Aztack

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 17-05-2015

aztack

It’ll take you maybe five minutes to learn how to play Aztack, and the average game lasts around fifteen minutes. It’s highly likely you’ll play several rounds of this not at all average strategy game.
There are 60 tiles – like dominoes – the kind of dominoes that slide sweetly when smushed around on the table, and clack comfortingly when stacked. The back of the tiles have two parallel ridges which play no small part in the clack comfort.

They’re not called tiles, though. They’re stones. Ah, yes, stones. The kind you use to build something like pyramids.

The first thing you do is take out all the stones, place them face dow on the table, and smush. We suggest collaborative smushing. Share the pleasure, don’t you know.

AztackThen you take 12 tiles, turn them over, and arrange them, face-up, in a rectangle of two rows of six tiles each. This forms the base of the pyramid. Now each player (2-4) selects 12 tiles, and puts them, face-up (that is, the tiles are face-up, not necessarily the player).

From then on, players take turns adding tiles to the stack. A tile has to: 1) lay across two tiles in the pyramid, and 2) match either the color or the design of the tiles upon which it has been laid. The game continues until neither player can make a legal move – the player with the fewest remaining tiles being the winner.

Easy to understand, yet challenging enough to make you look and think hard.

When the game is over, the thing you build together doesn’t look like your classic Egyptian pyramid, but it does look like something the Aztacks might have called a pyramid, if there were such people as Aztacks.

Here, courtesy of the BlueOrange ones, a brief, illustrative video:

Surprisingly engaging for such an easily-learned game. And it feels good, too. Well made. Carefully thought out. Kids enjoy it. Not kids enjoy playing it with the kids. The designs (“glyphs”) look like something an Aztack would make. And, o, the clacking and smushing.

Major Fun Award
Aztec is a strategy game for two to four players, ages 7 up. It is designed by Brad Ross and Jim Winslow, and comes to us from the oft-awarded Blue Orange Games.

Urban Fold

Filed Under (Creative, Family Games, Kids Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 10-05-2015

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urban fold

Until now, we haven’t even considered giving a Major Fun award to a crafts kit. A product called Urban Fold made us reconsider our policy.

It is one of a series of products that come to us from a company called Paper Punk. Go to their site. It is well-worth the visit. For on it, you will see what amounts to a new, and very welcome approach to children’s craft kits.

Urban Fold comes in a reusable storage box that contains 48 punch-and-fold shapes (punch-and-fold, as you probably already surmised, refers to thin, cardboard shapes that you fold along scored lines, and then attempt to put many little tabs into their appropriate little slots – this is not necessarily without its challenges, and hence, though it is recommended for children 6 and up, we would add that children of that age who can actually get all those tabs with out bending the tabs or themselves out of shape are exceptional and should be treated with great respect and much hugging), 697 stickers (of the peel-off persuasion, easily peeled, I might add, and of sizes varying from large to meticulous), and 1 poster and planning mat (a large, two-sided sheet of paper – one side serving as a planning grid, the other as a guide to different kinds of buildings that can be created from the shapes and stickers).

The poster/planning mat shows you how seriously you can take the whole thing – which is always good to know. We, in our frivolously fun way, decided to ignore that side of things pretty much altogether – though, I’m sure, at one time or another, we’ll appreciate the depth of detail and probably regret our devil-may-care enthusiasm. On the other hand, we won’t regret the fun we had, not at all at all.

The die-cutting is sufficiently deep so that even the youngest and most whimsy-driven member of our family test-group (nine-years-old) could tear out any of the shapes without tearing the shapes themselves – which is no small feat. The peel-off stickers also peel off without undue damage to their integrity.

We all sat around the table, folding and slotting. It took the six of us about an hour to complete that part of the kit – a surprisingly pleasant, relaxed, and thoroughly constructive family-togetherness hour (which is in itself remarkable – we’re talking an entire hour here, together!). We had little time left, and spent that investigating stickers. The oldest amongst us was able, with great care and precision of stickage, to create something quite in keeping with the craft-aspect of it all. Doors, windows, all aligned with care and propriety. The youngest didn’t care about any of that. He just stuck things here and there, exercising his art in the fullest, making something closely approximating a graffiti wall, which turned out to be clearly the most fun for him and us.

And then, because we had to eat, we had the opportunity to be feel quite sanguine about how everything fit so neatly in the box, all the shapes maintaining themselves quite enduringly.

It’s this flexibility, this range of potential engagement that made it so clear that we had something unique here – a craft kit for all moods and purposes, something that could respond to the moment, could absorb a wide range of interests, skills, approaches, and constraints. The geometric shapes lend themselves to play – they can be assembled into almost anything we could imagine. The stickers, though detailed enough to be taken literally, could just as easily be collaged and montaged into multi-hued memorials to mayhem. All in all, Urban Fold turned out to be Major Fun.

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Laser Maze, Jr.

Filed Under (Kids Games, Puzzles) by Bernie DeKoven on 14-04-2015

laser maze jr

Laser Maze, Jr is “Junior” only because, unlike it’s Major Fun award-winning parent, Laser Maze (senior?) (which you can now play online):

  • the laser is safely secured to the puzzle frame, hence avoiding accidental lasering of eyes and things
  • there are 40 puzzles instead of 60, though the puzzles span four levels of difficulty, many of which are difficult enough to confound your local non-juniors
  • the puzzles are on large cards which fit beneath the top stage of the frame so as to make it easier to know precisely how to set up each puzzle
  • there’s a space fantasy theme to the whole game
  • it says “Jr” so you know it’s supposed to be for kids
  • the puzzle frame is exceptionally sturdy, the base flared for even more stability

The two “rocket target” pieces reflect the laser into their tops, causing the whole piece to glow when hit by the laser – a very rewarding reinforcement for any junior puzzle-solver. Yes, the more complex puzzles, with all their reflections and refractions, result in a somewhat more subtle rocket glow – but still wonderfully satisfying. The challenge cards are ingeniously designed – the part that shows you where to put the pieces at the onset of the puzzle sliding under the grid so as to be perfectly aligned and very easy to follow. The challenge part is indicated on the tab, showing clearly which pieces need to be added in order to complete the solution. The cards are two-sided, each side showing another puzzle. The solutions are all in the accompanying booklet, and are shown graphically, so no reading is required.

Here, from the puzzle’s producer, ThinkFun, (who has brought to us so many Major Fun-worth puzzles) a brief explanatory video:

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Two triple-AAA batteries, not included. Yes. Not.

Invented by Luke Hooper – the same who invented the other Laser Maze puzzle, and The Laser Game: Khet, with the challenge cards designed by Wei-Hwa Huang. As you probably guessed, it’s all Major Fun (and not just for Juniors).

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Rush Hour Shift

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 25-03-2015

Rush Hour Shift
Rush Hour Shift is a strategy game based on ThinkFun‘s popular Rush Hour puzzle series. )If your not familiar with charm of these puzzles, you can play with the basic concept of this intriguing little puzzle online.)

Major Fun AwardThe game board is in three parts, loosely connected so that you can shift (hence, the name of the game) either end of the board up or down. There are 12 “blocking vehicles” of three different lengths, and ten different ways to arrange the vehicles on the board. These vehicles can be moved, they just can’t be moved sideways, nor can they move over each other (which explains why they are called “blocking” vehicles). There’s also a deck of 32 movement cards which determine how far you can move your “hero car” and/or whether you get to shift one of the two ends of the game board.

After the game is set up (according to any one of the ten arrangements shown in the rule book), each player gets four cards. From then on, players alternate turns, selecting one of their cards, discarding the card face-up, following the movement rules (how far you can move, whether or not you can shift the board end), and then taking another card from the draw pile. The game ends as soon as one player has managed to maneuver his or her hero car off the board.

It’s a quick game, success depending on chance, logic, and being strategic enough to make the correct decision between preventing your opponent from winning or creating your own path to victory. There’s one additional strategic deliciousness – if a vehicle is positioned so that it bridges between a shifting end and the non-shiftable center board, that end is locked, and remains unshiftable until the blocking vehicle is moved.

All in all, Rush Hour Shift proves to be a unique and remarkably engaging combination of strategy game for two people as young as eight or as old as you. Everything works to keep you engaged – the elegant design of the board, the different lengths of the vehicles, the variety of starting positions, the luck of the draw. Kids may be attracted by the toy-like appearance of the game (and so might you), but it turns out to provide a significant challenge worthy even of someone of your esteemed logical prowess.

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Chickyboom

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 06-03-2015

ChickyBoom

The game’s called “Chickyboom.” It’s called “Chickyboom” because that’s what happens when Chicky slides off the balance bar: Chicky goes “boom.” Well, not exactly “boom.” But boom enough to make you laugh.  So, you might have, well, lost, but never you mind, little chicky, it’s hard to take the game seriously, especially when you’re playing with such funny-looking chickies.

ChickyBoom
There’s a lot about Chickyboom that makes it an exceptional invitation to play. You probably won’t be able to tell until you’re able to accept that invitation. It’s not just that the game is made of finger-pleasing wood. Or that the point value (if you’re playing for score) is so clearly indicated on each point-worthy piece. Or that everything is painted so brightly. Or even that the Chickies are so darn cute, and it’s fun to pick them up by the little felt “feather” that sticks up from their heads: it’s the elegance of the way everything works.

The roof (well, it looks rooflike) of the base (which could easily be imagined to be a chicken coop or hen house or something chickeny) is gently curved, so that it’s relatively easy to build the “rocking perch” (the see-saw-like board which is balanced on top of the chicken-coop-like thing). There are small legs on the bottom of the balance board which make it a wee bit more forgiving when it comes to balancing it. As does the gentleness of the curve of the coop roof.

And then there are the one-point wagon wheels, which, though not as heavy as the three-point hay bales, and less than half as thick, are wider and more accommodating (for, perhaps two chickies or a chicky and a bale. And as for the chickens, there are two kinds: the fatter three-pointers and the smaller two-pointers. With all these variables, and the effect of where they are placed on the balance board, combined with what other pieces are also on the board, and where they are placed, and how those pieces are stacked, and what happens when the balance board starts a-rockin’… all adds up to a game that’s worthy of hours and hours of serious contemplation and just as many hours of much hilarity.

The stacking part of the game is at as much fun as the unstacking. And what if you can remove two pieces at a time, or just one? Or have to use chopsticks?! Or play cooperatively, using only one finger per player.

And if the stacking part gets too challenging, you could, conceivably, turn the balance board over, using the two red rods on the underside (now topside) as stops to prevent pieces from falling off too easily.

And then there’s the “you don’t really need to keep score” rule: “the last player to collect a piece from the perch without making it topple wins the game!”

Chickyboom was intelligently designed by Thiery Denoual and is available from Blue Orange games.

Major Fun Award

SmartMax – the Barrel

Filed Under (Creative, Keeper, Kids Games, Toys) by Bernie DeKoven on 14-10-2014

smartmax barrelWe’ve written about SmartMax before. And we enthused mightily. It’s a brilliantly designed toy, brilliantly executed. Big pieces, perfect for small hands. Pieces that click together with the aid of magnets just powerful enough to keep them together, just strong enough to be easily pulled apart. And the subtle interplay of pieces that either repel or attract each other adding just the right sense of mystery, the right element of wonder, the right invitation to experiment.

The SmartMax Barrel contains 42 pieces. Which is a significant quantity of pieces, in deed. Though you might as well accept the inevitable truth – there are never enough pieces. Even for one child. But there’s a goodly amount, and what’s more important, there’s just enough variety of pieces to engage the child through a significant range of play moods and modes: investigative, creative, constructive (and, of course, destructive) and dramatic.

The key components of this, and all SmartMax sets. is the collection of rods and balls. The SmartMax Barrel contains two different lengths of rods, each in six different colors. The colors are key to which rods will attract and which repel each other. Something to be learned, investigated, explored. There are eight large plastic-covered metallic balls which can connect any rod to any other. And can even serve as hubs for a multiple collection of rods.

Then there are eight pairs of wheels that snap on to the rods. The wheels are also very well made and roll easily and for a surprisingly long time. Snap two sets of wheels onto any rod, and you have a vehicle. In addition to the wheels there are four semi-transparent cockpits and four containers which further define the nature and function of the vehicles.

Major Fun Keeper AwardThe Barrel is very sturdy, and capacious enough to accommodate at least five more SmartMax sets or other small toys: dolls, pieces of metal, toy cars – whatever the child deems worthy of including in her SmartMax set. There are lids on both sides of the barrel that twist on and off, and the barrel itself is sturdy enough to roll on or over. Small hands may find turning the lids open a bit more challenging than desired, but parents of small-handed ones might find that useful in limiting access when access needs to be limited. As with all good toys, it’s better to put them away, out of sight from time to time – for a day or several – just long enough for the child to almost forget such a toy exists. And then, next time boredom surfaces, you can just, shall we say, roll out the barrel.

All in all, the SmartMax Barrel provides the child with what could easily become an heirloom toy. The variety of the pieces, the many ways with which they can be played, the durability of the set and the container all assure that this is a toy that can be safely and lovingly passed down through the generations.

Fastrack – NHL Edition

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games) by Will Bain on 24-08-2014

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NHL FastrackFastrack by Blue Orange Games is Major Fun. It is a Keeper.

Thanks to a partnership with CSE Games (a Major Fun winner in their own right) Fastrack now comes in an NHL edition.

The game remains the same: try to get all of the discs to the other side of the board. To do this you must fling them with an elastic band through a narrow slot in the board. Your opponent is trying to do the same thing. Through the same narrow slot.

Madness ensues!

01 AwardThe game is brilliant. Fast paced and nerve jangling. What has been added in this edition is NHL themed artwork. The board is designed like a hockey rink. The discs are hockey pucks. NHL logos adorn the edges. It’s a nice touch.

2 players. Ages 5+

Fastrack was designed by Jean-Marie Albert and is the NHL edition is © 2014 by Blue Orange Games.

Blurble

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 13-08-2014

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BlurbleDeluxeBlurble is a game like Anomia that gets a lot of laughs and game-play-mileage out of making you sound stupid.

You aren’t stupid. I know this because you are reading this web post. You also demonstrate great taste and a fine appreciation for the playful side of life. And in that last regard, Blurble is the game for you.

Just be warned: the longer you play the game, the dumber you will sound.

The game consists of a big deck of cards. How many cards, you ask? I’m not quite sure, but at a guess I would say more than 11. Yep, the box lid confirms there are more than 11 cards (489 more to be exact). The cards have pictures on them—illustrations of objects that are easy to identify (although one card had a plate of nachos that I was SURE was a pizza).

The game starts with a person called the “Blurbler.” Say it out loud. GO on. Now say it more than five times in a row. That kind of silly stupid tongue tied feeling is something you are going to have to get used to a lot. The Blurbler turns to the first person clockwise and flips up a card. The two players then races to say a word that begins with the same letter as the object in the picture.

Blurble cardsBUT (and notice it is a big but…) there are legal words and there are illegal words. Words cannot be proper nouns, numbers, contractions, or contain fewer than 3 letters (when we played we misread the rules and so disallowed anything with less than 4 letters—harder but still tons of fun). Words may never be used more than once in a game. Finally, the word cannot name the image. For instance, if a picture of a cat comes up you cannot say cat nor can you say catatonic nor can you say vacation (va CAT ion). That last one you might be able to slip by the other players (who act as judges) but they could call you out for illegal Blurbling.

01 AwardAs the game goes on you do tend to get faster but you also tend to run into words that have already been used. You will find yourself tripping over some of the most basic words because you just can’t remember if the word has been used before.

One thing we really liked about Blurble is that you are not penalized for saying an illegal word. If you say an illegal word you just have to keep trying. Players just keep shouting out words (and a lot of gibberish) until they say a legal one.

Major Fun for lots of ages and big groups of people.

2-12 players. Ages 8+

Blurble was designed by Grant Bernard and is © 2011 by Bernard Games.

Rumble in the House / Rumble in the Dungeon

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 11-08-2014

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Rumble in the houseA while back we awarded King of Tokyo with a Major Fun Award. Giant monsters rampaging their way through a major metropolitan city. What isn’t there to like?

Well, Flatlined Games has lowered the stakes a little (you are fighting over a house instead of a city) but kicked the rampaging into overdrive.

Rumble in the House (and it’s virtually identical twin Rumble in the Dungeon) distills the fighting game down to its most basic core: move monsters, remove monsters. Cram a bunch of hare-trigger psychopaths (like Cthulhu, a Chicken Man superhero, and a penguin packing dynamite) into a single flat and watch the furniture fly.

For all its parts, the game is beautifully simple. There are twelve room tiles that make up the board. Arrange these as you like. There are twelve monsters on little plastic stands. Place one in each room. There are 12 monster tokens. Each player chooses 2 at random. Keep yours hidden! These are the monsters you are trying to protect as long as you can.

Rumble ComponentsOn your turn you can do one of two things: move one monster (if it is alone) OR “pick a fight.” If there are two or more monsters in a room, you get to remove one from the game. Fights in the house are very fast and very decisive!

As monsters are eliminated from the house, you must place them in a line. Play until only one character remains. Points are determined by the place of your monsters in the line. The first two monsters score nothing. Zero. After that each monster scores points by their position in line starting with one point for the third monster and going up to ten points for the one who walked out of the house. You take the score of your last monster.

The game is played over three rounds. Each time, you build the house, draw new secret monsters, and then RUUUUMMMMMMBLE!!

01 AwardRumble in the Dungeon is the successor to Rumble in the House. The location and characters have changed and a treasure chest has been added to the basic mechanics. Moving and fighting are still the main actions, but if you can get one of your characters to carry the treasure chest to the dungeon’s entrance, that character can leave and earn 10 points. Moving and fighting continue even if someone succeeds in removing the treasure (instead of fighting for the treasure you are now fighting over who let someone else abscond with it).

Rumble in the dungeonYour first game is the longest and that’s only because you have to punch out the pieces and glance through the rules. The artwork on the pieces, the box, and the rules by Kwanchai Moriya is fun and colorful. We loved looking at the pieces and making up stories about how one character defeated the other. It’s a very light game but it lends itself to lots of replay. I also appreciated that even when your monsters have been eliminated you still get to influence the game.

Spite becomes a powerful force for Major Fun.

2-6 players. Ages 8+

Rumble in the House was designed by Olivier Saffre and is © 2011 by Flatlined Games. Rumble in the Dungeon is © 2012. Worldwide distribution is being handled by the good people at Iello.

Aztack

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 28-07-2014

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aztack_gamerNow that all those Mayan and Aztec apocalypses are over, we can get back to building pyramids for recreation instead of in an attempt to stave off the end of life as we know it.

Whew!

An early adopter of this new recreational approach to Mesoamerican architecture is Blue Orange Games and their fantastic stacking/tiling game Aztack.

The game consists of 60 rectangular tiles that resemble dominoes. Instead of pips on each side of the tile, there are Aztec glyphs—images that represent important symbols in Aztec culture. The four glyphs (flower, water, deer, and flint) are combined in many ways and in five different colors: green, orange, grey, blue, and burgundy.

To start play, 12 tiles are arranged in a 2×6 rectangle in the middle of the table. Each player draws 12 tiles. On your turn, you place one of your tiles on the base of the pyramid or pass if there is no space for a legal move. If you pass, you can jump in later. Play proceeds clockwise until everyone must pass. The winner is the one with the fewest remaining tiles.

The rules for placing the tiles are simple and well-illustrated by the rules. You must place your tile so that it bridges two tiles beneath it. The tile you place must also match both of the glyphs OR both of the colors. If it matches all colors and glyphs you get to discard an additional tile from your hand.

01 AwardThe simplicity of the rules belies a wonderfully complex and shifting matrix of choices. There is a great balance between making moves that will limit the choices of your opponents and those that will keep the board open for your future placements. Luck plays a sizable role but there is enough choice to develop strategies in order to manage the random elements.

Aztack is well made and beautifully illustrated. It is fascinating to watch as the pyramid rises from the base. Each one is unique and really very beautiful.

And Major Fun…

2-4 players. Ages 7+

Aztack was designed by Brad Ross & Jim Winslow and is © 2014 by Blue Orange Games.