|Release: 8/15/2017||Download: Enhanced | MP3|
|Run Time: 38 min||Subscribe: Enhanced | MP3 | RSS|
|It might come as a suprise to learn that mole rats make perfect astronauts.
Or maybe we should call them ratstronauts?
Their skin can’t feel pain. They can lower their metabolism and breathing. They’re resistant to cancer and can even survive without oxygen for a time.
You and your fellow players are mole rats living on a space station in a galaxy far far away.
Suddenly, the alarm blares… INTRUDER ALERT! The station is being overrun by intergalactic snakes!!
It’s up to your team to gather the right emergency supplies and find a way to the last escape pod before time runs out. Just don’t forget the duct tape!
Listen in to discover why we think this cooperative game is great for kids and adults and is most definitely… Major Fun!
Mole Rats in Space
Designer: Matt Leacock Publisher: Peaceable Kingdom
2-4 players 20 min ages 7+ MSRP $20
Music credits include:
Designer: Reiner Knizia Artist: Andreas Resch
Publisher: Pegasus Spiele 1-6 players 15-20 min. ages 5+ MSRP $24
Charlie and Carlotta are mice who live in the walls of the Smith family’s house. They are preparing for a big dinner party for all their friends and they need your help to gather groceries. The Smith’s pantry is full of delicious food: bread, carrots, cucumbers, fish and, of course, CHEESE! By rolling dice everyone will collect these tasty morsels but your team must be quick! The Smiths have a mean black cat who prowls through the house. If you take too long, the cat will catch you red-handed and the meal will be ruined.
Mmm comes with a nicely illustrated, double sided game board. One side is for younger or less experienced players. The other provides a greater challenge once you are more familiar with the game.
The board is has two basic areas: a grid with illustrations of the food found in the pantry and a hallway showing the location of the cat. The five different types of food are depicted in the grid, some items of food take up as few as two grid squares while others may take up 3 or 4 squares. The hallway has ten spaces that lead to the pantry door.
The mean black cat has a wooden token which will go on the board and will move up the hall as the game winds forward.
There are three wooden dice. Each die has 6 different faces: One face for each type of food and one face with a big X.
Last but not least there are 56 round mouse tokens. These tokens will be placed on the grid as you play.
Mmm! is a cooperative game where players work together to cover every food item displayed in the pantry with a mouse token before the mean black cat reaches the door.
Each player gets a turn and on that turn you begin by rolling the three wooden dice.
As mentioned earlier, the dice have faces that correspond to the five different types of food, plus an X.
After this roll, you look at the results and must place at least one die on the board on a space that matches the food symbol you rolled. (For example, I rolled a carrot, so I can place that die on a carrot space on the board). The X side is bad luck. It cannot be placed on the board.
Now, you have a choice to make. You can reroll any remaining dice OR you can stop and gather food.
Rerolling has its risks and rewards. After each reroll, you must be able to place at least one die on the board. If you cannot, then the mean black cat moves forward one space in the hallway on the board! If the cat reaches the pantry space on the board, everyone loses.
Gathering food happens once you decide to stop rolling. Replace each die on the board with a mouse token, the tokens cover up grid spaces and parts of different food items in the pantry.
After placing your mouse tokens, look at the board and check to see if you were able to cover up the last space of a food item in the pantry. If you did, great! Your team will celebrate. If you did not cover the last space of a food item, then the mean black cat will move forward one space toward the pantry door.
After that, pass the dice to the next player and continue until one of two things happens:
- Your team covers the entire board with mouse tokens. Huzzah! You’ve gathered all the food for the dinner party and your team wins the game!
2. The mean black cat reaches the pantry door and catches you stealing food. The dinner party is ruined and you’ll have to try again.
For a cooperative game that can easily accommodate very young players, there’s a surprising puzzle element that is engaging and fun for players of all ages. The press your luck element encourages players to try and cover more spaces each turn, since each player is under pressure to cover a food item on his or her turn to prevent the cat from moving. Covering up the small 2 space food items may seem like an easy way to avoid the cat penalty BUT if your team covers up all the small food items early, the cat may rocket forward later in the game since it will take longer to cover up food items that take up 3 and 4 spaces. Weighing all the options with the team before placing dice or deciding to reroll is a really fun, important and necessary part of the game.
The other element that really makes Mmm stand out is its variable difficulty levels. These variations come in two different forms. An additional rule twist and a more difficult board layout.
In the basic version of the game, you may place dice on matching spaces anywhere on the board. In the advanced version, all dice placed must be in the same row or column as the first die placed on the board. This one twist changes the strategy and decisions you make on every turn and makes for even more interesting discussions. It adds another layer to the puzzle that makes the game more fun by making it more challenging.
The back side of the board also offers more challenges by having a single 2 space food items of each type and adding a 5 space food item for each type. This means it will take a team effort to cover the 5 space food items without making the mean black cat rocket forward on the board.
There are very few games I can think of that scale up or down so well according to the age or experience level of the players at the table.
It should come as no surprise the good Doctor, renowned designer Reiner Knizia, has found a way to strike such a fun balance between randomness and strategy. I really enjoy the cooperative puzzle solving aspects of Mmm and how they are balanced by elements of chance.
Each turn the dice rolls can help or hinder your team’s chances of success.
But the discussions and decisions you make as a team – when to reroll, when to gather food and where to place your dice – are equally important. Too much luck and players would feel like they have little real control over the outcome. Too little and the game becomes a dry intellectual exercise with less room for teamwork or discussion.
Mmm offers a fun to players from 5 to 95. Better still, the game allows you to dial in the kind of fun you want to have with the game. The basic game offers more randomness, the advanced more challenge and forethought. This allows the game to speak to a wide audience.
Flexibility and teamwork combined with a dice based puzzle suitable for almost any age. That is most definitely a recipe for Major Fun!
|Release Date: 3/7/2016||Download: Enhanced | MP3|
|Running Time: 45 min||Subscribe: Enhanced | MP3 | RSS|
|Red alert! Dozens of bombs are hidden across the decks of your ship. Can your team find defuse them all before time runs out?
Fuse is a 10 minute cooperative dice game. Bomb cards have a recipe of numbers and/or colors needed to defuse them. The team must roll and negotiate to collect dice in order to fill each bomb’s recipe and move on to defuse all the bomb cards in the deck before time runs out.
Fuse is easy to learn, fast to play, hard to win and amazingly addictive. That is a winning recipe for Major Fun! Tune in to learn more about Fuse and why it deserves the award.
Designer: Kane Klenko Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
Music credits include:
Through careful and cunning tilting and twisting of the SmartThing and your personal bodies, you do what you can to keep the cursor aligned with the apparently endless parade of circles and almost-circles that appear to float around the ball. Do well enough, and you will both, ensemble, level up.
Watch, for example, this:
It’s a unique game, an “invitation to the dance” if there ever was one. There are subtleties and complexities, o yes. For example, the almost-circles written about above: well, once you get your cursor into one of them you have to then turn your Thing so that it is aligned with the opening of the aforesaid almost-circle – causing you to initiate yet another kind of dance-like movement.
But, for me, given my ever-sharpening focus on the play/love connection, Bounden is a lesson in love.
It’s all about sharing control.
As far as the game goes, it really doesn’t matter what you do with your bodies. It’s all about keeping the stream of circles and near-circles centered on the cross-hair-cursor in the middle of the screen. And to do that, it doesn’t really help if you’re the “better” player, or if you have a more intuitive, shall we say, “grasp” on the game and how to tilt the Thing. All that really matters is how you and your partner play together, understand together, move together, help each other, teach each other, give each other control. Which seems to me what love is, what playing together is, what makes this game so praiseworthy, so valuable, so fun, so profoundly challenging.
It’s an important game, evolution-of-gaming-wise-speaking. It’s a first: cooperative, musical, artistic even. But for couples, even long-married couples, it’s a lesson in love, and the importance – the crucial importance – of playfulness. Holding on, yes, but letting go, too.
As you no doubt know, Rory’s Story Cubes® has achieved that most coveted of all Major Fun awards, the Major Fun Keeper! In their ceaseless attempts to make a good thing better, Gamewright has recently introduced what they are calling the Story Cubes Mix: small sets of three cubes each, each with their own theme. Currently, there are: Clues (mystery detective images), Prehistoria (dinosaurs and their ilk), and Enchanted (fairy tale). Each box and set of cubes is a different color – making it easier to sort one set out from the other, when so moved. Though, in truth, mixing them together stimulates even more creativity. It is my great pleasure to inform you that each of these has received a Major Fun award.
They are each very affordable, each wealthy enough with iconic imagery to engage the story-telling heart and direct it towards a different world. And, when used to supplement any of the existing Story Cube sets, each takes the story a different way, each serving to add yet more to the mix of inspiration for aspiring story-makers.
And for those who have not yet purchased the basic Story Cube set, try using a Mix to supplement your next story-reading. Take any book that you and your kids like to read together, and, at mutually agreed upon moments, roll a cube or two or three, interpret the symbols, and add them to the story. It’s a whole new way to read together.
And then there’s Rory’s Story Cubes® Max, the original Story Cubes made larger. Mixing a Mix with the Max (excuse me, I couldn’t help myself) makes a mix even that much easier to unmix – should the need arise.
Each of the various instantiations of Rory’s Story Cubes complement and extend the value of the others. The Max set invites those of us who don’t see as clearly as we think. It’s size and heft is even more inviting – especially for adult and group play.
The invitation to creative, story-telling fun just keeps getting majorer and majorer.
Robot Turtles: Adventure Quests is a separate adventure pack that can be added to ThinkFun’s Robot Turtles (it is not a stand alone game) or you can by and Adventure Bundle that combines the basic Robot Turtels and Adventure Quests. You can check out our review of Robot Turtles here.
Because Robot Turtles is a programming game, it makes sense that the game will evolve over time. The basic game is already designed with a leveling system in mind and the Adventure Quests pack builds seamlessly with the original.
Adventure Quests adds a few things to the mix. The game comes with a booklet that contains several board configurations (quests) that the turtles must navigate. There are more gems and there are “Frog Favorite” cards which are sequences of moves that can be “programmed” to the function card. In many ways these are pre-set functions. They can be especially useful if you have children who are having trouble creating their own functions.
There are many ways to play with these functions. You can have a single function that all players use. You can have players choose a function for each adventure. You can have multiple functions available that players can use only once.
What is important is that the young programmers see how commands can be strung together to work efficiently, effectively, and creatively so they will get better at creating their own.
I imagine this game will continue to expand for a long time. There are many obstacles and types of actions yet to be incorporated into the game. Some of this will be created by the individual players, but if the Adventure Quests pack is any indication, I imagine there is a great deal more to come from the developers.
This is a great addition to a great game.
Expansion for the basic Robot Turtles games. 2 – 5 players. Ages 4+
Robot Turtles was designed by Dan Shapiro © 2014 by ThinkFun.
Programming is one of those skills that many of my generation and older consider to be about as esoteric as alchemy. Hours of waving your hands over a table. Repeatedly typing thousands of lines of incomprehensible gibberish surrounded by symbols that we just assumed were there to create emoticons. And then… the glorious Technicolor splendor of the electronic universe opens up on our screens.
I for one am thrilled that there are people out there who take the time to program our machines to perform any number of tasks. I don’t think I have much of that kind of creativity, but I recognize it as such. I also recognize that the reasoning and imagination that underlie coding are key components that we all need to develop in order to navigate our digital and analogue worlds. The logic of programming applies to business and creative writing and all the games we play.
In an effort to bring the kind of thinking that programming requires to younger audiences, ThinkFun has provided the world with the fantastic little board game Robot Turtles. The game, designed by Dan Shapiro, was successfully funded on Kickstarter. And when I say successfully I mean funded about 25 times Dan’s initial goal. Seriously. Check it out here.
And deservedly so. Robot Turtles is a great game that does a wonderful job of introducing young players in to the game mechanics. These game mechanics are also the basics of programming. It needs to be said that the game does not involve actually programming a computer. Instead, the game mechanics mimic the skills and reasoning that good programming requires.
The goal of the game is to move your turtle to your target gem. You have cards that you play in sequential order that tell your turtle to turn, move ahead, fire a laser, or repeat a series of actions. Each of these actions is introduced over a set of games that gradually increase the complexity of the tasks. This approach to teaching the game might be a little frustrating to older players but it makes the game accessible to very young children. The youngest players will appreciate just moving the turtle around the board. Once they have mastered basic sequential commands, they can progress on to more complex games. In the parlance of most computer games and role-playing games, they can level-up.
Adults could probably jump in to higher levels without playing the “tutorial” levels but this is designed to teach very young children. The pedagogy is solid and each level is fun.
Another aspect that I only appreciated after playing with my kids was the cooperative nature of the game. It can be competitive but it is not written that way. The game encourages you to play with pairs on each team—a young “Turtle Master” and an older “Turtle Mover.” The younger player chooses the cards and makes the decisions but does not actually move the turtle. That is the job of the “Turtle Mover.” In this way, the younger players get to order around the adults who are supposed to follow the instructions chosen by the kids (and provide entertaining sound effects). I’ve been a teacher for 18 years and it still took me by surprise just how exciting it was for the kids to boss around the adults. My daughter chose the cards and I did just what they told me to do. This was a great simulation of digital programming in which the programmer provides instructions that something else (the computer) has to follow.
The most interesting and complex cards were the function cards. These served as markers representing a set of action cards. The actions would always be carried out in the same way whenever a function card was played. For example, in order to turn around the turtle on the most basic level, a “programmer” would have to play two cards (right turn, right turn). At higher levels, the programmer could place two right turn cards and a function card off to the side. If the turtle ever needed to turn around in the game, the programmer would now only need to play one function card.
The game comes with three kinds of barriers which can impede the turtles. Ice blocks can be melted by a laser. Boxes can be pushed. Stone blocks are permanent. The instructions come with some suggested “maps” but you are encouraged to come up with your own challenges and then figure out how you can overcome them with the fewest moves.
Creativity is highly prized but so is efficiency.
The art and instruction are fantastic. The pacing is great for a very wide range of players, and the game play becomes remarkably robust after only a few instructional levels. This is Major Fun for kids and parents and teachers and anyone (like me) who sees that programming should be taught to everyone—neither for economic reasons nor for purely pragmatic reasons but rather because the skills are intrinsic to our development as a species.
And playing with them is fun.
And our new robot overlords are probably going to feed the programmers who brought them to life before they feed the humanities majors who keep churning out post-singularity dystopian fiction.
So maybe there are some pragmatic reasons…
2 – 5 players. Ages 4+
Robot Turtles was designed by Dan Shapiro © 2014 by ThinkFun.
So if you haven’t checked out the Major Fun book review for Machine of Death, I’ll give you a moment to read it here…[whistles through teeth…]
Take your time. It’s really good. The book, I mean. Go read it too.[pulls out iPad and plays… er… does some research…]
Oh hi!! So now imagine a story-telling game based on the premise of The Machine of Death. Wicked cool, right?
You didn’t read any of the previous stuff did you. [Sigh] OK, so in a nutshell, a machine has been invented that, with only a drop of your blood, will predict how you will die with 100% accuracy. You get a piece of paper with some words on it: “steamroller” or “autoerotic exsanguination” or “French press.” Doesn’t say when or where. Doesn’t give any more details. And the machine might be said to have a highly developed sense of ironic humor so “French press” might mean a coffee maker or a bunch of Parisian journalists or perhaps a riot at a particular World Cup soccer match. Try to avoid your death and you’ll just find out how devious the universe can be.
The answer is always the same. The answer is never wrong.
In the game, you play a company of assassins. The Machine has made your profession very tricky, especially when your target has consulted the Machine. You are given four targets and a handful of items that must be used in order to bring down your intended victim. As a group, you have to come up with a plan that would make Rube Goldberg proud and then change it on the fly if something goes wrong.
The base game is cooperative. Each target comes with a description that provides your troupe of killers with a location and some personality quirks that you can use to your advantage. You also get your target’s Machine of Death card as well as three Black Market Gift cards that you must use in order to “establish the truth” about your target (learned that particular euphemism from Tim Power’s excellent novel Declare). The gift cards are redeemable for things like “something that floats” or “fancy pants” or “a public domain character.” All players work together to come up with a plan that utilizes all of these items.
For each Black Market item involved, the group must assign a number to it that indicates how likely it is to succeed in the plan. 2 means virtually guaranteed and 6 is nearly impossible. Once the plan is set, the group starts the 90 second timer and starts rolling the included die for each element of the plan. If each element is successful, the target is killed. Huzzah! If any element fails (you roll lower than the assigned number) you must draw a new Black Market item, discuss how it will change the plan, assign it a difficulty, and then roll for it again.
Your original plan can take as long as you like but once the plan gets going you have only 90 seconds to make changes. This keeps the action moving and adds a level of urgency to the proceedings.
You win the game if you eliminate all four of your targets. You lose if you run out of Black Market cards (you start with 20) or if you fail to kill a target. Along the way you can pick up special cards to help you, but the basic mechanic stays the same: come up with a plan, assign difficulty, roll for results.
There are also several alternative games that can be played with the same cards. Some of the variations are competitive. Some are more like a traditional role-playing game. One is a party game like Apples to Apples. This party game was popular with our large group. The variations are quite distinct which demonstrates two things to me: the strength of the concept and the considered design-work of the creators. If your group has never played a story-telling game before, start with the party game. Ready for some more role-playing but without the pressure? Play without the timer for a while. We had fun coming up with elaborate plans in much the same way that we would have fun building a city out of boxes and toilet paper tubes.
The story-telling game takes a very specific mindset to make work. It is much more about telling a funny story than winning or losing. In some ways it reminds me of an activity like writing an exquisite corpse. It also reminds me of collaborative role-playing games like Fiasco in which the dice are there to shake up the story-telling rather than win or lose a fight.
The Machine of Death is morbid and often bizarre but also Major Fun.
2 – 4 players (many more with some variations). Ages 15+
Machine of Death was designed by David Malki ! and is © 2013. The game is produced by Bearstache.
Matt Leacock has a knack for creating games about overwhelming odds. In Pandemic, players race against the advancing tide of infectious disease. In Forbidden Island, that race is against the literal tide as the mysterious island you are exploring sinks beneath the waves.
Forbidden Desert places the characters in a similar situation as desert sands threaten to engulf the party and bleach their bones dry.
Death by disease, death by drowning, and death by dehydration. Fun times.
Forbidden Desert is a cooperative game in which the players try to assemble a mysterious flying device so that they may escape the ravages of a desert storm. This goal is virtually identical to that of Forbidden Island. As a matter of fact, the game shares many features with Leacock’s previous cooperative games (Forbidden Island and Pandemic) but these similarities only benefit the game. If you have played one of the others before then your entry into Forbidden Desert will be that much easier. If you have not played the other games, the rules are easy enough and the instructions clear enough that you will still be playing in a matter of minutes.
The game consists primarily of tiles, cards, and pawns. The 24 tiles are shuffled and distributed in a 5×5 grid (there is no middle tile—this represents the sand storm). The cards are used to provide special equipment to the players and used to determine the strength and movement of the sand storm. Special sand markers are used to show where and how deep the sand is piling up around the board. The pawns represent the characters.
Each player controls a character. Each character can take four actions on their turn. Each character carries a certain amount of water and also has a special ability. For example: the Archaeologist can dig through more sand; the Meteorologist can help control the sand storm. In all there are six different adventurers.
The last major piece of the game is the storm meter. As the game progresses, the sand storm gets worse. The storm meter records the strength of the storm. If it gets too high, everyone loses.
If any of the characters runs out of water, the group loses.
If you run out of sand markers… yup, the group loses.
The only way to win is to gather the four pieces of the flying machine and make it back to its launch pad. Wherever that may be…
As it stands, Forbidden Desert has several things going for it. The way you find the treasure pieces is ingenious and does not require gathering cards. This is one of the big differences with Forbidden Island. The characters also have a wider range of actions—there are more choices to make which means there are more ways to die but a much stronger sense of agency. Finally, the sharing of water and items really emphasizes cooperative play.
I can’t recommend this game highly enough. It is exciting and endlessly interesting. The artwork is fantastic (although I think Forbidden Island would win that contest) and the game design such that even novice players will be immersed in the adventure with only a minimal amount of prep time.
It’s probably as much fun as you can have with sand that is not part of a beach.
2-5 players. Ages 10+
Forbidden Desert was designed by Matt Leacock and is © 2013 by Gamewright.
One of the first reviews I wrote for Major Fun was for Forbidden Island, a cooperative board game in which you are trying to save four treasures from a rapidly sinking island. This review also marked the beginning of the Gamers’ Game—a way we could praise really great games that were just a bit too complicated or too long for the Major Fun Award. Forbidden Island came out in 2010 but its designer, one Matt Leacock, already had another cooperative game that had been a board-gamer favorite since it came out in 2008.
That game is Pandemic, a game of intrepid scientists and specialists trying to cure four diseases before they annihilate the human population.
When we played Forbidden Island I had some experience with Pandemic. It has some mechanics that are very similar to Forbidden Island: characters with special abilities, card collecting, special cards, and a system of making the situation grow more desperate as the game progresses. But Pandemic is certainly more complicated than Forbidden Island which was already too complicated for a traditional Major Fun Award. Thus, Pandemic went by without mention.
So what has changed? Why am I talking about Pandemic now?
No, it’s not the recent epidemic of zombie-zeitgeist.
Two reasons. Z-Man is reprinting the board game. It looks fantastic. They have made a few small changes (basically adding a few special characters) and tweaked the layout of the rules, but the game itself is much the same as it was when I first played it a few years ago. This is a wonderfully conceived and beautifully executed game. But a fresh coat of paint is not enough to elevate a game to Major Fun. The rules still take longer to learn than we usually like and then there is the set-up. There are a lot of pieces and cards. There are special ways to shuffle the cards. There are steps to laying out the pieces. Major Fun likes games to start quickly, and Pandemic has something of a long incubation period. Especially when you are playing it for your first time.
Z-Man has also released the game as an app for your tablet devices. And this app is marvelous. iPads and similar tablets have turned out to be an excellent technology for many board games, and Z-Man has used the touch screen to the game’s full advantage. It helps that Pandemic is cooperative. There is no hiding of cards or secret moves. You can play the app by yourself or with others. Best of all, the app does all the messy set-up for you. This feature allows you to focus on the game play without the time consuming preparation that might turn off a novice.
New players are taken through a tutorial that covers all the game basics in surprisingly short order and as part of a real game. It speaks volumes for the game design that most of the available actions become very clear once they have been demonstrated. The players aren’t puzzling out what moves are available, rather they are puzzling out which moves are best. And because the game is cooperative, everyone is constantly involved. You will not beat this game by hiding your cards and going it alone. Especially not at its heroic difficulty level (I have actually NEVER beaten heroic difficulty. Maybe it is impossible, but I am happy to keep trying. “Why sure Mister Sisyphus, I’d be happy to push that rock for you.”)
Making the transition from the app to the analogue board game would be very easy. You will have seen how the game starts, and you will know all the basic moves so you can start trying to save the world as soon as you get the cards in their correct piles.
So consider this a technologically assisted Major Fun award. Jumping directly into the paper-and-pawns board game might be too complicated for Major Fun, but the app is a fast, thrilling, efficient vector for this game.
So put away your vitamin C infusions (they don’t work anyways) and go get infected.
For 2-4 players, ages 8+
Pandemic was designed by Matt Leacock and is © 2012 by Z-Man Games.