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.

Tugie

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

tugie

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

crabstack

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.

Bananagrams WildTiles

Filed Under (Family Games, Word Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 15-07-2015

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Bananagrams, as we have so enthusiastically indicated, is Major Fun. Indubitably. Entirely. Add 6 wild tiles, and the fun makes a quantum leap into something new, and at least as major, fun-wise, as its wild-tile-less predecessor.

As you would immediately assume, a wild tile (the funny monkey-looking ones) can be any letter you need it to be. As you might not anticipate, until you’ve played a game or few, is what that wildness does to the game. Because, see, in the process of playing Bananagrams, you often find yourself having to rearrange your tiles. You know how when one player uses up all her tiles and calls “peel” and everyone has to take another tile from the, um, “bunch,” and that new tile just won’t fit in unless you can figure out a way to use some of the letters you’ve already so brilliantly used and mix them up, and maybe every word they’re connected to, so you can find a way to incorporate that one stupid tile into your vast, and once demonstrably brilliant assemblage; or you can just wait and hope that when someone else calls “peel” the new tile, plus the one you’ve been trying to work in, will magically give you just the letters you need; or maybe you can just “dump” that tile back into the “bunch” and draw word-familythree, yes THREE new tiles? Well, see, if one of those tiles is wild, you just might be able to substitute another tile and use that wild tile again to build another word that turns out to be not only totally, perfectly different, but also far longer, more cunning, and lexicographically brilliant. And if you happen to have two wild tiles, O, the possibilities you will find, and furthermore, O-wise, the complexity, the sheer, delightful complexity to which you will find yourself so totally heir!

What joy those little monkeys bring! What welcome opportunity to, shall we say, monkey around and around! What wonderfully new twist to it all! Major fun just when you thought the fun couldn’t get majorer.

Spin Monkeys

Filed Under (Family Games, Gamers' Game, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 12-07-2015

spin monkeys

There are times, few and far between, when we discover a game that has such a funny premise (monkeys riding bumper cars in the jungle), such an elegantly designed game play, so challenging and yet so lightly competitive that, despite the length of the game (over 45 minutes) and the recommended age (13 and over) (though we decided many of the ten-year-olds we know would love this game), and the somewhat complex rules (though clearly written, well-illustrated, and intelligently organized), we can’t help but give it a Major Fun award. Because, frankly, that’s exactly the kind of fun we had playing it.

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(image via After Play)
The game is played on a large board of interconnected circles. The Monkey token (one of a different color for each player) features a compass design marked off in 45-degree increments. The decks of movement cards (139 of them) tell you how to orient your bumpercar. How many movement cards you have tells you how far you can go. The field is strewn with bananas (5 pts), oranges (2) and apples (1).

There’s a lot more to the game – which is one of the reasons we were surprised that the game turned out to be as Major, funwise, as it did. For the first couple games, you’ll probably need to refer frequently to the rules, which is why it is especially fortunate that the rules are so clearly written and organized. party-familyAnd, oddly enough, all that looking up doesn’t make the game any more challenging to learn or any less fun to play. So, for instance, you find yourself turned the wrong way and you bump into one of the edges of the board, so you have to turn 45 degrees clockwise and give up a card which means you can’t go as far (fast) next time, and if you bump into the edge again after you turn, you have to give up another card and then turn again. Or after you manage to land on a banana you leave a banana peel in its place, and then there’s the thing that happens when you land on a banana peel, or when two bumper cars bump. Because the way the game works, it gives you that bumper car ride feeling anyway. You don’t really have to know all the rules until you absolutely have to. It’s not like there’s a complex strategy or anything. You can still play. You can still have fun. You kind of just monkey around, so to speak. And when you do need, if you’ll forgive the expression, “bump” into something new or unexpected, you just consult the rules and monkey forth.

And one more kudo: in the rules, when they refer to the player, they always say “she.” One small step for playkind, no?

Designed by Mark Sellmeyer, rules by Deanna Benjamin, illustrations and graphics by Mirko Suzuki, for 2-8 players (says the box – we recommend no more than 5), 13 and up (10 is probably OK too), available from Rio Grande Games.

Go Nuts, again

Filed Under (Family Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 12-07-2015

Go NUTS!

This is the third time we’ve given the same game a Major Fun award. It’s been around a while, but it keeps on proving itself over and over to be, well, major fun.

Go Nuts is a dice game for 2-4 players. There are nine dice. Four of them, the Dogs and Houses dice, are distributed, one to each player. These dice have images of a house on five sides, and of a dog on the remaining side. We’ll learn more about these dice later. The other five dice have three Squirrel sides, two Acorn sides, and one Car side.

On their turn, players roll all five dice. They get one point for every Acorn they roll. Then, if they wish, they can roll again. More Acorns, more points. Any of the dice that are rolled to their Car side are put aside. But the rest of the dice (squirrels and acorns) remain in play.

Towards the end of your turn, you may be rolling as few as one or two dice, because all the other dice have become Cars. This makes it increasingly likely that you will roll all Squirrels. At this time, you, well, Go Nuts. That is you shout “Go Nuts,” lose all your accumulated points, but keep on rolling and rolling your remaining dice, scoring new points. While you’re happily rolling and accumulating, the other players are all hastily and with great focus rolling their Dog and Houses die. Which requires a lot of hasty and focused rolls as, if you remember, only one side of the dice has a Dog on it. As soon as they roll a Dog, they stop rolling. When the last player rolls a Dog, you, too, have to stop rolling. You then take your total score (except for all the points you lost before you started to Go Nuts), and thus endeth your turn.

Major Fun AwardNeedless to say, Going Nuts is in itself a moment of intense, and one might even be tempted to say, Major FUN, keeping everyone somewhat frantically, and most definitely hilarilously involved, no matter who’s turn it is. It’s clearly worthy of serious consideration by anyone, from 8 years old and up, who knows what fun is for.

One more rule of note. If you have only one die left, and you roll an Acorn, you pick up all your dice, roll again and again (as often as you dare), and continue to accumulate points. On the other hand, if you have only one die left, and you roll a Car, you lose all your points, everything, entirely, the same way you’d lose them if you rolled a squirrel, only instead of getting to Go Nuts, you just stop going.

The rules of Go Nuts beckon you to roll just one more time, just in case. Gamers call this kind of game press your luck. I call it the kind of game that makes you, to coin a phrase, go nuts!

Designed by Brian Spence, Garrett J. Donner, and Michael S. Steer

Push-a-Monster

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 12-07-2015

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Just how good are you at herding monsters onto an increasingly crowded, irregularly-shaped “Monster Arena” without letting any of them fall off?

That’s the very question you’ll be asking yourself when you play Push a Monster.

You get 1 Monster Arena, 27 wooden monsters, 81 monster tokens, a sheet full of stickers to put on your wooden monster, two monster pushers and a die. There’s also a very clearly and colorfully illustrated set of well-written, easy-to-read rules on a large two-sided sheet of paper.

Aside from the monsters, the die, and the sheet of stickers, and the rules, everything else is made pleasingly thick, colorfully-illustrated, fun-to-punch-out cardboard.

You play with 2-4 players.

The first thing you do, after you’ve finished sticking the stickers, and punching out the tokens is put all the 81 monster tokens into stacks – one stack for each kind of monster. There are six kinds of monsters, and there are six tokens of the largest and fifteen each of the other five.

When it’s your turn to add a monster, you first roll the die to determine which monster you will be pushing on to the platform. One side of the die has a question mark. If you roll that, you must select a monster from one of the highest stacks. The larger the monster, the more difficult it will be to herd onto the Arena without pushing another monster (or two, or several) off. You then place that monster on the longer monster pusher, and use the smaller pusher to slide that monster until it is completely onto the Arena, with no part hanging off.

Major Fun AwardThe scoring system is particularly ingenious:Each kind of monster is a different size. Each kind of monster token is a different width – the smaller the monster, the narrower the token. When monsters fall off the Arena, every player (except for the player whose turn it was) gets a token of that monster type. The players then arrange their tokens in a line, and the player with the longest line at the end of the game wins.

Turns are relatively short. The whole game can be played in less than 30 minutes (even the excessively cautious will find their caution kept in check by the collective impatience of the other players). No reading is involved so younger players will be able to understand the game almost immediately. It does take a steady hand and some degree of reasoning to determine where is the most monster-accommodating place in the arena. But it’s a fun and funny game, and some success for each player is all but guaranteed.

Designed by Wolfgang Dirscherl and Manfried Reiendl, with art by Claus Stephan and Michael Hüter; is available from Queen Games, for children ages 5 to 85.

Unexploded Cow

Filed Under (Family Games) by Will Bain on 08-07-2015

Cheapass Games is one of my favorite game companies and not just because I find it fun to say the company’s name in mixed company. In the mid 90s, when I first saw the games being put out by James Ernest, they struck me as a revelation: great games could be funny, brilliant, and cheap! These plain white boxes and envelopes (yes, ENVELOPES) contained exactly what you needed to play the game as long as you could scrounge up some tokens or game pieces and maybe a few dice. I was a newly married grad student so cheap was great, but I was so excited by the games that I would usually create my own box set so I could bring my friends into the loving fold of such as games as Gimme the Brain, Falling, Kill Doctor Lucky, and the Great Brain Robbery (among others).

In the last 20 years, some things have changed. The games look more slick and are a bit more expensive (but still cheap by modern publishing standards). I won’t go into the company’s history ‘cause I gots me a game to review, but you can check out what James is working on now and read about where he’s been at his website here:.

What hasn’t changed is the company’s focus on FUN. It has taken a long time but I am proud give the Major Fun Award to the first of many Cheapass Games (stay tuned, more reviews are on the way).

Unexploded Cow
Unexploded Cow sends you to Europe where England and France have discovered a way to solve 2 difficult problems. France has a surplus of unexploded bombs left over from the last 2 world wars and England has a surplus of bovines suffering from mad cow disease. In the game, you collect a herd of mad cows and then send them into the field with the hopes that your cow will blow up, earning you money and the love of the thankful French villages.

You start the game with 5000 Francs (this is pre-Euro) and three cow cards. There is a deck of mad cows and a deck of villages. One village is turned face up and on your turn you draw 2 cards, play as many cards as you want, and then roll a 6-sided die for the Bomb Roll. Playing a card usually costs money which you toss into a common pool in the middle of the table. In this way you buy cows for your herd or make special events happen, but your herd is your greatest asset. These are arranged in a line from right to left (whatever order you want). On the Bomb Roll, you roll the die and count off the result, starting with your first cow and moving to the left. If the bomb lands on your cow you get money (each cow is worth a different amount) and the village card BUT the bomb could move past you and explode on your neighbor’s cow. In that case the money goes to your neighbor (but not the village—you can only earn that on your own turn).

There are special cows and special events but they are clearly spelled out with the card text and in the rules. The rules take less than 5 minutes to read and once you do you will never need them again. There is some luck to the game but also enough strategy that your choices are important, and more importantly, fun! Not only do you get to blow up crazy livestock but you can also steal good cows from your opponents and give them the truly stupid cows that cost money when they blow up.

In the end, you line up your cows, roll the die, and make explosion noises when somebody’s cow bids the world adieu in a flash of wet gibblets and prion-infected brain matter. Who knew that explosives and infectious protein fragments could such a great combination?

dudley 2

The art and card text are clever and silly. The game is fast paced and easy to learn. Everything you need for Major Fun is in this slim box. Just don’t trust Dudley. That cow was stupid before the disease prions started chipping holes in his brain. You’ll know him. He’s the one eating a hamburger…

2 – 6 players. Ages 12+

Unexploded Cow was designed by James Ernest and Paul Peterson and is © 2013 by Cheapass Games.

Snake Oil: Party Potion and Elixir

Filed Under (Family Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 07-07-2015

elixir

What do you sell a snowman?

How about a puddle protector for those embarrassing spring moments? Or a pocket flamethrower to eliminate the competition? Or maybe an ice brush in order to stay well groomed?

In the world of Snake Oil, you play intrepid hucksters who have something for everyone and your job is to sell sell sell.

The original game of Snake Oil is certified Major Fun. It’s not hard to see why. It’s a party game in which one person plays the rube… er… customer and everyone else is a sales person with something unusual to peddle. The customer reveals a card that tells who they are (a snowman, a lion tamer, an acrobat, etc…). The sales people have a handful of cards that describe things. Their job is to take two of the cards arrange them into the name of some new item and then make a sales pitch. Once all the pitches have been made, the customer chooses a winning product.

This is not an anonymous game like Apples to Apples or Menu Mash-up. The fun is in the inventive combinations as well as the reasons players give for why their product is best. The more ridiculous the better.

Snake Oil: Party Potion and Snake Oil: Elixir can both be played on their own or can be mixed in with the original as an expansion. Party Potion is written with younger audiences in mind (it is listed for ages 8+ as opposed to 10+ for Elixir and the base game) but we found that it was every bit as engaging and fun as the others.

If you have Snake Oil and are looking for more items and customers to enliven your game, these will do the trick. If you are new to the game, any of the three are a good place to start.

So hitch up your wagon, pull out your best soap-box, and get your bull-horn polished. There are suckers born every minute and all of them are in desperate need of beard freezers, table clips, and a package of sock bacon.

Major Fun Award

3 – 6 players. Ages 10+ (8+ for Party Potion)

Snake Oil: Party Potion and Snake Oil: Elixir were designed by Jeff Ochs and Patricia Kaufman and is © 2014 by Out of the Box Games.

Compose Yourself

Filed Under (Creative, Family Games, Kids Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 25-06-2015

compose yourself

Compose Yourself is an invitation to the fun of music, to the kind of fun that only an accomplished composer knows, to the way Mozart and Bach played with music. With a little assistance from ThinkFun.

The result is half contained in a lovely box with a lovely bag and a thick pack of transparent cards. The other half is on your computer.

Obeserve:

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Compose Yourself invites anyone, kids, adults, even people who can’t read music, who don’t play an instrument, who’ve never composed anything more musical than a tuneless whistle; to experience the fun that is core to the art of composing music. All it takes is a little playfulness and curiosity, the cards and your computer, and a world of beautiful, harmonious, apparently endless fun opens to you.

You select cards from the deck, sure, at random, what the heck. Pick a card, any card will do. In fact, pick four cards. OK, pick twelve. Decide how you want to position each card (they’re transparent so you can not only turn them around, you can also flip them over). And then enter the code on each card into the computer. You can reposition the cards on the computer as well. When you’re ready, you can get the computer to play your composition. And you can choose between the “marimba” sound (which makes it easier to hear the notes) or the orchestra (which will bathe you in symphonic delight), or both. You can change your composition as often as you want. Play around with the cards. Explore some of the very useful tips from the Maestro. For example:

Try repeating a card somewhere. Repetition is fine, in fact, in music it’s great. There are 30 pairs in this pack, see how repeating a card somewhere in your tune makes it sound.

Try a trick that poets use when they make rhymes? Create a composition using alternating cards. e.g., A,D,A,D,B,C,B,C. You may find that it adds a lovely beat or cadence.

You can save your composition as an MP3. You can print it out if you’re of the music-playing sort. And you’ll be learning stuff like how to read music (without even trying) and how musical phrases can be manipulated and how very much fun it all can be.

In all the many delights of discovering games that are worthy of the Major Fun seal, I have never been this delighted, this gratified. Compose Yourself exemplifies everything I’ve been teaching about what an educational toy or game should be – and it never once makes you think that education has anything to do with it.

Philip Sheppard, Maestro, who composed the cards explains

Dear budding musician,

I invented these cards to help me with a challenge I face every day. You see, I’m very lucky because I get to write music for my job, but I have to write hundreds of pieces a year and sometimes I need help to think of a new tune really quickly. So, late one night, I was working on some music for a film and I was stuck.

I thought to myself, what would Bach or Mozart do? Well, they would take a few notes and turn them upside down or backwards until their musical lines danced across the page, through an orchestra right into your heart & soul.

There was a piece of transparent paper on my desk and I had this crazy idea. Soon I had a stack of cards that I could flip and rotate and a world of tunes opened up right there. I wrote three pieces that night; the next day the director of the film was thrilled. You now get the resulting cards, and I hope you have as much fun making music as I do. Remember, we all talk about playing music, but it’s even more fun to play with music — so Compose Yourself!

Well, I add, bless you, Maestro, and you too, ThinkFun, for creating such a playful invitation to such deeply rewarding fun.

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