Keva Brain Builders

Filed Under (Creative, Dexterity, Puzzles, Thinking Games, Toys) by Will Bain on 18-06-2014

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Keva Brain BuilderIf you missed my earlier post about Keva planks and the fun of destruction, you can check it out here.

Keva planks are precision cut wooden building blocks. They measure about a quarter of an inch thick and the proportion of their dimensions is 1:3:15 (1 unit thick, 3 units wide, and 15 units long). The uniformity and quality of the Keva plank construction makes them ideal for building very complex and very stable structures.

Turns out, they also make for an interesting brain-teaser.

In essence, Keva Brain Builders is an exercise in architectural design and perspective drawing. The game comes with 20 planks and 30 puzzle cards. The cards are double sided. On the puzzle side is shown a diagram of something the player needs to build. The diagram shows the figure in top view, side view, and front view. The planks are color coded to indicate which side you are looking at in each view.

Your challenge is to build the structure so that it matches the picture on the solution side of the card.

The cards come in three difficulty levels. The easy ones are very simple both in the structure’s complexity and in the amount of balance it takes to create the structure. As the puzzles get harder, the diagrams become somewhat more difficult to suss out, but the manual dexterity to build the solutions becomes much more challenging.

01 AwardKeva Brain Builders lends itself to free play. Although many of us at Major Fun liked playing with the challenge cards, just as many liked building our own structures. I imagine that there will be many kids who will be perfectly happy to take the planks and make their own designs. I had fun trying to come up with complicated designs that I would then draw in all three perspectives.

Ultimately, this is a great introduction into Keva planks, it’s a nice small building set, and the puzzle challenges are a clever way to improve spatial awareness. It comes in a compact, zippered pouch; although if your household is anything like mine, that will get stuffed with dolls and the Keva planks will be incorporated into some other Frankenstein structure of train tracks, Lego, and toilet paper rolls.

Solo play. Ages 7+

Keva Brain Builders is © 2014 by MindWare.

Staxis

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 09-06-2014

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MindWare’s Staxis is like playing a game of pick-up-sticks in reverse. And I don’t mean that way you start the game by dropping a handful of long toothpicks in a pile, but rather imagine having to carefully place each stick so that they stand on end or balance against each other without touching the table.

The game comes with a base structure that looks like a Soviet era satellite has come to rest in your home. Once you have Sputnik assembled on your playing surface, players divide the 50 long stacking sticks between them. The first player to get rid of all their sticks is the winner.

Before you balance one of your sticks on the Epcot Spaceship Earth you have to roll a die. This tells you how many points of contact your stick must have with any wooden part of the structure. A single point basically means that you have to balance your stick horizontally across another stick. A double point means that your stick must touch two other sticks.

Although the two-point option seems easier and more stable, it proves very tricky as the game proceeds. Sticks balanced on two points generally form angles that make the single-point rolls even more challenging. The double-point sticks also seem to cause the weight to shift in unexpected ways.

A player must successfully balance one stick on his or her turn, but any sticks that fall off are collected by that player. This encourages players to take chances in order to leave their opponents with increasingly unstable configurations.

awardStaxis takes a steady hand and a keen eye. The tension builds steadily which lends itself to a lot of good natured trash talking and goading. The rules are barely necessary and that’s only for the first time you build the base Tesla Tower. The game is well constructed although you should be careful with the wooden stacking sticks. They do lend themselves to splinters.

Our kids had a blast with Staxis and it made for a great game with mixed ages. Major Fun game for dexterity, balance, and show-boating.

2-6 players. Ages 6+

Staxis was designed by Paul Wickens and is © 2013 by MindWare.

Murbles

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Senior-Worthy) by Will Bain on 12-03-2014

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Despite the rather cruel and fickle nature of this particular March, there have been a couple of really pleasant days in which all but the most stubborn or sheltered piles of snow melted away. Spring is in full tease mode. Yesterday I went for a run in shorts and t-shirt. Today I had to push an inch of wet snow off my windshield before I left work.

But those few nice days got me out not just to run but to play a couple games of Murbles that Murray Kramer of Kramer Kreations was nice enough to send to us back in December. Now, Murray is from Pensacola, Florida where I can only assume that a lawn-bowling game like Murbles is a viable year-round proposition. Unfortunately the game reached me in Indianapolis just as we were settling in for what would be one of the snowiest winters on record.

Each set of Murbles comes with a target ball (white) and six other balls in 2 colors. The ones I tossed around the yard were red and blue, but there is a huge variety of colors you can order. As with most bocce-style bowling games, you throw the target murble and then players try to get their murbles closest to the target. With the basic set, two or four people could play by alternating throws. Combine multiple sets and you can have a game for an entire family reunion.

awardAlthough the game will be immediately familiar to anyone who has ever thrown objects over a grassy surface, it is the packaging and materials that really make Murbles stand out. The murbles are three inches in diameter, weigh about half a pound (8 ounces), and come in a colorful canvas bag with the rules printed on it. The murbles are small enough and light enough that children and the elderly can play with them, but they still have enough “heft” so that your throws feel controlled. They are made from a dense, recycled plastic that is also buoyant so you won’t lose them at the bottom of a lake (although prevailing winds and waves might lead you on an extended chase).

Murbles is Major Fun that you can throw in your back pack or the back of your car and then throw around in the great outdoors. Something to usher in the spring and a great reason to get outside and (as my mom would say) get the stink blown off.

[sniff] I’m pretty sure I need to get out more.

2+ players. Ages 6+

Murbles was designed by Murray Kramer and is © 2011 by Kramer Kreations.

 

 

Major Fun would like some credit for doing this entire review without making one joke about balls. Not one. Read back through there and check out all the opportunities I had. I tell you what, being this mature is really hard difficult.

Stop ‘n Go

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 26-02-2014

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4250_StopNGo_023151042507We have a soft spot for speed games here at Major Fun. That soft spot is generally the tips of our fingers and we will gleefully bruise those soft spots if it means that we get a chance to slap a card down just before our neighbor does. Speed games are loud and frenetic and there is never any down time.

Granted, this kind of fun isn’t for everyone and speed games can often be unforgiving to those who are inexperienced. Or lack hand-eye coordination. Or are too old. Or are too young. Or have a heart condition. Or play nice…

…but they are fun!! And Talicor’s Stop ‘n Go does a great job of providing us with a slappy shouty speedy  game that pauses every so often to give you time to regroup.

Players are dealt 15 cards (the rest are placed to the side for later) and the object is to get rid of all cards in your hand. The cards are held face down. Each card has a combination of four basic colors: red, green, yellow, and blue. Each player turn one card face to the table in front of them. When the dealer yells “Stop and Go” each player flips over a card and tries to match it to one of the cards already face up on the table. When a player sees a match, he or she rushes to slap their card on top of that pile and flip over another.

It’s all very intuitive. Speed color matching.

There are also three special cards: Zap is yellow, Pass is blue, and Stop n Go is green and red. When one of these is successfully played to a pile, everything stops and the special card takes effect. Zap allows the player to give each opponent 2 more cards (from the ones set aside). Pass forces everyone to pass their hand to the right or to the left. Stop n Go allows the player to play 3 cards while everyone else has to wait.

This is not a highly strategic game. There is a good deal of luck involved. But the pace is fast and the interruptions due to special cards allow everyone to regroup and prepare for the next onslaught. The game rules awardsuggests that at the end of the round (when someone goes out) you count your cards and record that number. When someone reaches 30 the game is over and the lowest score wins.

We had a blast just playing to see who would go out each round. And betting on who would walk away with a broken finger.

The rules are short and largely intuitive. The cards are well designed. We were laughing and shouting and bruising our fingers like a rock n roll bassist. It’s Major Fun.

2 – 6 Players. Ages 4+

Stop ‘n Go was designed by James D. Muntz and © 2012 by James Games Design. Manufactured and distributed by Talicor.

Speed Cups & Halli Galli

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games) by Will Bain on 20-01-2014

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It’s Amigo week this week as we award Haim Shafir and Amigo for several games that we received recently. Although the games have some very similar features (for example they are all games of speed and quick reactions) each one has its own idiosyncrasies and charm. They are all very clever and, more importantly, fun.

Major Fun.

Today I’m going to focus on the two games for slightly older players. Later this week I’ll look at a couple of the games that are suited for even younger players. Keep in mind that all of the games from Shafir and Amigo are fantastic family games that are enjoyable for a wide range of ages.

Speed Cups (2 – 4 players. Ages: 6+)

Let’s start with a game that is most similar to one we have already given a Major Fun Award to. If you remember from a few weeks back, we loved Finger Twist—another game designed by Shafir and produced by Amigo. Speed Cups has a lot of similarities to Finger Twist. Both are speed games, both involve matching color and order combinations on a card, and both have a bell. Whereas Finger Twist uses colored hair bands, Speed Cups uses colored plastic cups.

Each player has a set of five cups, each of a different color. To start play, a card is flipped over and the players race to arrange their cups to match the pattern on the card. One tricky aspect is that the card does not show cups, instead the card shows a picture of five flowers or five cars or a five-story apartment building. The second wrinkle is that the players must not only match the color order but also the horizontal or vertical orientation of the items. If the items on the card are arranged vertically, the cups must be stacked. If the colors are arranged horizontally then the cups need to form a line on the table.

That’s it. Each player rings the bell when finished. The first player to ring the bell and have the cups in the right order wins the card.

One of the things I found most interesting was how differently each player performed depending on the orientation of the card. I was much better at cards that were vertically oriented. I was competitive when asked to stack the cups. But when it came to horizontal arrangement, I was almost always dead last. Everyone who has played with me has made similar comments. One orientation is much better than the other.

Like all speed games, some people are just better than others. Of the quintilogy of games from Haim Shafir, Speed Cups and Finger Twist are perhaps the most unforgiving in the sense that someone who struggles will get frustrated if forced to always compete against those who are naturally (or in the case of my daughter seemingly preternaturally) dexterous. Then again, pulling out an unexpected win feels really good.

Halli GalliHalli Galli (2 – 6 players, Ages: 6+)

First produced in 1990, this is actually the first of Haim Shafir’s “Bell Quintilogy” of games (“Bell Quintilogy” is not an “official” title. And “Major Fun” knows that some of the “quotes” are misplaced but it’s just so “addictive.”) You can see the DNA of Halli Galli in the more recent games like Speed Cups and Finger Twist, but Halli Galli is more about building tension than raw speed.

The game comes with a bell and 56 cards. The cards depict 1 to 5 pieces of fruit (plums, strawberries, limes, or bananas). These cards are shuffled and dealt face-down to all players. These piles of cards are arranged around the bell.

When play starts, players take turns flipping over one card from their deck so that one card is showing in front of each player. Players continue to flip over cards (covering up the previous card if no one has rung the bell) until exactly five of any fruit are visible. The first to ring the bell when exactly five of a fruit are visible wins ALL of the cards that are face-up on the table. These cards go to the winner’s deck. If a player runs out of cards then that player is eliminated from the game.

If a player makes a mistake, that player must give one card to each of his or her opponents.

awardThe pace of the game is uneven but instead of being a flaw in the game, it turns out to be a major source of excitement. Sometimes you will find yourself ringing the bell every second or third card, but there are times when you can play 10 or 11 cards without revealing a set of five. In those rounds the tension becomes almost unbearable. When the critical card finally drops the explosion of sound and activity is bone jarring.

Even though this is an elimination game, the rounds go very quickly and the amount of down-time is minimal. There are also lots of ways to adjust this game to accommodate for different ages and ability levels.

You might find yourself flinching every time you hear a bell but Haim Shafir and Amigo have provided us with a lot of ways to have fun—Major Fun—while exercising our fast-twitch reflexes.

Speed Cups & Halli Galli were designed by Haim Shafir and © 2013 by Amigo.

Finger Twist

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games) by Will Bain on 26-12-2013

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Fingertwist_PressefotoWhat do you do with a bell and dozens of fuzzy hairbands?

If your answer was “host an ‘80s rock festival” then I applaud your way with words.

If your answer was “make a game” then you have a mind like Haim Shafir and the good people at Amigo Games.

Finger Twist (also known as Ringlding in its native German tongue) is one of several games that Haim Shafir and Amigo have released this year. It comes with a bell (the kind you would ring at a service counter), 72 stretchy hair ties (think small scrunchies instead of rubber bands) in six colors, and 32 cards. The cards show a hand with several of the hair bands wrapped around different combinations of fingers.

To play, set the bell in the middle of the table, surrounded by all of the hair ties. Shuffle the deck and flip over the top card. Whoever is the first to put the hair ties around his or her fingers so that they match the card, rings the bell.

awardThe game plays out in three phases that can be tracked by their distinct sounds.  Once the card is flipped there is an immediate shout and surge as everyone grabs for the colors they need. The noise level only increases in volume and in the amount of profanity as everyone struggles to wrap the correct color around the correct fingers. Finally, when someone rings the bell, there is a series of groans and frustrated gesticulations as everyone plucks off the bands and prepares for the next round.

This is one of those games whose rules are virtually intuitive from the moment you open the box. It is quick and raucous and colorful. It’s fun to see how a common item like a hair tie can be repurposed for such a fun—Major Fun— game.

2 – 6 players or teams. Ages: 4+

Finger Twist was designed by Haim Shafir and © 2012 by Amigo.

Ringer Toss

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Senior-Worthy) by Bernie DeKoven on 11-11-2013

Ringer Toss

 

Ringer Toss is what some people would consider a tailgate game, what others might think of as a backyard game, and what almost anyone would think of as an invitation to some genuine, not too physical, but worthy-of-taking seriously fun.

To play the game, you first have to assemble it (which takes maybe 3 minutes). It’s made of wood – recycled wood, as a matter of fact. There are four large pieces which fit together to form what one of our players thought of as a shoe-shine kit. There are five square dowels that form the targets, five plastic cups that serve as added challenges, and four rings for each of two players. All you do is take turns tossing the rings (suggested distance is about 10 feet away) so they go over the cups and posts, or knock the cups off a post that already has a ring around it, or end up lying somewhere on the game stand. Each of these accomplishments is worth points – the more challenging, the higher the potential score.

Major Fun Award

It takes a while to get the toss just right. It’s easy to fling the rings too hard. A gentle, careful, level spin is best. So we’re not talking about feats of great strength here, but rather about exhibitions of calm, controlled, gentle accuracy. This makes the game one that older people can play with as much chance of success as their children or even children’s children.

The ring’s the thing. It adds a unique feel to the game that is compellingly gentle. The cups contribute an added challenge in two ways: they serve as obstacles to getting the ring around a post, and then become targets that fly off with glee-inducing clamor.

Easy to build. Easy to learn. Easy to carry around. Ringer Toss is just the kind of game you’ll want to have with you basically everywhere.

Bugs in the Kitchen

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 16-10-2013

Bugs in the Kitchen

 

The bug in Bugs in the Kitchen is a HEXBUG Nano. It moves randomly on twelve, rubbery, battery-powered legs – randomly enough to turn (maybe left, maybe right) when it meets an obstacle.

There are two dozen plastic utensils – knives, forks and spoons. They each have a post in the center which fits snugly (and pretty much permanently) into the sturdy cardboard playing board. Once installed, they form something that looks very much like a maze. And, since they pivot so beautifully on their pegs, they form a maze whose paths can be continuously changed. Which, as you might surmise, is what the game is basically about.

There are two, large, pocket-like receptacles on each side of the board. Each player claims one of these receptacles as her own (there are cardboard walls you can install to block off one or two of these receptacles should you be playing with 2 or 3 players).

There’s a die involved. Three of its sides are question marks. The other three depict different utensils.

You turn the utensils so they form one of the four suggested starting mazes. Then one player turns the HEXBUG on and puts it in the middle of the game board. The next player throws the die, determining which utensil can be turned. The posts are designed so that they tend to turn 9o-degrees – which is exactly how they should be turned. The goal is to get the HEXBUG into your trap. Of course, you can’t touch the bug itself. It’s all in how you configure the maze.

There are cardboard “bug tokens.” As soon as the HEXBUG is trapped, the round ends, the winning player receives one bug token, and the maze is reset.  The goal is to be the first to collect five tokens.

Major Fun AwardOr you can make it the rule that if the HEXBUG falls into your trap, you lose. Or you can see what happens if you play without the die. Or you can play by yourself, trying out different mazes and seeing if you can guess which trap the HEXBUG will fall into.

Bugs in the Kitchen was designed by Peter-Paul Joopen. And I just have to say, Mr. Peter-Paul Joopen, you are a genius. Your game is fascinating, engaging, worthy of many hours of joyful contemplation, and makes a toy that already has proven play value, even more fun. Major fun, that is. And you, too, Ravensburger. It’s a game that is made to withstand many hours of intense delight. The HEXBUG comes with a battery already installed. And a spare, even.

Bugs in the Kitchen (a.k.a. Kakerlakak) can be played by 2-4 early elementary school-age children, though it seems to be most fun with just two players, and parents will probably insist on getting to play as well. With art by Janos Jantner and Maximilian Jasionowski, Bugs in the Kitchen is ©2013 Ravensburger Spieleverlag GmbH and widely available at toy stores near you.

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Cube Quest

Filed Under (Dexterity, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 09-09-2013

Cube Quest

OK, before we get into particulars: this is the kind of game that if you’re a grown-up will remind you of something you almost invented that long, rainy day, when you were, say, 8-years-old – the kind of game you would have played with toy soldiers if it didn’t hurt so much to flick them at each other with your fingers. Skillful? Easily as profound as marbles. Strategic? Just as strategic as you can or want to make it. Demanding deep thinking – not so much. But enough. O, yes.

You get 50 dice (OK, cubes), 25 of each color. They’re light enough to flick without impairing your flicker and small enough to be considered a choking hazard (sorry, little brother). There are seven different kinds: Grunts, Strikers, Helms, Skulks, Freezes, Healers, and one King. Each of these has different attributes. The Grunts, for example. You see Grunts on only two sides of the die. The other four sides indicate a state “captured”-hood. You get a lot of them (12), but if they end up on your opponent’s field captured-side up, they are lost. On the other hand, there are your Healers (2), with no captured sides at all. Healers and Freezes are, as you might assume, never flicked. They are used so that you can, instead of flicking, choose to help revive your pieces or immobilize your opponent, respectively. A hard call, considering that you have to forego flickery.

Major Fun AwardAnd, no, you really don’t have to know what all the different cubes do to enjoy the game. And yes, eventually you’ll probably learn what each one does, and the strategic subtleties of each, and even go so far as to ascribe yet further powers as you play the game again and again.

There are two felt game boards that are set up adjacent to each other. On each, there is a fort. Your king regally resides within the boundaries of your fort.

The object: be the first to flick your opponent’s king off the board.

You spend the first part of the game preparing – deciding where to put each of your cubes to maximize their offensive and defensive potentials. And then there’s the flicking.

Our first round lasted one flick each. And then we learned. O, yes, we learned. It’s all about protecting the King (wouldn’t you know it), cunningly surrounding him with walls of loyal subjects. But not to forget that this is war.

Great fun. Not deep fun. But great. Major, even.

For two players, ages 8 and older, designed by Oliver and Gary Sibthorpe, with art by Jonathan Kirtz, from Gamewright .

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