Rhino Hero – a Keeper!

Filed Under (Family Games, Keeper, Kids Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 30-04-2012

As with all games that receive the Keeper award, Rhino Hero has already been singled out as Major Fun. Read the review to find out why. Now to explain why it is a Keeper.

Before you read the rules, look at the picture. Then, get together with the child of your choice and together and use the Rhino Hero cards to build the highest tower you possibly can before everything falls down due to your local cat or stray child or breeze. Now, we don’t have to explain why Rhino Hero is Keeper.

Maybe for a next step, you can draw your collective attention to the two different kinds of cards: there are the folding cards (the wall cards) and the non-folding (the roof cards). If you look at the roof cards, you’ll notice that on one side of each card there are lines, a bit like the lines you’d find in an architect’s drawing. So, just to make the building part a little more challenging, see if you can make the wall cards fit the lines.  Maybe spread all the roof cards on the table, plan-side-up, and take just the card that you think would be easiest, or most interesting. See if you can use all the cards, or estimate how many cards will be left over when the tower falls. You can take turns if you want.

And then, maybe, read the rules. And learn about what those beautifully foil-stamped symbols mean. And what you are supposed to do with the Rhino. And then discover that there are, in deed, strategic implications, adding to the challenge, and the fun. And then play again. And again.

Rhino Hero is as much fun to play with as it is to play. That’s why we call it a Keeper.

Dancing Eggs earns Keeper award

Filed Under (Keeper) by Bernie DeKoven on 29-04-2012

From the first time we played Dancing Eggs, we knew there was something truly noteworthy about the game. The design (it comes in an egg carton, for goodness sake!), the durability, the hilarity, the ease of learning, the elegance of the rules – all signs of a game that we’d want to play again and again.

As with most games that eventually receive our Keepers award, the design is so elegant, and the play value so rich, that the game can be easily adapted to the abilities of the players. Adults can play with kids because we can make different rules for the adults (adults don’t run, they shuffle) so that they can play safely and fairly. If someone can’t run at all, then maybe all they have to do is say the alphabet backwards while everyone else is running to get back to their place in the circle. If the penalty for dropping an egg seems too harsh for a five-year-old, maybe all she has to do is stop long enough to get all the eggs back into position, and then the game just goes on, and on.

It’s a funny game. We all get a little, well, ridiculous, silly even, just in playing it. So we don’t really need to take it seriously. And we can play together, with anyone.

The components are exceptionally sturdy (the hard rubber eggs, the one wooden egg, the large wooden dice), and will most definitely outlast the egg carton container. And egg cartons are very easy to replace.

Durability, simplicity, flexibility, easy to learn, fun to play again and again, with different people of different ages and skills. A Keeper, if ever there was one.

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!

Travel Qwirkle

Filed Under (Family Games, Keeper, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 10-04-2012

The Major Fun Keeper award-winning Qwirkle is now available in a handy travel-size carry-everywhere version. Everything we loved about the original game is still the same. Even the tiles are still made of wood. They’re smaller (3/4-inch), but stand just as easily, and the smaller size makes it the game something you can play on a restaurant table or the empty seat of a nearby chair.

The zipper case is very attractive. And the travel version sells for $10 less than the original.

Life is good.

Say Anything, Family Edition

Filed Under (Family Games, Keeper, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 19-02-2012

As you indubitably recall, Say Anything received not only the Major Fun award, but the extra special, invaluably honorific Major Fun Keeper award.

Now that Say Anything is available in its long-awaited Family Edition, one would naturally wonder if it could possibly be as award-worthy as the original. Does the new collection of family-appropriate question cards make it not only more child-appropriate (eight and up) but equally as adult-alluring?

After exhaustive Tasting (exhausting also – mostly from laughter), we are pleased to announce that it is our very considered opinion that Say Anything Family Edition is in every way as much of a Keeper as the original version. We were especially amused to discover that adults could play the family edition, and, with little prompting, interpret these carefully crafted child-appropriate questions with as salacious of insinuations as the most adult-classified adult or even teen-ager.

Major Fun, indeed, for kids, families, adults, around the dinner table, at a party, wherever fun is welcome.

Pajaggle redux

Filed Under (Family Games, Keeper, Puzzles) by Bernie DeKoven on 23-01-2012

You’d think that there’d be nothing more to say about Pajaggle, the already Keeper-award receiving puzzle game that has never left our living room. You’d think that the designers of Pajaggles would rest on their well-deserved Pajjagly laurels, and go on to make whole new games.

Well, what would you think if you learned that they have managed to make Pajaggle a better game than it already was?

How, you might wonder, is that possible?

By changing, subtly, but drastically, the design, not of the puzzle itself, but of the presentation.

Pajaggle, which formerly came to us in a lovely drawstring bag, now comes in a far more functional plastic box, the lid of which is the board for the game itself. And this lid/board is also different. The back of it is flexible – just flexible enough so that, should the need be dire enough, you can pop out any misplaced Pajaggle piece (a Pajiggle) without having to resort to using the new and improved Pajiggle piece-popping tool.

Being able to store the pieces and rules and timer and piece bag all in the remarkably functional box is part of the gift that this new Pajaggle presentation has to offer. It makes the award-winning puzzle/game it far more portable, because, instead of having to carefully place all the pieces on a drop cloth, you can keep the pieces in the box while you’re playing. Even when you’re not the only one playing. And with consummate ease, throw them back in the box when you’re finished.

Another minor change: the Pajaggle pieces now are outlined with raised ridges. They are also textured on one side. They are otherwise exactly the same as the original pieces. The ridges make the game easier for partially sighted people. The textured side invites people to play some of the two-set variations, using only one set.

We do recommend that you consider purchasing at least one additional set of pieces. There are more games to play. Extra sets are available for a most reasonable price. And there’s room enough in the box to house them with ease.

Reverse Charades is a Keeper!

Filed Under (Keeper, Tops for 2011) by Will Bain on 20-11-2011

Small variations can have big, and often unexpected, consequences. Some patterns, when repeated across various scales and intervals, produce surprising results. Seemingly simple equations can produce strange and unpredictable fractal images as results are graphed onto two and three dimensions. This is one of the central tenants of chaos theory, that branch of mathematics that brought us the globular Mandelbrot Set. It’s also an idea that is warmly embraced by Major Fun.

And Reverse Charades.

In short: Reverse Charades plays like the traditional game of charades but instead of one person acting and the rest of the team guessing, one person is guessing while the rest of the team is performing. That’s it. Team act. Individual guess. Reverse Charades.

Let’s flash back to the words of General Fun (ret.):

Reverse Charades demonstrates the kind of reversal that we most like to see in games. In your traditional, non-reverse charades, one player has to do all the performing, all alone. This puts anyone even remotely shy or self-conscious in a potentially embarrassing position, and, sadly, some people find that person’s discomfort emblematic of the fun of non-reverse charades.  In Reverse Charades, no one is embarrassed, because everyone is acting silly together. And yes, there is a certain chaos. And yes, it’s the very kind of chaos [that] makes the fun major.

And once people start playing charades in this manner, they don’t tend to go back. The team aspect of the game pulls almost everyone in. And there is little if any dead time. In traditional charades a single actor could get stuck if he or she is unfamiliar with the topic. This leads to that awkward exchange in which the actor shrugs and giggles while the team of guessers stares blankly as they wait for some kind of clue. With a team of actors, SOMEONE has an idea and once that person gets going, everyone else can find something to add.

It also becomes obvious that the laughs generated by charades are multiplied in Reverse Charades. You think one person acting out “banana split” is funny in charades? Watch 4 or 5 or 6 people do it here. My favorite one, hands down, the one that still makes me chuckle right now (months after the fact) is “urinal.” One person acting it out is funny but 5 people acting out a men’s room complete with dividers is forever seared into my ventromedial frontal lobe.

That’s the brain’s humor center. Never mind…

Reverse Charades has achieved Keeper! status not just because it is a clever twist on an already popular party game. It is clever. It is also elegantly and beautifully packaged. It comes supported by a great website AND there are handy apps for your mobile devices that let you take the joy of Reverse Charades anywhere those ubiquitous little devices can go. But more than anything, you’ll just want this game to go with you. It’s Major Fun and once you have it, you won’t willingly give it up. Your friends can play at your house or they can ask you nicely to bring it over, but it’s not leaving your sight.

6 or more players of any age. Seriously. Any age. If they can’t talk, then you can use them as a prop.

Game design by Bryce and Scott Porter, with artistic design by Dave Regnier. The most recent edition of Reverse Charades comes with 360 double-sided word cards,  a 60-second sand timer, and very simple, inviting instructions. © 2010 RETROPlay.

Shake ‘n Take is a Keeper!!

Filed Under (Keeper, Tops for 2011) by Will Bain on 06-10-2011

There are some games that redefine the way a family or social group gather and interact. A great game like Shake ‘n Take, introduced at the right time, will (pardon the pun) shake things up. After we played this game the first time, there has rarely been a gathering that goes by in which someone does not ask if we have time for Shake ‘n Take. For all the adrenaline junkies in my social cadre, there is no better fix than a game that boils down to circling pictures on a dry-erase board.

To recap: you have a card with 70 aliens. You must be the first to circle them all. You roll a die to find out which shape to circle and all the while your neighbor is frantically shaking another die until an alien head pops up. When the alien appears, your neighbor snatches the marker from your hand without so much as a “Thanks for the probe!” and starts to circle his or her aliens.

With all the rattling, rolling, circling, and snatching the game produces a truly disorienting level of chaos. Fun chaos. Any game in which someone can fall off their chair trying to hold on to their pen in order to circle one more alien is a game worth keeping. Especially when there is no time to do anything more but get back up, choke back the gales of laughter, and scream at the person with the alien shaker to “Hurry UP!! I need the pen!!”

Sure, there’s a lot of luck that directs the flow of the game, but pattern recognition is important as is a clear strategy for keeping track of the alien shapes. There is enough skill that when you have the pen, you can make the most out of your time, even if you don’t know how long it will be.

What also impresses me about the game is how engaging it is even for the players who do not have anything to do. Shake ‘n Take excels where so many other games get bogged down because the players who are not actively shaking or circling are gripped with such a fierce anticipation. You never know when it will be your turn, and you have to be constantly vigilant. Constantly ready. Shake ‘n Take maintains a high level of urgency for everyone, and as everyone gets down to those last few aliens, the stakes (and the noise) increase.

I might not be able to keep the alien-shaped pen in my hand for very long, but this is one game that I will keep no matter where I get beamed.

Shake ‘n Take concept by Keith Meyers. Illustration and graphics by John Kovalic and Cathleen Quinn-Kinney. © 2010 Out of the Box Publishing.

Dragon Face is a Keeper!!

Filed Under (Keeper, Tops for 2011) by Will Bain on 02-10-2011

When it comes to Dragon Face, I don’t think there is much praise that can top the fact that over the past several months the nuances of this game have yet to get old. If anything, they continue to multiply. There are no sure-fire strategies. This means that there are multiple levels of play. There are subtleties that you can explore over multiple games. There are layers of choices that you will need to navigate with each new opponent.

Dragon Face is an elegant, robust strategy game, and although it is not laugh-a-nano-second fun like many of our Major Fun party games, it is deeply engaging in the way that only the best strategy games can be. This is fun for the chess set, and for those of you who have not succumbed to that particular addiction, Dragon Face may be your gateway drug.

The game is arranged on a grid that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has ever played checkers or chess. The pieces are double sided discs that resemble checker pieces but with three distinct designs. Each player has seven governors, six ambassadors, and one emperor. Governors move and attack like pawns in chess, governors move like queens, and the emperor moves like the chess king. Unlike chess, captured opponents are not removed from the board. When you capture an opponent’s piece, you jump over it (like in checkers), and that piece is flipped over to become one of your pieces. There is a ring of spaces around the playing field called the “sacrifice zone.” You may jump into this space to capture an opponent’s piece BUT your piece is stuck in the sacrifice zone. Sacrificed ambassadors can be freed if you advance a governor to the opposite end of the board.

The mechanics of flipping and sacrificing make for nerve-wracking games. A single capture can swing the momentum of a game because you can gain pieces that your opponent had not considered in a defense strategy. The sacrifice zone also makes the “edge” of the board dangerous. There are few safe zones; over-extending is a grave error.

If you are going to receive this game from me it will be as a shrink-wrapped gift, fresh from some retail establishment OR you are the one lucky person to whom I bequeathed my copy upon my death. There will be no lending of this keeper, and theft will unleash the hounds of hell.

2 players. Ages 8+

Dragon Face designed by Thierry Denoul. © 2011 by Blue Orange Games.

Pajaggle is a Keeper

Filed Under (Family Games, Keeper, Kids Games, Party Games, Puzzles, Tops for 2011) by Bernie DeKoven on 27-03-2011

Remember the kids’ game called Perfection? That, in a very far-fetched way, is Pajaggle. Only not.

Pajaggle is far more fetching. And it’s not just for kids. It is a precision made, laser-cut, acrylic puzzle/game. The pieces look a little like gears – very fine-toothed gears, some round-toothed, some very, very pointy. Some larger, some smaller, some with other pieces inside. There are a total of 61 pieces, no two of which are alike. The challenge – fit the pieces into their corresponding sockets. Which reminds you, correctly but vaguely, of that round-peg, square-hole thing.

Eventually, of course, almost anybody can solve a Pajaggle. It’s not that kind of puzzle. It’s the kind of puzzle you time yourself solving. Which explains the precision electronic timer included in every set. The more you Pajaggle, the less time it takes. It’s an oddly informative fun to watch yourself improve – not that it means anything about you or your skills at anything (unless you work on an assembly line) – but that you can actually see yourself learn and experience yourself having fun doing it. And when you Pajaggle with others (a few others, even one other), you can learn how much better you can do, and how much fun it can be to Pajaggle together.

Pajaggle is “museum priced” [deservedly so: all that beautifully hand-made, laser-cut acrylic; the added niceties like the timer, the "Pajaggle Throw," the backpackable bag for the board, the bag for the pieces; the "Pajiggler" rod for dislodging Pajiggles, and, of course, all those games].

“Pajaggle Throw?” you ask, wonderingly. Part of the art of Pajaggling requires that you begin with an empty board. To empty the board, without losing any of the pieces, is somewhat of an art in itself. You take your Pajaggle Throw, wrap the board in it, turn the board upside down so as to rest it on the drop cloth, lift the board, and behold, the majority of the pieces are now perfectly dislodged. For the few that aren’t, there’s your handy dePajaggling rod (Pajiggler) which fits in the conveniently provided holes in each of the sockets – also handy for removing Pajiggles (incorrectly placed Pajaggles).

There’s only one way to solve Pajaggle. But there are apparently endless ways to play with it. You can time yourself. You can time you and someone else or maybe two or three someone else’s all playing together. You can compete, giving each player an equal amount of pieces and seeing who can get rid of theirs first. All with only one Pajaggle board.

Which makes it as fun as a solitaire game as a family game as a party game.

Ultimately, however, you’re going to have to accept the truth that the more boards you have, the more games you can play or invent, and the more people you can involve. Reverse Chaos, for example, can be played with teams of maybe two or three players playing on maybe two or three or four boards, all at the same time. You put the boards in the center of the table, and the pieces in front of each team. Anybody can put any piece wherever it fits, despite what board it fits into. The object is to be the first team to use up all your pieces. You can get very competitive, or you can forget the competition all together and go for a new world record.

Designed by the Pajaggle Team, the puzzle/game is as lovely to display as it is to fun to play. When you’re finished playing, put a solved Pajaggle on your coffee table, with the timer nearby, and watch, smugly, as your guests get sucked in to some seriously shared delight.

Re. the Pajaggle/Perfection comparison, Pajaggle Team member Bill Witt comments: “Perfection, that’s a game of failure. Pajaggle is a game of success. Moreover, perfection is one game. Pajaggle is an endless array of games.” Excellent and most relevant distinctions. The very reason why Pajaggle received the Major Fun award.


5/5/11

After two months of extensive Pajaggling, after managing to shave actual minutes off our combined Pajaggle-solving time (which reminds me, we discovered that Pajaggling is as much fun when we solve it together as when by ourselves – another way of playing with a puzzle that seems to be unique to Pajaggle), after loaning a Pajaggle out to each of our Tasters (and asking them again and again to give the Pajaggles back) Pajaggle becomes the first puzzle game to receive the Major Fun Keeper award.