Code Names

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.

Mad City

Mad City - Mayfair

Mad City is one of those rare tiling games where you can’t take your sweet time about placing your tiles. The game assigns you the role of a city planner who must arrange a 3×3 grid of tiles in order to make the most money—but you have less than a minute to do so. Needless to say, things can get messy.

Before I go on I need to recognize that there are A LOT of pieces in this game. When you open it up you have a lot of die-cut tokens to punch out. These will make quite a pile on your game table. Keep in mind that there are several ways to play the game. The first time you play you should play the Base Game (which is what we did) in which case you won’t need most of the tiles. You will only need your score board, the bag, the timer, and the 54 city tiles. And the park tree.

Everyone starts by drawing 9 city tiles from the bag and placing them in a face-down pile. When everyone has a pile of nine city tiles, they pass them to the player on the left. Someone says go and flips the timer. Players now have ONE MINUTE to arrange their city tiles into a 3×3 grid that will earn them maximum points.

The city tiles can have a variety of colored zones: residential (yellow), industrial (red), urban (blue), lakes (teal), and parks (green). Yellow, red, and blue zones will usually have buildings in them. There are also roads that can divide up tiles. In your one minute of frantic planning, you are trying to arrange your tiles to match up (as best you can) the roads and colored zones. Scoring is based on how many buildings of the same color you can bunch up or how many road segments you can connect.

At the end of the minute, everyone stops work. If a player has not created a 3×3 grid, that player shuffles any tiles not in the grid and fills in the grid at random. Then everyone looks at their city and scores each colored zone based on a chart provided on each score board. I won’t go into each colored zone in detail, but suffice it to say that the more buildings you have connected in a colored district the higher will be your score. There are points for the longest road.

There are also points for parks and lakes but those only go to one player. During the minute of play, anyone can grab the Park Tree. That player gets to score any parks and lakes BUT once that person grabs the tree he or she cannot do any more work on their city. Once you grab the tree, you can’t touch your city tiles until it’s time to score. In general, you want to make a decent city and then grab the tree. Think of parks and lakes as bonus points.

There is a lot going on in that one minute. It is hard to focus when everyone is busy trying to fit their pieces into a grid, and everyone would like to grab the tree but not too soon! The first person to 150 points wins.

Major Fun AwardOnce you get some play time in with the base game, you can check out the Standard Game. This introduces a much different way to score and it uses most of the tokens that you punched out when you first unwrapped the game. There are also more things to grab (like the Park Tree). In this game, the first to 100 points wins. You also have to pay much closer attention to the colors you are arranging.

Mad City can also be played as a solitaire activity. The game comes with three ways to play solo.

All said, Mad City is a fast-paced but strategically engaging game. Each player essentially plays alone except for the times when you are rushing to grab the Park Tree (or one of the other tokens from the more advanced game). Major Fun but definitely not for the weak of heart.

1 – 6 players. Ages 8+

Mad City was designed by Kane Klenko and is © 2014 by Mayfair Games.



Note how each player’s hand is under the playing table. That’s because it’s holding on to a pretty strong magnet which, in turn, is holding on to its chosen striker. This is one of your intrinsically fun things – moving things with magnets, trying to knock something into the other guy’s something else.

We’ve seen games kind of like this before. Heavier ones. More, shall we say, aggressively competitive ones. That’s what makes this one different – because it’s none of the above. Sturdy, you bet. Wood. Fully assembled. It’s, like they say in the video, kind of like foosball, kind of like Air Hockey. But sweeter.Each player controls a “striker” that looks like what a pawn might become if it knew about giraffes. The players move their strikers around the board by use of a magnetic piece below the board. There’s a marble, and a goal pit at each end. A sometimes unfortunately shallow pit which is deep enough to hold a marble as well as temporarily incapacitate your playing piece.

dexterity-family-kids-partyThe magnet-connection, so to speak, works brilliantly. It’s “attractive” enough to keep your striker in place as you engage in speedy, yet strategically relevant scurrying from place-to-place. In addition, there are three small white magnets, plastic covered cylinders about as large as a nose-plug for infant swimmers (keep them little ones away from these highly swallowable innovations). These three magnets are positioned along the center line of the playing table. They easily, yay, eagerly adhere to any close-passing playing striker. Should two little magnets find themselves thus attracted, you are, as they say, Klasked.

So, it’s like this: should you get the marble into your opponent’s goal, your opponent is Klasked and you gain a point (which you demonstrate by rolling the checker-like wooden disc (the one you put in that long groove on top of one of the long walls of the game) into to the next available dip. If your opponent’s striker winds up in your opponent’s goal pit, your opponent is Klasked. You get the point. Your opponent restores the magnets, marbles and strikers to their assigned starting positions. And then there’s the consequence for too much enthusiasm which results in striker-loss. Lose your striker, and you are Klasked again.

Simple rules. Fun for many ages. Easy to learn. Deeply absorbing. Based on a Danish pub game. No wonder.

From Marbles the Brain Store

Cash ‘n Guns 2

cash n guns

A party game with foam guns? Intimidation? Steely eyed-resolve?

[must… not… maniacally giggle…]

A Godfather?

[bite… knuckle… suppress… glee…]

Theft? Treachery?


Major Fun has a particular weakness for party games, and if a party game comes along that encourages players to turn on each other like a pack of laughing hyenas—so much the better. It’s not that we condone violence, it’s that we love games that generate surprise without using random elements like dice. We love conflict (in the literary sense) that arises out of the choices the players make. And we especially love it when the mechanics of a game clearly fit a story.

As it goes, when you play Cash’n Guns, you are a gang of thieves who carry out 8 heists. The actual robberies go off without a hitch, but when you return to your lair in order to divvy up the loot, that’s when the fun begins.

To start, each player has a character (with a stand), a foam gun, 5 CLICK cards, and 3 BANG cards. In the center of the table there are 8 LOOT cards and the Godfather’s Desk. These are the things that the players will fight and scheme to get.

One player starts as the Godfather. The Godfather is responsible for going through the steps of each heist and making any judgment calls. The Godfather also has a special privilege that I will talk about in a bit. Here are the steps for each heist:

Each player secretly chooses a CLICK or a BANG card and puts it face down in front of them. You don’t get these cards back so you must choose carefully!

When all “bullets” are loaded, the Godfather counts down from 3 and everyone IMMEDIATELY points their gun at another player. If someone is too slow or if they try to change their target, they can be kicked out of the round (no loot for you!) by the Godfather. The Godfather may tell one player to change targets—it doesn’t matter if that player is pointing at the Godfather or not.

The Godfather then counts down from 3 again. This time, players either knock their own characters down and drop their guns OR they yell “Banzai!!” and keep their guns up. Anyone who drops out cannot be shot, but that person also cannot get any loot. If you stay in and are pointing your gun at someone else who stays in, you then reveal your bullet card. A CLICK means your target stays standing and can share in the loot. A BANG means your target is wounded and knocked down. If your character gets three wounds during the game, you are out. ALL bullet cards (whether you used them or not) are discarded.

Starting with the Godfather, the standing characters choose loot cards. Each player takes one, moving clockwise, until there are no more. The Godfather’s desk is also available for someone to take instead of a loot card. Players can also take the Godfather’s desk instead of a loot card. If no one takes the desk, the Godfather stays the same.

The goal of the game is be alive and to have the most money at the end of 8 rounds. There are lots of ways to earn money (I won’t go into the details of final scoring) so there are interesting strategies that occur depending on what loot is revealed for the next heist.

As with all the best Major Fun games, once you get the mechanics down, they are incredibly intuitive. The game comes with special powers for each of the characters but these are entirely optional make things a bit more unpredictable. Cash’n Guns does a great job of capturing those moments in crime films when the carefully crafted plans of the brilliant thieves unravel in the face of their greed and duplicity.

4-8 players. Ages 10+

Cash’n Guns was designed by Ludovic Maublanc with art by John Kovalic and is © 2014 by Sombreros Productions.

Sneaky Cards

sneaky cards

“Play it forward!” Oh, how long I’ve longed to find a good excuse to use that wonderful pun “Play it Forward.” Sheer brilliance.

Which is a foretaste of what you fall heir to once you open your box of Sneaky Cards.

The box. Ah, yes. Black and sneaky looking, but in a cute kind of way. With a magnetic lid. Oh, how love magnetic lids. But wait, there’s more, there’s in fact, not even having started.

There are 54 cards, color-coded. At the bottom of each card, there’s a rectangle onto which is printed a unique code for that unique card that you’d be holding in your hand at the time. Beneath that there’s a URL: SNEAKYCARDS.COM. Remember that.

On the cards themselves are instructions that not only you, but also whoever receives the card must follow. Yes, I said “receive.” For in this game, if there were such a thing as winning, you would have given ALL your cards away, playing it, as it were, forward in deed.

Let me further instantiate:

Purple Code.

Mission Objective: Grow

Find a new favorite song

Discover a catchy tune you’ve never hard before and write the artist and title below. Then pass this card along to someone else.

Pink Code.

Mission Objective: Create

Hiaku, once written

Fill the world with endless joy

Create one yourself.

Write a hiaku on a piece of paper, and then give it to someone along with this card.

Code Blue

Mission Objectives: Engage

Start the wave in a food court or cafeteria

When you do: Give this card to a stranger who joined you.

01 AwardYou may want or need to direct the person to go to the SNEAKYCARDS.COM website, click on “track this card” and enter the code on the card. Because that is the gateway to a great deal of fun, including the frequently-updated Sneaky Cards global tracking map.

Warning: just sorting through the cards to determine which ones you’d most likely be willing to use is a bit like riffling through your psyche, if you know what I mean. You learn a lot about yourself when you discover that you are simply not ready to “Lie down in a public place until someone checks on you.”

Yes, yes, this is a brilliant, innovative, fun and often surprisingly instructive little game, that we can’t, for the time being, recommend highly enough.

Sneaky Cards is based on an original concept by Harry Lee. From Gamewright, for one or more players, age 12 and up.

Rory’s Story Cubes – Batman

Rory’s Story Cubes has been a consistent winner here on Major Fun, and its newest incarnation, Rory’s Story Cubes – Batman, proves just as worthy of recognition as all its previous incarnations – not only because of its design, but also because, for the first time, the game goes beyond its own basic assumptions (all images on the dice must be abstract enough to allow for a wide variety of interpretations), to embrace a well-established story line. And what a story line! Batman! All those years, those characters, those crimes to solve, those bizarre semi-miraculous BatThings to put to use in defense of the good.

So here, for example, are all nine dice, in a row, ready for players to create their story. Hmmm. The first three icons are familiar enough: a timer, Penguin, and money. And then there’s a house. No, a mansion. Must be the Waynes’. So, we begin:


“In the shadows of Gotham City, time, once again, seems to be running out. The notorious Penguin has been spotted preparing to hatch one of his nefarious plots to defame our hero and his family. He has just learned that a great deal of money is being held at Wayne Manor. His plan, not only to steal the money, but to replace it with counterfeit money laced with a powerful hallucinogen that makes Batman and his cohort talk like penguins…”

family-cooperative-creativeO, well, you get the picture.

The challenge is to use as many of the dice as you can in a story. You can make the story by yourself, with a partner, with everyone playing. If you don’t know what a particular icon stands for (like the next to the last icon – could be popcorn, you know, or, more probably, an explosion), you can make up your own relatively reasonable interpretation, look at the thoughtfully included guide that shows all 54 sides and their meanings, or, well, roll the die again.

The use of such a well-established theme provides a fantasy framework that helps new players get into the game, and players who are familiar with Rory’s cubes find a whole new way to think of the game, and all the other sets of cubes they may be fortunate enough to already own.

The set comes with 9 cubes, instructions, and a Batman-Belt-worthy carrying box, and is recommended for 1 or more creative players, ages 8 and up. Major, as you already probably concluded, fun.


Bellz! is another one of those Major Fun games I use to show what Major Fun games are all about and for. You can tell as soon as you zip open the carrying case/game board (yes, I said zip, carrying case/game board) to find 40 brightly colored metal bells and a magnetic thing that has a powerful magnet on one side and a not-so-powerful magnet on the other.

dexterity-family-kidsThe bells come in three sizes: 20 of them are large, 12 medium, and 8 small. And, you guessed it, you try to pick up the bells with the magnetic thing. Bells of the same color, of course. And the first to get 10 balls of the same color wins. Yes, sorry, if you accidentally pick up what they often call “a bell of a different color” you lose all the Bellz! you thought you were going to get for that turn. And those little balls have that propensity to surprise, don’t you know.

You don’t really have to read the rules. You can make up your own. Those bright, colorful, happily tinkling bells and two-strength magnet are an invitation to play – all in themselves.

When we play-tested it with our local grandson, he decided we would compete for just one color, you know, see who could get the most green. And it turned out to be as significant challenge as it would have been if we played by the rules, which we did, which proved just as challenging as you’d want it to be.

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Bellz! from Wiggles 3D recommended especially for up to four, steady-handed people with a high frustration tolerance.



At first glance, Pictomania can be intimidating. For a drawing party game, there are a lot of pieces. There are drawing boards, markers, and erasers. There are two sets of scoring tokens. There are 4 kinds of cards and 2 card racks. There are stickers that have to be applied to the cards racks.

You will want a big game table.

You will also want to take your first game nice and slow. Once you get to know what the pieces do, most of them will fade into the background and you will be able to appreciate just how clever and funny a drawing game can be.

In a nutshell: Pictomania is a drawing game where you try to get the other players to correctly guess what you have drawn WHILE ALSO trying to be the first to accurately guess what each player is drawing. The game does a fantastic job of keeping everyone involved, even when some people are faster at drawing than others.

There are four levels of clue cards that range from easy (common objects and animals) to very difficult (abstract concepts). I found that the very difficult level was actually the one that removed the kind of “artistic advantage” that you always find in these games—those people who are talented illustrators. People with drawing skill will do much better at the easy level; however, those skills don’t translate as well to the most difficult level. It’s one thing to be able to get people to guess “dragon” but it’s something else entirely to get them to guess “always.”

There are six clue cards that are revealed and placed on the card holders. Each clue card has seven clues. By dealing special cards, each player will be required to draw one item on one of the clue cards. No player will draw from the same clue card. This is another of the really clever aspects of the game. All the answers are out there, you aren’t blindly guessing.

This brings up another clever bit about the game: the seven items on each clue card are generally very closely related so even an easy card will have beach ball, tennis ball, soccer ball, and cannon ball as possible clues. It’s not like you can just draw a circle and expect folks to guess “ball.” They have to choose between very similar items.

Once you finish drawing your clue, you look at all the others and place a guess card by each drawing. You must do this for all your opponents. You get one guess for each. The guess cards are placed in a pile so that when everyone is finished, the pile is flipped over and you can see who got their guess down first. Points are awarded to whoever guessed correctly, but more points are awarded to the person who correctly guessed first.   You lose points when someone incorrectly guesses what you drew.

party-creativeThe process of drawing and guessing and scoring is a little more complicated than what I just described, and it is worth playing through once just to see how all the cards work together, but once you see it in action the whole process clicks into sharp focus. In the end the game involves getting your clue, drawing your picture, guessing everyone else, and scoring. Where things get crazy (and I mean that in a Major Fun good way) is that part in the middle where there is drawing and guessing going on at the same time. Especially in a large game there is a mad flurry of drawing and looking and shuffling and slapping cards down on the table.

Scoring is where everyone settles down but also where a lot of the laughs are to be had. At this point the players reveal what they were drawing and we get to see what everyone guessed. The easiest level is fun but the biggest laughs are reserved for the most difficult level. Not only is it funny to see how someone illustrates “bribery” it is equally hilarious to listen to why other people thought it was “extortion” or “money laundering” (both of which are on the same clue card).

Pictomania is not as simple as many other party games you will already know, but it is rich and challenging, and very very fun.

3-6 players. Ages 9+

Pictomania was designed by Vlaada Chvatil and is © 2014 Pegasus Spiel, produced and distributed by Stronghold Games.



Pairs is a tiny “pub game” from our friends at Cheapass Games. The game consists of 55 cards numbered 1 to 10 and a very slim rule sheet. The value of the cards also tells you how many of the cards are in the deck, so 10 is the most common card and there is only a single card valued at 1.

Before I go any further, I should point out that although Pairs is remarkably well suited as a drinking game, it can be played to wonderfully fun effect with absolute teetotalers. We find that most games can be made more fun with the addition of alcohol, but Major Fun Award games do not require such inebriants. Pairs is entirely family appropriate.

The goal of the game is to not lose. You lose by accumulating points. Once one player hits a target score, that player loses and you start another game. To start, one card is dealt face up to each player and five cards are “burned” (dealt face down) to start a discard pile (this keeps players guessing what card values are in play). On your turn you have two choices: hit or fold. The player with the lowest card always starts.

When you hit, you draw a card from the deck. You turn the card face up in front of you so everyone can see. If the card is different from one you already have face-up, you are safe and play moves to the next player. If the card matches any face-up card you already have, you place that pair off to the side. You have just earned those points. For example, if already have a 6 a 7 and a 9 and you draw a 7, you earn seven points.

If you fold, you take the lowest valued face-up card on the table and earn those points. In the above example, if you have a 6, 7, and 9 and decide to fold, you would look at all the cards in front of all the players and take the lowest one.

When you take cards for points they are kept to the side until the end of the game (they are point counters and will not get shuffled into the deck until the game ends). As soon as a person earns points, either when they hit or fold, all players discard their face-up cards and then are dealt ONE new card. The game ends when someone hits a target number: 60 divided by players plus 1 (for a 2 player game it is 31, and for 6+ players it is 11).

The nature of pub games is to make the loser do something as “punishment” for losing. There can be small punishments for when someone earns points and a more significant punishment for losing a game. We found that pointing a laughing at the loser was sufficient but you can choose what is most appropriate for your group.

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Party GameThe game-play is fast and instinctive. The press-your luck mechanic is clever and really lends itself to goading. It feels really good to tease someone into taking a hit that results in a pair. I know that is childish and petty but nobody said Major Fun has to be high-brow and honorable. And seriously, if you are scared of taking a hit because you are looking at a 10 and an 8, then you really aren’t fit to sit at the big-kids table.

2-8 players. Ages 8+

Pairs was designed by James Ernest and Paul Peterson and is © 2014 James Earnest and Hip Pocket Games.



As I’ve said before, I’m a huge fan of Cheapass Games and Falling was one of those games that really opened my eyes to the possibilities of “real-time” games. I’d grown up playing speed games like Dutch Blitz, but Falling added a dimension that had never occurred to me before.

The premise of Falling is one of my favorites: you are all plummeting to your deaths. The last one to hit the ground wins.

That’s it. You are going to hit the ground. The question is not IF but WHEN.

As Vonnegut’s optimist says as he falls from the top floor of a building, “So far so good!”

Falling has to be played with four or more players. One player will be the dealer and there need to be at least three others or the mechanics don’t really work. And the more the merrier. There is little or no down time and the ground comes surprisingly fast. In many ways, it is a relief to be the dealer.

The dealer sets the pace of the game. Moving clockwise, the dealer places one card in a stack in front of each player. The players must decide if they want to grab that card or wait for a new one. Once you grab a card, you can only get rid of it by playing it. You play a card by placing it in front of yourself or one of the other players before the dealer returns to that person. There are 4 kinds of cards: rider cards, action cards, and the ground. The ground cards are on the bottom of the deck. When you get a ground card you are done. The last player to get a ground card wins.

Riders tell the dealer what to do. There are three: hit, split, and skip. Hit cards tell the dealer to give a player one extra card. Instead of one card, the dealer would give a player 2. Split cards give a player an extra stack. Once you have an extra stack it stays with you until the end of the game. Splits are nasty because once you have an extra stack it means you will always get more cards. Finally, skip cards tell the dealer to skip placing a card on one stack (not the player). Riders are placed in front of a stack (only one per stack). When the dealer gets to the rider, the dealer follows the instructions and then discards the rider.


Action cards effect riders. There are 2 actions: move and stop. A move allows you to move one rider card from one stack to another. For instance, if an opponent has a skip in front of his or her stack, you can use a move card to steal it. Stop actions erase a rider. In the previous example, you could play a stop on your opponent’s skip and they will now get a card as normal. Stops also cancel a ground. One ground.

Once the deal starts, it is amazing just how chaotic the game becomes. The first few time you play you will want to take the deal slowly, but even then it will feel as if the room has gone mad and time is accelerating. Timing is key. You want your opponents to get lots of cards while skip or stop bad things from happening to you. Unfortunately, holding on to skips and stops until the end might not be enough, and sometimes you will get stuck with a move in your hand and then all you can do is wait for the inevitable sudden stop at the end.

partyThe game is really very simple, but the mechanics are so different from what we are used to that you will want to play through a few times so everyone gets a feel for it. Especially practice being the dealer. Although the dealer isn’t playing in the same way as the others, it is a ton of fun and is almost as nerve-wracking as being one of the fallers.

As are many of the best Major Fun games, Falling has a gleeful mean streak to it. Stealing away a skip at just the right moment or blocking the ground so that it moves to the next player is immensely satisfying. And in this case, everyone can just pick themselves up, reset their fractured egos, and jump out of that plane again.

4-8 players. Ages 8+

Falling was designed by James Ernest and Paul Peterson and is © 1998 & 2014 James Earnest and Cheapass Games.

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