Maki Stack

Release: 10/2/2018    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 89 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Mom told you, don’t play with your food.

Maki Stack says forget that.

Sushi isn’t just delicious ; it’s fun to build towers with it, too!

Using your fingers like chopsticks, listen close and see if you can stack your wooden maki faster than the other team.

Then try it blindfolded!

So much Major Fun packed into a simple set of blocks and cards.

Listen in for a full review and discussion.

Maki Stack

BGG  |  Blue Orange  |  Buy

Designer: Jeff Lai

Artist: Stéphane Escapa

Publisher: Blue Orange

2-6 players  10-15 minutes   ages 7+   MSRP $25

For info on the Game Night Grab Bag segments featured on the show, check out the show notes at The Spiel!

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Music credits include:

Black Room  by Jun Mayuzumi   |   the song

Ye Ye  by Shuri Eiko   |   the song

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Drop It

Drop It   Kosmos  |  Kosmos & Thames  | BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Bernhard Lach, Uwe Rapp
Publisher: Kosmos, Thames & Kosmos
2-4 players 20 minutes ages 8+
MSRP $30

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The name says it all. Gravity is your friend and enemy in this game. Take turns dropping wooden pieces between two clear panes. Some areas you want to avoid; others, you’ll cash in for big points. The player best able to bend the laws of physics to his or her service will win the game.

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Even from across the room, Drop It makes an impression.

It becomes a beautiful mosaic of shapes and colors as you play. The main component of the game is a vertical game board which stands over 12” tall.

The board is two panes of clear plastic with a gap wide enough to accommodate the 36 colorful wooden player pieces. Slanted lines separate the plastic panes into distinct areas (drop zones) and each drop zone has a semi-opaque dot. There are additional slots on the sides and at the bottom for double sided landing zone boards.

Each player begins with 9 wooden pieces in bright primary colors: 3 circles, 2 squares, 2 diamonds and 2 triangles.

There’s also a score board and markers for each player color.

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Pick a piece and drop it into the game board. If all goes well, that piece will score. That’s what you’ll do each turn. Do this alternating between each player until all pieces have been played and the player with the highest score wins.

It’s hard to overstate the simple joy of watching the pieces drop into the board and cause others to slide and shift (sometimes even vault!) to new locations in ways you might not expect. There will be a lot of laughs as the board builds in new and crazy ways.

And on one level Drop It really is that simple.

BUT…

Deciding which piece to select and where to drop it is heart of the game.

There are some basic restrictions that will determine whether or not the piece you drop will score points.

Your piece cannot come to rest on a piece with the same shape. So no squares touching other squares.

Your piece cannot come to rest on a piece with your color. So, if you’re blue, no blue pieces touching other blue pieces.

Also, as you stack pieces higher and higher, no piece can extend above the edge of the board.

Any time a piece you drop breaks one of these rules, tough luck! That piece will not score points.

If you manage to avoid these restrictions, then your piece will score points based on the highest drop zone it lands in. The lowest zone is 1 point, the next is 2 points and so on until you get to 8 points at the top. This means if most of a piece is in the 5 point zone but a small corner of your piece is poking over into the six point zone, you score 6 points.

There’s also a bonus dot in each drop zone. If any part of your piece overlaps with a dot you score bonus points. The dots come in three sizes: large medium and small. Large dots are 1 point, medium 2 points and small dots are worth 3.

The shape and color restrictions make Drop It a vertical logic puzzle. There’s a meaningful decision to make not just a feat of dexterity to perform.

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The side and bottom landing zone boards really make Drop It shine.

In addition to the basic restrictions, which apply anywhere, the bottom edge and sides of the board now have restrictions based on the landing zone boards you agreed to use at the beginning of the game.

The landing zones make edges off limits based on specific shape and color.

One bottom landing zone board, for instance, is divided equally between the four shapes in the game. If I drop a circle piece and it lands so it touches the circle landing zone… wah wah! No points for me.

Same goes for the sides. If your piece slides over to touch the landing zone side with a forbidden color or shape, no points for you.

This means on any given turn you have to consider what shape and color piece can land on any other already in play AND what shape and color piece can land against the edge of the board.

Each turn provides players with a chance to make a meaningful strategic decision. And this is the wonderful surprise waiting for you in the game.

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The simple joys of playing with gravity paired with puzzle logic makes Drop It a rewarding surprise full of many different flavors of Major Fun.

There are rules and variants to dial down the challenge for younger players and for more experienced droppers, the landing zone boards could be mixed and matched to create even more challenging restrictions.

The game gives on many levels – from the tactile joy of manipulating the pieces and watching them tumble and click into place – to the satisfaction and mischeivous glee of selecting the perfect piece to avoid any restrictions AND make life a little bit more challenging for your opponents.

Perhaps we should turn to Sir Isaac Newton since we’re talking about a game with gravity.

He said:

“Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.”

Drop It needs no embellishment. Its simple truth comes from a set of basic wooden shapes and a small set of restrictions. And within that simplicity we find layers and levels of fun that are rewarding in unexpected ways. What more could you ask of any game that’s Major Fun?

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Boom, Bang, Gold!

Boom, Bang, Gold!   HABA  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Alexandre Emerit
Artist: Timo Grubing
Publisher: HABA
2-4 players 20 minutes ages 7+
MSRP $30

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Things have never been the same since they found gold in the old mine at the edge of this frontier town. Prospectors, hunters, even the undertaker and the cook at the hotel are trying to get in on the action by tossing sticks of dynamite down the mine shaft and sifting through the rubble. Be careful, though, there are critters – bats, rats, snakes, and ghosts – lurking around and looking to cause trouble. When the dust settles, can you avoid the sheriff and collect the most gold in a day?

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Boom, Bang, Gold! has some outstanding and unique components. The box bottom is the gold mine. Inside the bottom of the box is a cardstock floor insert to make it springy.

There are 160 round tokens. Some have gold, some have fool’s gold, a few have critters, a few have tools, but MOST of the tokens are just rubble. Over half, in fact, (82) have rubble printed on both sides.

There are four characters in the game. Each character has a cool 3D treasure chest where you will bank your gold. Each character also has a flat shelf where you will place the gold and tools you collect during the game.

Hank the Hat, a Prospector,

Alma Anderson, hotel cook,

Tombstone Tony, the undertaker,

and Rattlesnake Ruby, a hunter.

There’s a pocket watch you’ll use to keep track of turns. And last but not least are four wooden sticks of dynamite, complete with string fuses! Each stick measures 3.5” long. They are hefty, bright, and just plain fun to hold and throw.

Setting up the game is really simple. Place all the tokens in the mine face down and shake them up a bit. Each player grabs a character with treasure chest, a shelf, and a stick of dynamite. Now you’re ready to play!

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Boom, Bang Gold! is a dexterity game for players with sharp eyes, quick hands, and ears that are always on alert.

There are 12 rounds in the game. Each round begins with the group (or one player) saying “Boom, Bang, Gold!”

Then, immediately and all at once, everyone tosses their dynamite into the mine. The goal is to throw your stick hard enough that it causes the spring loaded floor to bounce and flip over lots of tokens in the mine. You don’t need to be gentle but you don’t want to throw too hard either – no dents in the mine-box (or another player’s noggin!).

Once all the dynamite lands with a clatter and the tokens flip, it’s an all out race to collect gold from the mine. Only a face up gold token, fool’s gold, or tool can be collected onto your shelf, BUT…. There are a few basic rules every prospector must pledge to obey before grabbing their first nugget

You can only use one hand to grab.

You can only grab one token at a time.

You have to place the token you grab onto your shelf before grabbing another one.

First player to touch a token, gets it. 

You cannot turn over tokens in the mine.

 Do NOT collect critter tokens!

(We’ll come back to the critters in a second)

When all face up gold and tool tokens have been collected, we check to see if anyone has collected a tool token. If there are no tool tokens in play, then everyone gets to stash their gold (EVEN the fool’s gold!) in their treasure chest. Each gold nugget in your chest will be worth 1 point at the end of the game.

The mad scramble for tokens as the dynamite bounces into the box is hilarious and frenetic fun. On its own without any other tweaks, this throw and grab routine provides a lot of enjoyment for all ages. But Boom, Bang, Gold! doesn’t stop there…

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Tools and critters make Boom, Bang, Gold! more than just another knuckle-busting speed game.

There are four types of tool tokens: a pickaxe, a stick of dynamite, a sheriff’s badge and a revolver.

After everyone has caught their breath from a round of grabbing gold, if anyone has a tool, he or she will get a bonus based on which tool was found. If you’re really lucky, you might have found more than one tool, in which case you’d get more than one bonus.

The bonuses are handed out in a particular order which is printed on each character’s treasure chest.

First is the pickaxe. The bonus for the pickaxe is you get to flip over 5 rubble tokens in the mine. If you find any gold, you get to keep it!

Second, is the dynamite. You get to pick up a stick of dynamite and throw it into the mine again, but only you get to pick up gold tokens that flip face up.

Third is the Sheriff’s badge. Other players will groan if you get this one. The Sheriff can tell the difference between real gold and fool’s gold. All other players must put any fool’s gold tokens on their shelves back into the mine. The Sheriff is also a bit corrupt as well. The player who collected the badge get’s to keep the fool’s gold he or she collects.

NOTE: any fool’s gold already in your chest is safe. Only the fool’s gold you just collected this round is at risk of being caught by the Sheriff!

Fourth is the Revolver. You get to challenge another player to a duel. That player selects two gold tokens from his or her shelf and hides either one in each hand or two in one hand and none in the other. Then the owner of the revolver chooses a hand and gets to keep any gold he or she finds.

Each tool adds a fun wrinkle and added level of excitement to the game. And after one round, you’ll have the bonuses memorized, most likely.

The critter tokens, though, really make the game shine.

When flipped over by the dynamite, critter tokens are not collected. Instead, you need to warn your fellow miners about the dangerous critter your character is good at spotting. Alma Anderson is good at finding rats. You’ll see she has rats on her treasure chest.

If you are playing Alma and you see a rat in the mine, call out, “Watch out, a rat!”

All other players must immediately stop collecting tokens, place both hands on their head and shout, “Help!” Since you issued the warning, you may continue to collect tokens while the others are shouting for help.

This adds an extra level of silliness to the game that gets even better when you add the variations listed at the end of the rules.

Instead of a generic “Help!” when a warning is issued, there’s a specific gesture and phrase for each type of critter.

If I shout, “Watch out a bat!” You wave your hands around your head and say, “Go away!”

If I shout, “Watch out, a rat!” You put your hands behind your back and you say, “Squeak!”

If I shout, “Watch out, a snake!” You clap your hands together and you “Hissssss!”

If I shout, “Watch out, a ghost!” You cover your eyes and say, “OoooOOOoooo!”

Suddenly you have to be on the lookout for your own critter, you have to be ready to gesture and say the right thing if someone warns you, AND you have to be focused on collecting gold each round.

It’s hard to overstate the laughs and level of silliness this game can climb to when you play with the critters and all their gestures.

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Boom, Bang, Gold! is a game almost anyone can play and thorougly enjoy. You can start with just throwing dynamite and grabbing gold, add in the tools, then the critters with “Help!” and then critters with gestures and sounds. You can adjust it according to the age or experience of the crowd.

The game feels complete and full of the most laughs and silliness when you throw all these elements together. By the end, you’ll have players waving and clapping and squeaking and Ooooing… sometimes when they’re supposed to and many times when they’re not.

And winning? Yes, someone will end up with a lot of gold and other’s won’t. But no one will care.

That’s what makes Boom, Bang, Gold! both special and Major Fun.

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Rhino Hero: Super Battle

Rhino Hero: Super Battle   Official Site  |  BGG  

Designer: Scott Frisco, Steven Strumpf
Publisher: HABA
2-4 players  20 min. ages 5+  MSRP $30

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The big city can be a dangerous place. It’s a good thing your new high rise apartment building has its own team of superheroes to protect it! Rhino Hero and super friends Giraffe Boy, Big E and Batguin are on patrol as the building goes up, trying to reach the highest floor. Build with a steady hand and roll well in your battles and your hero will fly high!

Rhino Hero: Super Battle is a mega-scale stacking game. Using folded cards, players build a cardstock skyscraper and hope to move their wooden superhero token toward the top of the structure. When two heroes meet on the same level, a dice battle occurs knocking one to a lower floor. The hero at the highest level when the building comes crashing down wins the game.

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This game has a lot of really fun components! There are 48 wall cards, 24 short and 24 tall ones. These cards are heavy duty cardstock. Each wall folds in half to make an L-shape.

There are 30 floor cards, also heavy duty cardstock. They are slender and rectangular. The front side of each floor has game icons.

There are three square base tiles. You’ll start your building using these.

The four wooden hero tokens are by far the most charming parts of the game.

Four pesky spider monkey tokens will make life difficult for you as you build.

And last but not least, there are 3 dice. Two are used for battles. One used for climbing the building.

The whimsical artwork by Thies Schwartz really helps establish the world of the game. There are animal characters living their wacky lives inside each apartment. The art also has a very nostalgic quality, the style is very reminiscent of art from old Little Golden Books.

To play, lay out the three base tiles together, separate the walls into two stacks and shuffle the floor cards and deal three floors to each player. Then flip three floor cards face up. Each player selects a wooden hero and you’re ready to play!

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Each turn in the game goes like this: build, climb, battle, draw.

To build, you select one of the floor cards in your hand and play it. Each floor card has icons showing short walls, tall walls and possibly a monkey. Look at the icons on the floor card you play and select those walls from the supply. These are your building supplies for the turn.

Building must go in a specific order: first walls, then the floor, then monkeys. The first few wall cards will be placed on the base tiles. Some part of the wall must touch the yellow circles on the tile. Once you are building on higher floors, you can place your walls wherever you like – just remember you dont want the building to fall on your turn!

Now here’s the tricky part. You must place your floor on top of the walls you just placed. The floor must be flat. No angles or slides allowed! This can be especially tricky if you play a floor card that forces you to place walls of two different sizes. The tall walls are exactly twice the height of the short walls so as the building goes up, you will have opportunities to stack short walls on top of each other to form a level that is even with a tall wall.

If there’s a monkey on your floor, you take a monkey from the supply and hang it from the edge of your floor. There are only 4 monkeys in the game, so as the building goes up, you may have to move a monkey from one floor in the buiilding to a new one.

After building, you climb! Roll the light blue die to see where your hero lands. Based on the roll, move your hero up (or down) that number of floors in the building. Count each distinct level with a floor, then place your hero in the building.

If your hero lands on a level with no other heroes, you draw a replacement floor from the face up floor cards or from the top of the deck.

If your hero lands on a level occupied by another hero, a super battle occurs!

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These battles give the game an added dimension of strategy, luck and fun.

The crazy building you and your fellow players create will become a sprawling structure which means there may be multiple floors at the same height. Any time you move your hero to a new floor, you want to take a moment to look closely and make sure there are no heros on floors at the same height.

The battle is a simple fast dice-off. The attacker is the new hero just arriving on the level. He or she rolls the red die. The defender rolls the blue die. The high roller stays on the level, the low roller must move down one level. No ties are possible in the game since the dice are not standard. The red die has all even numbers 2-4-6 and the blue die all odds 1-3-5. With those odds, it pays to be the attacker!

The hero that moves down after the battle does another level check. If there’s a hero on this level, you guessed it… another battle occurs! This means a single move by a hero can result in two or three battles as they careen down the building. It also means everyone is invested and involved on every turn, since you never know when you could be called to battle.

When the dust settles one hero will remain higher than any other in the building. That player gets the gold medal. Your outlook on the game changes the minute you get this medal. If another player causes the building to collapse, you win! But beware! If you cause the building to collapse while you have the medal, everyone else wins!

The battles are random, no doubt, but this element gives the game great balance. It’s not just the player who has the steadiest hand who is destined to win like most other stacking games. Your choices of what floor to use and where to build certainly have a big impact on the outcome of the game. But, timing and luck are just as important. You need to work your way to the top before hoping to see the cards come crashing down. And since there are so many battles, almost every game will lead to a sprawling crazy structure as players are forced to build higher and higher.

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HABA’s first title in the series, Super Rhino (inexplicably renamed Rhino Hero in later editions), is simpler. Build a single tower up and up, moving Super Rhino higher and higher, trying to play all your roof cards before the structure falls. It’s an amazing, lovely and much beloved game. I have played it hundreds of times.

When I heard HABA was working on a follow up to Super Rhino, I was excited but also a bit worried.

It’s a risk to mess with that level of success. Make too many changes and you’ll lose the essence of the original. Too few changes, and you’ll wonder why they didn’t just do a reprint of the original.

Rhino Hero Super Battle is more ambitious. The scale is grand. And there are certainly more variables to consider on any given turn. But the essence of the original is alive and well.

Will this house of cards stand or fall?

Rhino Hero: Super Battle gives us a second question to ask:

Will my hero climb higher before the building falls?

At its core the game combines King of the Hill with the simple joy of building a crazy house of cards.

Super Battle’s ambition is rewarded with extra layers of tension and laughter.

Bigger than the original? Yep. You betcha. But not better. This isn’t a contest. Rhino Hero: Super Battle offers us a different flavor of Major Fun.

With any luck, you’ll get a chance to assemble your superfriends for a card climbing extravaganza and see for yourself.

December 2017

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Bonk

Bonk   Official Site  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: David Harvey 
Publisher: Competo , Marektoy
2-4 players  10 min. ages 8+  MSRP $60

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Bonk is a fast paced game of dexterity and daring feats of physics. Using a rotating wooden slide and a few little metal balls, your team’s goal is to knock a wooden ball from its perch in the center of the board into the opposing team’s goal.

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Bonk feels like a pub game from a bygone era. The game itself is a beautiful wooden box with four angled areas marked with wooden barriers. Two angled areas at each end point toward a goal, which is a gap containing a small wooden ‘nose’ a small arrow shaped block that will guide the scoring ball to the edge of the board.

Each angled area has a hole in the board. This hole is for the large wooden slide each player will use to play the game. The slides are tall and black and remind me of a part of a roller coaster, the part where you are just coming down the hill and screaming your head off. They also remind me of the big water slides or blanket slides you see at county fairs. The slide has a groove for the metal balls to whizz down and onto the board. The base of the slide is round and there’s a peg that you’ll place into the hole in one of the angled areas so that you can rotate the slide in all directions.

There are 12 metal balls, 6 for each team and one larger wooden ball, the ball you’ll try to hit during the game.

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Bonk is played over a series of rounds. Each round, you and your teammate slide metal balls down your wooden slides attempting to knock a wooden ball into the goal on the other side of the board. When one team scores, you get a point and reset. The first team to five wins.

To begin, everyone high fives and all balls are left on the edge of the board. Once the high fives are done (some might want to shout BONK !) then the mayhem begins !

Pick up a ball, place it at the top of your slide, rotate your slide to aim, and whoosh let the ball roll down and into play. Hopefully it will knock into the ball but very often you will miss, so it’s lather rinse and repeat. The problem is you have a very limited number of balls, so if you go for the rapid fire approach, you may end up giving all the balls to the other team. If you go to slow, you may lose before you have your first shot lined up. Each round is a bit of glorious controlled chaos that is the essence of silly fun. You might be laughing too much or watching the ball bounce around and even forget to keep shooting.

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The sheer novelty and creativity of Bonk certainly sets it apart from most games. Not often you get to hone your skills at rolling balls down a slide hoping to nail a target and make it move.

But that’s just the start. There’s one element I have forgotten to mention.

The wooden game board, the playing surface itself is not flat ! It is curved, meaning the board is basically a small hill. The crest of the hill is the center of the board (where the wooden ball starts) so t he board slowly slopes downward toward each team’s goal.

This means the wooden ball just needs the slightest nudge to start rolling downhill toward a goal and the angled beams that defined each players slide area serve a second purpose, they will guide the ball down toward the goal like a funnel.

You might think this means the first team to even touch the ball will score. Not so ! The board is big enough that you have time to react at least once or twice unless the shot has perfect aim.

Bonk is definitely a game where the more your practice and play with the slides, the better you get and the more you’ll see the potential for crazy angled shots.

Without the time pressure the curved board provides, a game round in Bonk could drag on with players chasing the ball from corner to corner without scoring. With the curved board and angled beams toward the goal, each round is a frenzy of activity leaving you wanting to set up and try again.

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Bonk is engaging. Just seeing it on a table makes you want to play.

It just looks fun! And it delivers on that promise again and again.

There’s no barrier to entry with Bonk. Anyone can play. And that unlocks a special kind of fun you can share with everyone. And there certainly are not enough great games that do this.

Just sit down and give it a go. Whether or not you knock the ball around on your first try or your fifteenth, just the act of sending the balls down the slide is reward enough to make you want to keep playing.

This makes Bonk Major Fun of the highest and simplest order. Fun you can share with anyone, any time. The only winning that really matters with Bonk is that you play. You win any time you play, whether you ever score a point.

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Boom Blast Stix

Boom Blast Stix   Official Site  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: uncredited   
Publisher: Moose Toys
2+ players  5-10 min. ages 6+  MSRP $15

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Boom Blast Stix is a spring loaded trap. 32 springs and 32 traps to be precise. Your goal is to set one of these mini traps, place it on the pedestal and hope you don’t set the pile of springs sproinging off in every direction!

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The game comes in a large plastic tube used to store the 32 plastic stix, ingeniously engineered little yellow springs.

Each of the stix is a triangular spring. There’s a flat tab one side which makes it easy to hold. The other two sides are sort of like a ball and socket joint. There’s a nubby round end and a hollowed out end sort of like a glove. To set the spring, you bend the nubby round end so that it fits into the glove with a satisfying little click.

The lid to the tube is a red pedestal, the actual playing surface for the game. The top of the lid is concave, so the stix will nestle down into it as the first few are placed. If you want some height, you can leave the lid on and play on top of the tube. You can also take the lid off and place it directly on the table.

Scatter the springs around the table so everyone has some within easy reach, place the pedestal (high or low) on the table and you’re ready to play !

It’s worth noting that very young kids should only play Boom Blast Stix with supervision. The springs are not dangerous so long as you stay a reasonable distance from the pedestal as you are placing the springs. The stix will click and pop when they go off and fly around which will cause a great commotion but their bark is much worse than their bite.

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There are two easy steps to Boom Blast Stix.

Step one : pick a stix from the pile and set the spring.

Step two : gently place your stix on the red pedestal.

Now what you want to happen is… nothing. As long as the pile of stix doesn’t explode, you heave a sigh of relief and it’s the next player’s turn.

If the stack of stix explodes. BOOOM! The springs wil go flying in every direction with shouts and screams and laughs soon to follow.

If for some reason you knock any stix off without making everything explode, you have to replace the stix you dislodged, making it even more likely you’ll be the one to set off the springs !

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Two things set Boom Blast Stix apart. One is obvious. One not so much.

The obvious thing is the stix, the springs themselves. They are wonderfully engineered to feel balanced and they snap together with a very satisfying feeling and click that makes them seem like they will hold on for a good while. Notice I said seem… because the truth is sometimes you can just look at or barely breathe on a spring and… SPROING it will go off ! The whole game is built around these springs and if they were not fun to set and set off, the whole game would crash and burn. These little gems are fun to set and sproing even when you’re not playing the game. I may have spent as much time flipping and dropping the springs just for fun as I have actually playing the game.

The non obvious thing is this. Boom Blast Stix reminds us that losing is actually winning with some games. Technically, you lose if you detonate the pile, but, really, who are we kidding? The whole hope of the group is to see the pile of stix go off. So, really, you’ve just giving everyone what they want – an excuse to laugh and shout… and a reason to set it up and try again. You want to keep going as long as you can, of course, and the tension mounts the more stix there are in the stack. But the person who triggers the explosion is the one who gets to experience the heart and soul of the game. You don’t feel like the loser of anything. You gain. Everyone does. A scream, A raucous laugh. A smile. A dive for cover. And most important – a memory of that crazy moment that could last far beyond the game or even the night.

It sounds a little dippy I know, but trust me, Major Fun knows about such things. Boom Blast Stix reminds us that losing can sometimes be the best way to win when you really know how to play.

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Dumb fun can be the absolute best kind of fun. And that’s the kind of fun you find in Boom Blast Stix.

It’s a visceral reaction, almost instinctual when we encounter it. It takes no forethought or strategy to recognize. It simply is. We all have this ability as children and as adults it can easily get lost or obscured by the pressures and stresses of the daily world and routine. What makes Boom Blast Stix unequivocally Major Fun is the fact that it can trigger or even reawaken that innate sense of mindless fun present in every one of us. We don’t have to question it – simply give into the moment and enjoy what it offers – that small moment of risk and joy we all know, we all remember and we all cherish.

***

Twangled

Twangled    Mindware   |  Buy

Designer: uncredited   
Publisher: Mindware
4-8 players  5-15 min. ages 6+  MSRP $25

To those of us who like party games, especially party games that make people laugh, in particular party games like Knots, have we got a game for you!

It’s called Twangled. It would remind you mightily of the traditional, classic, puzzling, physical and often hilarious game Knots if it weren’t for: a set of eight elastic bands, in four different colors, with a loop at each end; and a spinner you kick. Which, aside from reading the rules and playing the game itself, is how you know that it’s not Knots. No. Not knots at all.I explicate by cleverly quoting the rules thus: “Players grab a colored band – making sure that at least one band of each color is taken before doubling up any colors. Players stand in a circle facing inward – making sure not to stand next to someone with the same band color. Place the kick spinner in the center of Get Twangled! Determine a player to go first. On your turn, kick the spinner and perform the action as indicated without letting go of the bands. For example, if a player spins ‘Under Green,; that player must move his or her entire body underneath a green band. The player may have to do other necessary moves to get under the green band, such as step over a yellow band. If using more than one of a band color, you must perform your action on the band furthest from you. Once a player has completed the action, play passes to the person on the left, who then kicks the spinner and performs his or her required action. Now it is time to get unTwangled. Without ever letting go of the bands, players work together to figure out how to return to the starting formation. Communication is key as players direct each other to move over and under bands.”

On the other hand, you don’t really need to know the rules to figure out how to play. It’s just about intuitive. And the parts that aren’t don’t matter. And if you know how to play Knots, you already know more than enough to figure the rest out.

Much of the not-Knots quality of the game can be traced to the stretchiness of the bands, which can be compared to and contrasted with the unstretchiness of the human arm. And then there’s the spinner, which is not part of the traditional game of Knots and yet functions admirably well as a novel device for causing people to become Twangled, in deed. Speaking of whom, Twangle is designed to be played by four to eight players, ages six to decrepit.

Yet another surprising and oft-delightful differentiation caused by the stretchiness factor: the aftergame. So hilariously logical is this aftergame that I fear I would spoil it should I say more. I suppose, if you don’t discover the hilarious logic of the aftergame yourself, you could write and ask us. To give you fair warning, it’s an undocumented feature that apparently appears serendipitously. I shall say no more other than: Major Fun. In deed!

Beasts of Balance

Beasts of Balance   Sensible Object  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: George Buckenham, Alex Fleetwood  
Art: T. Burrell-Saward, L. McCarthy, C. Shaw
Publisher: Sensible Object
1-5 players  15-30 min. ages 7+  MSRP $99

text-the concept

Beasts of Balance allows players to build and destroy a new world each time you play. Using wonderful and whimsical three dimensional animals, you populate your world by stacking each one on a platform called a plinth, hoping to create new hybrids, score points and keep each creature from going extinct.

Beasts of Balance is a playful hybrid. It combines the simple almost primal act of stacking with technological elements that enhance and expand gameplay in fun and unexpected ways.

text-the components

The game comes with a lovely assortment of chunky three dimensional pieces representing animals, forces of nature and artifacts.

The animals include : a bear, a shark, an octopus, a warthog, a toucan, and an eagle. These are the literal building blocks of life for your new world.

The forces of nature are : fire, water, earth and air. Each has a specific shape and color and each element combines with the others to form ten different shapes/pieces.

The artifacts are four different shapes, some simple, some complex, and each will have its own effect on the game.

All these pieces will be balanced upon the plinth, a circular platform with a special symbol printed on one side.

Now all these things come in the box, but in order to play, there’s one additional thing not included in the box you’ll need… an app ! It’s free to download and it’s not a gimmick. It’s essential to gameplay and is available on all major mobile and tablet platforms.

To set up, put the plinth in a place where everyone can reach it easily and spread out the pieces. Start the app and you are ready to play!

text-the mechanics

One one level, Beasts of burden can be described in a single, simple sentence : Stack pieces on the plinth to score points until the stack falls down.

At its heart, this is the entire game. You select a piece, any piece, and place it on the plinth, hoping not to bring the whole thing crashing down. On this level, this is a game you’ve probably played a hundred times before.

And yet…

With the addition of technology, Beasts of Balance delivers a richly thematic experience that is packed with fun discoveries and meaningful decisions.

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It’s these technological enhancments that we should explore because they make Beasts of Balance both innovative and unique. The these tech twists come in several flavors.

Since Beasts of Balance uses an app to guide you through the game, it will come as no surprise that learning and playing the game feels like playing a video game. Rather than read rules, launch the app and simply follow the instructions. It will guide you through a typical turn which goes like this:

Select a piece, identify the piece to the plinth, and then place the piece on the plinth.

Each piece has a special symbol printed on it. Find this side of the piece and place it against the matching symbol on the plinth and watch what happens. Voilà ! Like magic, the app now displays a picture of the piece you have selected. The app and the plinth can keep track of what pieces are part of the world you create as long as you identify each piece to the plinth. The app will even remind you if you forget!

Once placed on the plinth, the world you build isnt just on the plinth. It’s on the screen, too. The animal or element or artifact will have an impact on the world depicted on the screen.

The bear will appear on land. The shark in the sea and so on. Elemental pieces will grant bonuses to creatures aligned with that element.

But here’s the thing… I’m not going to tell you what all the pieces do! Because the game itself leaves these wonderful discoveries to the players AS YOU PLAY! You might select a piece the first few times you play just so you can learn what effect it has on the game. Each one interacts with the app in ways that will leave you smiling and provide even greater challenges and decisions once you understand how they interact.

Without giving away some of the small mysteries you get to experience in the game, I will say that animals can evolve into wild and wonderful creatures as your world gets bigger and each animal is constantly at risk of extinction. As you play and learn, each piece you play will begin to suggest possible courses of action and each will have consequences on your world.

Eventually, inevitably, your world will come crashing down. But this is not immediately the end of the game. The app reacts with a volcano on the verge of eruption.

Since it knows what pieces should be part of your world, if collectively everyone can place all the fallen pieces back onto the plinth before the volcano blows, the game will continue. If not, kerblooey! Game over. Check out your score if you want. Reset the app and you’re ready to go again.

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Here’s the beauty behind Beasts of Balance. Score really doesn’t matter. You play this game for the joy and the fun of seeing how each world will turn on both on the screen and on the plinth. The games you remember will most likely not be because you score a bunch of points, but because somehow you managed to balance the massive eagle on top of 11 other precariously perched pieces. Or the crazy hybrid animal you created, the majestic and saved to your menagerie even though your world crumbled after just a few turns. Or the game where everyone scrambled to get 8 pieces back onto the plinth just before the volcano exploded!

The Game evokes moments of joy and fun that would be impossible without the harmony the game creates between the physical and digital worlds. It is interactive in the truest sense. You interact with the pieces, the tech and each other as you play. Winning and losing is secondary to the process of play. And each time you play, you’re likely to learn some new wrinkle or new path yet to be explored.

Given the quality of the components and the app (and the development that went into both), I don’t think Beasts of Balance is overpriced, but at $100, the price will certainly be a barrier to entry for some, if not many. I think Sensible Object, the publisher, made the right choice by not skimping on any aspect of the game. It does limit the market for the game, of course, but the result is a game that feels truly innovative and feels like it has stayed very true to the original creative vision behind the game. If you have the extra income, you’ll be happy with your investment. If the game is beyond your budget, seek it out at a game store or convention so you can get a chance to give it a go.

Beasts of Balance presents players with a shining example of a game that embraces the spirit of playfulness. This same joyful impulse lives at the core of any game worthy of being called Major Fun.

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Tricky Trunks

Release: 6/13/2017    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 40 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Life in the herd can get boring when you’re a young elephant. To pass the time, the little ones invent games to play. First they gather a bunch of colorful balls. Next they race to see who can pick them up BUT here’s the challenge:

You must pick up the balls according to a certain pattern and..

NO HANDS ALLOWED!!

You can only use your kooky plastic elephant trunk to pick up the balls!

Listen in to discover why we think Tricky Trunks is a joy to play. It’s Hungry Hungry Hippos for the 21st century. And is most emphatically Major Fun!

Tricky Trunks

Blue Orange  |  BGG  |  Amazon

Designer: Brian Weinstock  Publisher: Blue Orange

2-4 players  10 min   ages 5+   MSRP $25

Music credits include:

Baby Elephant Walk  The Miniature Men  |  the song

Baby Elephant Walk  Dave Grusin  |  the song

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Junk Art

Junk Art   Pretzel Games  |  BGG  |  Amazon

Designer: Jay Cormier & Sen-Foong Lim   Publisher: Pretzel Games 
2-6 players  30 min. ages 8+  MSRP $70.00

text-the concept

Art doesn’t have to hang on a wall or come in a gold frame. You can take random objects and build them into beautiful structures. Individually some people might see these pieces as junk but together, because of the WAY you put them together, your “junk” is ART !

You and your fellow artists are about to embark on a world tour to showcase your talent and skill and put them to the test, building new beautiful structures in each city you visit. And each city you visit will present new challenges to your creative energies. The player who is able to gather the largest group of fans will walk away known as the best junk artist of his or her time.

text-the components

Junk Art comes with a big ol’ box of junk in the form of weird and wonderfully shaped wooden pieces. There are 60 pieces in total, 15 different shapes in four different colors. There are thin pieces, chunky pieces, pieces with holes or slots, round pieces, flat pieces – a veritable banquet of found objects for your creations.


Each player gets a wooden base on which you will build your art.

There are cards for the cities you will visit

and there are cards representing each wooden piece in the game.

There are tokens representing the fans you gain as you play. Fans = points in the game.

There’s also a mini tape measure you may need to decide whose sculpture is the tallest.

To begin the game, arrange the entire pile of wooden pieces on the table so everyone can reach them. Each player gets a base. Last of all, select three of the city cards for your tour. From there, you’re ready to play !

text-the mechanics

Junk Art is a dexterity/stacking game. Each round you’ll create a work of art using cards to determine which pieces you use to create your artwork. Each city card provides a goal and rules for the round.

There are some basic stacking rules that always apply. Each piece must be placed on your base and cannot touch the table. You can use two hands to place it. You cant touch the structure itself BUT you can steady the base with one hand and stack with the other. You can nudge pieces around . And if you drop the piece you’re working on, you can try again as long as the whole structure didn’t fall. Any other pieces that fall off during construction, you’ll set aside in a personal pile. Sometimes these pieces may count against you.

At the end of each round, fan tokens will be awarded based on the goals provided by the city. At the end of three rounds, the player with the most fans wins.

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Junk Art is NOT your typical stacking game because Junk Art is really a dozen different games in one box.

Each time you play you will be playing 3 of the games included. Each city card in the game provides its own set of rules and guidelines that will dictate how you play. You will proceed from city to city to city from left to right, playing and scoring by each city’s rules

Here’s a sample of a few different cities and the challenges you could face:

In Tokyo, each player starts with 10 piece cards. You select one card from these 10 put it on top of the deck and then hand it to the next player. That player flips over the card and must place the piece shown in their work of art. Play continues until all cards are played. The goal is to build the tallest work of art.

In Indianapolis, each player gets 10 piece cards. When someone says go, flip over the top card and add that piece to your artwork. Try to get all the pieces on the cards played to your art as fast as you can. The player with the most pieces added to their artwork scores the most fans

In Paris, players build a common artwork on a single base. Each player has 3 piece cards and chooses one to play, adding that piece to the artwork. Play continues with players drawing and placing pieces until junk starts to fall. The minute you knock off three or more pieces, you’re out for the round. The goal is to not get eliminated.

In New York, you select a piece card from one of three face up cards and place that piece on your base. If the piece you play touches a matching shape or color piece, you have to pick another card and place another piece. When you reach the star cards in the deck, the round ends. The goal is to build the tallest work.

There are cities where you play cards like a mini trick taking game to decide who gets what piece. There are cities where you place all the pieces of a single color. There are cities where you must collaborate on a common work.

As you can see, there is an immense variety in gameplay within even a single game of Junk Art.

Each individual city card, complete with rules and goals could have been packaged as a solo game. In addition, the designers provide three blank cards for players to create their own cities and rules to add to the fun.

The variety and replayability of Junk Art sets it apart from every other dexterity/stacking game on the market by a wide margin !

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It is worth noting that Junk Art is a beautiful game. The pieces individually are interesting and pleasing to touch and behold. As you build, the odd shapes provide lots of inspiration for new and different combinations. If you’re going to make a game about creating art, the game itself must embrace a certain artfulness and allow the players to find ways to express it. Pretzel Games deserves very high marks for clearly making this a priority in the production and design of the game’s physical components.

At $70, the game isn’t cheap. Given the quality and number of components I think the game provides good value for the price but this price has the potential to be a real barrier to entry. The game is definitely more fun with more players but I am left to wonder if the game might have been better served as a 4 player game simply to reduce the number of components and the price. Junk Art is worth the investment, don’t get me wrong. The game is ridiculously fun ! My only fear is that it may not be able to reach a wider audience due to the higher pricetag.

Junk Art defied my expectations in the best possible way. I sat down thinking I knew what I was in for…. another stacking game with some small tweak. There are classics like JengaSuper RhinoBausack and Bamboleo but most others in this category are pale imitiations of these classics. It was a wonderful surprise to discover how designers Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim were able to add such a fresh and different voice to the stacking genre by mixing in tried and true game mechanics popular in less action based games. Card drafting, trick taking, even semi-cooperative play make Junk Art special but still super easy to teach and play.

Junk Art as an actual art form is all about remixing found objects to make new and beautiful statements and this game puts that lovely idea into practice. Give Junk Art a try at a party or with your family and you’ll see what I mean. And you’ll know why it is most certainly Major Fun.

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