Monster Falle

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.


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

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.

Don’t Rock the Boat!

Don’t Rock the Boat is a game of balance and dexterity. It’s for kids 5 and up. And, depending on the steadiness of your hand and mind at the time, you can play, too.

There are 16 very cute plastic penguin pirates. There’s a boat: a three-masted, pirate-ship-like boat, hollow, of course, plastic, of similar course; balanced rather precariously on a plastic wave. Before the game begins, someone sets the boat upon its wave, and the players then distribute the plastic pirate penguins equally. If the number of players results in an extra penguin or two, those penguins are thrown mercilessly into the box for the duration of the game.

Players then take turns placing their plastic pirate penguins anywhere on the boat. Those Crows’ Nests topping each mast are most inviting, but, as you can plainly see, only the center Crows’ Nest can be occupied without risking tippage. The safest place to place one’s plastic pirate penguin is near the base of the central mast. But even that proves to be a precarious plastic penguin pirate placement, nonetheless.

Tippage-risking is the name of the game. Well, actually, “boat-rocking” is perhaps a term more in keeping with the theme. The thing is, it’s very easy to rock the boat, and even one poorly placed plastic pirate penguin can be all it takes to upset things irrevocably.

Of all the games of balance and dexterity, Don’t Rock the Boat offers by far the largest and most varied plethora of plastic penguin pirate platforms and other surfaces upon one can try one’s dexterous balancing skills.

There’s nothing in the rules preventing a player from attempting to place two plastic pirate penguins concomitantly. I’m just saying.

Not recommended for the easily frustrated, but highly recommended for its Major Funnyness. Easy to learn. Takes maybe 5 minutes to play, or, in my case, 30 seconds. Funny. And, with great focus and skill, one can succeed in accommodating a surprising amount of plastic pirate penguins aboard the perilous poised privateer.


Fun for many reasons. From Patch Products.


If you’re a parent of a pre-school child, say 3, 4, maybe even 5 years old, you’d think, just by looking at the cover of the box, that you’ve found a truly interesting, colorful, wooden puzzle that will fascinate and stimulate the intellect of your little sacred one. And, of course, you’d be closely approximating correctness, given your only partly informed estimation. If your child is a bit older, say school-age, you’d probably think that, though this toy has some obvious merit in inviting your little genius to explore the geometrical and mathematical properties of the hexagon, it will perhaps not be received with as much joy as you so parentally desire. And, in that judgment, you will have most unfortunately and perhaps even regretfully erred. And, should you likewise assume that this HexActly toy could bear no relevance whatsoever to the intellectual, creative, and general fun-needs of the adult, you’d be compounding your error, most egregiously.

HexActly is a puzzle. In fact, it’s a collection of puzzles – more than 50, puzzles, more, even, than 54. It’s also an enticing, and annotated invitation to the geometry of the hexagon, its delightfully hexagonal “learning guide” including instructions on how to draw hexagons, on the properties of regular and irregular hexagons, and a brief nuts-and-bolts exploration of the reason for the hexagonality of snowflakes, honeycombs, and, well, nuts and bolts.

HexActly is appropriately packaged in a hexagonal box. There are 24 wooden pieces: six single hexagons, six double hexagons, three triple hexagons, three quadruple hexagons and six  The box is colorfully illustrated with just enough examples of different structures that can be built using the collection of pieces included in the set. Some of the structures are three-dimensional, and require almost as much dexterity as reasoning to replicate.

The pieces come in five different, bright colors, inviting the eye and suggesting the possibility that you could not only create different structures, but also different patterns. Different colors might offer a different collection of shapes from the others. For example, though yellow and orange have exactly the same distribution of shapes, the other three colors each offer a different combination. So once you get refined enough in your exploration of the various designs you can create, you learn to work within the constraints of what each color offers.

There are three different levels of puzzles, and each includes a target shape, plus the challenge to create that shape with different amounts of pieces.

All in all, HexActly is a lovely invitation to creative and intellectual fun, and, as hard to believe as it may be, it’s as fun for a 3-year-old as it is for the cognitively mature. Fun? HexActly!

From Fatbrain Toys.


Animal upon Animal

Haba‘s Animal upon Animal is a stacking game for two players. The pieces are small, made of wood, and designed so that there are many ways they can be stacked, more-or-less securely, one on top of the other.

There are 6 different kinds of animals, two of each, each a different color and shape, plus one larger, wrinkled-back alligator that serves as a base for the stacking game. There is also a comparatively large, wooden die which determines the game play.

Before you start playing, you divide the animals equally, so that both players have exactly the same animals. This is important, because each animal has a different shape, and the shape has a lot to do with how difficult the stacking task becomes.

Each turn begins with the roll of the die. If you roll a 1, you take one of your animals and place it anywhere on the alligator or any other animal that has already been played. If you roll a 2, then you get to place two of your animals. Since the object is to be the first player to no more animals left to stack, it’s clearly more advantageous to roll a 2 than a 1. If you roll the hand symbol you give any one of your unplayed animals to the other player (good for you, not so good for your playmate). Roll a question mark and your playmate gets to decide which of your animals you have to try to stack next.

Depending on the nature of the pyramid, larger animals usually offer more of a challenge. Roll the alligator symbol and you get to put one of your animals next to, but touching the alligator. This gives both players a larger base for their pyramid, and makes the whole game a bit easier.

That’s just about all there’s to it. Just enough luck to keep the game even, just enough challenge to keep the game inviting. Just large enough to be endearing.

There are a couple more rules that make the game a little more forgiving. If, on your turn, one or more of the animals fall off the stack, you take one or two of them back and put the rest of the fallen animals back into the box. So the penalty is not as egregious as the collapse of the pyramid might indicate.

All-in-all, a well, shall we say, “balanced” dexterity game that offers a meaningful challenge, and an even more meaningful invitation to fun with a friend.

One such friend of mine is Douglas Wilson. He loves Animal upon Animal and was especially excited to learn that there are different animals in this set than in the Animal upon Animal Game (with 14 different animals, plus alligator) and of course Animal upon Animal Balancing Bridge (with another 14 different animals).

All the versions of the Animal upon Animal games are designed by Klaus Miltenberger, with art by Michael Bayer. This set is for two players – kids 4 and up (which could mean you) – and is available in the US from Haba and others.

Bop It Smash

If you were looking for an electronic game to exemplify why the Major Fun seal was created, you’d need look no further than Hasbro’s Bop It! SMASH. It’s very easy to learn how to play. You don’t have to read the instructions, you don’t even have to take it out of the package it comes in. You, as the package so clearly indicates, simply smash both ends at once. That’s it. That’s all you need to know.

The lights blink in sequence. You wait, everso patiently, for the ever-decreasing millisecond that the green light in the center is on, and, well, SMASH! Smash well enough, and you get a bonus round. Continue smashing well and you get to go to the next level, and the next bonus, and the slightly excruciatingly more difficult next level, and then the less threatening but even more excruciatingly difficult bonus round, and on, and excruciatingly on. And if you happen to be altruistic enough to want to share it with someone else, there’s the PASS IT variation (easily selected by moving the switch next to one of the smash-knobs). And, should you seek an even more competitive dialog, you can switch to a multi-player version which allows you to engage in super-fast reflex challenge with up to 5 more people (depending on how much patience and self-restraint you have).

The audio instructions and narrative are enticing, slightly cajoling, often humorous, and a tad, shall we say, sarcastic, but in an inviting, almost lovable way. The game select feature even includes a volume control (either loud or not-so-loud). Ah, so wise these designers. There are three AA batteries required, all of which, bless Hasbro, are included.

Yes, verily, this is not the only Bop It! to have bopped its way into our collective Bop-awareness. There’s the earlier, multi-control Bop It! and the more recent massively multi-controlled Bop It! XT and even the Bop It! iPod/iPad Touch Game. But Bop It! SMASH is the one version that most vividly exemplifies what the Major Fun seal is designed to lead you to – elegantly designed, accessible, intuitive, portable, sharable, engaging, intense fun.

Fastrack a Keeper!

Fastrack, the Major Fun award-winning dexterity game, has proven itself to be one of those games that keep on getting played and played and played again. This takes it beyond  Major Fun, into the realm of pure Keeper-hood.

It’s well-made, all-wood, very easy to learn, takes only a few minutes to play, fun for kids as young as 5, and for adults as old as me. It’s the kind of game you can pick up during a break, and spend just enough harmlessly aggressive energy to come out with everyone laughing. There’s also enough of a possibility that skill has something to do with winning to make you want to keep playing. And just enough noisy, fast fun to keep you from caring.

Super Shooter Basketball

You can play Super Shooter Basketball any way you want. You can play by yourself. You can play with a friend. You can play with a couple of friends. You can play for score. You can make it easy on yourself and put your shooter close to the basket. And, because, when smartly struck, that little super shooter can shoot one of those little balls, what, 15 feet, you can make it a shot worthy of both peer and parental praise. You can shoot from the side. You can shoot from the other side. You can print out a Super Shooter Basketball court and see how many different places you can shoot from.

So, OK, so the balls are a choking hazard if you’re, like, 3. And so kids like it, and some kids really like it, and some of them can probably get really good at it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t play it, too. Maybe after they’re in bed. (My wife, who was captain of her high school basketball team o so many years ago, played with it for a half-hour before I took it away from her.)

There’s some assembly required, but everything snaps together, and the picture on the box is all you need to guide you through the few steps needed. And after you’re finished playing with it you can fold the backboard down, if you want, and store it away, if somebody tells you you have to.

There’s a lot of fun here. Some of it major. You can spend a lot of time practicing, developing skill and maybe even a trick shot or two. It’s made well enough to take all that play. And if you loose one of those well made, durable, but light little balls, well, there’s still two more.

Super Shooter Basketball is one of a series of Big Little Games from Patch Products.

Bug Out – a Keeper

It’s always good news when we find another Keeper. And Bug Out  is very good news, in deed.

This simple matching game turns out to be remarkably flexible – suitable for kids as young as pre-school age, for families and even for a party full of grown-ups.

You get two decks, each with 36 cards. One deck is round. The other square. The round Bug cards are two-sided, each side showing the same bug. The square Leaf cards are also two-sided, but only one side shows the bug. In the beginning of the game, you put all the Bug cards out and distribute all the Leaf cards equally between players. Then everybody races through their Leaf cards, looking for the matching Bug card, slapping it down, and on to the next, and on, racing to be the first player to run out of Leaf cards.

Now here’s the thing. Sure, you can play it on a table. And sure, you can have everyone sitting down. Or you can have everyone standing up. Or you can play it on the floor, with people standing up or sitting down. Since the Bug cards have the same bug on both sides, you can just drop them anywhere and they’ll be right-side-up. And you don’t have to keep all the Bug cards together. There’s a variation called Big Bug Out that tells you to play with the cards spread out on the floor, but you might as well plant them all around the room and down the hall and into the other room so that people wind up running around and amok, generally screaming.

And each way you play, on the table or on the floor or in the whole house or outside or in school is different.

And the game is strong enough and simple enough that you can change the rules, if you want, and play in teams so that people with limited abilities or very different skill sets can help each other win, or all play in one big team and everybody can help everybody beat the record for how long it takes to get all the bugs cozily covered by their matching Leaf cards. Or a relay race maybe? Or if you’re playing with the back-bending-challenged, you could arrange the Leaf cards on the floor and have them drop the Bug Cards onto them (easier, because the Bug Cards are the same on both sides).  Or what about giving some players Leaf cards and others Bug cards and have them try to find each other? Or take one Bug Card or Leaf Card out of play and see if you can figure out which one is missing.

You get the picture? Flexibility. Adaptability. Variability. Fun for everyone, anywhere, again and again.

And it comes in a travel case, too!

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