Funnest Games for 2009

We played these games and played them again, and though they weren’t all new for 2009, they were new to us, and we enthused mightily. And so, behold – the ten funnest for 2009.

HABA Ball Run

The HABA Ball Track Building Set is, by all measures, a toy to treasure. Made of European Beechwood, the pieces are beautifully finished, and a pleasure to touch, lift, position, reposition. The basic set includes just enough ready-made sections of track and tunnels to make the purpose of the toy immediately accessible, and more than enough building elements to invite curiosity, imagination and endless elaboration. The HABA Ball Track Building set will engage children in hours of play, exploration, design, construction and, above all, experimentation. link

Truth be Told – “The Laugh out Loud Pretend to Know your Friends Game

Before we delve too deeply into the nature and wonders of Truth be Told, let me ask you to fill in this particular blank: “The most expensive thing I purchased last month was ____________ ” And by “I”, I mean “me,” majorly speaking, fun himself. Now, on your paddle-like, write-on, wipe-offable, nicely thick True Answer Paddle cards, write the answer that you think was the one I gave. Remember, you get one point for everyone who votes for your answer. And one point if you vote for mine. (If you wrote down my answer, I find myself that much closer to you as well, insofar as I get a point too.) And now, one at a time, in sequential order, everyone, except me, of course, reveals their answers. I then, with great flourish and conceptual fanfare, reveal my “true” answer. Scores are recorded on the convenient, also write-on and wipe-offable scorekeeping card. And then, on to the next Truth Teller.  link

Dixit – a party game of subtlety, sensitivity and creativity

Dixit is a surprisingly lovely and subtle party game in which players try to guess which image was selected by the “storyteller.” The rules are simple enough to learn in a few minutes. The 84 large cards are beautifully and evocatively illustrated. And the whole game can be played in well under an hour. The subtlety of the game comes from the scoring system and from a growing understanding of the art of being a successful storyteller – for art is what it is.  link

Tumblin’ Dice

Think of it shuffleboard with dice. You’d be wrong, but you’d understand almost all you needed to know in order to start playing. There are four sets of dice, each a different colors (and lovely colors they are). Each set has four dice. Players take turns flick/slide/rolling their dice, starting on the top level, aiming towards one of the three platforms on the lowest levels. If your die reaches the third level, you get exactly as many points as are on the top of the die. If your die reaches the fourth level, you get twice as many points; the fifth level, three times as many, and if you reach the lowest level, you multiply the face of the die by four. link

Worm up!

There’s something gently lovable about Worm up! O, it’s fun, all right. Major FUN, in actual fact. But it’s funny, too. And so spare in its design that it’s what you might call endearing. The colorful little game box contains 5 sets (each in a different color) of 7 wooden hemispheres. These are used to make worms – take a set, put the hemispheres, hemi-side down, in a column, and there you have it, your basic worm. It’s good for families whose kids are a precocious 7 or older. It’s good for kids. It’s a good game to play between more serious games. Gentle fun. A happy little diversion. link

Word on the Street

Take all your consonants except for the ridiculous ones like Q, X and Z. Put them on your satisfyingly hefty bakelite tiles. Now, make a long game board, like a 4-lane highway with a divider strip just wide enough and long enough to accommodate all of your happily hefty letter tiles. Next, get together a deck of 216, often surprisingly laugh-provoking, double-sided category cards, like: “The Brand of Clothing Worn by One of the Players,” and “Something that is Wasted,” and “Something Used by Scuba Divers,” and “A Word that Describes a Car Crash,” “A Title Used for Males but not for Females.” Add a cardholder and sand timer. And those are all the ingredients needed for a new and notably Major FUN word game called “Word on the Street” from those frequently Major FUN game publishers, Out of the Box. Everything, of course, except for the rules. And there in lies the tickle link

The Bilibo Game Box – a child’s tool kit for game invention

The Bilibo Game Box is not just a toy. It is a tool kit for the very young game designer (age 4 and up) and an invitation to inventiveness for the rest of us. The Game Box contains a die with interchangeable faces and six sets of differently-colored discs that fit in each face. There’s also a set of six, plastic, hand-sized “mini-Bilibos,” in each of the six colors corresponding to the colors of the discs. The Bilibo Game Box is remarkably innovative and brilliantly designed, but the real value of it only becomes apparent when it is used as a tool for playful, inspired invention link

Monopoly Deal

Before I go into too much detail, let me tell you this: Hasbro’s Monopoly Deal is fun. It’s a card game that gives you that Monopoly feeling. You build monopolies and even put houses and hotels on them, and pay for them, in the millions of dollars – all with a deck of cards. But it’s faster, and shorter, and easier, and at least just as much fun. link

Bananagrams – a crossword tile game you can play everywhere with anyone

Bananagrams is a word game that uses letter tiles – 144 unusally finger-friendly, bakelite letter tiles. Basically, you draw a bunch of tiles and try to assemble all of them into a crossword array. If you succeed, you draw another tile. And so does everyone else. Because the game is so simple to explain, it is also simple to change – to adapt to different skill levels, different environments and time constraints. Read, for example, Lance Hampton’s exemplary story of how he plays Bananagrams with his kids. We’re working on variations for teams, and maybe even cooperative versions link

Consensus®

Consensus® is a party game – the kind of party game to which you will eventually be comparing all other party games. If your kids are old enough, it’s just that kind of family game – the kind you’d want your family to play. It’s a game that makes people laugh, think, talk and listen to each other. Most of all, it’s the kind of game that brings people together and keeps them together. link

HABA Ball Run

The HABA Ball Track Building Set is, by all measures, a toy to treasure. Made of European Beechwood, the pieces are beautifully finished, and a pleasure to touch, lift, position, reposition. The basic set includes just enough ready-made sections of track and tunnels to make the purpose of the toy immediately accessible, and more than enough building elements to invite curiosity, imagination and endless elaboration. The HABA Ball Track Building set will engage children in hours of play, exploration, design, construction and, above all, experimentation.

The fact is, that any construction toy that involves building marble runways, even one made of plastic, provides children with a near perfect environment for gaining the basic understanding of and appreciation for the processes that are central to all scientific pursuits. Given a set with a variety of both construction and track elements, creating a marble runway that really works invites observation and testing, experimentation and patience, refinement and repetition, elaboration and further testing.

Children are sensitive creatures, and though they may not express a specific preference for wood over plastic, the warmth, heft and precision of this thoughtfully made wooden toy will deepen and enrich the play experience for as long as they continue to play.

Though the HABA Ball Track Building set provides everything needed for many, many hours of absorbing fun, there are supplemental sets available that extend the value of the set, renewing the invitation to play by introducing new properties and functions. We tried the Cascade (a zig-zag, waterfall-like box that makes a lovely sound as marbles drop through), the Speed Track (a long, high ramp, that, as advertised, makes the marble go very fast, prompting new explorations of what you can make the system do), and the Score Counter (adding a random, but fun way to compete). But were most excited by the HABA Games for HABA Balltrack an extension that significantly adds to the overall play value of the entire set. It, in fact, redefines the set by introducing the idea of games.

The ball run is not a game. It’s a construction toy, the object of which is to build something – not play something. By adding games to the set, the entire toy gets redefined. Suddenly, there are rules, social structures, so many more variables to play with, which, in turn, get extended and redefined by the nature of the toy.

For example, the set of miniature nine-pins (wooden, of course – 8 natural color, one red). So now the child has something to aim for. How many rolls will it take before she can knock down all the pins? Who can knock down the most? Can you knock all the pins down except for the red one? Should you use the large marbles? Roll them down the special large marble ramp? Both ramps? Should you both roll your marbles at the same time, from opposite sides? Should you use the large marbles to hit the small marbles so that they roll into the pins? Should you use the small marbles to hit the large? Should the small marbles have to be launched from the very beginning of the entire marble run? Can you re-aim a ramp while a marble is rolling? And then there are the three arches – targets to roll through. One is worth three points, another only two, and a third, the widest, only one point. Where do you put those arches? Where does the marble have to come from?

And then there’s the floor, the whole room – everything becomes a target or an additional obstacle or another ramp. With the game extension, the whole Ball Run takes its place in the child’s world, becomes one aspect of a small universe of things to roll at and under and through, becomes even more of a shared thing, an invitation to play that your child can extend to his family and siblings and community.

Truth be Told – “The Laugh out Loud Pretend to Know your Friends Game

Before we delve too deeply into the nature and wonders of Truth be Told,” Buffalo Games‘ newest and perhaps most successful party game since Imaginiff, let me ask you to fill in this particular blank: “The most expensive thing I purchased last month was ____________ ” And by “I”, I mean “me,” majorly speaking, fun himself. Given everything you know about me from all our years of virtual intimacy, what do you really think, honestly, was the most expensive thing I actually bought all last month? Wait, let me put it differently: what do you think I would admit, truthfully speaking, to be the most expensive thing, etc.? Got it? OK, now write it down, using one of the 8, write-on, wipe-off markers on one of those 8, thick, write-onable, wipe-offable cards so thoughtfully provided by those everso clever Buffalo Gamesters. Be sure you write your name on the top of the card in the assigned blank. OK, now put your card face-down and slide it over to me. Note, please, how I’m thoroughly mixing up everyone’s cards, including mine.

Now, listen carefully as I read everyone’s answers aloud – everyone’s, including mine. Here they are, in no particular order:

A coffee pot
A subscription to the New Yorker
A pair of New Balance sneakers
A bag of marbles
A Panasonic TC – P50X1 – 50″ plasma panel – 720p flatscreen TV

OK? Want me to read them again?

Now, on your paddle-like, write-on, wipe-offable, nicely thick True Answer Paddle cards, write the answer that you think was the one I gave. Remember, you get one point for everyone who votes for your answer. And one point if you vote for mine. (If you wrote down my answer, I find myself that much closer to you as well, insofar as I get a point too.) And now, one at a time, in sequential order, everyone, except me, of course, reveals their answers. I then, with great flourish and conceptual fanfare, reveal my “true” answer. Scores are recorded on the convenient, also write-on and wipe-offable scorekeeping card. And then, on to the next Truth Teller.

What actual fun! How comfortably unthreatening. How surprisingly well the scoring system works to keep the game light-hearted, fair and, uh, balanced. See, I want you to guess my answer, because it’s a point for me, too. So I try to fill in my blank with something that’s not only honest, but plausible, and predictable, even. And you really are thinking about me, reviewing everything you know about me, or can guess about me. The game is clearly not about trying to make me look bad, or you stupid, or trying to reveal something secret about me or yourself or anyone else who’s playing, or trying to out-strategize anyone. It’s not good for me or anybody to try to get you to guess wrong. When it’s my turn, the game is all about me. Not about what you think of me. But about what you know of me, what you can guess about me. And then, when it’s your turn, it’s all about you.

There are a lot of party games that try to accomplish this “getting-to-know-each-other-better” experience. Few succeed like Truth be Told. Honestly.

Oh, by the way, it was a subscription to the New Yorker. Who knew?

Dixit – a party game of subtlety, sensitivity and creativity

Dixit is a surprisingly lovely and subtle party game in which players try to guess which image was selected by the “storyteller.” The rules are simple enough to learn in a few minutes. The 84 large cards are beautifully and evocatively illustrated. And the whole game can be played in well under an hour.

The subtlety of the game comes from the scoring system and from a growing understanding of the art of being a successful storyteller – for art is what it is.

The game begins with each player receiving six cards, dealt randomly from the deck. One player is selected storyteller. Once the storyteller has selected a card, she can give any kind of clue she wants. After she has given her clue, the other players try to find a card that will fit the clue well enough to get voted for. The storyteller takes her card and the other players selections, and lays them out, face-up, in random order. Everyone uses their voting chips to select the one card they think belonged to the storyteller. Players get the most points by voting for the storyteller’s card. They also gets points for every player who votes for their card. In addition to the cards, the game includes a race track scoring board, voting chips, and 6 wooden bunny-like playing pieces, each of a different color.

What makes the game so intriguingly subtle is the result how the storyteller scores. If her clue is so good that everyone votes for her card, or so vague that no one votes for it, she gets no points. So there’s an art here. If you’re the storyteller (you don’t actually have to tell a story, you can sing a song, utter a poem, act, mime, whatever you think will communicate your choice to almost everyone), it pays not only to be subtle, but also to have a good feel for your audience.

The need for both subtlety and social awareness makes Dixit a true party game. Though children as young as 8 can understand the game, unless they are compassionate and theatrically gifted (like my granddaughter), they will have trouble playing it successfully with anyone other than their peers. Though it may remind you of other games (Balderdash, perhaps? Apples to Apples?), it proves to be impressively unique, and hence a valuable addition to your games collection. Designed by Jean-Louis Roubira, with art by Marie Cardouat, Dixit invites strategic thinking, sensitivity and, most importantly, creativity. And for people who possess all these strengths, Dixit proves to be Major FUN.

(thanks to Marc Gilutin for recommending Dixit so strongly – he was right again)

Tumblin’ Dice

When Randy Nash first developed Tumblin’ Dice, he did what any game inventor would do – especially one who created a game that people really loved – he started his own company. Recently, the older/wiser Mr. Nash licensed his game to Fred Distribution – a company with a genuinely deep appreciation for really good games. And they honored his concept, and made it a little more attractive, and just as well-made, and just as much fun.

The game is called Tumblin’ Dice, which is exactly what it was called when we first gave it our highest award – the Keeper. I am happy to say, this renewed version is at least as much of a Keeper as it was then.

Think of it shuffleboard with dice. You’d be wrong, but you’d understand almost all you needed to know in order to start playing. There are four sets of dice, each a different colors (and lovely colors they are). Each set has four dice. Players take turns flick/slide/rolling their dice, starting on the top level, aiming towards one of the three platforms on the lowest levels. If your die reaches the third level, you get exactly as many points as are on the top of the die. If your die reaches the fourth level, you get twice as many points; the fifth level, three times as many, and if you reach the lowest level, you multiply the face of the die by four.

Since players are taking turns, there’s a good chance that someone will knock your high-scoring die off the board. So the game can get quite competitive. There’s a lot of opportunity to develop skill. But there’s enough chance (despite my desire to maintain the illusion, I don’t think it’s really possible to determine what face of the die will show up at the end of a roll) to keep things interesting, even for the poor-of-aim.

The turns are very short, and a whole round can take only a few minutes. So everyone stays involved even when there are four players. And as soon as one round is over, and all the points are scored, people are ready and eager to play again. It’s a perfect family game. For children who are still learning to add and multiply, it even has some educational value – not enough to spoil the fun, just enough to make their parents willing to let them play, too. If the multiplication is too hard, instead of multiplying you can just add extra points for dice that reach the scoring levels. Because of the skill required, and the competitiveness, adults can get intensely engaged. Because of the luck factor, anyone who can flick/slide/roll a die has a reasonable chance of winning. And, if you have some perverse need to make it even more challenging, you can try removing some or all of the pegs on the bottom two levels. I tried. I put them back.

Tumbln’ dice is a big game. Some assembly is required. But it’s easy and takes maybe 90 seconds the first time. And just as easily disassembled and snuggled back into its box, in maybe 45. Of course, somebody who hasn’t played it yet will probably come over shortly after you’ve finally put it away, and you’ll find yourself gleefully putting it back together again.

Tumblin’ Dice is an investment in long-lasting, generation-spanning fun. The payoff is Major FUN.

Worm up!

There’s something gently lovable about Worm up! O, it’s fun, all right. Major FUN, in actual fact. But it’s funny, too. And so spare in its design that it’s what you might call endearing.

The colorful little game box contains 5 sets (each in a different color) of 7 wooden hemispheres. These are used to make worms – take a set, put the hemispheres, hemi-side down, in a column, and there you have it, your basic worm.

Then there are 4 black cylinders. Also wooden. And some cardboard pieces. Thick, durable cardboard to be sure. One of these pieces serves as the finish line, and two of the cylinders fit on either end of it. The other two cylinders are placed about 2-feet away to create the starting line. The other cardboard pieces are also in 5 sets. Each set consists of 5 rectangular tokens, numbered 4, 5, 6, and 7, and one with an X on it.

Once the goal and starting line are set up, players line-up their worms. Each of the 3 to 5 players selects one of the cardboard tokens, places that token face-down on the table, and turns their tokens over simultaneously. Players who have chosen the same number token don’t get to move their worms. The others move their worms, one segment at a time, starting from the last segment, and sliding that segment to the head of the worm, the player who chose the lowest number going first. The X token allows you to either move your worm (any number that hasn’t been already chosen) or move the goal (which takes on evermore strategic significance as the game progresses). To move the goal, you put your finger on one of the cylinders (anchoring it), and then, with your finger on the other cylinder, rotate the goal as far as you want to.

You can move your worm in any manner you wish, positioning pieces so as to make it twist and turn to block your opponents, as long as each worm piece is placed adjacent to the piece most recently moved to the head of the worm. Even though you’re just sliding these little wooden half-domes from the back to the font of the line, as the game progresses, the worms seem to move in a wonderfully wriggly, worm-like fashion. Because the pieces are so simple, the illusion is that much more powerful.

And of course trying to predict what tile the other players might choose so you can choose differently is endlessly surprising, turn after turn.

The game takes maybe 10 minutes to play, though we had to play it twice before we felt that the game was over, and then had to have a quite serious discussion about why we should really be playing it at least one more time. It’s good for families whose kids are a precocious 7 or older. It’s good for kids. It’s a good game to play between more serious games. Gentle fun. A happy little diversion.

If I were Alex Randolph, the designer of the game, I would consider it a minor masterwork. And I would take equal delight in the production quality. The packaging is very spare – very little space is wasted. The rules are brief and easy to learn.

There’s a quote by Randolph on the side of the box. I think it explains much about why his game is as fun, and as elegant as it is:

“Somehow,” he writes, “I feel that boardgames are the beginning of everything truly human, and so, ultimately, of the highest human endeavors, especially those which I find most precious, because they have no purpose outside themselves. They are, themselves, their purpose. Poetry, art, music, story telling, pure mathematics, pure science, philosophy…all are spiritual luxuries. Luxuries are things that delight us, that we long to possess, but that we can very well do without. They are not practical. They are not needed for our survival. And board games? Board games are luxuries, too, of course, albeit minor and marginal, but in the sense of non-utility, perhaps the purest.”

Word on the Street

Take all your consonants except for the ridiculous ones like Q, X and Z. Put them on your satisfyingly hefty bakelite tiles. Now, make a long game board, like a 4-lane highway with a divider strip just wide enough and long enough to accommodate all of your happily hefty letter tiles. Next, get together a deck of 216, often surprisingly laugh-provoking, double-sided category cards, like: “The Brand of Clothing Worn by One of the Players,” and “Something that is Wasted,” and “Something Used by Scuba Divers,” and “A Word that Describes a Car Crash,” “A Title Used for Males but not for Females.” Add a cardholder and sand timer. And those are all the ingredients needed for a new and notably Major FUN word game called “Word on the Street” from those frequently Major FUN game publishers, Out of the Box.

Everything, of course, except for the rules. And there in lies the tickle.

Designed by Jack Degnan to give a couple or a couple of teams of word-lovers ample opportunity to demonstrate their brilliance and/or befudlement, the game is a contest to see who, in 30 seconds, can think of a word that 1) fits the category, and 2) has as many as possible of the letters still in play, many of which are doubled – as in MISSISSIPPI which would allow us to move the M one lane closer to us, the P two lanes closer, and the S clear off the board, which would put us one letter ahead. Only 7 more to go and we win!

Though Mississippi would in deed be a coup, it would not be considered a valid response to the category “A Brand of Clothing Worn by One of the Players.” To which the best I could do at this time is probably MAIDENFORM (getting to move M twice as well as a D, N, F and R once). Or would MASSIMO with its two M’s and two S’s be better?

As the game progresses, different letters, and hence different words become more desirable, offensively or defensively, so the challenge keeps on changing. The best word might not have the most double letters in it if some letters only one space away from us, or more enticing yet, one space away from the opponent’s goal. The 30-second timer keeps the game moving apace. The cards keep the game surprising and funny. The tiles are large enough for all to read. The board works perfectly in directing player’s attention to the strategically most valuable letters. All this makes the game absorbing and delightfully tense, from the moment the first card is read until one team finally manages to capture the eighth letter.

Recommended for 2 to 12 players old enough to appreciate each other’s verbal mastery.

The Bilibo Game Box – a child’s tool kit for game invention

The Bilibo Game Box is not just a toy. It is a tool kit for the very young game designer (age 4 and up) and an invitation to inventiveness for the rest of us.

The Game Box contains a die with interchangeable faces and six sets of differently-colored discs that fit in each face. There’s also a set of six, plastic, hand-sized “mini-Bilibos,” in each of the six colors corresponding to the colors of the discs.

Bilibos are shaped something like pregnant plastic Pringles, with holes that look almost like eyes. Full-sized Bilibos are big enough for a kid to sit, spin, rock, float, climb in or on, or pretend with. The simple, friendly, colorful design invites creativity, exploration, and invention, and nurtures playfulness. No moving parts. Just a funny shape to explore, define, redefine, shape your dreams on. Mini-Bilibos are just as strange, just as funny, just as fun to play with. And, as son-in-law Tom observed, function quite satisfactorily as doll helmets.

The die is called a Bilibo Pixel. It is made of some surprisingly bouncy and slightly stretchy plastic. The corners are so wonderfully rounded that it rolls as well as bounces almost as well as a rubber ball. Button-like pieces fit in each of the faces of the die where there are cavities deep enough not only to accommodate any of the discs, but also to fit little messages or prizes, or, if you are so inclined, weights. So you can play around with fate, as it were, making some of the faces the same color or all of the faces different, adding and removing things behind the colored buttons to influence where the die might fall and add further elements of surprise.

The Bilibo Game Box gives your child a set of almost infinitely enticing properties and relationships to explore. Without even reading anything even closely approximating rules, the child will find herself using the die in some way to indicate which mini-Bilibo she should aim for. Aim what, you might ask. Any of those color-coded, button-like discs which can be slid or juggled or tossed or tiddled under or over or through. Or strung together, for that matter, or strung together with a mini-Bilibo.

As children continue to explore the properties and relationships of the Bilibo Game Box, they will inevitably discover that the elements can be used in conjunction with a surprisingly varied array of other objects in their environment – chairs and steps, tables, counter-tops, floors. They can make targets and game boards with sheets of paper, ramps and obstacles out of paper plates and sheets of cardboard, die-launchers and Bilibo-flippers out of spoons and rulers.

Alex Hochstrasser, designer of the Bilibo Game Box and associated products, has created a work of playful genius. The simplicity of the components belie the elegance of design and the depth of understanding of the nature of creative play.

There are several delightful videos on Youtube that illustrate a few of the plethora of possibilities contained in the Bilibo Game Box, and a well-illustrated booklet that accompanies each Game Box for yet more ideas, and, soon, even more will be on the Bilibo website.

Despite all these resources, please, consider this: the more you and your children play together with this, openly, inventing games from scratch, without any guidance other than that which comes from your collectively playful hearts, the greater the value of your experiences with this remarkable toy. If you want ideas, let your children be your guide. The Bilibo Game Box is remarkably innovative and brilliantly designed, but the real value of it only becomes apparent when it is used as a tool for playful, inspired invention.

Monopoly Deal

Before I go into too much detail, let me tell you this: Hasbro’s Monopoly Deal is fun. It’s a card game that gives you that Monopoly feeling. You build monopolies and even put houses and hotels on them, and pay for them, in the millions of dollars – all with a deck of cards.

But it’s faster, and shorter, and easier, and at least just as much fun. But a different, shall we say, “flavor” of Monopoly-making-like-fun. Because it’s shorter and easier and faster, you don’t have time to get really invested in the game, you don’t even have to spend time setting it up. And because Monopoly Deal still gives you a lot of the kind of fun of the board game, you take it more lightly. Playing Monopoly Deal is more about fun than winning, more about that Monopoly-kind of, taking-someone-elses’s property-kind of fun in particular, which makes it such a Major FUN family game, par, pretty much excellence.

The rules are simple and clear enough to keep it a good game, good enough to withstand the inevitable creation of many a monopoly-like “house rules” version for many a different age group and be often even more fun. “Quick Start” rule cards handily summarize everything you need to know to play the game. In addition to the Quick Start cards there are Property cards, Money cards, Action Cards, Property Wildcards, and Rent cards – giving your Monopoly Deal deck a nice fat total of 110 cards.

The Money cards are numbered in the millions – 1 Million, 2 Million, 3, 4, 10 Million – just to give the game a more realistically modern financial scale. Action cards include the “Sly Deal” which allows you to steal any property that has not been completed (making property-completion an even more valuable goal) from another player, whereas the Deal Breaker let’s you steal completed properties. The Forced Deal lets you swap any of your less desirable properties with the hugely more desirable properties of your chosen opponent. There’s a Pass Go card, of course, which lets you take 2 extra cards from the draw pile. And on and on – a wonderful complexity of luck and strategic potential, explaned in detail on each card.

Easy to learn. Fifteen, maybe 20 minutes to play a round – just short enough to make you want to play again and again. Simple enough for children of gin-playing age. Complex enough for adults of gin-drinking age. All in all a remarkably effective and significantly fun translation of a very long, often agozingly complex family board game into a comparatively brief, frequently delightful, easy to learn family card game.

Bananagrams – a crossword tile game you can play everywhere with anyone

bananagrams

Bananagrams is a word game that uses letter tiles – 144 unusally finger-friendly, bakelite letter tiles. It will remind you of other letter-tile word games, many other letter-tile word games, until you actually read the rules (which are simple enough to summarize on the 1×2-inch tag that is attached to the banana-like zippable package).

word-familyBasically, you draw a bunch of tiles and try to assemble all of them into a crossword array. If you succeed, you draw more. That’s about it, basically-wise. The full rules are a bit more complex. Players all get the same number of letter tiles, the exact number depending on the how many are playing. They race to assemble all their letters into a crossword. As soon as one player succeeds, she calls “peel,” at which time every player has to take a another letter tile. And so it goes, on and on, until almost all the letter tiles are used up. Naturally, the first player to have used all her tiles shouts “bananas” (if she still has the presence of mind to remember), and wins the game.

Everything about Bananagrams is Major FUN, the quality of the tiles, the portability and storability, the adaptability and flexibility. Because the game is so simple to explain, it is also simple to change – to adapt to different skill levels, different environments and time constraints. Read, for example, Lance Hampton’s exemplary story of how he plays Bananagrams with his kids. We’re working on variations for teams, and maybe even cooperative versions.

The Nathanson family, Bannanagram designers, comment:

“Obsessed by all the word games that could be found, we all hankered after something a bit more fluid than the classics we all love and wanted a game that the family could play together – ALL ages at the same time. We sought something portable, that we could take with us on our various travels and simple enough (with no superfluous pieces or packaging) that we could play in restaurants while waiting for our food. We love that one hand can be played in as little as five minutes, but as it’s so addictive, it’s often hard to put away!”

If you like playing with words, it’s very likely that you’ll be taking a banana-case full of Bananagrams with you everywhere.

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