# Pivit

As you might imagine, we play a lot of games here at Major Fun, and after a while those games start to fall into rather predictable categories. In turn this can lead to a certain predisposition toward the ones we see most frequently. Tiling games are common and although I enjoy many of the ones that we get (see recent Major Fun Award winners here here and here…) when I open up the box I’m already settling in to a comfortable, laid back mental slouch.

So when we dumped Pivit out on the table and started flipping the tiles over, I had slipped into leisurely chat mode. It’ll be like Qwirkle, I thought. Lots of down time as each person takes a turn. Good for catching up on gossip with my friends.

To be fair, Pivit is a lot like Qwirkle in basic mechanics. You have tiles of different shapes and patterns. You arrange the tiles in interconnected lines so that either all the colors or all the shapes are the same in the line (but NOT BOTH). There are even WILD tiles. How hard could it be if it has WILD tiles?

Well, Pivit is more like a marriage between Qwirkle and Banangrams. I did not appreciate this confluence of game mechanics until I got my butt handed to me three games in a row by my step-daughter. You turn over your tiles (24 of them) and then try to be the first to create a crossword-style matrix. Your opponents are your timer. There are score blocks that are laid out in the middle of the table—one fewer than the number of players. Once you complete your matrix, you grab the highest score block you can.

The pressure is intense. Not only from other players but from the concentration it takes to differentiate the patterns. The patterns aren’t subtle but they have enough similarities that it is easy to confuse them in the heat of the moment. Mistakes were common which means that you could go from having the highest point block to nothing very quickly.

This is not a leisurely paced tiling game. It is a great lesson for those of us who have gotten complacent in what we expect from familiar categories of games.

We’ve been playing a lot of great games from MindWare recently and this one is no exception. The design of the materials, the clarity of the rules, and the elegant game-play speak highly of the care that goes in to their games.

Limber up your fingers and your minds and check out Pivit. It’s Major Fun.

2-4 players. Ages 8+

Pivit was designed by David Peterson and is © 2013 by MindWare.

# Survive: Escape from Atlantis

Survive: Escape from Atlantis has been traveling a long time to make it to Major Fun.

Created in 1982, Survive: Escape from Atlantis is a board game with hexagonal tiles that change over the course of the game in a fashion similar to what you would find in more recent games like Forbidden Island and Settlers of Catan. As the story goes, you control a team of explorers who have discovered the island of Atlantis only for it to disappear beneath your feet. You must escape across hostile waters, either by boat or by swimming, to safe ground (the corners of the game board) before the volcano rumbling beneath the island goes all Pompeii on your…

As for tiles, you have three basic kinds: beach, forest, and mountain. These sink at different rates. The beach tiles disappear first, followed by the forests, until only the mountains remain, only to finally succumb to the inevitable collapse of the soon-to-be-lost continent. The tiles are cleverly constructed so that the beach tiles are thinner than the forests which are thinner than the mountain tiles. In this way players can instantly and intuitively tell what spots are most imperiled. Stronghold Games has done a fantastic job of designing all aspects of this edition.

Surrounding the island there is a wide expanse of ocean that teems with sharks, whales, and sea monsters. These entities slowly awaken as the island collapses and wreak havoc upon the explorers as the players try to make guide them to safety. Whales capsize ships. Sharks eat swimmers. Sea monsters destroy anything they catch.

Once the island is created in the center of the board, each player has 10 explorer pieces to place. The explorers have numbers 1 – 6 on the bottom of their bases which represents how many points each are worth. The goal is to have the most points at the end of the game, not necessarily the most survivors. When you place your pieces you decide where they go but once they have been placed you can’t look at their value. In the chaos of the game it is easy to forget which piece is which so there is a lot of tension as your explorers become threatened or are close to rescue.

On your turn you take four actions in this order: play a special tile (if you have one), move your explorers, remove a terrain tile, and roll the creature die. The terrain tiles are double-sided: one side shows terrain the other gives you a special action. Sometimes this allows you to summon a creature. Sometimes you can move your explorers. Sometimes you can prevent others from attacking you. Some tiles you can hold on to. Some must be played immediately.

Once you move your explorers you must remove a terrain tile from the board. Beach tiles must go first. Mountains are last. If possible you try to dump your opponents into the drink. Because that’s where the creatures are and, as the blood-thirsty competitor you are, you get to command those creatures to smite your foes.

Your last action is to roll a die and move whatever creature comes up. This is how you prevent your opponents from reaching safety. Eat them with sharks. Capsize their boats with whales. Obliterate them en masse with monsters and whirlpools.

The removal of terrain tiles, in addition to the special actions they provide and the fun of dropping your opponents into a watery grave, also serve as the game’s timer. Under one of the eight mountain tiles there is a volcano. When it is turned over, Atlantis explodes killing any explorer who has not reached safety. Players tally up the score for each survivor.

The game has a lot of pieces but the art design and the instructions make the entire process very easy to follow. The most difficult aspect is probably the movement rules because there are different rules for swimmers, but once you have that down, the rest is very intuitive.

And very fun. Survive is a strategic game but one in which your plans often have to be scrapped and replaced as the island disappears and the ocean fills with flesh-hungry monsters. Of course, we control the flesh hungry monsters so maybe that says more about us as a species than we would like to admit. But revenge is so much fun!! And the sea creatures are so very very hungry…

2-4 players. Ages 8+

Survive: Escape from Atlantis was designed by Julian Courtland-Smith and is © 1982 by Stronghold Games.

# Forbidden Desert

Matt Leacock has a knack for creating games about overwhelming odds. In Pandemic, players race against the advancing tide of infectious disease. In Forbidden Island, that race is against the literal tide as the mysterious island you are exploring sinks beneath the waves.

Forbidden Desert places the characters in a similar situation as desert sands threaten to engulf the party and bleach their bones dry.

Death by disease, death by drowning, and death by dehydration. Fun times.

Forbidden Desert is a cooperative game in which the players try to assemble a mysterious flying device so that they may escape the ravages of a desert storm. This goal is virtually identical to that of Forbidden Island. As a matter of fact, the game shares many features with Leacock’s previous cooperative games (Forbidden Island and Pandemic) but these similarities only benefit the game. If you have played one of the others before then your entry into Forbidden Desert will be that much easier. If you have not played the other games, the rules are easy enough and the instructions clear enough that you will still be playing in a matter of minutes.

The game consists primarily of tiles, cards, and pawns. The 24 tiles are shuffled and distributed in a 5×5 grid (there is no middle tile—this represents the sand storm). The cards are used to provide special equipment to the players and used to determine the strength and movement of the sand storm. Special sand markers are used to show where and how deep the sand is piling up around the board. The pawns represent the characters.

Each player controls a character. Each character can take four actions on their turn. Each character carries a certain amount of water and also has a special ability. For example: the Archaeologist can dig through more sand; the Meteorologist can help control the sand storm. In all there are six different adventurers.

The last major piece of the game is the storm meter. As the game progresses, the sand storm gets worse. The storm meter records the strength of the storm. If it gets too high, everyone loses.

If any of the characters runs out of water, the group loses.

If you run out of sand markers… yup, the group loses.

The only way to win is to gather the four pieces of the flying machine and make it back to its launch pad. Wherever that may be…

We loved Forbidden Desert. We died a lot. A LOT. But everyone is always engaged and the tension of the game is exquisite. We liked it more than Forbidden Island which is one of our favorites.

As it stands, Forbidden Desert has several things going for it. The way you find the treasure pieces is ingenious and does not require gathering cards. This is one of the big differences with Forbidden Island. The characters also have a wider range of actions—there are more choices to make which means there are more ways to die but a much stronger sense of agency. Finally, the sharing of water and items really emphasizes cooperative play.

I can’t recommend this game highly enough. It is exciting and endlessly interesting. The artwork is fantastic (although I think Forbidden Island would win that contest) and the game design such that even novice players will be immersed in the adventure with only a minimal amount of prep time.

It’s probably as much fun as you can have with sand that is not part of a beach.

2-5 players. Ages 10+

Forbidden Desert was designed by Matt Leacock and is © 2013 by Gamewright.

# Kerflip!

Word games are often time consuming affairs—the kind of game where you either find an almost maniacal fascination with anagrams or where you must carry on an extended conversation with your fellow competitors as each player grinds through endless permutations of letters and point combinations. Don’t get me wrong. I love thoughtful word games but there are times when I want a full game to be over in the time it takes to finish one round of Scrabble.

Games like Boggle, Bananagrams, and Word on the Street are good examples of fast paced word games.

To this category of word game I wish to introduce the Major Fun Award winning game of Kerflip!

In many ways, Kerflip! is like a puckish and caffeinated child of Scrabble and Boggle. Players draw letter tiles from a bag and then simultaneously drop them on the game board. The players then look for words created by the letters. When you call out a word you can’t change your mind so you have to make sure it’s a good one. But you also have to be fast. The first players to call out words have a distinct advantage when it comes to scoring. If someone is taking too long, the game comes with a 15 second timer which may be deployed to speed things along.

It’s like a cattle prod in the shape of an hour-glass.

There are many quirky elements to scoring but a large part of it boils down to the tiles. The letter tiles are double-sided: one side is whit and the other side is orange. After players drop their tiles onto the game board they must flip any orange tiles to the white side. Once all players have called out their words, scoring starts with the fastest player. That speller scores 10 points per white tile and flips any tiles from his or her word to the orange side. The next player scores 5 points per orange tile and 10 per any white tile, flipping the white to orange as they are used.

This mechanic rewards speed AND word length. It also is a great way to apply pressure to the combatants. For the most part the players race each other. The timer is only needed for that last poor sucker who thinks he can calmly sift through all the letters for that killer word (er… he or she… it’s not like it ever happened to me…)

Orange tiles are removed from the game and any unused white tiles are returned to the bag. The game is over when the bag does not contain enough tiles for each player to draw.

Like I mentioned before there are other scoring rules that I won’t go into here. They are designed to keep the game fast paced and the score always in doubt because some points are kept concealed until the end of the game.

The game is beautifully designed, and the box is a lesson in game utility. The game board fits inside the box to easily contain the tiles. Clean-up is especially ingenious. Used orange tiles are pushed into two openings in the box. At the end of the game, you simply tilt the box up and the tiles slide into a waiting cup so you can simply pour them back into the bag.

It’s fast. It’s addictive. It’s elegant.

It’s Major Fun.

2-4 players. Ages 8+

Kerflip! was designed by Damon Tabb and is © 2012 by Creative Foundry Games. Provided by the good people at Game Salute.

# Duco

We’re back!! After a spring hiatus we have a ton of games lined up. So let’s kick it off with a great card game from our friends at Game Salute

There are many many ways to play Duco. This is not to say that the game doesn’t come with rules. It also doesn’t mean that the game is like an empty box that your kids will play with more than the toy that came in it. No, I mean that the game literally comes with many sets of rules all based off of a simple set of mechanics. Once you learn the basic mechanics there is lots of fun to be had.

But don’t be in a hurry. The basic rules are fun on their own.

At its heart, Duco is a tiling game. Players take turns placing cards in a grid so that the sides of the cards match up with the cards already in play. The better your cards match, the better your score.

So how to make (or lose in the case of the Bard) a winning match? The trick is in the cards.

There are 75 cards in the game. Each card is divided into nine squares. The center square contains the Duco logo and a color (this is used in some of the variations but not the basic game). The outer eight squares contain a variety of shapes (circles, crescents, stars, triangles, squares, and wild) in a variety of colors (red, blue, green, yellow, black, and rainbow). The wild shapes can be any of the other shapes while the rainbow can be used for any color. A match is determined by placing a card next to a card on the table. If the three boxes have the same shape OR color as the boxes in the other card, the player has a match and scores points: same shape OR same color = 1 point; same shape AND same color = 2 points.

The game ends when one player reaches 50 points.

This is a great social game as well as an engaging solitaire. A restaurant game for when you are waiting for your entrees to arrive. You can always score and sometimes you find a place where your card scores on two or more sides. Those moments when you discover a multi-sided match are very satisfying. Almost embarrassingly so. It’s fun but after a while you will want more.

And here’s where the game just keeps on giving. Duco suggests seven distinct variations that each have their own unique strategies and styles. I won’t go into them all here, but my favorite was the one they called Stress. This is a speed variation in which play occurs simultaneously. Each player has 10 cards. The first one to finish counts down from 30 and then everyone must stop. Scoring occurs at the end and unplaced cards are unscored. In this variation, the middle color is important because it identifies each player when it comes time to score.

The speed and the matching and the messing with other people. Definitely Major Fun.

This is like a Swiss army knife of tiling games. Handy in so many situations. It does require a decent amount of space to play, but there are so many ways to play that you will want to keep this around for those down moments when it’s important to keep your friends or kids occupied.

I would actually forget the thing I was waiting for and keep playing.

1-5 players. Ages 6+

Duco was designed by Henrik Larrson and is © 2014 by Game Salute.

# Space Cadets: Dice Duel

Gamers Games are Major Fun for the more experienced gamer. For one reason or another, these games are a bit more difficult or require a greater time investment than the games we generally award BUT we feel that they are well worth the effort.

A while back we gave an award to a cooperative and yet utterly chaotic app called Space Team. It is a fantastic example of how our phone and tablet technologies can be used to not only connect players, but have them physically act together. At the time I thought that this kind of game might be unique to technological devices. Phones and tablets after all are designed to record and respond to a wide range of motions.

Board games? Less tolerant of vigorous activity.

Well, I’m here to tell you that Stronghold has provided the world with a game that effectively splices the strategy of a board game with the frantic and physical activity of an obstacle course. That game, is Space Cadets: Dice Duel.

Dice Duel is set in space. Two starships have found themselves locked in combat over a region of space that contains wormholes, asteroids, nebulae, and mysterious power crystals. Players divide into 2 teams with the unambiguous mission to destroy the other ship. Each ship comes with a Helm (for steering your majestic ship into glorious battle), Sensors (for locking on to the vile opponent and cloaking your presence), Weapons (for cleansing the galaxy of the alien filth), Shields (for deflecting the villainous armaments of your foe), Tractor Beams (for moving all manner of material and laying mines), and most importantly Engineering (from whence your ship distributes cleansing power to all your Stations).

This would be a lot to track for one person, but fortunately you have a crew. Each of the ship’s systems has its own Station and a set of dice that is color coded for that control panel. In order for any Station to operate, that Station first needs power from Engineering and then it needs the right combination of dice. One of the things that makes Dice Duel so intriguing is that it can engage up to 8 players at a time. It is actually better with more players.

When the game starts, Engineering begins rolling its dice. It distributes these dice to the Stations (Weapons = 1, Sensors = 2, Helm = 5, etc…) so that those crew members can get their sub-systems up and running. A Station may roll one die for each Engineering die it receives. When a Station gets the result it wants it places the die on the control panel and returns the energy die (or dice) back to Engineering.

All of this rolling and equipping and moving happens at the same time. There are no turns. The team that rolls its dice and communicates its actions fastest has a distinct advantage.

Early in the game, the teams work to get their ships up and functioning. This is a relatively quiet process as the team members roll their dice to stock up. But as soon as one of the ships moves from its start point, the tension and chaos go supernova. There are lots of things that have to happen for a ship to successfully attack another ship and it is inevitable that in the heat of battle, things will go horribly horribly wrong. Your ship might face the wrong way. You might not have enough power in the sensors. You might not be close enough. You might not have the torpedoes facing the enemy. The enemy might move. Imagine trying to teach someone to drive a manual transmission by giving them instructions on the phone.

Your enjoyment of this game will hinge almost entirely on your ability to recover from disappointment. Well, and maybe your team’s ability to not turn on each other like a pack of rabid dogs.

The constant dice rolling provides a menacing sound-track to the proceedings and it is utterly gratifying to land a torpedo on your opponent. Gratifying and Major Fun.

The real-time mechanics are very clever and give the game its own frenetic glee. There is a fairly steep learning curve, but it’s not learning the rules that is hard but rather learning how to communicate with your team and time your attacks. The game comes with a lot of pieces, but once you have the control panels set up, the dice mechanics are really very simple. This game is a great example of rather simple rules complicated by human behavior and constantly evolving conditions. That the game is best played with a lot of people (4 on each team) makes it stand out in a field crowded by 3 – 4 player limits.

4 – 8 Players. Ages 12+

Space Cadets: Dice Duel was designed by Sydney and Geoffrey Engelstein and © 2013 by Stronghold Games.

# Nothing to Hide

Came across this proto-game today. A clever puzzle game that combines stealth-style game play with a satirical, anti-stealth / surveillance-state story-line.

I’m sorry. My language centers were briefly hyphen-hacked.

Check out Nothing to Hide here. It is in a very early stage but there are seven playable levels and a place for comments. Play a bit and then give them some feedback. I think it looks very promising. You’ll need to run it on Chrome or Firefox. Internet Explorer evidently does have something to hide…

# Cross Ways

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.

The 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

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.

On 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.

# Quartex

It’s been a good week for Tim W.K. Brown. http://www.timwkbrown.com

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.

First, 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.

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