Spot It! is a Keeper!

Filed Under (Family Games, Keeper, Kids Games, Tops for 2010) by Bernie DeKoven on 05-10-2010

We are always on the lookout for ways to empower players to make a game their own. We believe that if a game is strong enough so that players can change the rules to make the game more fun – whatever they consider fun to be – with whomever they’re playing, then we have a game that we want to hold on to for a long, long time.

It turns out that the Major Fun award-winning game Spot-It! is just such a game. This is at least partly because of a rather unique approach to the way the game is played. Rather than being a single game with variations, Spot It! consists of 4 rounds of play, each focusing on a different “mini party game.”

These mini-games are artfully constructed, each proving a little more challenging than the other. The first two mini-games are races, players competing to be the first to match a central card. In the final two games, the competition is a little more personal, especially with 3 or more players. Here the goal is to make another player lose by adding cards to his or her collection. Since there is always a match between any two cards, you can, if you’re fast enough, select which player you want to compete against. Generally, you want to make sure that the winning player doesn’t. Unless it’s a grudge match, in which it can get, in a silly kind of way, quite brutal.

Because each mini party game uses the same cards, the overall message of the game is that there are at least 4 different ways to play it. And if there are 4, there must be more.

And, in practice, there are far more – every time you play with a different age group or in a different setting (in a restaurant, in the kitchen, a classrooople and as few as 2. We’ve played it in the library and dining room, on the table and on the floor, and every tm, a senior center), you find yourself modifying the rules, just a tad. This works so well because the core concept is so strong. The deck of 55 cards, the 50 different symbols, designed so that any two cards will have one, and only one matching symbol; the added visual challenge presented by the different sizes of the symbols; the circular cards that fit so nicely in your hand – combine to create an extremely flexible tool for open-ended play. We’ve played Spot-It with a lot of different people – seniors, adults, teens, tweens, school-age kids, even pre-schoolers. We’ve played it with as many as 6 peime we’ve played it, we’ve played it just a little bit differently, and regardless of how we’ve played it, or where, or with whom, we’ve consistently found it to be fun.

Spot-It! is funtastic!

Kamisado

Filed Under (Keeper, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 18-07-2010

Kamisado is a strategy game for two players. There are basic rules. There are advanced rules. The basic rules can be explained in less than a minute: you can move a piece any number of squares in a straight line, either diagonally or vertically forward. After the first move, you can only move the piece whose color is the same as the square that your opponent’s piece landed on. The first player to get a piece to her opponent’s home row wins.

Each player has eight pieces. Each piece is a different color, matching one of the colors on the board. Which explains why the game itself is so visually appealing. The board unfolds into quite a large playing field (20″x20″). The plastic pieces are also large (two inches wide). They look like castles, each with a dragon nesting on top. On one set of pieces the dragons are shiny black, on the other, gold.

You can play a game in less than five minutes. Victory is satisfyingly sudden. Defeat, mercifully quick. You can play it with anyone old enough to understand checkers, and yet it is strategically deep enough to intrigue a chess player.

At first glance, the eight-page instruction booklet (10″ x 10″ – the same size as the board when it is folded) looks forbidding. But all you need read to play the game are a few rules. Once you’ve played a few rounds of the game, you’ll be more than motivated enough to read the rest of the booklet, as well as the accompanying eight-page booklet illustrating different moves. As you read more, you discover more possibilities and intricacies. You learn that a game can take many rounds to play. That the strange rings included in the game are used during these many-round games to crown a winning piece, and to give it extra powers for the next round. And on and on you go, discovering more and more nuances as your appreciation for the game, and your skills increase.

Everything about the presentation and packaging of the game reveals a deep appreciation for its play value and uniqueness. The size of the board and the pieces, the packaging, the art. Conceived by Peter Burley, with artistic design by Peter Dennis, Kamisado exemplifies the kind of thinking game that the Major FUN program was developed for – elegant, well-executed, easy to earn, appealing to a wide range of players, deep enough to play again and again.

Trapdoor Checkers is a Keeper

Filed Under (Family Games, Keeper, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 26-06-2010

We reviewed Trapdoor Checkers here over a year ago – long enough to verify what we originally thought when we first reviewed the game. It’s fun. It’s unique. It’s well-made. It’s durable. The packaging survives repeated, enthusiastic play. It appeals to anyone old enough to enjoy checkers. It makes you think. And, from time to time, it makes you laugh.

We are happy to give Trapdoor Checkers our highest award.

“Just have fun. It’s Wicketball. It’s all good.”

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Keeper, Senior-Worthy, Tops for 2010) by Bernie DeKoven on 10-05-2010

If you can kick a ball, you can play it. If you can roll a ball, throw a ball, bounce a ball, you can play it. You can play it in the sand. You can play it in the snow. You can play it in the dirt. You can play it like golf, you can play it like croquet, you can play it like both games simultaneously. You can play it with kids, you can play it with seniors, you can play it with kids and seniors and anybody who wants to play. You can create your own course. You can make it very hard. You can make it just easy enough to make you want to keep playing. You can play it seriously, you can play it for fun.


Wicketball Go! from Bob Zoller on Vimeo.

It’s Wicketball.

It’s not something to be taken lightly, this Wicketball game. Just ask the postman who delivered our set. 65 pounds! Designer/publisher Bob Zoller explains that each wicket weighs 6.5 pounds. And you get eight of them. And two soccer balls. And then there are the flags clips and flags, and the DVD and the rules and the list of 64 more ways you can play Wicketball.

See, these wickets are solid metal. They’re designed to be banged into the ground with a sledgehammer, to resist seriously kicked soccer balls, to last pretty much forever.

Keeper AwardThe thing about Wicketball is that it can be played anyway that’s fun for you. They’re an invitation to creativity as much as they are to fun. You want to bowl the balls instead of kicking them, sure, why not? You want to kick the balls backwards, play on your hands and knees, play at night, play with your eyes closed? You want to make the course cover a few acres? You want to play in the snow or sand? You want to play with kids, with the whole family, with seniors, with the whole community? You want to play it like golf or croquet or more like soccer?

Just like Bob Zoller says: “Just have fun. It’s Wicketball. It’s all good.” It’s Major Fun!

Siam

Filed Under (Keeper, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 27-11-2009

Didier Dhorbait’s abstract strategy game Siam is so beautifully crafted that you will treasure it even before you learn how to play it. Which is a good thing for two reasons: 1) the English translation of the rules is, well, very, shall we say, challenging, in a French kind of way; and 2) the rules are what some may call “unconventional,” requiring you to exercise some conceptual effort before you fully appreciate the cleverness and complexity underlying their comparative simplicity.

Fortunately, Arthur Reilly has written a satisfyingly clear English description of the rules – clear enough to help you through most of your preconceptions to a truly remarkable strategy game – one that you can play in ten minutes with anyone old enough to appreciate a good, abstract game.

The lovely wooden board is inscribed with a 5×5 matrix. There are three kinds of pieces: the elephants and rhinoceros figures are beautifully rendered, the elephants rearing on their hind legs, the rhinoceros sitting and looking like something out of a collection of Victorian grotesquerie. The other pieces look vaguely like mountains. And since the mountains are as big as the elephants and rhinoceros, the whole set conveys a sense of the fantastic.

One player plays the elephants (and moves first) the other, rhinoceroses.

The game begins with the three mountain pieces in a line in the center of the board. Players take turns doing one of the following: bringing a piece on to the board, taking a piece off the board, reorienting a piece, moving a piece (one space horizontally or vertically, in the direction being faced), or pushing other pieces. The object of the game is to be the first player to push a mountain off the board.

The pushing is where the conventions begin to get un-. If one of your pieces is facing a mountain, it can push the mountain in the direction in which it is facing. If two opposing pieces are facing each other, they cancel each other out. So neither can push or be pushed. If one your opponent’s piece is in line with yours, and you are not facing it, you can get pushed. If two of your opponent’s pieces are facing yours, you can also get pushed, even if you’re facing them. In fact, you can have a whole bunch of your pieces (well, up to 5) in a line, all facing the wrong way, and one of your opponent’s pieces, facing the right way, can push them all.

Then there are the rules about the edges of the board (all important, since that’s where you’re trying to push the mountains off of, as well as where your pieces can get pushed off and where they can be re-entered). Since they surround the board, it means that, unlike chess, checkers and the rest, you’re not playing in any specific direction – a major convention-breaker, chock-full of strategic implications. And the subtle but significant consequences of being able to take pieces off the board and later bring them back into play on some other edge, add yet another chock-fullness to one’s cup of strategic nuance.

Remarkably deep for a ten minute game. Remarkably lovely. Major FUN.

(Siam is available in the US via Fred Distribution, and in Europe through Ferti)

Tumblin’ Dice

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Keeper, Senior-Worthy, Tops for 2009) by Bernie DeKoven on 13-10-2009

When Randy Nash first developed Tumblin’ Dice, he did what any game inventor would do – especially one who created a game that people really loved – he started his own company. Recently, the older/wiser Mr. Nash licensed his game to Fred Distribution – a company with a genuinely deep appreciation for really good games. And they honored his concept, and made it a little more attractive, and just as well-made, and just as much fun.

The game is called Tumblin’ Dice, which is exactly what it was called when we first gave it our highest award – the Keeper. I am happy to say, this renewed version is at least as much of a Keeper as it was then.

Think of it shuffleboard with dice. You’d be wrong, but you’d understand almost all you needed to know in order to start playing. There are four sets of dice, each a different colors (and lovely colors they are). Each set has four dice. Players take turns flick/slide/rolling their dice, starting on the top level, aiming towards one of the three platforms on the lowest levels. If your die reaches the third level, you get exactly as many points as are on the top of the die. If your die reaches the fourth level, you get twice as many points; the fifth level, three times as many, and if you reach the lowest level, you multiply the face of the die by four.

Since players are taking turns, there’s a good chance that someone will knock your high-scoring die off the board. So the game can get quite competitive. There’s a lot of opportunity to develop skill. But there’s enough chance (despite my desire to maintain the illusion, I don’t think it’s really possible to determine what face of the die will show up at the end of a roll) to keep things interesting, even for the poor-of-aim.

The turns are very short, and a whole round can take only a few minutes. So everyone stays involved even when there are four players. And as soon as one round is over, and all the points are scored, people are ready and eager to play again. It’s a perfect family game. For children who are still learning to add and multiply, it even has some educational value – not enough to spoil the fun, just enough to make their parents willing to let them play, too. If the multiplication is too hard, instead of multiplying you can just add extra points for dice that reach the scoring levels. Because of the skill required, and the competitiveness, adults can get intensely engaged. Because of the luck factor, anyone who can flick/slide/roll a die has a reasonable chance of winning. And, if you have some perverse need to make it even more challenging, you can try removing some or all of the pegs on the bottom two levels. I tried. I put them back.

Tumbln’ dice is a big game. Some assembly is required. But it’s easy and takes maybe 90 seconds the first time. And just as easily disassembled and snuggled back into its box, in maybe 45. Of course, somebody who hasn’t played it yet will probably come over shortly after you’ve finally put it away, and you’ll find yourself gleefully putting it back together again.

Tumblin’ Dice is an investment in long-lasting, generation-spanning fun. The payoff is Major FUN.

Ring-o Flamingo

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Keeper, Kids Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 24-08-2009

Ring-O Flamingo, a.k.a. “The Frantic Fling-a-Ring Game,” is, as advertised, a game that is at least as much about ring-flinging as it is about being frantic.

Each player gets one of 4 plastic “lifeboats” each of a different color, each containing a set of 12 flat, flexible, plastic, lifesaver-like rings of a matching color. The rings are placed, one at a time, edgewise in a slot in the front of the lifeboat. To fling the ring, you aim your lifeboat, slot a ring, bend the ring towards you just exactly as much as you think necessary and then release it.

Your goal, should you be goal-oriented, is for your ring to land, quoit-like, around any of the 7 plastic flamingos (yes, plastic flamingos), and not around either of the two plastic alligators.

The flamingos and alligators fit into slots in the thick game board. Turned 90-degrees, they stand firmly enough to resist and staunchly deflect any inaccurately flung rings. The board is thick enough to withstand repeated reassembly.

Ringing an alligator is a bad thing to do and makes you lose two points. You get 2 points for each of your rings that is first to ring a flamingo, and one point for each of your subsequent flamingo-ringing ring.

Since everyone plays simultaneously, mastering the “frantic” part of this “Frantic Fling-a-Ring” game is as crucial to success as good aim. Since being the first to ring a particular flamingo gets you twice as many points, the need for speed is clearly established. And, of course, the faster you fling, the less accurate you become. The tension makes the game even more challenging, and instructive.

On the other hand, ring-flinging is so much fun that it almost doesn’t matter whether you manage to get a ring around anything. It’s as amusing just to fling the rings at each other, or to see how far or how high you can fling them. Which is what makes the game as alluring to a three-year-old as to your seriously competitive eleven-teen. You can try to fling rings into the box lid or against the wall (extra points for “leaners”). And for those families fortunate enough to have playful parents, it’s a great invitation to share some moments of controlled and victimless mayhem.

Designed by Haim Shafir, Yakov Kaufman, and Yoav Ziv, the game works wondrously well. All the parts of the game reinforce the fantasy: the lifesaver rings, the ring-storing and flinging boats, the brightly colored and humorously rendered flamingos. The ring-flingers can be repositioned anywhere around the board to increase aim and accuracy. The rings themselves are exactly as springy as they need to be to flip and fly. And there is just enough luck to keep anyone from getting overbearingly good at the game. Hence the Majorness of the FUN.

Ring-O Flamingo is exciting and alluring enough to be played and replayed by everyone in the family. There are a lot of rings (48 of them). Hence, parents would be especially wise to include in their rendition of basic game rules the tradition of after-game ring-gathering.

Curses Again

Filed Under (Keeper, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 16-08-2009

We last discussed Curses on, to be needlessly precise, October 2, 2002. We, in fact, gave it a Keeper award, no less. The highest ranked, most Major award we have.

Recently, Curses has been “refreshed.” Same package, same art, same basic gameplay as in the original Brian Tinsman design. The bell is maybe a little more modern-looking. The cards a little easier to shuffle. And some of the curses and challenges are new, and, of course, funny. But all in all the game isn’t any more commercial-looking than it was then. Simple text graphics. Two decks of cards. A bell. And yet, it’s as much of a Keeper now as it was then.

Because we’re still playing it.

What we learn from all this, is that the Major FUN Awards, and especially the Keeper award, represent games that are unforgettably fun.

The original review is the same review I’d be writing for the game today. It follows:

Curses – a game of geometrically increasing silliness for 3-6 players, age 9 and up.

There are two decks of cards and a very nice hotel-type hit-the-top-and-it-rings bell. One deck of cards is called “Challenges,” the other “Curses.”

Let’s start with the “Curses,” which, of course, are the real challenges. A Curse is something silly that you have to do. For example, you might have the Curse of having to talk in a French accent, or having your wrists glued to your head (well, there’s no real glue, but you have to pretend there is), or having to bow every time someone applauds. As the game progresses, you get more Curses. From other players, actually. Remembering two Curses is at least twice as difficult as remembering one. By the time you have three Curses you are at a conceptual point likened only to patting your tummy and rubbing your head while singing “Boat your row, row, row.” In a French accent.

When you break a Curse, some observant player dutifully rings the bell. If you break enough Curses, you’re kind of out. Kind of, because you still get to be a bell-ringer and cause of Curse-breaking.

The Challenges make the Curses evermore Curselike. You might have to ask someone else out to a school prom, or be in a TV commercial explaining why your deodorant is best or demonstrate how you celebrated your what you did when you scored the winning touchdown in the Superbowl. Each challenge takes on a very different light when you have to perform it under multiple Curses.

Curses radiates at least 120 Gigglewatts of pure Guffaw-power. It’s can get very, very difficult to play, very quickly, and is challenging enough to occupy the most limber-minded of collegiates, whilst silly enough to keep even us over-the-hillsies laughing and coughing in glee.

The cards on the refreshed version pass the shuffle-test quite nicely. Their graphic design could make it a little easier to distinguish between the two kinds of cards. But that, compared to the sheer hysteria that this game catalyzes, is clearly, at most, a nano-niggle.

Quixo

Filed Under (Family Games, Keeper, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 22-07-2009

Quixo Classic is well-made, well-conceived strategic game for 2 or 4 players, which, because it is related to tic-tac-toe, is easy enough for a 6-year-old to play, and, because of its use of the mechanics of sliding block puzzles, is subtle enough to challenge a 66-year-old. Well, 67, actually, but who’s counting?

The game consists of 25, 1-inch wooden cubes, bevel edged, lovingly smoothed, warmly wooden cubes, which are packed in a cloth bag, and nestle comfortably in a wooden tray. Four sides of the cubes are left blank. You’ll find an X pyrographed on one of the other sides, and, opposite that, similarly pyrographed, an O.

At the beginning of the game, all the cubes are placed on the board, on to any of their 4 blank sides, forming a 5×5 array. Only the cubes on the periphery are available for play.

The object of the game is to be the first player or team to get 5 of your symbols (an X or an 0) in a straight line. To do this, you pick any blank block on the edge of the board, remove it, and then slide the row or column of blocks so as to create a new blank space on one of the edges of the board. You then place the block you selected into that space, positioning it so that your symbol is showing.

The game continues in that manner, players or teams alternating turns, until someone gets 5 of their symbols in the proverbial row. Because each move results in moving part or all of a row or column, blocks are getting continually repositioned – and within there lies the rub, as well as the tickle. You have to see much further ahead, consider a copious complexity of cubic combinations in order to get your symbols (and not your opponent’s) to line up in the appropriate array of your aspirations.

Designed by Thierry Chapeau, Quixo Classic is one in a series of similarly well-made games by the French game publisher Gigamic, available in the US from our much-appreciated Fundex. Easy to learn, as fun for kids as adults, well-made, played in 15 minutes or less, often surprising – as they all-too-rarely say amongst Major Fun Game Tasters, this one’s a Keeper!

Six

Filed Under (Keeper, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 16-07-2009

What would be a good name for a game played with six-sided hexagons (as if there were any other kind)? Just six-sided (I’m making a point here) hexagons? Not even a board? Where you try to be the first to make a shape out of…wait for it…six wooden black or red six-sided hexagons?

What about a strategic game where you take turns adding a hexagon of your black or red color to any other hexagon already on the table, or floor, or blanket? Until all your lovely, smoothly wooden hexagons are played, and then you can move them from hexagon-adjoining place to any other hexagon-adjoinable place? And you win if you can get six of your own in a row, or triangle or in a six-sided circle?

What do you think of “Six“?

Sheer coincidence that the publishers also chose to call it Six? I think not.

Even though you each have 19 hexagon-pieces. 19. Not the everso appropriately six-divisible 18 hexagon-pieces. You still get a, dare I say it, Major Fun experience, which, if Major Fun gave star-ratings, is clearly six-star-worthy.

And then there’s what one might think of as the “Advanced Major Fun” to be had by players of the advanced version, because, see, after you play for a while you discover how you change the entire mass of hexagons into two, and you begin to wonder, almost without reading the advanced rules, what doing so might do to your opponent, like, for example, put the entire smaller cluster (wherein a substantial majority of your opponent’s pieces happen to reside) out of play for the rest of the game.

Steffen Mühlhäuser’s game of hexagons is newly made available in the U.S. through FoxMind, and still published in Europe by Steffen-Spiele. Most games can be played in from six to 36 minutes. Easy to learn for those of checker-playing persuasion. Easy to carry around, rules and all, in a conveniently included drawstring bag or its lovely six-sided box.