Ozobot Bit

Filed Under (Learning Games, Thinking Games, Virtual Toys) by Bernie DeKoven on 19-08-2015

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

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 26-07-2015

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.

Spinderella

Filed Under (Kids Games, Magnetic, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 24-07-2015

spinderella
There are three spiders. They have a magnetic personality, despite their apparent spiderness. There are two game boards. One game board is suspended over the other. Two of the spiders (Peter and Parker) live on the top board, the other hangs somewhat menacingly by its web (OK, string) between the two boards. The string is connected to two magnets, and to  Spinderella. Peter connects through the top board to one of the magnets, Parker to the other. Moving the Peter and Parker apart or close together raises or lowers Spinderella. Peter and Parker, depending on where they are positioned, change where Spinderalla hangs. If you can figure it all out, you’ll be able to move Peter and Parker so that Spinderella can get close enough to the ant of your choice (also magnetic), to carry that poor ant back to the starting point. In sum, it’s all about the spiders.

There is some set-up time involved. Fortunately the instructions are well-illustrated and compassionately brief.

Each of up to four players gets three ants. Their goal is to be the first to get all three of their ants across the windy ant-track to the safety of the ant home. All ants share the same starting place and the same home. Kind of sweet, no?

There’s also a tree trunk. It’s hollow – and just big enough to cover an ant and protect it from Spinderella, and tall enough to make any ant who happens to be on top of the tree trunk a very tempting Spinderalla morsel.

Spinderella - set up

There are three dice. One die is determines whether you are moving the spiders (and, hence, Spinderella), an ant or the tree trunk. Another die determines how many spaces Peter and Parker can move. And the third how many spaces your ants can move. On your turn, you roll all three dice.

You roll the dice, you get to move either the spiders, your ants, or the tree trunk. If you roll the tree trunk, you can also move your ants. Ants can land on top of each other or on top of the tree trunk. If one ant lands on another, the bottom ant, when it moves, carries the top ant with it.

thinking-family-kidsSo, you get the general idea. What you can’t quite get from the description is how innovative, and especially how fun the game turns out to be. Getting Spinderalla to move where you what her to be is obviously the most challenging and fun-provoking part of the game, though trying to escape the growing menace of Spinderalla is equally fun. The fact that you all get to move her (if the dice are right), so what appears to be a good move for you at one moment in the game might get you in big trouble (ant-capture-wise) the next move, adds significantly to the joyful angst of it all. Hiding under the tree trunk is very clever, unless you want to move that particular ant.

Designed by Roberto Franco with art by Doris Mathtäus, Spinderella can be purchased from the German manufacturer who claims that it is suitable for children 6 years old and up. It will soon be available in the US from Lion Rampant Imports.

Crab Stack

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 16-07-2015

crabstack

Crab Stack is a strategy game for 2-4 players.

It has all the characteristics of a Major Fun game: it plays in less than 20 minutes, it takes maybe five minutes to learn, it’s well made, the rules are clearly written and mercifully short, it’s unique, and, from time to time, it makes you laugh (because, despite your massive intellect and strategic brilliance, you will, in deed, be taken by surprise.

We liked the three-player version best, though it’s fun with two or four players as well. With three players, the surprise factor is much more evident. That’s also true of playing with four people, but then you have to wait longer between turns. With two players, it gets a little head-to-head, if you know what I mean. Fine for the competitively-inclined, but we like it most when we’re playing for the fun of it. And there are few strategy games that are really fun to play with more than two people.

Each player gets nine wooden crab tokens, or token crabs, depending on your fantasy preferences. Three of these crabs are short, three of medium height, and three tall. The short crabs can move further. The tall crabs can land on top of any crab they they wish. So you get a kind of logical bifurcation here: the shorter crabs can move further, but they also are more restricted in terms of what kinds of crabs they can land on. And, because crabs are like that, they can only move on top of other crabs.

The board is hexagonal. There are different color spaces. The colors indicate which spaces are used when you set up for different numbers of players, otherwise, they just add to the crabby aesthetics of it all.

thinking-family-kidsOf special strategic interest and opportunities for crabbish cunning, there’s the “Wave rule.” Crabs, as we all know, are extremely social creatures, and, of necessity, not only travel only on each other, but also can not stand to be separated from crab crowd. Should any crab group find itself isolated, it succumbs to the conceptual wave, which washes the entire crab cluster off the board into conceptual oblivion.

The object of the game is to be the last player whose crabs can still move.

There’s no luck in the game. It’s all strategic reasoning. But it’s got just enough humor, and a strong enough fantasy, and it’s not what you’d call a crab-eat-crab game, all of which helps nourish the playful and only mildly competitive nature of the game; making it especially good for family play. It kind of makes you want to have crabs for pets.

Brilliantly designed by Henri Kermarrec and playfully illustrated by Stéphanie Escapa, Crab Stack is for 2-4 players who are maybe eight-years old, maybe eighty. And it comes to us, wouldn’t youknow, from Blue Orange Games.

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

Tagged Under : , , ,

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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