Don’t Rock the Boat!

Filed Under (Dexterity, Kids Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 04-12-2012

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.


Filed Under (Creative, Dexterity, Family Games, Puzzles, Toys) by Bernie DeKoven on 09-09-2012

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

Filed Under (Dexterity, Kids Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 22-07-2012

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

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.