Rolling America

Filed Under (Family Games, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 27-11-2015

Rolling America

At Major Fun, we love games that can accommodate everyone. Big groups, tiny families, and everything in between. Games that can be played solo as well. Rolling America fits that bill, and when we find a game that we love and it can be enjoyed by any number of players, that’s something special.

To be clear, Rolling America probably can’t accommodate the entire set of positive whole numbers (citation needed). It’s mainly a problem of seating arrangements when you get above 8 or 10. Definitely when you get into numbers that are best expressed in powers of 10.

What it CAN do is keep your brain buzzing along at a healthy clip while place numbers on an abstract rendition of the United States.

To play the game you will need the 7 dice (in a bag) and the maps provided by the good people at Gamewright. The map of the United States is divided into blocky representations of the 50 states. These are then colored by region, roughly: northeast (purple), Atlantic (red), south (yellow), north (blue), southwest (green), and west (orange). Each player gets a map and the dice are shared.

Rotating around the table, players draw two dice from the bag and roll them. They must write the number on one of the states that match the color of the dice. For example, if you roll a red 2 and a blue 5 then everyone must write the number 2 in one of the red states and the number 5 in one of the blue states. Which state, is up to each player as long as they follow the game’s basic rules, the most important being that neighboring states must have consecutive numbers. So if Ohio is number 3, Pennsylvania can be 2 or 4 but not anything else.

After the first two dice are rolled and recorded, two more are drawn from the bag. When six of the seven dice have been rolled, all the dice go back in the bag and the players record that one round is over. At the end of 8 rounds you will tally up your score.

“But wait!!” you cry before I can reveal how you win. “You said there are 6 colored regions but there are 7 dice!! What’s up with that?”

Major Fun AwardI’m glad you asked. The seventh dice is clear and is a wild die, meaning you can put that number in any color you want. I should also say that as you fill in the map you are going to run in to problems: chiefly that it is impossible to follow the consecutive rule all the time. In order to deal with this, the game has included a clever “cheating” mechanic—a way to break the rules (for a limited number of times). You get three Color Changes which let you make a colored dice wild. You get three Guards which let you put a number down illegally (not consecutive). Finally you get three Dupes that allow you to use a number on one of the dice twice. On the map are boxes that you use to mark off these special occasions.

If you are ever stuck with a number that you cannot legally place, you have to cross out one of the states in that color. The winner is the player at the end of 8 rounds who has the fewest number of Xs on the map.

And getting stuck is a big part of the game. Early in the game, when the map is wide open, it seems like you will breeze right through, but in only a few rounds you notice that your regions are filling up and you have blank Indiana but it is sandwiched between an Illinois 2 and an Ohio 6.

We loved the building tension and complexity. We also loved how everyone took their turn together. It was fascinating to see what other people came up with using the same numbers that I had. It’s strategically deep and very challenging. And Major Fun.

1+ players. Ages 8+

Rolling America was designed by Hisashi Hiyashi and is © 2015 by Gamewright Games.

Mad City

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 27-11-2015

Mad City - Mayfair

Mad City is one of those rare tiling games where you can’t take your sweet time about placing your tiles. The game assigns you the role of a city planner who must arrange a 3×3 grid of tiles in order to make the most money—but you have less than a minute to do so. Needless to say, things can get messy.

Before I go on I need to recognize that there are A LOT of pieces in this game. When you open it up you have a lot of die-cut tokens to punch out. These will make quite a pile on your game table. Keep in mind that there are several ways to play the game. The first time you play you should play the Base Game (which is what we did) in which case you won’t need most of the tiles. You will only need your score board, the bag, the timer, and the 54 city tiles. And the park tree.

Everyone starts by drawing 9 city tiles from the bag and placing them in a face-down pile. When everyone has a pile of nine city tiles, they pass them to the player on the left. Someone says go and flips the timer. Players now have ONE MINUTE to arrange their city tiles into a 3×3 grid that will earn them maximum points.

The city tiles can have a variety of colored zones: residential (yellow), industrial (red), urban (blue), lakes (teal), and parks (green). Yellow, red, and blue zones will usually have buildings in them. There are also roads that can divide up tiles. In your one minute of frantic planning, you are trying to arrange your tiles to match up (as best you can) the roads and colored zones. Scoring is based on how many buildings of the same color you can bunch up or how many road segments you can connect.

At the end of the minute, everyone stops work. If a player has not created a 3×3 grid, that player shuffles any tiles not in the grid and fills in the grid at random. Then everyone looks at their city and scores each colored zone based on a chart provided on each score board. I won’t go into each colored zone in detail, but suffice it to say that the more buildings you have connected in a colored district the higher will be your score. There are points for the longest road.

There are also points for parks and lakes but those only go to one player. During the minute of play, anyone can grab the Park Tree. That player gets to score any parks and lakes BUT once that person grabs the tree he or she cannot do any more work on their city. Once you grab the tree, you can’t touch your city tiles until it’s time to score. In general, you want to make a decent city and then grab the tree. Think of parks and lakes as bonus points.

There is a lot going on in that one minute. It is hard to focus when everyone is busy trying to fit their pieces into a grid, and everyone would like to grab the tree but not too soon! The first person to 150 points wins.

Major Fun AwardOnce you get some play time in with the base game, you can check out the Standard Game. This introduces a much different way to score and it uses most of the tokens that you punched out when you first unwrapped the game. There are also more things to grab (like the Park Tree). In this game, the first to 100 points wins. You also have to pay much closer attention to the colors you are arranging.

Mad City can also be played as a solitaire activity. The game comes with three ways to play solo.

All said, Mad City is a fast-paced but strategically engaging game. Each player essentially plays alone except for the times when you are rushing to grab the Park Tree (or one of the other tokens from the more advanced game). Major Fun but definitely not for the weak of heart.

1 – 6 players. Ages 8+

Mad City was designed by Kane Klenko and is © 2014 by Mayfair Games.


Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Magnetic) by Bernie DeKoven on 22-11-2015


Note how each player’s hand is under the playing table. That’s because it’s holding on to a pretty strong magnet which, in turn, is holding on to its chosen striker. This is one of your intrinsically fun things – moving things with magnets, trying to knock something into the other guy’s something else.

We’ve seen games kind of like this before. Heavier ones. More, shall we say, aggressively competitive ones. That’s what makes this one different – because it’s none of the above. Sturdy, you bet. Wood. Fully assembled. It’s, like they say in the video, kind of like foosball, kind of like Air Hockey. But sweeter.Each player controls a “striker” that looks like what a pawn might become if it knew about giraffes. The players move their strikers around the board by use of a magnetic piece below the board. There’s a marble, and a goal pit at each end. A sometimes unfortunately shallow pit which is deep enough to hold a marble as well as temporarily incapacitate your playing piece.

dexterity-family-kids-partyThe magnet-connection, so to speak, works brilliantly. It’s “attractive” enough to keep your striker in place as you engage in speedy, yet strategically relevant scurrying from place-to-place. In addition, there are three small white magnets, plastic covered cylinders about as large as a nose-plug for infant swimmers (keep them little ones away from these highly swallowable innovations). These three magnets are positioned along the center line of the playing table. They easily, yay, eagerly adhere to any close-passing playing striker. Should two little magnets find themselves thus attracted, you are, as they say, Klasked.

So, it’s like this: should you get the marble into your opponent’s goal, your opponent is Klasked and you gain a point (which you demonstrate by rolling the checker-like wooden disc (the one you put in that long groove on top of one of the long walls of the game) into to the next available dip. If your opponent’s striker winds up in your opponent’s goal pit, your opponent is Klasked. You get the point. Your opponent restores the magnets, marbles and strikers to their assigned starting positions. And then there’s the consequence for too much enthusiasm which results in striker-loss. Lose your striker, and you are Klasked again.

Simple rules. Fun for many ages. Easy to learn. Deeply absorbing. Based on a Danish pub game. No wonder.

From Marbles the Brain Store

Rory’s Story Cubes – Batman

Filed Under (Creative, Family Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 02-11-2015

Rory’s Story Cubes has been a consistent winner here on Major Fun, and its newest incarnation, Rory’s Story Cubes – Batman, proves just as worthy of recognition as all its previous incarnations – not only because of its design, but also because, for the first time, the game goes beyond its own basic assumptions (all images on the dice must be abstract enough to allow for a wide variety of interpretations), to embrace a well-established story line. And what a story line! Batman! All those years, those characters, those crimes to solve, those bizarre semi-miraculous BatThings to put to use in defense of the good.

So here, for example, are all nine dice, in a row, ready for players to create their story. Hmmm. The first three icons are familiar enough: a timer, Penguin, and money. And then there’s a house. No, a mansion. Must be the Waynes’. So, we begin:


“In the shadows of Gotham City, time, once again, seems to be running out. The notorious Penguin has been spotted preparing to hatch one of his nefarious plots to defame our hero and his family. He has just learned that a great deal of money is being held at Wayne Manor. His plan, not only to steal the money, but to replace it with counterfeit money laced with a powerful hallucinogen that makes Batman and his cohort talk like penguins…”

family-cooperative-creativeO, well, you get the picture.

The challenge is to use as many of the dice as you can in a story. You can make the story by yourself, with a partner, with everyone playing. If you don’t know what a particular icon stands for (like the next to the last icon – could be popcorn, you know, or, more probably, an explosion), you can make up your own relatively reasonable interpretation, look at the thoughtfully included guide that shows all 54 sides and their meanings, or, well, roll the die again.

The use of such a well-established theme provides a fantasy framework that helps new players get into the game, and players who are familiar with Rory’s cubes find a whole new way to think of the game, and all the other sets of cubes they may be fortunate enough to already own.

The set comes with 9 cubes, instructions, and a Batman-Belt-worthy carrying box, and is recommended for 1 or more creative players, ages 8 and up. Major, as you already probably concluded, fun.


Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 18-10-2015

Bellz! is another one of those Major Fun games I use to show what Major Fun games are all about and for. You can tell as soon as you zip open the carrying case/game board (yes, I said zip, carrying case/game board) to find 40 brightly colored metal bells and a magnetic thing that has a powerful magnet on one side and a not-so-powerful magnet on the other.

dexterity-family-kidsThe bells come in three sizes: 20 of them are large, 12 medium, and 8 small. And, you guessed it, you try to pick up the bells with the magnetic thing. Bells of the same color, of course. And the first to get 10 balls of the same color wins. Yes, sorry, if you accidentally pick up what they often call “a bell of a different color” you lose all the Bellz! you thought you were going to get for that turn. And those little balls have that propensity to surprise, don’t you know.

You don’t really have to read the rules. You can make up your own. Those bright, colorful, happily tinkling bells and two-strength magnet are an invitation to play – all in themselves.

When we play-tested it with our local grandson, he decided we would compete for just one color, you know, see who could get the most green. And it turned out to be as significant challenge as it would have been if we played by the rules, which we did, which proved just as challenging as you’d want it to be.

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Bellz! from Wiggles 3D recommended especially for up to four, steady-handed people with a high frustration tolerance.

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.