Squaremino

Squaremino       Frost & Frost |  BGG  | Buy

Publisher: Frost & Frost
2-4 players  15 min. ages 6+  MSRP $28.95

text-the concept

Squaremino is a clever and strategic twist on the tile laying classic. The goal remains the same, however: be the first to play all of your tiles to win.

text-the components

There are 64 square domino tiles in the game. Each one measure s1 1/8” on each side is 3/8” thick. They are made from a nicely weighted material which gives each tile just the right heft. It’s a pleasure just to hold and fiddle with your tiles as you’re setting up and playing.

The 64 tiles are divided into 4 colored suits: red, blue, yellow, and green. Each suit has 16 tiles numbered 1 through 4. So there are four of each number within a suit. Keep in mind, unlike a conventional domino, each tile only has a single number instead of two.

To play, you spread out all the tiles face down and each player draws 12 tiles as a starting hand. The tiles are thick enough to stand on their own, so it’s easy set your hand up in a line.

Like most domino games, you’ll need room for several lines of tiles as the game goes on, so make sure to leave plenty of room in the middle of the table to play. Push the unused dominoes to the side as a draw pile and you’re ready to go!

text-the mechanics

Each player will take turns playing 2,3 or 4 tiles to create a shared board – lines of tiles extending vertically and horizontally, crossword style.

There are two simple rules for playing tiles.

The set of tiles you play must be consecutive numbers in the same color

OR

The set of tiles you play must be the same number but different colors.

So, a 1-2-3 in blue would be legal. So 4-4-4 provided that each 4 was a different color.

There are a few no-no’s in the game.

You can never play a single tile. And you can never play more than four tiles at once or extend a line of tiles past four.

The tiles played must be in a straight line. And the tiles played cannot create a square of tiles on the board.

If you cannot or do not want to play, you draw an extra tile from the face down pile and add it to your hand.

The first player to get rid of all his or her tiles wins the game.

text-apart

Many times a Major Fun game will be a champion of innovation. It will offer up an experience that is totally new and very different from other games.

In the case of Squaremino, what makes it noteworthy is its decision to not stray too far from the comfort zone of the classic on which it is based.

There are certainly new strategies that are very different from the classic. This is not a game of matching numbers. You’re playing either a sequence or a set to build the board.

And the game does offer a bonus for completing a row of four tiles. Each time you do this you have the option to turn in a tile and draw a replacement. Setting yourself up for these bonuses and also keeping your opponents from them is key.

What makes Squaremino special and noteworthy, though, is that it resists the urge to reinvent the wheel. It would have been very easy to add several additional layers of complexity to the game, bonuses for longer runs or making certain shapes within the layout of the board. But I’m certain this would not make the game better.

Sometimes the key to fun is knowing when to stop. Knowing what not to ad,. Perhaps it’s like negative space in painting. The things that are not there help give art shape as much as the things that are.

text-final

The structure of the game is one any domino player will recognize. And though it borrows some of its inspiration from games like Qwirkle (another Major Fun winner), Squaremino feels familia and comfortable. Like a favorite sweater or perfectly broken in old pair of shoes.

Its so familiar, in fact, many may even think they have played before because it stays true to the soul of the classic. It celebrates its heritage but finds a way to stand on its own.

That’s a fine line and a fun line for any Major Fun game to walk.

Whether you’re learning for the first time or the pips on your set of double twelves have worn off, Squaremino is a game almost anyone will find hours of fun playing.

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.

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