Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games, Tops for 2011) by Bernie DeKoven on 03-07-2011

award-winning dexterity game for twoOne of the things that we look for when we grant a Major Fun award is how easy it is to figure out how to play the game – even without the rules. Learning time is always a problem with games – the more time it takes to learn (regardless of how wonderful the game is) the narrower the appeal. So, when we do find a game that is almost self-explanatory, and when it’s well-made, and when it’s fun enough for people to want to play again and again and yet again – we consider it a major find.

Today, we take great pleasure in introducing you to our current Major Fun major find – a little wooden game called Fastrack. Well, not totally wooden – there’s an elastic band on either side. And not so little – interior dimensions are 13″ by just about 8″. And there’s a drawstring bag, made out of something net-like, which is also not wooden.

Between the two elastic bands, spanning the middle of the board, there’s a wooden divider. In the middle of this divider, there’s a small hole – slightly larger than one checker-puck-width. On either side of the divider there’s just enough room to line-up five checker-pucks. And that, my friends, is all you need to know, pretty much.

dexterity gameIt’s a two-player game. Each player begins with five wooden, let’s call them “disks.”  Checker-like, puckish things that get twanged from one side of the board, through the divider, to the other. Twanging is generally done with one finger on the disk, the disk pulled back against the elastic and then released, both players twanging simultaneously. The round ends, hopefully, when one player has no more disks to twang. I say “hopefully” because, though a round can take less than a couple minutes, equally matched players can drive each other to exhaustion – which is pretty much the whole point.

Though the rules are exceptionally brief, and the game can be played without them, there are some good reasons to read them. For example, you learn that if a disk is stuck in the slot, you can only move it by shooting another disk at it. Which makes sense insofar as there might be some potential finger damage from ongoing rapid-disk-propulsion. You also learn that if a disk jumps over the divider and lands on the other side of the board, it still counts. And that disks that fly off the board entirely are out of play for that round, which means that you only have to get the remainder on to the other side to win.

The game is easy to handicap – especially if you are playing with your kids. For example, they can let you start with three disks, while they take the remaining seven.

The concept for this game has been around for a while. But the execution makes Fastrack exceptional. The game looks as attractive as it plays. The race-flag checkerboard and red colors accentuate the experience of speed. The elastic bands have enough elasticity so that you can shoot your disks with significant twang, and, if you shoot a disk just right, it can bounce back and forth across the board several many, delightworthy times. The board and disks are scaled perfectly so that you get the same delightful action you might get from a larger version, yet the game itself is just the right size to carry with you effortlessly everywhere. The twang often leads to many satisfying bangs as the disks carom off the wooden divider and the wooden sides of the wooden board. It is a skill game. And you can get better. And that’s all you need to know.

The game was designed by Jean-Marie Albert of Ferti in France, who also designed the Major Fun award-winning Le Pass Trappe – which explains a lot.

Make ‘n’ Break Challenge

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 15-06-2011

Why won't these pieces do what I want!!!Make n Break Challenge extends the popular Ravenburger series of games into the realm of head-to-head block-stacking death-match, where every move could be your last…

Until the next round.

The game is essentially a stacking race. There are 80 building cards that show what is to be constructed. Each card has a number that indicates the level of difficulty and the points to be earned (1-4). There is a card holder so that the opponents may both see the card. Each player is provided 10 colorful wooden blocks (2 red triangles, 2 blue cubes, 2 red cylinders, 2 green rectangles, 1 blue crescent, and 1 orange “bridge”) and a pair of wooden tongs.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment. A pair of wooden tongs, similar to those with which you would serve salad.

When a challenge card is revealed, the players race to build the structure on the card using only the tongs in one hand. And that hand? It has to stay behind a mark on the tongs so your fleshy, sensitive digits are almost 5 inches removed from the blocks you are attempting to stack. The first to complete the pictured challenge receives the points for that card. Another great twist in this game is the fact that the building cards have a wide variety of challenges. Many show a structure that the players must construct exactly as pictured, but some challenges allow players to make any structure as long as it follows certain rules. Some cards show the pieces that the players must use and the number of pieces that may be touching the table. Some tell how many can touch the table and how tall the structure must be. Some require the players to line the pieces up in order of size.

The wooden blocks present a significant test to human manual dexterity. They have heft, and their centers of gravity find interesting ways to spin in the grip of the wooden tongs. Their painted and polished surfaces are slippery. Add in the pressure of an opponent stacking and cursing mere inches from you and the Make n Break Challenge might be referring more to your composure than to the structures you are supposed to be building.

But once your sanity returns and your pulse comes back down into double digits you’ll find that you are itching for another go. And that feeling of an impending stroke—that was really the onset of Major Fun.

Although the game purports to be for 2-4 players (and only 2 play at any one time) we found that at least 6 could easily play by forming 2 teams and rotating through the “hot seat”. The pressure of spectators adds a kick to an already intense game.

Before I sign off, I also want to express our Major Appreciation to Ravensburger for the elegant and efficient packaging of the game. The pieces are solid and durable. The box cradles the game components in much the same way a custom toolbox has formed niches for each tool. And the card holder folds flat for easy storage. We at Major Fun appreciate the thought that goes in to the storage of our favorite games, and Ravensbuger deserves our praise.

Make ‘n’ Break Challenge is © 2009 by Ravensburger Spielverlag. Challenge version by Stefan Dorra and Manfred Reindl. Design by Kinetic, Ravensburger DE, and Kniff Design. Illustrations by Walter Pepperle.


Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Senior-Worthy) by Bernie DeKoven on 31-05-2011

Just when you think nobody could possibly invent a lawn or beach game that is at least as fun as bocce and horseshoes and games of that ilk, but actually, genuinely different, and as inviting to children as it is to adults, that can be played standing or sitting (on, for example, a wheelchair), that allows for genuine competition and yet has a friend-keeping element of luck, and doesn’t use rings or balls or bean bags or bolos, but instead, for the first time in lawn-and/or-beach game history, rolling wooden discs…

…along comes Matt Butler with his game of Rollors.

The game (conveniently packaged in a polyester/nylon zipper bag) is all wood (New Zealand Pine) with the exception of a measuring cord – but even that has a wood pin that fits perfectly into the top of the goal for convenient goal-proximity measuring and just loosely enough for a satisfying pull-out. There are two sets of 3 wooden Rollors. The Rollors are 5 inches wide and about an inch-and-a-quarter wide – wide enough so they can be rolled on their edges, and narrow enough so that sooner or later, they’ll probably fall on one of their faces (though you never know). In each set (red or blue), the Rollors are numbered, and there’s a different number on each side. One Rollor, for example, has a number 2 on one side, and a number 5 on the other. A second Rollor, for a second example, has a number 1 on one side and a number 6 on the other. And the third Rollor – we’ll just leave that to your mathematical ingenuity to figure out. And then there are two, beautifully wooden, pyramid-like goal-things that you set 25 feet away from each other – more or less.

The rules are very logical, comfortably brief and easy to learn. The object is to get your Rollor closest to the goal. If it falls over before it reaches the goal, you hope that it will fall so that it’s closer to the goal than any of your opponent’s Rollors, higher-scoring side face-up. If your Rollor makes it so close to the goal that it ends up actually leaning on the goal (a “leaner”), you hope that the number that is facing out is as high as it possibly can be, because that number gets doubled! And if your Rollor remains on its edge, and is closer to the goal than any of your opponent’s Rollors, you score the sum of both sides (which, not actually magically, is the same for all Rollors).

A bit like bocce, a bit like cornhole, a bit like horseshoes, but, not like any of them at all. The more you play, the more you can appreciate the intelligence behind the design, and the uniquely gentle, but focused fun it leads to.

Rollors are fun to roll – easier on arm and wrist than most rolling/pitching lawn games, more suitable to kids as well as adults, seniors as well as people of limited mobility. If you happen to have a 25-ft long carpeted hallway in your office or personal domain, you can develop remarkable skill and control and stuff. When you find yourself Rollor-ing on beach or lawn, you’ll have all the endless nuance of terrain to play with and against. In any of these environments, the game is fun and inviting. The nature of a rolling Rollor is such that it lends itself to some amazingly surprising feats of apparent skill – curving, spinning, potentially stopping without falling over, or falling over on the exact side you predict. As you gain confidence and competence, you will no doubt develop your own variations, specially designed to take advantage of terrain, your personal mastery, and your competitive instincts. Perhaps it would be fun to include a small hill in the Rollors court. Or some obstacles around which one might attempt to slalom. Or to play with three players on a team, all throwing simultaneously, on a golf course or bowling alley or in the dorm or in the woods (where the grass is short enough so you can still find your Rollors) or on a glacier….

Yes, indeed, the signs all point to Major Fun.


Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 03-04-2011

The moment you open the box, it’s clear that RoadZters, the latest racing game from Cepia Games, is going to be Major Fun. And the more you explore the beautifully made components, and the sheer ingenuity of the design, the clearer it gets.

It’s a car race, but you don’t exactly race cars. Rather, you roll a special kind of ball, the Z-ball, a small, hollow ball that is weighted with what feels like BBs, so that it actually stops while still on the track, and even on an incline. And, depending on how good of a Z-ball-flicker you are, you can develop quite a degree of mastery – making the ball spin and curve and jump around the track.

You also get 4 cars, each of a different color. The cars have wheels, and will roll, but you don’t roll them. You can, however, thanks to their artfully constructed rear decks, use them as Z-ball ramps. The cars serve as markers, to indicate your progress during the race. Each car also comes with a specially designed rubber mat. You place the mat on the front end of the car, actually to prevent it from rolling. After you’ve had your turn, you move the car with its mat to where the Z-ball stopped (that is, if it stopped on the track). When it’s your turn again, you lift the car off its mat, giving you all the clearance you need to make your next Z-ball shot.

The tracks fit together with ease. The yellow guide rails are wonderfully flexible. They fit into holes on either side of the track, and provide almost endless subtlety as you explore how curves in the track can effect the course a Z-ball must take. There are stickers that you can use to further embellish the set, but even without them, you will be impressed by the elegance of your completed track.

We always appreciate good packaging, but the RoadZters packaging is exceptional. It’s like what you’d expect from a good set of drill bits, every kind of piece having its own compartment.

The rule sheet comes in 6 different languages, which could explain why, though they’re brief, they are also more difficult to follow than you would expect from such an elegant game. Luckily, once you understand how the Z-ball works, the rest is self-explanatory.

RoadZters was designed by Patrick Naveau (PNDI). The game can be enjoyed by anyone who knows how to flick a ball. It’s best with 4 players, but with 3 or even 2, it’s still fun. If you’re lucky enough to have your own set or two, you can while away many happy hours mastering your precision Z-ball flicking skills.

I was fortunate enough to capture a Z-ball moment between Game Tasters Will and Erin (with Chris in the background providing the necessary egging-on).

Animal Upon Animal balancing bridge

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 03-03-2011

One must admit that the name of the game, Animal Upon Animal balancing bridge, isn’t what one might call “catchy,” on the other hand, the original German name, Tier auf Tier, isn’t that descriptive.

There are 29, brightly colored wooden animals, each with a variety of ridges and bumps that can provide a welcome, shall we say, clawhold, as players attempt to balance the animals on top of each other. In addition to the animals, there is also a die which determines which animals, on which side or sector of the box a player can choose from.

Also included is a deck of cards, each card depicting the player’s assignment – the three animals that must be balanced and arranged so that all three are in contact with each other, and fitting comfortably on the cardboard bridge; the rules (in several different languages), and, of course, the beautifully illustrated box which, in fact, plays a central role in the game.

Each player gets three cards. The first player to get all her cards solved wins the game. It doesn’t matter who solves what, as long as three animals depicted on one of your cards are, at any moment of the game, all on the bridge, and all touching each other, and you only have used one hand to make that happen. This keeps everyone involved throughout the game, as one player might easily, accidentally or simply in pursuing his own goals, connect the very three animals that are on someone else’s card. Also, getting all three animals to connect, each with the other two, adds a uniquely inviting challenge, conceptually, and physically. Finally, a player might, just as easily, cause some or all of the animals to fall off the bridge. The animals remain where they are (except for the big green crocodile, which is returned to the bridge), and the player who made the animals fall gets an extra assignment card as a penalty (depending on the age of the player, you may or may not want to use the penalty rule).

At the beginning of the game, all the animals are distributed, more or less equally, outside the four sides of the box. Inside the box, there are four triangular divisions, each depicting a different environment – volcanic, oceanic, forest, and desert. The markings on the die reflect each of the different climates, with two additions – one face allows you to move an animal that is already on the bridge, the other allows you to select any animal. A bridge spans the four environments. Animals that fall off the bridge during the game still can be chosen, along with the animals that are outside the sector, as determined by the die.

Animal Upon Animal balancing bridge can be played by two to four players (the more, the merrier), age six and older. It is as engaging a challenge for adults as it is for children. A steady hand, and a good sense of humor are highly recommended. Success in the game is not simply a question of dexterity, but also of reasoning and imagination – imagining how any given three of these irregularly-shaped wooden animals, with all their curves and notches, can be made to somehow and somewhat fit together. And, of course, it’s really all about fun.

Because of the cards, it is easy to adjust the challenge to the abilities of each player, giving younger players fewer cards, and older, more steady-handed players more cards. At last a family game that your two-card-holding adult has a chance to win against your five-card-holding kid!

Designed by Klaus Miltenberger with art by Michael Bayer, the game, like most games from Haba, is as delightful to look at as it is to play. Well-made, well-designed, well-worth its Major Fun award.

CooCoo the Rocking Clown

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 22-02-2011

CooCoo the Rocking Clown looks like a game you’d want to buy for your preschoolers. Which, of course, you most definitely would. It’s colorful. It’s wooden. It’s self explanatory. But what you might not discover until you manage to get it away from the kids is how much fun you could have with it, too. With the whole family, or all by yourself, without the kids, or with your friends at your next game night.

CooCoo comes with 24 wooden cylinders. There are 4 different colors. Each set of colors comes with one large cylinder, two smaller, and three smaller than that. There is no significance assigned to color or size, except, of course, that the larger cylinders weigh more, and can consequently have more impact on CooCoo’s balance.

You can play any way you want. Just place as many cylinders as you can without making CooCoo drop anything. Generally, when playing with a group, the idea is to put any cylinder anywhere you want, as long as all the cylinders stay on CooCoo when your turn is over. CooCoo’s feet are curved like a rocker. The curve isn’t as smooth as you think, so it’s possible to make CooCoo lean a little more or a little longer than you think she should.

CooCoo is recommended for kids 3 and over. Younger kids can play with it too, they just might not be able to get CooCoo to hold as many cylinders, or remember to put everything back into the box when they’re finished playing. As kids get a little older, they can use CooCoo the way they’d use any other building toy. By the time they’re school age, they’ll have the dexterity and conceptual skills to get CooCoo to hold all the cylinders.

As they get older, they’ll probably try, not only to see if they can get to hold ALL the cylinders, but also to see if they can make CooCoo lean. They’ll play cooperatively. Maybe they’ll try together to see how high they can build all the cylinders. They’ll play competitively. They’ll make up rules, so that a player who makes CooCoo drop a cylinder or more gets a negative point for every cylinder dropped. Maybe some colors and sizes are worth more. Maybe you can only use CooCoo’s head and arms.

Or, maybe they’ll make it the goal to see if it’s possible to get CooCoo to drop all the cylinders without falling completely over, or, on the other hand, maybe it’ll be a more interesting challenge to try to make CooCoo fall over, too.

These are the things that make CooCoo such a good party game. You can make your own rules. You can make it as difficult or as silly as you want. You can get a bunch of people to play. And, because the game is so dramatic, and attractive, you can get a bigger bunch of people to cheer you on.

CooCoo the Rocking Clown was designed by Thierry Denoual, and published by Blue Orange Games. Even if you don’t have children yet, CooCoo’s an investment in fun.


Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Party Games, Tops for 2011) by Bernie DeKoven on 25-01-2011

Some might say that the Major Fun award-winning Dutch Blitz is actually a variation of Ligretto, others might claim Ligretto is yet a variation of Spit, and/or Speed, and perhaps even of Nertz (a.k.a. Stits, Nerts, Nerks, Dooker, Canfield, Crunch, Nirts, Nerf, Gluck, “Blitz”, Maxcards, Peanuts, Popeye, Pounce, Snerds, Solitaire Frenzy, Scrub, Stop, Squeal, Squeak, Squid, Squinch, Lapu-Lapu Dirty Dance, Swish, Racing Demons, Race Horse Rummy, Lucky Thirty, Grouch, Hell, Hallelujah, Hoorah, Mertz, Moofles, Flip Flip, Knertz, Nuts, Nutz, Nutsy, Kitz Nitz, Double Dutch Bus, Snatch, and Nerds). But all will find many hours of undeniable fun in the knowledge that Ligretto is the only of the aforementioned that can be played with as many as 12 players (providing you’ve purchased each of the three different sets – red, blue and green).

Having play-tasted all of the aforementioned, we find that the 12-player potential of Ligretto merits its own Major Fun award.

The object of Ligretto is to be the first player to get rid of your stock. Stock? That’s actually a solitaire term for the cards you place on the table and are trying to play. Which makes a lot of sense, insofar as Ligretto is very much like a solitaire game you play with other people. In Ligretto, the stock consists of a stack, actually, of 10 cards, face down. Then you place 4 cards in a row, face-up, next to the stack. The rest of your cards remain in your hand. If any of the cards in your row is a One, you can immediately play it to the table, and use one card from your stock to replace it. If any player has already played a One, and you have a Two of the same suit, you can play your two onto that player’s One. And so on, and so on, with evermore passionate intensity, until someone, having exhausted all her stock, screams “Ligretto” (best when the “r” of Ligrrrretto is rolled victoriously).

Sure, it gets chaotic enough playing your basic 4-person game. But with 12, you reach a level of exacerbated frenzy that transcends reason. So many cards on the table, so much to look at, the possibilities, the likelihood that someone else will find the very card for which you are so desperately seeking, and so deservedly deserve… it’s a conceptually quantum shift, is what it is. And fun? O, yes and most certainly major.

Dutch Blitz

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Tops for 2011) by Will Bain on 13-12-2010

Growing up, it was good being the eldest child. My sister, 19 months my junior, worked hard to keep up. My parents have this distinct memory, one that seems to have epitomized our sibling bond, of my sister gripping the step-plate of a tricycle as I drug her all over the yard in an attempt to shake her loose. It was like a scene out of an Indiana Jones movie (one of the good ones…) To say we were competitive would be an understatement, but I liked that in my sister. She put up a good fight, and so I could feel good about winning. And I always won.

That was until Dutch Blitz.

Dutch Blitz is a card game. A speed card game in which players have a deck of 40 cards: four suits (blue, yellow, red, green) numbered 1 – 10. The game was developed in Pennsylvania Dutch country by Werner Ernst George Muller in the late 1950s. It is especially popular in northern states that have extensive German, Dutch, and Amish communities.

Blitz (German for lightning) is the operative word. Each player has a “Blitz” pile of 10 cards. The goal is to get rid of these 10 cards by playing them on piles of cards that sprout up in the middle of the table. Players may start a pile in the middle of the table, the “Dutch” piles, with the number 1. Once a “Dutch” pile is started, the other players may play their cards sequentially on that pile (2 goes on a 1, 3 goes on a 2, etc…) It is important to remember that the goal is to get rid of the “Blitz” pile. The first player to play all the cards of this “Blitz” pile shouts BLITZ!! and the round stops. The other players count up how many cards are left in their Blitz pile and multiply by two. These are negative points. Cards played to the Dutch piles are sorted (each deck has a different picture on the back) and counted. These are positive points. Each round is scored and the game ends when a player reaches 100 points.

The game is incredibly fast and is one of those games that should come with a stroke warning for people with blood pressure related illnesses. Because the Dutch piles in the middle are shared, collisions are common as players desperately try to move cards from their Blitz pile or just get out a few more points. This is not a game for leisurely conversation. At family reunions and holiday gatherings the most common phrase during play is “Can’t talk. Go ask your (insert other parent here)”

Blue and Yellow cards have an image of a boy while in the upper corners while the Red and Green cards have the image of a girl. This allows for a further complication of the game as players can also play cards on three piles in front of them (like Solitaire) as long as they alternate boy and girl cards.

When the Major Fun tasters played the game, I sat out many of the rounds. Experience is a definite advantage in speed games, and sure enough, when I finally played a few hands I won easily. But the others learned quickly and once the learning curve smoothed out, we had several tense, exciting rounds. Brought back memories.

My sister destroyed me in Dutch Blitz. I might win a round or two but she would dominate the game. I never wanted to give up—I remained competitive—but I can’t remember many times in which I got to 100 before my sister. A humbling moment in the sibling dynamic. But Major Fun for nearly four decades.

William Bain, Games Taster

Although you cannot buy Dutch Blitz from the parent website, the company does provide a list of distributors that will sell via the inter-tubes. Their list of online distributors is here:

Ligretto Dice

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games) by Will Bain on 09-11-2010

There is something intense about the sound of dice rattling in a cup. I believe that Parcheesi and Yahtzee have survived though the ages because of the anticipation and release that comes from rolling the dice from a resonant vessel. Ligretto Dice exploits and amplifies this primal emotion to great effect and, I believe, establishes itself among the aforementioned giants of the game world.

As its name indicates Ligretto Dice is a card game. Just testing. It’s a dice game. And a speed game. It is also a loud game. Imagine Yahtzee played by four people simultaneously, and everyone is racing to be done first.

There are 24 dice, 6 of each color (red, yellow, blue, green). These are evenly drawn from a cloth bag by the players (in a four player game, each player draws six). The object is to be the first to place all of your dice onto a game board that has 24 spaces, each space corresponding to the color and number of each face of the dice. For example: if you roll a green one, then you may place your die on that space. Spaces on each color must be filled sequentially so the green one must be filled by some player before another player can put a die on green two.

And it’s a game of speed so first come, first served. Someone took your spot? Try one of your other dice. Too slow again? Ohhhhh. So sorry. Better get rolling!!

If a player has nothing to play, the player must roll the remaining dice. If the player rolls any of the remaining dice the player must roll ALL of the remaining dice. No saving high numbers for later! The round ends when one player has placed all dice on the board. Each player starts the game with 100 points and points are deducted for each die left over at the end of the round. One point lost for each die. The round winner GAINS one point for each die that was not played.

Ligretto Dice is thunderous with four people. Dice crashing. Tumblers rumbling. Dice skittering across the table. Hands slapping. Hoots of triumph and growls of frustration. Lots of laughter. If there is silence it means someone just broke the bowl of chips in all the excitement. Maybe messy and loud, but always Major Fun.

Ligretto Dice game design by Inka and Markus Brand. © 2010 by Playroom Entertainment.

William Bain, Games Taster


Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 28-10-2010

Toppletree is another strategy game from Mindware that is deep enough to interest your mature thinker and yet enough of a toy to fascinate a 4-year-old.

As a dexterity game, the challenge is to try to fit all 72 pieces onto the base then on to each other without any of them falling off. As a strategy game, the object is to be the first to get 4 pieces of your color all in a row.

There are 4 sets of pieces, each in it’s own, bright color. There are 2 kinds of pieces – 12 of them are straight, 6 Y-shaped. The Y-shaped pieces are strategically the most interesting, and also cause the most trouble. As in tic-tac-toe, you succeed by giving yourself multiple ways to win.

Every Y-shaped piece gives you two possibilities. On the other hand, each branch on the Y-shaped piece creates an option that is a little more or less out of plumb, a little more or less likely to make the whole, increasingly unstable tree topple. Hence, the name of the game.

If the game is too difficult, and the tree keeps toppling before anyone can get four-in-a-row, then you make it the rule that the first player to get three-in-a-row wins. If it’s still too challenging, just take turns adding pieces – the first player to make the tree topple ending the game. If, because of the superior architectural skills of the players, it turns out to be too easy, then make for five- or even six-in-a-row. If there are only two players, and you think there’s still not enough action, have each player use two colors.

As much fun for two, three or four players, as much of a toy as a strategy game, Toppletree is a invitation to play for the whole family.

Toppletree was designed by Andrew Baker, of IQ Ideas, the same company that designed the Major Fun award-winning game MiQube.