|Release: 6/28/2021||Download: Enhanced | MP3|
|Run Time: 95 min||Subscribe: Enhanced | MP3 | RSS|
A mysterious grid of 9 ancient stones lies before you. Rearrange them to match your pattern cards and score points. The challenge is, these pattern cards may either be used to move/flip the stones or score points… but never both!
Therein lies the maddening but simple genius of the game. Shifting Stones is a light game but not a slight game. Familiar, yet full of surprises, this is a game for players from all walks. Play with your kids; play on a lunch break, or at the pub at the end of a long day. Deep enough to offer a challenge, but approachable enough to allow space for fellowship as you play.
Tune in to discover why Shifting Stones is a modern classic and most certainly Major Fun!
Designer: J. Evan Raitt
Art: Kwanchai Moriya
1-5 players 20 min. ages 8+ MSRP $15
Time to teach/learn: 2-3 minutes
Designer: Erwan Morin
Artist: Stephane Escapa
Publisher: Blue Orange Games
2-4 players 10 minutes ages 8+ MSRP $22
Time to teach & learn: 3 minutes
Seven minutes separate you and your team of pastry chefs from enrolling at the world famous Cupcake Academy. How many assignments can you complete, exchanging and stacking colored cups on plates, readying them for the kitchen? Be quick, but be careful. The judges are very picky, so each order has to be just right for everyone to move on. Complete all the assignments before time is up and you’ll enjoy the sweet taste of victory!
The components in Cupcake Academy are colorful and charming and help set the mood.
There are 20 hard plastic cupcake cups in five different sizes and bright colors. The cups nest nicely into each other whether right side up or upside down.
Each player has a set of three personal plate tiles. This is where you’ll stack your cups. The team also shares one large plate tile. This is where you’ll swap cups.
A deck of 60 assignment cards will define your challenges each game. The assignment cards are color coded for two, three, or four players.
A seven minute sand timer drives Cupcake Academy and keeps players on their toes.
To play, shuffle and create a stack of assignment cards based on the number of players. Each player arranges their cups in a single stack on their center personal plate. Place the shared plate within each reach of everyone. When the team is ready, flip the timer, the first assignment card, and the game begins!
Cupcake Academy is a cooperative stacking and pattern matching game driven by logic. The goal is to complete all the assignment cards within the allotted time.
An assignment card shows a specific arrangement of cups for each player. The color and size of the cups shown is important.
The position of the cups on the plates, though, doesn’t matter. So, if I need to have my big green cup on a plate, it doesn’t matter which one of my plates it is on.
In order to complete an assignment, every player must create a layout with the right number and color of cups to match the goal. The shared plate must also be empty.
When complete, flip the next assignment and continue until you complete the stack of assignment cards or run out of time. If you finish all the cards, huzzah! Your group becomes the next class of students at the Cupcake Academy. If you run out of time, not to worry, there’s always next semester (or the next game).
A collective logic puzzle is the sweet gooey center of Cupcake Academy.
On the surface, the goal to be accomplished seems so simple. What could be hard about placing the right color and size cup on a plate?
First, remember each player has five cups to begin the round, nested like Russian dolls, with the large pink cup covering the rest. Using only one hand for the whole game, you’ll be unstacking and restacking your cups to try and match the pattern.
If the assignment shown asks for you to have a blue cup and an orange cup showing on your plates, the remainder of your cups are going to have to go somewhere else. This means you are going to have to hide the others by nesting them OR send your cups along to another player. But here’s the thing…
The chefs running the Academy are a tricksy bunch. You cannot simply give or take cups from another player’s plate. You must use the shared plate to transfer cups AND, to make matters worse, there can only be one cup on the shared plate at a time.
The challenge and fun of Cupcake Academy comes from learning when and how to unstack and restack your cups so that you can keep the ones you need, hide others underneath, and send the rest on to your teammates.
You need to understand your own needs, but the game forces you to look at the whole assignment, to factor in the needs of your teammates, too. Together, you have to puzzle out how to pass cups in the right order via the shared plate so that everyone can create the right combination.
Communication is key to success and will almost certainly create hilarious moments of failure, too. It’s almost inevitable that at some point your team will have to scramble to undo an entire chain of swapped cups in order to fix a problem in the pattern.
Cupcake Academy is a series of interconnected puzzles that blossom into a fun and challenging game. Time pressure and teamwork create a sometimes thoughtful and sometimes frantic experience that requires focus and contributions from everyone. The better you communicate, the more you’ll accomplish.
Cupcake Academy is a surprising and wonderful blend. It manages to evoke the old world charm of a slide puzzle (shift pieces, make a pattern) while drawing inspiration from video game culture. What was once a solitaire experience is now gamified – a layered puzzle with multi-player co-op mode unlocked. It even comes with a checklist of achievements you can unlock as you ramp up the difficulty of the game.
Cupcake Academy can speak to a lot of people, spanning generations. It’s a mash-up of thinky and dexterity elements that feels fresh and different. It is clever enough to engage the brain but hectic enough to unlock the simple magic of Major Fun.
Written by: Stephen Conway
|Release: 08/24/2020||Download: Enhanced | MP3|
|Run Time: 109 min||Subscribe: Enhanced | MP3 | RSS|
Similo is a cooperative game of characters, communication, and deduction. Can you guide your team to the secret character in a grid of cards using only other character cards as clues? A vertical clue means the card is similar to the secret character. A horizontal clue means the card is different. Each round the pressure mounts, because the team has to remove more cards from the grid!
Similo comes in three flavors. You can play with people from history, myth, and storybook legend. If you’re up for a real challenge, you can even combine decks!
Similo is a springboard into the minds of everyone at the table. It provides a puzzle and laughs in equal measure. That’s a sure sign of Major Fun.
Listen in for our in-depth review!
Designer: Hjalmar Hach, Pierluca Zizzi, Martino Chiacchiera
Publisher: Horrible Guild
Artist: Xavier (“Naiade”) Durin
2-8 players 10-15 min. ages 8+ MSRP $10
Time to teach/learn: 3-4 minutes
For info on the other segments featured on the show, check out the show notes at The Spiel!
Designer: Bill Eberle, Peter Olotka, Greg Olotka
Publisher: HeidelBÄR Games
1-4 players 20-30 minutes ages 10+
Time to teach & learn: 5 minutes
Writers have talent – stringing words together, making them sing. But Wordsmiths? Their skills are more rare and special. They build each letter in every word from the ground up, one piece at a time.
From an assortment of basic shapes, can you assemble letters from a template and then use those letters to build words? Be quick and dig deep into your vocabulary to score big. Wordsmith gives new meaning to word play!
Wordsmith comes with 120 colorful plastic letter pieces. These are the literal building blocks you will use to create your words. They are divided into four types: long sticks are red, short sticks are yellow, half circles are blue and mini-Us are green.
There are four dice with sides matching the colors of the pieces and a scorepad.
Wordsmith uses the game box in fun and interesting ways. Instead of a game board, there is a plastic insert with sections for each letter piece and a resting area for each die. Even the sides of the game box are crucial to the game as each side contains an A-Z construction blueprint, so every player has a reference to consult.
The goal in Wordsmith is to assemble the pieces you have available into letters and then use those letters to form words. Each round, you will be asked to build six words, then score. After three rounds, the player with the highest score wins.
When building, everyone works from a common set of blueprints. Want to build an E? You’ll need one red long stick and three yellow short sticks. Need an R? Put together one green mini-U, a red long stick and a yellow short stick. Every letter you make must conform to these construction guidelines.
Dice are used to determine the starting set of pieces held in common by all players. Roll each die twice to generate a pool of 8 letter pieces.
Once everyone has their initial pieces, play is freeform. Ready, set, go!
Once the game begins, however, you can add pieces to your supply by rolling your die. At any point, you may roll it and add a piece to your supply that matches the face you rolled. Note: the star face is wild and any piece may be taken.
When you have assembled a word, call it out and show it to all. Others will quickly check your work. If it is spelled correctly and is a valid word, wahoo! Write it on your scorepad. Unlike many word games, limited punctuation is allowed. The yellow short sticks can serve as apostrophes or hyphens.
Any leftover pieces you didn’t use are discarded back to the box and you must fill in a space on your scorepad for every piece discarded. This makes Wordsmith a puzzle game, a word game, AND an efficiency game!
Sure, you can roll the die to amass a huge stockpile of pieces, BUT there could be dangerous consequences to that decision. The first six pieces you discard won’t hurt you. But after that, every piece discarded will cost you one point when scoring.
Continue building words from your supply of pieces until one player reaches six words. Score one point per letter in each word you build. You also score one point for each unmarked discard space.
Begin the next round with a new set of common pieces and build away!
Flexibility sets Wordsmith apart. The base game described above is wonderful, challenging, quick, and fun. Included with the rules are several variants that are every bit as good and allow the game to adapt to the experience level or play style of many different groups.
You can play silently, where no one calls out their words. At the end of the round, scoresheets are checked and illegal words won’t count. This makes the game less raucous and more thoughtful.
You can play without time pressure, allowing players to claim and complete all six words each round. This encourages longer words and higher scores.
You can play with a variable set of letter pieces for each player.
You can add a special 6-letter word for each round and spell this word out vertically along your scorepad so one letter lines up with each row. The word you build for that row must contain that specific letter in order to score.
And the list goes on!
Wordsmith practically begs for your own variations. Here are some we’ve had fun with:
each word built must fit a certain theme
each player gets a limited number of dice rolls
your next word must begin with the last letter of the prior word
Wordsmith wants you to play with it. It entices you to explore the basic system of rules and see them as building blocks, just like the letter pieces!
Wordsmith is an extremely clever mash up of spatial puzzle, time pressure, and classic word game. It comes to us from the team who also designed Cosmic Encounter, Dune, and Hoax in the 1980s. These games were groundbreaking then and have influenced several generations of designers since. It’s no exaggeration to say their imagination and innovation laid the groundwork for the board game renaissance we all enjoy today. It’s wonderful and encouraging to see this team is at it again, breathing life and energy into the word game genre.
You don’t have to be an English major to love Wordsmith. It’s as much a game to challenge your quick handed assembly skills as your vocabulary. And if you hit a roadblock with one version of the game, there are many paths to Major Fun to find instead.
Written by: Stephen Conway
Designer: Peter McPherson
1-6 players 30-45 minutes ages 12+
You are the mayor of a tiny town in the forest, where the smaller creatures of the woods have created a civilization hidden away from predators. This new land is small and the resources are scarce–you take what you can get, and never say ‘no’ to building materials. Cleverly plan and construct a thriving town, and don’t let it fill up with wasted resources!
Each player receives a player board, which represents their tiny town. The board is a 4×4 grid, on which resources will be placed, and buildings constructed. In addition, players also receive two Monument cards, and a single wooden monument piece.
Five different colored cubes represent the resources: Wood, Wheat, Brick, Glass, and Stone. The colors are nicely contrasted in brown, yellow, red, teal and gray.
Each game of Tiny Towns features the Cottage (your creatures need a place to live!). In addition, 6 other buildings may be built. These public buildings are selected randomly from game to game. For each type of building, one card out of four is chosen to be featured in each game. Each building will present slightly different challenges, and offer different scoring possibilities.
The building cards show a pattern of colored resources which must be matched to place a building. In addition, how each building will score at game’s end is spelled out in text at the bottom.
Every one of the seven public buildings are represented by wooden building pieces. These are a different color and shape, making them easy to differentiate from one another.
In addition, players also receive two Monument cards, and a single wooden monument piece. You’ll choose one of these two private building cards to keep, discarding the other. Only you may build this unique structure during the game.
Tiny Towns is a game in which players use pattern recognition to build buildings and score points. Each building scores victory points in a unique way, and requires a different grouping of resources.
On a turn, one player will be the Master Builder. This player selects one of the five resources, which all players must add to their boards. Once placed, a cube cannot be moved. Then the next player in turn order becomes Master Builder, and all players must add the resource they select to their personal boards.
At any time a player has the required cubes to match either a public or private building, he or she may build.. First all the cubes used are returned to the supply, then the building is placed on one of the spaces which yielded the cubes.
For example: The Cottage requires a pattern of cubes with a teal cube at its center, flanked by a red cube on the left, and yellow cube on the right, but turned 90 degrees. Once this little triangle of three pieces is complete, remove the cubes, and place a cottage in one of the three spaces. Now your critters have a place to call home!
But a place to live is worthless without a source of food. One of four food buildings (Farm, Granary, Greenhouse, or Orchard) will supply your cottages. Cottages which are fed will score 3 points apiece. Otherwise, they score zero.
Say the Farm is in your game. It’ll feed four Cottages. If you built a fifth Cottage, you’ll need to have a second Farm to feed all five. Other food buildings will feed cottages based on how close they are to the Cottages. And each food building requires a different pattern of cubes in order to be built.
Other types of buildings play off of their location in your town to score points, or what other buildings you’ve erected nearby. The Tavern simply gives points based on how many you’ve built. One Tavern will get you 2 points, but five Taverns yield 20. The Feast Hall will yield 2 points each. But if you build more of them than your right hand neighbor does, they increase to 3 apiece..
And Commercial buildings (Bank, Factory, Trading Post, Warehouse) allow flexibility. Essentially, these allow a player to embargo a type of resource. If any player names that color of cube, the buildings owner gets to choose an alternate resource.
Remember that buildings may never be moved. And a cube may only be committed to building a single building. Planning your Tiny Town is very important. Each decision on where to place a cube is important, as resources block spaces until they can be converted into a single building, freeing up space again. Leaving a single stranded cube can put a serious crimp in your game.
Eventually, the time will come when you can no longer place a cube or construct a new building. Your game is over. But other players may continue choosing cubes until they also can’t build or place another cube.
Then all players remove all unused cubes from their town, and score positive points based on their buildings and monument. But each empty space will cost one point off your final score–you wasted resources! The player with the most points wins.
Tiny Towns offers ease of play married to strategic depth. The few rules in the game offer a low barrier to entry. Within minutes almost anyone can be building and enjoying the game. What will surprise most gamers is the amount of strategic depth Tiny Towns offers. At first, building your town seems simple, almost child’s play. But the challenge of how to maximise your scoring, given the resources you are handed, is one that gamers will find intriguing.
The Monument Cards provide for a wide variety of decisions and strategies. Games like Tiny Towns could fall into the trap of “Everyone does the same thing”. After all, each player takes the same resource on a turn and has the same set of basic buildings they may construct. But the monument cards offer players an individual goal which allows everyone to strike out on their own path from the start. Some incentivise you to build more of a certain type of building. Others require a different pattern to score well. Monument cards give each player’s game a distinct feel.
Tiny Towns might be compared to Bingo. But it’s a game of Bingo where on your turn you decide which resource gets called. By doing so, you not only improve your position, but also have a deep impact on everyone else’s game. By paying attention to other player’s games, you might stitch them up, and seal a victory for yourself.
Tiny Towns offers players tremendous value on many levels. The artwork is sweet and fun to look at. The wooden building pieces are pleasing to place and admire. And the number of cards offers tremendous replayability, guaranteeing that virtually no two games of Tiny Towns will ever be the same experience. Not counting the Monument cards, there are over 4,000 different initial setups for Tiny Towns. That’s enough to bring puzzle game fans back to the table time after time.
And repeated plays offer the chance to explore two rules variants. The Cavern variant allows you to twice a game set aside cubes which others have chosen that don’t fit your game.The Town Hall variant offers a deck of cards which reveal one random resource that players must use. After every two random resources, each player adds a resource of their choosing to their own town. The town Hall deck also offers a way to play Tiny Towns solitaire.
Tiny Towns appeals to those who like city building games such as 7 Wonders or Alhambra. It scratches the itch of those who enjoy puzzle-like games such as Sagrada or Take It Easy! And it offers a bridge between the interests of casual and more serious gamers, where both can meet and play. As such, Tiny Towns also spans the gap between The Spiel of Approval and Major Fun Awards, making it a worthy resident of both camps.
In Tiny Towns you build a small town for small critters in a small amount of time. But don’t be fooled: inside this little game AEG has packed great value and variety for a small price.
Written by: Doug Richardson