Mine Shift

Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 26-02-2012

In the quest to get from point A to Point B, the individual must contend with two transformations: the wanderer must move and the path will change. In many board games, this second truth is neglected in favor of wanderer’s transformation. The board remains static and players manipulate the pieces in order to reach some final destination.

Mine Shift by MindWare deftly utilizes both transformations to create a game that is strategic, easy to learn, and fun. Very fun. Major Fun.

But a little difficult to describe.

You and your opponent have 4 colored gems (red and blue). The object is to move the four gems from your home tile to your opponent’s home tile. In addition to the 2 home tiles, the game board consists of 8 tiles arranged in a square (imagine a 3×3 grid with the middle tile missing). Each tile is divided into 4 spaces and most tiles contain at least one wall. Walls can block edges of the tile or divide the spaces from each other.

On your turn, you take a total of three actions. You may do any combination of the following: move a gem one space, rotate a tile 90 degrees, or slide a tile into an empty space. Gems cannot move through walls so rotating and moving tiles is often the best way to get your pieces into position. Or mess with your opponent. And as I have said in many other reviews, messing with your opponent is always fun.

The game rules are wonderfully illustrated. In the time it took you to read this review you would have already been well into your first game. There are 27 tiles, each with slightly different wall configurations so each game is different. MindWare also suggests adding more tiles to the starting grid—yet another way in which the path can change.

I would love to see a version for more than 2 players, but as it stands, Mine Shift is a clever, engaging, and surprising strategy game. Excellent pieces, clear rules, and Major Fun.

For 2 players, ages 8+

Mine Shift game design by John A. Forte. © 2011 by MindWare.

Yin Yang

Filed Under (Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 12-02-2012

card game by Reiner KniziaIn keeping with the clean and minimal nature of this beautifully balanced bidding game, I will review Gryphon Games’ Yin Yang with a Major Fun koan:

A gamer came to Major Fun and asked, “I have a deck of cards, numbered one to fifty, and many tokens: some white and some black. All players are dealt nine cards. How shall I keep score?”

Major Fun replied, “Mu.”

“Of course,” the enlightened gamer replied. “The player closest to zero shall win. A player with many chips cannot win.”

“Mu,” stated Major Fun.

“I see,” said the gamer. “Gathering pieces is OK because white tokens and black tokens negate each other. A player may collect tokens and still approach zero. Thank you Major Fun.”

But Major Fun shook his head and gave the gamer ten cards. On each card was a white number and a black number. The gamer smiled and bowed low to Major Fun for he was enlightened.

Mumon’s comment: It is only fitting that the highest card played would receive the white number of tokens. The lowest card played must receive the black number of tokens. In this way are the tokens dispersed each round and the No-one declared the winner.

In turn, each player lays down a card
so that the high card takes the white tokens
low card takes the black tokens
white and black cancel each other

Leftenant Fun says: Yin Yang’s simple rules, shifting strategies, and attractive packaging make this one of the best card games on game-store shelves. The mechanic that allows white points and black points to cancel each other out creates dramatic shifts over the course of 9 hands, and each hand is important. This is a huge game packed into a handy little tin.

For 3-5 players, ages 9+

Yin Yang game design Reiner Knizia. © 2011 by Gryphon Games.

All apologies (and deep respect) to those who ponder the zen of The Gateless Gate.


Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Senior-Worthy, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 07-02-2012

I moved 12 times in my first 6 years of marriage. Many of those were short skips across town as we jumped from one cramped box of graduate student housing to another, but they all involved packing and repacking all our belongings into a truck and then emptying said truck a few miles away. Under those conditions you either gain a knack for the packing process or you learn to save up for a professional.

We could never afford a professional.

Those skills came in quite handy as I went up against Major Fun in a friendly game of Quadefy.

Maranda Games has released several handsome abstract strategy games and Quadefy is their entry into the realm of three-dimensional tiling games. 2 players take turns placing their wooden blocks within a 4X4X4 cubic grid. The last player to make a legal move wins. Each player has 8 game pieces that resemble three-dimensional Tetris shapes. An illegal move is any placement of a piece that extends out of the 4X4X4 grid.

The pieces are composed of attractive, solid wooden blocks that are designed for play and display. All 16 pieces fit together to form a perfect cube which means Quadefy serves double duty as a competitive strategy game and an engaging solo puzzle. Like the other games in Maranda’s line-up, Quadefy is visually striking and is meant to be left out for guests to see and touch and covet.

Games are fast, even when some players are *AHEM* deliberative [significant look in the direction of Major Fun…], but there are so many ways to start that re-playability is high. Patience and spatial awareness are handy traits, but that goes for most games.

And as fun as the game is already, I heartily recommend an alternative condition suggested by Major Fun himself: play with your eyes closed. Try it as a solo puzzle and then in competition. It’s a great twist on an engaging and well designed game.

For 2 players, ages 6+

Quadefy game design by Mark Fuchs. © 2011 by Maranda Games.


Filed Under (Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 11-01-2012

Hexover by Maranda Enterprises is a great entry into the field of 2-player abstract strategy games. Take a familiar and robust game mechanic (Othello-style capture by surrounding), add a little twist, and bundle it all up with well-crafted, attractive game pieces and PRESTO you have yourself an engaging strategy game. It’s a crowded field but Hexover stands out with interesting innovation and excellent aesthetic design.

Like Othello, Hexover uses double sided chits as game markers. Each player attempts to make a row of five of their color by placing one piece and then flipping over the opponent’s color. The novelty of this game derives from the board which is composed of hexagons (instead of a square grid) of two different colors. Winning lines must be made on the white tiles. The red tiles may be used to flip over opposing pieces but those pieces on the red tiles do not count toward a run of five.

Games are quick as players move to consolidate their position around the long white corridors that radiate out from the middle. Because the game mechanics are so familiar and engaging, players can move very quickly from the moment the box is opened to the time they slap their heads at how fast one move can change the entire game. And for those who are perhaps not familiar with the Othello rules for placing and capturing pieces, Hexover provides very clear and intuitive rules.

As with another Major Fun award-winning game from Maranda Enterprises, Pathagon, it is worth emphasizing the impressive material quality of the game. The board has real heft and the playing surface is covered with a soft, leathery material that prevents the pieces from sliding around. The double-sided playing pieces are similarly weighty with a stone-like feel. All in all, Hexover is a game you would feel good about leaving out on the living room table or in the study.

It looks good. It feels good. It plays good.

It’s major fun!!

2 players. Ages 10+

Hexover by Mark Fuchs. © 2011 Maranda Enterprises.


Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 26-12-2011

Table top games saw me through middle school lunch. I’d throw down whatever dreck they had uncanned for us (elapsed time: 30 seconds) and then I’d set about the serious business of playing quarter basketball or pencil football for the remaining twenty-nine-and-a-half-minutes. A couple of props, a flat surface, an opponent—I had it made.

I would gladly bolt through my favorite meal (a thai peanut-sauce dish called pra ram long song thanks for asking…) in order to spend a bit more time with Gigamic’s table-top racing game, Regatta.

Now Regatta is a bit more complicated and prop driven than the games I played at school, but the conceit is the same. In this case, players race wooden sailboats across whatever flat surface they have handy. The game comes with four sailboats, four course buoys, and 54 movement cards.

The cards really make the game. Players hold five cards. Each card has an arrow that curves from one side to another. Sometimes a card will have multiple arrows so that the player has some choice. In short, players move their boats from one side of a card to another. When it is a racers turn to play, that boater places a card in front of his or her yacht so that the arrow starts at the bow of the yacht. The player moves the boat so that its aft quarters are on the tip of the arrow and the boat is facing the arrow’s direction.

The cards also serve to show where sailboats cannot go. Each yacht has a no-go region in front of it (so that another boat cannot block its turn. This no-go region is the size of one of the cards. You can move anywhere on the board as long as you do not move into the no-go zone of another player. There are also some special cards that allow double movement, extra turns, and an especially nasty one that makes an opponent miss a turn, but these just spice up the game’s elegant movement mechanic.

There is a surprising amount of strategy that goes in to placing the cards. Most cards do not move your boat in a straight line. Most curve to the left or the right so you have to set up a series of moves that play out over your next few turns. Saving up special cards for the right moment is critical.

The racing is clever and fast, and best of all there is no deep water!! Racing yachts in the comfort of my dining room? Major Fun.

2 – 4 players. Ages 5+

Regatta  by Emmanuel Fille and Martine Moisand. © 2010 Gigamic.


Filed Under (Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 19-12-2011

Once you get over how beautifully made the game is, how the wooden board and pieces are so finished, so pleasant to touch, how the octagonal pieces fit so perfectly (with just the amount of looseness to make them easy to place and remove, with exactly the right thickness so that you can easily lift them from between the pegs that keep them in position), you will finally find yourself able to appreciate the game itself.

Pathagon is an easy to learn (maybe five minutes), two-player strategy game. Each player has 14 octagonal pieces, each of a different color. The opposite sides of the square board have the same color as one set of pieces. The object of the game is to be first to create an unbroken line of your pieces from one of edges of the board (marked with the same color as your pieces) to the other.

At first glance, the educated gamer might be sorely tempted to conclude that Pathagon is another embodiment of the now classic game of Twixt. However, a closer reading of the rules, and maybe five minutes of play will be all the evidence necessary to realize that Pathagon is a unique game, aglow with brilliantly subtle strategic glimmers.

First, only orthogonal connections count. Pieces must actually touch edges in order for them to be considered contiguous.

Next, you can remove one of your opponent’s pieces by sandwiching it, again only orthogonally, between two of yours. (A removed piece isn’t captured, it is returned to the opponent for placement somewhere else on the board.) In fact, depending on how pieces are aligned, you can capture several of your opponent’s pieces in one move (as long as each piece is orthogonally sandwiched between two of yours).

And finally, once all the pieces are placed, if no one has won the game, players take turns moving their pieces until someone succeeds in creating the proverbial unbroken, edge-to-edge line.

A round of Pathagon can be as brief as 10 minutes and, depending on how long each player wants to consider strategic implications, as long as a half-hour. In either event, it is likely that players will want to complete several games before acknowledging defeat.

Anyone old enough to understand checkers will be able to appreciate what Pathagon has to offer. Though it is likely, given the elegance of the execution of the game, that Pathagon will long remain in the cherished possession of the mature gamer. Designed by Mark Fuchs, owner of Maranda Enterprises, is one six, beautifully rendered wooden games, all designed by Mr. Fuchs. More are on their way.

City Square Off

Filed Under (Family Games, Puzzles, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 22-11-2011

A great way to Major Fun’s heart is through his stomach. Unfortunately that’s due to a gastric bypass surgery gone horribly wrong. BUT another great way to his heart is through elegant design. We at Major Fun reward games that are easy to learn, and that means that some types of games and some game mechanics come back to the party in many different outfits. Nothing wrong with this. Fun is fun.

Gamewright’s City Square Off is a competitive tiling game for two people (or two teams). Each player starts with a board, 21 tiles (much as you would find in Tetris variants), and a starting tile that is shaped like a city (each city tile is different). The city tile goes in the middle of each board and a deck of 21 cards (a card for each of the tiles) is shuffled. The top card is revealed and each player places that tile on their board. The player who runs out of space on his or her board loses.

We’ve seen games like this before, but City Square Off is compact, sturdy, and visually stunning. The game gives you 4 city tiles to use as starting pieces and each is unique AND they seem to represent 4 different periods of time and architecture. The nine-by-nine grid is sturdy, rigid, grey plastic, which admittedly sounds less than appealing and yet the bright orange and green tiles fit perfectly into the grid where they almost fluoresce against the grey surface. Everything fits into a compact box.

Games are quick, intuitive, and easy to learn. The designers also include several variants that shake things up. Start with the city tile ANYWHERE on the board. Don’t use the cards and each player races to see who can fill up all the squares on his or her board first. The variants suggest many other possibilities. Each game is fun and immediately replayable.

It’s Major Fun. Check it out.

2 players or 2 teams. Ages 8+

City Square Off  by Ted Cheatham. © 2011 Gamewright.


Got ‘Em!

Filed Under (Family Games, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 26-10-2011

As I’ve written before, the best strategy games (in terms of fun) arise from simple, elegant rules and game mechanics. Games of this sort provide an accessible portal into a contest that requires the players to make short term and long term plans based on…


Sorry about that. Got some verbosity lodged in my keyboard. Major Fun games like Got ‘Em! are easy to learn and you wanna play ‘em again and again and again.

This one is even reversible!! (I’ll come back to this in a second)

The basic premise is simple. Each player has a pawn on a seven by seven grid. On a turn, each player moves his or her pawn and places a plastic section of wall. Walls prevent movement in that direction. A player is eliminated if his or her pawn is ever surrounded by walls.

I mentioned the game is reversible, right? I meant reversible in the sense that some jackets are reversible. The board has two sides and each side has a distinct flavor of play and slight variations on the basic rules. One side is for the Bright Rules and the other side is for the Brainy Rules.

Bright Rules involves some random elements and utilizes a deck of 55 cards. The grid of squares on the game board is divided into four colors: red, green, yellow, and blue. Opponents still move their pieces and place walls, but their movement and wall-placement are dictated by the cards. Each player is dealt three cards. Each card has instructions for how to move your pawn and how to place a wall. For example: “move up to 2 spaces and place a wall on any GREEN square.” Not only must players work to avoid being boxed in, but they must also decide what cards will be most useful in later stages of the game.

Brainy Rules does away with the cards and the colorful grid. Players move their pieces and then may place one piece of wall anywhere on the board. Movement is based on the number of walls that currently enfold a player. Each pawn can move one space, but if your pawn is on a square that has a wall touching it, you can move your piece an extra space for each piece of wall. In some cases it is to your advantage to place a wall next to your own square. Doing so gives you one extra space of movement. That can mean the difference between scurrying frantically at the whim of your opponents and breaking into a clear space so that you can take the time to push your opponents around.

It is amazing how quickly the board fills with walls. What seems like a wide-open field of play turns into a series of dead-ends and shrinking courtyards. Especially with 4 players. Who knew that claustrophobia could be Major Fun?

Calliope has done a wonderful job of packaging the game, designing the pieces, and conveying both sets of rules. I appreciated the way each set of rules (complete with illustrations and hints) had its own tab on an ingeniously folded sheet of instructions.

Not since enacting Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado” in middle school have I had this much fun walling someone in. Well, there was also “The Black Cat.” And “The Fall of the House of Usher.” And “Buried Alive.”  Come to think of it, I remember having more students in that class at the beginning of the unit on Poe…

2-4 players. Ages 8+

Got ‘Em! by Zach Weisman. © 2011 Compound Fun, LLC. Produced and distributed by Calliope Games.


Filed Under (Family Games, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on 24-10-2011

Engagement is an essential element of Major Fun games. There are lots of games that I love—especially strategy games—that I can’t consider Major Fun because there is too much down time. One person is playing but the other two or three have to wait for their turn OR wait while some action resolves between two other players. Doesn’t make the game a bad game—just means the game can’t earn a Major Fun epaulet.

Cornucopia deftly avoids down time in two ways: first, by keeping the action moving and second, by incorporating a system of wagering into each round. Even though one player controls most of the action each turn, I never felt like I could disengage from the action because I had something at stake.

At its most basic, Cornucopia is about making runs and sets. There is a deck of “Goods Cards” that represent 6 different colored vegetables (yellow corn, orange pumpkins, red tomatoes, purple eggplants, green grapes, and wild-rainbow cornucopias). These Goods Cards are set out in five columns (at the start of the game, 2 cards per column). A player attempts to complete a column by adding cards that make a run (five different cards) or a set (five identical cards). If the player completes a run or set, that person earns points. If the player fails, the person loses points. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins, and the game ends when the deck of Goods is played through twice.

Things get interesting with the betting. On a player’s turn, he or she places a bet on how many cards will be needed to complete a column. The more cards the player chooses, the lower the final score. Once the player chooses, the opponents have 10 seconds to bet if the player will succeed. Each player has a double sided YES/NO card and some chips that they use to place the wager. Not only did this serve to keep everyone glued to the results, it also proved to be a major factor in winning the game. The bets are small but they add up over the course of a game.

There are several ways to score points but most can be boiled down to completing (or failing to complete) columns and the bets you make on said success or failure.

Another fun aspect of the game was the trash talk. Because betting is involved and the amount of points to be earned in a round is determined by how FEW cards you choose to play, the opportunities for baiting, teasing, and ridiculing are nigh boundless. I say this with a certain amount of shameful glee because I encouraged this behavior with my 10 year old daughter and two of her friends. We just could not help ourselves. It is just too much fun to encourage someone to try to complete a column with only 2 cards and then bet against that person. Or bet for them and feel the same rush of accomplishment when they succeed.

Gryphon produces some beautiful and engaging games and Cornucopia does not disappoint. The rules are concise, well organized, and clearly illustrated. The cards are colorful and sturdy-made for lots of wear and tear. My only nit-picky complaint arises from the flimsy chips used for betting and keeping score, but that hardly prevents me from recommending this game. As you build your collection of enduring, Major Fun games, find a spot for Cornucopia. And make sure it’s easy to reach. I think you’ll want it a lot.

Cornucopia by Carlo A. Rossi and Lorenzo Tarabini Castellani. Game theme, graphics, and development by Rick Soued and Carey Grayson. © 2010 FRED Distribution.


Filed Under (Creative, Thinking Games, Toys) by Will Bain on 18-09-2011

Think-ets comes with a variety of games you can play with the included gewgaws and trinkets. These games suggest an infinite number of variations and new games that can be created by a fertile mind. Too many for the space we have here and a big part of why Think-ets (in all its iterations) is Major Fun.

But despite all the games that can be played when you open one of these packages, I’m not going to talk about the games. Instead I’m going to talk about what makes Think-ets such a great toy as opposed to a game.

Pause and regroup. Let’s get some of the basics out of the way.

Think-ets come in a variety of packages but they all contain an assortment of trinkets. The one I am currently looking at is the “Genius” edition. A tin box (common size for gum or mints) contains 15 small trinkets such as an arrowhead, a polar bear, a compass (functional), a tomato, and a twelve-sided die: the kind of assortment you would find at the bottom of a toy chest or under the cushions in the family couch. The box also contains a small pencil, a pad of paper, and an instruction booklet. The booklet suggests about a dozen games that you can play with the Think-ets but…

A quick story. When I handed my daughter (9) and one of her best friends (11) a couple of bags of Think-ets, one of the first things they did was arrange the pieces. My daughter went for shape and color and her friend by alphabetical order. They created other patterns and spent half an hour or more just moving the pieces into lines. This actually seemed to fit some of the games mentioned in the instructions, so I suggested one of the other games and they shrugged without much enthusiasm but went right on playing with the pieces. They soon left the table and went off to incorporate the Think-ets into a rather complicated game of school they had going upstairs.

My guess is that most people will experience Think-ets in the way my daughter and her friend did. They are fascinating toys. They are vehicles for imaginative play, and in this capacity they are incredibly engaging. For a game to work—for anything to be considered a game in the first place—the players must agree to follow a set of rules; a prescribed set of behaviors must be followed. A game is a common set of behaviors. By contrast, a toy might suggest methods of play, but a toy is not limited to a single set of actions. You want your cowboy action figure to dive to Atlantis? Fine. You want it to actually be a dog instead of a human? Sure. That dog has a pet spider that looks a lot like my car keys? That’s great…

Hey! Gimme my keys!

Think-ets are Major Fun not because of the games that are included in the package, but because the collection of trinkets lends itself so well to the imagination. We made up stories about the pieces. We stacked them and lined them up and shook them in the tin. We scattered them across the table and made up games that lasted two moves before we changed the game. And then changed it again. The sundry items are wonderful to hold in your hand or move around a table top. They inspire stories and games and conversations and (best of all)


1 or more players. Ages 8+

Think-ets designed by Randy Compton and Julie Lake. © 2007 by Think-a-lot Toys.