The Metagame

The Metagame, explain the triumvirate at Local # 12,

“is a social card game about everything: comics and literature, fine art and tv, architecture and videogames. It’s a way to show off your cultural smarts and get into ridiculous arguments with your friends. Arguments like:

  • Which feels like first love: Pride and Prejudice or Hungry Hungry Hippos?
  • Which is responsible for the fraying of our moral fabric: Tupperware or Das Kapital?
  • Which should be required in schools: Dungeons and Dragons or the Bible?

“The Metagame is not a single game or a single set of rules. Like a traditional deck of cards, it’s an open game system enabling a wide variety of games for different settings and play styles.”

Before I begin to wax enthusiastic about The Metagame and all the joyous socio-conceptual affordances thereof, I needs must recuse myself. I know the guy. Eric Zimmerman. He is my friend and has catalyzed something like a renaissance of my work. So I really want to aid his success as much as he has aided mine.  On the other hand, as an advocate of good games, and real fun, I can’t keep myself, or you, from the many wonders of the Metagame.

There are six games. Each is different. Each is will make you laugh. There are games that are strong enough to engage a party-full of friends, and games that you can play with your lover – or a several of your lovers. The cards are very well thought out – all of them. Which is no small achievement, considering how many cards there are to think about.

Here’s a great little video on how to play the game:


And another, earlier one, with the inventors of the game, at a slightly earlier stage.


Here’s our review of the game at an earlier stage.

Here’s how you can buy the finished, packaged game in all it’s many glories.

And here’s our award:

Major Fun Award

Rory’s Story Cubes – Mix and Max

story cubes enchanted

As you no doubt know, Rory’s Story Cubes® has achieved that most coveted of all Major Fun awards, the Major Fun Keeper! In their ceaseless attempts to make a good thing better, Gamewright has recently introduced what they are calling the Story Cubes Mix: small sets of three cubes each, each with their own theme. Currently, there are: Clues (mystery detective images), Prehistoria (dinosaurs and their ilk), and Enchanted (fairy tale). Each box and set of cubes is a different color – making it easier to sort one set out from the other, when so moved. Though, in truth, mixing them together stimulates even more creativity. It is my great pleasure to inform you that each of these has received a Major Fun award.

They are each very affordable, each wealthy enough with iconic imagery to engage the story-telling heart and direct it towards a different world. And, when used to supplement any of the existing Story Cube sets, each takes the story a different way, each serving to add yet more to the mix of inspiration for aspiring story-makers.

And for those who have not yet purchased the basic Story Cube set, try using a Mix to supplement your next story-reading. Take any book that you and your kids like to read together, and, at mutually agreed upon moments, roll a cube or two or three, interpret the symbols, and add them to the story. It’s a whole new way to read together.

story cubes maxAnd then there’s Rory’s Story Cubes® Max, the original Story Cubes made larger. Mixing a Mix with the Max (excuse me, I couldn’t help myself) makes a mix even that much easier to unmix – should the need arise.

Major Fun Keeper AwardEach of the various instantiations of Rory’s Story Cubes complement and extend the value of the others. The Max set invites those of us who don’t see as clearly as we think. It’s size and heft is even more inviting – especially for adult and group play.

The invitation to creative, story-telling fun just keeps getting majorer and majorer.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Major Fun.

2-4 players. Ages 8+

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



Tapple is what happens when you combine a traditional trivia game with a traditional children’s game and make it into a party game that could very well become your new family tradition.

There are 36 category cards which come tucked into a sweet little compartment on the bottom of the game. On each side of each category card are two categories (e.g.: things at a party, cartoons, song titles, movies). The yellow/orange side of the category cards are more challenging. Remember this.

The designers suggest that you can play with up to 8 people. We tried it with 10, and the fun we had was sweet enough to be an ice cream topping.

When a round begins, somebody selects a category from a category card and reads it aloud. If you’re playing with a group small enough, you all gather round the Tapple machine. In larger groups, you simply pass the Tapple machine from player to player.

The person who selected the category taps the center button, starting the ten-second timer. The next player taps a letter lever, gives a new example of something that fits the category that starts with the letter tapped, and, if the timer has not gone off yet, taps the timer to reset it for the next player. Etc., and so forth, until the timer goes off or someone makes a mistake.

The designers recommend that if someone makes a mistake, that person is eliminated, and the next player resumes the round. The rounds are short enough so that the players who can’t play are still amused by the fervent frolic of the remaining few.

The game is most fun when someone gets stumped, naturally. There is a rule for what happens if all the letters get used (select a new category, each player has to find two matches per turn), but generally it’s an indication that you should be using the harder categories.

Tapple is fast and fun. The Tapple machine is cleverly designed and wonderfully functional. A lever allows you to reset all the letter tabs instantly. The timer is unmistakably loud. You can turn the game off with a switch to conserve batteries. If you have a place to keep the rules, you can throw the box away entirely.

The designers acknowledge that Tapple is based on a traditional German/Dutch game called Pim Pam Pet, but the execution makes the game so playable that it becomes a new game in its own right.

Tapple, recommended for ages 8 and above, comes to us from USAopoly.




Yottsugo word gameYOTTSUGO is a, shall we say “challenging” word puzzle (for some, the word “challenging” may prove somewhat of an understatement). The object of YOTTSUGO is to create a 4×4 letter grid from an assortment of 16 letter tiles in which every row or column contains a 4-letter word. What letters you have to use proves, of course, to be the heart of the puzzle.

There are 40 different puzzle booklets. “Puzzle booklets?” you inquire. I am personally thrilled that you asked, because it’s the design of these little puzzle booklets that makes the game as fun as it is challenging.

Each puzzle booklet is numbered in order of difficulty. The front of the booklet displays the number (hence the level of difficulty), the amount of words you will be making (either 4  – with each word appearing twice – or 8), and the letters you’ll be using. Turn the booklet over, and you will reveal a clue: anywhere from two to four letter pairs that will appear in the solved puzzle. In some cases, the pairs are next to each other horizontally, as shown. In some cases vertically, as not shown.

If you still can’t solve the puzzle, even with the compassionately provided letter-pair clues, and have subjected yourself to whatever tests of genuine defeat necessary to make you feel completely inadequate, there is still hope. Lift open the flap (yes, there’s a flap, and it’s tucked in, so you are somewhat forced to acknowledge that by engaging in the act of flap untuckage, you have, in fact, already failed) and you will find a diagram revealing precisely 2 (or perhaps 4) of your letters, and where they belong.

Yes, yes, a welcome clue. And yes, you really should be able to solve the puzzle. And yet you can’t, can you? So you’ve failed once again. And yet, once again there’s hope on the other side of yet another flap. This one, untucked. Because you are clearly on the brink of becoming beyond help or hope. And here, on this new flap, is a clue. Perhaps one clue. Perhaps several: actual definitions of actual words actually found in the puzzle. And yes, the clue flap is in fact a flap, and, like other flaps, can be unflapped. But it is the final flap, beneath which is the solved puzze its complete self, revealing not only the solution, but the final judgment on your very being as a puzzle-solver.

word puzzleThe design and functions of these little puzzle-booklets take a fun puzzle and make it major. The entire concept of a providing the player with access to several different levels of clues for each puzzle shows a deep understanding of the puzzle-solving psyche. We don’t want help unless we ask for it. And when we do, we want just the right amount of help. It’s a model of good teaching practice, of good instructional design, of good puzzle making. YOTTSUGO demonstrates that how a solution is presented can be as much a factor in the design of a good puzzle as the puzzle itself. Unfortunately, the puzzle cards are a bit fragile, especially because of the way they’re packed in the box (it becomes a bit to easy to tear the tab as you try to shove the cards back in). Best advice: after the game, take all the cards out first of the box first, stack them evenly, then put them back into the box.

Though YOTTSUGO is designed as a one-player puzzle, there were six of us around the table “tasting” the game. And all six of us were involved in trying to help solve the puzzle. Another testimony to the allure of the puzzles and the play value of the game.

Designed by Nicholas Cravotta and Rebecca Bleau of Blue Matter Games, YOTTSUGO is designed for word puzzle lovers who are at least 12 years old, and is made available by Fatbrain Toys.

games for writers

In her article Games (click to see PDF), to be published in the May 2013 issue of Writer Magazine, author Karen M Rider describes how simple story-telling games can become powerful tools for writers. She explains:

As authoring tools, games encourage players to write stories and design new worlds. Storytelling games provide deeper understanding of language, the world we live in and ourselves. They unleash freedom of expression and, frequently, insight into solving seemingly intractable personal or business problems. While you’re playing ‒ creating a story with you kids or writing group ‒ you might just write the next best-seller.

You’ll find some of our favorite Major Fun games in this category: Tell-Tale, Rory’s Story Cubes, Think-ets, and Dixit. And, if you read the article, you’ll find even more games worthy of your writerly consideration.

You’ll also find some free, non-commercial, not-even-packaged, yet significantly writer-worthy games in our Infinite Games collection, e.g.:

And yes, your Major was quoted in the article, which just goes to show you.



WordAroundWordAround is an ingenious word game that can be played as an actual game for 2 or more people, or, even better, as a solitaire.

You get 100 round cards. Each card has three words on it. Each word is printed in a circle, so there’s no way to tell where the word begins. There are three words on each card, each on a different color band. The backs of each card is one of three different colors, matching the different color bands.

You take the deck out of the sturdy, well-made box, and put them, in a stack, face-up, on the table. You might want to get a timer so you can challenge yourself to see how many words you are able to find in, say, two minutes, maybe three.

Start with the black ring on the top card. As soon as you figure out what it is, take it off the stack and place it, next to the stack, face-down. The color on the back of the face-down card determines which word you are trying to find on the card that on top of the stack that you just revealed.

On and on you go, seeing how many words you can find in whatever time limit you decided on, or just playing through, at your leisure, enjoying the challenge.puzzles

Obviously, you don’t have to play alone. Friends, family (with a good vocabulary), neighbors, strangers, whomever you can get to play with you, as many of them as you can gather around the table, will all find the game challenging and inviting. It’s very easy to learn. Stragglers can join in the fray after watching for maybe 30 seconds. The only problem is that the more you play the game, the less fair it is for everyone else you’re playing with. Yes, there are 300 words. But, oddly enough, even with all those different words, once you figure it out, it tends to get etched into your memory. On the other hand, if you’re not into fairness, you’re going to want to play it with everyone you want to impress.

Wordaround was designed by Joe and Dave Herbert and is available from Thinkfun.

Scrabble Electronic Catch Phrase

Scrabble Electronic Catchphrase is a “refreshed” version of classic Catchphrase. The colors are different. The words and phrases that you try to get people to guess are new. But the game is the same wonderful party game it has always been.

We wrote about it 2002, and again in 2005. It was refreshed once more in 2010. And now again in 2012. It looks more refreshed now than. And what proves to be even more refreshing is that it’s the same game, and just as fun as it was 10 years ago when we first reviewed it – as follows (refreshed):

The game itself is readily understood because it is in fact a combination of hot potato and password. You try to get your team to guess the word or phrase on the LCD display (now backlit and easy to read). In the mean time, a timer is sounding. As soon as anybody on your team guesses correctly, you hand it off to the next player, who is on the other team. Meanwhile, the timer, the other player, and the other team are all getting more frantic. As soon as they guess it, they hand it off, etc., etc., et not much more cetera, because the timer isn’t very long, and when it goes off, if your team happen to be the one that’s holding it, the other team gets the point.

You have to press a button to tell the computer that the other team won (a good opportunity to manifest sportspersonlike behavior whilst massaging more salt into your conceptual wound). When the timer runs out, it buzzes two annoying times, rubbing in both victory and defeat. The next round begins with the selection of a new category, or not. And so it goes, until one team reaches 7 points. A brief musical fanfare proclaims the end of the game.

This game is most definitely fun. Way more fun than you think you could get out of an electronic gadget. The hot potato part adds tension and makes scoring feel very easy and natural. Because you don’t get points for guessing correctly (you just pass the pod to next player), the focus remains on the complete round of play rather than on a single correct guess. This makes the whole game even more fun. Because your team is working together to guess (yes, this is one of those more-the-merrier games that could easily accommodate twenty or even more players), there’s a wonderful sense of teamwork that transcends individual performance, again making the game even more fun. Being able to select a new category at the beginning of each round provides a good break, adds a bit of information, a sense of control, and is totally optional. And there are so many words and phrases (now 1500), and it’s all so elegantly designed that you don’t need to come up with variations to keep it fun, but, if you want to, there’s nothing stopping you. Younger kids might have difficulty with some of the vocabulary, but if you’re playing with a mixed age group, you don’t need to get so serious about the competition that you can’t find a way to make the game fun for everyone.

Word Bits

Word Bits word gameWord Bits is recommended for 2-4 players. We played it with 8. It’s also recommended for players 8 and up. Our youngest was 10, and our oldest belonged to the order Septuagenarian. And it was fun. In fact, it was major fun.

You get four letter dice. And, thought it is only mildly relevant, I must add that these are exceptionally lovely letter dice, amber-colored, embossed with letters of a pleasingly Victorian-like, serif-ish font, slightly rounded for extra rollability; accompanied by a deck of what can only be called “category cards.” Each of these cards describe, as you might rightly assume, a category, e.g.: Author, Sport, Anything About a Building. The number in the center of each category card indicates how many dice are to be used, from 1 to, as you probably already assumed, 4.

A card is turned over. The appropriate number of dice are thrown. And the first player to announce (or, in our case, yell out) a word that: 1) fits the category, and 2) contains all the letters indicated by the dice, keeps that card. You can play until all the cards have been used. Or you can stop at any pre-arranged number of cards or when somebody has to go to the bathroom. The player with the most cards, if you care about these things, wins. We generally don’t care about such things, especially when the game is so easy to learn, involves everyone, and is so significantly fun.

Elegant game design by Dr. Reiner Knizia. Elegant art by Alvin Madden. Easy to learn. Durable materials. Right-sized package. Fun for the few or many.


And now, from the makers of the Major Fun award-winning Anomia, we have Duple, a party game, using game play that is similar in many significant aspects to the aforementioned Major Fun award-winning Anomia, but different in a non-categorized, word-finding, vocabulary-searching kid of way – a difference of profound enough significance to make Duple a game that deserves its own review, as if it were an unprecedented invitation to fun, which, as a matter of fact, it is.

There are many cards.

Sixty-four of them are letter cards. Letter cards have, as you probably already conjectured, letters on them. One letter each. They also have symbols on them – one of eight different kinds. After you’ve set everything up and started actually playing, taking turns picking and turning over cards from the draw decks, the moment you notice that your card bears the same symbol as someone else’s card, you find yourself in a head-to-head race to be the first to utter, mention, or shout out a word of five or more letters that has both your letter and the letter on your opponent’s card. Thus catalyzing great attention-paying and moments of death and transfiguration.

But wait, there’s more. In addition to the letter cards, there are the category cards. Categorically speaking, this impact of these cards is to excruciate the intellect by forcing you not only to race to find a word of five or more letters containing both of the letters on the cards of matching symbol, but also restricting acceptability to words of that particular category. Also note, there are two kinds of category cards: thirteen have categories on them, and four cards don’t. These four are known as “blank” cards. Should you draw a blank card, you get to assert your strategic creativity and make your own category for that particular nonce, until another category card appears. There is also a category card that says “no category,” in which event there is as you would assume, no category at all, at all.

Major Fun AwardBut wait again for the more: the wild cards. The wildness of these cards is indicated by each of them having a combination of two different symbols. No letters. No categories. No blankness. Just symbols. Two, as I said, different symbols. Thus, instead of looking for two letter cards with matching symbols, should you happen to notice that one of the symbols on a wild card is the same as that on your letter card, you must, with out further ado at all, seek out a player whose card bears the other symbol on the wild card – not the symbol that matches the symbol on your letter card, mind you. No, not at all that symbol.

And then there’s that particularly pernicious, and more than mildly exacerbating wild card bearing the words “All Play,” indicating that all players, not just those whose symbols match, must race to be the first to announce a word containing all the letters currently displayed.

There’s more. But the most more is the joyous intensity you will be experiencing, the constant engagement, the challenge, the, perhaps, yelling, the sheer Majorness of fun.

3-6 players, 10 or older. OK, maybe 7 if that guy absolutely has to play.


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