Imagine

Imagine   Gamewright  |  BGG  |  Amazon

Designer: Shotaro Nakashima   Publisher: Gamewright, Cocktail, Moonster
3-8 players  20 min. ages 10+  MSRP $15.00

text-the concept

Imagine is a party game where players use the language of symbols to communicate. Dozens of transparent cards with simple icons will cover the table. You will select and combine these cards, hoping someone in the group can solve your enigma using the clues you provide. The key ingredient is, of course, imagination!

text-the components

Imagine comes with 65 double sided enigma cards. Each card has 8 different categories with typical party game tropes like people, places, objects, colors, phrases and so on.

There are also 35 tokens you’ll use to keep score.

Most important are the 61 transparent icon cards. Each card depicts a simple shape or icon in one of five colors.

Deal the transparent cards in a circle or spread them out on the table and you’re ready to play !

 

text-the mechanics

One player will be the clue-giver each round. This player will draw an enigma card and either choose a category or randomly determine a category for the round. Before starting, the clue-giver will announce the category.

When the round begins, the clue giver will select one or more transparent cards from the table and use them to try and get the other players to guess the word or phrase selected.

Up to this point, a game of Imagine might sounds like most every other party game you’ve played. The unexpected fun twist to the game is HOW you use these cards to give your clues and that is….

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Because the cards are transparent you can overlap the icons and symbols to create more complicated images or clues. A line and a rectangle and a musical note might become a makeshift guitar.

A zigzag line and a flame might become a lit fuse leading to a circle which could be a bomb.

The game wants you to see each card not only as the icon or symbol on the card BUT as building block, a part of a greater whole. It’s up to you and your imagination to see how you can combine and layer these basic parts to make more and more complex pictures.

Now this layering element on its own would be enough to give Imagine plenty of merit for consideration as a Major Fun game. But Imagine raises the bar even higher by allowing the clue giver to ANIMATE the cards to help the other players guess the right answer.

This means you can use the cards to create mini stories or scenes that don’t just illustrate the clue, the cards can demonstrate it!

You could use a pink spiral card and spin this card over a card depicting a person to demonstrate confusion. You could make the person card stagger and stumble. Suddenly you’ve gone from confusion to drunk. You could even use a makeshift bow launch an arrow. Here’s a video showing how you could animate some of the examples I mention above!

Put simply, being able to manipulate and move the cards to create clues gives Imagine an entirely different feel than almost any other party game of its ilk !

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Imagine owes a debt to its predecessor Concept, a party game that is built around, well, the same concept. (Check out our review of Concept here)

Each game requires its players to use the language of symbols to communicate but each game accomplishes this in vastly different ways. In Concept, players use a massive game board filled with dozens of icons grouped by category. By placing cubes on various icons, players must try and connect the dots between the symbols to arrive at the right clue.

In Imagine, the clue giver connects the symbols and cards literally and can even animate the cards to show motion or interaction with others. The cards, the icons, the symbols are building blocks, instruments, tools to fuel the clue giver’s imagination.

The free form nature of this process gives any player a lot of freedom to explore the game. The limits of the game are not, in fact, the rules but rather your own creativity and imagination.

Concept should be applauded as an innovative achievement in party games, a genre where there have been precious few innovations in the past several decades. That said, the game is so different it can be a challenge to teach and learn.

Imagine is less encumbered with rules and allows players greater freedom to play and create on their own terms. This makes Imagine a go-to game for even the most casual game player. And once you have absorbed the basics of Imagine, it’s an easy step up to Concept if you love this style of game.

Play enough party games and there’s at least one basic idea you’ll come to understand : Party games are never really about who wins or loses. They are about the lasting memories that are born from the laughter and creative energy invested by players at the table.

Play one round of Imagine and you’ll see that the game is a wonderful fun-filled engine for these kinds of moments. And that makes it Major Fun !

***

Junk Art

Junk Art   Pretzel Games  |  BGG  |  Amazon

Designer: Jay Cormier & Sen-Foong Lim   Publisher: Pretzel Games 
2-6 players  30 min. ages 8+  MSRP $70.00

text-the concept

Art doesn’t have to hang on a wall or come in a gold frame. You can take random objects and build them into beautiful structures. Individually some people might see these pieces as junk but together, because of the WAY you put them together, your “junk” is ART !

You and your fellow artists are about to embark on a world tour to showcase your talent and skill and put them to the test, building new beautiful structures in each city you visit. And each city you visit will present new challenges to your creative energies. The player who is able to gather the largest group of fans will walk away known as the best junk artist of his or her time.

text-the components

Junk Art comes with a big ol’ box of junk in the form of weird and wonderfully shaped wooden pieces. There are 60 pieces in total, 15 different shapes in four different colors. There are thin pieces, chunky pieces, pieces with holes or slots, round pieces, flat pieces – a veritable banquet of found objects for your creations.


Each player gets a wooden base on which you will build your art.

There are cards for the cities you will visit

and there are cards representing each wooden piece in the game.

There are tokens representing the fans you gain as you play. Fans = points in the game.

There’s also a mini tape measure you may need to decide whose sculpture is the tallest.

To begin the game, arrange the entire pile of wooden pieces on the table so everyone can reach them. Each player gets a base. Last of all, select three of the city cards for your tour. From there, you’re ready to play !

text-the mechanics

Junk Art is a dexterity/stacking game. Each round you’ll create a work of art using cards to determine which pieces you use to create your artwork. Each city card provides a goal and rules for the round.

There are some basic stacking rules that always apply. Each piece must be placed on your base and cannot touch the table. You can use two hands to place it. You cant touch the structure itself BUT you can steady the base with one hand and stack with the other. You can nudge pieces around . And if you drop the piece you’re working on, you can try again as long as the whole structure didn’t fall. Any other pieces that fall off during construction, you’ll set aside in a personal pile. Sometimes these pieces may count against you.

At the end of each round, fan tokens will be awarded based on the goals provided by the city. At the end of three rounds, the player with the most fans wins.

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Junk Art is NOT your typical stacking game because Junk Art is really a dozen different games in one box.

Each time you play you will be playing 3 of the games included. Each city card in the game provides its own set of rules and guidelines that will dictate how you play. You will proceed from city to city to city from left to right, playing and scoring by each city’s rules

Here’s a sample of a few different cities and the challenges you could face:

In Tokyo, each player starts with 10 piece cards. You select one card from these 10 put it on top of the deck and then hand it to the next player. That player flips over the card and must place the piece shown in their work of art. Play continues until all cards are played. The goal is to build the tallest work of art.

In Indianapolis, each player gets 10 piece cards. When someone says go, flip over the top card and add that piece to your artwork. Try to get all the pieces on the cards played to your art as fast as you can. The player with the most pieces added to their artwork scores the most fans

In Paris, players build a common artwork on a single base. Each player has 3 piece cards and chooses one to play, adding that piece to the artwork. Play continues with players drawing and placing pieces until junk starts to fall. The minute you knock off three or more pieces, you’re out for the round. The goal is to not get eliminated.

In New York, you select a piece card from one of three face up cards and place that piece on your base. If the piece you play touches a matching shape or color piece, you have to pick another card and place another piece. When you reach the star cards in the deck, the round ends. The goal is to build the tallest work.

There are cities where you play cards like a mini trick taking game to decide who gets what piece. There are cities where you place all the pieces of a single color. There are cities where you must collaborate on a common work.

As you can see, there is an immense variety in gameplay within even a single game of Junk Art.

Each individual city card, complete with rules and goals could have been packaged as a solo game. In addition, the designers provide three blank cards for players to create their own cities and rules to add to the fun.

The variety and replayability of Junk Art sets it apart from every other dexterity/stacking game on the market by a wide margin !

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It is worth noting that Junk Art is a beautiful game. The pieces individually are interesting and pleasing to touch and behold. As you build, the odd shapes provide lots of inspiration for new and different combinations. If you’re going to make a game about creating art, the game itself must embrace a certain artfulness and allow the players to find ways to express it. Pretzel Games deserves very high marks for clearly making this a priority in the production and design of the game’s physical components.

At $70, the game isn’t cheap. Given the quality and number of components I think the game provides good value for the price but this price has the potential to be a real barrier to entry. The game is definitely more fun with more players but I am left to wonder if the game might have been better served as a 4 player game simply to reduce the number of components and the price. Junk Art is worth the investment, don’t get me wrong. The game is ridiculously fun ! My only fear is that it may not be able to reach a wider audience due to the higher pricetag.

Junk Art defied my expectations in the best possible way. I sat down thinking I knew what I was in for…. another stacking game with some small tweak. There are classics like JengaSuper RhinoBausack and Bamboleo but most others in this category are pale imitiations of these classics. It was a wonderful surprise to discover how designers Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim were able to add such a fresh and different voice to the stacking genre by mixing in tried and true game mechanics popular in less action based games. Card drafting, trick taking, even semi-cooperative play make Junk Art special but still super easy to teach and play.

Junk Art as an actual art form is all about remixing found objects to make new and beautiful statements and this game puts that lovely idea into practice. Give Junk Art a try at a party or with your family and you’ll see what I mean. And you’ll know why it is most certainly Major Fun.

***

Anaxi

Anaxi   Funnybone Toys  |  BGG  |  Amazon

Designer: ??   Publisher: Funnybone Toys  2-6 players  20 min. ages 8+  MSRP $21.99

text-the concept

Anaxi is a party game. Anaxi is a word game. In fact, it’s both. Because Anaxi lives in the overlapping area between these two types of games.

In practice, Anaxi celebrates the venerable Venn diagram by making the diagrams into engines for fun. Using circular see-through word cards, players construct a mini-Venn diagram and then each player races to write down words that fit within each overlapping area of the cards. The player with the highest score after five rounds wins the game.

text-the components

Anaxi is a card game but the cards are not typical in any way. There are 75 word cards in the deck. They are circular (3.5” in diameter), made of flexible plastic and half of each card is transparent. The deck is split into three colors: 25 blue, 25 red and 25 orange cards.

anaxi-decks-2

Within the colored section of each card is a single word – an adjective. These adjectives run the gamut from square to spicy or fluffy to damp.

anaxi-cards

There are also two base cards (an extra in case you lose one). You’ll build the Venn diagram on top of this base card when each game round begins.

anaxi-base

There’s a 1-minute sand timer included and an answer pad.

anaxi-pad

Setup for the game is really simple. Separate the deck into three 25 card decks by color. Place the base card centrally located where everyone can see it and make sure everyone has a sheet from the answer pad and a pen or pencil. Now you’re ready to play Anaxi!

anaxi-setup-2

text-the mechanics

There are five rounds in the game. Each round a dealer selects one card from each of the three decks and places them around the base card. The base card has colored and numbered areas so you can see how and where to line up the three cards. The basic idea is that the see through area of the card will face inward toward the base card, allowing players to see how the three word cards overlap. There are four overlapping areas. One area between each word and one combined area where all three words overlap together in the middle.

Here’s an example layout: Round – Cold – Sweet

anaxi-example

Once the cards are in place, the dealer will turn over the sand timer and the round begins!

Each player looks at the four overlapping areas on the base card. Can you think of something that is round and sweet? Then write those words in column 3 on your sheet. Can you think of things that are cold and round? Write those in column 1. How about cold sweet? Column 2 for those. Last of all, what about things that are all three: round, cold and sweet? All those answers go in column 4.

Once the timer runs out, players score points for each answer on their sheets that is unique and fits the words. Columns 1-3 score 1 point for each unique answer. Column 4, the answer that combines all three word, scores 3 points per unique answer.

After round one, it’s lather, rinse and repeat. Three new words, flip the timer and go! The player with the highest score after five rounds wins the game.

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Sometimes games that rely on creativity can fall flat because they don’t offer enough inspiration or choices. Especially when placed under time pressure, players can freeze up or just give up because they feel frustrated.

That’s pretty much the opposite of fun.

Not so with Anaxi. There are four different ways you can see the words each round and that means you have lots of fuel for inspiration and imagination each round.

The timer does go fast, so you shouldn’t expect to write a novel’s worth of answers under each column but you’ll be surprised how some words connect immediately and others leave you scratching your head. Try it. Set a timer and give the three words from the example above a go. Don’t peek below at my answers! (listed at the bottom of the review)

How did you do?

Anaxi also encourages and awards creativity and imaginative answers. You are not limited to one word or simple answers to fit the words. For Column 4 in the earlier example (things that are cold, round and sweet) I could have written: a frozen ice cream cake for my cat’s 9th birthday. Major Fun games can and should put you in this playful mindset and Anaxi excels in this regard.

Major Fun games are also flexible enough to allow variants or adjustments. We found it fun to let the dealer select the word cards rather than from a random draw from each deck. Chance can produce some fun results, but it was equally fun to see what crazy combinations each player came up with.

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Even though Anaxi is a light hearted game suitable for parties and word-nerds alike, the inspiration for the game comes from several philosophers.

The most obvious is John Venn whose diagrams gave visual form to overlapping ideas.

The less obvious connection reaches back to ancient Greece. Anaxi owes its name to the Greek philosopher Anaximander, the father of Cosmology. He wrote about the boundless material of the universe being transformed into all the aspects of the world around us and then returning to this primordial form. How does this relate? Each round, players take basic words and combine them into new forms. The cards return to the decks and can take totally new definitions each round of the game.

You certainly don’t need to know any of these details to have fun with Anaxi but I am glad they took the time to include it.

My one and only quibble with the game is the lack of credit for the game design. Every game has a designer even if the game was developed in-house by the fine folks at Funnybone Toys. Credit should be given where it is due and it is a shame this information is still not standard among all publishers.

But let’s not stray too far from the mark here.

Anaxi is a fast fun mash-up of word and party game genres. It’s enjoyable by players young and old and certainly overlaps with the two words that matter most to us: Major Fun.

***

Here’s what I came up with for the example listed above:

Column 1 (round & cold): curling stone, hailstone, snowball, snow tire

Column 2: (cold & sweet): ice cream, frozen yogurt

Column 3: (round & sweet): gumball, bon bon, mint, hard candy

Column 4: (round, sweet, and cold): a single scoop of ice cream

Happy Salmon

happy fish

The game is called Happy Salmon. You might wonder why this particular salmon is so happy. After all, salmon have a hard life with the, you know, swimming up river and the jumping and the bears and the dying. Could it be so happy because it won a Major Fun award? Or is it because it knows how happy it will make the people who get to play it?

This is one smug salmon. And deservedly so. The game is quick (takes maybe a couple minutes to play). It’s easy to learn. It gets everybody moving. Everybody involved. And, best of all, it makes people laugh.

You could think of it as a card game – that’s because it’s played with a special deck of cards. But it’s really a people game.

It goes like this:

There are six sets of 12 cards, each a different color. First, give one set to each of 3-6 players who are at least six years old. There are four different cards: Happy Salmon, High 5, Switcheroo and Pound It! Each card has an associated action. Your objective is to be the first to get rid of all your cards. You can only do that if you can find someone who’s playing the same kind of card. You can tell, because that person is either trying to get you to High Five or to Fist Bump (Pound) or change places (Switcheroo) or Happy Salmon (put your wrist along the other player’s wrist and wiggle your hand in a salmon-fin-like manner).

You’ll probably play many rounds of the game before you put it back in its neat, salmony zipper pouch. And next time you play, you might want to try the completely silent variation (though it is likely that the laughter will escape you).

Luckily, there are two great videos showing the game in action. First, here’s one with kids playing:

And now, one for the growns:

O, the fun! O, the sheer Majorness of the fun!!

Designed by Ken Gruhl and Quentin Weir, from Northstar Games.

Buy the Rights

buy the rights

Of all the vast multitude of party games spawned by the success of Apples to Apples (not that this game is a variant or rip-off of any other game, but that it uses a similar, as we say in the game biz, “mechanic” – you got lots of cards [400], and the game is all about being creative and clever enough to convince the person acting in a judge-like position [only here it’s a Producer] that your way of interpreting the card(s) is the most reasonable, or laughable), Buy the Rights is the funniest and funnest. And, it’s definitely not Apples to Apples.

The idea here is to come up with a pitch for a new movie. You know those new movie pitches and how crazy pressured it can get when people try convince a movie producer to invest millions of dollars in a maybe two-minute plot-sketch. And you can imagine how hilarious it can get when you’re doing it all for the fun of it. But you can’t imagine just how majorly fun it can be when someone makes a really good, easy to learn party game out of it.

party-wordYou get this big box of cards, as illustrated. There are four decks, each a different color (there’s a fifth that I’ll tell you about later), each separated by a divider. Each player takes three cards from each deck (so it’s not, like, totally random – I mean, like, you always have a choice, which is totally brilliant because otherwise it would be totally random and not so much fun – the very kind of insight that comes only with repeated and committed play testing). The reason I mention the divider is because it makes it feel like the box is like a drawer in a card file cabinet. And you know how your fingers kind of walk through the cards as you hunt for the right one? Well, that’s kind of what you can do. And it feels, well, near, you know, organized or something. And because of it, you don’t have to shuffle and deal out cards to the players – you just pass the box, and everyone picks their cards – one from each different color deck. I know, I know, that really isn’t what makes the game so fun, but it contributes to what makes it so good.

There are four main decks: Genre, Hero Descriptor, Hero, and Plot. And each player takes one of each. Here, let me completely randomly pick a hand:

Genre: Film Noir

Hero Discriptor: Evil

Hero: Hipsters

Plot: Discovering the existence of Bigfoot during a camping trip.

It’s night. Foggy. Cold. And the chill goes deep. This bunch of kids, see, bad kids, always smoking stuff and doing mean things to plants, just for fun, see, decide to go off into the woods spend the night tearing the heads off of baby flowers – know what I mean? Teens. All cool and just not nice, see. And all of a sudden the fog clears, and in front of them, looking most genuinely angry, none other than the legendary Bigfoot! It’s “The Revenge of Bigfoot!” or is it “Bigfoot Finds Love”?

And then there are the money cards (in denominations of $5, $10 and $20 million) that the producer uses to fund the winning pitches – dividing the prize so she can acknowledge the comparative brilliance of each pitch. Which gives her just the discretion she needs to keep everyone on the conceptual edge. And a list of variations, just to get you started with the craziness.

I can tell you’re just itching to start playing (maybe it was the poison ivy), and I can guarantee that you’ll be coming up with even wackier ideas every time you play. It’s in the cards.

Buy the Rights was designed by Tommy and Riley Day, and Chad and Michelle Yadon. It’s designed for 4-10 movie-watching, party-going, fun-loving players who can devote an hour or a half to plain, crazy laughter.

Code Names

Game by Game 2015-09 (Codenames) (1)There are spies in our midst! Clever, tricky, and oh so subversive, they burrow in like parasites and eat away at the very fabric of our society. Your job is to uncover these cowardly, degenerate traitors and eliminate them with extreme prejudice.

But not OUR spies. Those patriots are totally cool.

And watch out for the Assassin. If you tap on the Assassin’s shoulder you’re going to pull back a stump. And then get shot in the eye. Whatever you do, don’t uncover the Assassin!

Codenames is a wickedly clever clue game in which each team is trying to find the opposing spies without uncovering their own. Or the Assassin. You lose if you find the Assassin.

The game starts with a 5 by 5 grid of nouns on the table. These are the codenames of various people in your target area. Players are divided into two teams with (Red and Blue) each with one Spymaster and any number of Field Operatives (I suppose you can have more than one Spymaster but that is a harder role to coordinate). The Spymasters from each team sit together on one side of the grid. The Field Operatives are on the opposite side.

The Spymasters then draw one Key card that they both look at. The Key card tells them which color starts and which codenames in the grid are Blue spies and which are Red spies. It also tells them where the Assassin is. There is always one Assassin and 17 spies (the color that starts has one more spy than the other color). The remaining 7 codenames are for Innocent Bystanders.

On your turn, The Spymaster is allowed to say one word (and only one word) and a number. The one word is a clue that can be used to identify any of the codenames on the grid. The number is how many codenames will match that clue. For example, if the Spymaster says “Sports 2” that means there are 2 words in the grid that are closely related to sports and are the color they want the Field Operatives to find. The Field Operatives must guess at least once. With each guess, the Spymaster reveals of they found a Read spy, a Blue spy, an Innocent Bystander, or the Assassin. Field Operatives can keep guessing until they get one wrong or they reach one more than the number provided by the Spymaster.

party-wordCodenames is not a fast game. There is a lot of thinking, especially for the Spymasters who are trying to link as many words as they can with only a single-word clue. Analysis paralysis is a common malady. The game comes with a timer if you feel that you just need that much more tension in your life, but we found that no one minded the slower pace.

We also appreciated the thought that went into the three-person and two-person variations. The two-person version can be adapted for a cooperative game where everyone works together with the Spymaster to get one color as the other color is revealed one at a time.

The age range for Codenames is on the high end (14+) which reflects the kind of vocabulary you need to excel at the game. It’s not so much the size of your vocabulary as your ability to understand the clue words in many contexts.

No matter how large your intelligence agency, Codenames is a Major Fun way to practice your spycraft and wordcraft.

2-8+ players. Ages 14+

Codenames was designed by Vlaada Chvatil and is © 2015 by CGE Games.

Cash ‘n Guns 2

cash n guns

A party game with foam guns? Intimidation? Steely eyed-resolve?

[must… not… maniacally giggle…]

A Godfather?

[bite… knuckle… suppress… glee…]

Theft? Treachery?

ME! ME! PICK ME! MEMEMEMEMEMEMEMEME!!

Major Fun has a particular weakness for party games, and if a party game comes along that encourages players to turn on each other like a pack of laughing hyenas—so much the better. It’s not that we condone violence, it’s that we love games that generate surprise without using random elements like dice. We love conflict (in the literary sense) that arises out of the choices the players make. And we especially love it when the mechanics of a game clearly fit a story.

As it goes, when you play Cash’n Guns, you are a gang of thieves who carry out 8 heists. The actual robberies go off without a hitch, but when you return to your lair in order to divvy up the loot, that’s when the fun begins.

To start, each player has a character (with a stand), a foam gun, 5 CLICK cards, and 3 BANG cards. In the center of the table there are 8 LOOT cards and the Godfather’s Desk. These are the things that the players will fight and scheme to get.

One player starts as the Godfather. The Godfather is responsible for going through the steps of each heist and making any judgment calls. The Godfather also has a special privilege that I will talk about in a bit. Here are the steps for each heist:

Each player secretly chooses a CLICK or a BANG card and puts it face down in front of them. You don’t get these cards back so you must choose carefully!

When all “bullets” are loaded, the Godfather counts down from 3 and everyone IMMEDIATELY points their gun at another player. If someone is too slow or if they try to change their target, they can be kicked out of the round (no loot for you!) by the Godfather. The Godfather may tell one player to change targets—it doesn’t matter if that player is pointing at the Godfather or not.

The Godfather then counts down from 3 again. This time, players either knock their own characters down and drop their guns OR they yell “Banzai!!” and keep their guns up. Anyone who drops out cannot be shot, but that person also cannot get any loot. If you stay in and are pointing your gun at someone else who stays in, you then reveal your bullet card. A CLICK means your target stays standing and can share in the loot. A BANG means your target is wounded and knocked down. If your character gets three wounds during the game, you are out. ALL bullet cards (whether you used them or not) are discarded.

Starting with the Godfather, the standing characters choose loot cards. Each player takes one, moving clockwise, until there are no more. The Godfather’s desk is also available for someone to take instead of a loot card. Players can also take the Godfather’s desk instead of a loot card. If no one takes the desk, the Godfather stays the same.

The goal of the game is be alive and to have the most money at the end of 8 rounds. There are lots of ways to earn money (I won’t go into the details of final scoring) so there are interesting strategies that occur depending on what loot is revealed for the next heist.

As with all the best Major Fun games, once you get the mechanics down, they are incredibly intuitive. The game comes with special powers for each of the characters but these are entirely optional make things a bit more unpredictable. Cash’n Guns does a great job of capturing those moments in crime films when the carefully crafted plans of the brilliant thieves unravel in the face of their greed and duplicity.

4-8 players. Ages 10+

Cash’n Guns was designed by Ludovic Maublanc with art by John Kovalic and is © 2014 by Sombreros Productions.

Pictomania

Pictomania

At first glance, Pictomania can be intimidating. For a drawing party game, there are a lot of pieces. There are drawing boards, markers, and erasers. There are two sets of scoring tokens. There are 4 kinds of cards and 2 card racks. There are stickers that have to be applied to the cards racks.

You will want a big game table.

You will also want to take your first game nice and slow. Once you get to know what the pieces do, most of them will fade into the background and you will be able to appreciate just how clever and funny a drawing game can be.

In a nutshell: Pictomania is a drawing game where you try to get the other players to correctly guess what you have drawn WHILE ALSO trying to be the first to accurately guess what each player is drawing. The game does a fantastic job of keeping everyone involved, even when some people are faster at drawing than others.

There are four levels of clue cards that range from easy (common objects and animals) to very difficult (abstract concepts). I found that the very difficult level was actually the one that removed the kind of “artistic advantage” that you always find in these games—those people who are talented illustrators. People with drawing skill will do much better at the easy level; however, those skills don’t translate as well to the most difficult level. It’s one thing to be able to get people to guess “dragon” but it’s something else entirely to get them to guess “always.”

There are six clue cards that are revealed and placed on the card holders. Each clue card has seven clues. By dealing special cards, each player will be required to draw one item on one of the clue cards. No player will draw from the same clue card. This is another of the really clever aspects of the game. All the answers are out there, you aren’t blindly guessing.

This brings up another clever bit about the game: the seven items on each clue card are generally very closely related so even an easy card will have beach ball, tennis ball, soccer ball, and cannon ball as possible clues. It’s not like you can just draw a circle and expect folks to guess “ball.” They have to choose between very similar items.

Once you finish drawing your clue, you look at all the others and place a guess card by each drawing. You must do this for all your opponents. You get one guess for each. The guess cards are placed in a pile so that when everyone is finished, the pile is flipped over and you can see who got their guess down first. Points are awarded to whoever guessed correctly, but more points are awarded to the person who correctly guessed first.   You lose points when someone incorrectly guesses what you drew.

party-creativeThe process of drawing and guessing and scoring is a little more complicated than what I just described, and it is worth playing through once just to see how all the cards work together, but once you see it in action the whole process clicks into sharp focus. In the end the game involves getting your clue, drawing your picture, guessing everyone else, and scoring. Where things get crazy (and I mean that in a Major Fun good way) is that part in the middle where there is drawing and guessing going on at the same time. Especially in a large game there is a mad flurry of drawing and looking and shuffling and slapping cards down on the table.

Scoring is where everyone settles down but also where a lot of the laughs are to be had. At this point the players reveal what they were drawing and we get to see what everyone guessed. The easiest level is fun but the biggest laughs are reserved for the most difficult level. Not only is it funny to see how someone illustrates “bribery” it is equally hilarious to listen to why other people thought it was “extortion” or “money laundering” (both of which are on the same clue card).

Pictomania is not as simple as many other party games you will already know, but it is rich and challenging, and very very fun.

3-6 players. Ages 9+

Pictomania was designed by Vlaada Chvatil and is © 2014 Pegasus Spiel, produced and distributed by Stronghold Games.

Pairs

Pairs

Pairs is a tiny “pub game” from our friends at Cheapass Games. The game consists of 55 cards numbered 1 to 10 and a very slim rule sheet. The value of the cards also tells you how many of the cards are in the deck, so 10 is the most common card and there is only a single card valued at 1.

Before I go any further, I should point out that although Pairs is remarkably well suited as a drinking game, it can be played to wonderfully fun effect with absolute teetotalers. We find that most games can be made more fun with the addition of alcohol, but Major Fun Award games do not require such inebriants. Pairs is entirely family appropriate.

The goal of the game is to not lose. You lose by accumulating points. Once one player hits a target score, that player loses and you start another game. To start, one card is dealt face up to each player and five cards are “burned” (dealt face down) to start a discard pile (this keeps players guessing what card values are in play). On your turn you have two choices: hit or fold. The player with the lowest card always starts.

When you hit, you draw a card from the deck. You turn the card face up in front of you so everyone can see. If the card is different from one you already have face-up, you are safe and play moves to the next player. If the card matches any face-up card you already have, you place that pair off to the side. You have just earned those points. For example, if already have a 6 a 7 and a 9 and you draw a 7, you earn seven points.

If you fold, you take the lowest valued face-up card on the table and earn those points. In the above example, if you have a 6, 7, and 9 and decide to fold, you would look at all the cards in front of all the players and take the lowest one.

When you take cards for points they are kept to the side until the end of the game (they are point counters and will not get shuffled into the deck until the game ends). As soon as a person earns points, either when they hit or fold, all players discard their face-up cards and then are dealt ONE new card. The game ends when someone hits a target number: 60 divided by players plus 1 (for a 2 player game it is 31, and for 6+ players it is 11).

The nature of pub games is to make the loser do something as “punishment” for losing. There can be small punishments for when someone earns points and a more significant punishment for losing a game. We found that pointing a laughing at the loser was sufficient but you can choose what is most appropriate for your group.

Party GameThe game-play is fast and instinctive. The press-your luck mechanic is clever and really lends itself to goading. It feels really good to tease someone into taking a hit that results in a pair. I know that is childish and petty but nobody said Major Fun has to be high-brow and honorable. And seriously, if you are scared of taking a hit because you are looking at a 10 and an 8, then you really aren’t fit to sit at the big-kids table.

2-8 players. Ages 8+

Pairs was designed by James Ernest and Paul Peterson and is © 2014 James Earnest and Hip Pocket Games.

Falling

falling

As I’ve said before, I’m a huge fan of Cheapass Games and Falling was one of those games that really opened my eyes to the possibilities of “real-time” games. I’d grown up playing speed games like Dutch Blitz, but Falling added a dimension that had never occurred to me before.

The premise of Falling is one of my favorites: you are all plummeting to your deaths. The last one to hit the ground wins.

That’s it. You are going to hit the ground. The question is not IF but WHEN.

As Vonnegut’s optimist says as he falls from the top floor of a building, “So far so good!”

Falling has to be played with four or more players. One player will be the dealer and there need to be at least three others or the mechanics don’t really work. And the more the merrier. There is little or no down time and the ground comes surprisingly fast. In many ways, it is a relief to be the dealer.

The dealer sets the pace of the game. Moving clockwise, the dealer places one card in a stack in front of each player. The players must decide if they want to grab that card or wait for a new one. Once you grab a card, you can only get rid of it by playing it. You play a card by placing it in front of yourself or one of the other players before the dealer returns to that person. There are 4 kinds of cards: rider cards, action cards, and the ground. The ground cards are on the bottom of the deck. When you get a ground card you are done. The last player to get a ground card wins.

Riders tell the dealer what to do. There are three: hit, split, and skip. Hit cards tell the dealer to give a player one extra card. Instead of one card, the dealer would give a player 2. Split cards give a player an extra stack. Once you have an extra stack it stays with you until the end of the game. Splits are nasty because once you have an extra stack it means you will always get more cards. Finally, skip cards tell the dealer to skip placing a card on one stack (not the player). Riders are placed in front of a stack (only one per stack). When the dealer gets to the rider, the dealer follows the instructions and then discards the rider.

falling-1

Action cards effect riders. There are 2 actions: move and stop. A move allows you to move one rider card from one stack to another. For instance, if an opponent has a skip in front of his or her stack, you can use a move card to steal it. Stop actions erase a rider. In the previous example, you could play a stop on your opponent’s skip and they will now get a card as normal. Stops also cancel a ground. One ground.

Once the deal starts, it is amazing just how chaotic the game becomes. The first few time you play you will want to take the deal slowly, but even then it will feel as if the room has gone mad and time is accelerating. Timing is key. You want your opponents to get lots of cards while skip or stop bad things from happening to you. Unfortunately, holding on to skips and stops until the end might not be enough, and sometimes you will get stuck with a move in your hand and then all you can do is wait for the inevitable sudden stop at the end.

partyThe game is really very simple, but the mechanics are so different from what we are used to that you will want to play through a few times so everyone gets a feel for it. Especially practice being the dealer. Although the dealer isn’t playing in the same way as the others, it is a ton of fun and is almost as nerve-wracking as being one of the fallers.

As are many of the best Major Fun games, Falling has a gleeful mean streak to it. Stealing away a skip at just the right moment or blocking the ground so that it moves to the next player is immensely satisfying. And in this case, everyone can just pick themselves up, reset their fractured egos, and jump out of that plane again.

4-8 players. Ages 8+

Falling was designed by James Ernest and Paul Peterson and is © 1998 & 2014 James Earnest and Cheapass Games.

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