Spin Monkeys

Filed Under (Family Games, Gamers' Game, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 12-07-2015

spin monkeys

There are times, few and far between, when we discover a game that has such a funny premise (monkeys riding bumper cars in the jungle), such an elegantly designed game play, so challenging and yet so lightly competitive that, despite the length of the game (over 45 minutes) and the recommended age (13 and over) (though we decided many of the ten-year-olds we know would love this game), and the somewhat complex rules (though clearly written, well-illustrated, and intelligently organized), we can’t help but give it a Major Fun award. Because, frankly, that’s exactly the kind of fun we had playing it.

more monkeys
(image via After Play)
The game is played on a large board of interconnected circles. The Monkey token (one of a different color for each player) features a compass design marked off in 45-degree increments. The decks of movement cards (139 of them) tell you how to orient your bumpercar. How many movement cards you have tells you how far you can go. The field is strewn with bananas (5 pts), oranges (2) and apples (1).

There’s a lot more to the game – which is one of the reasons we were surprised that the game turned out to be as Major, funwise, as it did. For the first couple games, you’ll probably need to refer frequently to the rules, which is why it is especially fortunate that the rules are so clearly written and organized. party-familyAnd, oddly enough, all that looking up doesn’t make the game any more challenging to learn or any less fun to play. So, for instance, you find yourself turned the wrong way and you bump into one of the edges of the board, so you have to turn 45 degrees clockwise and give up a card which means you can’t go as far (fast) next time, and if you bump into the edge again after you turn, you have to give up another card and then turn again. Or after you manage to land on a banana you leave a banana peel in its place, and then there’s the thing that happens when you land on a banana peel, or when two bumper cars bump. Because the way the game works, it gives you that bumper car ride feeling anyway. You don’t really have to know all the rules until you absolutely have to. It’s not like there’s a complex strategy or anything. You can still play. You can still have fun. You kind of just monkey around, so to speak. And when you do need, if you’ll forgive the expression, “bump” into something new or unexpected, you just consult the rules and monkey forth.

And one more kudo: in the rules, when they refer to the player, they always say “she.” One small step for playkind, no?

Designed by Mark Sellmeyer, rules by Deanna Benjamin, illustrations and graphics by Mirko Suzuki, for 2-8 players (says the box – we recommend no more than 5), 13 and up (10 is probably OK too), available from Rio Grande Games.

Snake Oil: Party Potion and Elixir

Filed Under (Family Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 07-07-2015


What do you sell a snowman?

How about a puddle protector for those embarrassing spring moments? Or a pocket flamethrower to eliminate the competition? Or maybe an ice brush in order to stay well groomed?

In the world of Snake Oil, you play intrepid hucksters who have something for everyone and your job is to sell sell sell.

The original game of Snake Oil is certified Major Fun. It’s not hard to see why. It’s a party game in which one person plays the rube… er… customer and everyone else is a sales person with something unusual to peddle. The customer reveals a card that tells who they are (a snowman, a lion tamer, an acrobat, etc…). The sales people have a handful of cards that describe things. Their job is to take two of the cards arrange them into the name of some new item and then make a sales pitch. Once all the pitches have been made, the customer chooses a winning product.

This is not an anonymous game like Apples to Apples or Menu Mash-up. The fun is in the inventive combinations as well as the reasons players give for why their product is best. The more ridiculous the better.

Snake Oil: Party Potion and Snake Oil: Elixir can both be played on their own or can be mixed in with the original as an expansion. Party Potion is written with younger audiences in mind (it is listed for ages 8+ as opposed to 10+ for Elixir and the base game) but we found that it was every bit as engaging and fun as the others.

If you have Snake Oil and are looking for more items and customers to enliven your game, these will do the trick. If you are new to the game, any of the three are a good place to start.

So hitch up your wagon, pull out your best soap-box, and get your bull-horn polished. There are suckers born every minute and all of them are in desperate need of beard freezers, table clips, and a package of sock bacon.

Major Fun Award

3 – 6 players. Ages 10+ (8+ for Party Potion)

Snake Oil: Party Potion and Snake Oil: Elixir were designed by Jeff Ochs and Patricia Kaufman and is © 2014 by Out of the Box Games.


Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 31-05-2015


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.

Color Clash

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games, Puzzles, Speed Game) by Bernie DeKoven on 28-05-2015

Color Clash
You are, of course, familiar with the Stroop Effect? As an avid follower of the work of the famous psychologist John Ridley Stroop, author of the oft-cited research paper “Studies of interference in serial verbal reactions,” you’ve doubtlessly spent many an indolent hour of pleasurable Strooping.

You haven’t? Or you may have, but didn’t know you were?

Well, dear fun-seeker, have we got a game for you! O, yes we have.

It’s called Color Clash.

You get 36 round “Color Clash tiles” and six larger, also round “Chameleon tiles.”  You only need the Chameleons in some of the games, but all of the games use the Color Clash tiles. You also get a well-illustrated instruction booklet describing eight (8) different games. Yes, 8 (eight) different games – some for three or more players, some for two or more, and the last two games both solitaires. Now, before we go on, I need must point out that the eight different games are not variations of each other, but each one a game in its own delightful rightMajor Fun Award – equally playable, equally fun-provoking. This, in itself, is a rare and most praiseworthy accomplishment.

As you may have noted from the illustration, each tile has three attributes: a written word naming a color, the color of that written word, and a colored image. As you, already being familiar with the joys of Strooping, so well know how the crux of the challenge lies in the fact that the words that name a particular color are most often themselves printed in a different color.

Let us, for the sake of brevity, examine only the first game, “Guess What I’m Thinking.” For this, and the next game, which we shall only name in passing (“Between Four”), requires three or more players. You lay out all 36 of the Clash Tiles, face-up (both yours and theirs). When it’s your turn to start, you select (mentally) any one tile and take note of the its three different attributes (the color described by the word in the outer ring, the color in which that word is printed, and the color of the image in the center of the tile) (you try to do this without staring too hard or too long at the tile you’ve chosen). You then announce all three colors, in any order your whim suggests, and all the other players conceptually scramble to be the first to cover that one particular tile with their hand. The first player to identify the correct tile wins that round, and that tile. We recommend that that player be the next tile-chooser (though the rules stipulate that some turn order be established aforehand). The game continues until only six tiles are left, the winner being the player who has collected the most tiles.

And that’s just the first game.

Easy to learn. Deeply challenging. Often laughter provoking. Major Fun.

Color Clash comes to you from the oft Major Fun awarded Blue Orange Games and is designed by FabienTaguy, illustrated by Stephane Escapa, for 1-8 non-color-blind players, ranging in age from 7-years-old to senior.

Stroop on!


Filed Under (Party Games) by Will Bain on 04-05-2015


Vigilance. Paranoia. Furtive glances.

Now that’s a party game.

Wink, by Blue Orange Games, is a cousin of the Assassination and Werewolf games that I played growing up. In these games there is someone who is “it” but is trying to keep the fact a secret. Someone else, the “inspector” or “detective,” is trying to find out who is it before it is too late. In Assassination, the “it” player tries to kill all the other players by winking at them before being identified by the “Inspector.” Wink takes this mechanic and makes everyone it.

It’s a brilliant move. One of the problems with Assassination-style games is that there are few Assassins, and that’s arguably the best role. Being a victim is only fun when you have a particularly dramatic death, but otherwise once you are eliminated, you might as well go out for coffee. Elimination games do not lend themselves as well to repeat play.

Using some cards and a pawn, Wink gives everyone a chance to be the Assassin AND the Inspector.

There are 2 decks of 36 cards called Face Cards. The cards are numbered 1-36. One deck is placed face-up on the table in a 6×6 grid. The other deck (identical to the first but with a different colored back) is dealt out to the players so that everyone has an equal number of Face Cards. Each person also has a colored pawn and 4 ACCUSE cards.

On your turn you take your pawn and place it on one of the face-up cards in the grid. You may not place your pawn on a number that matches one in your hand. You announce the number and then it is the next player’s turn.

But wait there’s more! The number you chose on the grid belongs to someone else at the table. That person wants to secretly indicate this to you with a wink. While everyone is taking turns placing their pawns on the grid, you are looking around the table for someone to wink at you. Chances are, you will also have to find the right moment to wink at someone who placed their pawn on one of your numbers.

But wait there’s more! If you observe someone winking at someone else, you may ACCUSE that person by playing one of your ACCUSE cards and shouting “J’Accuse!” in your best French accent (or worst as was often the case).

Points are awarded by collecting the Face Cards. After you first placed your pawn, when your turn comes around again, you must guess who has the card matching your number. If you are lucky then you saw that person wink at you. If you are correct, you keep the card under your pawn and the other person keeps the card in their hand. That’s one point for each of you. If your guess is wrong, the card under your pawn is turned face-down and you move your pawn to another card in the grid. You may also earn points by successfully ACCUSING someone. If you shout J’ACCUSE and are successful you get both cards (the one from the grid and the one from the player’s hand). You only have 4 ACCUSE cards so you have to use them wisely. Unused ACCUSE cards are worth 1 point at the end but a successful ACCUSE is worth 2 points (plus you rob your opponents).

We played with 8 people and although I was good at winking at my partners without being seen, I was TERRIBLE at witnessing winks. On the other hand, my neighbor (the guy who won) was terrifying in his ability to successfully ACCUSE. I thought with 8 people I would catch at least one furtive wink but it was very difficult.

Major Fun awardVery nerve wracking.

And Major Fun.

Everyone is always engaged. Right up to the end of the game. There is no elimination and no down time. ACCUSING is incredibly entertaining and is definitely the best part of the game (especially when you are successful). I’ve mentioned it before in reviews that many of the best Major Fun games have a little meanness embedded in them and Wink accomplishes this perfectly with the ACCUSE mechanic.

4 – 8 players. Ages 8+

Wink was designed by Fred Krahwinkel and is © 2015 by Blue Orange Games.

Sock Puppet Charades

Filed Under (Creative, Family Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 26-04-2015

sock puppet charades

Sock Puppet Charades is, basically, when it comes down to it, charades, with sock puppets. How potentially droll, you say to yourself. Good game, that charades. Victorian, so they say. A Parlour game of proven play value. But with sock puppets! Those clever little hand puppets devised, I believe, sometime during the early 20th century and of similarly proven play value. A folk toy, one must say. Oh, my, how foreseeably fun. A folk game that makes the use of a folk toy. How doubly droll!

Well, my friend, until you play it, you can scarcely conjecture how beyond droll this little game of Sock Puppet Charades turns out to be. Scarcely. Because, you see, it’s far more than the sum of its play-tested parts. It’s a unique, entertaining and thoroughly enchanting game. Challenging (like charades). Tension-producing (there’s a sand-timer don’t you know). And yet, fundamentally funny (with sock puppets).

Take another look at the two sock puppets that come with the game.

sock puppet
They absolutely defy you to take anything seriously. Not when someone’s pinky and thumb are sticking out of the puppets pretending to be arms.

Now, imagine trying to use one or both of these sock puppets, without talking, with the aid only of the sock puppets, your vocabulary of vocal sound effects, and a small collection of props, to get someone to say the word “yoga.” Imagine trying to make yoga pose with your hand in a sock, you downward-facing dog, you.

The game itself is designed so that everybody is continually involved. One player dons the socks, selects the props, and then a charade card upon which are written 3 different words: an action, a person, and a thing. She now has exactly one minute to get the rest of the players to say all three words. The puppeteer gets one point for each person who correctly identifies the word. And the player who is first to guess correctly also gets a point. Then the next player dons the socks of puppeteerness. Depending on how many players there are (as few as three, as many as six) the game continues for four, three or two complete rounds before the final scores are calculated.

On the other hand, as it were, by the end of the game you have probably laughed so hard, so often, that the whole idea of keeping score kind of loses its point, so to speak.

Everything about the game is well-made. The box it comes in is sturdy enough to last a generation or two. You don’t have to worry about remembering the rules, or losing them, because they’re written right on the inside of the cover. The sock puppets are made of long-lasting knit polyester with embroidered faces. And the props, though the small collection truly demonstrates the play value of having them as part of the game, can be expanded upon indefinitely.

Brilliantly designed by Jack Degnan, diligently produced by the enticingly-named Marbles the Brain Store; Sock Puppet Charades, should you need to ask, is Major Fun!


Coconuts “Crazy Monkey Game”

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 22-04-2015

Coconuts "Crazy Monkey" Game
So, let’s say you just bought your very own copy of the Coconuts “Crazy Monkey Game”. And you just opened the box.

There are monkeys in the box. Four of them. They all look the same and they all do the same thing. Their arms are stretched out, palms together. They’re spring-loaded. So if you press down on their arms, they go down, and if you let go, they spring up. So, what does that make you want to do with them? Put something in their palms, no? And press down maybe all the way, maybe only part of the way. And let their arms go. And watch the thing fly. Oh, yes!

If you rummage around a bit, you’ll notice a bag full of little brown rubbery things, about the size of Raisinets – you know, chocolate-covered raisins. If I were you and had the time, as soon as I got my Coconuts Crazy Monkey Game, I’d run over to the supermarket and buy a few boxes of those candies, or M&Ms maybe, because those little brown rubbery things they call coconuts look too delicious not to be edible, which, alas, they are not.

There are also cups in the box. Twelve of them. Four red, the rest yellow.

That, in fact, is all you actually and in truth need to know to have significant, genuine, generation-spanning, party-like fun with your Coconuts “Crazy Monkey Game”. And that, in truth, is what makes the Coconuts “Crazy Monkey Game” as major fun as it turns out being. You don’t really need to know how to play it. You can make up your own game. A truly fun, delicious game – party-worthy, for the whole family, even without the kids. Especially if you remembered to get the Raisinets. Though the little rubbery things do have an undeniable bounce to them, which adds that certain bounce to the gameplay of it all. But then you can’t eat your winnings.

Look a little further into the box and you’ll come up with four boards. This will change your perception of the game a bit, because it will make you wonder what to do with them. And, with a little more rummaging, you’ll find a deck of twelve “special magic cards.” And a set of, gasp, rules even.

So, you set the game up according to the instructions, until the whole thing looks something like this:

cocunut game
And no, I’m not going to tell you what the rules are, because: A) I don’t want to spoil the fun of your making up your own rules, and 2) the rules are pretty easy to understand. Especially if you watch this video:

YouTube Preview Image

And yes, yes, the game can be even more fun for a longer time (didn’t think it would be possible, did you?) with the board and the cards. All of which is to say, Major Fun? O, yes!


The Coconuts “Crazy Monkey Game” was designed by Walter Schneider and is brought to us by the compassionately playful folk of Mayday Games.

Jenga® Giant™

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 13-04-2015

Jenga Giant
Jenga® Giant™ is, as you might conclude, a giant version of Jenga. You play it just like you’d play Jenga®. Everything you know about Jenga® makes this game as fun as it is. Only with Jenga Giant the fun is, shall we say, even more major.

Why even more major? Because when those blocks come a-tumblin’ down, man, do they come a-tumblin’! We’re talking loud. We’re talking spectacularly loud. By the second or third time you play, and you know full well how much of a spectacle it is, and how loud it is, the tension is even greater, the game even that much more exciting, and attractive, which makes it especially good for parties.

It is made of “54 precision crafted polished Jenga® Giant™ Premium Hardwood Blocks each 6″x2″x1″” (premium hardwood, but not from endangered rain forest, jungle, or similar areas). This “precision crafted polished” feature of the game is what makes it work so well, and why you could very well drive yourself beyond the limits of the home craftperson should you try to make your own. Blocks that can slide without making the whole thing fall are blocks that slide the way only a precision crafted polished block could slide – smoothly, smugly, validating your Jenga-like acumen.

There is nothing cheap about Jenga Giant. Nothing. But after you play it at one or several of your parties, you’ll have no trouble at all justifying the expense. And neither will your guests.

To further the party-like aspect of Jenga Giant, and for a relatively minuscule investment, consider purchasing a ChalkInk marker so that you can write messages, erasably, in a subtle but clearly legible white, right upon your beautiful Jenga blocks, added rules and other hilarity-provoking things. We take, for example, from The Big List of Drinking Jenga Tiles (not that drinking is necessary or even essential for the majority of the added fun):

  • The next person must take their turn sitting on your lap.
  • You must play the rest of the game wearing no shoes or socks.
  • You must keep physical contact with the person to your right for the remainder of the game.
  • Any time you sing the Jeopardy theme song, the person taking their turn must complete their turn before you finish the song.

(Fortunately, the Jenga Giant blocks are giant enough for just about any message you can think of.)

The only reason we don’t recommend Jenga Giant for kids? Kids might get a bit too carried away to remember not to play near fragile things like on your beautiful dining room table or too close to the proverbial china closet. O, they will have fun. Big fun. But there are times when one must ask: what price fun?


The Metagame

Filed Under (Party Games, Word Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 13-04-2015


The Metagame, explain the triumvirate at Local # 12,

“is a social card game about everything: comics and literature, fine art and tv, architecture and videogames. It’s a way to show off your cultural smarts and get into ridiculous arguments with your friends. Arguments like:

  • Which feels like first love: Pride and Prejudice or Hungry Hungry Hippos?
  • Which is responsible for the fraying of our moral fabric: Tupperware or Das Kapital?
  • Which should be required in schools: Dungeons and Dragons or the Bible?

“The Metagame is not a single game or a single set of rules. Like a traditional deck of cards, it’s an open game system enabling a wide variety of games for different settings and play styles.”

Before I begin to wax enthusiastic about The Metagame and all the joyous socio-conceptual affordances thereof, I needs must recuse myself. I know the guy. Eric Zimmerman. He is my friend and has catalyzed something like a renaissance of my work. So I really want to aid his success as much as he has aided mine.  On the other hand, as an advocate of good games, and real fun, I can’t keep myself, or you, from the many wonders of the Metagame.

There are six games. Each is different. Each is will make you laugh. There are games that are strong enough to engage a party-full of friends, and games that you can play with your lover – or a several of your lovers. The cards are very well thought out – all of them. Which is no small achievement, considering how many cards there are to think about.

Here’s a great little video on how to play the game:

And another, earlier one, with the inventors of the game, at a slightly earlier stage.

Here’s our review of the game at an earlier stage.

Here’s how you can buy the finished, packaged game in all it’s many glories.

And here’s our award:

Major Fun Award

Menu Mash-Up

Filed Under (Family Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 30-10-2014

Tagged Under : , , , , , , , ,

Menu_Mash_Up_product_shot_contentsParty games accommodate snacking in ways that other games don’t. Speed games engage the hands and eyes too much. Word games and strategy games consume too much intellectual bandwidth. But party games are made to be played with friends at a casual pace.

Menu Mash-Up doesn’t just accommodate party food, it has the distinction of being a party game that could actively encourage players to put the game aside for a while in order to prepare a full meal.

The mechanics are simple—think Apples to Apples but with ingredients. There are three kinds of cards: ingredients, preps, and dishes. Players have a hand of ten cards: 7 ingredients (papaya, caviar, asparagus, saffron, etc…) and 3 preps (cookies, baked, flambéed, omelet, etc…) Each round begins with one player (the Diner) drawing a Dish card. These cards describe what the other players (the Cooks) need to prepare such as Romantic Dinner, Tickle the Senses, Break the Bank, and Bring the Pain. The cooks put together any number of their ingredients and preps in a way that will most appeal to the diner. These cards are placed in an ingenious folder that looks like a menu and passed to the Diner. The Diner shuffles the menus, reads them out, and then chooses the winner for the round.

Some of the Dish cards are have special instructions. The Diner might have to roll a die for the number of ingredients or the Cooks might have a 45 second timer. These serve to spice things up as it were.

01 AwardIt’s a tried and true party game mechanic but the responses to the various dishes are incredibly varied. The game also comes with a set of Linking Cards that anyone can use—words like “with,” “followed by,” “on.” Cooks have 10 cards PLUS the Linking Cards to arrange in any order they want. They can fill the order with multiple courses or one simple item.

One of the things I loved about the game was how it swung between funny and tantalizing. There were lots of combinations that made us laugh but the ones we talked about the most were the ones that sparked our gustatory imaginations. And you could tell the really powerful ones because everyone would sit back for a moment with a faraway look and sigh a collective “mmmmmm.”

Silly, sumptuous, and absolutely Major Fun.

3 – 7 players. Ages 12+

Menu Mash-Up was designed by Karen Hudes and is © 2013. The game is produced by Chronicle Books.