Zitternix (Keep It Steady)

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 21-09-2015

So, here’s what you get when you open your box Zitternix. Take a minute. No more than two. See if you can figure out the rules.

If you’re still having trouble, read the following later:

If I wanted to my designer friends to know more about the kinds of games I really, truly admire (and am always a wee bit angry at myself for not having come up with the game myself), as so oft I do, I’d use Zitternex to show how close you can get to creating a completely self-explanatory games.

Still wondering what the rules are? OK, if you’re not, skip the following section and go on to the next:

The Rules

  1. You take all the sticks and put them through the ring so that the whole bundle can stand freely, noting, as you must, that the different color sticks have different properties. There’s fat blue, average red and slim yellow. This observation might help you win the game, at some point, when points are being counted.
  2. You roll the die and remove a stick of the corresponding color. If you make the big wooden ring touch the table, your turn has ended, so you set everything up again and basically wait until the whole game starts again. Which isn’t that long.
  3. And, yes, Fat Blue is worth 3 points. And, yes, the other sticks are worth fewer, arithmetically descending with relative girth.
  4. And then there are the rules it would talk you maybe longer to figure out, like: if it looks like you don’t have a good choice, and you already own a stick of the color in question you can place it back into the game. Which you probably will find minorly upsetting, unless you make the bundle fall. In that event, you will be more upset. And you can quit the whole game if you manage to get the bundle down to three sticks. And did you know that the further off the table the ring is, the longer the bundle will keep from collapsing?

And now for those of you who figured out the game:

dexterity-family-kids-partyOK, so it’s not completely self-explanatory. In fact, one of the things that makes Zitternix (called Keep It Steady in English-speaking countries) such a good toy/game (which makes it already a happy coincidence – a game that is as much a toy as it is a game) that it is just as easy to find new rules, new things to make it do and keep it from doing, for finding ways to play the game so that everybody gets to play even though they “lost” – kind of like a group solitaire, or playing the game on a slanted surface just to see what happens…

What Major Major Fun!



Filed Under (Family Games) by Will Bain on 06-09-2015

Tagged Under :

In the wild west of gunslingers and prairie justice, where murder could make you a beloved hero and brigands could become legends, there was one crime that went beyond the pale.

Cattle rustlin’

Highly profitable and utterly despised. It took a sort of ruthlessness and recklessness that more often than not got you strung up by your neck without the mercy of a quick drop.

Blue Orange’s 2-player game Longhorn drops you into that world as a pair of competing cattle thieves, and although getting rich is one way to win, the main way to win is by making sure your opponent loses.

The game board constantly changes. It consists of 9 tiles that are shuffled and placed in a random 3×3 grid. Each tile starts with a certain number of cows. The cows are of three colors (black, orange, white) and the colors should be randomly distributed between the tiles. For example, the tile called “Dagger Flats” calls for 4 cows but the color of these cows should be decided randomly. The starting tiles also have a space for a special effect token. These tokens are chosen randomly and can be beneficial to the player or harmful.

On your turn, you steal cows and then move your opponent a number of spaces equal to the number of cows you stole. In this way you try to maneuver your opponent into the worst possible situation as you try to make the best of the conditions in which you find yourself.

There are three ways to win:

  1. If you force your opponent to take the Sheriff token, you WIN (opponent automatically LOSES).
  2. If you collect 9 cows of the same color you automatically WIN unless you also get the Sheriff in which case you LOSE and your opponent WINS!
  3. If you are forced to land on an empty tile, the game ends and both players earn money for the cows they have stolen plus any money they collected during the game (from the tokens). Richest rustler WINS.

I’m not going to go into all of the tokens and the final calculations for scoring. Suffice it to say that the different victory conditions open up several winning strategies. You and your opponent have to factor in a lot of variables, not the least of which is that you can’t control your own piece. Sometimes it is better to steal fewer cows in order to move your opponent one step closer to swinging the Gallow’s Dance.

Major Fun awardGames are fast and cut-throat. They are never the same twice and I can’t over-emphasize how much fun it is to have a game that revolves around forcing your opponent to step on a rattlesnake or take a bunch of sick cows.

There are a lot of pieces, and the first time you set up the game it will take some time to figure out what goes where, but once you see it, the following games are completely intuitive.

Although I’m sure that this could never be said about cattle rustling in the days of Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid, but rustling cattle on the Blue Orange range is Major Fun.

2 players. Ages 8+

Longhorn was designed by Bruno Cathala and is © 2013 by Blue Orange Games.

Love Letter to AEG:

Filed Under (Family Games, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 06-09-2015

Dearest Alderac Entertainment Group,

How my heart races as I pen this missive. It has been mere hours since you swept me away in the embrace of your elegantly crafted Love Letter and now I fear I might only keep a Lost Legacy of those moments together. Why must your love be such a Cypher? Will it always be thus that I will only be able to express my affection to you through the fickle fortunes of these cards?

Oh most cruel and implacable master of my fate! Until your next gift, I shall remain forever yours.

Major Fun

[Fanning self]

Mercy. Sometimes Major Fun can be overwhelmed by the sheer animal fun that a publisher can exude, and Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG to their paramours) recently poured on the charm and a heavy dose of fun-pheromones through three closely related games: Love Letter, Lost Legacy, and Cypher.


Love Letter and Munchkin Loot Letter:

Love Letter is certainly the place to start. The game mechanics of Love Letter are deeply imbedded in the other games and form a strong foundation for all three. Love Letter is a strategic deduction and elimination card game in which players are trying to either eliminate all the other players or be the one to hold the highest points when the cards run out. AEG publishes many variations of Love Letter but they all consist of 16 cards ranging in value from 1 to 8. Some cards are much more common than others (for example, there are five 1s but only one 8).

We played the version of Love Letter that is based on the world of Steve Jackson’s wildly popular Munchkin games. This version is called Loot Letter and it imagines that the players are fantasy adventurers who are trying to escape a dungeon with the most loot.

The game play is very simple. Every player is dealt one card. One card is removed from the remaining deck and kept hidden. The rest of the cards form a draw deck. On your turn you draw one card and play one card. Whatever instructions are on the card you play have to be followed. For example, if you play the Maul Rat (value 2), you get to look at the cards in another player’s hand. Some cards like the Duck of Doom and the Potted Plant can eliminate players from the game. If all other players are eliminated, you win!

If the draw pile runs out and more than one player is still in the game, the winner is the one with the highest value card in his or her hand.

Although luck plays a role in the game, there is a lot of strategy that goes into deciding which card you should play and which one you should keep. You don’t have many choices but each choice is crucial, and that is one of the great strengths of these Love Letter games. And although this is an elimination game, no one stays out for very long. Each round is resolved in a matter of minutes, and then you start it all over.

Lost Legacy:

LL1_cover-artDesigned by the same person responsible for Love Letter, Lost Legacy: The Starship tweaks the mechanics of Love Letter a bit for a new flavor to a favorite dish. The players are looking for a powerful starship. To do so, the players use the same draw and play mechanic as in Love Letter. Unlike Love Letter, when you get to the point that there are no cards left in the deck, each player gets to guess where the Starship is. If it is in your hand, then the guess is easy, BUT the player who gets to guess first is determined by the card you keep in your hand (lower is faster). The Starship is worth 5 points, so if you hold the Starship but someone else has a lower card, that person could guess that you are holding it, and thus they would win the round.

It is also possible that no one wins the round. Players who were not eliminated get, at most, one guess, and even that is not guaranteed. I found it interesting to use this as a way to stay in the game even when I knew I could not win the round. If I could make it that no one got a point, I could stay in the game for a better outcome next round.


Cypher_card-spread-1024x463If Lost Legacy is a sibling to Love Letter, David Short’s Cypher is a first cousin. You can see the family resemblance but there’s a healthy dose of new DNA. First, there is no elimination (and although I really like Love Letter this is a big factor for Major Fun). Secondly, instead of starting with one card, each player starts their turn with three cards—but ENDS the turn with one.


Yup. When you start your turn you have three cards. You play one in front of you and do whatever it says (like Love Letter). THEN you draw a card. To end your turn, you pass one card to the person on your right and one card to the person on your left. In this way, players always start with three cards but end with one.

The goal is to end the game with the most points played to the table in front of you. You can only keep three cards in front of you, and there are lots of ways to mess with what your opponents have on the table. The round ends when the draw deck is reduced to zero cards OR someone plays one of the cards called “Cypher Anomaly.” All players have one more action and then points are tallied.

Cypher is a longer game than the other Love Letter games but not by much. All of the deduction elements are present, and there is a great strategic element to setting up your last card. You have lots of opportunities to mess with your opponents before the final actions are triggered, and this is incredibly satisfying.

All three games are small, quick to learn, and can be played over and over and over. The art and card design is top notch. AEG is releasing them in handy draw-string bags that contain everything you need. I actually keep all three in one bag. The instructions are short and clear, and playing any of them will allow you to intuitively pick up any of the others in short order.

It’s a lot of love, and Major Fun, in a very small package.

All reviewed games are 2 – 4 players. Ages 10+

Love Letter and Munchkin Loot Letter were designed by Seiji Kanai and is © 2012 by AEG. Lost Legacy was designed by Seiji Kanai and is © 2014 by AEG. Cypher was designed by David Short and is © 2014 by AEG.


Crash Cup Karambaloge

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 24-08-2015

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

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

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

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

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


Thumbs Up!

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 24-08-2015

thumbs up

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 – 6 players. Ages 6+

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

Jumbo Bananagrams

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games, Word Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 10-08-2015


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

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

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

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

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

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Ring It!

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 06-08-2015

ring it

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

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

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

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

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

Rock Me Archimedes

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 26-07-2015

rock me archimedes

We had to endure several hurdles before we got to the game itself. The first was the package. It was the first time in all our our deep and extensive examination of new games that we encountered such a cleverly and uniquely designed package – the shape perfectly conforming to the game, elegantly inviting us to a unique experience. And if you let it balance on the curved part, it works just like the game works!

The next hurdle: opening the box to discover that the game was, in fact, as beautiful, as different, as inviting as the box intimated. A long wooden board covered with a pattern of cleanly carved pits and channels, resting on an equally beautiful semi-cylindrical base within which fits a removable wooden tray holding two sets of marbles and a large wooden die. And the rules – clearly written, cleverly presented on a sheet of heavy paper exactly as long and wide as the board, easy to understand in a few minutes reading, and inviting the players to explore variations and invent their own.

And then, the final hurdle, playing the game and discovering how genuinely challenging and truly fun it was.

Major Fun AwardIt’s a balance board. Placing marbles on the board changes the balance. One player tries to get four of her marbles to one end of the board, the other to the other – without letting either end of the board touch, even everso briefly, the surface the board is resting on. You can place or move your marbles towards either end of the board – yours or your opponent’s. Why you’re opponent’s? So you can prevent her from having enough spaces open to win the game. But if you focus too much on that strategy, you won’t get your marbles to your end of the board.

And then there are the variations.

And then you realize, because the basic physics of the game are so interesting, so inviting, you can play with almost anyone. Maybe not the game that is described, but fun nevertheless. So, yes, you can play with a five-year-old. And yes, you can even play cooperatively, or in teams. And yes, by all means, put it on your coffee table. In the box, maybe, for the sake of the surprise.

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Designed by Matt Buchanan in collaboration with the Marbles Brain Workshop, Rock Me Archimedes is a two-player game recommended for children ages 8 and up, takes about 20 minutes to play, and is available from Marbles the Brain Store.


Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 24-07-2015


Tugie looks like a stacking toy, but it’s really a pulling-off-the-stack toy. To be more specific, it’s a pulling-off-the-stack-without-causing-any-of-the-other-pieces-to-fall-off toy.

It’s made of wood (except for the metal pole that the Tugies fit onto and the Tugie tail strings). Ah, warm, wonderful wood. There are thirteen Tugies of five different colors. There’s also a wooden die. Which Tugie you have to pull off the Tugie pole depends on which color you roll. There are three Tugies of each of four Tugie colors, and the grey one. You roll the die and try to tug a Tugie of the chosen color off the pole without making any of the other Tugies fall off. If you succeed without making any other Tugie fall off, you put that Tugie back on to the top of the Tugie pole. Fallen Tugies, unfortunately, become yours. If you manage to collect six fallen Tugies, the game is over.

One side of the die is white. If you roll that, you have to pull TWO Tugies off the pole at the same time!

dexterity-kidsAt first, it’s pretty easy. But as the game goes on, the Tugies slide around just a tad, and with each tad become that much more likely to fall. So you have to look carefully, choose the one Tugie that looks like it will not disturb any of the others, and pull everso carefully (unless you are a Tugie yanker – there’s more than one way to tug a Tugie).

The grey Tugie is also known as the “Tugie Topper.” You’re only supposed to select from a Tugie that is below the Tugie Topper. If, however, the color you roll is not below the Tugie Topper, you get to tug any Tugie. If the Tugie Topper reaches the bottom of the Tugie stack, you must, obviously, tug the Tugie Topper and return it to its rightful position on top of the Tugie stack. It is intriguing to note that when the Tugie Topper does reach the bottom of the Tugie stack, there are all these delicately balanced Tugies above it. We’re just saying…

It’s a quick and sweet game. It takes only a few minutes to learn. Some games are very short. Most last around fifteen minutes. Easy, straightforward, major fun is what it is.

Tugie was eveloped by Robert Korzeniowski and Marbles: The Brain Store. It’s recommended for people at least 5-years-old, and available from Marbles the Brain Store

Crab Stack

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 16-07-2015


Crab Stack is a strategy game for 2-4 players.

It has all the characteristics of a Major Fun game: it plays in less than 20 minutes, it takes maybe five minutes to learn, it’s well made, the rules are clearly written and mercifully short, it’s unique, and, from time to time, it makes you laugh (because, despite your massive intellect and strategic brilliance, you will, in deed, be taken by surprise.

We liked the three-player version best, though it’s fun with two or four players as well. With three players, the surprise factor is much more evident. That’s also true of playing with four people, but then you have to wait longer between turns. With two players, it gets a little head-to-head, if you know what I mean. Fine for the competitively-inclined, but we like it most when we’re playing for the fun of it. And there are few strategy games that are really fun to play with more than two people.

Each player gets nine wooden crab tokens, or token crabs, depending on your fantasy preferences. Three of these crabs are short, three of medium height, and three tall. The short crabs can move further. The tall crabs can land on top of any crab they they wish. So you get a kind of logical bifurcation here: the shorter crabs can move further, but they also are more restricted in terms of what kinds of crabs they can land on. And, because crabs are like that, they can only move on top of other crabs.

The board is hexagonal. There are different color spaces. The colors indicate which spaces are used when you set up for different numbers of players, otherwise, they just add to the crabby aesthetics of it all.

thinking-family-kidsOf special strategic interest and opportunities for crabbish cunning, there’s the “Wave rule.” Crabs, as we all know, are extremely social creatures, and, of necessity, not only travel only on each other, but also can not stand to be separated from crab crowd. Should any crab group find itself isolated, it succumbs to the conceptual wave, which washes the entire crab cluster off the board into conceptual oblivion.

The object of the game is to be the last player whose crabs can still move.

There’s no luck in the game. It’s all strategic reasoning. But it’s got just enough humor, and a strong enough fantasy, and it’s not what you’d call a crab-eat-crab game, all of which helps nourish the playful and only mildly competitive nature of the game; making it especially good for family play. It kind of makes you want to have crabs for pets.

Brilliantly designed by Henri Kermarrec and playfully illustrated by Stéphanie Escapa, Crab Stack is for 2-4 players who are maybe eight-years old, maybe eighty. And it comes to us, wouldn’t youknow, from Blue Orange Games.