Picwits!

Filed Under (Family Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on 29-05-2013

Pictwits!Pictwits! is a great party game. Easy to learn (especially if you have ever played any humor game like Apples to Apples) and virtually inexhaustible. The game consists of over 500 pictures and 144 captions. One player, the judge, reveals a caption, the rest submit a picture. The judge decides which picture is best.

You can keep score if you want. You can try to win by having your pictures chosen most often. You can try to get to know something about your fellows. But most importantly you try to be the funny one. Laughter is the best measure of success. In the end, no one will care who won. They might remember individual jokes, but they’re more likely to just walk away with a pleasant ache in their funny-bones and the buzz of a good party.

Pictwits!The designers suggest having a countdown from 5 to help speed things along. We did it and had some laughs as folks scrambled to slap a card down. But it was hardly crucial. Another layer of joy for a Major Fun game.

Last year I was introduced to Cards Against Humanity. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this game , think Apples to Apples for the eighteen and over set. If there was a category in Major Fun for “Adult Games” this would certainly be a Keeper. It’s not that the language of the cards is particularly crude (although some are) it’s that the responses are so highly suggestive. Cards Against Humanity drives home one of my central beliefs that humor is inappropriate. ALL humor is inappropriate. Humor is a way humans cope with situations in which some rule or expectation is violated. Even simple Knock-Knock jokes demonstrate this.

Major Fun AwardPictwits! is a great way for people to say inappropriate, outlandish, transgressive things and then bask in the resulting rush of endorphins and neurotransmitters like dopamine. The game sits somewhere between Apples to Apples (Why did the chicken cross the road?) and Cards Against Humanity (There once was a man from Nantucket…) so you can generally feel good about opening it up at your next family game night. The pictures and captions in Pictwits! can be enjoyed a by a wide range of ages. There’s plenty of room for snark and double-entendre among an adult crowd, and outright silliness for younger kids.

It’s also good to see this game mechanic applied to visual answers. Picking out funny photographs? Major Fun.

For 4+ players, ages 10+

Pictwits! was designed by Nicholas Cravotta and © 2012 by MindWare.

Wits & Wagers: Party

Filed Under (Family Games, Party Games, Senior-Worthy) by Will Bain on 27-05-2013

Wits & Wagers: PartyVegas, baby!!

Let it ride!!

Baby needs a new pair of shoes!!

No-whammies-no-whammies-no-whammies-no-whammies…

And thus endeth my knowledge of Las Vegas and the exciting life of the high roller. What I do know is that any great game has an element of risk. Vegas epitomizes the lengths to which people, both the casinos and the gamblers, will go to make money. The games in Vegas are a thin fiction that glamorize this risky pursuit  of the Big Money. In contrast, North Star Games’ party version of Wits and Wagers, uses the opulent veneer of Vegas to encourage players to take a more intellectual risk in order to win some fun. Dare I say, the Big Funny?

As is subtly implied in its title, Wits & Wagers revolves around making a wager. Once you have divided into teams, the group is asked a question that has a numeric answer. For example: In what year was Velcro invented? In feet and inches, what was the longest recorded zucchini? How many taxis are in New York City?

Each team writes their answer on a wonderful little dry erase board. Each team’s board is revealed at the same time and put in order from lowest to highest. Although it is possible that someone will know the exact answer to a question, such precision is rarely possible and the game derives much of its fun from the teams betting on what response is closest to the correct answer without going over.

Each team has two betting tokens. Once the whiteboards are arranged, each team places their tokens on the numbers that they think are closest to the correct answer (but not higher than the answer). Once everyone bets, the answer is revealed to an eruption of cheers, howls, name-calling, fist-bumping, finger-pointing, and teeth-gnashing. The team who wrote down the closest number gets a chip. Any team that placed a betting token on the closest number also gets a chip.

This process of coming up with an answer and then betting on the collective range of possibilities is very engaging. Just coming up with an answer for your team is tense, but the fun really kicks in when you see the other guesses; especially when the range of answers is close. All the same arguments your team had in coming up with a number come BACK when it is time to put your tokens down.

Major Fun AwardTo keep things interesting, the seventh (and final) round adds a wrinkle. This time, your team can use the chips you have won over the last few rounds in the betting stage. On this round, when you place your betting tokens, you can add some (or all) of your chips to that bet. If you win, you get a chip for your token and one chip for each chip that you bet. If you lose, you lose them all. In this way, the fortunes of the teams can change quickly. In one of our games, we had three teams that all wrote the same number as their answer. It was the last round and those three teams were well ahead of the fourth team, but because they thought they had an easy answer (how could three groups of well-educated adults be wrong?) all three teams went all in. The fourth team also bet on that answer BUT kept a few chips back. As you’ve probably guessed, the answer was wrong. The three leading teams were wiped out and the last place team won.

Wits & Wagers: Party is crisply designed and a snap to learn. The dry erase boards and markers work perfectly for this kind of game. We also appreciated the clearly illustrated (and short) instructions.

You won’t lose your shirt but you might lose your breath. There is a lot of laughter and cheering and groaning. And that’s the kind of “loss” that makes a game Major Fun.

For 4+ players, ages 8+

Wits & Wagers: Party was designed by Dominic Crapuchettes and © 2012 by North Star Games.

Riff Raff

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

Riff Raff

Riff Raff is a game of rigorous self-assessment, strategic cunning, and Kung-Fu-like dexterity. OK, maybe not so rigorous or cunning. And more of the white-belt level, Kung-Fu-wise. But, for a rocking-boat-in-the-water balancing-type game, surprisingly, shall we say, deep.

Stage one: the setting-up

There are two large cardboard “waves” that bend into three sections. These are placed together on to the parts compartment in the box, so as to form the base for the ship. A wooden collar is then placed over the opening where the two wave-pieces meet. Into this, you “place the joint of the ball-bar on the wooden ring in such a way that the boat sinks into the whole and the two retaining rods come to lie in the troughs of the ring.” Thus assuring something like 360-degree rockability. And then on goes the hull, and the mast goes into the hole in the hull, and a small round bar is placed into the bottommost mast-hole upon which is placed the lower yardarm. And, oh, you know, you get a boat, cunningly counterweighted, tantalizingly tippable, with three yardarms, that have numbers on each end.

Each player (2-4) gets a set of 8 different pieces- wooden, of course, as is the boat and all its parts, except for the metal ball counter-weight, and a deck of ten cards, numbered from one, to, let me see, yes, ten.

Stage two: the up-setting

Major Fun awardEach player selects one of her cards. Simultaneously, all players reveal their chosen number. The player with the highest number is captain, and starts the game. The player who has the second highest card goes next, etc. Once a card is played, it gets thrown into somewhere retrievable for the next game. Now here’s the thing about the cards. It’s not just about seeing who gets to go when. It’s also about where you have to put a piece of your cargo. Note the numbers on the ship. Note the corresponding number on the card you played. Ten gets to go first. But then again, that means the player who played a ten has to put a piece of the very top yardarm in the “ten” section.

So, when you select your card, you have to anticipate (predict, potentially; guess, actually) what card the other players might also choose. Which, of course, entails considerations about what card they think you’re likely to choose. Hence the whole strategic cunning part. And the Kung-Fu-like hand-steadiness. And, of course, the rigorous self-assessment (I mean, can I actually get the monkey to hang on the 10 side of the yardarm, given how the whole ship is tilting 1o-wardly?).

The game is surprisingly easy to understand. Consistently engaging. Frequently funny. And probably one of the strategically deepest dexterity games we’ve yet encountered. Major, we say, fun.

Designed by Christoph Cantzler, art by Michael Menzel, published by Zoch, available in the U.S. from Lion Rampant Imports

Hamsterrolle

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

Hamsterrolle via BoardgameCafe.net

For people who like to explore the mysteries of balance and steadiness of hand,  Hamsterrolle is an ingenious, and, to our knowledge, unique (and, hence, uniquely fun) challenge.

If it reminds you a bit of one of those wheelish things you find in a hamster cage, you have satisfactorily explained the etymology of the game’s name.

The main component of the game is a large, wooden wheel, divided into 12 sections by steps of different length. There are also four sets of 7 wooden pieces, each piece a different color and shape. In addition, there is a cone-shaped piece, used to steady the wheel in preparation for the beginning of the game. Each of the 2-4 players gets one full set.

Major Fun awardOnce the cone-shaped piece is in postion, the game begins. The first player places any of her pieces into the first, second, or third compartment (separated by steps) after the cone. From then on, players take turns placing their pieces, either in the same compartment in which the last piece was placed, or the compartment after that, or the compartment after that. If a piece is placed in the same compartment, it must be different than all the other pieces in that compartment, and placed so that it is ahead of the last piece placed.

Sooner or later, the wheel rolls. That establishes the “roll” direction, and all subsequent plays must be made so that the wheel, if it rolls, will continue rolling in the same direction. This can also cause a piece or several to fall out of their compartments. Even if they only fall partly out, they are still considered “yours,” so you must add them to your collection, which is not so good for you, especially when you take into account that the first player to use up all her pieces is the winner.

The game is challenging, absorbing, and takes you enough by surprise to catalyze serious laughter. It can be played by almost any age. The rules can be easily changed to accommodate younger children and older adults. It is elegant, attractive, and major fun.

Watch a couple kids playing:

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Now watch the amazingness:

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Designed by Jacques Zeimet and produced by Zoch games, Hamsterrolle is recommended for 2-4 players ages 7 and older. It is available in the U.S. from Lion Rampant Imports

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

Attraction

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
Major Fun Award
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+