Bop It Smash

Filed Under (Dexterity, Party Games, Tops for 2012) by Bernie DeKoven on 06-07-2012

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!

Filed Under (Dexterity, Keeper) by Bernie DeKoven on 17-06-2012

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

Filed Under (Dexterity, Kids Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 10-05-2012

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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

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Keeper, Kids Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 18-04-2012

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!

Rhino Hero

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games, Tops for 2012) by Bernie DeKoven on 18-02-2012

Rhino Hero is a kids’ game, unless they allow their parents to play. And then, when the kids are asleep, it’s party time.

It’s a direct descendant of playing house of cards. But it’s a game instead of an exercise in masochism. And an innovatively fun game it is.

Of the 59 cards, 31 of them are “roof cards” and 28 are wall cards. The wall cards are scored down the middle so they can fold. The cards are much thicker than playing cards, which you might consider innovation number one. The folding wall card, which, as you might expect, stands upright much more easily than a standard playing card, and is far easier to build on top of, is innovation number two – a much more significant innovation, especially in the eyes and hands of younger players. The wall cards are also illustrated, so that one side looks like the outside of a house, and the other, the inside. You could consider this innovation number three, as it adds a constructive fantasy element which playing cards lack. But it doesn’t actually affect the playing of the game.

The Roof Cards are most definitely significant, innovation-wise and game-play-wise. Hence, we shall consider them innovation number three and four. Number three because on every roof card is an outline determining where the wall cards are to be placed – there may be only one wall card in the middle, or two wall cards in a surprising variety of positions. Clearly, roof cards that call for only one wall card result in a far less stable construction and hence more tension-filled game. The fourth innovation comes from the foil-embossed symbols on each of the roof cards – symbols which add truly gamish mayhem, resulting in a) direction of play being reversed, or b) the next player skipping a turn, or c) the next player drawing a new roof card, or d) having to use two roof cards on the same turn, or e) or having to take the small wooden Rhino of purportedly super significance from wherever it is, and place it on that card, without, of course, knocking down any of the surrounding or supporting cards.

In the beginning of the game, each player is dealt a hand of roof cards. The first player to get rid of all her roof cards wins. This card-game-like aspect is what you might easily consider the fifth innovation in this innovatively fun game.

The overall design is so effective that you can disregard the rules entirely and still have a grand old time, either by yourself, or cooperatively with your friends and family. Or, you can follow the rules, and have an even grander time, filled with tension, surprises, laughter, and much hilariously sudden toppling.

Rhino Heroe is for 1 to 5 players, as young as five and for older folk of steady hand. A round takes maybe 15 minutes. Cleverly designed by Steven Strumpf and Scott Frisco, with fanciful art by Thies Schwarz. From Haba, available in the US from Maukilo. Not just fun, mind you, but Major Fun.

Bug Out

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 19-12-2011

So, it’s like this: there are two decks of cards, almost identical, except that one deck is square, the other round. And on each card, in each deck, there are John Kovalic’s gently humorous, cartoon-like drawings of bugs, each card a different bug, each bug in one deck having a corresponding bug in the other. Now, you’d think that matching a square card to an identical round card – one with exactly the same cartoon-like bug on precisely the same color background – would be mere child’s play. You’d, of course, be right. All except for the “mere” and the “child’s” parts.

Yes, yes, the game could easily be played by five-year-olds. The cards are just the right size for little hands. And, with a little patience, even littler hands. And, with a little more patience, big, clumsy-handed people as old as I am. Sure, there are only 36 different bugs to deal with, but as soon as the bug cards are all out on the table, and you find yourself frantically shuffling through your hand of square cards (the “leaf cards”) while everyone else is shuffling and scanning, covering the round cards (the “bug cards”) with the corresponding leaf cards, racing to be the first to get rid of all their cards – the challenge becomes vividly evident.

Bug Out is easy to learn (maybe 5 minutes) and very fast (easily less than 5 minutes). But you’re going to want to play it again and again. You can even keep score, if you’re that kind of player. Speaking of kinds of players, it’s true that Bug Out is as fun for little kids as it is for grown kids (sometimes known as “adults”), but when playing together, as a family, discrepancies in recognition and reaction time might prove to be a bit too unavoidable to keep everyone in play. However, as Gamestaster Erin was quick to point out, that can be easily ameliorated by adding a handicapping rule, like: the winning player gets extra cards the next round. Whether or not you decide to invent some kind of rule to keep everyone equally in play, it’s a good idea, as the designers are quick to note, to let the game continue until everyone has finished, just so all the players can experience something akin to satisfaction.

The designers and refiners (Brad Ross and the many wonderful folk at Out of the Box Games) also make a distinction between Bug Out and Big Bug Out. In the latter, the bug cards are placed on the floor. How widely the cards are spread out on said floor determines the amount of frenzied physicality you wish to engender. Needless to say, physical limitations and proclivities need to be taken into account. But the fun, o, the sheer, manic, major fun!


Knock Your Blocks Off

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

Growing up, I had small set of Lincoln Logs. Enough to make a small cabin or a tall, skinny watchtower. I’m sure I tried many of the suggested structures, but the resultant building was only a step in a process. You see, I wasn’t all that interested in the structure per se, because I knew that whatever architectural masterpiece I created would be situated at the terminal end of plastic race track that curved up a flight of stairs where the other end was held in place by a few volumes of Collier’s encyclopedia. Within the bumpers of this track, a heavy red fire engine perched at the edge of the stairs awaiting only a nudge from my sister to send it hurtling toward a satisfyingly violent collision with whatever I had been able to construct at the other end.

Construction toys are never more fun than when you blast them apart, a fact that is wonderfully exploited by Gamewright’s Knock Your Blocks Off.

In short, each player builds a wall to hold up a crown. Once the walls are built, players try to knock off their opponents’ crowns. You score points for successfully knocking off a crown or when an opponent FAILS to knock off your crown.

I could stop right there and the game would be pretty sweet. Matter of fact, that would define a large percentage of my childhood games. Knock Your Blocks Off gives each player 6 blocks of wood for the wall, one block of wood for the crown, and a special DESTRUCTION DIE! The DESTRUCTION DIE (I just like writing it in all caps…) is the weapon each player uses against the other walls and it tells you how you will attack the walls. When it is your turn to attack, roll the DESTRUCTION DIE and check the result: Boulder = flick the die at the wall; Ogre = underhand toss; Dragon = Drop the die from a great height.

Did I mention the special powers?

Oh yeah. I thought that might get the attention of the nine year old boy in you. There are six kinds of walls you can build and each has a special power. The Fort is immune to Boulders. The Gate gives you bonus points for a successful attack. I won’t reveal more, but suffice it to say that the strategy of wall construction runs much deeper than “My wall is strong!!”

Much much deeper. The first to finish building their wall gets to grab the DESTRUCTION DIE. So speed is of the essence. BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!! Each block is painted so that only certain edges can match up. When you build your wall, the edges of the blocks must match correctly or you don’t get your special power.

To recap: you need strength, you need speed, you need smarts, and you need strategery.

I could generally muster two of those four attributes which probably explains why I lost as much as I did; however the game rekindled that sense of glee I had with my tube of Lincoln Logs and my red Hot Wheels fire engine. The game is fast and easy to learn. The rules (in English and Spanish) fit on a slim accordion fold booklet.

Build it and break it. It’s Major Fun with seven blocks of wood and a colorful die. What more could you want?

2 – 4 players. Ages 8+

Knock Your Blocks Off  by Rebekah Bissell. © 2011 Gamewright.

Ladder Ball

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 16-08-2011

Were you, for several very good reasons, interested in playing a game of Ladder Ball, would you not prefer to be using the finest in Ladder Ball/Golf equipment?

I, General Fun himself, am a long-time fan of Ladder Golf/Ball, both in concept and practice. In practice, it is a lovely, gentle game, as inviting to children as it is to parents and grands. Tossing the bolas delights the eye, and is even more delightful when you watch them wrap around the rung of your choice. An underhand toss of modest enthusiasm is all that is required. Perhaps the most strenuous part of the game is picking up the bolas at the end of the round.

It is natural and convenient to adjust the challenge of the game to the players’ expertise. Place the ladders further apart or closer together, or, better yet, allow players to stand wherever they feel most like standing. Ladder Ball is a backyard game. You don’t hear about Ladder Ball tournaments or see people dressed in Ladder Ball uniforms. So it really doesn’t matter how you play it, or how good you are at it. What matters is the fun you’re having. And everything about the game reminds you that fun is what it’s for.

On the other hand, if you really appreciate the game, you want to be able to take it seriously. You want bolas that are tied together with just the right kind of cord – one that doesn’t tangle, that isn’t so long that it can wrap around anything vital, that doesn’t knot (unless you really want it to), that is firmly seated in both bola balls. And you want the balls to have just the right heft so that they travel as far as you think they should, and yet just the right firmness, so that they can bounce, if needed, and don’t hurt in case someone gets in their way.

And you want the ladders (optimally, two ladders so you don’t have to walk too far each time you want to start a new round) to be as sturdy as they are attractive. The plastic, or even wooden versions just don’t have the heft, the ability to withstand the force of the well-flung bola without so much as a wobble. But a metal version, with strong steel posts and enameled rungs held together by easily adjustable, comfortably turnable, carefully crafted fasteners – ah, and again, ah. Hefty, but still within the range of what one might describe as portable, in a convenient carrying bag. And, considering, quite modestly priced.

The Maranda Enterprises Metal Ladderball Game. Quality fun.

Connect 4 Launchers

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 31-07-2011

Connect 4 Launchers is a two-player, disc-flinging, two-level, three-version, four-in-a-row variation of Hasbro’s highly successful Connect 4 brand.

Each player has 21 lifesaver-like checkers, and a launcher. The game board requires minimal assembly – there are four pillars (made to look like stacks of checkers) and two transparent target boards. The target boards (which, at first, seem rather flimsy, but prove to be more than sturdy enough to withstand many rains of checkers) fit snugly into the notches at the top and bottom of the pillars.

The launchers are very sturdy, and work flawlessly. The lifesaver-like checkers rest securely on the top of the launcher. The forward part of the base of the launcher is angled so that you can more easily aim for the upper or lower target board. A slide on the base of the launcher allows you to keep score (should score need to be kept).

If you look at your entire collection of checkers, you will notice four different kinds of “power checkers.” Distinguished by the patterns on the inner ring, the powers of your power checkers will allow you to: 1) go again, 2) remove all the checkers from every space that is connected to that checker, 3) remove all the checkers in that row (horizontal or vertical), or 4) remove the checker in any one of the next to that in which it lands.

Now you know more than you need to play the first two variations, and all you need to play the last.

The first two are most appealing to the younger, and/or frenzy-seeking player. Both players launch checkers at the same time, and keeps launching until a) someone has managed to get four-in-a-row, or b) there are no more checkers to launch. This version is appropriately called “Basic Frantic Launch.”

Then there’s the second version, “Championship Frantic Launch.” This game is played very much like “Basic Frantic Launch,” and is most definitely equally frantic, but here, instead of the game being over when someone wins, you play a series of games, scoring each (this is where that scoring slide comes into play), and then playing the next. You get two points if you score in the top tray, and one for scoring in the bottom.

Finally, for the more strategically-minded, the “Advanced Power Launch.” There’s no franticity here. Instead, there’s turn-taking and something significantly akin to strategery. There’s most definitely an element of luck, no matter how strategic your intentions. But there’s also an equally strong feeling that you might very well have developed the control and aim and all the inherent affordances to get a checker to land exactly where you think it should be. And then there are the power checkers, which, depending on their power, can wreak significant havoc on your opponent’s planfulness. And also an interesting wrinkle where the player who has the majority of checkers in any space gets to claim that as her own, whilst should there be an equal amount, the space belongs to neither.

The rules are easy to learn and very well-written, covering every possible gameplay event (what happens if your checker completely misses the trays, or if you have no checkers but the other player still has his, or if a checker lands in a tray, but not in a space.

And, yes, of course, you can play as teams, passing the launcher back and forth, adding significantly to the sense of inner- and inter-team franticity.

All in all, Connect 4 Launchers offers a surprisingly wide range of opportunities for merry mayhem. It is very easy to learn how to play, easy to build and store, the games are short and engaging, the range of variations creating a game that’s rich enough to play again and again. It appeals equally to the 5-year-old, elder siblings and the playfully-minded parent. Major Fun for the whole family.



LEGO Champion

Filed Under (Creative, Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 11-07-2011

LEGO is an elemental media of play: stick, ball, box, and LEGO. It is impossible for me to think about my childhood without LEGO present. Colorful blocks. An ingenious locking mechanism. Simple pieces that can be combined into vast worlds. I am constantly amazed with the ways children can expand on the idea. I am also impressed with how the designers at LEGO suggest new and engaging ways for children and adults to think about this toy.

LEGO Champion adds another magnificent, Major Fun title to the company’s growing catalogue of board games AND it succeeds by utilizing the most basic piece of the LEGO universe: the 2×4 block.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed when I see all the different pieces that comprise the LEGO universe. Many are highly specialized pieces that were created for the themed sets. LEGO Champion eschews the custom pieces and delights the competitors with challenges that are based on only simple blocks. The game consists of a simple, rectangular game board; 8 LEGO people (each a different color); a LEGO Dice; and lots of 2×4 blocks (matching the colors of the LEGO people). The playing board must be constructed but it is very simple and clear instructions are included. Preparing the game for the first time didn’t take more than a few minutes.

Play moves clockwise. On his or her turn, each player rolls the LEGO Dice. Each face of the die is a solid color (red, yellow, purple, blue, orange, and green) that represents a type of challenge. When a color is rolled, that color of brick is placed on the game board, the player advances to that color, and a challenge ensues.

  • If green is rolled, JUMP AHEAD.  The player simply advances to a green block and stops.
  • If red is rolled, the game is ON TARGET. The LEGO Dice is placed on the table and each player throws one LEGO brick at it. Closest wins.
  • Blue is CODEBREAKER. The roller puts three blocks together and the other players have to guess the order by asking only yes or no questions.
  • BLUFFING BRICKS is on orange. Every player grabs three bricks WITHOUT looking at them. Players bid on how many of one color are held in the hands.
  • Yellow TOPPLE TOWER was a big favorite. The roller places one brick on the table. The next person must snap together 2 bricks and balance them on the first. Play continues with each person snapping together one more block than the person before.
  • But purple SPEED BUILDER stole the show. The roller creates a sculpture of 8 bricks (one of each color) while the other players close their eyes. When the sculpture is revealed, the other players race to be the first to copy the creation.

The game is wonderfully customizable and the directions (oh those elegant, well-organized directions!!) encourage players to make up new challenges. The LEGO Dice can be modified in many ways—the game comes with four other faces that can be swapped onto the die (the bowling challenge was a blast). We were coming up with all sorts of games and variations as we played. Some of ours might turn out to be duds, but LEGO provides so many Major Fun examples that given a little time, families and friends will begin to accumulate their own personal favorites.

LEGO Champion really takes me back to what makes LEGO so vital and fun in the first place. It’s the same principle that often makes the box more fun than the toy in which it was wrapped. People want to play, and all they need are a few versatile pieces and some suggestions. Once they get going, the fun endures and grows.

LEGO Champion was designed by Cephas Howard and Jesper Nielsen. It is © 2011 by LEGO.