Cross Boule

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 29-04-2013

Cross BouleCross Boule is a kinder, gentler, sillier, and, some might claim, much more fun version of a very ancient game that comes to us as pétanque (a.k.a. boules and bocce).

Perhaps the most salient distinction is the balls, or, in this case, round bean bags. (If you go Zoch’s official Cross Boule page, you’ll discover 12 different versions of Cross Boules – all the same, except for the patterns – the significance of which will be explicated later.)(You can also go to the official Cross Boule site - also in German.) The bean bagginess of the balls (traditionally made out of metal, stone, wood or other hard substances) is the key to the many wonders of Cross Boule, namely: you can play anywhere (I haven’t tried playing them underwater yet).

Your standard Cross Boule set comes with two sets of three beany boules, and one beany Jack (the smaller ball that serves as a target). This is pretty much exactly what you’ll find in your standard pétanque/boules/bocce set – except for the beaniness.

As for the rationale for purchasing more Cross Boule sets – each set is designed for two players. You’ll most definitely want to include your friends and theirs. And you want to make sure that each player knows which boule is hers

And now to the significant difference, the distinction that makes Cross Boule the major fun that it truly is: the rules.

dexterity-family-kids-partySo, you’re anywhere, and you call that the “starting area.” The youngest player, starting at the starting area, throws the jack (the smaller boule) anywhere else: under the couch, on top of the 8th stair, in the open drawer. Then players take turns, each throwing one of their beany boules, trying to get as close as possible to the jack in a manner most clearly reminiscent of horseshoes. Now, here’s the major part of the fun: the player who throws the jack also decides how the rest of the boules are to be thrown for the round (e.g.: two-handedly, between your legs, backwards, eyes closed, while wearing an oven mit). Then there’s the scoring, which takes intriguing advantage of the beaniness of the Cross Boule, awarding extra points if you can get one boule to rest on top of another, or if you can get it to land on top of the jack, or if you can make a pyramid out of three boules, or if you can get three in line. And before a round starts, you can redefine the playing area to include or exclude any property of your three-dimensional physical environment.

Allow me to illustrate (in German, but you don’t need the translation)

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Cross Boule was designed by Mark Calin Caliman and is distributed in the U.S. by Lion Rampant Imports


Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 14-04-2013

attractionAttraction is the kind of game that we use to help people 14 and over to understand what the Major Fun seal represents. Exactly the kind. Easy to understand. Easy to learn. Easy to adapt. Takes maybe three minutes to play a round. Then maybe an hour, if you really want to play around. With the rules, if you know what I mean. So many ways to play. So many more once you start making up your own. Compelling. Engaging mind and body and everyone you play with. Fun to play by yourself. More fun to play with friends. Pocket-portable.

You get, as advertised, 25 magnets. They are polished and delightfully light reflecting and irregularly shaped magnets, all of which have one side that is slightly narrower. The reason that is important is that when you start the game, each of the magnets are to be stood on that particular, slightly narrower side. This results in greater mobility and tippability – both of which add significantly the much of the bang you will be getting from your buck, so to speak. You position the magnets anywhere on your flat, smooth, tabletop-like playing area. You can play it on other tabletop-like areas, including tablecloth-covered tabletops and floors. We recommend that you try to position the magnets as closely together as you dare. Because it’s fun. In fact, it’s like a whole nother game. Because, see, the magnets really want to smack into each other and as soon as you put one magnet close to another it swivels on it’s little narrow bottom and looks ever so eager.

OK. So you don’t have to put them that close. In fact, you can put them as far away from each other as you want, and you still get a fun game to play.

Mjajor Fun AwardSpeaking of game: you and however many people are playing with you (probably no more than six – unless you happen to have bought more than one set, which turns out to be an even majorer fun idea) each take one magnet from the array. That magnet is your shooter. On your turn, you put your piece on an edge of the playing area and flick or slide it into the magnet congregation, attempting to, shall we say, attract as many magnets to each other as possible. Those are your magnets. You take them. And keep them. And the next player goes, and the next, and when you run out of table magnets, the person with the most wins. And at some point in the game, you might very well discover that instead of attracting any magnets, they all repel each other. This is both Magnets are moody. You may find this moodiness both amusing and depressing, as it greatly reduces your scoring opportunity for that turn. Fear, however, not. Sooner or later, they’ll all stick together, or fall off the playing surface.

The only reason it’s not the kind of game we’d recommend to people of the 13-and-under persuasion is the magnet part. These are strong magnets. And, if you are feeling sufficiently perverse, swallowable. Further, should you be feeling perverse enough to swallow two, they turn out to be lethal.

Attraction was designed by Jeff Glickman and is made available through R&RGames, recommended for people who are old enough not to try to swallow the pieces.

A review from Boardgamegeek follows

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Le Boomb!

Filed Under (Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 07-04-2013

Le Boomb!Le Boomb! is such a simple game and the fun it generates is so obvious that it’s a little hard to take it seriously enough to call it a game. Maybe an ice-breaker, a warm-up, a game to decide who gets to go first when you play the real game. But don’t let the size of the game and the ease of learning it fool you. The fun may be brief, but it’s most definitely major.

There are two components: the “boomb” and the die. On the die there are three different faces: one is a picture of a bomb, one a picture of a bomb with its fuse lit, and the last – a picture of an explosion. When it’s your turn, you throw the die. If it shows a bomb, you take the “boomb.” If it shows the lit fuse, nothing happens. If it shows an explosion, and you have the “boomb,” you’re out of the game.

So, if you find yourself holding the “boomb,” you’re very interested in what the next player throws. I mean, very interested. And if not, you’re just watching the game unfold and feeling generally smug. And, as more and more players are out of the game, you get smugger and smugger – unless you’ve already been “boombed” (the game is mercifully brief, so if you’re out, you’re not going to be out for long, and the game is so silly, and so much about the luck of the die that you don’t have time to take it personally).

Major Fun AwardIt’s small enough to easily fit in your pocket. The “boomb” opens up to store the die, so it’s very, very portable. If you have it with you, you’ll always have a quick game to play whenever you find people who are on the brink of boredom. You don’t have to play until everyone is out. You can just as easily play that the first person who gets “boombed” gets hugged and pitied into submission, and maybe has to start the next game of Le Boomb or “le something else.”

Designed by Jean Vanaise for 2+ players (manufacturer recommends up to 16 players, we think maybe 10), 6 years and older, Le Boomb! is made available in the US by Mayfair Games

Toc Toc Woodman

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 03-04-2013

Toc Toc WoodmanCan… not… resist… Monty… Python…

[full volume] “I’m a lumberjack and I’m OK…”

Mayday’s release of the English version of Toc Toc Woodman comes with one major advantage over other stacking games like Jenga. Along with the requisite stacking pieces, Toc Toc Woodman comes with an axe. This plastic toy axe stole the show every time I opened the game. I know it is supposed to be a woodman’s axe but the proportions and blade design look much more like an executioner’s axe than that of a lumberjack. Be warned: when playing this game, especially for the first time, budget some axe appreciation time.

And watch your fingers.

Major Fun AwardWhen you are finally ready for the game proper, you will find a very clever arrangement of plastic disks and arcs that stack to form the trunk of a tree. Each disk is surrounded by a ring of four pieces of bark. The disk and accompanying ring of bark is stacked on top of others to make the tree. Players take turns hitting the tree with—wait for it— the axe so that only the bark pieces fall to the table. Think of this as the anti-Jenga in which you are trying to knock down pieces instead of build them up.

You get 1 point for each piece of bark you knock off. Knocking off one of the disks earns you -5 points. The chance of knocking off one or more of the disks increases as the tree is battered turn after turn. It doesn’t help that your first instinct (certainly mine) when handed an axe is to give your target a resounding whack! If you knock over several disks you get the bark but you also get the negative points, and late in the game there is little bark left.

A light touch is required. Who knew lumberjacks should be so dainty?

Rules are included but illustrated rules are also printed on the box itself. It is always a good sign when a game this fun—Major Fun even—can be fully explained without the need to waste any more paper. The game creates lots of tension and laughs and moments of fist pounding, teeth grinding frustration. But mainly laughs. Games are quick and almost any one of any age can play.

Highly recommended.

For 2+ players, ages 5+

Toc Toc Woodman was designed by Justin Oh and © 2011 by Mayday Games who is offering 25% off Toc Toc by using coupon code: MajorTocTocDiscount (Limit 1 per customer. Valid to first 25 customers.)

Ghost Blitz

Filed Under (Family Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 25-03-2013

Ghost BlitzThis is the story of a ghost named Balduin who loves taking pictures of the items he haunts, but who cannot get the colors right.

Ghost Blitz is a speed grabbing game. There are five objects that rest in the middle of the play area: a red chair, a blue book, a green bottle, a grey mouse, and a white ghost (Balduin himself). A deck of 60 cards tells you what object to grab. Each card contains a picture of two of the items.

Complication #1: at least one item in the picture is the wrong color. Players try to grab the item that is the correct color. First to grab the right item gets the card. Grabbing the wrong item incurs a penalty (more on that in a minute).

Complication #2: some cards (many cards actually) don’t have anything that is correct. When this occurs, players must grab the one item that is NOT pictured and whose color is not on the card. The first player to grab the correct item gets the card. A wrong choice incurs a penalty.

Major Fun AwardThe penalty for a wrong choice is to give one of your cards to the winning player. If you don’t have any cards it means you are losing and you have to shamefully mutter, “I don’t have any cards to give you…”

The game comes with an optional complication called Ghost Shout. In this case, any time the book appears on the card, players have to shout the name of the correct item. Grabbing when you should shout is considered a failure and incurs a penalty.

Perusing the rules takes all of 2 minutes and then you are too busy shouting and grabbing and laughing to notice the time slipping away. The pieces are solid and colorful and cute (although sometimes hard on your fingers). Major Fun.

For 2-8 players, ages 8+

Ghost Blitz was designed by Jacques Zeimet and © 2010 by Zoch. It is available in the U.S. from Lionrampantimports.

Swish, Jr.

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games, Puzzles) by Will Bain on 04-03-2013

We reviewed Swish (the senior) a couple posts ago, and all of the things that go into making it Major Fun have translated into the Junior edition: hefty, clear cards; colorful art; intuitive rules. It is the mark of great design that a game can be made simpler for younger players and it still retains the elements that make it fun and challenging. In this case, Swish Jr., is indeed fun and challenging for kids, but it remains fun and challenging for sophisticated adults who are playing alongside the callow youth.

For those who have not seen our earlier review of Swish—a recap. Twelve cards are dealt in a grid to the center of the table. The cards are made of clear plastic and are decorated with combinations of four basic shapes: purple circles, orange stars, blue arrows, and green lozenges (when you see those green things you’ll understand). Each card contains two of the shapes BUT some of the shapes are solid and some are rendered in outline. The game revolves around finding sets of cards that, when stacked, combine outline shapes with their corresponding solid shapes. For example, if you have a card with a solid star and a solid arrow, you would look for another card with an outline star and an outline arrow. When stacked, the solids fill in the outlines.

When someone spies what they believe to be a set of cards that could be combined to fill all outlines, the player yells Swish, grabs the cards, and demonstrates to the assembled room how the pieces fit together. Or don’t. If the cards fit, the player scores. If they don’t (and sometimes they won’t), the player fails. As cards are removed from the grid, new cards from the deck are used to fill in.

Swish Jr. is simpler in that the shapes are clearly different (in Swish they are all small circles) and there are fewer spaces on each card
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where shapes can appear. The game also suggests that older or more experienced competitors should try to make sets of three or more cards while the younger and less experienced only need to match two. This handicapping can change throughout the game. As a novice starts scoring more and more two-card sets, he or she graduates to the next level.

Our group of adult game tasters generally found the two-card sets to be very easy and the three card sets were a good place to start. Four or more was quite difficult. Difficult in a Major Fun way. That kind of difficult where you know the solution is there you just need a little… more… time….

For 2+ players, ages 5+


Filed Under (Party Games, Puzzles) by Bernie DeKoven on 24-02-2013

Swish visual puzzle There’s “swish,” the sound a basketball purportedly makes when it goes through the hoop without touching the net. And there’s Swish, the puzzle, made out 60 transparent cards, that you can play by yourself, or with a friend, or with a party-full of friends. The reason why Swish, the game, is called “swish,” the basketball sound, is that to succeed you have to line up little printed balls (of one of four colors) so that they appear to go through little printed hoops (of the identical color). Each card has exactly one ball and one hoop, each ball and hoop can appear in one of twelve different positions.

So you lay out 16 of your well-made, easy-to-shuffle, transparent Swish cards. And you look for potential swishes. And you can’t touch. You have to imagine what would happen if you turned a card clockwise and then put it over another, or counter-clockwise, or if you flipped it over, or if you flipped and turned. Or if you added yet another card, having flipped and turned and stacked. Or perhaps yet another, or, should you dast, maybe four, five, six, maybe even twelve other cards – each ball of fitting precisely into a hoop of the same color. All without your actually having touched anything, and, if you’re playing with other people, all before anyone else preempts your potentially amazing, muti-point-winning swish.

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And the whole deck fits in a lovely draw-string bag for convenient carrying around everywhere you happen to find a clean, preferably white surface on which to play – restaurants, kitchens, dining rooms – the world is your Swish-field.

It almost hurts the head. In a good way. Playing with others adds tension, but also in a good way. With 16 cards on the table, there usually is a multi-card Swish lurking in your Swish-field. The designers suggest that you decide ahead of time the minimum number of cards required to make a Swish. This gives even greater play to the game, allowing you to adjust the challenge to the level of expertise (or hubris) of the players, or allowing each player to determine her own Swish-count should you be playing with people of different Swish-abilities. Hence the major-ness of the fun.

Swish is recommended for players who are 8 or older. It can be played as a solitaire, or with two or more. It was designed by Zvi Shalem and Gali Shimoni and is available from ThinkFun

Get Bit

Filed Under (Family Games, Party Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 19-02-2013

Get BitAppearances to the contrary, Get Bit is a game of cunning strategery, requiring poker-like deadpanning, anticipatory face-reading and much stalwart limb-losing.

Each of the 4-6 players has a hand of cards, numbered 1-7 and a color-matching, limb-detachable, plastic robot-like doll. In addition, there’s a Get Bit shark card, and a plastic shark with articulated jaw silently shrieking menace.

The shark is placed on its shark card, the temporarily fully-limbed robots are positioned, randomly, in a line in front of the shark; players collectively contemplate their cards, and, simultaneously, take their chosen card, placing it face-down with pokerish stoicism. At the agreed-upon moment, everyone turns their card over. The player who played the lowest number card moves her robot to the front of the line, furthest away from the shark. In case of a tie, neither player moves (a highly undesirable consequence if one takes into account the strategic significance of shark-proximity). And so on and so on until all cards are revealed, all robots moved or not. The robot closest to the shark loses a robotic limb.

The next round ensues in like manner, except that each player has one card less from which to choose. Played cards are left face-up, so that all players can, with slightly increasing certainty, can predict the likelihood of their success. The game ends as soon as one robot achieves limblessness. Until that time, should a player find herself with only one card, she gets to pick up all her cards and continue the next round with a full hand.

And on and on until there are only two robots. The robot closest to the shark is considered conceptually consumed.

Major Fun AwardThe toy-like robots and shark set the stage for a light-hearted, playful experience. Because the game does require moments of deep reasoning, light-headedness is not encouraged, though, depending on the nature of available refreshments, the game is fun enough to keep people playing even though their robots have become as conceptually incapacitated as they.

The instructions include a two- and three-player version which we found insufficiently bloodthirsty. We definitely recommend the game for at least 4 players. Depending on your competitive needs, you can also play as teams, so when a player has join the ranks of the conceptually consumed he can put his new-found wisdom into practice with the still living.

Get Bit is best with 4-6 players. It was designed by Dave Chalker, illustrated by Gavin Schmitt, with robots by Ken Lilly, and is available from Mayday Games


Guess What!

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 09-02-2013

Guess WhatAlthough billed as an education game, we like to think of Guess What! as a great party game with lots of pedagogical potential. Sure the game promotes spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination, pattern recognition, and geometric reasoning, but no one would care if it wasn’t so much fun.

At heart, Guess What! is a cross between Tangrams and Charades. Players take turns getting the other players to guess a word by making a picture with colorful plastic shapes. There are 81 cards, each containing 6 clues. The active player rolls a die, starts the timer, and must make that object with the tangram-style plastic pieces. Guessing players may ask yes or no questions, and the first one to guess correctly wins 2 points. The building player also gets 2 points if the word is correctly identified. Guessing players may also ask for the first letter of the word but this reduces the point value to 1 if the builder answers.

party-family-kidsWhen we played with 6 people, we never ran out of time, but there was a lot pressure from all the guessing and questions that flew around. Clue building was especially intense because you had to simultaneously think about the item, sort through all the plastic pieces, arrange the pieces, and field questions from frantic guessers. Admiring (or ridiculing) the pictures at the end made up a big part of the fun.

There are a couple of clever additional features to the game. For younger players there are 27 Junior Cards which have a single clue PLUS a picture of how to build the item. This allows younger kids a way to manipulate the pieces while also creating something that the guessers will recognize. The pieces themselves are crafted from a flexible plastic that will cling to most clean, smooth surfaces (like refrigerators, windows, whiteboards, or laminated paper). Although this did not really affect the way we played on a table top (the pieces did not slide much) it does allow other kinds of play on vertical surfaces. Good for school and other creative play.

You do have to punch the pieces out before you can play (a process that proved more difficult than necessary, but that’s a small nitpick), but once you do, play is quick and intuitive. The directions are short and provide plenty of play alternatives. Major Fun for parties and school!

For 3-8 players, ages 5+

Guess What! © 2010 by EduStic.

White Elephant

Filed Under (Party Games) by Will Bain on 07-02-2013

White Elephant = card gameNow that the holiday madness and the season of profligate spending is behind us (only 320 shopping days until Christmas 2013!!), we can sit back and reflect on what is really important: what to do with that awkward gift from your great-aunt. You know, the rhinestone encrusted, macramé lamp shade that she expects will festoon the primary reading light in your living room. She visits just enough that your excuses could become strained (“You know, Aunty, we had to have one of the rhinestones replaced and they would only do it under warranty at the factory in Turzbekistan.”) On the other hand, she’s getting up there in age and her eyesight and memory are a bit dodgy.

And thus you are caught in the vortex of the white elephant gift…

Mayday Games and Brian Kelley have done a great job of staying true to the spirit and the rules of the classic white elephant gift exchange. If you are Turzbekistani or otherwise unfamiliar with this holiday tradition, this game will prove a fun and invaluable means of expanding your cultural literacy. To sum up—which the game does in beautifully concise rules— your goal is to acquire the best gift you can from three target colors. The gifts are represented with 50 cards: five groups of ten cards (red, orange, green, blue, and yellow) and each card has a point value from 1 – 10.

Major Fun awardYou are dealt a hand of cards. All players take one card from their hand and place it face down in the center of the table. This is called “Going to the Party.” The starting player takes one card and turns it face up. The second player (clockwise) now has a choice. He or she can “steal” the face-up card from Player One or take one of the mystery cards. If Player Two steals then Player One must draw from the mystery pile. Player Three, in turn, can steal from Players One and Two or take from the middle.

There are five card colors but the players have a “Gift List” of three colors that they are trying to acquire. Only cards of these colors will count at the end. If your “Gift List” is Green, Red, Yellow then you are trying to collect those colors. Other colors will not score at the end.

There is quite a bit of silly luck in the game (the game is Major Fun so the silly factor is very high) but enough strategy that you can position yourself for good points. You have to decide when is the best time to steal—especially the high value cards. Too early and someone will just snatch it away from you. Too late and someone might beat you to it. Take a chance in the middle? You might wind up with a set of unflossed Billy-Bob teeth worth one point. And ain’t nobody gonna steal that from you.

Game play is easy to learn and very fast. The laughs come just as quick. Best of all, you put all the “gifts” back in the box until the next time you play.

For 3-7 players, ages 8+

White Elephant designed by Brian Kelley. © 2011 by Mayday Games, Inc.