Jumbo Bananagrams

jumbo-bananagrams

It always amazes me how much a game can change when you change its scale. Today’s example: Jumbo Bananagrams.

Yes, it’s Bananagrams – your basic, Major Fun, Keeper-award-winning crossword-making word game. Bananagrams jumbofied, however, becomes a team sport.  Because the letters are so large, and the game can take up so much more space, it becomes that much more engaging for the fortunate many.

word-party-family-kidsSay, for example, that you’re playing Jumbo Bananagrams with the equivalent of 4 players. Given the sheer hugeness of it all, you decide to play with four teams instead – let’s say teams of 4 players each. So, now you have 16 people playing. You know how much of the table a normal regulation Bananagrams game can take up? Well, with Jumbo Bananagrams you can easily use a whole lawn, or living room, or basketball court. And each time a new letter is added, everybody on your team has to be involved in figuring out where to put it, how to rearrange the letters to maximize the manifest cleverness of it all. O, the excitement! O, the teamwork! And if you happen to have a business of some kind, with a staff in need of exploring their abilities to work together, or just to have fun together, well, now you have a near perfect team-building activity.

And, of course there are many, many other games that all these large (3×3-inch), floppy letters inspire. Can you, for example, toss them so they spell a word? Can you make a relay race? A mixer for a conference of perhaps 144 people (take a letter, any letter – OK, that’s your letter; now run around and find other letter/people with whom you can make an impressively large word, or a word that rhymes with Google maybe, or a palindrome potentially.

And, yes, teachers can use these for thinly disguised educational purposes, engaging an entire class in a literacy exercise or vocabulary exercise or just plain exercise. Jumbo Bananagrams being not just a game (an excellent game, in fact) but a tool for genuinely fun, real-time, all-embracing personal, family and professional growth.

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Ring It!

ring it

You know those pat-your-head-and-rub-your-tummy kind of games? Ring It! is kind of that kind, except it’s more like a see-the-match-and-clap-your-hands-and-ring-the-bell-first kind of game. And the fun, she is major in deed.

Ringit_Tin_New_FlatYou get 90 round cards and a bell in a highly portable tin. These cards, as illustrated, have numbers on them that come in different colors. There are also some designs on the edges of the cards, also as illustrated. For the basic game, you get an equal amount of cards (10), put them in a face-down pile, and take turns turning over the top card in your pile and placing it another pile, face-up. If either the color or number match, or if two Ring It! cards show up, you try to be the first to clap and ring the bell. If correct, and first, you get all the cards that are in play. If not, all the cards in play are discarded as well as three of the mistake-maker’s cards.

Then there are “trick cards” that look just like Ring It! cards, except for the small skull of don’t-clapitude.

party-familySpeaking of clapitude, there are variations, O, yes. Maybe instead of the clapping thing you do the rubbing the belly thing, or the fake sneeze thing or the pig squeal. Or you do the thing and then Ring It whenever the borders of the cards match, or when two numbers can be added to make a third number on another card, or when two colors could be mixed to make a third (blue and yellow make green) or, well, you get it – basically, a game that you can make almost impossibly difficult or possibly even more fun than you thought possible.

Major Fun for 2-9 children as young as five-years old and as old as you, at least. Designed by Thierry Denoual from Blue Orange Games.

Super Genius

supergenius

 

Super Genius First Words is one of a series of (gasp) educational games from Blue Orange Games. Why, you ask, do I gasp thus? Because it has been my experience, repeatedly, that when people put those two words together, the game part is sacrificed for the sake of making the so-called educational part educational enough. (Here is a little article I wrote about education and games, which should explain my bias, probably in more depth than you want.)

This is what Blue Orange has to say about Super Genius First Words:

This reading matching game focuses on closed syllable and short vowel words and helps prepare early readers for more complicated language skills to come. There is always a match between any two cards. Find the pair between a word and its image, two images or two words.

Developed hand-in-hand with learning professionals, this Super Genius game was specifically created with early learners in mind.

And here’s what I have to say:

First of all: I had to add a new category to this site so I could give this game, and all the games in this series, the kind of award it deserves.

family-kids1Second: This game is fun – fun enough to play even if you already know everything you thought there was to know about closed syllables and short vowel words. So much fun that you can play it with your early-reading children with all your adult knowledge and reading proficiencies, and still lose. Because they’re better and faster. And that’s the truth.

Based on the same mechanic that makes Spot-It, in all it’s manifestations, as Major Fun a it has proven to be (there’s always a match between any two cards), makes the each of the Super Genius games we’ve played (Super Genius Reading 1, Super Genius Reading 2, Super Genius Addition, Super Genius Multiplication) genuinely, significantly, major fun.

And, yes, OK, learning happens. And, for the people who buy these games for their kids, that’s precisely the point, and the value. But for all of us, champions of fun that we are, the real point is that these games are a genuine invitation to fun, for all of us.

It’s to be amazed by. It’s to be inspired by. It’s to make you want to play.

The Super Genius games are designed by Frédérique Constantini. Lowest recommended age depends on the complexity of the subject matter, from five-year-olds to eight. The games can be played by 1 to 6 players (there are solitaire and cooperative versions). The cards are large, rectangular, clearly and attractively illustrated. The games are packaged in a sturdy box that close with a magnetic flap (which proves necessary, because these games are going to get played a lot). And, as already mentioned, come to us from those gifted lads and lasses of Blue Orange Games.

Rock Me Archimedes

rock me archimedes

We had to endure several hurdles before we got to the game itself. The first was the package. It was the first time in all our our deep and extensive examination of new games that we encountered such a cleverly and uniquely designed package – the shape perfectly conforming to the game, elegantly inviting us to a unique experience. And if you let it balance on the curved part, it works just like the game works!

The next hurdle: opening the box to discover that the game was, in fact, as beautiful, as different, as inviting as the box intimated. A long wooden board covered with a pattern of cleanly carved pits and channels, resting on an equally beautiful semi-cylindrical base within which fits a removable wooden tray holding two sets of marbles and a large wooden die. And the rules – clearly written, cleverly presented on a sheet of heavy paper exactly as long and wide as the board, easy to understand in a few minutes reading, and inviting the players to explore variations and invent their own.

And then, the final hurdle, playing the game and discovering how genuinely challenging and truly fun it was.

Major Fun AwardIt’s a balance board. Placing marbles on the board changes the balance. One player tries to get four of her marbles to one end of the board, the other to the other – without letting either end of the board touch, even everso briefly, the surface the board is resting on. You can place or move your marbles towards either end of the board – yours or your opponent’s. Why you’re opponent’s? So you can prevent her from having enough spaces open to win the game. But if you focus too much on that strategy, you won’t get your marbles to your end of the board.

And then there are the variations.

And then you realize, because the basic physics of the game are so interesting, so inviting, you can play with almost anyone. Maybe not the game that is described, but fun nevertheless. So, yes, you can play with a five-year-old. And yes, you can even play cooperatively, or in teams. And yes, by all means, put it on your coffee table. In the box, maybe, for the sake of the surprise.

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Designed by Matt Buchanan in collaboration with the Marbles Brain Workshop, Rock Me Archimedes is a two-player game recommended for children ages 8 and up, takes about 20 minutes to play, and is available from Marbles the Brain Store.

Spinderella

spinderella
There are three spiders. They have a magnetic personality, despite their apparent spiderness. There are two game boards. One game board is suspended over the other. Two of the spiders (Peter and Parker) live on the top board, the other hangs somewhat menacingly by its web (OK, string) between the two boards. The string is connected to two magnets, and to  Spinderella. Peter connects through the top board to one of the magnets, Parker to the other. Moving the Peter and Parker apart or close together raises or lowers Spinderella. Peter and Parker, depending on where they are positioned, change where Spinderalla hangs. If you can figure it all out, you’ll be able to move Peter and Parker so that Spinderella can get close enough to the ant of your choice (also magnetic), to carry that poor ant back to the starting point. In sum, it’s all about the spiders.

There is some set-up time involved. Fortunately the instructions are well-illustrated and compassionately brief.

Each of up to four players gets three ants. Their goal is to be the first to get all three of their ants across the windy ant-track to the safety of the ant home. All ants share the same starting place and the same home. Kind of sweet, no?

There’s also a tree trunk. It’s hollow – and just big enough to cover an ant and protect it from Spinderella, and tall enough to make any ant who happens to be on top of the tree trunk a very tempting Spinderalla morsel.

Spinderella - set up

There are three dice. One die is determines whether you are moving the spiders (and, hence, Spinderella), an ant or the tree trunk. Another die determines how many spaces Peter and Parker can move. And the third how many spaces your ants can move. On your turn, you roll all three dice.

You roll the dice, you get to move either the spiders, your ants, or the tree trunk. If you roll the tree trunk, you can also move your ants. Ants can land on top of each other or on top of the tree trunk. If one ant lands on another, the bottom ant, when it moves, carries the top ant with it.

thinking-family-kidsSo, you get the general idea. What you can’t quite get from the description is how innovative, and especially how fun the game turns out to be. Getting Spinderalla to move where you what her to be is obviously the most challenging and fun-provoking part of the game, though trying to escape the growing menace of Spinderalla is equally fun. The fact that you all get to move her (if the dice are right), so what appears to be a good move for you at one moment in the game might get you in big trouble (ant-capture-wise) the next move, adds significantly to the joyful angst of it all. Hiding under the tree trunk is very clever, unless you want to move that particular ant.

Designed by Roberto Franco with art by Doris Mathtäus, Spinderella can be purchased from the German manufacturer who claims that it is suitable for children 6 years old and up. It will soon be available in the US from Lion Rampant Imports.

Crab Stack

crabstack

Crab Stack is a strategy game for 2-4 players.

It has all the characteristics of a Major Fun game: it plays in less than 20 minutes, it takes maybe five minutes to learn, it’s well made, the rules are clearly written and mercifully short, it’s unique, and, from time to time, it makes you laugh (because, despite your massive intellect and strategic brilliance, you will, in deed, be taken by surprise.

We liked the three-player version best, though it’s fun with two or four players as well. With three players, the surprise factor is much more evident. That’s also true of playing with four people, but then you have to wait longer between turns. With two players, it gets a little head-to-head, if you know what I mean. Fine for the competitively-inclined, but we like it most when we’re playing for the fun of it. And there are few strategy games that are really fun to play with more than two people.

Each player gets nine wooden crab tokens, or token crabs, depending on your fantasy preferences. Three of these crabs are short, three of medium height, and three tall. The short crabs can move further. The tall crabs can land on top of any crab they they wish. So you get a kind of logical bifurcation here: the shorter crabs can move further, but they also are more restricted in terms of what kinds of crabs they can land on. And, because crabs are like that, they can only move on top of other crabs.

The board is hexagonal. There are different color spaces. The colors indicate which spaces are used when you set up for different numbers of players, otherwise, they just add to the crabby aesthetics of it all.

thinking-family-kidsOf special strategic interest and opportunities for crabbish cunning, there’s the “Wave rule.” Crabs, as we all know, are extremely social creatures, and, of necessity, not only travel only on each other, but also can not stand to be separated from crab crowd. Should any crab group find itself isolated, it succumbs to the conceptual wave, which washes the entire crab cluster off the board into conceptual oblivion.

The object of the game is to be the last player whose crabs can still move.

There’s no luck in the game. It’s all strategic reasoning. But it’s got just enough humor, and a strong enough fantasy, and it’s not what you’d call a crab-eat-crab game, all of which helps nourish the playful and only mildly competitive nature of the game; making it especially good for family play. It kind of makes you want to have crabs for pets.

Brilliantly designed by Henri Kermarrec and playfully illustrated by Stéphanie Escapa, Crab Stack is for 2-4 players who are maybe eight-years old, maybe eighty. And it comes to us, wouldn’t youknow, from Blue Orange Games.

Push-a-Monster

push-a-monster
Just how good are you at herding monsters onto an increasingly crowded, irregularly-shaped “Monster Arena” without letting any of them fall off?

That’s the very question you’ll be asking yourself when you play Push a Monster.

You get 1 Monster Arena, 27 wooden monsters, 81 monster tokens, a sheet full of stickers to put on your wooden monster, two monster pushers and a die. There’s also a very clearly and colorfully illustrated set of well-written, easy-to-read rules on a large two-sided sheet of paper.

Aside from the monsters, the die, and the sheet of stickers, and the rules, everything else is made pleasingly thick, colorfully-illustrated, fun-to-punch-out cardboard.

You play with 2-4 players.

The first thing you do, after you’ve finished sticking the stickers, and punching out the tokens is put all the 81 monster tokens into stacks – one stack for each kind of monster. There are six kinds of monsters, and there are six tokens of the largest and fifteen each of the other five.

When it’s your turn to add a monster, you first roll the die to determine which monster you will be pushing on to the platform. One side of the die has a question mark. If you roll that, you must select a monster from one of the highest stacks. The larger the monster, the more difficult it will be to herd onto the Arena without pushing another monster (or two, or several) off. You then place that monster on the longer monster pusher, and use the smaller pusher to slide that monster until it is completely onto the Arena, with no part hanging off.

Major Fun AwardThe scoring system is particularly ingenious:Each kind of monster is a different size. Each kind of monster token is a different width – the smaller the monster, the narrower the token. When monsters fall off the Arena, every player (except for the player whose turn it was) gets a token of that monster type. The players then arrange their tokens in a line, and the player with the longest line at the end of the game wins.

Turns are relatively short. The whole game can be played in less than 30 minutes (even the excessively cautious will find their caution kept in check by the collective impatience of the other players). No reading is involved so younger players will be able to understand the game almost immediately. It does take a steady hand and some degree of reasoning to determine where is the most monster-accommodating place in the arena. But it’s a fun and funny game, and some success for each player is all but guaranteed.

Designed by Wolfgang Dirscherl and Manfried Reiendl, with art by Claus Stephan and Michael Hüter; is available from Queen Games, for children ages 5 to 85.

Compose Yourself

compose yourself

Compose Yourself is an invitation to the fun of music, to the kind of fun that only an accomplished composer knows, to the way Mozart and Bach played with music. With a little assistance from ThinkFun.

The result is half contained in a lovely box with a lovely bag and a thick pack of transparent cards. The other half is on your computer.

Obeserve:

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Compose Yourself invites anyone, kids, adults, even people who can’t read music, who don’t play an instrument, who’ve never composed anything more musical than a tuneless whistle; to experience the fun that is core to the art of composing music. All it takes is a little playfulness and curiosity, the cards and your computer, and a world of beautiful, harmonious, apparently endless fun opens to you.

You select cards from the deck, sure, at random, what the heck. Pick a card, any card will do. In fact, pick four cards. OK, pick twelve. Decide how you want to position each card (they’re transparent so you can not only turn them around, you can also flip them over). And then enter the code on each card into the computer. You can reposition the cards on the computer as well. When you’re ready, you can get the computer to play your composition. And you can choose between the “marimba” sound (which makes it easier to hear the notes) or the orchestra (which will bathe you in symphonic delight), or both. You can change your composition as often as you want. Play around with the cards. Explore some of the very useful tips from the Maestro. For example:

Try repeating a card somewhere. Repetition is fine, in fact, in music it’s great. There are 30 pairs in this pack, see how repeating a card somewhere in your tune makes it sound.

Try a trick that poets use when they make rhymes? Create a composition using alternating cards. e.g., A,D,A,D,B,C,B,C. You may find that it adds a lovely beat or cadence.

You can save your composition as an MP3. You can print it out if you’re of the music-playing sort. And you’ll be learning stuff like how to read music (without even trying) and how musical phrases can be manipulated and how very much fun it all can be.

In all the many delights of discovering games that are worthy of the Major Fun seal, I have never been this delighted, this gratified. Compose Yourself exemplifies everything I’ve been teaching about what an educational toy or game should be – and it never once makes you think that education has anything to do with it.

Philip Sheppard, Maestro, who composed the cards explains

Dear budding musician,

I invented these cards to help me with a challenge I face every day. You see, I’m very lucky because I get to write music for my job, but I have to write hundreds of pieces a year and sometimes I need help to think of a new tune really quickly. So, late one night, I was working on some music for a film and I was stuck.

I thought to myself, what would Bach or Mozart do? Well, they would take a few notes and turn them upside down or backwards until their musical lines danced across the page, through an orchestra right into your heart & soul.

There was a piece of transparent paper on my desk and I had this crazy idea. Soon I had a stack of cards that I could flip and rotate and a world of tunes opened up right there. I wrote three pieces that night; the next day the director of the film was thrilled. You now get the resulting cards, and I hope you have as much fun making music as I do. Remember, we all talk about playing music, but it’s even more fun to play with music — so Compose Yourself!

Well, I add, bless you, Maestro, and you too, ThinkFun, for creating such a playful invitation to such deeply rewarding fun.

family-kids-creative

Dragonwood

Dragonwood
Dragonwood, despite its dragonish and monsterly appearance, is a fun and funny game for people old enough to enjoy playing with luck. Sure, it’s about winning, and winning, despite your cunning and deep familiarity with probability theory, your awesome intuitive powers and general strategic brilliance, is all about luck – and therein lies the bulk of the fun.

There are two decks of cards. One, the “Adventurer Cards,” reveals a collection of colorfully rendered noble, but fairly harmless-seeming dudes and dudettes accompanied by a few “Lucky Lady Bugs” whose magical power allows you to pick two more cards. The second, the “Dragonwood Cards,” compose the very objects for which you are so devotedly vying – the Grumpy Trolls, worth 4 points each, the snarling Pack of Wolves (only 3 points), or perhaps one of only two 6- or even 7-point dragons. Scattered amongst these evil critters you’ll also find an assortment of natural events (Sunny Day, Wind Storm, Thunder Storm) that make you do things like discard one of your Adventure Cards or pass it to the right or left; and such lusted after special power cards like the Bucket of Spinach which allows you to add 2 points to any Stomp.

Stomp, you ask? What means this Stomp?

Major Fun AwardYou see, on every Dragonwood Card there’s a list of three possible actions: Strike, Stomp and Scream. What means these actions, you wonder. A Strike is a set of Adventurer cards that are in sequence (regardless of color), a Stomp cards of the same number, and a Scream, cards of the same color. Each alternative has a number next to it. To win the Dragonwood Card of your choice, you need to search among the cards in your hand (you can have up to 9) for the longest array and then throw the dice (there are 6) to see if you can get a high enough score. How many dice you can throw depends on how many cards you play. Some cards, like the Bucket of Spinach, you hold on to as tightly as you can because you can use them throughout the game – but the more of those you have, the fewer Adventurer cards. And therein, of course, lies yet another rub, or shall we say, tickle.

There are just enough alternatives to keep your strategically probability-estimating mind in gear, just enough incentives to stoke the competitive fires, and just enough luck for it to make you laugh semi-maniacally, despite it all, win or lose. All in maybe 20 minutes.

In sum, Major Fun.

Designed by Darren Kisgen with beautifully playful art by Chris Beatrice on 108 playing cards that shuffle easily, six dice that are lovely to behold and have that perfect rollability factor – for 2-4 players age 8 and up from Gamewright.

Quack-a-doodle-Moo

Quack-a-doodle-Moo

Quack-a-doodle-Moo will take you about five minutes to learn. Really. It’s a game that requires just a tad of memory (making it challenging enough for focused grandparental engagement) speedy reaction time (in which the children will shine) and adds an element of conceptual befuddlement that will attract even the most intellectual disciplined parent. Hence, it is something of an archetypical family game and close to the apotheosis of party games which equally lends itself to being a kids’ game.

There are 96 Animal Cards depicting 12 different animals along with the sound they are purported to make. There are 12 Barn Cards – one for each animal.

The game begins with an equal distribution of the Animal Cards, a different number of cards depending on how many players are about to be intensely involved. Each player then gets a Barn Card. The Barn Card has two sides. One side shows a barn, the other the particular animal whose sound will be used during the remainder of that round to identify that particular player. Players take turns revealing their inner animals while everyone practices making the sound of said animal. Then, everyone assured of who is what, the game begins.

Players take turns revealing the animal card on top of their decks. One at a time, round and round, card-by-card. As soon as a player discovers that the card she or he just played matches someone else’s card, that player, and the player whose card was matched, race to be the first to make the sound, not of the matching animals, but of the other player’s animal (now hiding in that player’s barn) – and therein lies both the agony and ecstasy of the game.

Quack-a-doodle-Moo will make you laugh, and the fun will be Major, and at least 20 minutes of happy hysteria will be had by all. For the first round. And, should the collective skills prove to be greater than anticipated, the good folk at Out of the Box games have included alternate rules for further collective exacerbation.

Major Fun Award

Quack-a-doodle-Moo is a gift to the world, for three to eight players, from the age of seven-up, so to speak, by the playful graces of Out of the Box Publishing. The elegantly playworthy concept comes from by Chris Childs and Tony Richardson, the oft-hysterical game play design by Al Waller and Max Winter Osterhaus, accompanied by the suitably silly illustrations of resident artist John Kovalic.

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