Too Many Cinderellas

Too Many Cinderellas   Grail Games  |  BGG  |  Amazon  

Designer: Nobutake Dogen, Nao Shimamura 

Publisher: Grail Games, Taikikennai Games  2-4 players 10 min  ages 10+   $12.95

text-the concept

Prince Charming has met and lost is soulmate: Cinderella. While he searches high and low using a forgotten shoe, you and your fellow players have a different plan… to convince the prince to marry a Cinderella of your choosing! In order to do this, you will play rumor cards limiting the traits the Prince should focus on in his search. You hope, in the end, your Cinderella will stand out among the rest and the Prince will marry the person (or cat) you chose for him.

text-the components

Too Many Cinderellas is a very compact game. It comes with 18 Cinderella cards, 9 wooden yes/no tokens and 9 plastic diamonds. The cards feature whimsical art by Hinami Tsukuda.

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text-the mechanics

At its heart, Too Many Cinderellas is a light-hearted logic game. Each player is dealt four cards. Two cards will be played as rumors and two cards will be kept in-hand as possible Cinderellas for the Prince to marry.

Rumors create the logic puzzle at the core of the game. In order to understand them, we need to take a closer look at the cards.

Each card has a split identity – it can be a rumor OR it can be a Cinderella – a possible Cinderella for the Prince.

The main portion of the card shows an illustration of the Cinderella and characteristics that define this person. A Cinderella can be young or teenaged or an adult or a senior, for instance. A Cinderella could have brown hair or blonde or black. A Cinderella might wear glasses or like rice or be royalty. 

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A Cinderella doesn’t even have to be a woman. Cinderella could be a man… or even a cat!

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There are easy to understand icons along the side of each card that describe each Cinderella’s defining traits.

Remember, though, each card has a second identity or use – as a rumor. At the bottom of each card is a thought bubble containing a simple sentence. This sentence is the rumor and will begin to define who Cinderella isn’t. So a rumor might say Cinderella is not a senior OR Cinderella is does not like rice OR Cinderella does not have brown hair.

So, now that you see how the cards are put together, the game goes like this.

Each player, one at a time, will offer up a card as a rumor to the group by playing it to the table. The group will then vote on whether this rumor is true or not. Players will secretly choose a yes or no token and then everyone will reveal their vote. If all vote YES, the rumor is true and will help define who Cinderella is not.

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If even one person votes NO, then the rumor is false and will not be considered when the Prince chooses his Cinderella.

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Here’s the rub. You only get one NO vote for the entire game round! Once used, your NO token is placed on the rumor card you quashed. This means you must choose wisely when voting NO or you may end up being forced to vote YES on rumors you don’t want.

This process continues until all players have offered up two rumor cards and each rumor has been put to a vote. One final random rumor is drawn from the deck and added to the table just as if someone had played it. It can be included or dismissed depending on the final vote.

After all rumors have been voted up or down, each player offers their best Cinderella to the Prince, meaning a single Cinderella card that conforms to the restrictions laid out by the rumors. For instance, at the end of a round, the rumors might say: Cinderella is not an adult, is not dark haired and does not like cake. Any Cinderella card in your hand that avoids all these traits could be offered up as a possible match to the Prince. Most times, the Prince will have several Cinderellas from which to choose. In this case, he will select the Cinderella with the lowest value (printed in the upper left corner of the card). So your best hope of making a match for the Prince is to play the lowest value Cinderella card that fits the logic puzzle for the round!

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You can play a single game round in about 5-6 minutes as a stand-alone game or you can earn a diamond each time the Prince selects your Cinderella. First to three wins.

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The big moment in Too Many Cinderellas comes as the logic puzzle is finished each round. This moment is what sets the game apart.

Do you have a Cinderella card that fits with all the restrictions placed by the rumors?

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If one of the true rumors says Cinderella is not an adult and both your remaining Cinderella cards are adults, then you might be out of luck this round. BUT, if you’ve planned wisely, you’ll have to resist the urge to cheer when you make it through the round with a lovely Cinderella card for the Prince to consider.

Your goal is to play rumor cards that do not eliminate your own Cinderella cards from contention AND restrict or eliminate Cinderella cards in other player’s hands. The fact that every card has both a rumor and a potential mate for the Prince makes this process challenging and a lot of fun!

You have one NO, so you can eliminate one horrible rumor that might eliminate many of your Cinderellas. But this NO will only get you so far. The game nudges you strongly to pay attention to what other people are playing and try to make educated guesses about what they might be holding and how they might vote on any given card.

It’s good to look at your cards and have a plan when the round starts but you may have to switch things up if an untimely rumor slips through. In other words, the game mixes long term strategy with strategy of the moment. 

Each round you define Cinderella by omission. We learn what he or she is not, so anyone outside those restrictions is allowed. This is an important and powerful concept and the game manages to teach it in such a simple, fun way.

It’s a simple process to play Too Many Cinderellas but the game offers an engaging and ever-changing puzzle that each player can try to manipulate to his or her advantage. And if you make mistakes, the game is forgiving and short enough you will be eager to jump in again and do better in the next round.

There are a few cards with special actions that allow an extra no token or a no token to be removed and even one to reverse the tie breaker (high card wins instead of low). These special abilities keep the game fresh and allow for the rumors/rules for each game round to change a lot with the play of a single card.

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Too Many Cinderellas proves that logic games do not have to be dry or boring. They can be whimsical and fun. I love the fact that the Prince’s perfect Cinderella could be an elderly gentleman who loves books, a cat with a wig, or a dude in a dress. In fact this sense of whimsy and fun can easily take over the game. I’ve seen groups of players abandon the need to win to make sure that the cat becomes the best Cinderella for the Prince. This might defy conventional logic for some, but it tracks perfectly with the higher logic of fun.

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Side note:  kudos to Grail Games (based in Sydney Australia) for bringing this game to a wider audience. The game was originally published in Japan by Taikikennai Games in a very limited form. Micro games are an increasingly well known genre outside of Japan, based on the wild success of Love Letter and its ilk. I’m glad to see more and more publishers interested in the creative possibilities in this genre, especially when they find gems like this one.

Favor of the Pharaoh

Release Date: 5/2/2016 Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Running Time:   48 min Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Roll like an Egyptian!

Favor of the Pharaoh is a recipe filling roll-and-keep dice game based on an earlier title: To Court the King. Starting as a lowly peasant, you rise through the ranks of ancient Egyptian society by rolling increasingly difficult combinations to gain abilities, bonuses, and special dice. When the final round begins, the player who rolls the most dice with the highest matching number will gain the Favor of the Pharaoh!

This is the first game to merit BOTH the Major Fun and Spiel of Approval awards! The basic game is easy to learn and adaptable for younger or less experienced players. Double sided level bars allow for more strategic and thoughtful play. Put simply, you can tailor the game to fit almost any group at your table. Familiar yet fresh, Favor of the Pharaoh is a worthy recipient of both honors and, perhaps, a spot on your game shelf, too.

Favor of the Pharaoh

Official Site  |  BGG  |  Amazon 

Designer: Tom Lehmann  Publisher: Bezier Games

2-4 players  45 min.  ages 12+  MSRP $59.99 

Special edition also available with 64 additional dice: $79.95

Music credits include:

Walk Like an Egyptian  by The Cleverlys  |  the song

***

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New York 1901

Release Date: 4/1/2016 Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Running Time:   50 min Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Steel giants rise high into the clouds. In New York 1901, you play an up-and-coming real estate developer trying to make your name by building the greatest array of skyscrapers the world has ever seen.

You do this by claiming lots and placing Tetris-like tiles on the board, scoring points for building and upgrading your properties, having the most buildings along key streets in Manhattan and, if you plan well, you may also score bonus points for a secret goal at the end of the game.

More brainy than zany, New York 1901 allows players to shape the city according to their grand plan from a deceptively simple series of choices. Tune in to learn more about the game and why it deserves the award.

New York 1901    Official Site  |  BGG  |  Amazon 

Designer: Chenier LaSalle  Publisher: Blue Orange Games
2-4 players 45 min  ages 8+  MSRP $49.99

Music credits include:

Empire State Human  by The Human League  |  the song 

Rolling America

Rolling America

At Major Fun, we love games that can accommodate everyone. Big groups, tiny families, and everything in between. Games that can be played solo as well. Rolling America fits that bill, and when we find a game that we love and it can be enjoyed by any number of players, that’s something special.

To be clear, Rolling America probably can’t accommodate the entire set of positive whole numbers (citation needed). It’s mainly a problem of seating arrangements when you get above 8 or 10. Definitely when you get into numbers that are best expressed in powers of 10.

What it CAN do is keep your brain buzzing along at a healthy clip while place numbers on an abstract rendition of the United States.

To play the game you will need the 7 dice (in a bag) and the maps provided by the good people at Gamewright. The map of the United States is divided into blocky representations of the 50 states. These are then colored by region, roughly: northeast (purple), Atlantic (red), south (yellow), north (blue), southwest (green), and west (orange). Each player gets a map and the dice are shared.

Rotating around the table, players draw two dice from the bag and roll them. They must write the number on one of the states that match the color of the dice. For example, if you roll a red 2 and a blue 5 then everyone must write the number 2 in one of the red states and the number 5 in one of the blue states. Which state, is up to each player as long as they follow the game’s basic rules, the most important being that neighboring states must have consecutive numbers. So if Ohio is number 3, Pennsylvania can be 2 or 4 but not anything else.

After the first two dice are rolled and recorded, two more are drawn from the bag. When six of the seven dice have been rolled, all the dice go back in the bag and the players record that one round is over. At the end of 8 rounds you will tally up your score.

“But wait!!” you cry before I can reveal how you win. “You said there are 6 colored regions but there are 7 dice!! What’s up with that?”

Major Fun AwardI’m glad you asked. The seventh dice is clear and is a wild die, meaning you can put that number in any color you want. I should also say that as you fill in the map you are going to run in to problems: chiefly that it is impossible to follow the consecutive rule all the time. In order to deal with this, the game has included a clever “cheating” mechanic—a way to break the rules (for a limited number of times). You get three Color Changes which let you make a colored dice wild. You get three Guards which let you put a number down illegally (not consecutive). Finally you get three Dupes that allow you to use a number on one of the dice twice. On the map are boxes that you use to mark off these special occasions.

If you are ever stuck with a number that you cannot legally place, you have to cross out one of the states in that color. The winner is the player at the end of 8 rounds who has the fewest number of Xs on the map.

And getting stuck is a big part of the game. Early in the game, when the map is wide open, it seems like you will breeze right through, but in only a few rounds you notice that your regions are filling up and you have blank Indiana but it is sandwiched between an Illinois 2 and an Ohio 6.

We loved the building tension and complexity. We also loved how everyone took their turn together. It was fascinating to see what other people came up with using the same numbers that I had. It’s strategically deep and very challenging. And Major Fun.

1+ players. Ages 8+

Rolling America was designed by Hisashi Hiyashi and is © 2015 by Gamewright Games.

Code Names

Game by Game 2015-09 (Codenames) (1)There are spies in our midst! Clever, tricky, and oh so subversive, they burrow in like parasites and eat away at the very fabric of our society. Your job is to uncover these cowardly, degenerate traitors and eliminate them with extreme prejudice.

But not OUR spies. Those patriots are totally cool.

And watch out for the Assassin. If you tap on the Assassin’s shoulder you’re going to pull back a stump. And then get shot in the eye. Whatever you do, don’t uncover the Assassin!

Codenames is a wickedly clever clue game in which each team is trying to find the opposing spies without uncovering their own. Or the Assassin. You lose if you find the Assassin.

The game starts with a 5 by 5 grid of nouns on the table. These are the codenames of various people in your target area. Players are divided into two teams with (Red and Blue) each with one Spymaster and any number of Field Operatives (I suppose you can have more than one Spymaster but that is a harder role to coordinate). The Spymasters from each team sit together on one side of the grid. The Field Operatives are on the opposite side.

The Spymasters then draw one Key card that they both look at. The Key card tells them which color starts and which codenames in the grid are Blue spies and which are Red spies. It also tells them where the Assassin is. There is always one Assassin and 17 spies (the color that starts has one more spy than the other color). The remaining 7 codenames are for Innocent Bystanders.

On your turn, The Spymaster is allowed to say one word (and only one word) and a number. The one word is a clue that can be used to identify any of the codenames on the grid. The number is how many codenames will match that clue. For example, if the Spymaster says “Sports 2” that means there are 2 words in the grid that are closely related to sports and are the color they want the Field Operatives to find. The Field Operatives must guess at least once. With each guess, the Spymaster reveals of they found a Read spy, a Blue spy, an Innocent Bystander, or the Assassin. Field Operatives can keep guessing until they get one wrong or they reach one more than the number provided by the Spymaster.

party-wordCodenames is not a fast game. There is a lot of thinking, especially for the Spymasters who are trying to link as many words as they can with only a single-word clue. Analysis paralysis is a common malady. The game comes with a timer if you feel that you just need that much more tension in your life, but we found that no one minded the slower pace.

We also appreciated the thought that went into the three-person and two-person variations. The two-person version can be adapted for a cooperative game where everyone works together with the Spymaster to get one color as the other color is revealed one at a time.

The age range for Codenames is on the high end (14+) which reflects the kind of vocabulary you need to excel at the game. It’s not so much the size of your vocabulary as your ability to understand the clue words in many contexts.

No matter how large your intelligence agency, Codenames is a Major Fun way to practice your spycraft and wordcraft.

2-8+ players. Ages 14+

Codenames was designed by Vlaada Chvatil and is © 2015 by CGE Games.

Mad City

Mad City - Mayfair

Mad City is one of those rare tiling games where you can’t take your sweet time about placing your tiles. The game assigns you the role of a city planner who must arrange a 3×3 grid of tiles in order to make the most money—but you have less than a minute to do so. Needless to say, things can get messy.

Before I go on I need to recognize that there are A LOT of pieces in this game. When you open it up you have a lot of die-cut tokens to punch out. These will make quite a pile on your game table. Keep in mind that there are several ways to play the game. The first time you play you should play the Base Game (which is what we did) in which case you won’t need most of the tiles. You will only need your score board, the bag, the timer, and the 54 city tiles. And the park tree.

Everyone starts by drawing 9 city tiles from the bag and placing them in a face-down pile. When everyone has a pile of nine city tiles, they pass them to the player on the left. Someone says go and flips the timer. Players now have ONE MINUTE to arrange their city tiles into a 3×3 grid that will earn them maximum points.

The city tiles can have a variety of colored zones: residential (yellow), industrial (red), urban (blue), lakes (teal), and parks (green). Yellow, red, and blue zones will usually have buildings in them. There are also roads that can divide up tiles. In your one minute of frantic planning, you are trying to arrange your tiles to match up (as best you can) the roads and colored zones. Scoring is based on how many buildings of the same color you can bunch up or how many road segments you can connect.

At the end of the minute, everyone stops work. If a player has not created a 3×3 grid, that player shuffles any tiles not in the grid and fills in the grid at random. Then everyone looks at their city and scores each colored zone based on a chart provided on each score board. I won’t go into each colored zone in detail, but suffice it to say that the more buildings you have connected in a colored district the higher will be your score. There are points for the longest road.

There are also points for parks and lakes but those only go to one player. During the minute of play, anyone can grab the Park Tree. That player gets to score any parks and lakes BUT once that person grabs the tree he or she cannot do any more work on their city. Once you grab the tree, you can’t touch your city tiles until it’s time to score. In general, you want to make a decent city and then grab the tree. Think of parks and lakes as bonus points.

There is a lot going on in that one minute. It is hard to focus when everyone is busy trying to fit their pieces into a grid, and everyone would like to grab the tree but not too soon! The first person to 150 points wins.

Major Fun AwardOnce you get some play time in with the base game, you can check out the Standard Game. This introduces a much different way to score and it uses most of the tokens that you punched out when you first unwrapped the game. There are also more things to grab (like the Park Tree). In this game, the first to 100 points wins. You also have to pay much closer attention to the colors you are arranging.

Mad City can also be played as a solitaire activity. The game comes with three ways to play solo.

All said, Mad City is a fast-paced but strategically engaging game. Each player essentially plays alone except for the times when you are rushing to grab the Park Tree (or one of the other tokens from the more advanced game). Major Fun but definitely not for the weak of heart.

1 – 6 players. Ages 8+

Mad City was designed by Kane Klenko and is © 2014 by Mayfair Games.

Tara

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When I was in college I became enamored with Celtic calligraphy, especially the intricate knot-work designs that decorated weapons, headstones, and illuminated texts dating back over a thousand years. Over the years I’ve toyed around with game ideas that would incorporate these designs into the game mechanics, not knowing that in the year I graduated from Wabash College, Murray Heasman had developed an ingenious and versatile mechanic that would spawn several award-winning games.

Up front, I need to be clear that I have not played all of the variations that come with Tailten’s collection of Tara games. For the purposes of this review, I am going to focus on the first game that is listed in the rules, called “The Sacred Hill.” By doing so I hope you’ll understand the basic mechanics that inform all the games that are possible with this collection. It is one of Tara’s great strength that it lends itself to many varieties of strategic play.

Game Board and Pieces:

The board is essentially a seven by seven grid minus the four corner cells to create a cross shape. Each cell of the grid contains a diamond shaped hole. The holes are designed to hold the primary game pieces so that they stay aligned with the grid.

There are two game pieces that are used in all games: the ringfort and the bridge. The ringfort is a roughly square piece that fits into the holes on the game board. Each is inscribed with a colored ring (red or blue). Bridges are thin strips of red or blue that are used to connect two ringforts of the same color to each other. There’s only so much fidelity that my words can manage in describing these pieces; suffice it to say that the ringforts are designed so that you can move them without disrupting the entire board and the bridges fit on top of the ringforts to create intricate and almost seamless patterns.

Game Play: The Sacred Hill

Most of the Tara inspired games revolve around piece placement and territory control. Sacred Hill is a great example of this. The goal is to finish the game with the fewest number of “kingdoms” which are made of connected ringforts.

The game plays out in two phases: maneuvers and battle. The maneuvers phase involves opponents taking turns placing their ringforts. The first ringfort can be placed anywhere. After that, your ringforts must be placed a knight’s move (in chess the knight moves two spaces in one direction and then one space to the left or right) from any of your existing ringforts but cannot be closer than a knight’s move. Once players have exhausted all possible placements for their ringforts, the battle phase can begin. There will be lots of blank spaces on the board.

In battle phase, players take turns placing ringforts next to their existing ringforts and linking them with the bridges. If you can surround an opponent’s single ringfort with your color, you can remove that ringfort and replace it with one of your own. The battle phase is an interesting combination of consolidating your own kingdom and splitting your opponent’s. It is not so important to have the most connected pieces so long as all of your ringforts are connected into one kingdom. Your opponent could control all but one small corner of the board and still lose if your one small kingdom is the thing that is keeping them separate.

Variation:

There are many games that can be played with just the ringforts and bridges. The game also comes with a king piece which fits inside the ringforts and is used in an engrossing variation called “High King of Tara.” With these three pieces, there are an astonishing number of permutations that are possible, especially if you are willing to adapt different placement rules for the ringforts. All in all, the game comes packaged with the rules for 5 games, some with their own variations.

Thinking GamesTara is beautifully constructed and designed, which is appropriate given the Celtic artwork on which it is based. Although the rules for piece placement take some time to learn, the instruction booklet is well written and clearly illustrated. Once you do learn the basics, the rest of the games are easy to pick up and largely intuitive.

If you can only pack a single game for a get-away, this one would be a great choice.

2 players. Ages 8+

Tara was designed by Murray Heasman and is © 1993 by M.W. Heasman and Tailten Games.

Love Letter to AEG:

Dearest Alderac Entertainment Group,

How my heart races as I pen this missive. It has been mere hours since you swept me away in the embrace of your elegantly crafted Love Letter and now I fear I might only keep a Lost Legacy of those moments together. Why must your love be such a Cypher? Will it always be thus that I will only be able to express my affection to you through the fickle fortunes of these cards?

Oh most cruel and implacable master of my fate! Until your next gift, I shall remain forever yours.

Major Fun

[Fanning self]

Mercy. Sometimes Major Fun can be overwhelmed by the sheer animal fun that a publisher can exude, and Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG to their paramours) recently poured on the charm and a heavy dose of fun-pheromones through three closely related games: Love Letter, Lost Legacy, and Cypher.

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Love Letter and Munchkin Loot Letter:

Love Letter is certainly the place to start. The game mechanics of Love Letter are deeply imbedded in the other games and form a strong foundation for all three. Love Letter is a strategic deduction and elimination card game in which players are trying to either eliminate all the other players or be the one to hold the highest points when the cards run out. AEG publishes many variations of Love Letter but they all consist of 16 cards ranging in value from 1 to 8. Some cards are much more common than others (for example, there are five 1s but only one 8).

We played the version of Love Letter that is based on the world of Steve Jackson’s wildly popular Munchkin games. This version is called Loot Letter and it imagines that the players are fantasy adventurers who are trying to escape a dungeon with the most loot.

The game play is very simple. Every player is dealt one card. One card is removed from the remaining deck and kept hidden. The rest of the cards form a draw deck. On your turn you draw one card and play one card. Whatever instructions are on the card you play have to be followed. For example, if you play the Maul Rat (value 2), you get to look at the cards in another player’s hand. Some cards like the Duck of Doom and the Potted Plant can eliminate players from the game. If all other players are eliminated, you win!

If the draw pile runs out and more than one player is still in the game, the winner is the one with the highest value card in his or her hand.

Although luck plays a role in the game, there is a lot of strategy that goes into deciding which card you should play and which one you should keep. You don’t have many choices but each choice is crucial, and that is one of the great strengths of these Love Letter games. And although this is an elimination game, no one stays out for very long. Each round is resolved in a matter of minutes, and then you start it all over.

Lost Legacy:

LL1_cover-artDesigned by the same person responsible for Love Letter, Lost Legacy: The Starship tweaks the mechanics of Love Letter a bit for a new flavor to a favorite dish. The players are looking for a powerful starship. To do so, the players use the same draw and play mechanic as in Love Letter. Unlike Love Letter, when you get to the point that there are no cards left in the deck, each player gets to guess where the Starship is. If it is in your hand, then the guess is easy, BUT the player who gets to guess first is determined by the card you keep in your hand (lower is faster). The Starship is worth 5 points, so if you hold the Starship but someone else has a lower card, that person could guess that you are holding it, and thus they would win the round.

It is also possible that no one wins the round. Players who were not eliminated get, at most, one guess, and even that is not guaranteed. I found it interesting to use this as a way to stay in the game even when I knew I could not win the round. If I could make it that no one got a point, I could stay in the game for a better outcome next round.

Cypher:

Cypher_card-spread-1024x463If Lost Legacy is a sibling to Love Letter, David Short’s Cypher is a first cousin. You can see the family resemblance but there’s a healthy dose of new DNA. First, there is no elimination (and although I really like Love Letter this is a big factor for Major Fun). Secondly, instead of starting with one card, each player starts their turn with three cards—but ENDS the turn with one.

WHHHHAAAAATTT?

Yup. When you start your turn you have three cards. You play one in front of you and do whatever it says (like Love Letter). THEN you draw a card. To end your turn, you pass one card to the person on your right and one card to the person on your left. In this way, players always start with three cards but end with one.

The goal is to end the game with the most points played to the table in front of you. You can only keep three cards in front of you, and there are lots of ways to mess with what your opponents have on the table. The round ends when the draw deck is reduced to zero cards OR someone plays one of the cards called “Cypher Anomaly.” All players have one more action and then points are tallied.

Cypher is a longer game than the other Love Letter games but not by much. All of the deduction elements are present, and there is a great strategic element to setting up your last card. You have lots of opportunities to mess with your opponents before the final actions are triggered, and this is incredibly satisfying.

All three games are small, quick to learn, and can be played over and over and over. The art and card design is top notch. AEG is releasing them in handy draw-string bags that contain everything you need. I actually keep all three in one bag. The instructions are short and clear, and playing any of them will allow you to intuitively pick up any of the others in short order.

It’s a lot of love, and Major Fun, in a very small package.

All reviewed games are 2 – 4 players. Ages 10+

Love Letter and Munchkin Loot Letter were designed by Seiji Kanai and is © 2012 by AEG. Lost Legacy was designed by Seiji Kanai and is © 2014 by AEG. Cypher was designed by David Short and is © 2014 by AEG.

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Ozobot Bit

ozobot bit
Surely you remember Ozobot, the Major Fun award-winning robot that you program with colored lines and can play with on paper or on your tablet (with free, downloadable Major Fun Awardgames even)?

Now. you lucky people, there’s Ozobot Bit – smaller, with all the same museum-ready packaging and computer-enhanced abilities to follow paths that you draw with colored markers on a piece of paper or electronically on your tablet, and more: the opportunity to get far more deeply into the art and joy of programming using Google’s OzoBlockly visual programming language.

Ozobot Bit comes with two shells (each a different color) (OK, they’re helmets), a selection of pre-programmed playing mats, a calibration card, instructions, and USB charger – all housed in an expensive-looking, museum-quality plastic box – all in all, making a sweet, fun and robust connection between playing with a toy and learning to program with Java.

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From Evollve, Inc. Ozobot Bit is recommended for school-age children to play with by themselves or in pairs.

Rock Me Archimedes

rock me archimedes

We had to endure several hurdles before we got to the game itself. The first was the package. It was the first time in all our our deep and extensive examination of new games that we encountered such a cleverly and uniquely designed package – the shape perfectly conforming to the game, elegantly inviting us to a unique experience. And if you let it balance on the curved part, it works just like the game works!

The next hurdle: opening the box to discover that the game was, in fact, as beautiful, as different, as inviting as the box intimated. A long wooden board covered with a pattern of cleanly carved pits and channels, resting on an equally beautiful semi-cylindrical base within which fits a removable wooden tray holding two sets of marbles and a large wooden die. And the rules – clearly written, cleverly presented on a sheet of heavy paper exactly as long and wide as the board, easy to understand in a few minutes reading, and inviting the players to explore variations and invent their own.

And then, the final hurdle, playing the game and discovering how genuinely challenging and truly fun it was.

Major Fun AwardIt’s a balance board. Placing marbles on the board changes the balance. One player tries to get four of her marbles to one end of the board, the other to the other – without letting either end of the board touch, even everso briefly, the surface the board is resting on. You can place or move your marbles towards either end of the board – yours or your opponent’s. Why you’re opponent’s? So you can prevent her from having enough spaces open to win the game. But if you focus too much on that strategy, you won’t get your marbles to your end of the board.

And then there are the variations.

And then you realize, because the basic physics of the game are so interesting, so inviting, you can play with almost anyone. Maybe not the game that is described, but fun nevertheless. So, yes, you can play with a five-year-old. And yes, you can even play cooperatively, or in teams. And yes, by all means, put it on your coffee table. In the box, maybe, for the sake of the surprise.

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Designed by Matt Buchanan in collaboration with the Marbles Brain Workshop, Rock Me Archimedes is a two-player game recommended for children ages 8 and up, takes about 20 minutes to play, and is available from Marbles the Brain Store.

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