Cross Ways

Filed Under (Family Games, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 22-12-2013

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The goal of Crossways is to complete a path across the 8X8 game board. Players place their pieces on the board by drawing and playing from a double deck of standard cards. In this respect, the game is a lot like Sequence, but saying that Crossways is like Sequence is akin to saying that a Harley is like a Schwinn.

I’ve had a lot of fun chewing the fat with friends over leisurely games like Sequence, but that doesn’t elevate them to Major Fun. Not so with Crossways. It’s Major Fun because, unlike those more casual games, you might find yourself putting the conversation on hold in order to think through your next move.

When playing as individuals, each player is dealt 5 cards. On your turn you can play one or more cards in order to either add your pieces to the board or remove your opponents’ pieces. If you play a single card you may play one piece on a square that matches the color and number of your card (for example a red 5 or a black queen).

Things get more interesting as you play cards in pairs. If you play matching pairs (pair of 8s or a pair of jacks) you can place two of your pieces ANYWHERE on the board. This allows you to cover more ground or stack the pieces. A stack of two pieces will block other players from that space. There are also some spaces that you can only take with a stack. If you play a run of two cards (for example a 2 and a 3 of hearts) then you may remove two pieces from the board. In this way you can slow your opponents or open up spaces that are blocked by a stack.

awardThe first player to cross from one side of the board to the opposite side is the winner. The board is only eight spaces across, but boy do things get complicated in that journey. Diagonals do not count toward your path, so blocked spaces can quickly frustrate those trying to take the obvious, shortest route. Then there is the added wrinkle that opposing pieces can share spaces. A single piece on a space does not block your opponent. It is easy to lose track of your opponent’s path when other colors are stacked up on the same space. Your color doesn’t have to be on top. It just has to be on the space.

Crossways is graphically clean and the plastic pieces stack in a satisfying, sturdy way. The rules are quick to learn and come with helpful illustrations as well as a raft of alternate rules. We played that you could make runs and sets out of more than two cards (for example three-of-a-kinds or runs of four) which made for some dramatic changes, but the standard game-play is tight and lively.

It was good to see that Major Fun can still be had with a basic grid and some standard cards.

2 – 4 players or teams. Ages: 8+

Crossways was designed and © 2013 by USAopoly.

Goblins Drool, Faeries Rule

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 17-12-2013

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Such a beautiful, wee, fae game.

At first blush, it would be easy to dismiss Goblins Drool, Faeries Rule as a kids game. That kind of “kids game” like Go Fish and Old Maid that makes an adult look longingly at itemized taxes as a way of escape. But do not make that mistake. Like all things fae, the cuteness is but a glamour that belies a thing of great elegance and power.

And fun. It’s not all pomp and circumstance you know. It’s Major Fun.

The game, developed by Game-O-Gami and published by Game Salute,  consists of 20 double-sided cards. Each card is unique and depicts a faerie on one side and a goblin on the other. The faeries have names like Snowflake Shelley, Vanilla Scoop, and Morning Dew while the goblins have names like Full Moon Moo, Cuckoo Clock, and Vermin Vermicelli. Take a moment to notice that some of these names rhyme. That will be important later. Each card also has a pair of symbols. Cards with frogs on one side will have toadstools on the flip-side. Cards with suns on one side will have moons on the other.

One of the great strengths of this game is the artwork. The faeries are whimsical and the goblins are silly. We spent a lot of time just passing the cards around when we first opened the game.

The game starts with all cards arranged so that the goblin side is up. Players receive 4 cards that they keep on the table in front of them. When all players have their cards, 4 more cards are placed in the center of the table (this is called the faerie circle). Extra cards are set aside. Cards are never hidden in this game, but you can only see one side (no peeking at the side facing the table).

To win you must either collect 6 faeries or have no goblins.

awardOn your turn, you take one card in front of you and move it into the faerie circle. Any cards that rhyme with your card are flipped over (goblins become faeries and faeries become goblins). You then collect any cards that have the same symbol as your card (moon, sun, frog, toadstool), BUT your card stays in the circle.

Navigating these two simple aspects of the cards is wonderfully complex. It surprised me just how difficult it was to think about the rhyme AND the symbol. My guess is that the mental processes of keeping track of a rhyme (an auditory skill) and keeping track of a symbol (a visual skill) are different enough that my brain had to scramble to allocate resources.

To make matters even more complex, some sides of some of the cards have stars. These special cards flip over ALL cards in the faerie ring, regardless of the rhyme. All these features created an intriguingly strategic game. Knowing when to play a card because it would help your cause and when to play one so that it would harm your opponent was a big part of the decision process. All cards are visible so you can make plans for yourself as well as plans to thwart your rivals.

The game also comes with instructions to play solitaire. We had a blast with four people, and I can see how the mechanics would lend themselves to thoughtful solo play.

2 – 4 players. Ages: 7+

Goblins Drool, Faeries Rule was designed by David Luis Sanhueza. © 2012 by Game-O-Gami. Brought to us by the good people at Game Salute.


Filed Under (Family Games, Thinking Games, Uncategorized) by Will Bain on 07-12-2013

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It’s been a good week for Tim W.K. Brown.

For those of you who read the fine print for our last game review, you will notice that Tim’s name showed up as the designer of Grid Stones.

And now, scant days later, here he is again, along with the good people at CSE Games.

Quartex is a tiling game that shares a lot of features with another Major Fun game: Cirplexed. Both games require players to draw tiles and play them on the grid that forms in the center of the table. Players score points for the patterns that they complete where the corners of the tiles come together. In Quartex there are four shapes that the tiles can make: yellow circles, purple crosses, red squares, and blue stars. Despite these similarities, there are a few significant differences that make Quartex Major Fun in its own regard.

awardFirst, each of the tiles is unique. No two tiles are alike. This means that you have to be careful as you place your tiles because you cannot count on getting pieces that will set up predictable patterns. It also helps to keep track of which corner-shapes have been showing up a lot. Those will dry up after a while and you don’t want to get stuck with tiles that can’t complete one of the four shapes.

Secondly, tiles can only be played if ALL the corners match up. In Cirplexed you could play even if some corners did not make a color match. Not so in Quartex. It’s a small but significant change in the way you play the game.

Finally, scoring is accomplished through the collection of tokens. Each time you complete a corner-shape, you collect a token of that color. There are 10 tokens of each color. At the end of the game, you multiply the number of tokens you have collected by the number of remaining tokens. This makes some tokens worth a lot more than others. For example, if you have 2 blue tokens and there are only 3 tokens left in the stack (your opponents have the rest) then you earn six points. If you have 2 red tokens and there are 6 left in the stack then you earn 12 points.

The game is easy to learn and quick to play and it all fits nicely in the included bag. The press-board tile pieces are well shaped, but they are much smaller and lighter than the wooden tiles of Cirplexed, so this game is less suitable for seniors or those who lack fine motor control.

All in all, Tim W.K. Brown has scored a few more Major Fun points with another well-crafted strategy game.

2 – 5 players. Ages: 8+

Quartex was designed by Tim W.K. Brown. © 2012 by CSE Games.

Grid Stones

Filed Under (Family Games, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 04-12-2013

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After last week’s review of Flash! some of you might be looking to slow things down a bit. Speed and noise are not the only fun to be had. Contemplative strategy games allow for slower, less reactive thinking. They also lend themselves to conversations and the more measured paces of the chat.

Grid Stones gives those of us who enjoy the more deliberate pace of a strategy game a chance to limber up those slower but deeper neurons.

At its heart, Grid Stones is a pattern recognition game, similar to Tri-Spy or Set. Unlike those examples, speed is not an issue. Each player is given a hand of three cards on which are depicted a 3×3 grid and a certain pattern of glass beads. The game board is a 5×5 grid on which the players either place or take away glass beads.

On your turn you may place one bead on the game board OR take one bead off. You may not slide beads around. If, on your turn, you find a pattern that exactly matches one of your cards, you may reveal the card. The game ends, and the winner determined, by the first person who reveals all three of their cards.

awardIn my experience, players have a tendency to crowd together on the board. The thinking is that if a bunch of pieces are in one place then it is more likely that we will be able to complete a pattern; however, the more people who play in a tight area, the more likely they are to move the exact pieces we need.

Planning ahead in this game is not a precise science. Strategy revolves around creating good opportunities so that you can quickly recognize or create a pattern when it is your turn. There is a good deal of second-guessing that goes on as you watch what choices your opponents are making.

And finally, there is always the dark glee that bubbles up when you ruin your neighbor’s plans and hear that exasperated sigh. That’s definitely Major Fun.

The game rules are clear and short and virtually intuitive. The board is well designed and clearly shows how to play with 2, 3, 4, or 5+ players. You’ll be playing in moments and able to play through several games in one sitting.

2 – 7 players. Ages: 7+

Grid Stones was designed by Tim W.K. Brown. © 2008 by Grid Stones, the game is available through CSE Games.


Filed Under (Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 13-11-2013

I’m a sucker for board games with what I will call morphic geographies. A game like Settlers of Catan or Kingdom Builder will always draw me in because small changes in the game’s geography (the board, the pieces, the initial set-up) lead to interesting changes in strategy. My favorite tiling games and resource management games often do a good job of balancing elegant rules with clever, variable geographies.

This is often difficult to achieve for games where you capture pieces, but Blindside succeeds spectacularly at creating a strategically deep capture game with components that can be manipulated in all kinds of interesting ways.

Before I get in to a description of the game, I need to emphasize just how easy the game is to learn despite the malleability of the components. The rules take up only a few short pages, each of which are clearly illustrated. You will be able to set up the board and the pieces in just a few minutes, and you’ll learn the movement rules in just a few more. It will probably take you longer to read this review than it would take to learn to play.

The playing board is a hexagonal grid that is constructed by linking together four smaller groups of hexagons. The instructions suggest that you start with a box-like configuration for your first game, but the four sections can be linked in many ways, some of which will create strange pathways and empty spots that players would have to navigate.

The playing pieces are hexagonal pawns which are grooved on top. The grooves are cut to hold up to six arrows. Each player starts with seven of these pawns and 23 arrows. If you are playing the most basic game then the rules show you how to arrange the arrows on the pawns. The direction the arrows point show you which directions your pawn can move while the number of arrows tells you how many spaces you are allowed to move (in a straight line). Once you have mastered the basic game, the rules encourage you to set up the pawns as you see fit.

Finally there are 12 action spaces. These spaces allow you to change the direction of your pawn OR change the facing of the arrows. Blindside suggests where the action spaces should go for your first game, but this can change too.

Major Fun awardTo sum up: you can change the board, the pawns, and the action spaces. You don’t have to. The starting game is fun, surprising, and strategically deep. But if you need more, if you are one of those adventurous sorts who wonders what it would be like to wage strategic warfare on a long, thin isthmus rather than a blocky island, then you can knock yourself out.

The game ends when one player captures 17 of the opponent’s arrows. You capture an arrow by either jumping over a piece or landing on top of it. This means that simply jumping over a pawn is not enough to eliminate it from the game. A pawn with 4 or 5 arrows might lose an arrow and still be a dangerous piece. As the game progresses and pawns lose their arrows, the pawns become increasingly limited in how they can move and what spaces they can defend. You are constantly looking to see where your opponent has a “blindside” so that you can sneak up and steal more of their arrows.

There are a lot of decisions to make and a lot of angles to cover. Watching them all and ten swooping in to exploit them is Major Fun.

For 2 players, ages 10+

Blindside was designed by James D. Muntz and is © 2011 by Talicor.


Filed Under (Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 07-11-2013


Gamewright’s Terzetto wins the Major Fun Award for the “clever randomizer” category. There’s a great strategy game and an engaging solitaire game in there too, but the shaker that determines how you place your pieces is a neat little piece of game design.

Terzetto can be played by two players or played as a solitaire puzzle. Each player has a 5×5 game grid and 24 marbles (eight colors, three marbles per color). The goal is to place all of your marbles on your grid by playing them in groups of three.

But you can’t place the three marbles in any old way. That’s where the diabolical shaker comes in.

The shaker consists of a three-by-three grid and three yellow balls enclosed in a clear box. When you shake the box, the three balls fall into the nine grid spots. The way the three balls are situated in the shaker is how you have to play your three marbles on your game grid.

In a head-to-head game the players take turns shaking and placing marbles. If you cannot play after you shake then you pass and your opponent gets to go again. Play continues until both players pass OR one player successfully places all 24 of their marbles.

The rules are incredibly simple and Gamewright includes a few  variations—one of which makes the game much more difficult. Games are quick and even though the strategy aspect is pretty light, there are enough choices in the early stages of the game that you always feel that victory is just one…  more…  game…  away.

Although the shaker usually betrays you on your last set of three marbles, it’s hard to stay mad at a game that lets you get so close to success. And on those moments when the shaker balls line up in just the right way, you feel as if the universe smiles on you.

If only for that brief moment.

Major Fun award

For 1-2 players, ages 8+

Terzetto was designed by Theora Design and is © 2013 by Gamewright.

Bugs in the Kitchen

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 16-10-2013

Bugs in the Kitchen


The bug in Bugs in the Kitchen is a HEXBUG Nano. It moves randomly on twelve, rubbery, battery-powered legs – randomly enough to turn (maybe left, maybe right) when it meets an obstacle.

There are two dozen plastic utensils – knives, forks and spoons. They each have a post in the center which fits snugly (and pretty much permanently) into the sturdy cardboard playing board. Once installed, they form something that looks very much like a maze. And, since they pivot so beautifully on their pegs, they form a maze whose paths can be continuously changed. Which, as you might surmise, is what the game is basically about.

There are two, large, pocket-like receptacles on each side of the board. Each player claims one of these receptacles as her own (there are cardboard walls you can install to block off one or two of these receptacles should you be playing with 2 or 3 players).

There’s a die involved. Three of its sides are question marks. The other three depict different utensils.

You turn the utensils so they form one of the four suggested starting mazes. Then one player turns the HEXBUG on and puts it in the middle of the game board. The next player throws the die, determining which utensil can be turned. The posts are designed so that they tend to turn 9o-degrees – which is exactly how they should be turned. The goal is to get the HEXBUG into your trap. Of course, you can’t touch the bug itself. It’s all in how you configure the maze.

There are cardboard “bug tokens.” As soon as the HEXBUG is trapped, the round ends, the winning player receives one bug token, and the maze is reset.  The goal is to be the first to collect five tokens.

Major Fun AwardOr you can make it the rule that if the HEXBUG falls into your trap, you lose. Or you can see what happens if you play without the die. Or you can play by yourself, trying out different mazes and seeing if you can guess which trap the HEXBUG will fall into.

Bugs in the Kitchen was designed by Peter-Paul Joopen. And I just have to say, Mr. Peter-Paul Joopen, you are a genius. Your game is fascinating, engaging, worthy of many hours of joyful contemplation, and makes a toy that already has proven play value, even more fun. Major fun, that is. And you, too, Ravensburger. It’s a game that is made to withstand many hours of intense delight. The HEXBUG comes with a battery already installed. And a spare, even.

Bugs in the Kitchen (a.k.a. Kakerlakak) can be played by 2-4 early elementary school-age children, though it seems to be most fun with just two players, and parents will probably insist on getting to play as well. With art by Janos Jantner and Maximilian Jasionowski, Bugs in the Kitchen is ©2013 Ravensburger Spieleverlag GmbH and widely available at toy stores near you.

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Cube Quest

Filed Under (Dexterity, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 09-09-2013

Cube Quest

OK, before we get into particulars: this is the kind of game that if you’re a grown-up will remind you of something you almost invented that long, rainy day, when you were, say, 8-years-old – the kind of game you would have played with toy soldiers if it didn’t hurt so much to flick them at each other with your fingers. Skillful? Easily as profound as marbles. Strategic? Just as strategic as you can or want to make it. Demanding deep thinking – not so much. But enough. O, yes.

You get 50 dice (OK, cubes), 25 of each color. They’re light enough to flick without impairing your flicker and small enough to be considered a choking hazard (sorry, little brother). There are seven different kinds: Grunts, Strikers, Helms, Skulks, Freezes, Healers, and one King. Each of these has different attributes. The Grunts, for example. You see Grunts on only two sides of the die. The other four sides indicate a state “captured”-hood. You get a lot of them (12), but if they end up on your opponent’s field captured-side up, they are lost. On the other hand, there are your Healers (2), with no captured sides at all. Healers and Freezes are, as you might assume, never flicked. They are used so that you can, instead of flicking, choose to help revive your pieces or immobilize your opponent, respectively. A hard call, considering that you have to forego flickery.

Major Fun AwardAnd, no, you really don’t have to know what all the different cubes do to enjoy the game. And yes, eventually you’ll probably learn what each one does, and the strategic subtleties of each, and even go so far as to ascribe yet further powers as you play the game again and again.

There are two felt game boards that are set up adjacent to each other. On each, there is a fort. Your king regally resides within the boundaries of your fort.

The object: be the first to flick your opponent’s king off the board.

You spend the first part of the game preparing – deciding where to put each of your cubes to maximize their offensive and defensive potentials. And then there’s the flicking.

Our first round lasted one flick each. And then we learned. O, yes, we learned. It’s all about protecting the King (wouldn’t you know it), cunningly surrounding him with walls of loyal subjects. But not to forget that this is war.

Great fun. Not deep fun. But great. Major, even.

For two players, ages 8 and older, designed by Oliver and Gary Sibthorpe, with art by Jonathan Kirtz, from Gamewright .


Filed Under (Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 10-07-2013

Repello is a game of strategic chaos. Chaos in the sense of complex, surprising patterns. Chaos in the sense of the so-called “butterfly effect” in which small changes in initial conditions can lead to startling chain reactions.

And this kind of chaos—this beautiful, fractal, patterned randomness—is Major Fun.

It’s a thinking game so don’t expect the kind of Major Fun that results in hilarity. We often gage the fun of a game by the laughter elicited. Repello must be judged more by the appreciative “ooooo” sound. There’s a lot to ooo and aaah about.

Let’s start with the stack. Each player has a stack of repellers: round black chips with a hole in the center. The number in your stack  is determined by the number of players (10 for a 4 player game). These are held in place by a rod that sticks through the center holes. The Stack is designed so that when you press down on the stack of repellers, one (and only one) is left behind. This device is very clever.

Each player places their stack on the board (a 13 x 13 grid of numbers) on one of the designated squares. A gold repeller sits in the middle of the board and 8 other repellers are spaced close to the edge. On your turn, you move and leave behind one repeller from your stack. The goal is to knock the most repellers off the board. The gold repeller is worth 5, the silver ones are worth 3, and the black ones are worth 1.

Major Fun awardAs their name implies, repellers REPEL all other pieces. At the end of a player’s turn, no pieces may remain adjacent to each other. This is how you knock repellers off the board. When you leave behind a repeller, your stack has to move. If it ends its move next to a repeller then either the repeller or your stack has to move away one space. The more repeller disks on the board, the more chances exist for you to push some off with your chain reactions. Oooooo. Aaaaah.

Moving the pieces around is incredibly engrossing. As you play you notice how certain patterns set up multiple reactions and you work to position yourself so that you can create opportunities for yourself and take them away from your opponents. Controlling the center is important and so is patience.

The game ends when each player is out of repellers on his or her stack. Count up your points, analyze your best moves and greatest mistakes, restack, and replay. The rules are clear and short. It certainly helps to play a few moves to see how everything works, but once you have the rules down, you won’t need them again.

Definitely a Major Fun strategy game.

For 2-4 players, ages 8+

Repello concept by Arne Holmstrom. Design and development by Mindtwister.


Filed Under (Puzzles, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 05-07-2013

Reptangles construction toy

“Hmmm,” you hum. “Turtles. Turtles as interpreted by a cubist artist. Studded and notched cubist turtles. Four of each of six different colors of studded and notched cubist turtles. Sturdy little colorful notched and studded cubist turtles. Named, apparently, ‘Reptangles.'”

And you take the Reptangles out of their colorful box. You remove the plastic. You fondle a few. Perhaps you even go so far as to see if you can fit them together, this way or that. And you discover, that, as a matter of fact, you can fit them together, both this way and that.

And then you find, in the bottom of the box, a colorful booklet. A puzzle booklet, apparently. You open the booklet to the first page and read about “basic moves” called “translations, reflections, rotations, glide reflections, and glide rotations.” Which makes you once again hum inwardly. “Hmmm,” you hum.

And then you open to the next colorful page and the next, and you read about “2-Fold Mirror Symmetries,” and “4th Order Rotational Symmetries,” and “Truncated Octrahedron,” and “Lesser Rhombicuboctahedron.” And, humming a tad more inwardly, you close your colorful puzzle booklet and start playing around with your collection almost cute cubist turtles. And you discover that you can snap them together so they look like one is riding on top of the other, or two are standing on their hind legs and holding hands and kissing, or two are leaning against each other side-to-side, each standing on two feet.

And “ah” you say to yourself, and again “ah.” And you stick more of them together, in different ways, and you discover that you can stick a whole bunch of them together, and they make, well, shapes. And so you open the colorful puzzle booklet again, and, “ah,” you say, and “oh,” and you lose yourself entirely in the joyous complexity of it all.

They say on the box that Reptangles is for kids 6 and older. Probably because you need to be that strong just to stick Reptangles together and pull Reptangles apart. And, at 6, the whole turtle thing with the dancing and the kissing and the riding will make you laugh and you’ll make plays and stories and turtly dramatizations. And though you might not really get into the puzzle part, you’ll start making your own puzzles, just playing with them.

What they don’t say on the box is that your older sister, the one who’s studying architecture, and your LEGO-playing brother will both probably do the same thing, and so will your parents, probably. And they’ll get as fascinated as you did, only in a different way. They’ll probably go so far as to open the puzzle booklet and try to figure out how to make each and every one of the at least hundred puzzles, and they’ll start inventing even more, like you did, and exploring even more deeply, also like you did, and though they might not say much, you’ll probably hear them humming. “Hmmmm,” they’ll be humming to themselves, while thinking “only one known solution to make a Cubooctahedron? Only one?”

Reptangles. Play with them. Puzzle with them. From Fat Brain Toys. Major Fun.

Major Fun Award