Dragonwood

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 24-06-2015

Dragonwood
Dragonwood, despite its dragonish and monsterly appearance, is a fun and funny game for people old enough to enjoy playing with luck. Sure, it’s about winning, and winning, despite your cunning and deep familiarity with probability theory, your awesome intuitive powers and general strategic brilliance, is all about luck – and therein lies the bulk of the fun.

There are two decks of cards. One, the “Adventurer Cards,” reveals a collection of colorfully rendered noble, but fairly harmless-seeming dudes and dudettes accompanied by a few “Lucky Lady Bugs” whose magical power allows you to pick two more cards. The second, the “Dragonwood Cards,” compose the very objects for which you are so devotedly vying – the Grumpy Trolls, worth 4 points each, the snarling Pack of Wolves (only 3 points), or perhaps one of only two 6- or even 7-point dragons. Scattered amongst these evil critters you’ll also find an assortment of natural events (Sunny Day, Wind Storm, Thunder Storm) that make you do things like discard one of your Adventure Cards or pass it to the right or left; and such lusted after special power cards like the Bucket of Spinach which allows you to add 2 points to any Stomp.

Stomp, you ask? What means this Stomp?

Major Fun AwardYou see, on every Dragonwood Card there’s a list of three possible actions: Strike, Stomp and Scream. What means these actions, you wonder. A Strike is a set of Adventurer cards that are in sequence (regardless of color), a Stomp cards of the same number, and a Scream, cards of the same color. Each alternative has a number next to it. To win the Dragonwood Card of your choice, you need to search among the cards in your hand (you can have up to 9) for the longest array and then throw the dice (there are 6) to see if you can get a high enough score. How many dice you can throw depends on how many cards you play. Some cards, like the Bucket of Spinach, you hold on to as tightly as you can because you can use them throughout the game – but the more of those you have, the fewer Adventurer cards. And therein, of course, lies yet another rub, or shall we say, tickle.

There are just enough alternatives to keep your strategically probability-estimating mind in gear, just enough incentives to stoke the competitive fires, and just enough luck for it to make you laugh semi-maniacally, despite it all, win or lose. All in maybe 20 minutes.

In sum, Major Fun.

Designed by Darren Kisgen with beautifully playful art by Chris Beatrice on 108 playing cards that shuffle easily, six dice that are lovely to behold and have that perfect rollability factor – for 2-4 players age 8 and up from Gamewright.

Splendor

Filed Under (Thinking Games) by Marc Gilutin on 03-06-2015

Impression

Miriam Webster defines “Splendor” as “magnificence, grandeur, beauty, elegance.”

Or maybe I’ll just quote “Italian John” – a great old guy who used to work in the local pool room where I might have spent a little too much time growing up: “Super-Bella-Gorgeous!!”

The very highest of compliments one could get. Like a Major Fun Award.

Major Fun awardI play lots of games with lots of different players. And I have yet to hear anybody say they didn’t like Splendor. Period. It’s very easy to learn and has a short enough playing time (30 minutes-ish) that there’s a great chance you’ll be playing back to back games.

The game is very easy to learn but offers enough strategy to keep everyone involved.

Splendor, is what we – folks who love games that make you think – call an “Engine Builder.”

You start with nothing. Do things to make your nothing become something. Improve that something into a nicer, more efficient something and, hopefully, into a winning something.
Ain’t that something?

“The play’s the thing” – Shakespeare was a gamer!

Splendor Set-up

When it’s your turn you either:

1. Take Chips: Blue, Red. Black, White, or Green
2. Buy a card from the board using said chips as currency
3. Speculate on a card from the board and take one Gold (wild) chip.

The cards are set out in three rows, each with its own supply deck. The first row is the easiest to get, etc. The cost for buying a card is always some combination of chips, for example, one particular low level green card costs 1 each of white, blue, red, and black.

But look how beautiful this game is!

So pleasing are the chips…..I frequently end up shuffling mine while we play.

“But how do I win?”

Some of the cards that are mostly in the second and third rows have a big number in the upper left of the card. Those are Victory Points – what you’re playing for. There are also a number of Nobleman tiles (3 points each), which a player can claim if they qualify at the end of their turn. The game goes on until, in a 4 player game, for instance, one player declares that they’ve accumulated 15 points. This means the current round is the last. Most points wins.

Splendor is published in France by Space Cowboys (their site is simply Splendorful) and is available in the US from Asmodee. It is designed by Marc André, with art by Pascal Quidalt. It can be played by 2-4 players, 1o-years-old and up.

Repeat after me: “Splendor is Super-Bella Gorgeous”, which translates to Major Fun!

Aztack

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 17-05-2015

aztack

It’ll take you maybe five minutes to learn how to play Aztack, and the average game lasts around fifteen minutes. It’s highly likely you’ll play several rounds of this not at all average strategy game.
There are 60 tiles – like dominoes – the kind of dominoes that slide sweetly when smushed around on the table, and clack comfortingly when stacked. The back of the tiles have two parallel ridges which play no small part in the clack comfort.

They’re not called tiles, though. They’re stones. Ah, yes, stones. The kind you use to build something like pyramids.

The first thing you do is take out all the stones, place them face dow on the table, and smush. We suggest collaborative smushing. Share the pleasure, don’t you know.

AztackThen you take 12 tiles, turn them over, and arrange them, face-up, in a rectangle of two rows of six tiles each. This forms the base of the pyramid. Now each player (2-4) selects 12 tiles, and puts them, face-up (that is, the tiles are face-up, not necessarily the player).

From then on, players take turns adding tiles to the stack. A tile has to: 1) lay across two tiles in the pyramid, and 2) match either the color or the design of the tiles upon which it has been laid. The game continues until neither player can make a legal move – the player with the fewest remaining tiles being the winner.

Easy to understand, yet challenging enough to make you look and think hard.

When the game is over, the thing you build together doesn’t look like your classic Egyptian pyramid, but it does look like something the Aztacks might have called a pyramid, if there were such people as Aztacks.

Here, courtesy of the BlueOrange ones, a brief, illustrative video:

Surprisingly engaging for such an easily-learned game. And it feels good, too. Well made. Carefully thought out. Kids enjoy it. Not kids enjoy playing it with the kids. The designs (“glyphs”) look like something an Aztack would make. And, o, the clacking and smushing.

Major Fun Award
Aztec is a strategy game for two to four players, ages 7 up. It is designed by Brad Ross and Jim Winslow, and comes to us from the oft-awarded Blue Orange Games.

Patchwork

Filed Under (Thinking Games) by Marc Gilutin on 27-04-2015

Agricola, Ora et Labora, Le Havre, Glass Road……..Whew!

Uwe Rosenberg has become one of the best designers of the ‘heavier’ games of the current generation. Four games in the top forty, as rated by us (you, if you’re registered on Board Game Geek) is downright Beatlesque, as far as world domination goes.

But as good as these games are, none of them will be getting a Major Fun Award any time soon.

Not because they’re not terrific. Herr Rosenberg does great work.
But they are quite a bit harder to explain and understand than the ones we like to call “Major Fun”.

And they usually take a couple of hours to play. Or more.
This is fine with me on occasion. But not what we here at MajorFun celebrate. 

We’re all about FUN. Simple. Joyous. Major. Fun. 

Now Uwe’s “PATCHWORK“is just that.

Major Fun awardIt takes 10 minutes or less to learn and around 25 or 30 to play. That’s it. You’re finished. And thinking about playing it again. Right away. It stimulates the mind. And the sense of touch as well. All those patches, of different shapes. Fitting together (hopefully).

And it’s PURRTTY!!! OH SO PURRTTY!!!!
Strategic too.
 A perfectly fun combination.
 A Gamer’s Game in the nicest sense of the word.

But I digress.

Patchwork is a two player game which, rumor has it, has a chance to possibly be played as solitaire, which is always nice.
Each player has her own 9X9 board to play on in addition to the center “time track” you’re both moving along.

track
In this game, buttons represent both the currency of the game (they’re used to buy patches) and victory points at games’ end. You want to have a bunch in your pile. And it’s very helpful to have them on the tiles you’ve placed on your player’s board.
Most buttons wins.

When it’s your turn, you have two options:

  • Buy a patch from the circle of tiles in the center of the table and place it on your board. This costs you buttons (money) and time.
  • Pass and move your marker to one space beyond your opponent’s. You get one button for every space you move when you do this.

Decisions decisions.

Imagination and planning play a part in Patchwork. First, in visualizing what your personal board will ultimately look like and second, leaving as few empty spaces as possible. (There’s a penalty for empty spaces at games end that’s drastic enough to frequently be the difference between winning and losing. So plan, baby plan).

patchwork in progress
The game continues, with players taking more of these beautiful patches and adding them to their personal board until both have reached the (final) center space on the time track.

When the second player reaches that final space, the game is over and both count the buttons they’ve accumulated and subtract two points for each uncovered space on their personal boards.

We like Patchwork a lot, hereabouts. And look forward to more (Major) Fun stuff from Uwe Rosenberg.

Diamonds

Filed Under (Family Games, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 14-04-2015

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diamondsA good deal of my down time in college was spent playing card games. At lunch we would play Hearts and Euchre. After dinner we played Spades and Bridge. And during [Post-Colonial Comparative Ontological Super-Symmetry] lectures we played a raucous home-brewed game that combined the best elements of Speed, Pit, and what we called “Go Fish Yourself.” We never actually went to class so please feel free to insert any course title inside the brackets.

Had Diamonds existed 25 years ago, I feel confident in saying that we would have welcomed it into our busy schedule of card games, role-playing games, board games, and video games. Even now, when I find myself a putative adult with parenting and career responsibilities, I would gladly make time for a game or two of Diamonds. It has nice strategic depth like Spades and just a little meanness like Hearts.

In short, Diamonds is a trick-taking card game. The deck consists of 60 cards divided into the four traditional suits: Clubs, Spades, Hearts, and Diamonds. One player leads a card and the others follow suit if they can. The highest value card of the lead suit wins the trick. There is no trump suit.

The game comes with a big mound of plastic gems that are piled in the center of the table (called “The Supply”). Players earn diamond tokens each trick and these diamonds determine the player’s score at the end of the hand. Diamonds can be stored in one of two places: behind a small screen called “The Vault” or in front of the screen called “The Showroom.” At the end of the hand, gems in the Showroom are worth 1 point each and gems in the Vault are worth 2 points apiece. How you earn the gems and how they come to be in your Showroom or Vault is the clever aspect of this game.

Each suit allows you to take an action that will help you accumulate diamonds. The diamond suit allows you to take one gem from the supply and put it in your Vault. Hearts allow you to take one from the supply and put it in your Showroom. Spades allow you to move a gem from your Showroom to your Vault. Clubs allow you to steal a gem from another player’s Showroom and place it in your Showroom.

You get to use these actions in several situations. If you win the trick (you have the highest card of the lead suit) you get to take the action. If you do not have the lead suit and must play something else then you also get to take that card action. For example, if I lead Hearts and you don’t have one, you can play a Diamond and then take a gem from the supply (putting it in your Vault). At the end of the hand, players count up how many cards they have of each suit. The player with the highest in each suit also gets to take that action. Finally, if you take no cards (no tricks) the entire hand, you may take 2 gems from the Supply and put them in your Vault. You can earn a lot of points this way.

01 AwardOne of the things we really like about the game Diamonds is that you almost always score something during a hand. Heck, several players can score in the same trick. It is very difficult to play a hand and score nothing. As a way of keeping players involved and invested, this is brilliant. There is also a great tension that builds through the game because you might not know how many gems a player has behind the screen.

As is suggested by the name, the suit of diamonds is the best suit as it allows you to put gems directly in your vault; however, the other suits are effective and fun and make for exciting gameplay. In a four-player game, only 40 cards are dealt so it is possible that there might not be many diamond cards in circulation. If that’s the case, hearts and clubs are the only way to earn gems and you need spades to get them safely into your Vault. And because we at Major Fun have mean little hearts, there was a good deal of glee had when we could use clubs to steal diamonds from each other.

Diamonds is a Major Fun twist on standard card games. It is certainly the safest way to be a diamond thief.

2 – 6 players. Ages 8+

Diamonds was designed by Mike Fitzgerald and is © 2014 by Stronghold Games LLC.

Rush Hour Shift

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 25-03-2015

Rush Hour Shift
Rush Hour Shift is a strategy game based on ThinkFun‘s popular Rush Hour puzzle series. )If your not familiar with charm of these puzzles, you can play with the basic concept of this intriguing little puzzle online.)

Major Fun AwardThe game board is in three parts, loosely connected so that you can shift (hence, the name of the game) either end of the board up or down. There are 12 “blocking vehicles” of three different lengths, and ten different ways to arrange the vehicles on the board. These vehicles can be moved, they just can’t be moved sideways, nor can they move over each other (which explains why they are called “blocking” vehicles). There’s also a deck of 32 movement cards which determine how far you can move your “hero car” and/or whether you get to shift one of the two ends of the game board.

After the game is set up (according to any one of the ten arrangements shown in the rule book), each player gets four cards. From then on, players alternate turns, selecting one of their cards, discarding the card face-up, following the movement rules (how far you can move, whether or not you can shift the board end), and then taking another card from the draw pile. The game ends as soon as one player has managed to maneuver his or her hero car off the board.

It’s a quick game, success depending on chance, logic, and being strategic enough to make the correct decision between preventing your opponent from winning or creating your own path to victory. There’s one additional strategic deliciousness – if a vehicle is positioned so that it bridges between a shifting end and the non-shiftable center board, that end is locked, and remains unshiftable until the blocking vehicle is moved.

All in all, Rush Hour Shift proves to be a unique and remarkably engaging combination of strategy game for two people as young as eight or as old as you. Everything works to keep you engaged – the elegant design of the board, the different lengths of the vehicles, the variety of starting positions, the luck of the draw. Kids may be attracted by the toy-like appearance of the game (and so might you), but it turns out to provide a significant challenge worthy even of someone of your esteemed logical prowess.

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Pyramix

Filed Under (Family Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 01-03-2015

pyramix
Pyramix is a light and lovely little strategy game for 2-4 players. The lovely part of it is as much how it works as how it plays.

The secret, oddly enough, is the tray.

I explicate:

You get 56 cubes (not dice, cubes – wait for it). There are three kinds of cubes (well, four, if you count the Cobra cubes): Ankhs, Cranes and Eyes – in four different colors. And you put the cubes in the tray, stacking them until you get a pyramid. And the thing is, stacking them is, like, a no-brainer. No steadiness of hand or acuity of eye is required because of the tray. You kind of just pour, so to speak, the cubes into the tray and they stack, as it were, themselves.

So why are these cubes and not dice? Because every side is the same, only the cubes are different. See, not dice. Cubes.

The game is all about removing the cubes, which also works in a lovely and endearing-like manner. You can remove any cube as long as: two or three sides are visible, it isn’t touching a Cobra cube, and removing it doesn’t result in an empty space in the tray. If you look at the pyramid a little more closely (which you will be doing, a lot), you’ll notice that there are generally speaking an ample number of cubes for the picking, some of which at the near bottom of a whole line of cubes. And when you take one of those away, the cubes on the top all slide down, revealing yet more possibilities, or perhaps another Cobra.

Every cube you remove is worth points: the Eyes are worth three, the Cranes two and the Ankhs one. The Cobras aren’t worth anything, which doesn’t matter because you can’t remove them anyway. So, strategically speaking, the Eyes have it.

When all legally removable cubes have been collected, the game is over. You remove any Cobras and any Cobra-adjacent cubes from the tray, count all the cubes you have of the same color – the color, not the kind. And the player who has the most of a particular color gets to claim all the cubes of that color that are in the tray as hers. So, strategically speaking, you most definitely want to be collecting cubes of a particular color while you’re also trying to collect cubes of a the higher-scoring kind.

You’re going to be spending a lot of your time turning the pyramid around, inspecting every side, and appreciating how easily the base turns.

It all turns out, as it were, to present a challenge that is easy enough for an eight-year-old to understand, and rife enough with strategic implications to entice serious contemplation by your resident contemplators.

Suffice it to say: fun-wise, what we’re looking at here is major.

Major Fun Award
Pyramix was designed by Tim Roediger, with art by Lisa Goldstein. We recommend it wholeheartedly. It takes maybe 15 minutes to play. It takes even less time to learn. You’ll want to play at least a few rounds (or spins) before admitting defeat. There’s no game quite like it. Yet.

Brain Cheeser

Filed Under (Magnetic, Puzzles, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 01-12-2014

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brain-cheeserAlthough most of the games that earn the Major Fun Award are ones that involve multiple players, there are times when you just want to play by yourself. Solitaire games help pass the time when there is nothing to do but wait, but that doesn’t mean they have to be brainless.

Brain Cheeser by SmartGames is a puzzle game for one person that can be easily carried in a small bag or a large pocket. It’s a slim board book, about 4 inches square, with a snap-clasp and a magnetic back cover. The magnets that stick to that cover are 8 slices of Swiss cheese and 6 round mice. The pages of the booklet present 48 puzzles (of increasing difficulty) all of which involve fitting the mice into the holes created by the slices of cheese.

The cheese slices are cut so that some of the edges form half-circles. When placed next to other slices, some of the demi-circles line up to form complete circles that are large enough to fit the round mice pieces. The mixing and matching of the cheese slices forms the heart of the puzzle. Each challenge presents you with a few starting slices and/or the location of some of the mice. It’s then up to you to arrange the rest of the 8 cheese slices so that the mice fit in the holes.

The challenges are arranged in four levels (starter, junior, expert, and master). The starter level is very easy and would be great for very young children to learn how to manipulate the pieces before moving on to the higher levels. Older kids and adults should probably skip on to the junior level as their starting place.

The puzzles are engaging and the magnetic pieces do a great job of holding everything together. The game is designed for travel and in this regard the magnetic surface makes a lot of sense. It’s cute and challenging and easy to bring along in the car or the doctor’s waiting room. Major Fun for those times when your best company is you.

Solo play. Ages 6+

Brain Cheeser was designed by SmartGames (Belgium) and is © 2013. The game was provided to us by KEH Communications.

Strife: Legacy of the Eternals

Filed Under (Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 28-10-2014

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StrifeStrife: Legacy of the Eternals is a lot of game in a very small tin. The version that we at Major Fun played has 35 cards (20 characters, 10 locations, 4 score cards, and 1 quick guide), 1 ten-sided die, and a single sheet for the rules. The game is currently near the end of a spectacularly successful Kickstarter campaign and it looks like more cards will be added thanks to their stretch goals; however, the basic game boils down to 10 characters vs 10 characters battling over 10 locations.

Players start with the same 10 characters. These characters (fantasy epic stalwarts like Barbarian, Necromancer, and Paladin) each have 2 special abilities: a Battle Ability and a Legacy Ability. These abilities determine who wins a confrontation. These confrontations occur in Locations. These Locations provide points for the players. These points determine who wins.

A game starts with a face-up Champion in front of each player—this is the Legacy Champion. Each turn, a player chooses a Battle Champion and places it face-down on the table. The Champions are numbered 0 – 9. When they are revealed, the highest number goes first—that player can choose to use the Champion’s Battle Ability or not. The lower Battle Champion may then go. The players then activate their Legacy Champions in the same way—high number goes first. After the battle abilities and legacy abilities have been used, they player with the highest Battle value wins the location and takes the points.

The Battle Champion is moved to the top of the Legacy Pile (become the new Legacy Champion) and the players choose new Battle Champions.

What makes the game so enthralling—and Major Fun—is the way in which the abilities interact with each other to produce surprising results. Some abilities increase battle value. Some abilities allow Champions to be swapped. Some abilities cancel abilities. It is not enough to have the Champion with the highest battle value. The Battle Champion and the Legacy Champion must work together to win. Players must be clever and patient: each character will be a Battle Champion ONCE in a round. You have to play your cards wisely because at some point you will have to use each one.

01 AwardStrife is a perfect information game in that each player starts with the same cards, and each knows what cards are being held by their opponent. The only mystery is when Battle Champions are placed face-down at a location.

There are almost no random elements in the game. This is a deeply strategic game. There is also an incredibly clever way to resolve ties. I won’t go into it here, but it uses the die (and rolling is not involved).

The art is distinctive and reminiscent of the painted illustrations in pulp fantasy magazines (the more family friendly ones—not the really lurid ones). The instructions are concise and clear. Your first game will take a while as you figure out how the abilities interact but within a turn or two the basic mechanics will be second nature and you can focus on what is really important: how you are going to stop that Barbarian and Necromancer from demolishing your Ranger.

2 players. Ages 10+

Strife: Legacy of the Eternals was designed by Christopher Hamm is © 2014 by V3G.

Masters of the Gridiron

Filed Under (Family Games, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 20-08-2014

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Masters of the gridiron 2Given my previous post about GenCon, it is only appropriate that the Major Fun Award goes to a game about football. Let me introduce you to Masters of the Gridiron: the card game that can unite casual gamers and football fans all across our fair land.

One of the things that I really love about games is the way the designers take events and activities in our physical world and translate those situations into cards and dice and tokens and the vast panoply of game mechanics. In many ways I think this is the most artistic aspect of game design (as opposed to the graphical art that decorates the box and cards and etc). There is a fascinating, understated beauty to this process of simulation and representation.

Masters of the gridironSports Mogul took on the daunting task of representing the game of American football and in the process, created the accessible and engaging card game. Each player has a deck of cards that represents a specific pro team from a specific year (we played with 8 teams from the 2013 season). The cards are divided into three categories: offense, defense, and playbook. Offense and defense cards depict actual players. The top half of the offense and defense cards contains numbers you will need for the card game while the bottom half contains vital statistics from the 2013 season (these are not vital to playing Masters of the Gridiron). The playbook cards represent different types of scoring drives and which players work best in those situations.

The game ends after each team attempts 9 scoring drives. Your scoring drive consists of one playbook card and one offense card. Your playbook card tells you which what to look for on your offense card and which players receive bonuses. In general you look for the player that has the highest rating for the play you have chosen (high numbers win). Once you reveal your offense, your opponent gets to choose one defense card. The play card says what kinds of defense work against the play so your opponent wants to choose a player with a ranking that is higher than your offense. If offense is higher, you score. If the defense is equal to or higher than offense, you fail.

Each player gets to be on offense and defense nine times. In between plays, the teams get to draw cards to replace the ones that were used. At the end of the game, scores are tallied.

There are some complications, but they are rare and are handled very well in the slim rule sheet. In the end, Masters of the Gridiron is very simple and yet offers a lot of interesting choices. You have to manage your resources (players cannot be used more than once) and you have to choose between going for touchdowns or kicking field goals.

01 AwardFor those who want more, there is a great deck building and drafting mechanic that allows the players to draft their own teams. Each deck comes with additional cards that can be swapped with others in the deck. It is also possible to combine different decks into a dream team. Each player comes with a salary. If you play one of the deck-building games you have a pool of money with which you can build your team. Now you have to decide between drafting a few top end players (and having many lower players) or having a more solid (if less exciting) team.

We had fun just playing with the teams out of their boxes. After the first series of plays, the game is very intuitive and does a great job of evoking excitement of football without requiring any detailed knowledge of the game. Casual gamers will appreciate the laid-back strategy of the card game and football fans will have a lot to discuss as the games unfold.

GO COLTS!

2 players. Ages 8+

Masters of the Gridiron was designed by Conor Milliken and Clay Drelough and is © 2014 by Sports Mogul, Inc.