SmartMax – the Barrel

Filed Under (Creative, Keeper, Kids Games, Toys) by Bernie DeKoven on 14-10-2014

smartmax barrelWe’ve written about SmartMax before. And we enthused mightily. It’s a brilliantly designed toy, brilliantly executed. Big pieces, perfect for small hands. Pieces that click together with the aid of magnets just powerful enough to keep them together, just strong enough to be easily pulled apart. And the subtle interplay of pieces that either repel or attract each other adding just the right sense of mystery, the right element of wonder, the right invitation to experiment.

The SmartMax Barrel contains 42 pieces. Which is a significant quantity of pieces, in deed. Though you might as well accept the inevitable truth – there are never enough pieces. Even for one child. But there’s a goodly amount, and what’s more important, there’s just enough variety of pieces to engage the child through a significant range of play moods and modes: investigative, creative, constructive (and, of course, destructive) and dramatic.

The key components of this, and all SmartMax sets. is the collection of rods and balls. The SmartMax Barrel contains two different lengths of rods, each in six different colors. The colors are key to which rods will attract and which repel each other. Something to be learned, investigated, explored. There are eight large plastic-covered metallic balls which can connect any rod to any other. And can even serve as hubs for a multiple collection of rods.

Then there are eight pairs of wheels that snap on to the rods. The wheels are also very well made and roll easily and for a surprisingly long time. Snap two sets of wheels onto any rod, and you have a vehicle. In addition to the wheels there are four semi-transparent cockpits and four containers which further define the nature and function of the vehicles.

Major Fun Keeper AwardThe Barrel is very sturdy, and capacious enough to accommodate at least five more SmartMax sets or other small toys: dolls, pieces of metal, toy cars – whatever the child deems worthy of including in her SmartMax set. There are lids on both sides of the barrel that twist on and off, and the barrel itself is sturdy enough to roll on or over. Small hands may find turning the lids open a bit more challenging than desired, but parents of small-handed ones might find that useful in limiting access when access needs to be limited. As with all good toys, it’s better to put them away, out of sight from time to time – for a day or several – just long enough for the child to almost forget such a toy exists. And then, next time boredom surfaces, you can just, shall we say, roll out the barrel.

All in all, the SmartMax Barrel provides the child with what could easily become an heirloom toy. The variety of the pieces, the many ways with which they can be played, the durability of the set and the container all assure that this is a toy that can be safely and lovingly passed down through the generations.

Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty is a Keeper

Filed Under (Keeper, Toys) by Bernie DeKoven on 06-08-2014

Production guys with Crazy Aaron

I’ve been playing with, exploring, thinking about, o, all right, playing with Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty since I realized that it was, in deed, a toy worthy of Major Fun recognition. Today, I encountered an inescapable conclusion: this stuff is a Keeper. I mean, I can barely keep my hands off of it.

Go to Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty site. Look around. Look at all the different kinds, the properties (glow in the dark, light sensitive, heat sensitive, magnetic), the colors (Electric, Metallic, Primary) – there’s even a colorless called Liquid Glass (which is so surprisingly, uh, surprisning that you have to see it in action to appreciate it’s crystalline wonders)

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And it’s therapeutic, too. Not just emotionally, but physically

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Now take a look at Crazy Aaron (in the middle of the photo at the beginning of this post) with some of the more than 500 people in his staff. Not only is he constantly experimenting, continuously providing us with new putty marvels to soothe our senses and tease our intellect, but he is employing people, many of whom, because of one label or another, wouldn’t have a way to make anything close to a living.

So this Keeper award is in recognition of his deeply playworthy accomplishments, but also of Aaron himself, and his genuine devotion to making the world a little more fun for all playkind.

Major Fun Keeper Award


WeyKick is a Keeper

Filed Under (Keeper) by Bernie DeKoven on 25-12-2013

wooden tabletop soccer

You, of course, remember WeyKick, the tabletop soccer game of undeniably major fun.

It is with significantly consensual joy that we, after hour-upon-hour of committed exploration, present the coveted Keeper award to the WeyKick Tabletop Magnetic Soccer Game. O yes.

It’s fun. It stays fun. It’s fun for kids. It’s fun for adults. It’s fun for two people, or three or four. You can take it easy. You can take it to heart. It makes people laugh.

It comes slightly disassembled, and, if you’re not patient enough, so might you. Everything you need is there. The playing surface is already made, and very well-made it is. The wood is of satisfyingly high quality. All you have to add to it are the little scoring thingies, the goal trays, and the supports. The goal trays are attached by screws of significant length. You may want to drill the holes a tad deeper, depending on how much energy you want to spend screwing. The supports and cross piece need to be attached. If you don’t pay close attentions to the somewhat scant instructions, you will find the installation more daunting than necessary. But what a game! What major fun! A Keeper? For generations!

Major Fun Keeper Award

Dotzee is a Keeper!

Filed Under (Keeper) by Bernie DeKoven on 11-11-2013


The Major Fun award-winning Dotzee has stood the test of time and the playing many, many games, in many, many versions, with many, many people. It provides just the right amount of chance, offers just the right amount of strategic thinking, and is just attractive and sturdy enough to be the kind of game you want to keep for just about ever.

Ah, the heft and roll of the large, colorful dice. Ah again, the pondering and the sliding around. And most significantly ah, the major fun of it all.

Major Fun Keeper Award



Tiny Games

Filed Under (Keeper) by Bernie DeKoven on 11-11-2013

I have become a huge fan of tininess. From the very first time I read about Tiny Games and watched this video

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my fun-loving heart was all aflutter with fluttery things. It tickles, this Tiny Games idea. Little invitations to a few moments of semi-idle fun, like the first game in the video – a people-watching game where the people watchers try to guess which people are being watched. One watcher sounds out the footsteps of the person he’s watching. The others compete (or work together) to figure out which person it is. So simple. So slight. And yet, for the moment, so thoroughly fun.

Games, especially commercially produced games, have become huge, complex things that take months, even years to produce, and, in some cases, even more years to master. Like chess, only with hi-res, 3-D, surround sound, eye-tracking, multi-platform, multi-player capabilities.

Many of my favorite games, in fact most of the games you’ll find on the homepage of Deep Fun are like that, only not quite as tiny. So they take a little more commitment, a little more planning. Tiny games are really casual games. Casual games in pajamas, so to speak. Which makes them that much more accessible, that much more of an invitation to play.

tiny games app

And now, there’s an app called Tiny Games with hundreds, that’s right, hundreds of tiny games to play at home or on a walk or on the road or at a bar or when waiting in line or at work, with tiny games you can play by yourself or with another or with two or three or for or five or more others, and another tiny games app for people with tinier folk called Sesame Street Family Games.

And these apps are a whole new way to use your smartthing – as a tool for a bit of semi-spontaneous, patently casual playing in the real world in real time with real people – really. And they’re fun. Easy, simple, clever invitations to hundreds of not-so tiny moments of shared fun.

We don’t really have an award category for these games. They’re not virtual games, though they come to us via a virtual platform. They’re not packaged games – they don’t come in a box or even a blister pack. They offer all kinds of opportunities to play, so we can’t classify them as word games or puzzles or dexterity or thinking games or kids games or family games or party games. The only category that we have left that is strong enough to express our appreciation for these games is Keeper. Which, we strongly believe, they will most definitely prove to be – for you, your friends, your family.

Major Fun KEEPER

Cirplexed – a Keeper!

Filed Under (Keeper) by Bernie DeKoven on 11-11-2013

You know, of course, that Cirplexed is a Major Fun award-winning game.

Yes, Cirplexed. This lovely, colorful, 2-6  or even single player tile game, as described below:

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Cirplexed, all 90 wooden tiles and cloth bag of it, designed, of course, by the very same designer what designed the Keeper award-winning Qwirkle.

Well, it gives us even greater pleasure to inform you that Cirplexed is now also a Keeper-award winning game. Why? Because it’s just that kind of game. The kind you want to play over and over and over. The kind you really get angry at yourself for giving away.

O, the well-deserved joy!

Major Fun Keeper Award

Yottsugo is a Keeper!

Filed Under (Keeper) by Bernie DeKoven on 11-11-2013

You, of course, know Yottsugo – the Major Fun award-winning word square game. And you probably expected, based on our enthusiastic review alone, that it would prove to be a candidate for the Keeper award, because it’s that kind of game: well-made, unique, deeply challenging, one you want to play again and again. A puzzle, really. A word puzzle.

And yes, it’s a solitaire. But equally yes, it’s fun to solve it with a friend. A close friend who doesn’t frustrate easily.

Bud did you know that there is a genius-level bonus puzzle available to you online?  You did? Well how about all those other online Yottsugo puzzles brought to you via the Yottsugo Random Puzzle Generator?

A Keeper. Most definitely a Keeper.

Major Fun Keeper award

Yamslam is a Keeper

Filed Under (Family Games, Keeper) by Bernie DeKoven on 14-10-2012

Yamslam, like Yahtzee… Well, alright, as we noted when we first gave the game a Major Fun award, it’s a lot like Yahtzee.

On the other hand, it’s so well packaged, so cleverly designed, so, well, exceptional, that it has proven itself to be a game that we just don’t get tired of.

It works, like a good machine – smoothly functioning, reliably fun. The scoring chips and holders, the dice with the two different colored pips, the way everything fits, the smattering of actual decision-making you have to do – the whole package lends itself so beautifully to fifteen minutes of gentle but absorbing fun. You feel like the game is taking care of you, keeping things interesting and under control.

Play it by yourself. Play it with up to four people: kids, parents, friends. Try a few variations, or make up your own. Yamslam. It’s a Keeper all right.

From Blue Orange games.


Finding your Keepers

Filed Under (Keeper) by Bernie DeKoven on 19-08-2012

When I was holding game tastings in Redondo Beach, chief Taster and good friend Marc Gilutin and I were talking about what we should call games that were even more Major Fun than the games we called Major Fun. He suggested “keeper,” and that seemed like such a perfect description for those really special games. Keeper.

Some games you loan out. Some games you give away. Some games you hold on to. For a very long time. You hold on to them, not so much because you are such a master at them, but much more because there are some people you like playing with who like playing those games with you.

It’s the people you hold on to, because they’re fun, because you love them, that determine the games you hold on to.

These are games that you can play again and again, whenever the time is right and the mood is right. Because there are so many different times and different moods, the games you hold on to the longest are the games that you still like playing, even though the time has changed and the mood has changed. So when you feel like keeping score, you do. And when you feel like playing just for the fun of it, you do. And when you feel like making up a different way to play together, you can, and you do. Most of these games are table games.

Some are also toys. A few are game you play on an iPad or -Pod or -Phone or maybe on a computer. Those, the computer games, you tend not to hold on to as long or play quite so often because most of them are harder to change, harder to adapt to the changing moods and modes of you and the people you love playing with. Because you play from different places, different times.

We, my wife and I, have a few games that we think of as Keepers. Only a few. Currently, the only computer games we seem to be playing together are solitaire and Draw Something. We like to help each other find answers, we share the funny. Also, most of our Keepers are tile games: Bananagrams, Qwirkle, Rummi-Cube. There’s something so flexible about these games. Not just the pieces and configurations, but the rules. Maybe because there are so few rules. And we don’t usually keep score. We more often just take turns appreciating each other’s brilliance.

There are other games that we play from time to time, just for variety. Some dice games, some more word games. We hold on to them, so they’re what we might call “Keepers-in-Waiting.” Some Keepers we keep for company. Word on the Street and Reverse Charades, for example.

A Keeper is some kind of game or toy or plaything or -place that keeps you together with the people who keep you together. May you find a lot of them.

Word on the Street is a Keeper

Filed Under (Family Games, Keeper, Party Games, Word Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 21-06-2012

We gave the Major Fun award to Word on the Street in 2009. Since then, it has continued not only to be one of our favorite word games, but has shown itself to be as much fun for two people as it is for 12. Or 13 even. (Or uneven, actually. Yes, you can play in teams. No, you don’t really need the same number of people on both teams.)

This is a significant accomplishment for any game: to be so much fun with so many different groups in so many different settings – couples, families (with kids 8 and up – for younger kids, there’s also the Major Fun award-winning Word on the Street, Junior), a party full of adults, or families.

It can be taken very seriously – I mean, you can actually keep score, if you have to. Have tournaments, even. Or it can be taken as a light-hearted invitation to play with words and spelling and vocabulary and each other – with the only goal being to amaze each other with your cleverness.

It’s very well made. The tiles have a satisfying, hefty feel. The board and cards are durable. The “street” theme is cleverly echoed in the design. It’s a game you’ll want to keep for-basically-ever.

That’s why we’ve decided to call it a Keeper.