) get the stink blown off.

[sniff] I’m pretty sure I need to get out more.

2+ players. Ages 6+

Murbles was designed by Murray Kramer and is © 2011 by Kramer Kreations.

 

 

Major Fun would like some credit for doing this entire review without making one joke about balls. Not one. Read back through there and check out all the opportunities I had. I tell you what, being this mature is really hard difficult.

Anomia: Party Edition

Filed Under (Family Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 06-03-2014

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PictureAnomia was awarded Major Fun early in 2012. You can check out that review here or keep reading for a brief recap. Anomia’s new Party Edition is the same game but with the addition of more decks of cards so you can play multiple rounds without repeating the same cue cards. Same Major Fun simplicity. Same Major Fun turmoil. Same Major Fun yelling and grabbing and laughing.

The game consists of cards that contain a clue and a symbol. In turn, each player turns over a card from a personal pile. If there are no matching symbols then nothing happens, and the next player turns over a card. If two cards have the same symbol then those two players race to shout an example of the other person’s clue. Winner gets the other card.

The wonder and joy of this game comes from the dysfunction of the human brain under surprising, stressful conditions. Some of the most ridiculous things will tumble out of your mouth when you have to name a kind of chewing gum under pressure. Or your brain will freeze when asked to give but one example of a soup.

awardAlthough only one player turns a card at any one time, any of the other players might have to leap into action at any moment. Once one face-off is resolved, another might appear when the top card of a pile is moved. The players are always engaged. Even when there are no matches there is never any down-time.

The addition of more decks allows for greater replay. Otherwise, Anomia has wisely left a good thing to be a good thing. It’s Major Fun no matter how tongue tied and brain dead it makes you look.

3 – 6 Players. Ages 10+

Anomia: Party Edition was designed by Andrew Innes and © 2013 by Anomia Press LLC.

Stop ‘n Go

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 26-02-2014

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4250_StopNGo_023151042507We have a soft spot for speed games here at Major Fun. That soft spot is generally the tips of our fingers and we will gleefully bruise those soft spots if it means that we get a chance to slap a card down just before our neighbor does. Speed games are loud and frenetic and there is never any down time.

Granted, this kind of fun isn’t for everyone and speed games can often be unforgiving to those who are inexperienced. Or lack hand-eye coordination. Or are too old. Or are too young. Or have a heart condition. Or play nice…

…but they are fun!! And Talicor’s Stop ‘n Go does a great job of providing us with a slappy shouty speedy  game that pauses every so often to give you time to regroup.

Players are dealt 15 cards (the rest are placed to the side for later) and the object is to get rid of all cards in your hand. The cards are held face down. Each card has a combination of four basic colors: red, green, yellow, and blue. Each player turn one card face to the table in front of them. When the dealer yells “Stop and Go” each player flips over a card and tries to match it to one of the cards already face up on the table. When a player sees a match, he or she rushes to slap their card on top of that pile and flip over another.

It’s all very intuitive. Speed color matching.

There are also three special cards: Zap is yellow, Pass is blue, and Stop n Go is green and red. When one of these is successfully played to a pile, everything stops and the special card takes effect. Zap allows the player to give each opponent 2 more cards (from the ones set aside). Pass forces everyone to pass their hand to the right or to the left. Stop n Go allows the player to play 3 cards while everyone else has to wait.

This is not a highly strategic game. There is a good deal of luck involved. But the pace is fast and the interruptions due to special cards allow everyone to regroup and prepare for the next onslaught. The game rules awardsuggests that at the end of the round (when someone goes out) you count your cards and record that number. When someone reaches 30 the game is over and the lowest score wins.

We had a blast just playing to see who would go out each round. And betting on who would walk away with a broken finger.

The rules are short and largely intuitive. The cards are well designed. We were laughing and shouting and bruising our fingers like a rock n roll bassist. It’s Major Fun.

2 – 6 Players. Ages 4+

Stop ‘n Go was designed by James D. Muntz and © 2012 by James Games Design. Manufactured and distributed by Talicor.

Der Schwarze Pirat (The Black Pirate)

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Toys) by Will Bain on 08-02-2014

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Black PirateOne of the things that I most appreciate about table-top games is the way that the game transforms this very flat, very common surface into something exotic. It’s that feeling I got when my sister and I would scatter plastic toy soldiers and cowboys around a room and then spend an hour or so sniping them with rubber bands. These little plastic figures transformed the room into a jungle or a desert or a mountain pass in which we crawled and hid and attacked.

Haba’s table-top pirate adventure game, Der Schwarze Pirat, turns your table into an island-bestrewn sea where colorful pirates hunt and fight for treasure. The game takes place on a large, modular board that is wonderfully painted and detailed. Each player controls a pirate ship which they blow around the board in pursuit of treasure.

Blow, you ask?

Yup. As in “Thar she ________.”

The game comes with a rubber bulb like you would see on the end of a turkey baster. When you squeeze the bulb, a puff (or blast) of air comes out of the hole. You roll a die to see how many puffs you get. The die also tells you if you move your ship or the black pirate ship. Either choice gives you the chance to collect gold.

Several other mechanics make the game interesting:

There is the treasure die. At the beginning of your turn you place treasure on some of the islands (thus enticing pirates to visit those places). The treasure die tells you where to place gold, BUT gold may not be placed at an island that is being visited by a pirate. This means that pirates cannot simply sit on an island and wait for treasure to come to them.

awardSecondly there is the plunder rule. If you crash the Black Pirate into another player’s boat, that player takes out three of their gold coins. Your opponent secretly puts some coins in one hand and the rest in the other. You tap the hand you want and receive the treasure. In this fashion you can earn 0 – 3 points and your opponent has a chance to lose nothing (after all, pirates are a sneaky lot).

With the cold weather we’ve been experiencing here in the Midwest, a game that can take us away to someplace warm and sunny and full of treasure is a welcome respite. Or a recipe for madness. Either way, it’s Major Fun.

Der Schwarze Pirat was designed by Guido Hoffman and © 2006 by Haba.

Speed Cups & Halli Galli

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games) by Will Bain on 20-01-2014

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It’s Amigo week this week as we award Haim Shafir and Amigo for several games that we received recently. Although the games have some very similar features (for example they are all games of speed and quick reactions) each one has its own idiosyncrasies and charm. They are all very clever and, more importantly, fun.

Major Fun.

Today I’m going to focus on the two games for slightly older players. Later this week I’ll look at a couple of the games that are suited for even younger players. Keep in mind that all of the games from Shafir and Amigo are fantastic family games that are enjoyable for a wide range of ages.

Speed Cups (2 – 4 players. Ages: 6+)

Let’s start with a game that is most similar to one we have already given a Major Fun Award to. If you remember from a few weeks back, we loved Finger Twist—another game designed by Shafir and produced by Amigo. Speed Cups has a lot of similarities to Finger Twist. Both are speed games, both involve matching color and order combinations on a card, and both have a bell. Whereas Finger Twist uses colored hair bands, Speed Cups uses colored plastic cups.

Each player has a set of five cups, each of a different color. To start play, a card is flipped over and the players race to arrange their cups to match the pattern on the card. One tricky aspect is that the card does not show cups, instead the card shows a picture of five flowers or five cars or a five-story apartment building. The second wrinkle is that the players must not only match the color order but also the horizontal or vertical orientation of the items. If the items on the card are arranged vertically, the cups must be stacked. If the colors are arranged horizontally then the cups need to form a line on the table.

That’s it. Each player rings the bell when finished. The first player to ring the bell and have the cups in the right order wins the card.

One of the things I found most interesting was how differently each player performed depending on the orientation of the card. I was much better at cards that were vertically oriented. I was competitive when asked to stack the cups. But when it came to horizontal arrangement, I was almost always dead last. Everyone who has played with me has made similar comments. One orientation is much better than the other.

Like all speed games, some people are just better than others. Of the quintilogy of games from Haim Shafir, Speed Cups and Finger Twist are perhaps the most unforgiving in the sense that someone who struggles will get frustrated if forced to always compete against those who are naturally (or in the case of my daughter seemingly preternaturally) dexterous. Then again, pulling out an unexpected win feels really good.

Halli GalliHalli Galli (2 – 6 players, Ages: 6+)

First produced in 1990, this is actually the first of Haim Shafir’s “Bell Quintilogy” of games (“Bell Quintilogy” is not an “official” title. And “Major Fun” knows that some of the “quotes” are misplaced but it’s just so “addictive.”) You can see the DNA of Halli Galli in the more recent games like Speed Cups and Finger Twist, but Halli Galli is more about building tension than raw speed.

The game comes with a bell and 56 cards. The cards depict 1 to 5 pieces of fruit (plums, strawberries, limes, or bananas). These cards are shuffled and dealt face-down to all players. These piles of cards are arranged around the bell.

When play starts, players take turns flipping over one card from their deck so that one card is showing in front of each player. Players continue to flip over cards (covering up the previous card if no one has rung the bell) until exactly five of any fruit are visible. The first to ring the bell when exactly five of a fruit are visible wins ALL of the cards that are face-up on the table. These cards go to the winner’s deck. If a player runs out of cards then that player is eliminated from the game.

If a player makes a mistake, that player must give one card to each of his or her opponents.

awardThe pace of the game is uneven but instead of being a flaw in the game, it turns out to be a major source of excitement. Sometimes you will find yourself ringing the bell every second or third card, but there are times when you can play 10 or 11 cards without revealing a set of five. In those rounds the tension becomes almost unbearable. When the critical card finally drops the explosion of sound and activity is bone jarring.

Even though this is an elimination game, the rounds go very quickly and the amount of down-time is minimal. There are also lots of ways to adjust this game to accommodate for different ages and ability levels.

You might find yourself flinching every time you hear a bell but Haim Shafir and Amigo have provided us with a lot of ways to have fun—Major Fun—while exercising our fast-twitch reflexes.

Speed Cups & Halli Galli were designed by Haim Shafir and © 2013 by Amigo.

Going, Going, Gone!

Filed Under (Family Games) by Will Bain on 14-01-2014

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Going Going GoneWhen I think of a bidding game, I generally think of a card game like Bridge or Spades. These were staples of my high school and college years. I loved (still love) the bidding because there is so much energy that goes into the decisions. It was generally a very quiet, intense energy, but when the stakes were especially high, that part of the game was often more enthralling (and took more time) than playing out the cards.

Going, Going, Gone is a bidding game that keeps all of that intensity AND compresses the time to about 10 seconds. Once the bidding starts, it is fast and frantic and anything but quiet.

And is it ever Major Fun.

Going, Going, Gone is perhaps better defined as an auction game. The goal is to use your “bucks” (colored cubes) to bid on items (cards) that you collect into sets. These sets increase in value as you increase the number of cards in the set. For example, a set with 2 items is worth 6 bucks, but add one more card to that set and those 3 items are worth 12 bucks.

Bidding occurs simultaneously which is one of the ways that the game generates excitement. All players start with 25 bucks of a single color. In the center of the table are five cups. Next to each cup is one or two item cards. Each card shows a collectible item (cars, comics, cards, phonographs, toys, art, and games) and the flag of a country (Germany, Canada, China, Great Britain, Japan, United States, and Italy). When an auction starts, the players drop their bucks (the colored cubes) into the cups of the items they want. Whoever puts in the most cubes wins the item. The losers get their money back but the winner’s money goes to the bank. In this way winners have less money in later rounds.

awardWhat really kicks the game into overdrive is the auctioneer. This position rotates through the players. This player holds a wide paddle (much like bidders would hold at an auction) and starts the bidding by counting down from 10. The auctioneer can count as fast or slow as they want but the pace has to be steady. We found that most people counted down in under ten seconds. During that time, everyone is placing their bucks into the cups. It’s madness. When the auctioneer reaches zero, he or she places (slams) the paddle gently (violently) but firmly (gleefully) over the cups, thus preventing any more bidding (by dislocating a few small digits).

There are 49 item cards and the game is over in 7 rounds. In between rounds the players my sell off their collections in order to raise money for later rounds of bidding. Sell off your collection too soon and you might miss out on that card you need. Wait too long and you might not have enough money to bid in the final rounds.

The pace is fast and there are lots of levels of strategy to the game. There are many decisions to be made in those ten seconds, and once the bidding is done the players have to decide what cards to keep and what to sell.

It’s a blast. Although there is no real money at stake and no real items to collect, the game does a wonderful job of weaving you into that fiction. I don’t know that I have ever wanted something so desperately as I wanted that Canadian phonograph.

I hope it plays cassette tapes…

2 – 6 players. Ages: 8+

Going Going Gone was designed by Scott Nicholson (of Board Games With Scott fame) and © 2013 by Stronghold Games LLC.

Finger Twist

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games) by Will Bain on 26-12-2013

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Fingertwist_PressefotoWhat do you do with a bell and dozens of fuzzy hairbands?

If your answer was “host an ‘80s rock festival” then I applaud your way with words.

If your answer was “make a game” then you have a mind like Haim Shafir and the good people at Amigo Games.

Finger Twist (also known as Ringlding in its native German tongue) is one of several games that Haim Shafir and Amigo have released this year. It comes with a bell (the kind you would ring at a service counter), 72 stretchy hair ties (think small scrunchies instead of rubber bands) in six colors, and 32 cards. The cards show a hand with several of the hair bands wrapped around different combinations of fingers.

To play, set the bell in the middle of the table, surrounded by all of the hair ties. Shuffle the deck and flip over the top card. Whoever is the first to put the hair ties around his or her fingers so that they match the card, rings the bell.

awardThe game plays out in three phases that can be tracked by their distinct sounds.  Once the card is flipped there is an immediate shout and surge as everyone grabs for the colors they need. The noise level only increases in volume and in the amount of profanity as everyone struggles to wrap the correct color around the correct fingers. Finally, when someone rings the bell, there is a series of groans and frustrated gesticulations as everyone plucks off the bands and prepares for the next round.

This is one of those games whose rules are virtually intuitive from the moment you open the box. It is quick and raucous and colorful. It’s fun to see how a common item like a hair tie can be repurposed for such a fun—Major Fun— game.

2 – 6 players or teams. Ages: 4+

Finger Twist was designed by Haim Shafir and © 2012 by Amigo.

Cross Ways

Filed Under (Family Games, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 22-12-2013

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The goal of Crossways is to complete a path across the 8X8 game board. Players place their pieces on the board by drawing and playing from a double deck of standard cards. In this respect, the game is a lot like Sequence, but saying that Crossways is like Sequence is akin to saying that a Harley is like a Schwinn.

I’ve had a lot of fun chewing the fat with friends over leisurely games like Sequence, but that doesn’t elevate them to Major Fun. Not so with Crossways. It’s Major Fun because, unlike those more casual games, you might find yourself putting the conversation on hold in order to think through your next move.

When playing as individuals, each player is dealt 5 cards. On your turn you can play one or more cards in order to either add your pieces to the board or remove your opponents’ pieces. If you play a single card you may play one piece on a square that matches the color and number of your card (for example a red 5 or a black queen).

Things get more interesting as you play cards in pairs. If you play matching pairs (pair of 8s or a pair of jacks) you can place two of your pieces ANYWHERE on the board. This allows you to cover more ground or stack the pieces. A stack of two pieces will block other players from that space. There are also some spaces that you can only take with a stack. If you play a run of two cards (for example a 2 and a 3 of hearts) then you may remove two pieces from the board. In this way you can slow your opponents or open up spaces that are blocked by a stack.

awardThe first player to cross from one side of the board to the opposite side is the winner. The board is only eight spaces across, but boy do things get complicated in that journey. Diagonals do not count toward your path, so blocked spaces can quickly frustrate those trying to take the obvious, shortest route. Then there is the added wrinkle that opposing pieces can share spaces. A single piece on a space does not block your opponent. It is easy to lose track of your opponent’s path when other colors are stacked up on the same space. Your color doesn’t have to be on top. It just has to be on the space.

Crossways is graphically clean and the plastic pieces stack in a satisfying, sturdy way. The rules are quick to learn and come with helpful illustrations as well as a raft of alternate rules. We played that you could make runs and sets out of more than two cards (for example three-of-a-kinds or runs of four) which made for some dramatic changes, but the standard game-play is tight and lively.

It was good to see that Major Fun can still be had with a basic grid and some standard cards.

2 – 4 players or teams. Ages: 8+

Crossways was designed and © 2013 by USAopoly.

Goblins Drool, Faeries Rule

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 17-12-2013

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Such a beautiful, wee, fae game.

At first blush, it would be easy to dismiss Goblins Drool, Faeries Rule as a kids game. That kind of “kids game” like Go Fish and Old Maid that makes an adult look longingly at itemized taxes as a way of escape. But do not make that mistake. Like all things fae, the cuteness is but a glamour that belies a thing of great elegance and power.

And fun. It’s not all pomp and circumstance you know. It’s Major Fun.

The game, developed by Game-O-Gami and published by Game Salute,  consists of 20 double-sided cards. Each card is unique and depicts a faerie on one side and a goblin on the other. The faeries have names like Snowflake Shelley, Vanilla Scoop, and Morning Dew while the goblins have names like Full Moon Moo, Cuckoo Clock, and Vermin Vermicelli. Take a moment to notice that some of these names rhyme. That will be important later. Each card also has a pair of symbols. Cards with frogs on one side will have toadstools on the flip-side. Cards with suns on one side will have moons on the other.

One of the great strengths of this game is the artwork. The faeries are whimsical and the goblins are silly. We spent a lot of time just passing the cards around when we first opened the game.

The game starts with all cards arranged so that the goblin side is up. Players receive 4 cards that they keep on the table in front of them. When all players have their cards, 4 more cards are placed in the center of the table (this is called the faerie circle). Extra cards are set aside. Cards are never hidden in this game, but you can only see one side (no peeking at the side facing the table).

To win you must either collect 6 faeries or have no goblins.

awardOn your turn, you take one card in front of you and move it into the faerie circle. Any cards that rhyme with your card are flipped over (goblins become faeries and faeries become goblins). You then collect any cards that have the same symbol as your card (moon, sun, frog, toadstool), BUT your card stays in the circle.

Navigating these two simple aspects of the cards is wonderfully complex. It surprised me just how difficult it was to think about the rhyme AND the symbol. My guess is that the mental processes of keeping track of a rhyme (an auditory skill) and keeping track of a symbol (a visual skill) are different enough that my brain had to scramble to allocate resources.

To make matters even more complex, some sides of some of the cards have stars. These special cards flip over ALL cards in the faerie ring, regardless of the rhyme. All these features created an intriguingly strategic game. Knowing when to play a card because it would help your cause and when to play one so that it would harm your opponent was a big part of the decision process. All cards are visible so you can make plans for yourself as well as plans to thwart your rivals.

The game also comes with instructions to play solitaire. We had a blast with four people, and I can see how the mechanics would lend themselves to thoughtful solo play.

2 – 4 players. Ages: 7+

Goblins Drool, Faeries Rule was designed by David Luis Sanhueza. © 2012 by Game-O-Gami. Brought to us by the good people at Game Salute.