Filed Under (Party Games) by Will Bain on Oct 12, 2015


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.

Zitternix (Keep It Steady)

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on Sep 21, 2015

So, here’s what you get when you open your box Zitternix. Take a minute. No more than two. See if you can figure out the rules.

If you’re still having trouble, read the following later:

If I wanted to my designer friends to know more about the kinds of games I really, truly admire (and am always a wee bit angry at myself for not having come up with the game myself), as so oft I do, I’d use Zitternex to show how close you can get to creating a completely self-explanatory games.

Still wondering what the rules are? OK, if you’re not, skip the following section and go on to the next:

The Rules

  1. You take all the sticks and put them through the ring so that the whole bundle can stand freely, noting, as you must, that the different color sticks have different properties. There’s fat blue, average red and slim yellow. This observation might help you win the game, at some point, when points are being counted.
  2. You roll the die and remove a stick of the corresponding color. If you make the big wooden ring touch the table, your turn has ended, so you set everything up again and basically wait until the whole game starts again. Which isn’t that long.
  3. And, yes, Fat Blue is worth 3 points. And, yes, the other sticks are worth fewer, arithmetically descending with relative girth.
  4. And then there are the rules it would talk you maybe longer to figure out, like: if it looks like you don’t have a good choice, and you already own a stick of the color in question you can place it back into the game. Which you probably will find minorly upsetting, unless you make the bundle fall. In that event, you will be more upset. And you can quit the whole game if you manage to get the bundle down to three sticks. And did you know that the further off the table the ring is, the longer the bundle will keep from collapsing?

And now for those of you who figured out the game:

dexterity-family-kids-partyOK, so it’s not completely self-explanatory. In fact, one of the things that makes Zitternix (called Keep It Steady in English-speaking countries) such a good toy/game (which makes it already a happy coincidence – a game that is as much a toy as it is a game) that it is just as easy to find new rules, new things to make it do and keep it from doing, for finding ways to play the game so that everybody gets to play even though they “lost” – kind of like a group solitaire, or playing the game on a slanted surface just to see what happens…

What Major Major Fun!


Telestrations after dark

Filed Under (Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on Sep 16, 2015

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telestrations after dark

There’s the Major Fun Award-winning Telestrations, which you, of course, know and love, as you deservedly should. Keep that in mind, and read on.

Playing Telestrations often makes you giggle. You giggle at your own incompetencies in trying to make a drawing that the next player will interpret correctly. You giggle at the other people’s drawings – especially when there’s something, shall we say, “suggestive” about them. Or when you could, if you were so inclined, so interpret them. It’s an adolescent kind of thing – that chance to be naughty-minded – a chance that most adults enjoy even more.

Party GameThus, it’s no wonder that, for adults, playing Telestrations After Dark (yes, the box glows in the dark, as will certain recesses of your eighth-grade minds) turns out to be even more giggle-worthy than its predecessors.

Inside your Telestrations After Dark box you will find 100, two-sided cards listing over 1200 words, 8 erasable color coiled sketch books, 8 dry erase markers, 8 tiny but effective clean up cloths and 8 after dark, color coordinated drink coasters that match the color of your coil, hence helping you identify which sketching-and-guessing book (and coaster) is yours.

The instructions are mercifully brief. Even more mercifully, the majority of the instructions are also written on each page of the sketch-and-guess books. And, if you’ve played any version of Telestrations before, you won’t even need those instructions.

The more people who play, the longer the game. A round shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes. The instructions include two different ways to score (“friendly” and “competitive”). We had more than enough fun just showing each other the completed books.

What makes this game so adult are the words that are included on the word cards (where else?). A relatively innocuous sample:

1. bearded lady
2. petting zoo
4. organ donor
5. sweaty palms
6. foreplay

As you can see, depending on your inclination, any of those words can be interpreted in a, shall we say, titillating manner. Underlined words indicate that you can make up your own even more titillating interpretation, should you find yourself titill-inclined.

Telestrations After Dark is designed for 4-8 adults after-dark-glowing adults. A game takes fifteen minutes at least. Telestrations After Dark is designed, illustrated and manufactured by USAopoly.


Filed Under (Thinking Games) by Will Bain on Sep 7, 2015

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When I was in college I became enamored with Celtic calligraphy, especially the intricate knot-work designs that decorated weapons, headstones, and illuminated texts dating back over a thousand years. Over the years I’ve toyed around with game ideas that would incorporate these designs into the game mechanics, not knowing that in the year I graduated from Wabash College, Murray Heasman had developed an ingenious and versatile mechanic that would spawn several award-winning games.

Up front, I need to be clear that I have not played all of the variations that come with Tailten’s collection of Tara games. For the purposes of this review, I am going to focus on the first game that is listed in the rules, called “The Sacred Hill.” By doing so I hope you’ll understand the basic mechanics that inform all the games that are possible with this collection. It is one of Tara’s great strength that it lends itself to many varieties of strategic play.

Game Board and Pieces:

The board is essentially a seven by seven grid minus the four corner cells to create a cross shape. Each cell of the grid contains a diamond shaped hole. The holes are designed to hold the primary game pieces so that they stay aligned with the grid.

There are two game pieces that are used in all games: the ringfort and the bridge. The ringfort is a roughly square piece that fits into the holes on the game board. Each is inscribed with a colored ring (red or blue). Bridges are thin strips of red or blue that are used to connect two ringforts of the same color to each other. There’s only so much fidelity that my words can manage in describing these pieces; suffice it to say that the ringforts are designed so that you can move them without disrupting the entire board and the bridges fit on top of the ringforts to create intricate and almost seamless patterns.

Game Play: The Sacred Hill

Most of the Tara inspired games revolve around piece placement and territory control. Sacred Hill is a great example of this. The goal is to finish the game with the fewest number of “kingdoms” which are made of connected ringforts.

The game plays out in two phases: maneuvers and battle. The maneuvers phase involves opponents taking turns placing their ringforts. The first ringfort can be placed anywhere. After that, your ringforts must be placed a knight’s move (in chess the knight moves two spaces in one direction and then one space to the left or right) from any of your existing ringforts but cannot be closer than a knight’s move. Once players have exhausted all possible placements for their ringforts, the battle phase can begin. There will be lots of blank spaces on the board.

In battle phase, players take turns placing ringforts next to their existing ringforts and linking them with the bridges. If you can surround an opponent’s single ringfort with your color, you can remove that ringfort and replace it with one of your own. The battle phase is an interesting combination of consolidating your own kingdom and splitting your opponent’s. It is not so important to have the most connected pieces so long as all of your ringforts are connected into one kingdom. Your opponent could control all but one small corner of the board and still lose if your one small kingdom is the thing that is keeping them separate.


There are many games that can be played with just the ringforts and bridges. The game also comes with a king piece which fits inside the ringforts and is used in an engrossing variation called “High King of Tara.” With these three pieces, there are an astonishing number of permutations that are possible, especially if you are willing to adapt different placement rules for the ringforts. All in all, the game comes packaged with the rules for 5 games, some with their own variations.

Thinking GamesTara is beautifully constructed and designed, which is appropriate given the Celtic artwork on which it is based. Although the rules for piece placement take some time to learn, the instruction booklet is well written and clearly illustrated. Once you do learn the basics, the rest of the games are easy to pick up and largely intuitive.

If you can only pack a single game for a get-away, this one would be a great choice.

2 players. Ages 8+

Tara was designed by Murray Heasman and is © 1993 by M.W. Heasman and Tailten Games.


Filed Under (Family Games) by Will Bain on Sep 6, 2015

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In the wild west of gunslingers and prairie justice, where murder could make you a beloved hero and brigands could become legends, there was one crime that went beyond the pale.

Cattle rustlin’

Highly profitable and utterly despised. It took a sort of ruthlessness and recklessness that more often than not got you strung up by your neck without the mercy of a quick drop.

Blue Orange’s 2-player game Longhorn drops you into that world as a pair of competing cattle thieves, and although getting rich is one way to win, the main way to win is by making sure your opponent loses.

The game board constantly changes. It consists of 9 tiles that are shuffled and placed in a random 3×3 grid. Each tile starts with a certain number of cows. The cows are of three colors (black, orange, white) and the colors should be randomly distributed between the tiles. For example, the tile called “Dagger Flats” calls for 4 cows but the color of these cows should be decided randomly. The starting tiles also have a space for a special effect token. These tokens are chosen randomly and can be beneficial to the player or harmful.

On your turn, you steal cows and then move your opponent a number of spaces equal to the number of cows you stole. In this way you try to maneuver your opponent into the worst possible situation as you try to make the best of the conditions in which you find yourself.

There are three ways to win:

  1. If you force your opponent to take the Sheriff token, you WIN (opponent automatically LOSES).
  2. If you collect 9 cows of the same color you automatically WIN unless you also get the Sheriff in which case you LOSE and your opponent WINS!
  3. If you are forced to land on an empty tile, the game ends and both players earn money for the cows they have stolen plus any money they collected during the game (from the tokens). Richest rustler WINS.

I’m not going to go into all of the tokens and the final calculations for scoring. Suffice it to say that the different victory conditions open up several winning strategies. You and your opponent have to factor in a lot of variables, not the least of which is that you can’t control your own piece. Sometimes it is better to steal fewer cows in order to move your opponent one step closer to swinging the Gallow’s Dance.

Major Fun awardGames are fast and cut-throat. They are never the same twice and I can’t over-emphasize how much fun it is to have a game that revolves around forcing your opponent to step on a rattlesnake or take a bunch of sick cows.

There are a lot of pieces, and the first time you set up the game it will take some time to figure out what goes where, but once you see it, the following games are completely intuitive.

Although I’m sure that this could never be said about cattle rustling in the days of Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid, but rustling cattle on the Blue Orange range is Major Fun.

2 players. Ages 8+

Longhorn was designed by Bruno Cathala and is © 2013 by Blue Orange Games.

Love Letter to AEG:

Filed Under (Family Games, Thinking Games) by Will Bain on Sep 6, 2015

Dearest Alderac Entertainment Group,

How my heart races as I pen this missive. It has been mere hours since you swept me away in the embrace of your elegantly crafted Love Letter and now I fear I might only keep a Lost Legacy of those moments together. Why must your love be such a Cypher? Will it always be thus that I will only be able to express my affection to you through the fickle fortunes of these cards?

Oh most cruel and implacable master of my fate! Until your next gift, I shall remain forever yours.

Major Fun

[Fanning self]

Mercy. Sometimes Major Fun can be overwhelmed by the sheer animal fun that a publisher can exude, and Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG to their paramours) recently poured on the charm and a heavy dose of fun-pheromones through three closely related games: Love Letter, Lost Legacy, and Cypher.


Love Letter and Munchkin Loot Letter:

Love Letter is certainly the place to start. The game mechanics of Love Letter are deeply imbedded in the other games and form a strong foundation for all three. Love Letter is a strategic deduction and elimination card game in which players are trying to either eliminate all the other players or be the one to hold the highest points when the cards run out. AEG publishes many variations of Love Letter but they all consist of 16 cards ranging in value from 1 to 8. Some cards are much more common than others (for example, there are five 1s but only one 8).

We played the version of Love Letter that is based on the world of Steve Jackson’s wildly popular Munchkin games. This version is called Loot Letter and it imagines that the players are fantasy adventurers who are trying to escape a dungeon with the most loot.

The game play is very simple. Every player is dealt one card. One card is removed from the remaining deck and kept hidden. The rest of the cards form a draw deck. On your turn you draw one card and play one card. Whatever instructions are on the card you play have to be followed. For example, if you play the Maul Rat (value 2), you get to look at the cards in another player’s hand. Some cards like the Duck of Doom and the Potted Plant can eliminate players from the game. If all other players are eliminated, you win!

If the draw pile runs out and more than one player is still in the game, the winner is the one with the highest value card in his or her hand.

Although luck plays a role in the game, there is a lot of strategy that goes into deciding which card you should play and which one you should keep. You don’t have many choices but each choice is crucial, and that is one of the great strengths of these Love Letter games. And although this is an elimination game, no one stays out for very long. Each round is resolved in a matter of minutes, and then you start it all over.

Lost Legacy:

LL1_cover-artDesigned by the same person responsible for Love Letter, Lost Legacy: The Starship tweaks the mechanics of Love Letter a bit for a new flavor to a favorite dish. The players are looking for a powerful starship. To do so, the players use the same draw and play mechanic as in Love Letter. Unlike Love Letter, when you get to the point that there are no cards left in the deck, each player gets to guess where the Starship is. If it is in your hand, then the guess is easy, BUT the player who gets to guess first is determined by the card you keep in your hand (lower is faster). The Starship is worth 5 points, so if you hold the Starship but someone else has a lower card, that person could guess that you are holding it, and thus they would win the round.

It is also possible that no one wins the round. Players who were not eliminated get, at most, one guess, and even that is not guaranteed. I found it interesting to use this as a way to stay in the game even when I knew I could not win the round. If I could make it that no one got a point, I could stay in the game for a better outcome next round.


Cypher_card-spread-1024x463If Lost Legacy is a sibling to Love Letter, David Short’s Cypher is a first cousin. You can see the family resemblance but there’s a healthy dose of new DNA. First, there is no elimination (and although I really like Love Letter this is a big factor for Major Fun). Secondly, instead of starting with one card, each player starts their turn with three cards—but ENDS the turn with one.


Yup. When you start your turn you have three cards. You play one in front of you and do whatever it says (like Love Letter). THEN you draw a card. To end your turn, you pass one card to the person on your right and one card to the person on your left. In this way, players always start with three cards but end with one.

The goal is to end the game with the most points played to the table in front of you. You can only keep three cards in front of you, and there are lots of ways to mess with what your opponents have on the table. The round ends when the draw deck is reduced to zero cards OR someone plays one of the cards called “Cypher Anomaly.” All players have one more action and then points are tallied.

Cypher is a longer game than the other Love Letter games but not by much. All of the deduction elements are present, and there is a great strategic element to setting up your last card. You have lots of opportunities to mess with your opponents before the final actions are triggered, and this is incredibly satisfying.

All three games are small, quick to learn, and can be played over and over and over. The art and card design is top notch. AEG is releasing them in handy draw-string bags that contain everything you need. I actually keep all three in one bag. The instructions are short and clear, and playing any of them will allow you to intuitively pick up any of the others in short order.

It’s a lot of love, and Major Fun, in a very small package.

All reviewed games are 2 – 4 players. Ages 10+

Love Letter and Munchkin Loot Letter were designed by Seiji Kanai and is © 2012 by AEG. Lost Legacy was designed by Seiji Kanai and is © 2014 by AEG. Cypher was designed by David Short and is © 2014 by AEG.



Filed Under (Gamers' Game, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on Aug 30, 2015


Though Spyfall contains 240 cards (and 30 baggies), it is not a card game, at all, at all. It is a game of subtle questioning and even more subtle answering. And, once you get familiar with it, it’s O so totally Major Fun.

One player is the Spy. The rest of the players aren’t. They’re the ones who are trying to figure out which one is the Spy. The Spy, on the other hand, is trying to figure out where the players are.

Well, of course, they’re right around the table with everybody else. But that’s not the point. They’re also in one of thirty different imaginary locations, determined by the random selection of one of thirty different baggie-packed collections of cards. Each baggie contains (well, will contain, after you sort them out as instructed) 8 cards (beautifully rendered) showing one particular location, and one Spy card. The location cards also include the identity that the player who gets that card is supposed to have – but that’s only to make the game more appealing to the sophisticated Spyfall player you are so destined to become.

Say the location is a submarine (no, don’t say it, think it). You could be the commander, the navigator, the sonar operator, the radio operator, etc.

When it’s your turn, you get to ask anybody a question. Naturally, if you’re not the spy, you could wind up asking that question to the spy herself. By, you know, chance. And you really have to be careful not to be so specific in your question (e.g. “what do you see out of the periscope?”) to make it too obvious, but, on the other hand, you do want to ask a question that the spy might answer incorrectly (“what do you do for exercise?”).

Party GameSo what I’m saying here is that this game requires what they call “subtlety.” And it takes a while to master the art of subtlety to such a degree that you don’t out-subtle yourself. So it’s not one of your, well, obvious games. It’s easy to understand what you’re trying to do. But not so easy to figure out how to do it. That’s why we decided to call it a gamer’s game.

But it’s well worth the effort, because the fun is wide and deep, and you’ll want to play it again and again with everybody who either already knows how to play, or has a very good and patient sense of humor. It’s cooperative. It’s intelligent. It encourages cleverness. It’s a great way to get to know people, and yourself, too.

Spyfall takes about 5-15 minutes to play each round and is designed for 3-8 sneaky, but astute players (or teams). Depending on how many players, and how many rounds you decide to play, the game will take anywhere from 15 minutes to well over an hour. It is designed by Alexander Ushan, with art by Uildrim and Sergey Dulin, and is published by Cryptozoic Entertainment.

Schatz-Rabatz (Treasure Trouble)

Filed Under (Kids Games) by Bernie DeKoven on Aug 27, 2015

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Schatz-Rabatz is a game of luck and speed. There are two versions: one, for younger players, is all about luck, speed and a little about visual and spatial discrimination (if you want to look at it that way); the other is all about skill.

The main elements of the game are the treasure chests, the wooden pieces that you try to fit into the treasure chest, the cards that tell you what pieces are eliminated (younger version) or what pieces to look for, the score cards and a sand timer.

In the younger version, a card is selected and placed face down on the table. The pieces (treasures) are placed in the middle of the table, in easy reach of all the players. Each player gets a treasure chest. The sand timer is started, and players race to fill their treasure chests. Naturally, you can fit in fewer large pieces than small. When time is up, you must put the lid on your treasure chest, and, if you have to, remove any pieces until you can fit the lid on correctly. The card is turned over. Any pieces depicted on the card are eliminated. The rest are counted for your score. The player with the most pieces remaining wins that round. Like I said, it’s mostly luck, which, for the right children at the right age, is exactly what everything is about. Also, the more players there are, the more the game is about making sure the other players don’t get the piece you’re looking for.

family-kids1In the older version, the cards are placed face up, so you can see what pieces you don’t want to collect. So there’s really no luck involved – only speed and skill (go for the smallest pieces first, try to fit in as many as you can, be sure none of the pieces you have selected are shown on the playing card, be sure everything fits). All this adds a certain amount of what one might call cognitive dissonance, and what another might call more fun – especially the older other.

All in all, a novel, and entertaining game, primarily for children and the adults who love them. Designed by Karin Hetling with art by Johann Rüttnger, Schatz-Rabatz is recommended for children ages 5 and up (small parts). It is produced by Noris, and is available in the US from Amazon.

Crash Cup Karambaloge

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games) by Bernie DeKoven on Aug 24, 2015

crash cup box
Crash Cup Karambaloge – yes, that’s the name of the game all right – reminded me of (pardon my literacy) a book by H. G. Wells (yes, that H. G. Wells) called Floor Games (there’s a PDF version here). It’s a book about H. G. and son playing miniature war games, using everything in the house they could find that would support the fantasy.

Crash Cup KarambalageCrash Cup Karambaloge is not a model war game, but it is in the same spirit. It’s a car-racing game, played with cardboard pieces, wooden supports, pucks, and score keepers. It’s really a starter set – even though it comes complete with everything you need to play, plus a rule book containing four different versions.

You play it on the floor, or on a table – any space wide and flat enough to build your race track. Much of the delight of the game comes from its simplicity, and the elegance of the little device you use to propel your vehicle (puck) through the race course – or whatever it is that you choose to build together.

YouTube Preview Image

Everything about it reflects the kind of fun we advocate – simple, but intriguing mechanics; inviting skill, imagination and creativity – all in all, a genuine invitation to family play.

Recommended for children 6 and older, Crash Cup Karambaloge can be played with 2-6 players. It was designed by Heinz Meister and is available in the US from HABAUSA


Thumbs Up!

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on Aug 24, 2015

thumbs up

We at Major Fun are nothing if not suckers for colorful dexterity games. It’s not like we are particularly good at them, it’s just that they are so darn cute!! The best ones are silly and involve a lot of involuntary shouting.

dexterity-family-kids-partyThere is nothing in the rules for Blue Orange’s dexterity game Thumbs Up! about shouting. It’s just something I felt strongly compelled to do when trying to arrange the colorful rings on my thumb in the right order. Each player is provided with 8 rings (2 blue, 2 red, 2 green, and 2 yellow). When everyone is ready, a challenge card is flipped over and players race to stack the correct number of rings in the right order. For example, the challenge card might show 5 dice: 2 red, a green, a yellow, and a blue. Each die shows one number from 1 to 5: green 1, red 2, red 3, blue 4, yellow 5. Player must stack 5 rings on their thumbs in this order.

The player who is fastest wins the round and earns the card. The player who first collects 5 cards wins the game.

It’s a simple and engaging formula. As you get better, there are several variations that change up the rules. We also found ways to handicap some of the fastest players in order to prevent one person from dominating. However you decide to play, the rounds are fast and frantic and excitement builds with each challenge card.

The rules are completely intuitive and fit on a small square sheet of paper. You can combine sets for larger groups or adapt the rules for team play.

Major Fun likes it and, given the opportunity, he’s gonna put a ring on it.

2 – 6 players. Ages 6+

Thumbs Up was designed by Alexandre Droit and is © 2015 by Blue Orange Games.