Unexploded Cow

Filed Under (Family Games) by Will Bain on Jul 8, 2015

Cheapass Games is one of my favorite game companies and not just because I find it fun to say the company’s name in mixed company. In the mid 90s, when I first saw the games being put out by James Ernest, they struck me as a revelation: great games could be funny, brilliant, and cheap! These plain white boxes and envelopes (yes, ENVELOPES) contained exactly what you needed to play the game as long as you could scrounge up some tokens or game pieces and maybe a few dice. I was a newly married grad student so cheap was great, but I was so excited by the games that I would usually create my own box set so I could bring my friends into the loving fold of such as games as Gimme the Brain, Falling, Kill Doctor Lucky, and the Great Brain Robbery (among others).

In the last 20 years, some things have changed. The games look more slick and are a bit more expensive (but still cheap by modern publishing standards). I won’t go into the company’s history ‘cause I gots me a game to review, but you can check out what James is working on now and read about where he’s been at his website here:.

What hasn’t changed is the company’s focus on FUN. It has taken a long time but I am proud give the Major Fun Award to the first of many Cheapass Games (stay tuned, more reviews are on the way).

Unexploded Cow
Unexploded Cow sends you to Europe where England and France have discovered a way to solve 2 difficult problems. France has a surplus of unexploded bombs left over from the last 2 world wars and England has a surplus of bovines suffering from mad cow disease. In the game, you collect a herd of mad cows and then send them into the field with the hopes that your cow will blow up, earning you money and the love of the thankful French villages.

You start the game with 5000 Francs (this is pre-Euro) and three cow cards. There is a deck of mad cows and a deck of villages. One village is turned face up and on your turn you draw 2 cards, play as many cards as you want, and then roll a 6-sided die for the Bomb Roll. Playing a card usually costs money which you toss into a common pool in the middle of the table. In this way you buy cows for your herd or make special events happen, but your herd is your greatest asset. These are arranged in a line from right to left (whatever order you want). On the Bomb Roll, you roll the die and count off the result, starting with your first cow and moving to the left. If the bomb lands on your cow you get money (each cow is worth a different amount) and the village card BUT the bomb could move past you and explode on your neighbor’s cow. In that case the money goes to your neighbor (but not the village—you can only earn that on your own turn).

There are special cows and special events but they are clearly spelled out with the card text and in the rules. The rules take less than 5 minutes to read and once you do you will never need them again. There is some luck to the game but also enough strategy that your choices are important, and more importantly, fun! Not only do you get to blow up crazy livestock but you can also steal good cows from your opponents and give them the truly stupid cows that cost money when they blow up.

In the end, you line up your cows, roll the die, and make explosion noises when somebody’s cow bids the world adieu in a flash of wet gibblets and prion-infected brain matter. Who knew that explosives and infectious protein fragments could such a great combination?

dudley 2

The art and card text are clever and silly. The game is fast paced and easy to learn. Everything you need for Major Fun is in this slim box. Just don’t trust Dudley. That cow was stupid before the disease prions started chipping holes in his brain. You’ll know him. He’s the one eating a hamburger…

2 – 6 players. Ages 12+

Unexploded Cow was designed by James Ernest and Paul Peterson and is © 2013 by Cheapass Games.

Snake Oil: Party Potion and Elixir

Filed Under (Family Games, Party Games) by Will Bain on Jul 7, 2015


What do you sell a snowman?

How about a puddle protector for those embarrassing spring moments? Or a pocket flamethrower to eliminate the competition? Or maybe an ice brush in order to stay well groomed?

In the world of Snake Oil, you play intrepid hucksters who have something for everyone and your job is to sell sell sell.

The original game of Snake Oil is certified Major Fun. It’s not hard to see why. It’s a party game in which one person plays the rube… er… customer and everyone else is a sales person with something unusual to peddle. The customer reveals a card that tells who they are (a snowman, a lion tamer, an acrobat, etc…). The sales people have a handful of cards that describe things. Their job is to take two of the cards arrange them into the name of some new item and then make a sales pitch. Once all the pitches have been made, the customer chooses a winning product.

This is not an anonymous game like Apples to Apples or Menu Mash-up. The fun is in the inventive combinations as well as the reasons players give for why their product is best. The more ridiculous the better.

Snake Oil: Party Potion and Snake Oil: Elixir can both be played on their own or can be mixed in with the original as an expansion. Party Potion is written with younger audiences in mind (it is listed for ages 8+ as opposed to 10+ for Elixir and the base game) but we found that it was every bit as engaging and fun as the others.

If you have Snake Oil and are looking for more items and customers to enliven your game, these will do the trick. If you are new to the game, any of the three are a good place to start.

So hitch up your wagon, pull out your best soap-box, and get your bull-horn polished. There are suckers born every minute and all of them are in desperate need of beard freezers, table clips, and a package of sock bacon.

Major Fun Award

3 – 6 players. Ages 10+ (8+ for Party Potion)

Snake Oil: Party Potion and Snake Oil: Elixir were designed by Jeff Ochs and Patricia Kaufman and is © 2014 by Out of the Box Games.


Filed Under (Puzzles) by Bernie DeKoven on Jul 6, 2015

Tagged Under :

They call it Houdini, ThinkFun does, explaining that it’s the “World’s First 40-Challenge Escape Puzzle.” It consists of what one can only call a “most unusual” collection of Houdini-like accoutrements. There’s a big plastic piece that depicts what is clearly the worlds first legless person to have a huge hole in his middle, with arms and hands are tied together most securely with many locks and chains, to have two, snap-on, fabric legs. Then there’s an unopenable plastic lock, a large red “trap cage” upon which are embedded three ominous trapping rings, two ropes – each ending in openable rings, two rings (one a hollow plastic barrel, the other impervious metal), and a deck of 20, double-sided puzzle cards, rung together with a handy explanatory card that instructs you, in general terms, how one might tie Houdini up (to begin a puzzle) and recommendations for how to go about attempting to free the poor, shackled, gutless, plastic lad. And, of course, a mesh, drawstring travel bag (which turns out to be not only handy but essential insofar as you’ll need to almost destroy the box to get at all the components).

It turns out that much of Houdini’s magic is based on what mathematicians like to call topological puzzles – puzzles of such lasting folk-worthiness that they’ve been handed down through the ages, as this recent stamp from Greenland, honoring such, so clearly demonstrates.

greenland puzzle stamp
The instruction card also indicates the precise URL of the page on the Internet from whence you can find clearly depicted videos of how to tie the dude up, and how to release him.

The first puzzle, I’m glad to say, the one marked “Beginner 1,” is fairly easy to assemble. Even I was able to figure out how to tie Houdini to the trap cage using only a rope and the metal ring. And, subsequently, completely flummoxed by my attempts to figure out how to release Houdini from the illustrated entrapment. Completely.

After some deliberation, I decided to evaluate, shall we say, the clarity of the solution videos. And, upon clicking my way over to the appropriate link, beheld an amazing feat of graphic clarity which I could almost follow, but which immediately led me to exclaim something like “What?” and then “Who Knew?” and then, upon third viewing, to achieve the necessary clarity to make the attempt. And, behold, after only two more viewings, it proved to be child’s play.


puzzlesWhat we have here is Major Fun of historic proportions. Truly challenging puzzles that tie your puzzle-solving centers into conceptual knots. Puzzles whose solutions are often so surprising that they make you laugh most entirely. And the ingenious use of the computer to support both the making and unmaking of the puzzles makes the whole thing so much more fun – just knowing that real, carefully illustrated help is only a click or two away is almost all you need to keep you happily engaged.

Designed by Nicholas Cravotta and Rebecca Bleau, Houdini is recommended for people who are mature enough to understand the joy of deep challenge.

YouTube Preview Image

Compose Yourself

Filed Under (Creative, Family Games, Kids Games) by Bernie DeKoven on Jun 25, 2015

compose yourself

Compose Yourself is an invitation to the fun of music, to the kind of fun that only an accomplished composer knows, to the way Mozart and Bach played with music. With a little assistance from ThinkFun.

The result is half contained in a lovely box with a lovely bag and a thick pack of transparent cards. The other half is on your computer.


YouTube Preview Image

Compose Yourself invites anyone, kids, adults, even people who can’t read music, who don’t play an instrument, who’ve never composed anything more musical than a tuneless whistle; to experience the fun that is core to the art of composing music. All it takes is a little playfulness and curiosity, the cards and your computer, and a world of beautiful, harmonious, apparently endless fun opens to you.

You select cards from the deck, sure, at random, what the heck. Pick a card, any card will do. In fact, pick four cards. OK, pick twelve. Decide how you want to position each card (they’re transparent so you can not only turn them around, you can also flip them over). And then enter the code on each card into the computer. You can reposition the cards on the computer as well. When you’re ready, you can get the computer to play your composition. And you can choose between the “marimba” sound (which makes it easier to hear the notes) or the orchestra (which will bathe you in symphonic delight), or both. You can change your composition as often as you want. Play around with the cards. Explore some of the very useful tips from the Maestro. For example:

Try repeating a card somewhere. Repetition is fine, in fact, in music it’s great. There are 30 pairs in this pack, see how repeating a card somewhere in your tune makes it sound.

Try a trick that poets use when they make rhymes? Create a composition using alternating cards. e.g., A,D,A,D,B,C,B,C. You may find that it adds a lovely beat or cadence.

You can save your composition as an MP3. You can print it out if you’re of the music-playing sort. And you’ll be learning stuff like how to read music (without even trying) and how musical phrases can be manipulated and how very much fun it all can be.

In all the many delights of discovering games that are worthy of the Major Fun seal, I have never been this delighted, this gratified. Compose Yourself exemplifies everything I’ve been teaching about what an educational toy or game should be – and it never once makes you think that education has anything to do with it.

Philip Sheppard, Maestro, who composed the cards explains

Dear budding musician,

I invented these cards to help me with a challenge I face every day. You see, I’m very lucky because I get to write music for my job, but I have to write hundreds of pieces a year and sometimes I need help to think of a new tune really quickly. So, late one night, I was working on some music for a film and I was stuck.

I thought to myself, what would Bach or Mozart do? Well, they would take a few notes and turn them upside down or backwards until their musical lines danced across the page, through an orchestra right into your heart & soul.

There was a piece of transparent paper on my desk and I had this crazy idea. Soon I had a stack of cards that I could flip and rotate and a world of tunes opened up right there. I wrote three pieces that night; the next day the director of the film was thrilled. You now get the resulting cards, and I hope you have as much fun making music as I do. Remember, we all talk about playing music, but it’s even more fun to play with music — so Compose Yourself!

Well, I add, bless you, Maestro, and you too, ThinkFun, for creating such a playful invitation to such deeply rewarding fun.



Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Thinking Games) by Bernie DeKoven on Jun 24, 2015

Dragonwood, despite its dragonish and monsterly appearance, is a fun and funny game for people old enough to enjoy playing with luck. Sure, it’s about winning, and winning, despite your cunning and deep familiarity with probability theory, your awesome intuitive powers and general strategic brilliance, is all about luck – and therein lies the bulk of the fun.

There are two decks of cards. One, the “Adventurer Cards,” reveals a collection of colorfully rendered noble, but fairly harmless-seeming dudes and dudettes accompanied by a few “Lucky Lady Bugs” whose magical power allows you to pick two more cards. The second, the “Dragonwood Cards,” compose the very objects for which you are so devotedly vying – the Grumpy Trolls, worth 4 points each, the snarling Pack of Wolves (only 3 points), or perhaps one of only two 6- or even 7-point dragons. Scattered amongst these evil critters you’ll also find an assortment of natural events (Sunny Day, Wind Storm, Thunder Storm) that make you do things like discard one of your Adventure Cards or pass it to the right or left; and such lusted after special power cards like the Bucket of Spinach which allows you to add 2 points to any Stomp.

Stomp, you ask? What means this Stomp?

Major Fun AwardYou see, on every Dragonwood Card there’s a list of three possible actions: Strike, Stomp and Scream. What means these actions, you wonder. A Strike is a set of Adventurer cards that are in sequence (regardless of color), a Stomp cards of the same number, and a Scream, cards of the same color. Each alternative has a number next to it. To win the Dragonwood Card of your choice, you need to search among the cards in your hand (you can have up to 9) for the longest array and then throw the dice (there are 6) to see if you can get a high enough score. How many dice you can throw depends on how many cards you play. Some cards, like the Bucket of Spinach, you hold on to as tightly as you can because you can use them throughout the game – but the more of those you have, the fewer Adventurer cards. And therein, of course, lies yet another rub, or shall we say, tickle.

There are just enough alternatives to keep your strategically probability-estimating mind in gear, just enough incentives to stoke the competitive fires, and just enough luck for it to make you laugh semi-maniacally, despite it all, win or lose. All in maybe 20 minutes.

In sum, Major Fun.

Designed by Darren Kisgen with beautifully playful art by Chris Beatrice on 108 playing cards that shuffle easily, six dice that are lovely to behold and have that perfect rollability factor – for 2-4 players age 8 and up from Gamewright.

Sushi Go

Filed Under (Family Games) by Marc Gilutin on Jun 11, 2015

Sushi Go


Fresh fish, please!

And keep it coming!

Imagine sitting at a big round table at a sushi restaurant. Mmmmm, right?

The waitress brings a combo plate of sorts and puts it in front of you. You take one piece of your choice (some tempura? Sashimi?) And pass the plate to your left. At the same time, your right hand neighbor, who has done the same thing, passes a different plate to you. (Would you like some salmon? Yellowtail?) You take something and pass what’s left to your left.

Everybody continues doing this until all the plates are empty. Then you get to enjoy all this fine fresh fish! Yum!

Well, I’ve done that at a very large table with a LOT of friends. And, Boy was it fun!

Now let’s make this into a game, ok?

A game that’s fresh like sushi needs to be. 

In Sushi Go (designed by Phil Walker-Harding, with art by Nan Rangsima and Tobias Schweiger) you score points when everybody’s got all the cards they’re going to get for that round. Cards? You get 108 of them! Rinse, repeat three times. The whole experience takes maybe 20 fun minutes.

In this fun game, instead of eating the sushi, you’re trying to collect various sets of cards which will give you points when its time to score.

Complete with chopsticks. And wasabi. And dessert too!

Very tasty! In a Major Fun kind of way.


Every round, you’re dealt a certain number of cards, depending on the number of players. Keep one. Pass the rest. Then turn your chosen card over so everyone can get a hint of what you’re trying to collect, or not.

Each different kind of fish (or wasabi, or chopsticks, or dessert) scores points for you when the round’s over, so there’s some definite strategery. On the other hand, so to speak, you don’t have to worry about anybody taking the game too seriously, because winning and losing are mostly due to sheer luck.

So pass me the Major Fun please!

Major Fun award

Sushi Go, brought to us by Gamewright, is a game for 2-5 lovers of fine, fresh fish fun, age 8 or higher.


Filed Under (Thinking Games) by Marc Gilutin on Jun 3, 2015


Miriam Webster defines “Splendor” as “magnificence, grandeur, beauty, elegance.”

Or maybe I’ll just quote “Italian John” – a great old guy who used to work in the local pool room where I might have spent a little too much time growing up: “Super-Bella-Gorgeous!!”

The very highest of compliments one could get. Like a Major Fun Award.

Major Fun awardI play lots of games with lots of different players. And I have yet to hear anybody say they didn’t like Splendor. Period. It’s very easy to learn and has a short enough playing time (30 minutes-ish) that there’s a great chance you’ll be playing back to back games.

The game is very easy to learn but offers enough strategy to keep everyone involved.

Splendor, is what we – folks who love games that make you think – call an “Engine Builder.”

You start with nothing. Do things to make your nothing become something. Improve that something into a nicer, more efficient something and, hopefully, into a winning something.
Ain’t that something?

“The play’s the thing” – Shakespeare was a gamer!

Splendor Set-up

When it’s your turn you either:

1. Take Chips: Blue, Red. Black, White, or Green
2. Buy a card from the board using said chips as currency
3. Speculate on a card from the board and take one Gold (wild) chip.

The cards are set out in three rows, each with its own supply deck. The first row is the easiest to get, etc. The cost for buying a card is always some combination of chips, for example, one particular low level green card costs 1 each of white, blue, red, and black.

But look how beautiful this game is!

So pleasing are the chips…..I frequently end up shuffling mine while we play.

“But how do I win?”

Some of the cards that are mostly in the second and third rows have a big number in the upper left of the card. Those are Victory Points – what you’re playing for. There are also a number of Nobleman tiles (3 points each), which a player can claim if they qualify at the end of their turn. The game goes on until, in a 4 player game, for instance, one player declares that they’ve accumulated 15 points. This means the current round is the last. Most points wins.

Splendor is published in France by Space Cowboys (their site is simply Splendorful) and is available in the US from Asmodee. It is designed by Marc André, with art by Pascal Quidalt. It can be played by 2-4 players, 1o-years-old and up.

Repeat after me: “Splendor is Super-Bella Gorgeous”, which translates to Major Fun!


Filed Under (Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on May 31, 2015


Quack-a-doodle-Moo will take you about five minutes to learn. Really. It’s a game that requires just a tad of memory (making it challenging enough for focused grandparental engagement) speedy reaction time (in which the children will shine) and adds an element of conceptual befuddlement that will attract even the most intellectual disciplined parent. Hence, it is something of an archetypical family game and close to the apotheosis of party games which equally lends itself to being a kids’ game.

There are 96 Animal Cards depicting 12 different animals along with the sound they are purported to make. There are 12 Barn Cards – one for each animal.

The game begins with an equal distribution of the Animal Cards, a different number of cards depending on how many players are about to be intensely involved. Each player then gets a Barn Card. The Barn Card has two sides. One side shows a barn, the other the particular animal whose sound will be used during the remainder of that round to identify that particular player. Players take turns revealing their inner animals while everyone practices making the sound of said animal. Then, everyone assured of who is what, the game begins.

Players take turns revealing the animal card on top of their decks. One at a time, round and round, card-by-card. As soon as a player discovers that the card she or he just played matches someone else’s card, that player, and the player whose card was matched, race to be the first to make the sound, not of the matching animals, but of the other player’s animal (now hiding in that player’s barn) – and therein lies both the agony and ecstasy of the game.

Quack-a-doodle-Moo will make you laugh, and the fun will be Major, and at least 20 minutes of happy hysteria will be had by all. For the first round. And, should the collective skills prove to be greater than anticipated, the good folk at Out of the Box games have included alternate rules for further collective exacerbation.

Major Fun Award

Quack-a-doodle-Moo is a gift to the world, for three to eight players, from the age of seven-up, so to speak, by the playful graces of Out of the Box Publishing. The elegantly playworthy concept comes from by Chris Childs and Tony Richardson, the oft-hysterical game play design by Al Waller and Max Winter Osterhaus, accompanied by the suitably silly illustrations of resident artist John Kovalic.

Color Clash

Filed Under (Dexterity, Family Games, Kids Games, Party Games, Puzzles, Speed Game) by Bernie DeKoven on May 28, 2015

Color Clash
You are, of course, familiar with the Stroop Effect? As an avid follower of the work of the famous psychologist John Ridley Stroop, author of the oft-cited research paper “Studies of interference in serial verbal reactions,” you’ve doubtlessly spent many an indolent hour of pleasurable Strooping.

You haven’t? Or you may have, but didn’t know you were?

Well, dear fun-seeker, have we got a game for you! O, yes we have.

It’s called Color Clash.

You get 36 round “Color Clash tiles” and six larger, also round “Chameleon tiles.”  You only need the Chameleons in some of the games, but all of the games use the Color Clash tiles. You also get a well-illustrated instruction booklet describing eight (8) different games. Yes, 8 (eight) different games – some for three or more players, some for two or more, and the last two games both solitaires. Now, before we go on, I need must point out that the eight different games are not variations of each other, but each one a game in its own delightful rightMajor Fun Award – equally playable, equally fun-provoking. This, in itself, is a rare and most praiseworthy accomplishment.

As you may have noted from the illustration, each tile has three attributes: a written word naming a color, the color of that written word, and a colored image. As you, already being familiar with the joys of Strooping, so well know how the crux of the challenge lies in the fact that the words that name a particular color are most often themselves printed in a different color.

Let us, for the sake of brevity, examine only the first game, “Guess What I’m Thinking.” For this, and the next game, which we shall only name in passing (“Between Four”), requires three or more players. You lay out all 36 of the Clash Tiles, face-up (both yours and theirs). When it’s your turn to start, you select (mentally) any one tile and take note of the its three different attributes (the color described by the word in the outer ring, the color in which that word is printed, and the color of the image in the center of the tile) (you try to do this without staring too hard or too long at the tile you’ve chosen). You then announce all three colors, in any order your whim suggests, and all the other players conceptually scramble to be the first to cover that one particular tile with their hand. The first player to identify the correct tile wins that round, and that tile. We recommend that that player be the next tile-chooser (though the rules stipulate that some turn order be established aforehand). The game continues until only six tiles are left, the winner being the player who has collected the most tiles.

And that’s just the first game.

Easy to learn. Deeply challenging. Often laughter provoking. Major Fun.

Color Clash comes to you from the oft Major Fun awarded Blue Orange Games and is designed by FabienTaguy, illustrated by Stephane Escapa, for 1-8 non-color-blind players, ranging in age from 7-years-old to senior.

Stroop on!

Chopstick Dexterity Mega Challenge 3000

Filed Under (Dexterity) by Will Bain on May 20, 2015


It’s the future and a mysterious plague has eliminated all cutlery, except for the humble chopstick. Only those who are one with the chopstick will survive.

In a world where the fork is king, one hero dares to rise against the tyranny of the tines. That hero may be you…
After the machines took over, humans were gathered to entertain the mechanical overlords in a series of increasingly bizarre gladiatorial spectacles. On this, the final day of games, the weapon of choice is the chopstick.

Whatever story you choose to believe, Mayday’s Chopstick Dexterity Mega Challenge 3000 (to be referred to hereafter as CDMC 3000) is a fast, noisy, sloppy game in which opponents try to be the first to gather colored wood shapes from a central wok using (wait for it) only (wait for it) chopsticks (gasp!!).

IMG_5136There are 25 wooden pieces: five shapes (shrimp, tentacle, nigiri, onigiri, sushi roll) in five colors (purple, red, yellow, blue, and green). These are placed in a large central wok. Each competitor gets a set of chopsticks and a smaller dish. The game also comes with 40 tokens that tell contestants the target shapes. When a token is revealed the opponents race to see who can collect the most wooden pieces that match the revealed token. There are 25 standard tokens. These match the shapes and colors of the wooden pieces. In addition there are 15 wild or special tokens that force competitors to fight over different numbers or combinations of pieces.

There are many competitions included with CDMC 3000, but the most basic involves using the 25 standard tokens. When one is revealed, the opponents race to gather pieces that match either the color or the shape of the revealed token. It’s good to start simple because once two or three sets of chopsticks are clattering about the central wok, things get messy.

Familiarity with chopstick use is a definite plus but some of the pieces are very tricky even without someone else stabbing at the bowl like a ravenous seagull. Moving the bowl is legal. Hitting someone else’s chopsticks is legal until that person has lifted a piece from the bowl.

Time-outs are frequent because the central wok capsizes or pieces get scattered in the melee. Once the table has been reset, the match resumes.

Oh the humanity!

Never have so many been reduced to tears by so few!


We hold these truths to be self-evident that all are equal before the great wok of CDMC 3000 and that they shall be thus endowed with Major Fun.

Although the game pronounces that it is designed for 1 – 3 players (solo play is accomplished with a timer) it can easily be adapted to larger numbers. Players can form teams and compete in rounds or (and this is only for those who have a pathological desire to be the object of blame and humiliation) they can compete with a partner—each holding ONE chopstick. I’m not saying you should play this way. I’m just saying.

CDMC 3000 is slappy, stabby, table-smashy Major Fun.

1 – 3 players. Ages 8+

Chopstick Dexterity Mega Challenge 3000 was designed by Greg Lam and is © 2014 by Mayday Games.