Monster Crunch

Monster Crunch   Big G Creative |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Forrest-Pruzan Creative
Publisher: Big G Creative
2-5 players 20 minutes ages 9+
MSRP $20

text-the concept

It’s Saturday morning. You and your monster friends are bored and hungry. There’s only one way to settle this: make breakfast into a battle. Get your bowl and spoon and ice cold milk ready to go. Crack open your box of sugary cereal cards and play as many as you can over the course of three hands. The monster who munches the most cereal wins and walks away the champion of breakfast!

text-the components

There are 180 very colorful cereal cards, divided into five 36 card decks. Each deck looks like a box of cereal with a classic General Mills monster: Boo Berry, Count Chocula, Frankenberry, Fruit Brute, and Fruity Yummy Mummy. Each deck has 3 cards numbered 1 through 12.

Each player starts with one of these decks, a matching bowl and a tile that explains your monster’s special powers.

The bright and attractive artwork draws you into the game. And there’s an undeniable nostalgia factor in play as well. If you’re of a certain age, the game will almost instantly pull you into pleasant memories of hours spent staring at these characters at the kitchen table with cartoons blaring in the background

text-the mechanics

Monster Crunch draws its inspiration from a style of classic card game called a ladder game. Why ladder? Each round, you must play a card (or a set of cards) that increase in value – up and up like rungs on a ladder. Each round ends when you get to the top of the ladder because everyone else cannot or does not want to play.

Ladder games are a very popular genre both in Asia and in the West and there are many different variations all played with a standard deck of cards. Zheng Shangyou is the most famous in China. In the West, it’s President. And many modern card games have introduced their own spin on this classic: The Great Dalmuti, Gang of Four, Lexio, and Tichu just to name a few.

Enter Monster Crunch, adding its own voice to this chorus.

The game is played in three hands of 12 cards. On your turn you will play a single card to your bowl to stay in for the round or you will pass. The card you play must be equal to or higher than the previous card played (climbing the ladder). If I play a 3 to my bowl, then you must play a  3 or higher to your bowl or you must pass.

Eventually, as the numbers go higher and higher, you will be forced to pass. When you do, you will bank all the cards you played to your bowl. These cards will form your score for the game. You’ll also get a milk token when you pass if you’re not the last player in the round. Rounds continue until one player gets rid of all his or her cards. The player that ends the hand will score 12 points (1 point for each card). The other players will score any cards banked during the hand.

Most points after three hands wins the game.

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Monster Crunch adds two fun twists to the ladder genre: milk tokens and monster abilities.

Normally, each round you may only play a single card to your bowl and this card must be equal to or higher than the previous card played. For each milk token you spend, you may play an additional card to your bowl. The additional card can match the card you play OR the be the next consecutive number. If I play a 7 and add a milk token, I can play another 7 or an 8.

In both cases, whenever you use milk tokens, you add up all the cards played to form a single number. If I played the 7-8 with my milk token, the number for the next player is 15!

With milk tokens, you can create a numbers that are higher than the highest numbered card in the deck! Milk tokens give you a new way to see every hand you play. They add an element of flexibility and strategy that’s simple to understand but fun to manage

Each monster also has two special powers to use during the game. Yummy Mummy can swap a card from its hand with one in the score pile. Count Chocula can reverse the rules for a round so that players must play cards equal to or lower than the previous card.

Each power can have a significant impact on a particular round, so the trick is knowing when to make best use of them as the game moves forward.

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Monster Crunch provides a wonderful introduction to the ladder game genre. It is innovative but ridiculously accessible. Play a card equal or higher than the last one – there’s the essence of the game. Monster Crunch gives players permission to bend or break this basic rule. Deciding when and how to play outside the normal rules makes the game more rewarding and more fun every time you play.

The draw of nostalgia and its bright and happy art is powerful and compelling but without a  rock solid game beneath, Monster Crunch would get soggy and dissolve like cereal left sitting too long in milk.

Lucky for us, Monster Crunch packs a one-two punch filled with Major Fun.

Special Note:

This review appears in the Winter 2018/19 issue of Casual Game Insider Magazine.

CGI publishes a wonderful selection of articles and reviews on a quarterly basis.  In 2019, a Major Fun review will be featured in the next several issues.

The Spiel, Major Fun and CGI share a common goal: opening doors to the wider world of play. We hope this cross promotion will invite more people into the game community.

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Anansi & The Box of Stories

Release: 6/26/2018    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 150 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

The Coleson-Conway era of The Spiel comes to a close with a celebration of our shared passion and love of trick-taking card games.

Anansi is a role-selection trick taker where players gain the abilities of animals from West African myths. Score points based on the tricks you take and avoid becoming the Fool.

Take the A Chord is a jazz themed trick taker where the Key (and the game) can change with a single card. Watch out for improvisations and try to take just the right number of tricks to win.

Listen in for a full review and discussion.

Anansi & The Box of Stories

Level 99 Games  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Ken Maher   

Artist: Stephanie Johnson

Publisher: Level 99 Games

3-8 players  15 – 30 min   ages 8+   MSRP $25

 

For info on Take the A Chord and the other segments featured on the show, check out the show notes at The Spiel!

Music credits include:

Anansi Song Story   by Agya Koo Nimo  |  the song

Take the A Train  by Nikki Yanofksy  |  the song

Changes  by Moby Grape  |  the song

Candygrams

Candygrams       Official Site |  BGG  | Buy

Publisher: Johnny Landers P: Candygrams LLC
2-4 players  15-20 min. ages 7+  MSRP $25

text-the concept

Candygrams is a colorful crossword game that offers some fun and challenging twists to a traditional word game. Use letter tiles to create (and recreate) your own grid of words to win the game.

text-the components

Candygrams comes with 111 really nice letter tiles. Each tile has a nice thickness and heft and is screen printed in one of three bright colors: pink, yellow and blue.

The game also comes with two large six sided dice. These dice have colored faces that match the colors of the tiles: 2 yellow, 2 pink and a 2 blue sides.

To play, mix up the tiles face down and each player draws 25 tiles to his or her hand (called the candy shop). Set 10 extra tiles face up in the middle. This is the Candy Jar. Now we’re ready to begin!

text-the mechanics

Well, almost ready! The first thing each player will do is create a starting word for his or her own personal crossword layout. Over the course of the game, you’ll build from the base word up and down and across to form new words with new tiles. You will create your own personal free-form board.

The only rule with this starting word? It has to contain at least one of each different color tile.

Once everyone has a base word, the first round begins with someone rolling the dice.

Once the dice are rolled everyone plays together using the result of the dice. The colors rolled on the dice tell you which dice can be used to make words this round. If I roll pink and blue, this means those are the only color letters I can use. Yellow has to sit this one out.

This color rule applies to the letters you build off of on your crossword board. Using the example above, you have to build your new word off a blue or pink letter. You can add onto an existing word, branch off in a new direction, even create multiple words as long as all the tiles are played in a single line horizontally or vertically. But in each case this pesky color rule still applies.

The goal of the game is to play all 25 tiles first, so the longer the word you build each turn, the closer you are to victory. No scoring, no points. Just get all the tiles from your candy shop to your board.

text-apart

The color restrictions provided by the dice deserve some real love here. Instead of one rack of letter tiles, you really have Six different racks of tiles depending on how the dice come up. Blue – Pink, Blue- Yellow, Yellow – Pink involved two colors BUT it is also possible to roll doubles! So you may have a turn where you can only play just blue, pink or yellow!

On one hand, this may severely limit your options, depending on the mix of tiles in your candy shop. BUT whenever doubles are rolled, you can swap one tile from your hand with a tile in the Candy Jar. This means, as the dice come up with doubles you can slowly shift your hand away from troublesome letters

As the game moves on, you may find a great word (or words) that use a ton of tiles but if the color dice dont cooperate, you may have to bide your time and hold onto those letters, hoping the right roll will come next round. A different kind of randomness. Not the randomness of drawing a bad rack of tiles. But randomness that requires patience and planning. You dont know how the dice will come up, so there’s an element of hand management in play throughout the game.If you do not try to keep a bit of balance in your candy shop, you may find yourself with a a mix of tiles you know wont blend together. If you dont take this into account, you’ll find yourself with a mix of tiles that wont blend together nicely into words and have to pass, waiting for doubles so you can swap out a tile.

It’s not just what tiles you play but when you play them that matters!

Even where you play them matters! And this is what really sets Candygrams apart.

When you go to form your word each round, you have access to any tiles already on the board and played to your layout provided that removing them from the layout doesnt split the board and that all the words in your crossword are, well, still words! You cant take a tile and leave a string of gibberish!

This means that if you are clever about WHERE you play your tiles to the board, you still have access to them on later rounds. Using prefixes or suffixes that can be peeled off and have a word remain valid may give you many more options. And the number of options you keep open comes down to how cleverly you can build your words and your board.

Here, I used the S from tonics (above) later in the game to make the word suds (below). Since tonic (singular) is still a valid word, I can peel off the S and use it again.

Using dice to create a new challenge each round and allowing players to use tiles already in play make decisions in Candygrams fun and different than most other word games.

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Whenever we begin a discussion about word games, we have to address the 800 pound gorilla in the room: Scrabble. Since 1937, it has dominated and continues to dominate the market. And for good reason. It’s an excellent game! That said, it has so thoroughly dominated the landscape and for such a long time, it is almost impossible to imagine a word game that isn’t built from a foundation that starts with Scrabble. Can you think of many words games today that you wouldnt start by saying “It’s like Scrabble, but….?” It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy! I’m no Scrabble hater at all but its success has has a collective effect on how we imagine word games. Scrabble has provided the boundaries and that means we end up with a LOT of games that are just way too similar to the original.

Enter Candygrams. Yes, you can definitely see it has a Scrabblicious foundation. BUT let’s try the exercise I suggested above.

It’s like Scrabble…

but you have dice

and the dice tell you what tiles you can use

and the dice tell you when you can swap tiles

and you build words on your own board

and you can use tiles already played to the board

and you ‘re not playing for points

So, it’s not one difference. It’s many! This is no tweak. It may have started in the Scrabble chorus, but Candygrams has a clear voice – a voice that stands out from the crowd.

The last thing I want is for my praise of these subtleties to make Candygrams seem too complex. It’s truest strength lies in its simplicity.

The game really is roll dice, build words from the colors rolled. Use all your tiles to win and reuse tiles already played, if you’re clever.

Young players can play on one level and word nerds can appreciate it on another. But the magic is both groups could enjoy playing together

That makes Candygrams a delight and most surely a delicious helping of Major Fun!

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Squaremino

Squaremino       Frost & Frost |  BGG  | Buy

Publisher: Frost & Frost
2-4 players  15 min. ages 6+  MSRP $28.95

text-the concept

Squaremino is a clever and strategic twist on the tile laying classic. The goal remains the same, however: be the first to play all of your tiles to win.

text-the components

There are 64 square domino tiles in the game. Each one measure s1 1/8” on each side is 3/8” thick. They are made from a nicely weighted material which gives each tile just the right heft. It’s a pleasure just to hold and fiddle with your tiles as you’re setting up and playing.

The 64 tiles are divided into 4 colored suits: red, blue, yellow, and green. Each suit has 16 tiles numbered 1 through 4. So there are four of each number within a suit. Keep in mind, unlike a conventional domino, each tile only has a single number instead of two.

To play, you spread out all the tiles face down and each player draws 12 tiles as a starting hand. The tiles are thick enough to stand on their own, so it’s easy set your hand up in a line.

Like most domino games, you’ll need room for several lines of tiles as the game goes on, so make sure to leave plenty of room in the middle of the table to play. Push the unused dominoes to the side as a draw pile and you’re ready to go!

text-the mechanics

Each player will take turns playing 2,3 or 4 tiles to create a shared board – lines of tiles extending vertically and horizontally, crossword style.

There are two simple rules for playing tiles.

The set of tiles you play must be consecutive numbers in the same color

OR

The set of tiles you play must be the same number but different colors.

So, a 1-2-3 in blue would be legal. So 4-4-4 provided that each 4 was a different color.

There are a few no-no’s in the game.

You can never play a single tile. And you can never play more than four tiles at once or extend a line of tiles past four.

The tiles played must be in a straight line. And the tiles played cannot create a square of tiles on the board.

If you cannot or do not want to play, you draw an extra tile from the face down pile and add it to your hand.

The first player to get rid of all his or her tiles wins the game.

text-apart

Many times a Major Fun game will be a champion of innovation. It will offer up an experience that is totally new and very different from other games.

In the case of Squaremino, what makes it noteworthy is its decision to not stray too far from the comfort zone of the classic on which it is based.

There are certainly new strategies that are very different from the classic. This is not a game of matching numbers. You’re playing either a sequence or a set to build the board.

And the game does offer a bonus for completing a row of four tiles. Each time you do this you have the option to turn in a tile and draw a replacement. Setting yourself up for these bonuses and also keeping your opponents from them is key.

What makes Squaremino special and noteworthy, though, is that it resists the urge to reinvent the wheel. It would have been very easy to add several additional layers of complexity to the game, bonuses for longer runs or making certain shapes within the layout of the board. But I’m certain this would not make the game better.

Sometimes the key to fun is knowing when to stop. Knowing what not to ad,. Perhaps it’s like negative space in painting. The things that are not there help give art shape as much as the things that are.

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The structure of the game is one any domino player will recognize. And though it borrows some of its inspiration from games like Qwirkle (another Major Fun winner), Squaremino feels familia and comfortable. Like a favorite sweater or perfectly broken in old pair of shoes.

Its so familiar, in fact, many may even think they have played before because it stays true to the soul of the classic. It celebrates its heritage but finds a way to stand on its own.

That’s a fine line and a fun line for any Major Fun game to walk.

Whether you’re learning for the first time or the pips on your set of double twelves have worn off, Squaremino is a game almost anyone will find hours of fun playing.

Kingdomino

Release Date: 4/17/2017 Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Running Time: 43 min Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Being King is a tough job, especially when your subjects need more land. Some like the forest, others the desert, some even like the swamp. And it’s your job to make sure they all have a place in your realm. To do this, you’ll expand out from your castle, laying dominoes of different types of land, hoping to create the highest scoring tabletop kingdom.

Kingdomino mixes the time tested classic tile laying game with several simple, clever modern twists. Easy enough for kids and families to learn quickly but deep enough to provide a fun challenge every time you play.

That’s a surefire recipe for Major Fun!

Listen in to our full review of the game and discover why Kingdomino might deserve an honored place on your shelf, too.

Kingdomino

Blue Orange Games  |  BGG  |  Amazon

Designer: Bruno Cathala

Publisher: Blue Orange

2-4 players  15-20 min.  ages 8+  MSRP $20

Music credits include:

Domino by Roy Orbison  |  the song

Falling Like Dominoes   by Donald Byrd   |  the song

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