The Metagame

Filed Under (Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 22-10-2013

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The MetagameThere are two kinds of cards: the culture cards (e.g.: the iPhone and the Star Wars Franchise”), and the discussion cards (e.g.: Which is the best icon for the __ century?”). And there are two kinds of roles: the critic (the one who reads the discussion card) and the players (everyone else). The critic selects a discussion card. In this case, because there’s a blank, the critic also decides what to put in the blank, e.g.: 25th). Let’s say there are four players (we could also say there are 100 players if we were playing the “massively multiplayer metagame”), and let’s further say that each player, except the critic, has five cards. The critic asks: “which is the best icon for the 25th century.” The other three pick from one of their cards (for the sake of exemplification, let’s say: the iPhone, the Star Wars Franchise, and “Waiting for Godot”). The critic then calls on each of the players, in whatever order the critic deems critic-worthy, to reveal their culture cards and explain the rationale for its 25th century iconic-hood.

After all have testified to the superiority of their choice, the critic selects what she, in her considered opinion, has determined to be the best and worst answers. The winning player discards any card from his hand. The losing player loses all his cards and joins the critic for the next round – leaving two players and two critics. Players now draw an additional card, and the next round begins. The critics select the next discussion card. The remaining players select their response. And the critics meet to decide which of the remaining players submitted the better answer. The game is over when only one player is left.

This is one of many ways to play The Metagame. We played the Metagame just that way, and have found it fun. Major fun, that is. And when discussing the various mods and variations everso succinctly described in the rule booklet, we could clearly envision: 1) the majorness of the fun in each, and 2) the fun-furthering prospects of yet more mods and variations, and 3) the fun of attempting to create our own.

I quote from Eric Zimmerman (my friend the designer and NYU Game Center professor and writer and totally committed player): “In the Metagame, players use cards to make statements about culture, combining content cards and comparison statements. Like a deck of playing cards, the Metagame can be used to play many games, which range from parlor games for small numbers of players to larger games for parties, classrooms, or events. Some of the games are boisterously social. Other variants are much more deliberate and strategic. The Metagame comes with rules for several versions, but our players are inventing new rulesets on a regular basis and posting them on the Metagame website.”

OK, so, yes, the game is still in its pre-kickstarted version. But, being as scrupulous as possible with the random collection of loyal Game Tasters who happened to attend this particular Tasting, I am pleased to announce that even in its current state, the game is more than promising. And it is most definitely available – in one form or another (the “videogame edition,” for example, available from MOMA). It is like some other games we could think of, but different, unique, and a welcome addition to our party game repertoire. And, most importantly, it is ostensibly and significantly fun.

The Metagame is designed by Eric Zimmerman, Colleen Macklin and John Sharp of Local No. 12. We’ll be posting a follow-up once the latest version has been kickstarted into reality.

Major Fun award


Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 08-10-2013

Jerk - family, party game


There’s an old folk game that many of us old folks played. It was called Cork ‘n Funnel by some of us. I played it with a coffee can, corks, yarn, dice and popcorn kernels for scoring. It’s a great game. It takes you by surprise (which is the point). It makes you laugh (which is also the point).

Talicor has introduced a game called JERK. You get a big, orange, plastic funnel; sturdy, orange, plastic cork-like things on a sturdy orange string; a round, orange, rubbery circle; a pair of orange dice, a and a collection of orange chips. Orange you excited already?

Well you should be. It’s an exciting, absorbing game, easy to learn, easy to modify for whatever purposes (make it more or less challenging, play with or without points, play a longer or shorter game), it gives you a clear, clever, concise set of rules; it invites you to make up your own.

Major Fun AwardOne person is the Cone-holder. That’s not the official name, but it lends clarity. The Cone-holder holds the cone. She also holds the pair of dice, which she will soon be tossing. Every other player holds one end of the plastic cork-like thing-on-a-string (it’s a good idea to wrap the surplus string around your hand for firm grip and backlash-avoidance) with a cork-like end resting clearly near the middle of the rubbery circle thing. The Cone-holder throws the dice. If the dice are doubles, or they add up to seven or eleven, the Cone-holder slams the cone down on the rubbery circle. The owner of any cork-like thing trapped under the cone loses a point (chip), the Cone-holder gains a chip.

The Cone-holder can also “fake,” looking, for all appearances, that she is about to slam the cone down even though the dice aren’t doubles, seven or eleven. Anyone who falls for the fake and jerks their dice-like thing off the rubbery circle thing loses a chip.

That’s about it. Sure there are nuances, each of which lead to possible variations and much interested discussion. But the tension, the release, the jerking, oh, yes. Major fun!

20 Express

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 07-10-2013

We like simple. We’re not getting any younger, and those neurons we lost to our youth aren’t coming back any time soon.

On its surface, 20 Express seems almost too simple to be Major Fun. Draw numbers from a bag. Place them in ascending order. There are 39 numbered tiles and one Wild tile. The tiles are numbered 1 – 30 and numbers 11 – 19 have duplicate tiles. The main constraint is that you have a line of 20 boxes. Every number must be written in one box.

Draw a number, everyone writes it in a box. Low numbers to the left. High numbers to the right.


Once you start drawing and placing numbers, you get hooked. Some numbers are obvious: a 1 should go in the first box; a 30 should go in the last. But there is no guarantee that these numbers will show up. So what do you do with a 29 or 28 if it shows up early in the game? Even trickier are the middle numbers. Because there are duplicates in the middle range it is not safe to make a run of consecutive numbers like 12-13-14-15. What if you draw another 14?

Major Fun AwardYour score is determined after twenty tiles have been drawn. Each series of numbers in ascending order scores points for you. There is a handy chart for scoring. For example a series of 2 numbers (the smallest) is worth 1 point; a series of 3 is worth 3 points; a series of 8 is worth 15 points, and a series of 20 is worth 300 points. In general, a single long series is worth much more than a few mid-length series. I lost my first game when I had two sets of 8 and one set of 4 (35 points total) and my opponent had a set of 14 and two sets of 3 (56 points total).

Because everyone plays with the same set of drawn numbers I can’t even complain that my luck was bad. Everyone has the same luck. It’s just that some make better use of the luck than others.

There is no limit to the number of people who can play. It is also an engaging solitaire game. To have a game that is a great party game and a great solitaire game at the same time is something special.

Jump aboard the 20 Express. You’ll have a blast, and you’ll have Major Fun for company.

For 1+ players, ages 8+

20 Express was designed by Yoshihisa Itsubaki and is © 2013 by Blue Orange Games.

Flash & Furious

Filed Under (Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 09-09-2013

Flash & Furious

Like all good party games, Flash & Furious is not the kind of game you want people to take seriously. It’s for fun. It’s to make you laugh. And that’s just what it does.

It’s a trivia game, is what it is, with 588 questions on 98 cards, and a noisy, increasingly irritating Flasher which turns out to be what makes the game as fun as it is.

You can play it with as few as two, but more is funner. Playing in teams is probably the most fun – especially if you enjoy collaborative chaos.

Major Fun awardOne player (unless there are only two) is the moderator. She selects the question (there are three on each card) and helps decide if the answers are acceptable. Much of the fun of the game comes from the questions. The rest, from the Flash thing.

Some of the questions are very specific and require familiarity with things that some players might find obscure (Facebook games, rides at Disney World), others are personal (things you do while no one is looking), and still others almost guaranteed to lead to insane laughter “things you name”).

The Flash thing has three modes: off, annoying, and on. The annoying, or “try me” mode is, apparently, the default – you have to take the thing out of the box to turn it off. A voice calls out to you saying: “hey, hi, you, yeah you, I’m over here, in the box, help, let me out, take me home.” OK, it’s funny. Especially the first time. I’m just saying.

Then there’s the actual “on” mode. There are four lights in the central dome, each with a different color, corresponding to the color of the button in one of the arms. Press the dome and something music-like starts playing, faster and faster and faster. Lights go on and off. If it’s your light you have to give an answer. If it’s your light again, you have to give another answer. And on and on until someone presses their button, affirming the belief that someone else said something wrong. The person playing referee makes the final arbitration.

It gets crazy, you bet. And it makes you laugh, oh yes.

3 AAA batteries included. From Patch Products.

Ooga Booga

Filed Under (Party Games) by Will Bain on 07-08-2013

Ooga Booga

Blue Orange Games has made what must be the most exciting discovery in paleo-gameology since it was revealed that our hominid ancestors played an early version of Pictionary in Spanish and French caves approximately 40,000 years ago. Yes, Blue Orange unveiled their discovery of the game, Ooga Booga (named after for the universal language of all pre-modern humans) which definitively proves that our cave dwelling, stick beating, spear whittling distant relatives also loved them some raucous party games.

The game also shows that their memories must have been pretty good.

Ooga Booga is a variation on memory games that require players to repeat what each player has said (or done) before. Each player is given 6-8 cards. On each card is a phrase or a gesture. The first player to go sets down a card, chants the word (or performs the action, and ends the display with a resounding “HA!” The next player places a card so that it covers the first word, chants all of them in order, and ends with “HA!” Play continues until someone runs out of cards and shouts “OOGA BOOGA” or until someone messes up and the gathered crowd chants “PABO! PABO! PABO!”

Major Fun awardWhen you mess up (and it generally is a question of when rather than if) and your fellow cave dwellers gleefully chant “Pabo” thrice the game stops and everyone checks to see if an error has occurred. If it has, the offending player receives three more cards and play starts over.

You get a lot of games that sound like this:


As we’ve come to expect from Blue Orange, the game is wonderfully illustrated, clearly explained, and fits in a small round tin. It’s silly and frustrating and oh so Major Fun.

It’s good to know that after a hard day of inventing fire and running away from saber-toothed felines, our ur-ancestors could settle down to some boisterous family entertainment. Once they’d finished repainting the living room.

For 3-6 players, ages 7+

Ooga Booga created by Daniel Quobbach and Bony. © 2013 Blue Orange.

That’s It

Filed Under (Party Games) by Will Bain on 13-07-2013

That's It party game

Trivia games often hamper the players by placing on them the burdensome restriction of providing the one correct answer. I mean, when you ask a person a question and on that question rests the outcome of their entire social life (at least for that evening) then requiring that they can only say one answer aloud to the judge is cruel. It violates our human instinct to spout out whatever comes to mind given a completely arbitrary question.

Fortunately, Gamewright has brought the world the tiny (yet mighty) party game: That’s It.

This is a guessing game, similar in some ways to Scattergories or other trivia/word-guess games. The game comes with a box of 200 cards. Each card comes with 6 questions. The card reader reads the first question and then all the other players start shouting answers. For example, “Something that people hang up.” Responses will come fast and furious: painting, pants, criminals, flags. When someone yells the answer printed on the card (in this case shirt) then the reader yells That’s It! And awards the correct guesser with a chip. The reader then reads the rest of the questions. The sixth question is worth 2 chips.

The chips add a twist to the game. They range in value from 1 to 5 but are kept face down on the table. When the reader awards a chip he or she doesn’t know what value the winning player receives. Chips remain face down until the end of the round so no one knows how much they have until the end. If you have 2 chips you are likely to win but it is not assured. You could have two chips each worth one point while your neighbor has a single chip worth five points.

Major Fun awardIt is also possible that no one gets the “right” answer. Once the flurry of initial guesses dies down (the game suggests giving the players about 30 seconds) the reader can jump on any period of silence to end the round. If that happens, the reader collects a token. This might seem rife for cheating but it’s a party game and if you have to cheat to enjoy a party game then you probably hired the people to attend your party.

The game is loud and fast and funny. the answers might not seem especially fair but that’s hardly the point. There is Major Fun to be had just in screaming your guesses at your friends and then arguing about who said the most ridiculous thing.

3+ players, ages 10+

That’s It was created by Roland Tesh, Garrett Donner, and Michael Steer. (C) 2013 by Gamewright.


Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games, Word Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 08-07-2013


Tapple is what happens when you combine a traditional trivia game with a traditional children’s game and make it into a party game that could very well become your new family tradition.

There are 36 category cards which come tucked into a sweet little compartment on the bottom of the game. On each side of each category card are two categories (e.g.: things at a party, cartoons, song titles, movies). The yellow/orange side of the category cards are more challenging. Remember this.

The designers suggest that you can play with up to 8 people. We tried it with 10, and the fun we had was sweet enough to be an ice cream topping.

When a round begins, somebody selects a category from a category card and reads it aloud. If you’re playing with a group small enough, you all gather round the Tapple machine. In larger groups, you simply pass the Tapple machine from player to player.

The person who selected the category taps the center button, starting the ten-second timer. The next player taps a letter lever, gives a new example of something that fits the category that starts with the letter tapped, and, if the timer has not gone off yet, taps the timer to reset it for the next player. Etc., and so forth, until the timer goes off or someone makes a mistake.

The designers recommend that if someone makes a mistake, that person is eliminated, and the next player resumes the round. The rounds are short enough so that the players who can’t play are still amused by the fervent frolic of the remaining few.

The game is most fun when someone gets stumped, naturally. There is a rule for what happens if all the letters get used (select a new category, each player has to find two matches per turn), but generally it’s an indication that you should be using the harder categories.

Tapple is fast and fun. The Tapple machine is cleverly designed and wonderfully functional. A lever allows you to reset all the letter tabs instantly. The timer is unmistakably loud. You can turn the game off with a switch to conserve batteries. If you have a place to keep the rules, you can throw the box away entirely.

The designers acknowledge that Tapple is based on a traditional German/Dutch game called Pim Pam Pet, but the execution makes the game so playable that it becomes a new game in its own right.

Tapple, recommended for ages 8 and above, comes to us from USAopoly.



Dixit Expansion Packs

Filed Under (Creative, Family Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 30-06-2013

Dixit won a Major Fun award almost four years ago, and we still regard it as a milestone in creative play. Easy to learn, inviting creativity, fantasy, and humor; Dixit remains a unique family- or party-game experience. The clever game design by Jean-Louis Roubira allows for a very gentle competition – just enough to keep everyone engaged, and no one overwhelmed.

As anyone who has played the game will tell you, much of the play value of the game comes from the extraordinarily evocative art by Marie Cardouat. The images on each card can be interpreted in so many different ways that, almost no matter how often the game is played, the cards take on a new significance for each player.

Further enriching the game, the publisher has introduced two expansion sets, each containing 84 new cards, each adding depth, beauty, and enticement to imaginative play.


Separation Anxiety

Filed Under (Party Games, Puzzles) by Will Bain on 25-06-2013

Separation Anxiety puzzle game

Fat Brain’s Separation Anxiety is won by the person who can identify the one word out of a list of three that doesn’t match the other two.

Sing along with me: “One of these things is not like the other…”

By itself, that’s not much of a game. The clever bit, the part that makes the game Major Fun, is that the three words in the list are mashed together in such a way that it is difficult to identify the individual words. Add the tension of racing against your opponents and you have a game that is very much like the rest on our website: Major Fun.

There are three categories of cards: People, Places, and Things. At the beginning of a round, one card from each category is placed on the table so all players can read them. A token is placed by each category (color coded to match the cards). On each card are three words: a blue word, a green word, and a pink word. The words overlap on a single line so that much of the word is muddled mess that looks like it should be starring in a 3D movie. One of the three words does not match the other two. As soon as you have figured out which one you grab the token that matches the card.

Major Fun AwardThe round ends when all three token have been grabbed. If you grabbed the token, you reveal the words and the relationship. If you got it right then you earn a point. If you got it wrong then you get zero points and earn a good minute or so of mocking from your opponents. The game ends when one player has scored in all three categories.
Most of the relationships are clear once you get the words detangled; however, parsing the words from each other is often quite a challenge. Especially under pressure.

Perhaps the most difficult category for us was the People category. This is the one category where your cultural literacy (or trivial literacy) is put to the test. We found that the younger players could read the names but often had trouble identifying exactly who the people were. For example, we had the list Lombardi, Shula, and Knight. Now, I’m of an age that I could identify all of them as coaches and that Knight was (presumably) Bobby Knight of the IU Hoosier basketball teams of lore while the others were legendary football coaches. Knight doesn’t fit (seems appropriate). This was lost on several of our players.

The game is quick and there was this moment when we decided it was Major Fun because everyone in the room—all 8 of us—were leaning across the table to press our faces as close as we could to the three cards, hands hovering inches from the tokens.

For 3+ players, ages 12+

Separation Anxiety concept by Peggy Brown. Distributed by Fat Brain Toy Co.

La Boca

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games, Puzzles) by Bernie DeKoven on 17-06-2013

La Boca

So, there’s these wooden blocks. Eleven of them to be exact, each a different color. Only we’re playing with just ten, because we’re not feeling “expert” enough yet. And you and I, we’re sitting opposite each other, each of us looking at one side of a two-sided card. My side shows me what I want my side of our block building to look like, yours, yours. Your side of the card is different from mine, and vice, needless to say, versa.

So, we start the digital timer, and, simultaneously, using only that one set of blocks, we each try to build what we see on our side of the card as fast as possible. We can talk to each other, of course. We can laugh, sing, cry, even. As long as we can build the thing, and, in the shortest possible time, your side looks like your side of the card and mine, mine.

Major Fun AwardAnd, should it happen that we’re not the only two people playing, when our turn is over we get another turn, only with a different partner, until everyone gets a turn playing with everyone. And when everyone has played with everyone, the game is over, and the fastest pair wins.

Of course, there’s more. There’s playing with all eleven blocks. There’s a point system. There’s this very simple, clever, and surprisingly functional method to make sure that everyone plays with everyone else. And there’s the frustration, and craziness, and the laughing? Oy is there the laughing.

Cleverly crafted, well-designed, primarily cooperative, Major Fun for 3-6 players, ages 8 and up. It’ll take maybe 40 minutes for the whole game. Designed by Inka & Markus Brand, published by Kosmos games, and soon available in the U.S. from Z-Man Games.