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.

Codenames

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

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.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/rcV45WyiWqs[/youtube]

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.

Zitternix (Keep It Steady)

So, here’s what you get when you open your box Zitternix. Take a minute. No more than two. See if you can figure out the rules.

If you’re still having trouble, read the following later:

If I wanted to my designer friends to know more about the kinds of games I really, truly admire (and am always a wee bit angry at myself for not having come up with the game myself), as so oft I do, I’d use Zitternex to show how close you can get to creating a completely self-explanatory games.

Still wondering what the rules are? OK, if you’re not, skip the following section and go on to the next:

The Rules

  1. You take all the sticks and put them through the ring so that the whole bundle can stand freely, noting, as you must, that the different color sticks have different properties. There’s fat blue, average red and slim yellow. This observation might help you win the game, at some point, when points are being counted.
  2. You roll the die and remove a stick of the corresponding color. If you make the big wooden ring touch the table, your turn has ended, so you set everything up again and basically wait until the whole game starts again. Which isn’t that long.
  3. And, yes, Fat Blue is worth 3 points. And, yes, the other sticks are worth fewer, arithmetically descending with relative girth.
  4. And then there are the rules it would talk you maybe longer to figure out, like: if it looks like you don’t have a good choice, and you already own a stick of the color in question you can place it back into the game. Which you probably will find minorly upsetting, unless you make the bundle fall. In that event, you will be more upset. And you can quit the whole game if you manage to get the bundle down to three sticks. And did you know that the further off the table the ring is, the longer the bundle will keep from collapsing?

And now for those of you who figured out the game:

dexterity-family-kids-partyOK, so it’s not completely self-explanatory. In fact, one of the things that makes Zitternix (called Keep It Steady in English-speaking countries) such a good toy/game (which makes it already a happy coincidence – a game that is as much a toy as it is a game) that it is just as easy to find new rules, new things to make it do and keep it from doing, for finding ways to play the game so that everybody gets to play even though they “lost” – kind of like a group solitaire, or playing the game on a slanted surface just to see what happens…

What Major Major Fun!

 

Telestrations after dark

telestrations after dark

There’s the Major Fun Award-winning Telestrations, which you, of course, know and love, as you deservedly should. Keep that in mind, and read on.

Playing Telestrations often makes you giggle. You giggle at your own incompetencies in trying to make a drawing that the next player will interpret correctly. You giggle at the other people’s drawings – especially when there’s something, shall we say, “suggestive” about them. Or when you could, if you were so inclined, so interpret them. It’s an adolescent kind of thing – that chance to be naughty-minded – a chance that most adults enjoy even more.

Party GameThus, it’s no wonder that, for adults, playing Telestrations After Dark (yes, the box glows in the dark, as will certain recesses of your eighth-grade minds) turns out to be even more giggle-worthy than its predecessors.

Inside your Telestrations After Dark box you will find 100, two-sided cards listing over 1200 words, 8 erasable color coiled sketch books, 8 dry erase markers, 8 tiny but effective clean up cloths and 8 after dark, color coordinated drink coasters that match the color of your coil, hence helping you identify which sketching-and-guessing book (and coaster) is yours.

The instructions are mercifully brief. Even more mercifully, the majority of the instructions are also written on each page of the sketch-and-guess books. And, if you’ve played any version of Telestrations before, you won’t even need those instructions.

The more people who play, the longer the game. A round shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes. The instructions include two different ways to score (“friendly” and “competitive”). We had more than enough fun just showing each other the completed books.

What makes this game so adult are the words that are included on the word cards (where else?). A relatively innocuous sample:

1. bearded lady
2. petting zoo
3. FICTIONAL CHARACTER
4. organ donor
5. sweaty palms
6. foreplay

As you can see, depending on your inclination, any of those words can be interpreted in a, shall we say, titillating manner. Underlined words indicate that you can make up your own even more titillating interpretation, should you find yourself titill-inclined.

Telestrations After Dark is designed for 4-8 adults after-dark-glowing adults. A game takes fifteen minutes at least. Telestrations After Dark is designed, illustrated and manufactured by USAopoly.

Spyfall

spyfall

Though Spyfall contains 240 cards (and 30 baggies), it is not a card game, at all, at all. It is a game of subtle questioning and even more subtle answering. And, once you get familiar with it, it’s O so totally Major Fun.

One player is the Spy. The rest of the players aren’t. They’re the ones who are trying to figure out which one is the Spy. The Spy, on the other hand, is trying to figure out where the players are.

Well, of course, they’re right around the table with everybody else. But that’s not the point. They’re also in one of thirty different imaginary locations, determined by the random selection of one of thirty different baggie-packed collections of cards. Each baggie contains (well, will contain, after you sort them out as instructed) 8 cards (beautifully rendered) showing one particular location, and one Spy card. The location cards also include the identity that the player who gets that card is supposed to have – but that’s only to make the game more appealing to the sophisticated Spyfall player you are so destined to become.

Say the location is a submarine (no, don’t say it, think it). You could be the commander, the navigator, the sonar operator, the radio operator, etc.

When it’s your turn, you get to ask anybody a question. Naturally, if you’re not the spy, you could wind up asking that question to the spy herself. By, you know, chance. And you really have to be careful not to be so specific in your question (e.g. “what do you see out of the periscope?”) to make it too obvious, but, on the other hand, you do want to ask a question that the spy might answer incorrectly (“what do you do for exercise?”).

Party GameSo what I’m saying here is that this game requires what they call “subtlety.” And it takes a while to master the art of subtlety to such a degree that you don’t out-subtle yourself. So it’s not one of your, well, obvious games. It’s easy to understand what you’re trying to do. But not so easy to figure out how to do it. That’s why we decided to call it a gamer’s game.

But it’s well worth the effort, because the fun is wide and deep, and you’ll want to play it again and again with everybody who either already knows how to play, or has a very good and patient sense of humor. It’s cooperative. It’s intelligent. It encourages cleverness. It’s a great way to get to know people, and yourself, too.

Spyfall takes about 5-15 minutes to play each round and is designed for 3-8 sneaky, but astute players (or teams). Depending on how many players, and how many rounds you decide to play, the game will take anywhere from 15 minutes to well over an hour. It is designed by Alexander Ushan, with art by Uildrim and Sergey Dulin, and is published by Cryptozoic Entertainment.

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