Spot It! Freeze

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games, Speed Game) by Will Bain on 01-07-2014

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spotitfreeze_gamerIt has been well established that Spot It! is Major Fun.

For evidence, you may look here…

…and here

…and here

…and here

Although it seems like we have sufficiently covered this point, I don’t think it can be over-stated how clever the basic game is. You have 55 cards. Each card has eight images. Any two cards in the deck have exactly one image in common. Games revolve around trying to find which one is the match. Spot It! Freeze adds a timer to the mix. The electronic timer has two modes: countdown and random.

I’ll admit that most of us at Major Fun were skeptical that a timer would add much to the game. After all, the point of Spot It! is to be fast. Surely a timer couldn’t help much.

We were wrong.

Blue Orange has come up with some great games that utilize the two types of timer to great effect. The most basic game requires the players to collect cards from a pile in the middle. Play proceeds as normal until a player successfully makes a match with one of the blue images (cold-based images like ice and snow are always blue). When that happens, that player yells “Freeze” and the countdown timer is started. The player has 10 seconds to play solo—no one else can interrupt. When the 10 seconds is over everyone else can jump back in.

Playing by yourself is an advantage, but not nearly as great as you might first imagine. The countdown adds pressure that tends to interfere with your ability to spot the similar images. It breaks the flow and it also gives your opponents time to look at the card and jump in at the end of the countdown.

01 AwardAnother variation involves the random timer (a loud ticking sound) that plays like Catchphrase. Each player has a stack of cards they are trying to get rid of. A card is turned face up in the middle of the table and the timer is started. One player flips their top card up and tries to make a match. Once they do, play moves clockwise to the next person. If the timer stops on your turn (before you can play a card) then you take two cards from the middle pile. You can also reverse the order by matching a blue item and saying “Freeze.” You don’t have to reverse things but you can.

This is a great game variation for a wide range of players. It equalizes things quite a bit. My daughter is fantastic at the basic Spot It! Far and above the best player in our group. She can consistently take on and beat all the rest of us COMBINED. This variation (called Flash Freeze) means that she still has to wait for the rest of us and it is possible for us to keep her from playing (or at least give her very little time). I’ll admit that it seems petty and cruel to keep my 12 year old daughter from playing her cards, but short of gouging out her eyes, I’m not sure there is any other chance the rest of us have.

And she has lovely eyes.

Spot It! Freeze is a great expansion of the Spot It! universe. It is the only one to not come in a round tin but the timer is also a compact box for the cards. It is clever and bright and fast and oh so Major Fun.

2 – 8 players. Ages 8+

Spot It! Freeze © 2014 by Blue Orange Games.

Dodge Dice

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 20-06-2014

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Dodge DiceDodge Dice is a wonderfully minimalist press-your-luck game. Ten dice and some chips are all it takes to give you a lot of tough choices in the face of random chance.

Eight of the dice are the Dodge Dice. These have three blue sides, two green sides, and one red side. One die is the Penalty Die. Similar to the Dodge Dice, the Penalty Die has three blue, two green, and one red sides; however, each side also has a number value: blue = 10, green = 20, and red = 40. The final die is the Action Die. This die either stops the round immediately or effects the final penalty score.

The starting player rolls all the dice. Whatever color the Penalty Die shows is the color that must remain face up in future rolls. The first player puts the Penalty Die and any matching Dodge Dice in the middle of the table and passes the rest of the dice to the next player. That player rolls all the dice, setting aside any that are the same color as those in the middle and passing the rest.

The goal of the game is to have the fewest points. You earn points if the round stops on your turn. There are two ways for the round to stop. First, if the STOP symbol comes up on the Action Die when you roll the round stops (duh). Second, if all the Dodge Dice are the same color, the round stops.

01 AwardIf the round stops on you, you earn the number of points on the Penalty Die BUT this can be changed by the Action Die. The points can be doubled or tripled. The points could actually be subtracted from your score or the points could be passed to one of the other players. Of the six possibilities that could happen to you when the round stops, four of them are bad for you but two are good.

So, because this is a press-your-luck game there must be some choice to make so that you could conceivably avoid a bad outcome. That’s where the chips come in. Every player has two Skip Chips. You can play one before you roll to pass the dice to the next player or you can play two chips to skip AFTER you have rolled. Skip Chips can replenish with a lucky roll of the Action Die, but these chips become very valuable in those long rounds toward the end of the game.

There’s a lot of nail-biting and analysis paralysis that accompanies some of these rolls. Do you take a few points now so you can save your chips for later? Do you roll and spend your chips only if you have to? Is it better for you to take a few points if it means preventing someone from ending the game?

All good questions and all Major Fun.

2 – 6 players. Ages 8+

Dodge Dice was designed by Eric Messersmith and Mike Mandolese and is © 2014 by Gamewright.

Castle Blast

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

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

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

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

Or something to that effect.

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

In the end, it all falls down.

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

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

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

2-4 players. Ages 5+

Castle Blast is © 2013 by MindWare.

Staxis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2-6 players. Ages 6+

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

Anomia: Party Edition

Filed Under (Family Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 06-03-2014

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PictureAnomia was awarded Major Fun early in 2012. You can check out that review here or keep reading for a brief recap. Anomia’s new Party Edition is the same game but with the addition of more decks of cards so you can play multiple rounds without repeating the same cue cards. Same Major Fun simplicity. Same Major Fun turmoil. Same Major Fun yelling and grabbing and laughing.

The game consists of cards that contain a clue and a symbol. In turn, each player turns over a card from a personal pile. If there are no matching symbols then nothing happens, and the next player turns over a card. If two cards have the same symbol then those two players race to shout an example of the other person’s clue. Winner gets the other card.

The wonder and joy of this game comes from the dysfunction of the human brain under surprising, stressful conditions. Some of the most ridiculous things will tumble out of your mouth when you have to name a kind of chewing gum under pressure. Or your brain will freeze when asked to give but one example of a soup.

awardAlthough only one player turns a card at any one time, any of the other players might have to leap into action at any moment. Once one face-off is resolved, another might appear when the top card of a pile is moved. The players are always engaged. Even when there are no matches there is never any down-time.

The addition of more decks allows for greater replay. Otherwise, Anomia has wisely left a good thing to be a good thing. It’s Major Fun no matter how tongue tied and brain dead it makes you look.

3 – 6 Players. Ages 10+

Anomia: Party Edition was designed by Andrew Innes and © 2013 by Anomia Press LLC.

Stop ‘n Go

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 26-02-2014

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4250_StopNGo_023151042507We have a soft spot for speed games here at Major Fun. That soft spot is generally the tips of our fingers and we will gleefully bruise those soft spots if it means that we get a chance to slap a card down just before our neighbor does. Speed games are loud and frenetic and there is never any down time.

Granted, this kind of fun isn’t for everyone and speed games can often be unforgiving to those who are inexperienced. Or lack hand-eye coordination. Or are too old. Or are too young. Or have a heart condition. Or play nice…

…but they are fun!! And Talicor’s Stop ‘n Go does a great job of providing us with a slappy shouty speedy  game that pauses every so often to give you time to regroup.

Players are dealt 15 cards (the rest are placed to the side for later) and the object is to get rid of all cards in your hand. The cards are held face down. Each card has a combination of four basic colors: red, green, yellow, and blue. Each player turn one card face to the table in front of them. When the dealer yells “Stop and Go” each player flips over a card and tries to match it to one of the cards already face up on the table. When a player sees a match, he or she rushes to slap their card on top of that pile and flip over another.

It’s all very intuitive. Speed color matching.

There are also three special cards: Zap is yellow, Pass is blue, and Stop n Go is green and red. When one of these is successfully played to a pile, everything stops and the special card takes effect. Zap allows the player to give each opponent 2 more cards (from the ones set aside). Pass forces everyone to pass their hand to the right or to the left. Stop n Go allows the player to play 3 cards while everyone else has to wait.

This is not a highly strategic game. There is a good deal of luck involved. But the pace is fast and the interruptions due to special cards allow everyone to regroup and prepare for the next onslaught. The game rules awardsuggests that at the end of the round (when someone goes out) you count your cards and record that number. When someone reaches 30 the game is over and the lowest score wins.

We had a blast just playing to see who would go out each round. And betting on who would walk away with a broken finger.

The rules are short and largely intuitive. The cards are well designed. We were laughing and shouting and bruising our fingers like a rock n roll bassist. It’s Major Fun.

2 – 6 Players. Ages 4+

Stop ‘n Go was designed by James D. Muntz and © 2012 by James Games Design. Manufactured and distributed by Talicor.

Goblins Drool, Faeries Rule

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

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Such a beautiful, wee, fae game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 – 4 players. Ages: 7+

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

Flash!

Filed Under (Family Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 02-12-2013

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Flash

 

Blue Orange Games has thoughtfully provided the world with a dice game that does away with all that tedious waiting around that occurs in games like Yahtzee. In Flash! There is no stately procession of the rolling cup. There are no leisurely conversations while Aunt Maddie hems and haws over which dice she should keep.

Instead we get

Roll! Roll! Roll! C’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon! FLASH!

awardIt’s high energy, noisy, and Major Fun.

The game comes with six sets of dice and six scoring chips (numbered 1 – 6) as well as the rules, a pad of score sheets, and a pencil. Each player gets their own set of dice and the score chips are placed face up in the middle of the table. Similar to Yahtzee, the score sheet has a list of dice combinations that the players try to complete: six-of-a-kind, all odds, all evens, etc. Unlike Yahtzee, with its mannered turns, Flash! has everybody roll at the same time.

For each round, the score keeper chooses one of the combinations and all the players start rolling their dice. When a player completes the combination he or she yells FLASH! and grabs the highest available score chip. the other players keep rolling until all chips have been snagged.

The score keeper records each player’s score and the winner of the round chooses one of the remaining combinations.

To keep things moving, the game has also replaced all of the ones on the dice with flash symbols. These symbols are wild. Once you have a few wilds, most combinations fall into place very quickly. The trick is recognizing the combinations when they happen. Concentration is difficult what with the noise of the dice and the constant yelling that accompanies them. Tension builds very quickly, especially when someone yells Flash!

It’s a simple game, but efficiently executed.

2 – 6 players. Ages: 7+

Flash! was designed by Thierry Denoul. © 2012 Blue Orange Games.

Telstrations Party Pack

Filed Under (Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 22-11-2013

Telestrations Party Pack

You know how to play Whisper Down the Lane? You may know it as Telephone or maybe Chinese Whispers or Operator or Grapevine or Gossip or Secret Message or The Messenger Game or Pass the Message. Yeah, that’s the one.

Now, imagine that instead of just playing it with words, you also played with sketches. And further imagine that you don’t use your voice (except to giggle maybe). And each player has a booklet. And each booklet is made up of those thick, glossy, write-on, wipe-off pages that you can write on and wipe off. And everybody writes and passes their booklet to the next player while receiving a booklet from the previous player, and writes what they think was drawn or draw what they think was written. And when you finally get the booklet that you started with, you discover how what you originally wrote got changed into something hilariously different. And you laugh and show everybody. And everybody takes turns, showing what happened to theirs. And sure there’s score and stuff, but it doesn’t matter at all at all because the whole point is the laughing and the semi-profound re-revelation of how far from the truth gossip can take you.

The only problem with Whisper Down the Lane and its many namesakes is that when people are very careful and very good with words, and in this case, very good with drawing, you sometimes end up having exactly the same thing you started out with, which is no fun at all at all.

Which is why we feel so positive about the Party version and having all those players, because it almost never happens that anybody gets anything, so to speak, right.

The manufacturers recommend the game for people at least twelve years old. Just like we found that with twelve players the game gets fun enough to be Major, we discovered that with younger kids, you’re more assured to get the crazy misinterpretations that make the game even Majorer, fun-wise.

From USAopoly, for 6 to 12 players (the more the merrier), recommended for people 12 and older (though we’d take anyone old enough to read and write).

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Major Fun award

Cards Against Humanity

Filed Under (Party Games) by Will Bain on 15-11-2013

cards against humanity

There is no way I was going to be able to go one more year without giving a Major Fun Award to Cards Against Humanity. I would have written about it long before had it not been for one of our core principles that awards games that are (and I quote): “suitable for a wide audience.”

GOOD FAITH WARNING: There is nothing “suitable” about Cards Against Humanity. This is a game that derives its joy from making adults say incredibly perverse and transgressive things in mixed company. In many rating systems this would be rated “Mature” but that term often implies a level of restraint that you will not find in this game. “Adult” as in “Adult Novelty Store” is probably better suited for Cards Against Humanity but the game is not particularly pornographic. It can be. But it doesn’t have to be.

So we at Major Fun had to make a concession. This game is so much fun, it is so addictive, its execution and design so clean, and the underlying philosophy behind its publication is so compelling that we had to put aside this one criterion in order to serve the greater good.

This game will make you laugh.

In short, Cards Against Humanity plays like Apples to Apples. The judge draws a black card that has a question or an incomplete phrase. The other players have a hand of white cards that contain responses that could fit the black card. The judge reveals each of the white cards and chooses the one he or she thinks is funniest. Pop quiz: If you drew a black card that asked “What ended my last relationship” what response would you find most amusing (of these five I’m choosing at random)?

a) The big bang
b) Spectacular abs
c) Free samples
d) A middle-aged man on roller skates
e) Doin’ it in the butt

At least one of these responses is not something I’d particularly like to share with any of my children present. But forcing one of my friends to say these things? And it’s not just a matter of profanity. Relatively few of the cards contain profanity or explicitly sexual material. But it is most certainly not suited for the younger set. “Relatively little” profanity and graphic sexual material is not the same as “no” profanity or graphic material. Everything about the game is provocative so even if there are no explicitly lewd responses in a given round, most of the fun comes from the implicitly lewd responses.

You can buy the game online (which supports the creators) or you can download the PDF files they freely provide so that you can print your own. Under the Creative Commons licensing you can make as many as you want as long as you don’t sell it or make money from the distribution (such as from advertisements). There are lots of expansion packs and each one comes with lots of blank cards. The basic rules also come with a whole host of game variations.

For more about the development of the game and some of the philosophy behind it, check out this video by one of the creators, Max Temkin. Max gives a wonderful talk about the principles and foundations of games and creativity and fun.

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Major Fun award

Once you’ve had your fill of his erudition and earnest good humor, gather your best friends, ship the kids off to the grandparents, and slink your mind down into a convenient gutter. It’s Major Fun.

Cards Against Humanity is a party game for lots of horrible, horrible people. The more the better. Ages: adult (and yet still incredibly juvenile…)

Cards Against Humanity was designed by Josh Dillon, Daniel Dranove, Eli Halpern, Ben Hantoot, David Munk, David Pinsof, Max Temkin, and Eliot Weinstein. It was created in 2009 and published under a Creative Commons license. You can make your own Cards Against Humanity if you want but you can’t make any money from it.