Riff Raff

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 29-04-2013

Riff Raff

Riff Raff is a game of rigorous self-assessment, strategic cunning, and Kung-Fu-like dexterity. OK, maybe not so rigorous or cunning. And more of the white-belt level, Kung-Fu-wise. But, for a rocking-boat-in-the-water balancing-type game, surprisingly, shall we say, deep.

Stage one: the setting-up

There are two large cardboard “waves” that bend into three sections. These are placed together on to the parts compartment in the box, so as to form the base for the ship. A wooden collar is then placed over the opening where the two wave-pieces meet. Into this, you “place the joint of the ball-bar on the wooden ring in such a way that the boat sinks into the whole and the two retaining rods come to lie in the troughs of the ring.” Thus assuring something like 360-degree rockability. And then on goes the hull, and the mast goes into the hole in the hull, and a small round bar is placed into the bottommost mast-hole upon which is placed the lower yardarm. And, oh, you know, you get a boat, cunningly counterweighted, tantalizingly tippable, with three yardarms, that have numbers on each end.

Each player (2-4) gets a set of 8 different pieces- wooden, of course, as is the boat and all its parts, except for the metal ball counter-weight, and a deck of ten cards, numbered from one, to, let me see, yes, ten.

Stage two: the up-setting

Major Fun awardEach player selects one of her cards. Simultaneously, all players reveal their chosen number. The player with the highest number is captain, and starts the game. The player who has the second highest card goes next, etc. Once a card is played, it gets thrown into somewhere retrievable for the next game. Now here’s the thing about the cards. It’s not just about seeing who gets to go when. It’s also about where you have to put a piece of your cargo. Note the numbers on the ship. Note the corresponding number on the card you played. Ten gets to go first. But then again, that means the player who played a ten has to put a piece of the very top yardarm in the “ten” section.

So, when you select your card, you have to anticipate (predict, potentially; guess, actually) what card the other players might also choose. Which, of course, entails considerations about what card they think you’re likely to choose. Hence the whole strategic cunning part. And the Kung-Fu-like hand-steadiness. And, of course, the rigorous self-assessment (I mean, can I actually get the monkey to hang on the 10 side of the yardarm, given how the whole ship is tilting 1o-wardly?).

The game is surprisingly easy to understand. Consistently engaging. Frequently funny. And probably one of the strategically deepest dexterity games we’ve yet encountered. Major, we say, fun.

Designed by Christoph Cantzler, art by Michael Menzel, published by Zoch, available in the U.S. from Lion Rampant Imports

Hamsterrolle

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 29-04-2013

Hamsterrolle via BoardgameCafe.net

For people who like to explore the mysteries of balance and steadiness of hand,  Hamsterrolle is an ingenious, and, to our knowledge, unique (and, hence, uniquely fun) challenge.

If it reminds you a bit of one of those wheelish things you find in a hamster cage, you have satisfactorily explained the etymology of the game’s name.

The main component of the game is a large, wooden wheel, divided into 12 sections by steps of different length. There are also four sets of 7 wooden pieces, each piece a different color and shape. In addition, there is a cone-shaped piece, used to steady the wheel in preparation for the beginning of the game. Each of the 2-4 players gets one full set.

Major Fun awardOnce the cone-shaped piece is in postion, the game begins. The first player places any of her pieces into the first, second, or third compartment (separated by steps) after the cone. From then on, players take turns placing their pieces, either in the same compartment in which the last piece was placed, or the compartment after that, or the compartment after that. If a piece is placed in the same compartment, it must be different than all the other pieces in that compartment, and placed so that it is ahead of the last piece placed.

Sooner or later, the wheel rolls. That establishes the “roll” direction, and all subsequent plays must be made so that the wheel, if it rolls, will continue rolling in the same direction. This can also cause a piece or several to fall out of their compartments. Even if they only fall partly out, they are still considered “yours,” so you must add them to your collection, which is not so good for you, especially when you take into account that the first player to use up all her pieces is the winner.

The game is challenging, absorbing, and takes you enough by surprise to catalyze serious laughter. It can be played by almost any age. The rules can be easily changed to accommodate younger children and older adults. It is elegant, attractive, and major fun.

Watch a couple kids playing:

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Now watch the amazingness:

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Designed by Jacques Zeimet and produced by Zoch games, Hamsterrolle is recommended for 2-4 players ages 7 and older. It is available in the U.S. from Lion Rampant Imports

Cross Boule

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 29-04-2013

Cross BouleCross Boule is a kinder, gentler, sillier, and, some might claim, much more fun version of a very ancient game that comes to us as pétanque (a.k.a. boules and bocce).

Perhaps the most salient distinction is the balls, or, in this case, round bean bags. (If you go Zoch’s official Cross Boule page, you’ll discover 12 different versions of Cross Boules – all the same, except for the patterns – the significance of which will be explicated later.)(You can also go to the official Cross Boule site – also in German.) The bean bagginess of the balls (traditionally made out of metal, stone, wood or other hard substances) is the key to the many wonders of Cross Boule, namely: you can play anywhere (I haven’t tried playing them underwater yet).

Your standard Cross Boule set comes with two sets of three beany boules, and one beany Jack (the smaller ball that serves as a target). This is pretty much exactly what you’ll find in your standard pétanque/boules/bocce set – except for the beaniness.

As for the rationale for purchasing more Cross Boule sets – each set is designed for two players. You’ll most definitely want to include your friends and theirs. And you want to make sure that each player knows which boule is hers

And now to the significant difference, the distinction that makes Cross Boule the major fun that it truly is: the rules.

dexterity-family-kids-partySo, you’re anywhere, and you call that the “starting area.” The youngest player, starting at the starting area, throws the jack (the smaller boule) anywhere else: under the couch, on top of the 8th stair, in the open drawer. Then players take turns, each throwing one of their beany boules, trying to get as close as possible to the jack in a manner most clearly reminiscent of horseshoes. Now, here’s the major part of the fun: the player who throws the jack also decides how the rest of the boules are to be thrown for the round (e.g.: two-handedly, between your legs, backwards, eyes closed, while wearing an oven mit). Then there’s the scoring, which takes intriguing advantage of the beaniness of the Cross Boule, awarding extra points if you can get one boule to rest on top of another, or if you can get it to land on top of the jack, or if you can make a pyramid out of three boules, or if you can get three in line. And before a round starts, you can redefine the playing area to include or exclude any property of your three-dimensional physical environment.

Allow me to illustrate (in German, but you don’t need the translation)

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Cross Boule was designed by Mark Calin Caliman and is distributed in the U.S. by Lion Rampant Imports

Attraction

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 14-04-2013

attractionAttraction is the kind of game that we use to help people 14 and over to understand what the Major Fun seal represents. Exactly the kind. Easy to understand. Easy to learn. Easy to adapt. Takes maybe three minutes to play a round. Then maybe an hour, if you really want to play around. With the rules, if you know what I mean. So many ways to play. So many more once you start making up your own. Compelling. Engaging mind and body and everyone you play with. Fun to play by yourself. More fun to play with friends. Pocket-portable.

You get, as advertised, 25 magnets. They are polished and delightfully light reflecting and irregularly shaped magnets, all of which have one side that is slightly narrower. The reason that is important is that when you start the game, each of the magnets are to be stood on that particular, slightly narrower side. This results in greater mobility and tippability – both of which add significantly the much of the bang you will be getting from your buck, so to speak. You position the magnets anywhere on your flat, smooth, tabletop-like playing area. You can play it on other tabletop-like areas, including tablecloth-covered tabletops and floors. We recommend that you try to position the magnets as closely together as you dare. Because it’s fun. In fact, it’s like a whole nother game. Because, see, the magnets really want to smack into each other and as soon as you put one magnet close to another it swivels on it’s little narrow bottom and looks ever so eager.

OK. So you don’t have to put them that close. In fact, you can put them as far away from each other as you want, and you still get a fun game to play.

Mjajor Fun AwardSpeaking of game: you and however many people are playing with you (probably no more than six – unless you happen to have bought more than one set, which turns out to be an even majorer fun idea) each take one magnet from the array. That magnet is your shooter. On your turn, you put your piece on an edge of the playing area and flick or slide it into the magnet congregation, attempting to, shall we say, attract as many magnets to each other as possible. Those are your magnets. You take them. And keep them. And the next player goes, and the next, and when you run out of table magnets, the person with the most wins. And at some point in the game, you might very well discover that instead of attracting any magnets, they all repel each other. This is both Magnets are moody. You may find this moodiness both amusing and depressing, as it greatly reduces your scoring opportunity for that turn. Fear, however, not. Sooner or later, they’ll all stick together, or fall off the playing surface.

The only reason it’s not the kind of game we’d recommend to people of the 13-and-under persuasion is the magnet part. These are strong magnets. And, if you are feeling sufficiently perverse, swallowable. Further, should you be feeling perverse enough to swallow two, they turn out to be lethal.

Attraction was designed by Jeff Glickman and is made available through R&RGames, recommended for people who are old enough not to try to swallow the pieces.

A review from Boardgamegeek follows

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Bamboleo

Filed Under (Dexterity) by Bernie DeKoven on 07-04-2013

Bamboleo is very easy to learn. You take the wooden cone. You put the cork ball on top. Then you take the wooden disc and you put all 25 wooden pieces on top of the disc. If you are so minded, you can put some of the pieces on top of each other as well. Then, with great care and remarkably adept physical control, you place the piece-laden disc on top of the cork ball and slowly, slowly remove your hands, while praying that the disc doesn’t fall off. If you succeed, you are ready to play, and might just have had a religious experience. If not, you simply gather all 25 pieces, place them back on the disc, and hope that this time you’ll manage to get the thing to stay on.

OK, it’s not that hard to balance the disc on the cork ball. But it is just hard enough that you can congratulate yourself for having succeeded.

The rest of the game is about taking off just the right piece – the one that doesn’t make the whole thing come tumbling pointedly down. Once you touch a piece, you have to take it off, or admit momentary defeat and give up one of the pieces you’ve already collected. You can pass, but then you have to give one of your pieces to the next successful player. If the next player also passes, and the player after succeeds, she gets a piece from each of the players who’ve passed. You lose 4 pieces if you cause the disc to fall.

The game goes on until everybody passes or all pieces have been removed from the disc. Mjajor Fun Award

The manufacturer also recommends that you play the game in pairs, with the partners working together, and attempting to remove two pieces, simultaneously. Another variation requires a scale, so that the player whose accumulated pieces weigh the most wins.

This gives you just enough of a hint of yet more variations that you might consider exploring. What if you allowed each player to use two hands? What if a player could decide to add a piece, or move it somewhere else?

Some might find the game too challenging to be fun, unless they have a very good sense of self-deprecating humor. On the other hand, so to speak, most will appreciate the subtlety and delicacy of play, and will find the game to be major fun.

A round takes maybe 10 minutes, maybe 20. It can be played by 2 to 6 steady-handed players. Bamboleo is designed by Jacques Zeimet, manufactured in Germany by Zoch Verlag, and made available in the US by Lion Rampant Imports

Toc Toc Woodman

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 03-04-2013

Toc Toc WoodmanCan… not… resist… Monty… Python…

[full volume] “I’m a lumberjack and I’m OK…”

Mayday’s release of the English version of Toc Toc Woodman comes with one major advantage over other stacking games like Jenga. Along with the requisite stacking pieces, Toc Toc Woodman comes with an axe. This plastic toy axe stole the show every time I opened the game. I know it is supposed to be a woodman’s axe but the proportions and blade design look much more like an executioner’s axe than that of a lumberjack. Be warned: when playing this game, especially for the first time, budget some axe appreciation time.

And watch your fingers.

Major Fun AwardWhen you are finally ready for the game proper, you will find a very clever arrangement of plastic disks and arcs that stack to form the trunk of a tree. Each disk is surrounded by a ring of four pieces of bark. The disk and accompanying ring of bark is stacked on top of others to make the tree. Players take turns hitting the tree with—wait for it— the axe so that only the bark pieces fall to the table. Think of this as the anti-Jenga in which you are trying to knock down pieces instead of build them up.

You get 1 point for each piece of bark you knock off. Knocking off one of the disks earns you -5 points. The chance of knocking off one or more of the disks increases as the tree is battered turn after turn. It doesn’t help that your first instinct (certainly mine) when handed an axe is to give your target a resounding whack! If you knock over several disks you get the bark but you also get the negative points, and late in the game there is little bark left.

A light touch is required. Who knew lumberjacks should be so dainty?

Rules are included but illustrated rules are also printed on the box itself. It is always a good sign when a game this fun—Major Fun even—can be fully explained without the need to waste any more paper. The game creates lots of tension and laughs and moments of fist pounding, teeth grinding frustration. But mainly laughs. Games are quick and almost any one of any age can play.

Highly recommended.

For 2+ players, ages 5+

Toc Toc Woodman was designed by Justin Oh and © 2011 by Mayday Games who is offering 25% off Toc Toc by using coupon code: MajorTocTocDiscount (Limit 1 per customer. Valid to first 25 customers.)

Crokinole

Filed Under (Dexterity) by Will Bain on 24-03-2013

CrokinoleCrokinole has been making its way toward the Major Fun Award for almost 140 years. Although the names of those who built the first Crokinole board are lost to us, we do know that the game emerged from Ontario in the early 1870s and has been a popular table-top game ever since. It is related to other classic accuracy games like shuffleboard, carrom, and pitchnut, as well as more modern “sliders” like Fastrack, RoadZters, PitchCar, and (in some ways) Wey Kick.

The board is a circle: 30 inches across with a playing surface that is 26 inches in diameter. The playing surface is surrounded by a 2 inch “moat” that catches the wooden disks that players flick about. In a 2 player or 2 team game, each side gets 12 wooden disks that they flicked across the playing surface in order to score points. The playing area is divided into 4 concentric rings, each ring has a point value (5, 10, 15, 20). To complicate matters, 8 pegs stand sentinel around the edge of the 15 point ring.

Opponents alternate flicking the wooden pucks. The puck must start on the line farthest from the center of the board. If you are the first to shoot OR if your opponents do not have any disks on the board, your disk must come to rest within the 15 point ring. If it does, it stays there. If it does not, the disk is removed to the moat. If your opponent has a piece on the board, you must hit that piece before your disk comes to rest. If you fail to hit your opponent’s disk, yours is removed to the moat.

Major Fun AwardAs the first few disks that stay on the board clog up the 15 point ring, new disks start to bump them out. Now players must decide if they will try to navigate the treacherous 15 point ring or try to eliminate opponent disks from the outer rings. There is a significant amount of strategy involved to complement the manual dexterity of aiming and flicking the disks.

The disks themselves are surprisingly interesting. They are shaped so that one side is “faster” than the other. One side is slightly convex and one side is slightly concave. The convex side has less surface area to rub against the table and therefore slides farther and faster than the concave side. Knowing which side to use and how much force to apply adds another level of complexity to the game.

The center ring is actually a hole in the board, only slightly wider than the diameter of one of the disks. If a disk falls completely into the hole, that team scores 20 points and the disk is removed from the board (so that others may have the joy of a 20 point “bullseye”). It is not uncommon that you knock your opponent into the 20 point hole.

Oh the shame…

The game is Major Fun. Lots of tension. Lots of groans from shots that are close but not quite. Lots of fist pumping when a shot is perfect (or lucky). There is a reason it has endured for over a century and a reason that there are international competitive tournaments for this game. Mayday has done a fantastic job of making a high quality playing surface and providing us with clear rules (complete with suggestions for novice players and rule variations to keep things lively). Find a place for this game in your home (maybe someone could build a combination Wey Kick / Crokinole game table…) and it will help while away those indoor hours (like the one produced by the March snow storm that is descending on my home right now…)

For 2-4 players, ages 8+

Crokinole, as tasted by Major Fun and our merry band of Games Tasters, was brought to us by the good folks at Mayday Games.

Monster Falle

Filed Under (Cooperation, Dexterity, Kids Games) by Will Bain on 02-03-2013

Monster FalleKosmos has a prize winner with their dexterity and racing game, Monster Trap (Monster-Falle for you deutschephiles). The game won a Kinderspiel des Jahres and a Deutscher Spielpreis in 2011 and in 2013 the coveted Major Fun Award (I’ll wait for the appreciative murmurs to die down…)

The artwork, the clever mechanical design, and the materials are beautiful. They invite play and giggles. Maybe it’s just that some words sound more fun in German (like Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung for “speed limit”) but at the bottom of our game box (we played the German version) it says “Schubs… und schwups!” Who does not want to play with Schubs and schwups?

Players race to capture monsters and push them into the pit in the center of the house. There are twelve monsters scattered through the corridors of your house. When the timer starts, two players draw a monster card, find that monster on the board, drop a monster sack figure on it, and then push the monster into the pit. If the Monster-in-a-sack figure falls over (usually the result of running into a wall too hard) then the players put it back and start over. Monsters successfully caught in the pit are added to each player’s score and then two new players get a turn.

Major Fun AwardThe complicating factor is the method of pushing (“schubbing”) the monsters around the board. Four plastic sticks cross the board at right angles to each other (2 cross east-west and the other 2 cross north-south). Each player controls one set of sticks and cooperation is essential. The combination of speed, dexterity, and cooperation with your opponent keeps things lively, especially for younger players.

The game also provides for a variation in which the monsters have to first visit parts of the house before being shoved into the pit. There are several spots marked on the board where the monster can pet the cat, take a bath, or get a snack from the fridge. A small deck of cards is used to tell the players where to send the monster.

The instructions are very clearly illustrated. Our copy was in German and we could figure out the board set-up just by looking at the pictures. Board Game Geek has a link to an English translation (register, for free, if not a member to view) which we needed for the rule-variation and the scoring system (a very clever way to keep score of individuals even when they have to cooperate with their opponents).
And no monsters were harmed in the playing of the game. They seem to like the pit.

For 2-4 players, ages 6+

Monster-Falle was designed by Inka and Markas Brand and is © 2011 by Kosmos.

WeyKick

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 28-01-2013

wooden tabletop soccerWeyKick has been likened to foosball and to tabletop soccer, but, despite all foosball or soccer-like claims and appearances, Weykick is unique, and uniquely fun.

Before we get carried away by the game, let’s get carried away by the quality of this all-wood, beautifully crafted invitation to play. Yes, some assembly is required. And, yes, you will need a Phillips screwdriver. And, further, you’ll have to read the very terse instructions carefully enough to understand that the shorter two of the allen-wrench-driven bolts are used to attach the two legs to the long, padded wooden support. All-in-all, for the careful instruction-follower, we’re talking maybe 15 minutes max. Fully assembled, it’s a big game. Too big for your normal games closet. More like a piece of furniture. It comes in a sturdy box, but that’s like telling you your bicycle comes in a sturdy box. Once you put the game together, unless you have to move, the box is best thought of as a sturdy contribution to your local recycler.

OK. So much for impressive quality and size. Now on to the Major Fun part.

There are four wooden player-pieces, two to a side. Each player stands on a very strong magnet – strong enough to urge the manufacturer to recommend that the pacemaker-enabled should think twice before joining this particular fray. There are two cylinders that you place under the board, under each player. You can tell by the loud clicking sound that these magnets are significantly magnetic and contribute even more significantly to the, if you’ll forgive the expression, “attraction” of this surprisingly attractive game. There’s also a tiny soccer ball. It’s not quite round, which makes it roll a little less enthusiastically, which is precisely what is needed to maintain an illusion of precision control.

Major Fun AwardYou can play with two humans on a side (as a team, each controlling one player), or with one human, with a control cylinder in each hand. Since your hands are underneath the board, once you start playing, the wooden players seem to come alive. The above-mentioned long, padded wooden support prevents players from being able to move pass the center line. The some long, padded wooden support is often the cause for much hilarity when one becomes a tad overzealous in trying to smash the ball into one’s opponent’s territory causing the wooden player to become detached from its controlling magnet and to spin across the field, attaching itself with a resounding click to the side of an opposing piece.

If you’ve ever seen a soccer game, figuring out how to play WeyKick is almost intuitive. And, yes, depending on how competitive you are, or how sneaky your little child is, there are many rules that can be made and/or broken. There are ample opportunities for strategy and skill-development. There’s just enough luck to make you laugh when you need to. You can take it seriously. You can take it to a hospital or school or recreation or senior center. You can take it to your friend’s house and find yourself both appreciated and envied. Parents can play it with their kids. How much more major can you get?

Designed by Ulrich Weyel, available from Mayday games (a German import, currently offered at a considerable discount).

Elk Fest

Filed Under (Dexterity) by Will Bain on 20-01-2013

Elk FestThe grass is always greener on the other side…

Of the table.

Elk Fest (brought to our American shores through the combined talents of Kosmos Games and Mayfair Games) is a table-top game in which you shepherd a moose (yes, it is called ELK fest but as explained in the rules, a moose is considered an elk in Europe so suck it up Yankee and enjoy the game…) across a raging river—represented here by your table—in order to reach the succulent grasses on the other side. Each player is provided with a wooden moose, a starting platform, and three round wooden “stones” which the moose (meece? mooseses? müesi?) use to cross the dangerous waters to the other player’s starting platform.

Play is simple. On your turn you flick the grey stones. You get two flicks and you can flick any stones on which a moose is not standing. At the beginning of the game this generally mean you will flick your own stones, but as the players move toward the center of the river, and their stones come closer and closer, any free stone could be of strategic importance. Your goal, in flicking a stone, is to get it close enough to the moose so that it can put its front feet on a stone and keep its back feet on another stone (the starting platform counts as a stone).

Major Fun AwardOnce the müesi (I have a thing for umlauts) leave their platforms, careful flickage is important. If you knock any moose off its perch your turn ends and your opponent gets three flicks instead of two. This penalty also applies if you misjudge the distance between two stones, and your moose touches the table while you are attempting to bridge the gap.

Strategic flickage and placement opportunities abound. Sometimes flicking an opponent’s stone out of reach is better than moving your animal. Sometimes your moöse can trap stones for later use. Of course you can’t play defense all game, but as your müüs reaches the center of the table, these decisions must be made.

The game pieces are solid and fun to manipulate. The rules take all of a minute to understand, and there are some funny bits that make even that minute enjoyable. Elk Fest is a major fun way to spend a rainy or snowy or blisteringly hot day around the table.

For 2 players, ages 8+

Elk Fest designed by Hermann Huber. © 2006 by Kosmos and Mayfair Games, Inc.