Decrypto

Release: 5/28/2018    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 80 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Your team of spies intercepts a secret transmission… 3 words… a code tied to a sequence of numbers. There it is again! Another transmission, but this time with 3 new words.

Can you decipher these words into the proper sequence when the pressure is on? Remember, the other team is listening and trying to unravel your words and your seuqence at the same time!

Decrypto is a wonderful call-and-response party game where the challenge is to come up with clues that are just enough left of center to keep the other team from connecting the dots AND not so crazy that you fool your own team in the process.

The more clues you give, the harder this becomes and the more laughs you’ll have. And that’s a sequence that spells Major Fun!

Listen in for a full review and discussion.

Decrypto

Iello  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Thomas Dagenais-Lespérance   

Artist: Fabien Fulchiron, NILS, Manuel Sanchez

Publisher: Iello

3-8 players  15-45 min   ages 12+   MSRP $20

For info on the Game Sommelier segment featured on the show, check out the show notes at The Spiel!

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Music credits include:

I Spy Theme  by  Earle Hagen  |  the song  | the album 

Theme from The Man from UNCLE  by Hugo Montenegrothe song

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Candygrams

Candygrams       Official Site |  BGG  | Buy

Publisher: Johnny Landers P: Candygrams LLC
2-4 players  15-20 min. ages 7+  MSRP $25

text-the concept

Candygrams is a colorful crossword game that offers some fun and challenging twists to a traditional word game. Use letter tiles to create (and recreate) your own grid of words to win the game.

text-the components

Candygrams comes with 111 really nice letter tiles. Each tile has a nice thickness and heft and is screen printed in one of three bright colors: pink, yellow and blue.

The game also comes with two large six sided dice. These dice have colored faces that match the colors of the tiles: 2 yellow, 2 pink and a 2 blue sides.

To play, mix up the tiles face down and each player draws 25 tiles to his or her hand (called the candy shop). Set 10 extra tiles face up in the middle. This is the Candy Jar. Now we’re ready to begin!

text-the mechanics

Well, almost ready! The first thing each player will do is create a starting word for his or her own personal crossword layout. Over the course of the game, you’ll build from the base word up and down and across to form new words with new tiles. You will create your own personal free-form board.

The only rule with this starting word? It has to contain at least one of each different color tile.

Once everyone has a base word, the first round begins with someone rolling the dice.

Once the dice are rolled everyone plays together using the result of the dice. The colors rolled on the dice tell you which dice can be used to make words this round. If I roll pink and blue, this means those are the only color letters I can use. Yellow has to sit this one out.

This color rule applies to the letters you build off of on your crossword board. Using the example above, you have to build your new word off a blue or pink letter. You can add onto an existing word, branch off in a new direction, even create multiple words as long as all the tiles are played in a single line horizontally or vertically. But in each case this pesky color rule still applies.

The goal of the game is to play all 25 tiles first, so the longer the word you build each turn, the closer you are to victory. No scoring, no points. Just get all the tiles from your candy shop to your board.

text-apart

The color restrictions provided by the dice deserve some real love here. Instead of one rack of letter tiles, you really have Six different racks of tiles depending on how the dice come up. Blue – Pink, Blue- Yellow, Yellow – Pink involved two colors BUT it is also possible to roll doubles! So you may have a turn where you can only play just blue, pink or yellow!

On one hand, this may severely limit your options, depending on the mix of tiles in your candy shop. BUT whenever doubles are rolled, you can swap one tile from your hand with a tile in the Candy Jar. This means, as the dice come up with doubles you can slowly shift your hand away from troublesome letters

As the game moves on, you may find a great word (or words) that use a ton of tiles but if the color dice dont cooperate, you may have to bide your time and hold onto those letters, hoping the right roll will come next round. A different kind of randomness. Not the randomness of drawing a bad rack of tiles. But randomness that requires patience and planning. You dont know how the dice will come up, so there’s an element of hand management in play throughout the game.If you do not try to keep a bit of balance in your candy shop, you may find yourself with a a mix of tiles you know wont blend together. If you dont take this into account, you’ll find yourself with a mix of tiles that wont blend together nicely into words and have to pass, waiting for doubles so you can swap out a tile.

It’s not just what tiles you play but when you play them that matters!

Even where you play them matters! And this is what really sets Candygrams apart.

When you go to form your word each round, you have access to any tiles already on the board and played to your layout provided that removing them from the layout doesnt split the board and that all the words in your crossword are, well, still words! You cant take a tile and leave a string of gibberish!

This means that if you are clever about WHERE you play your tiles to the board, you still have access to them on later rounds. Using prefixes or suffixes that can be peeled off and have a word remain valid may give you many more options. And the number of options you keep open comes down to how cleverly you can build your words and your board.

Here, I used the S from tonics (above) later in the game to make the word suds (below). Since tonic (singular) is still a valid word, I can peel off the S and use it again.

Using dice to create a new challenge each round and allowing players to use tiles already in play make decisions in Candygrams fun and different than most other word games.

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Whenever we begin a discussion about word games, we have to address the 800 pound gorilla in the room: Scrabble. Since 1937, it has dominated and continues to dominate the market. And for good reason. It’s an excellent game! That said, it has so thoroughly dominated the landscape and for such a long time, it is almost impossible to imagine a word game that isn’t built from a foundation that starts with Scrabble. Can you think of many words games today that you wouldnt start by saying “It’s like Scrabble, but….?” It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy! I’m no Scrabble hater at all but its success has has a collective effect on how we imagine word games. Scrabble has provided the boundaries and that means we end up with a LOT of games that are just way too similar to the original.

Enter Candygrams. Yes, you can definitely see it has a Scrabblicious foundation. BUT let’s try the exercise I suggested above.

It’s like Scrabble…

but you have dice

and the dice tell you what tiles you can use

and the dice tell you when you can swap tiles

and you build words on your own board

and you can use tiles already played to the board

and you ‘re not playing for points

So, it’s not one difference. It’s many! This is no tweak. It may have started in the Scrabble chorus, but Candygrams has a clear voice – a voice that stands out from the crowd.

The last thing I want is for my praise of these subtleties to make Candygrams seem too complex. It’s truest strength lies in its simplicity.

The game really is roll dice, build words from the colors rolled. Use all your tiles to win and reuse tiles already played, if you’re clever.

Young players can play on one level and word nerds can appreciate it on another. But the magic is both groups could enjoy playing together

That makes Candygrams a delight and most surely a delicious helping of Major Fun!

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Wordsy

Wordsy   Official Site  |  BGG  

Designer: Gil Hova
Publisher: Formal Ferret Games
1-6 players  20 min. ages 10+  MSRP $25

text-the concept

In Wordsy, players use a grid of letter cards to form a word each round. Some letters are worth more, others less. If you’re quick, you could score a nice bonus but only if your word scores more than the others. At the end of 7 rounds, the player with the most points wins the game.

text-the components

Wordsy comes with a deck of 76 letter cards. 60 of the letters are common. 16 letters are rare. The rare letters have a golden color and icons showing the bonus points they score.

There are also 4 column cards that will determine the point value for letters during the game (5-4-3-2).

The game also comes with a scorepad, a sandtimer and pencils. There’s also a no-flip card and a card used in solo play.

text-the mechanics

Each round, a grid of 8 letter cards will be dealt to the table. The letters will be separated into four columns and a point card will be assigned to each column. The leftmost column is worth five points, the next 4 points, 3 points, and 2 points.

There can never be more than two of the same letter in the grid and there can never be more than 2 rare letters in the grid. When everyone is ready, the round begins and the goal is to form a word using the letters in the grid.

If the two letters in the 5 point column are T and L, then you’ll have a lot of incentive to use those letters. If your word has a T and an L you’ll get 5 points for each.

If the 3 point column has a B and and H, you’ll get 3 points for a B in your word. Since H is considered a rare letter you get a bonus point, the H is worth 4. So if my word was THIMBLE I’d score 17 points.

You can use the letters in any order and the word you make can be any length (the longer, the better). No peeking at other people’s words!

Each player will have a sheet from the score pad and will write down a single word for the round.

The first person to finish will put the other players on the clock by flipping the 30 second sandtimer. You must have a word written on your sheet by the time the sand runs out.

When the round ends, each player will read their word aloud and announce his or her score. If you were the fastest player to find a word AND your word scored more points than most or all others (depending on the number of players) you get a bonus. If you were not the fastest but your word scored more points, you get a bonus. These bonuses increase in later rounds.

Between rounds, the mix of letters in the grid shifts. The four cards in the lower point columns (3 and 2) are discarded and the cards columns 4 and 5 slide down. Four new cards are then added to the grid in the high point columns.

It’s lather, rinse and repeat for six more rounds.

The fastest player from the prior round takes the no-flip card, meaning he or she cannot flip the timer in the next round. This means someone different is guaranteed to be the fastest player each round.

At the end of the game you get rid of the two lowest scoring words and add your points, including any bonuses. Highest point total wins the game.

text-apart

To this point, Wordsy follows some pretty standard conventions we have come to know and love when playing word games.

It has some Boggle in its DNA. There’s a random grouping of letters each round BUT….

Instead of a grid of letter dice we have a grid of letter cards AND all the letters in Wordsy are not created equal. Some letters are clearly more important than others based on their position in the grid. This makes you look at the letter grid in a way that’s fresh and different, prioritizing letters in high point columns or rare letters with bonus points.

Wordsy is a Scrabble cousin, too. The goal each turn is to come up with the best scoring word you can given the options available BUT here’s the big one…

You can use any letters you want to make your word, even letters that are not part of the grid!

This changes everything. You can add as many non-scoring letters as you need to get to a word that uses the juicy scoring ones. Unlike Boggle, you can’t complain about a weird gibberish jumble of letter cubes turning up. Unlike Scrabble, you can’t complain that your rack of letter tiles resembles the mating call of some angry monkey because it’s all vowels.

Suddenly the grid of letters on the table is not a limitation; it’s an opportunity. Wordsy challenges you to be creative, the game wants you to play with letters and words to find one that fits well with the scoring rules you are presented with each round.

This means the variety of words found each round will most often be wildly different, since players have so much freedom to find them.

That moment of discovery each round is what makes Wordsy special and different and fun. You arent just rearranging fixed letters like a puzzle to find the best fit. The game asks you to add your own imagination to find the right combination of letters that ARE NOT THERE. You’re more invested in every word you find because you had to add something to find it.

text-final

Wordsy is familiar but fresh. It is easy to teach and learn. It encourages creative thinking. And it will not wear out its welcome over time since each new grid of letters provides a new challenge.

This makes Wordsy a modern classic. The fun it offers is evergreen and can grow with players over a lifetime of games. It also makes Wordsy a Keeper, the highest honor any Major Fun game can achieve. If you are a fan of word games, make room on your shelf for Wordsy. I’m confident it will stand the test of time.

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Word Slam

Release: 10/17/2017    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 50 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Word Slam is a team-based word guessing game.

One teammate provides clues in the form of word cards on a rack.

Can your team guess the target word first?

Now this might sound like many other party games BUT… Word Slam does something different. Something noteworthy. Something ridiculously simple and ridiculously fun.

Word Slam forces each team to use a fixed set of words as clues.

The challenge and the joy in the game comes from the very clever omissions from the decks of words you use as clues. The word you want is never there, so the game pushes you to be creative with the words provided. To find freedom inside the limitations imposed.

This simple twist – limiting the language you can use to communicate with your team makes Word Slam both frustrating and fun, because, in a very real way, the fun comes from the frustration.

Listen in to learn more about the game and why we think it is unequivocally Major Fun!

Word Slam

Thames & KOSMOS  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Inka & Markus Brand

Publisher: Thames & KOSMOS

3-99 players  45 min   ages 12+   MSRP $39.95

Music credits include:

Boy Meets Goy   by Benny Goodman   |   the song

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Double Play

Double Play   INversion Games  |  BGG  |  Amazon

Designer: Alvin Sanico   Graphic Design: Alvin Sanico, Michael Graham, Scott Kim  Publisher: INversion Games  1-6 players  10-20 min. ages 10+  MSRP $9.99

text-the concept

Double Play is a set of word games a fun twist, literally. Every letter card in the deck is actually two different letters, depending on the direction you play the card!

text-the components

Double Play is a deck of Versatileletter cards. What the heck is a Versatileletter, you ask ? It’s a specially designed font that represents two different letters, depending on the orientation of the card.

That means an upside down t can be an f.   A d can be a p.

  

An h can be a y. Or an s can be a v.

 

Like Scrabble, each letter is assigned a value. But because each card is two letters, the value of the card also changes based on how you play it.

Every card back contains the entire alphabet, so if when you’re learning to decipher the letters, you always have a guide handy

text-the mechanics

There are four games included in Double Play:

Finders Stealers: A race to find the longest word from face up letters on the table (2 per player).

Solitaire Dare: Just like it sounds, lay out letter cards in columns and try to form words to play every card in each column.

The Final Word: A 2 player game where players take turns playing cards from a common hand, but only the last word played each round will score.

These first three games can be interesting and fun but the fourth game, Word Wars 1-2-3, is the reason Double Play is Major Fun.

There are 3 rounds in Word Wars 1-2-3. Each round you get a hand of 10 cards.

Your job is to form 3 words using all 10 cards. You’re looking for the three highest scoring words you can find.

Pro tip: you may want some scratch paper handy for each player to write out various words you find and the score for each word! I’d also recommend setting a timer (5 minutes to start; once you’re comfortable, reduce the time to 3 minutes a round).

Once each player has found his or her three words, you’ll compare your results.

I dealt myself a hand of 10, set the timer for 3 minutes.

Here’s your hand. See if you can beat me!

Here’s what I came up with. la (3) cuff (12) yuck (15)

First, compare Word 1, your lowest scoring word. The player with the higher value, scores 1 point.

Next, compare Word 2, the middle scoring word. The player with the higher value scores 2 points.

Finally, compare Word 3, your highest scoring word. The player with the higher value scores 3 pts.

If you make a clean sweep in a round you get a bonus of 4 extra points.

After 3 rounds of play, the player with the highest score wins!

text-apart

The innovative graphic design in Double Play is the heart and soul of the game. Without this fun twist, it would be like a thousand other word games under the sun. But this letter system will turn some of your assumptions about word games on their heads.

Unlike a traditional word game, Double Play avoids the bad mix of letters problem that has plagued many a Scrabble player through the decades. You don’t have to raise your fist and curse the spelling gods for giving you a hand that spells A-E-I-I-O-O-U because in Double Play that hand would also be

E-A-L-L-C-C-N. The dreaded Q-W-G-C-H-L-T is also P-M-K-O-Y-I-F. Or ANY combination of the two sets of letters! You may not find a 10 letter word in every hand or every round you play, but there is an amazing variety available in every hand. It’s up to you to find it!

Word Wars 1-2-3 takes full advantage of this variety and gives each player a fun word puzzle to solve each round. Especially if you add in a little time pressure, once you are familiar with the letter system, you’ll see how the deck and the rules connect to give you the sense that there’s always a better word just waiting to be discovered.

text-final

The designer of Double Play offers up a creative set of cards and a clever set of games but perhaps best of all, the designer encourages players to use the cards to find other ways to play. The wacky letter cards certainly entice you to try classic word games (try a crossword style game, building the board with cards) or even tweak the games they provide.

After a few games of Word Wars 1-2-3, we found it was even more fun to make each of our 3 words using the entire hand of 10 cards for all three words. This encourages finding longer and higher scoring words and can result in even more fun discoveries hidden in your hand.

Using the same hand above and three minutes, here are the 3 words I found with the Major Fun variant.

Knot (10) yuck (15) toughen (15)

See how you do using the same hand, using all 10 letters to form three words.

Double Play encourages players to be playful with the game itself. You can use the cards to find new ways to have fun. That’s a concept that’s woven into the fabric of Major Fun.

For its value, versatility and fun, any lover of word games will find lots of reasons to love Double Play.

And if traditional word games have left you frustrated, Double Play’s new twist gives you plenty of reasons to give it a try.

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Anaxi

Anaxi   Funnybone Toys  |  BGG  |  Amazon

Designer: ??   Publisher: Funnybone Toys  2-6 players  20 min. ages 8+  MSRP $21.99

text-the concept

Anaxi is a party game. Anaxi is a word game. In fact, it’s both. Because Anaxi lives in the overlapping area between these two types of games.

In practice, Anaxi celebrates the venerable Venn diagram by making the diagrams into engines for fun. Using circular see-through word cards, players construct a mini-Venn diagram and then each player races to write down words that fit within each overlapping area of the cards. The player with the highest score after five rounds wins the game.

text-the components

Anaxi is a card game but the cards are not typical in any way. There are 75 word cards in the deck. They are circular (3.5” in diameter), made of flexible plastic and half of each card is transparent. The deck is split into three colors: 25 blue, 25 red and 25 orange cards.

anaxi-decks-2

Within the colored section of each card is a single word – an adjective. These adjectives run the gamut from square to spicy or fluffy to damp.

anaxi-cards

There are also two base cards (an extra in case you lose one). You’ll build the Venn diagram on top of this base card when each game round begins.

anaxi-base

There’s a 1-minute sand timer included and an answer pad.

anaxi-pad

Setup for the game is really simple. Separate the deck into three 25 card decks by color. Place the base card centrally located where everyone can see it and make sure everyone has a sheet from the answer pad and a pen or pencil. Now you’re ready to play Anaxi!

anaxi-setup-2

text-the mechanics

There are five rounds in the game. Each round a dealer selects one card from each of the three decks and places them around the base card. The base card has colored and numbered areas so you can see how and where to line up the three cards. The basic idea is that the see through area of the card will face inward toward the base card, allowing players to see how the three word cards overlap. There are four overlapping areas. One area between each word and one combined area where all three words overlap together in the middle.

Here’s an example layout: Round – Cold – Sweet

anaxi-example

Once the cards are in place, the dealer will turn over the sand timer and the round begins!

Each player looks at the four overlapping areas on the base card. Can you think of something that is round and sweet? Then write those words in column 3 on your sheet. Can you think of things that are cold and round? Write those in column 1. How about cold sweet? Column 2 for those. Last of all, what about things that are all three: round, cold and sweet? All those answers go in column 4.

Once the timer runs out, players score points for each answer on their sheets that is unique and fits the words. Columns 1-3 score 1 point for each unique answer. Column 4, the answer that combines all three word, scores 3 points per unique answer.

After round one, it’s lather, rinse and repeat. Three new words, flip the timer and go! The player with the highest score after five rounds wins the game.

text-apart

Sometimes games that rely on creativity can fall flat because they don’t offer enough inspiration or choices. Especially when placed under time pressure, players can freeze up or just give up because they feel frustrated.

That’s pretty much the opposite of fun.

Not so with Anaxi. There are four different ways you can see the words each round and that means you have lots of fuel for inspiration and imagination each round.

The timer does go fast, so you shouldn’t expect to write a novel’s worth of answers under each column but you’ll be surprised how some words connect immediately and others leave you scratching your head. Try it. Set a timer and give the three words from the example above a go. Don’t peek below at my answers! (listed at the bottom of the review)

How did you do?

Anaxi also encourages and awards creativity and imaginative answers. You are not limited to one word or simple answers to fit the words. For Column 4 in the earlier example (things that are cold, round and sweet) I could have written: a frozen ice cream cake for my cat’s 9th birthday. Major Fun games can and should put you in this playful mindset and Anaxi excels in this regard.

Major Fun games are also flexible enough to allow variants or adjustments. We found it fun to let the dealer select the word cards rather than from a random draw from each deck. Chance can produce some fun results, but it was equally fun to see what crazy combinations each player came up with.

text-final

Even though Anaxi is a light hearted game suitable for parties and word-nerds alike, the inspiration for the game comes from several philosophers.

The most obvious is John Venn whose diagrams gave visual form to overlapping ideas.

The less obvious connection reaches back to ancient Greece. Anaxi owes its name to the Greek philosopher Anaximander, the father of Cosmology. He wrote about the boundless material of the universe being transformed into all the aspects of the world around us and then returning to this primordial form. How does this relate? Each round, players take basic words and combine them into new forms. The cards return to the decks and can take totally new definitions each round of the game.

You certainly don’t need to know any of these details to have fun with Anaxi but I am glad they took the time to include it.

My one and only quibble with the game is the lack of credit for the game design. Every game has a designer even if the game was developed in-house by the fine folks at Funnybone Toys. Credit should be given where it is due and it is a shame this information is still not standard among all publishers.

But let’s not stray too far from the mark here.

Anaxi is a fast fun mash-up of word and party game genres. It’s enjoyable by players young and old and certainly overlaps with the two words that matter most to us: Major Fun.

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Here’s what I came up with for the example listed above:

Column 1 (round & cold): curling stone, hailstone, snowball, snow tire

Column 2: (cold & sweet): ice cream, frozen yogurt

Column 3: (round & sweet): gumball, bon bon, mint, hard candy

Column 4: (round, sweet, and cold): a single scoop of ice cream

Buy the Rights

buy the rights

Of all the vast multitude of party games spawned by the success of Apples to Apples (not that this game is a variant or rip-off of any other game, but that it uses a similar, as we say in the game biz, “mechanic” – you got lots of cards [400], and the game is all about being creative and clever enough to convince the person acting in a judge-like position [only here it’s a Producer] that your way of interpreting the card(s) is the most reasonable, or laughable), Buy the Rights is the funniest and funnest. And, it’s definitely not Apples to Apples.

The idea here is to come up with a pitch for a new movie. You know those new movie pitches and how crazy pressured it can get when people try convince a movie producer to invest millions of dollars in a maybe two-minute plot-sketch. And you can imagine how hilarious it can get when you’re doing it all for the fun of it. But you can’t imagine just how majorly fun it can be when someone makes a really good, easy to learn party game out of it.

party-wordYou get this big box of cards, as illustrated. There are four decks, each a different color (there’s a fifth that I’ll tell you about later), each separated by a divider. Each player takes three cards from each deck (so it’s not, like, totally random – I mean, like, you always have a choice, which is totally brilliant because otherwise it would be totally random and not so much fun – the very kind of insight that comes only with repeated and committed play testing). The reason I mention the divider is because it makes it feel like the box is like a drawer in a card file cabinet. And you know how your fingers kind of walk through the cards as you hunt for the right one? Well, that’s kind of what you can do. And it feels, well, near, you know, organized or something. And because of it, you don’t have to shuffle and deal out cards to the players – you just pass the box, and everyone picks their cards – one from each different color deck. I know, I know, that really isn’t what makes the game so fun, but it contributes to what makes it so good.

There are four main decks: Genre, Hero Descriptor, Hero, and Plot. And each player takes one of each. Here, let me completely randomly pick a hand:

Genre: Film Noir

Hero Discriptor: Evil

Hero: Hipsters

Plot: Discovering the existence of Bigfoot during a camping trip.

It’s night. Foggy. Cold. And the chill goes deep. This bunch of kids, see, bad kids, always smoking stuff and doing mean things to plants, just for fun, see, decide to go off into the woods spend the night tearing the heads off of baby flowers – know what I mean? Teens. All cool and just not nice, see. And all of a sudden the fog clears, and in front of them, looking most genuinely angry, none other than the legendary Bigfoot! It’s “The Revenge of Bigfoot!” or is it “Bigfoot Finds Love”?

And then there are the money cards (in denominations of $5, $10 and $20 million) that the producer uses to fund the winning pitches – dividing the prize so she can acknowledge the comparative brilliance of each pitch. Which gives her just the discretion she needs to keep everyone on the conceptual edge. And a list of variations, just to get you started with the craziness.

I can tell you’re just itching to start playing (maybe it was the poison ivy), and I can guarantee that you’ll be coming up with even wackier ideas every time you play. It’s in the cards.

Buy the Rights was designed by Tommy and Riley Day, and Chad and Michelle Yadon. It’s designed for 4-10 movie-watching, party-going, fun-loving players who can devote an hour or a half to plain, crazy laughter.

Codenames

Game by Game 2015-09 (Codenames) (1)There are spies in our midst! Clever, tricky, and oh so subversive, they burrow in like parasites and eat away at the very fabric of our society. Your job is to uncover these cowardly, degenerate traitors and eliminate them with extreme prejudice.

But not OUR spies. Those patriots are totally cool.

And watch out for the Assassin. If you tap on the Assassin’s shoulder you’re going to pull back a stump. And then get shot in the eye. Whatever you do, don’t uncover the Assassin!

Codenames is a wickedly clever clue game in which each team is trying to find the opposing spies without uncovering their own. Or the Assassin. You lose if you find the Assassin.

The game starts with a 5 by 5 grid of nouns on the table. These are the codenames of various people in your target area. Players are divided into two teams with (Red and Blue) each with one Spymaster and any number of Field Operatives (I suppose you can have more than one Spymaster but that is a harder role to coordinate). The Spymasters from each team sit together on one side of the grid. The Field Operatives are on the opposite side.

The Spymasters then draw one Key card that they both look at. The Key card tells them which color starts and which codenames in the grid are Blue spies and which are Red spies. It also tells them where the Assassin is. There is always one Assassin and 17 spies (the color that starts has one more spy than the other color). The remaining 7 codenames are for Innocent Bystanders.

On your turn, The Spymaster is allowed to say one word (and only one word) and a number. The one word is a clue that can be used to identify any of the codenames on the grid. The number is how many codenames will match that clue. For example, if the Spymaster says “Sports 2” that means there are 2 words in the grid that are closely related to sports and are the color they want the Field Operatives to find. The Field Operatives must guess at least once. With each guess, the Spymaster reveals of they found a Read spy, a Blue spy, an Innocent Bystander, or the Assassin. Field Operatives can keep guessing until they get one wrong or they reach one more than the number provided by the Spymaster.

party-wordCodenames is not a fast game. There is a lot of thinking, especially for the Spymasters who are trying to link as many words as they can with only a single-word clue. Analysis paralysis is a common malady. The game comes with a timer if you feel that you just need that much more tension in your life, but we found that no one minded the slower pace.

We also appreciated the thought that went into the three-person and two-person variations. The two-person version can be adapted for a cooperative game where everyone works together with the Spymaster to get one color as the other color is revealed one at a time.

The age range for Codenames is on the high end (14+) which reflects the kind of vocabulary you need to excel at the game. It’s not so much the size of your vocabulary as your ability to understand the clue words in many contexts.

No matter how large your intelligence agency, Codenames is a Major Fun way to practice your spycraft and wordcraft.

2-8+ players. Ages 14+

Codenames was designed by Vlaada Chvatil and is © 2015 by CGE Games.

Jumbo Bananagrams

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It always amazes me how much a game can change when you change its scale. Today’s example: Jumbo Bananagrams.

Yes, it’s Bananagrams – your basic, Major Fun, Keeper-award-winning crossword-making word game. Bananagrams jumbofied, however, becomes a team sport.  Because the letters are so large, and the game can take up so much more space, it becomes that much more engaging for the fortunate many.

word-party-family-kidsSay, for example, that you’re playing Jumbo Bananagrams with the equivalent of 4 players. Given the sheer hugeness of it all, you decide to play with four teams instead – let’s say teams of 4 players each. So, now you have 16 people playing. You know how much of the table a normal regulation Bananagrams game can take up? Well, with Jumbo Bananagrams you can easily use a whole lawn, or living room, or basketball court. And each time a new letter is added, everybody on your team has to be involved in figuring out where to put it, how to rearrange the letters to maximize the manifest cleverness of it all. O, the excitement! O, the teamwork! And if you happen to have a business of some kind, with a staff in need of exploring their abilities to work together, or just to have fun together, well, now you have a near perfect team-building activity.

And, of course there are many, many other games that all these large (3×3-inch), floppy letters inspire. Can you, for example, toss them so they spell a word? Can you make a relay race? A mixer for a conference of perhaps 144 people (take a letter, any letter – OK, that’s your letter; now run around and find other letter/people with whom you can make an impressively large word, or a word that rhymes with Google maybe, or a palindrome potentially.

And, yes, teachers can use these for thinly disguised educational purposes, engaging an entire class in a literacy exercise or vocabulary exercise or just plain exercise. Jumbo Bananagrams being not just a game (an excellent game, in fact) but a tool for genuinely fun, real-time, all-embracing personal, family and professional growth.

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Bananagrams WildTiles

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Bananagrams, as we have so enthusiastically indicated, is Major Fun. Indubitably. Entirely. Add 6 wild tiles, and the fun makes a quantum leap into something new, and at least as major, fun-wise, as its wild-tile-less predecessor.

As you would immediately assume, a wild tile (the funny monkey-looking ones) can be any letter you need it to be. As you might not anticipate, until you’ve played a game or few, is what that wildness does to the game. Because, see, in the process of playing Bananagrams, you often find yourself having to rearrange your tiles. You know how when one player uses up all her tiles and calls “peel” and everyone has to take another tile from the, um, “bunch,” and that new tile just won’t fit in unless you can figure out a way to use some of the letters you’ve already so brilliantly used and mix them up, and maybe every word they’re connected to, so you can find a way to incorporate that one stupid tile into your vast, and once demonstrably brilliant assemblage; or you can just wait and hope that when someone else calls “peel” the new tile, plus the one you’ve been trying to work in, will magically give you just the letters you need; or maybe you can just “dump” that tile back into the “bunch” and draw word-familythree, yes THREE new tiles? Well, see, if one of those tiles is wild, you just might be able to substitute another tile and use that wild tile again to build another word that turns out to be not only totally, perfectly different, but also far longer, more cunning, and lexicographically brilliant. And if you happen to have two wild tiles, O, the possibilities you will find, and furthermore, O-wise, the complexity, the sheer, delightful complexity to which you will find yourself so totally heir!

What joy those little monkeys bring! What welcome opportunity to, shall we say, monkey around and around! What wonderfully new twist to it all! Major fun just when you thought the fun couldn’t get majorer.

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