Castle Blast

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games, Toys) by Will Bain on 11-06-2014

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Castle BlastAs anyone knows who has ever played with building blocks, the apotheosis of the constructive activity is the moment when you bring it all crashing down. For every castle or city or log cabin there is some dragon or dinosaur or marauding army that is merely biding its time.

Castle Blast is a building game that comes with its own wrecking ball. The good folks at Mindware embrace the Truth that what goes up must come down (especially since the game will probably have to go back in the box eventually). It’s about time kids learned that nothing made by human hands will endure.

In the words of Percy Bysshe Shelly, “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair! For only my Twinkies and long-chain hydrocarbons remain!”

Or something to that effect.

The rules are simple: build a castle to protect 3 items (a princess, a treasure, and a dragon); roll the die to see how many swings you can take; swing the wrecking ball until you knock the three characters out of the fortification. The game comes with a small game-board and a castle design that you can follow. Or not. Build your own castle and see how it goes.

In the end, it all falls down.

When you successfully knock a character out of the castle, you get a token that corresponds to that character. Collect all three character tokens to win. Depending on how many players you have, you will probably have to reconstruct the castle multiple times.

01 AwardThe game looks great. The wooden blocks are solid and smooth and colorful. The rules are simple and provide several variations of play for those who want to add some variety to the endless cycle of creation and destruction. If you already have wooden blocks scattered underfoot and in the bottom of toy boxes, you could incorporate them in very easily.

Things fall apart. The center cannot hold. Major Fun is loosed upon the world… (apologies to Yeats)

2-4 players. Ages 5+

Castle Blast is © 2013 by MindWare.

Staxis

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 09-06-2014

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MindWare’s Staxis is like playing a game of pick-up-sticks in reverse. And I don’t mean that way you start the game by dropping a handful of long toothpicks in a pile, but rather imagine having to carefully place each stick so that they stand on end or balance against each other without touching the table.

The game comes with a base structure that looks like a Soviet era satellite has come to rest in your home. Once you have Sputnik assembled on your playing surface, players divide the 50 long stacking sticks between them. The first player to get rid of all their sticks is the winner.

Before you balance one of your sticks on the Epcot Spaceship Earth you have to roll a die. This tells you how many points of contact your stick must have with any wooden part of the structure. A single point basically means that you have to balance your stick horizontally across another stick. A double point means that your stick must touch two other sticks.

Although the two-point option seems easier and more stable, it proves very tricky as the game proceeds. Sticks balanced on two points generally form angles that make the single-point rolls even more challenging. The double-point sticks also seem to cause the weight to shift in unexpected ways.

A player must successfully balance one stick on his or her turn, but any sticks that fall off are collected by that player. This encourages players to take chances in order to leave their opponents with increasingly unstable configurations.

awardStaxis takes a steady hand and a keen eye. The tension builds steadily which lends itself to a lot of good natured trash talking and goading. The rules are barely necessary and that’s only for the first time you build the base Tesla Tower. The game is well constructed although you should be careful with the wooden stacking sticks. They do lend themselves to splinters.

Our kids had a blast with Staxis and it made for a great game with mixed ages. Major Fun game for dexterity, balance, and show-boating.

2-6 players. Ages 6+

Staxis was designed by Paul Wickens and is © 2013 by MindWare.

Kerflip!

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games, Word Games) by Will Bain on 03-05-2014

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Word games are often time consuming affairs—the kind of game where you either find an almost maniacal fascination with anagrams or where you must carry on an extended conversation with your fellow competitors as each player grinds through endless permutations of letters and point combinations. Don’t get me wrong. I love thoughtful word games but there are times when I want a full game to be over in the time it takes to finish one round of Scrabble.

Games like Boggle, Bananagrams, and Word on the Street are good examples of fast paced word games.

To this category of word game I wish to introduce the Major Fun Award winning game of Kerflip!

In many ways, Kerflip! is like a puckish and caffeinated child of Scrabble and Boggle. Players draw letter tiles from a bag and then simultaneously drop them on the game board. The players then look for words created by the letters. When you call out a word you can’t change your mind so you have to make sure it’s a good one. But you also have to be fast. The first players to call out words have a distinct advantage when it comes to scoring. If someone is taking too long, the game comes with a 15 second timer which may be deployed to speed things along.

It’s like a cattle prod in the shape of an hour-glass.

There are many quirky elements to scoring but a large part of it boils down to the tiles. The letter tiles are double-sided: one side is whit and the other side is orange. After players drop their tiles onto the game board they must flip any orange tiles to the white side. Once all players have called out their words, scoring starts with the fastest player. That speller scores 10 points per white tile and flips any tiles from his or her word to the orange side. The next player scores 5 points per orange tile and 10 per any white tile, flipping the white to orange as they are used.

This mechanic rewards speed AND word length. It also is a great way to apply pressure to the combatants. For the most part the players race each other. The timer is only needed for that last poor sucker who thinks he can calmly sift through all the letters for that killer word (er… he or she… it’s not like it ever happened to me…)

awardOrange tiles are removed from the game and any unused white tiles are returned to the bag. The game is over when the bag does not contain enough tiles for each player to draw.

Like I mentioned before there are other scoring rules that I won’t go into here. They are designed to keep the game fast paced and the score always in doubt because some points are kept concealed until the end of the game.

The game is beautifully designed, and the box is a lesson in game utility. The game board fits inside the box to easily contain the tiles. Clean-up is especially ingenious. Used orange tiles are pushed into two openings in the box. At the end of the game, you simply tilt the box up and the tiles slide into a waiting cup so you can simply pour them back into the bag.

It’s fast. It’s addictive. It’s elegant.

It’s Major Fun.

2-4 players. Ages 8+

Kerflip! was designed by Damon Tabb and is © 2012 by Creative Foundry Games. Provided by the good people at Game Salute.

Duco

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 23-04-2014

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We’re back!! After a spring hiatus we have a ton of games lined up. So let’s kick it off with a great card game from our friends at Game Salute

There are many many ways to play Duco. This is not to say that the game doesn’t come with rules. It also doesn’t mean that the game is like an empty box that your kids will play with more than the toy that came in it. No, I mean that the game literally comes with many sets of rules all based off of a simple set of mechanics. Once you learn the basic mechanics there is lots of fun to be had.

But don’t be in a hurry. The basic rules are fun on their own.

At its heart, Duco is a tiling game. Players take turns placing cards in a grid so that the sides of the cards match up with the cards already in play. The better your cards match, the better your score.

So how to make (or lose in the case of the Bard) a winning match? The trick is in the cards.

There are 75 cards in the game. Each card is divided into nine squares. The center square contains the Duco logo and a color (this is used in some of the variations but not the basic game). The outer eight squares contain a variety of shapes (circles, crescents, stars, triangles, squares, and wild) in a variety of colors (red, blue, green, yellow, black, and rainbow). The wild shapes can be any of the other shapes while the rainbow can be used for any color. A match is determined by placing a card next to a card on the table. If the three boxes have the same shape OR color as the boxes in the other card, the player has a match and scores points: same shape OR same color = 1 point; same shape AND same color = 2 points.

The game ends when one player reaches 50 points.

awardThis is a great social game as well as an engaging solitaire. A restaurant game for when you are waiting for your entrees to arrive. You can always score and sometimes you find a place where your card scores on two or more sides. Those moments when you discover a multi-sided match are very satisfying. Almost embarrassingly so. It’s fun but after a while you will want more.

And here’s where the game just keeps on giving. Duco suggests seven distinct variations that each have their own unique strategies and styles. I won’t go into them all here, but my favorite was the one they called Stress. This is a speed variation in which play occurs simultaneously. Each player has 10 cards. The first one to finish counts down from 30 and then everyone must stop. Scoring occurs at the end and unplaced cards are unscored. In this variation, the middle color is important because it identifies each player when it comes time to score.

The speed and the matching and the messing with other people. Definitely Major Fun.

This is like a Swiss army knife of tiling games. Handy in so many situations. It does require a decent amount of space to play, but there are so many ways to play that you will want to keep this around for those down moments when it’s important to keep your friends or kids occupied.

I would actually forget the thing I was waiting for and keep playing.

1-5 players. Ages 6+

Duco was designed by Henrik Larrson and is © 2014 by Game Salute.

Murbles

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Senior-Worthy) by Will Bain on 12-03-2014

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Despite the rather cruel and fickle nature of this particular March, there have been a couple of really pleasant days in which all but the most stubborn or sheltered piles of snow melted away. Spring is in full tease mode. Yesterday I went for a run in shorts and t-shirt. Today I had to push an inch of wet snow off my windshield before I left work.

But those few nice days got me out not just to run but to play a couple games of Murbles that Murray Kramer of Kramer Kreations was nice enough to send to us back in December. Now, Murray is from Pensacola, Florida where I can only assume that a lawn-bowling game like Murbles is a viable year-round proposition. Unfortunately the game reached me in Indianapolis just as we were settling in for what would be one of the snowiest winters on record.

Each set of Murbles comes with a target ball (white) and six other balls in 2 colors. The ones I tossed around the yard were red and blue, but there is a huge variety of colors you can order. As with most bocce-style bowling games, you throw the target murble and then players try to get their murbles closest to the target. With the basic set, two or four people could play by alternating throws. Combine multiple sets and you can have a game for an entire family reunion.

awardAlthough the game will be immediately familiar to anyone who has ever thrown objects over a grassy surface, it is the packaging and materials that really make Murbles stand out. The murbles are three inches in diameter, weigh about half a pound (8 ounces), and come in a colorful canvas bag with the rules printed on it. The murbles are small enough and light enough that children and the elderly can play with them, but they still have enough “heft” so that your throws feel controlled. They are made from a dense, recycled plastic that is also buoyant so you won’t lose them at the bottom of a lake (although prevailing winds and waves might lead you on an extended chase).

Murbles is Major Fun that you can throw in your back pack or the back of your car and then throw around in the great outdoors. Something to usher in the spring and a great reason to get outside and (as my mom would say) get the stink blown off.

[sniff] I’m pretty sure I need to get out more.

2+ players. Ages 6+

Murbles was designed by Murray Kramer and is © 2011 by Kramer Kreations.

 

 

Major Fun would like some credit for doing this entire review without making one joke about balls. Not one. Read back through there and check out all the opportunities I had. I tell you what, being this mature is really hard difficult.

Der Schwarze Pirat (The Black Pirate)

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Toys) by Will Bain on 08-02-2014

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Black PirateOne of the things that I most appreciate about table-top games is the way that the game transforms this very flat, very common surface into something exotic. It’s that feeling I got when my sister and I would scatter plastic toy soldiers and cowboys around a room and then spend an hour or so sniping them with rubber bands. These little plastic figures transformed the room into a jungle or a desert or a mountain pass in which we crawled and hid and attacked.

Haba’s table-top pirate adventure game, Der Schwarze Pirat, turns your table into an island-bestrewn sea where colorful pirates hunt and fight for treasure. The game takes place on a large, modular board that is wonderfully painted and detailed. Each player controls a pirate ship which they blow around the board in pursuit of treasure.

Blow, you ask?

Yup. As in “Thar she ________.”

The game comes with a rubber bulb like you would see on the end of a turkey baster. When you squeeze the bulb, a puff (or blast) of air comes out of the hole. You roll a die to see how many puffs you get. The die also tells you if you move your ship or the black pirate ship. Either choice gives you the chance to collect gold.

Several other mechanics make the game interesting:

There is the treasure die. At the beginning of your turn you place treasure on some of the islands (thus enticing pirates to visit those places). The treasure die tells you where to place gold, BUT gold may not be placed at an island that is being visited by a pirate. This means that pirates cannot simply sit on an island and wait for treasure to come to them.

awardSecondly there is the plunder rule. If you crash the Black Pirate into another player’s boat, that player takes out three of their gold coins. Your opponent secretly puts some coins in one hand and the rest in the other. You tap the hand you want and receive the treasure. In this fashion you can earn 0 – 3 points and your opponent has a chance to lose nothing (after all, pirates are a sneaky lot).

With the cold weather we’ve been experiencing here in the Midwest, a game that can take us away to someplace warm and sunny and full of treasure is a welcome respite. Or a recipe for madness. Either way, it’s Major Fun.

Der Schwarze Pirat was designed by Guido Hoffman and © 2006 by Haba.

Speed Cups & Halli Galli

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games) by Will Bain on 20-01-2014

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It’s Amigo week this week as we award Haim Shafir and Amigo for several games that we received recently. Although the games have some very similar features (for example they are all games of speed and quick reactions) each one has its own idiosyncrasies and charm. They are all very clever and, more importantly, fun.

Major Fun.

Today I’m going to focus on the two games for slightly older players. Later this week I’ll look at a couple of the games that are suited for even younger players. Keep in mind that all of the games from Shafir and Amigo are fantastic family games that are enjoyable for a wide range of ages.

Speed Cups (2 – 4 players. Ages: 6+)

Let’s start with a game that is most similar to one we have already given a Major Fun Award to. If you remember from a few weeks back, we loved Finger Twist—another game designed by Shafir and produced by Amigo. Speed Cups has a lot of similarities to Finger Twist. Both are speed games, both involve matching color and order combinations on a card, and both have a bell. Whereas Finger Twist uses colored hair bands, Speed Cups uses colored plastic cups.

Each player has a set of five cups, each of a different color. To start play, a card is flipped over and the players race to arrange their cups to match the pattern on the card. One tricky aspect is that the card does not show cups, instead the card shows a picture of five flowers or five cars or a five-story apartment building. The second wrinkle is that the players must not only match the color order but also the horizontal or vertical orientation of the items. If the items on the card are arranged vertically, the cups must be stacked. If the colors are arranged horizontally then the cups need to form a line on the table.

That’s it. Each player rings the bell when finished. The first player to ring the bell and have the cups in the right order wins the card.

One of the things I found most interesting was how differently each player performed depending on the orientation of the card. I was much better at cards that were vertically oriented. I was competitive when asked to stack the cups. But when it came to horizontal arrangement, I was almost always dead last. Everyone who has played with me has made similar comments. One orientation is much better than the other.

Like all speed games, some people are just better than others. Of the quintilogy of games from Haim Shafir, Speed Cups and Finger Twist are perhaps the most unforgiving in the sense that someone who struggles will get frustrated if forced to always compete against those who are naturally (or in the case of my daughter seemingly preternaturally) dexterous. Then again, pulling out an unexpected win feels really good.

Halli GalliHalli Galli (2 – 6 players, Ages: 6+)

First produced in 1990, this is actually the first of Haim Shafir’s “Bell Quintilogy” of games (“Bell Quintilogy” is not an “official” title. And “Major Fun” knows that some of the “quotes” are misplaced but it’s just so “addictive.”) You can see the DNA of Halli Galli in the more recent games like Speed Cups and Finger Twist, but Halli Galli is more about building tension than raw speed.

The game comes with a bell and 56 cards. The cards depict 1 to 5 pieces of fruit (plums, strawberries, limes, or bananas). These cards are shuffled and dealt face-down to all players. These piles of cards are arranged around the bell.

When play starts, players take turns flipping over one card from their deck so that one card is showing in front of each player. Players continue to flip over cards (covering up the previous card if no one has rung the bell) until exactly five of any fruit are visible. The first to ring the bell when exactly five of a fruit are visible wins ALL of the cards that are face-up on the table. These cards go to the winner’s deck. If a player runs out of cards then that player is eliminated from the game.

If a player makes a mistake, that player must give one card to each of his or her opponents.

awardThe pace of the game is uneven but instead of being a flaw in the game, it turns out to be a major source of excitement. Sometimes you will find yourself ringing the bell every second or third card, but there are times when you can play 10 or 11 cards without revealing a set of five. In those rounds the tension becomes almost unbearable. When the critical card finally drops the explosion of sound and activity is bone jarring.

Even though this is an elimination game, the rounds go very quickly and the amount of down-time is minimal. There are also lots of ways to adjust this game to accommodate for different ages and ability levels.

You might find yourself flinching every time you hear a bell but Haim Shafir and Amigo have provided us with a lot of ways to have fun—Major Fun—while exercising our fast-twitch reflexes.

Speed Cups & Halli Galli were designed by Haim Shafir and © 2013 by Amigo.

Frog Wobble

Filed Under (Kids Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 03-01-2014

Frog Wobble balancing game

Frog Wobble is designed to be a children’s toy, which perhaps explains why it looks so much like something children might play with: cute frogs, sitting on a wood plank, over a pond with a fishy and a suspiciously friendly alligator. It’s a hefty, wooden toy, designed to withstand repeated, prolonged enthusiasm.

There’s a wooden frog plank, varnished for extra slipperiness and general woodiness. It is glued to a large, weighty weight that both adds to and detracts from the stability of the frog plank. There’s a hole in the weighty weight, through which one slides a wooden dowel. There’s a wooden board, a.k.a. a “pond stand,” with grooves on either side. These grooves accommodate two wooden “pond stands” which, once placed appropriately into the pond stand grooves, become the dowel-holder. Thus, we end up with a colorful, sturdy, yet easily unbalanced wooden thing upon which to put our eight wooden frogs.

Speaking of wooden frogs, there are two sets of four of them. One set is lighter in color than the other, but, otherwise, identical. The four frogs are each different – different sizes, different shapes. The frogs are designed so that they can, should one so desire, be balanced upon each other.

The rules suggest two different modes of play: cooperative (each of the two players plays simultaneously, balancing the frog of their choice on the position of their choice, the goal being for all the frogs to be sitting or lying on the plank. There’s a competitive variation which needs little if any further explanation. They also note that the frogs can be slid, stood up on each other, or even be placed flat on their backs or tummies.

When the plank tilts sufficiently, the frogs all slide off. If you’re not playing in a carpeted area, the frogs fall with a child-enthusing  woody clatter.

The rules further suggest that you can add more “small objects” if you so desire.

There is so much to do with this simple toy, so many ways to play, so much to explore and make you think and make you laugh.

It is brought to us by MindWare who recommends this toy for children, three-years old and up. I am 72. I suppose one would consider that “way up.” I played with my grandson. It was way fun.

Major Fun Award

Finger Twist

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games) by Will Bain on 26-12-2013

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Fingertwist_PressefotoWhat do you do with a bell and dozens of fuzzy hairbands?

If your answer was “host an ‘80s rock festival” then I applaud your way with words.

If your answer was “make a game” then you have a mind like Haim Shafir and the good people at Amigo Games.

Finger Twist (also known as Ringlding in its native German tongue) is one of several games that Haim Shafir and Amigo have released this year. It comes with a bell (the kind you would ring at a service counter), 72 stretchy hair ties (think small scrunchies instead of rubber bands) in six colors, and 32 cards. The cards show a hand with several of the hair bands wrapped around different combinations of fingers.

To play, set the bell in the middle of the table, surrounded by all of the hair ties. Shuffle the deck and flip over the top card. Whoever is the first to put the hair ties around his or her fingers so that they match the card, rings the bell.

awardThe game plays out in three phases that can be tracked by their distinct sounds.  Once the card is flipped there is an immediate shout and surge as everyone grabs for the colors they need. The noise level only increases in volume and in the amount of profanity as everyone struggles to wrap the correct color around the correct fingers. Finally, when someone rings the bell, there is a series of groans and frustrated gesticulations as everyone plucks off the bands and prepares for the next round.

This is one of those games whose rules are virtually intuitive from the moment you open the box. It is quick and raucous and colorful. It’s fun to see how a common item like a hair tie can be repurposed for such a fun—Major Fun— game.

2 – 6 players or teams. Ages: 4+

Finger Twist was designed by Haim Shafir and © 2012 by Amigo.

Goblins Drool, Faeries Rule

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 17-12-2013

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Such a beautiful, wee, fae game.

At first blush, it would be easy to dismiss Goblins Drool, Faeries Rule as a kids game. That kind of “kids game” like Go Fish and Old Maid that makes an adult look longingly at itemized taxes as a way of escape. But do not make that mistake. Like all things fae, the cuteness is but a glamour that belies a thing of great elegance and power.

And fun. It’s not all pomp and circumstance you know. It’s Major Fun.

The game, developed by Game-O-Gami and published by Game Salute,  consists of 20 double-sided cards. Each card is unique and depicts a faerie on one side and a goblin on the other. The faeries have names like Snowflake Shelley, Vanilla Scoop, and Morning Dew while the goblins have names like Full Moon Moo, Cuckoo Clock, and Vermin Vermicelli. Take a moment to notice that some of these names rhyme. That will be important later. Each card also has a pair of symbols. Cards with frogs on one side will have toadstools on the flip-side. Cards with suns on one side will have moons on the other.

One of the great strengths of this game is the artwork. The faeries are whimsical and the goblins are silly. We spent a lot of time just passing the cards around when we first opened the game.

The game starts with all cards arranged so that the goblin side is up. Players receive 4 cards that they keep on the table in front of them. When all players have their cards, 4 more cards are placed in the center of the table (this is called the faerie circle). Extra cards are set aside. Cards are never hidden in this game, but you can only see one side (no peeking at the side facing the table).

To win you must either collect 6 faeries or have no goblins.

awardOn your turn, you take one card in front of you and move it into the faerie circle. Any cards that rhyme with your card are flipped over (goblins become faeries and faeries become goblins). You then collect any cards that have the same symbol as your card (moon, sun, frog, toadstool), BUT your card stays in the circle.

Navigating these two simple aspects of the cards is wonderfully complex. It surprised me just how difficult it was to think about the rhyme AND the symbol. My guess is that the mental processes of keeping track of a rhyme (an auditory skill) and keeping track of a symbol (a visual skill) are different enough that my brain had to scramble to allocate resources.

To make matters even more complex, some sides of some of the cards have stars. These special cards flip over ALL cards in the faerie ring, regardless of the rhyme. All these features created an intriguingly strategic game. Knowing when to play a card because it would help your cause and when to play one so that it would harm your opponent was a big part of the decision process. All cards are visible so you can make plans for yourself as well as plans to thwart your rivals.

The game also comes with instructions to play solitaire. We had a blast with four people, and I can see how the mechanics would lend themselves to thoughtful solo play.

2 – 4 players. Ages: 7+

Goblins Drool, Faeries Rule was designed by David Luis Sanhueza. © 2012 by Game-O-Gami. Brought to us by the good people at Game Salute.