Candygrams

Candygrams       Official Site |  BGG  | Buy

Publisher: Johnny Landers P: Candygrams LLC
2-4 players  15-20 min. ages 7+  MSRP $25

text-the concept

Candygrams is a colorful crossword game that offers some fun and challenging twists to a traditional word game. Use letter tiles to create (and recreate) your own grid of words to win the game.

text-the components

Candygrams comes with 111 really nice letter tiles. Each tile has a nice thickness and heft and is screen printed in one of three bright colors: pink, yellow and blue.

The game also comes with two large six sided dice. These dice have colored faces that match the colors of the tiles: 2 yellow, 2 pink and a 2 blue sides.

To play, mix up the tiles face down and each player draws 25 tiles to his or her hand (called the candy shop). Set 10 extra tiles face up in the middle. This is the Candy Jar. Now we’re ready to begin!

text-the mechanics

Well, almost ready! The first thing each player will do is create a starting word for his or her own personal crossword layout. Over the course of the game, you’ll build from the base word up and down and across to form new words with new tiles. You will create your own personal free-form board.

The only rule with this starting word? It has to contain at least one of each different color tile.

Once everyone has a base word, the first round begins with someone rolling the dice.

Once the dice are rolled everyone plays together using the result of the dice. The colors rolled on the dice tell you which dice can be used to make words this round. If I roll pink and blue, this means those are the only color letters I can use. Yellow has to sit this one out.

This color rule applies to the letters you build off of on your crossword board. Using the example above, you have to build your new word off a blue or pink letter. You can add onto an existing word, branch off in a new direction, even create multiple words as long as all the tiles are played in a single line horizontally or vertically. But in each case this pesky color rule still applies.

The goal of the game is to play all 25 tiles first, so the longer the word you build each turn, the closer you are to victory. No scoring, no points. Just get all the tiles from your candy shop to your board.

text-apart

The color restrictions provided by the dice deserve some real love here. Instead of one rack of letter tiles, you really have Six different racks of tiles depending on how the dice come up. Blue – Pink, Blue- Yellow, Yellow – Pink involved two colors BUT it is also possible to roll doubles! So you may have a turn where you can only play just blue, pink or yellow!

On one hand, this may severely limit your options, depending on the mix of tiles in your candy shop. BUT whenever doubles are rolled, you can swap one tile from your hand with a tile in the Candy Jar. This means, as the dice come up with doubles you can slowly shift your hand away from troublesome letters

As the game moves on, you may find a great word (or words) that use a ton of tiles but if the color dice dont cooperate, you may have to bide your time and hold onto those letters, hoping the right roll will come next round. A different kind of randomness. Not the randomness of drawing a bad rack of tiles. But randomness that requires patience and planning. You dont know how the dice will come up, so there’s an element of hand management in play throughout the game.If you do not try to keep a bit of balance in your candy shop, you may find yourself with a a mix of tiles you know wont blend together. If you dont take this into account, you’ll find yourself with a mix of tiles that wont blend together nicely into words and have to pass, waiting for doubles so you can swap out a tile.

It’s not just what tiles you play but when you play them that matters!

Even where you play them matters! And this is what really sets Candygrams apart.

When you go to form your word each round, you have access to any tiles already on the board and played to your layout provided that removing them from the layout doesnt split the board and that all the words in your crossword are, well, still words! You cant take a tile and leave a string of gibberish!

This means that if you are clever about WHERE you play your tiles to the board, you still have access to them on later rounds. Using prefixes or suffixes that can be peeled off and have a word remain valid may give you many more options. And the number of options you keep open comes down to how cleverly you can build your words and your board.

Here, I used the S from tonics (above) later in the game to make the word suds (below). Since tonic (singular) is still a valid word, I can peel off the S and use it again.

Using dice to create a new challenge each round and allowing players to use tiles already in play make decisions in Candygrams fun and different than most other word games.

text-final

Whenever we begin a discussion about word games, we have to address the 800 pound gorilla in the room: Scrabble. Since 1937, it has dominated and continues to dominate the market. And for good reason. It’s an excellent game! That said, it has so thoroughly dominated the landscape and for such a long time, it is almost impossible to imagine a word game that isn’t built from a foundation that starts with Scrabble. Can you think of many words games today that you wouldnt start by saying “It’s like Scrabble, but….?” It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy! I’m no Scrabble hater at all but its success has has a collective effect on how we imagine word games. Scrabble has provided the boundaries and that means we end up with a LOT of games that are just way too similar to the original.

Enter Candygrams. Yes, you can definitely see it has a Scrabblicious foundation. BUT let’s try the exercise I suggested above.

It’s like Scrabble…

but you have dice

and the dice tell you what tiles you can use

and the dice tell you when you can swap tiles

and you build words on your own board

and you can use tiles already played to the board

and you ‘re not playing for points

So, it’s not one difference. It’s many! This is no tweak. It may have started in the Scrabble chorus, but Candygrams has a clear voice – a voice that stands out from the crowd.

The last thing I want is for my praise of these subtleties to make Candygrams seem too complex. It’s truest strength lies in its simplicity.

The game really is roll dice, build words from the colors rolled. Use all your tiles to win and reuse tiles already played, if you’re clever.

Young players can play on one level and word nerds can appreciate it on another. But the magic is both groups could enjoy playing together

That makes Candygrams a delight and most surely a delicious helping of Major Fun!

***

Bonk

Bonk   Official Site  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: David Harvey 
Publisher: Competo , Marektoy
2-4 players  10 min. ages 8+  MSRP $60

text-the concept

Bonk is a fast paced game of dexterity and daring feats of physics. Using a rotating wooden slide and a few little metal balls, your team’s goal is to knock a wooden ball from its perch in the center of the board into the opposing team’s goal.

text-the components

Bonk feels like a pub game from a bygone era. The game itself is a beautiful wooden box with four angled areas marked with wooden barriers. Two angled areas at each end point toward a goal, which is a gap containing a small wooden ‘nose’ a small arrow shaped block that will guide the scoring ball to the edge of the board.

Each angled area has a hole in the board. This hole is for the large wooden slide each player will use to play the game. The slides are tall and black and remind me of a part of a roller coaster, the part where you are just coming down the hill and screaming your head off. They also remind me of the big water slides or blanket slides you see at county fairs. The slide has a groove for the metal balls to whizz down and onto the board. The base of the slide is round and there’s a peg that you’ll place into the hole in one of the angled areas so that you can rotate the slide in all directions.

There are 12 metal balls, 6 for each team and one larger wooden ball, the ball you’ll try to hit during the game.

text-the mechanics

Bonk is played over a series of rounds. Each round, you and your teammate slide metal balls down your wooden slides attempting to knock a wooden ball into the goal on the other side of the board. When one team scores, you get a point and reset. The first team to five wins.

To begin, everyone high fives and all balls are left on the edge of the board. Once the high fives are done (some might want to shout BONK !) then the mayhem begins !

Pick up a ball, place it at the top of your slide, rotate your slide to aim, and whoosh let the ball roll down and into play. Hopefully it will knock into the ball but very often you will miss, so it’s lather rinse and repeat. The problem is you have a very limited number of balls, so if you go for the rapid fire approach, you may end up giving all the balls to the other team. If you go to slow, you may lose before you have your first shot lined up. Each round is a bit of glorious controlled chaos that is the essence of silly fun. You might be laughing too much or watching the ball bounce around and even forget to keep shooting.

text-apart

The sheer novelty and creativity of Bonk certainly sets it apart from most games. Not often you get to hone your skills at rolling balls down a slide hoping to nail a target and make it move.

But that’s just the start. There’s one element I have forgotten to mention.

The wooden game board, the playing surface itself is not flat ! It is curved, meaning the board is basically a small hill. The crest of the hill is the center of the board (where the wooden ball starts) so t he board slowly slopes downward toward each team’s goal.

This means the wooden ball just needs the slightest nudge to start rolling downhill toward a goal and the angled beams that defined each players slide area serve a second purpose, they will guide the ball down toward the goal like a funnel.

You might think this means the first team to even touch the ball will score. Not so ! The board is big enough that you have time to react at least once or twice unless the shot has perfect aim.

Bonk is definitely a game where the more your practice and play with the slides, the better you get and the more you’ll see the potential for crazy angled shots.

Without the time pressure the curved board provides, a game round in Bonk could drag on with players chasing the ball from corner to corner without scoring. With the curved board and angled beams toward the goal, each round is a frenzy of activity leaving you wanting to set up and try again.

text-final

Bonk is engaging. Just seeing it on a table makes you want to play.

It just looks fun! And it delivers on that promise again and again.

There’s no barrier to entry with Bonk. Anyone can play. And that unlocks a special kind of fun you can share with everyone. And there certainly are not enough great games that do this.

Just sit down and give it a go. Whether or not you knock the ball around on your first try or your fifteenth, just the act of sending the balls down the slide is reward enough to make you want to keep playing.

This makes Bonk Major Fun of the highest and simplest order. Fun you can share with anyone, any time. The only winning that really matters with Bonk is that you play. You win any time you play, whether you ever score a point.

***

Hexa-Trex

A few months ago, I wrote about some wonderful puzzles from Think Fun. I received the following comment from Bogusia Gierus. She wrote:

“I happened upon your blog recently, and had fun reading it and enjoyed doing some of the puzzles you suggested. I wanted to introduce you to a puzzle I have developed. It’s called: Hexa-Trex. It’s a math puzzle, but doesn’t require extreme knowledge of mathematics to have fun with it – only basic arithmetic is essential. The object of the puzzle is to find an pathway through all the hexagonal tiles that creates a valid math equation. It’s a simple concept, but is challenging and fun for the ‘puzzle’ type of person. If you wish, check out the puzzles on my website, I try to post a new puzzle each day.”

A few months later, she sent me a copy of her new book of Hexa-Trex puzzles. And it seemed pretty clear to me that it was time to let you know about this – about a teacher who has such a love for kids and learning and, most significantly, such a deep appreciation for the fun, the inherent fun that learning is all about. And about these gifts: the free, online treasury of Hexa-Trex puzzles, and this most puzzling, innovative little book of good, hard, fun – with numbers, even.

Dots Amazing!

You need a real artist to take a simple children’s puzzle, like Connect-the-Dots, and transform it into something worthy of mature, adult-worthy consideration. A real artist.

And that’s just what David Kalvitis is, an artist. And that’s just what he’s accomplished with his many Dot-to-Dot books.

Let me give you a few examples.

Stars puzzles: You start at number 1, as you would expect, and continue connecting dots in order until you come to a star. Then you have to look for the next number, which could be anywhere else in the puzzle, and continue from that number to the next star. And on and on, number-to-number-to-star. Jumping around from place to place on the puzzle, you really have no idea what you’re drawing, sometimes until the very last star.

Arrows: You see this big field of arrows – no dots at all. Just arrows. So there’s absolutely no visual hints about what the puzzle is about. You look for a circled arrow and start there, following where it points until you come to another arrow, and you take off in that direction. Of course, if you make a mistake, just one, small, easily explicable error, you soon find youself wandering realms of graphic chaos. Which is why, despite Kalvatis’ heartfelt recommendations that all his puzzles be done with a marker, we find ourselves frequently recommending a soft pencil with a very good eraser.

Compass: Here, you get nothing but an array of dots with a few symbols sprinkled in hither and yon. You look for a star and, then read the directions printed above the puzzle. And I do mean directions. Like, from the star, go: N (North(, and then Wx2 (two dots west), and then SWx2, and then on and on and on, and if you do it exactly right, you’ll end up at an A. And then, from the A, you start on the next line of instructions….

For an elementary school teacher, the different puzzle types involve skills that are closely tied to the mathematics curriculum. For the rest of us, they are an invitation to return to a deeply satisfying, often remarkably peaceful pastime.

These are but three of the innovative, challenging and inviting variations of connect-the-dots Kalvitis has created for us. And, if you’re a social puzzler, it turns out that many of them can be solved cooperatively – especially the big puzzles, or puzzles like the Star puzzles that you solve in segments.

There are five volumes of the “Greatest Dot-to-Dot” series, so far. The first four are a great introduction to the wide variety of puzzle types. The fifth volume is most appropriately called “Super Challenge,” where you’ll find puzzles that span two pages and hundreds and hundreds of dots. There are also four volumes of Kalvitis’ Newspaper Dot-to-Dot puzzles – smaller, but every bit as innovative.

Each puzzle is a work of art in its own right. When you complete a puzzle, you are rewarded with images that are themselves often surprisingly vivid, sometimes rich in detail, sometimes spare and subtle. Often drawn in perspective. Never stiff. Never blocky. Always surprising.

Chew by Numbers

Chew by Numbers. Really. Kind of like paint-by-numbers, as you might have surmised, only with an artistically chosen array of differently colored chewing gum, as you might also have surmised. From the remarkable palette, as it were, of Jamie Marraccini, author of the amazing GumArt website, within which you will find a veritable gallery of chewed-over pictures and sculptures of feats of dental prowess requiring as many as 3177 pieces of gum.

The Chew by Numbers kits are elegant in their simplicity – a blister pack containing a board upon which is printed a chew-by-numbers pattern, and a selection of bubble gum pieces. Perhaps not the kind of gift dentists or even fairly aware parents might purchase for their children, and yet, how can one resist? As the artist himself writes: “I’ve now come to the realization that the gum justifies the art. The fun is in the chewing and the art is an expression of the fun. Just remember, gum is not chewed for health or sustenance. People chew gum for pleasure. It is in that spirit that GumArt exists, and I am a spreader of gum.”

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