Light and dark. Connection and separation. Peace and aggression. Shōbu is a game of balance… until it isn’t. Using a series of mirrored moves your goal is to push four of your opponent’s stones off a single game board.You started when you were young. Riding the trails, corralling horses through the wilderness, guiding them through shows and into camp to add to your herd.
Shōbu is a beautiful game and most certainly evokes a sense of the classic game Go.
There are four lovely wooden boards: two dark and two light. Each board has a raised four by four grid.
Each player has a set of sixteen stones: light or dark. These look like smooth river rocks.
Boards are arranged in a square with dark on the left and light on the right. A small piece of cotton rope is placed between the boards to delineate the home area for each player (the two closest boards).
Place stones on the bottom row of each board so they are facing each other and you’re ready to play Shōbu!
A turn in Shōbu has two parts: a passive move and an aggressive move.
Your first move is passive and must be on one of your two home boards (the ones closest to you). Pick a stone and move it. This stone could move one or two spaces in any direction.
Because this move is passive, it cannot interact with any other pieces on the board. No pushing; no jumping. The passive move, in other words, must be unobstructed from start to finish.
The second move is aggressive and is inextricably tied to the first. Your aggressive move must be on the opposite color board (if your passive move was on the dark board, your aggressive move must be on a light board – including your opponent’s). Pick a stone and move it.
This move must mirror the direction and number of spaces of your passive move. And because this move is aggressive, your stone is allowed to push a single stone of your opponent. Two stones blocks pushing. And you can never push your own.
That’s it. Start with a passive move each turn on one board. Mirror that move next with an aggressive move, hoping over time to push four opponent’s stones from a single board.
Connection and backwards thinking set Shōbu apart.
No piece in the game exists in isolation. Each of your stones is tethered to every other stone with an invisible thread. The better you can visualize this web of connections, the more clearly you will see opportunities and dangers on each board.
Because of these connections, Shōbu asks you to think backward on every turn. In order to know the effect you want to create on the board, you start by planning your aggressive move, your last move, first.
Look for a place where you might have the advantage. Find a place where you can push an opponent’s stone off the board. Once found, can you find its passive mirror move on the opposite color home board?
Moments of joy in Shōbu come from winding backward from your aggressive end goal to find a passive stone with clear path.
But be careful! Joy can turn to sorrow quickly if you don’t take the time to also think backward through your opponent’s next move. A careless aggressive move might leave you open to being pushed around.
There are many flavors of fun. Some are obvious, wild, and boisterous. Others are more subtle but no less meaningful. Shōbu shows us play can be an act of serenity. Its simplicity opens a door to so many and gives players the space they need to explore the richness and depth hidden within the game. With its beautiful shifting stones connected by invisible tethers, Shōbu offers us a calm, thoughtful engaging form of fun. And that makes it worth of both our awards!
5211 is a press-your-luck card game with deep roots in casual classics. On one level, it’s a kissing cousin to stud poker.Cards are selected by each player in secret and then played out: first 2, then 1, then 1. Then we score. Only cards in the majority color score… as long as the total isn’t pushed too high!
If everyone can plays nice, all have the potential to benefit. But, the minute you get too greedy, you’re likely to get bit and another color will score.
5211 has two lives. One as a modern game that can be as thinky as you want it to be. One as a bridge for social interaction, inspired by card nights with family and friends from days gone by.
Listen in to discover how a game so simple in design but rich in its strategy and tactics can be a source of joy for all. We think anyone can play and find Major Fun in 5211.
You started when you were young. Riding the
trails, corralling horses through the wilderness, guiding them through shows
and into camp to add to your herd.
Next, you bought a barn and a small patch of
land – just enough for a few horses. Can you make your ranch into the talk of
the town? With a lot of hard work and planning (and a little luck), folks will
flock from miles away to admire the ranch and the beautiful show horses you’ve
Fantasy Ranch is a collection of six
horse-themed games enjoyable by a wonderfully wide range of players, whether
you’re a greenhorn or a grizzled ranch hand.
The production quality of Fantasy Ranch is top-notch. There is a double-sided main board along with dice and tokens. There are also six double-sided ranch boards. Each player receives a player aid/ranch mat with photos from an actual horse ranch.
Two elements will most likely produce oohs and ahhs when
revealed: the horse cards and horse figures.
There are 57 small wooden horse figures in five different colors
and patterns. They are ridiculously charming.
The 57 horse cards, each feature a lovely photograph and game
icons representing the horse’s abilities and talents.
All these elements combine to create a beautiful tableau as the
game unfolds. Don’t be surprised if someone stops the
game to take a pic or two of their ranch.
There are two basic game modes: Trail Ride and Fantasy Ranch.
Each of these modes has a beginner, intermediate, and advanced set of rules,
each one building intuitively on knowledge and experience from the prior.
Trail Ride has a roll-and-move mechanism at its core. You will move
along paths to reach a camp space at the end. However, the goal of the game is
to collect horses that will increase your score. There are spaces to buy and
sell horses along the way. There are terrain features which may make moving
more difficult. And there are show spaces along the paths that could allow you
to collect resources and additional horses. As you move through the levels of Trail
Ride, you unlock new ways of scoring your herd, providing some strategic
decisions about which horses to collect.
Fantasy Ranch is played over five rounds. Each round, players
will select one action: buy horses, buy new locations on their ranch board, or
collect six resources. At the end of a round, a horse show is held. Players
will enter a horse in the competition, rolling dice based on the talents of
each horse. Collect horses and build ranch locations that provide trophies to
There are many gamerly elements added as you progress from level
to level, including twist of fate cards that provide secret ways for you to
score, hired hands that provide a temporary ability or bonus, and a deck of
horse show cards that make the competitions change from game to game. There’s
even an area control element added at the highest level, where control of ranch
boards can shift from player to player depending on the size of your herd.
Passion sets Fantasy Ranch apart. This game is the brainchild of two horse-crazy sisters, Keshia and Antastasia Swanlund. Their passion seeps into every aspect of the game, from the information on the horse cards to the detailed ranch profiles and the actual equestrian sponsors whose products are included on the board and cards. This isn’t crass commercialism; it demonstrates their deep connection to the subject which enhances the enjoyment of the game. You can’t fake this level of love and attention to detail. And you don’t have to be a horse nut like them to be pulled into the experience. If anything, their passion may inspire you to want to learn more about horses!
I want to close by emphasizing the amazingly flexible game experience Fantasy Ranch provides in a single box. Name another game that can accommodate players from ages 5 through adult, giving each player along this spectrum an opportunity for a fun and challenging experience. You can tailor the game you want to play based on the players you have at the table on any given day or night. This is a rare and noteworthy achievement, and just one among many reasons you will rustle up a herd of Major Fun each time you play.
Designer: Tim W.K. Brown Publisher: Breaking Games 2 or more players 15 minutes ages 8+ MSRP $20
Bubble Wrap… Instant Coffee… Processed Cheese… The Zamboni
Do you know which came first? Can
you put these inventions in the right order? The name of the game says it all.
There are 80 large and wonderfully
illustrated invention cards.
The front of each card is red and
shows the invention. The back of each card is blue and contains the year of the
invention and some fun facts about it. The range of years spans from the 1890’s to the 1970’s.
Each player or team gets a set of
player chips numbered first, second, third, and fourth.
A bank of scoring tokens will be
used after each round.
Each round, four inventions will
be on display, red side face up.
Your task is to place your first
chip on the invention that was invented the earliest, following on in numerical
order until you place your fourth chip on the invention you think was invented
Once all chips are placed, flip
the cards to reveal the years for each invention and wait for the chorus of
cheers and moans.
Now we score.
I like to put the cards in
chronological order before revealing the chips to see who scores. It builds a
bit more tension and prompts some discussion as you see the small timeline you’ve created this round.
Any player or team that has a
numbered chip on an invention in the correct order earns a scoring token worth
1 point. If you’re
wrong, sorry! Better luck on the next one.
If you’re feeling frisky, on the
next rounds you can bet your scoring tokens in addition to your player chips.
But don’t get
too cocky. If you’re
wrong, you lose those points!
The player or team with the most
points after five rounds wins.
There are no lack of games, especially
in the party game arena, that ask players to think about time and chronology.
Familiarity and context set Order
of Invention apart from the crowd.
The inventions in the game are small
and often eclectic things we know. They are not monumental items, but each in
their own way has had some impact on the world. This is history on a small
scale – a relatable scale, because the inventions are familiar.
The game asks us to place four items
in context with each other.
cheese must be before bubble wrap, right? And the Zamboni must come later since
it’s a gas
powered vehicle… but later than bubble wrap? And what about instant
coffee? Didn’t the astronauts drink that?”
The heart of fun comes from the
conversations these items spur on between us.
And that dialogue is inspired by the fact that the items are part of our lives. We can place the inventions in our own frame of reference, in our own context, first. And that allows us to enjoy the game in a way that’s markedly different than games that focus on big historical events or famous people or inventions.
Order of Invention is most
certainly Major Fun for groups of almost any size and players of all ages. But
it can also be a blast with just two. Not many games can span that range and
hold up well in both situations.
The subtle but important choice to
focus on the eclectic flotsam and jetsam of our modern world makes the game
shine. And, win or lose, it will bring players back to the table wondering what
crazy mix of items you’ll get
each time you play.
Designer: Jun Sasaki Publisher: Oink Games 2-5 20 minutes ages 7+ MSRP $20
In Troika, You are a fortune seeker, hoping to cash in on a recent discovery. On a distant planet, scientists have found a type of stone, which when combined properly, can yield great riches.
You’ve traveled to the planet, but now you’ve been told that getting these gems won’t be enough. You must also gather the right kind of stones to provide enough fuel to get you back to Earth. Gems and fuel. Anything less and your mission will be judged a failure.
As with all Oink Games, the fun in Troika is packed into a small, portable box.
Troika comes with 49 Stone tiles. The tiles are numbered from 1 to 15. Each number is represented three times(three ‘5’ tiles, three ‘6’ tiles, etc.) except for the ‘7’ tile, which has exactly seven copies. The tiles show their number on one side only, with a dark blue reverse.
The game also comes with 20 scoring chips in denominations of 2, 1, and -1.
In Troika, each adventurer must gather sets of exactly 3 stones to combine as either gems or fuel. Gems will give you the riches you desire. But without fuel, you aren’t leaving the planet to enjoy life back on Earth.
A set of three consecutively numbered stones (4,5,6, for example) become a gem. To make fuel, you must collect three of the same number. You put your sets together at the end of a round, so plan carefully what you keep.
To begin a round, turn all the Stone tiles face down in the center of the table. Give them a good shuffle, and each player takes one tile at random. This tile goes face down in front of the player in their Hand.
Now, from the remaining tiles, turn one tile face up for all to see. Choose a starting player, and begin your adventure.
Each player’s turn starts exactly the same: Turn face up one of the Stone tiles in the center of the table. Now the player has two choices: Take a tile from the center of the table(face up or face down) or return a tile they’ve previously collected back to the center area.
If you take a face up tile, it goes in front of you, and is visible for all to see. This area is your Container.
If you take a face down tile, it goes into your Hand, and is kept secret from the other players. But you can hold no more than three tiles in your hand. If your hand is full, you can’t choose this option.
The other choice is to return a tile back to the middle. If you do this, a face up tile goes back face up. A tile from your Hand goes back face down. To understand why you’d choose this option, you need to know how a hand scores.
Remember, you are collecting sets of three. Three ‘7’s, for example, will complete a fuel set. A fuel set counts 0 value toward your overall score for the round. But fail to collect a fuel set, and you will lose the round.
A gem set is made of exactly three tiles in consecutive order. A set with a 3, 4, 5 or an 11, 12, 13, for example. A gem set is worth whatever is the last digit in the set. Three points for a 3, or eight points for an 8. Five points for a 15. Zero points for a 10.
But each tile which doesn’t fit into either a fuel set or a gem set is considered Trash, and will cost you one point from your score. This means sometimes the correct decision on your turn is to take out the trash by returning a tile to the middle of the table.
Play continues around the table, with each player on their turn first turning up a tile in the center, and then either taking, or putting back a tile.
Or, maybe, at the start of your turn, you might shout out, “Troika” to escape the planet.
You may only declare Troika if:
you have at least 5 face up tiles in front of you (your container),
you already have a fuel set (a set of 3 matching numbered tiles)
you have no Trash tiles (extra tiles that don’t make gems or fuel) in your hand or container.
If you declare “Troika,” you will stop playing for the round. Your turn is skipped, and you hide their tiles from others until round end.
The first player to declare “Troika” will have five points added to the value of their hand at round end. Be careful, though! If you shout “Troika” without meeting the requirements, you automatically lose the round.
The round ends when all tiles in the center of the table have been turned face up, or when all players except one have declared Troika. Now, players assemble their sets for scoring.
Add the values of the last digits of any gem sets you’ve collected (you might have more than one!).Subtract one point for each junk tile. Add five points if you were the first to declare Troika. A fuel set scores 0.
Players now compare their totals. Highest total gets a 2 point score chip. Second highest receives a 1 point chip. Nothing for anyone else. EXCEPT… if you failed to get both a fuel set and a gem set, you get a minus 1 chip.
Set up for another round and play 3 total. Highest total score on your chips is the boldest and best adventurer!
Troika offers a twist on the classic genre of set collection. Here, you must collect two sets of opposing natures. You will find the interests of amassing three consecutive numbers and three alike numbers bumping heads regularly. Especially when you figure in the intent of others at the table.
Trying to use 3 tens as a fuel set? Just wait until Aunt Sylvia grabs one of them to go with the eleven and twelve she has as a gem set. Now, your tens are trash. You’d better make other plans.
Of course, you can see to a degree what others are collecting. But some tiles are in the player’s hands and not open knowledge. You’ve got to watch carefully what others take, and try to infer what else they might hold in their hands.
The fact that the game has of all the numbers, but seven 7s is clever. Sevens seem like an easy source of fuel. Just get three of them. BUT… of course, everyone wants sevens for that reason. AND… the the most valuable gem set you can make is the 7-8-9 (nine points!). Don’t expect the sevens to just build up on the table, waiting for you to grab them.
Troika packs a delicious tension into every game. You must turn up one tile on your turn. Since the round ends when all the tiles are face up, the clock is always ticking. The only thing you can do to hold off time is return a face down tile from your hand to the pool.
And adding to the tension is the allure of “Troika” itself. By shouting it out first, you are staking claim to a perfect hand and its reward of a five point bonus. But will that be enough? Maybe another player will complete two gem sets and surpass your total, even with the bonus points. It’s a gamble, but it may be just enough to put you first.
With Troika, Oink Games enters the arena of other games in the Rummy family. The appeal is the same as any other classic Rummy game: collect sets to outscore your opponent. But here the clock is ticking from the very start, and the fun is compacted into a quick, but challenging experience.
Troika stands as a classic with a whimsical Oink twist. A twist that carries over to the tiles themselves. They are septagons.
Designer: Peter McPherson Publisher: AEG 1-6 players 30-45 minutes ages 12+ MSRP $40
You are the mayor of a tiny town in the forest, where the smaller creatures of the woods have created a civilization hidden away from predators. This new land is small and the resources are scarce–you take what you can get, and never say ‘no’ to building materials. Cleverly plan and construct a thriving town, and don’t let it fill up with wasted resources!
Each player receives a player board, which
represents their tiny town. The board is a 4×4 grid, on which resources will be
placed, and buildings constructed. In addition, players also receive two
Monument cards, and a single wooden monument piece.
Five different colored cubes represent the resources: Wood, Wheat, Brick, Glass, and Stone. The colors are nicely contrasted in brown, yellow, red, teal and gray.
Each game of Tiny Towns features the Cottage
(your creatures need a place to live!). In addition, 6 other buildings may be
built. These public buildings are selected randomly from game to game. For each
type of building, one card out of four is chosen to be featured in each game.
Each building will present slightly different challenges, and offer different
The building cards show a pattern of colored
resources which must be matched to place a building. In addition, how each
building will score at game’s end is spelled out in text at the bottom.
Every one of the seven public buildings are
represented by wooden building pieces. These are a different color and shape,
making them easy to differentiate from one another.
addition, players also receive two Monument cards, and a single wooden monument
piece. You’ll choose one of these two private building cards to keep,
discarding the other. Only you may build this unique structure during the game.
Tiny Towns is a game in which players use pattern
recognition to build buildings and score points. Each building scores victory
points in a unique way, and requires a different grouping of resources.
On a turn, one player will be the Master Builder.
This player selects one of the five resources, which all players must add to
their boards. Once placed, a cube cannot be moved. Then the next player in turn
order becomes Master Builder, and all players must add the resource they select
to their personal boards.
At any time a player has the required cubes to
match either a public or private building, he or she may build.. First all the
cubes used are returned to the supply, then the building is placed on one of
the spaces which yielded the cubes.
For example: The Cottage requires a pattern of cubes with a teal cube at its center, flanked by a red cube on the left, and yellow cube on the right, but turned 90 degrees. Once this little triangle of three pieces is complete, remove the cubes, and place a cottage in one of the three spaces. Now your critters have a place to call home!
But a place to live is worthless without a source
of food. One of four food buildings
(Farm, Granary, Greenhouse, or Orchard) will supply your cottages. Cottages
which are fed will score 3 points apiece. Otherwise, they score zero.
Say the Farm is in your game. It’ll feed four
Cottages. If you built a fifth Cottage, you’ll need to have a second Farm to
feed all five. Other food buildings will feed cottages based on how close they
are to the Cottages. And each food building requires a different pattern of
cubes in order to be built.
Other types of buildings play off of their
location in your town to score points, or what other buildings you’ve erected
nearby. The Tavern simply gives points based on
how many you’ve built. One Tavern will get you 2 points, but five Taverns yield
20. The Feast Hall will yield 2 points each. But if you build more of them than
your right hand neighbor does, they increase to 3 apiece..
And Commercial buildings (Bank, Factory, Trading
Post, Warehouse) allow flexibility. Essentially, these allow a player to
embargo a type of resource. If any player names that color of cube, the
buildings owner gets to choose an alternate resource.
Remember that buildings may never be moved. And a
cube may only be committed to building a single building. Planning your Tiny
Town is very important. Each decision on where to place a cube is important, as
resources block spaces until they can be converted into a single building,
freeing up space again. Leaving a single stranded cube can put a serious crimp
in your game.
Eventually, the time will come when you can no
longer place a cube or construct a new building. Your game is over. But other
players may continue choosing cubes until they also can’t build or place
Then all players remove all unused cubes from
their town, and score positive points based on their buildings and monument.
But each empty space will cost one point off your final score–you wasted
resources! The player with the most points wins.
Tiny Towns offers ease of play married to
strategic depth. The few rules in the game offer a low barrier to entry. Within
minutes almost anyone can be building and enjoying the game. What will surprise
most gamers is the amount of strategic depth Tiny Towns offers. At first,
building your town seems simple, almost child’s play. But the challenge of how
to maximise your scoring, given the resources you are handed, is one that
gamers will find intriguing.
The Monument Cards provide
for a wide variety of decisions and strategies. Games like Tiny Towns could
fall into the trap of “Everyone does the same thing”. After all, each player
takes the same resource on a turn and has the same set of basic buildings they
may construct. But the monument cards offer players an individual goal which
allows everyone to strike out on their own path from the start. Some
incentivise you to build more of a certain type of building. Others require a
different pattern to score well. Monument cards give each player’s game a
Tiny Towns might be compared to Bingo. But it’s a
game of Bingo where on your turn you decide which resource gets called. By
doing so, you not only improve your position, but also have a deep impact on
everyone else’s game. By paying attention to other player’s games, you might
stitch them up, and seal a victory for yourself.
Tiny Towns offers players tremendous value on
many levels. The artwork is sweet and fun to look at. The wooden building
pieces are pleasing to place and admire. And the number of cards offers tremendous
replayability, guaranteeing that virtually no two games of Tiny Towns will ever
be the same experience. Not counting the Monument cards, there are over 4,000
different initial setups for Tiny Towns. That’s enough to bring puzzle game
fans back to the table time after time.
And repeated plays offer the chance to explore two rules variants. The Cavern variant allows you to twice a game set aside cubes which others have chosen that don’t fit your game.The Town Hall variant offers a deck of cards which reveal one random resource that players must use. After every two random resources, each player adds a resource of their choosing to their own town. The town Hall deck also offers a way to play Tiny Towns solitaire.
Tiny Towns appeals to those who like city
building games such as 7 Wonders or Alhambra. It scratches the itch of those
who enjoy puzzle-like games such as Sagrada
or Take It Easy! And it offers a bridge between the interests
of casual and more serious gamers, where both can meet and play. As such, Tiny
Towns also spans the gap between The Spiel of Approval and Major Fun Awards,
making it a worthy resident of both camps.
In Tiny Towns you build a small town for small
critters in a small amount of time. But don’t be fooled: inside this little game
AEG has packed great value and variety for a small price.
Somewhere in the universe, wombats gather in parties to find a champion. All creatures are welcome, facing challenges ridiculous and sublime. In fact every time they play, the challenges will change since the players themselves shape them. A word, a memory, a drawing, a gesture, even a song could be the key to unlock the heart of the judge.
Wombattle is a whacktastic party game driven by an unexpected dexterity element and whimsically weird art
There are two key
elements to Wombattle: the throwing board and wombat cards
The throwing board is
actually the game box with an insert covered with colored holes. The lid of the
box is nested vertically behind and serves as a backboard/backstop.
The 16 double sided
wombat cards will inspire each challenge during the game.
Each card depicts a
wombat and other friendly animals engaged in various activities. The wombat
might be doing mundane tasks like grocery shopping and hanging pictures. Then
again, the wombat might be cliff diving or landing on the moon. Packed with
little details, each card has a Richard Scarry-esque quality to it, inviting
the viewer to look again to discover new parts of the scene. It’s impossible to
overstate the how the whimsy and charm of the artwork helps create the world of
Each round in Wombattle,
players will face a challenge set by the judge (a fellow player). The shape of
the challenge is set by a feat of dexterity, a wombat card, and the imagination
of the judge
The feat of dexterity
determines the category for the round. The judge bounces a marble off the
backstop and into the grid on the throwing board. The hole where the marble
comes to rest has a color and the color of the hole determines the category:
Arts, Movement, Bravery, and Me-me-me.
Once you have the
category, the judge selects a wombat card. The wombat card and the category
will now combine in the mind of the judge to create a challenge.
The judge presents the
card to the group and, based on the category and some aspect of the scene shown
on the card, crafts a challenge that connects the two.
Each player will do his
or her best to face the challenge and the judge will select a winner. That
player will place an obstacle cone in the throwing board.
Then the players vote for
the solution they enjoyed the most. These votes will be tallied at the end.
The game continues with a
new player serving as judge each round
until one player has placed all his or her obstacle tokens into the board.
The general insanity and collective sense of fun
Wombattle creates makes the game a wonderful experience.
The categories themselves are a mix of standard
party game fare (drawing or gestures) and elements that are fresh. Bravery?
Come up with something memorable or daring. Me-me-me? A challenge that relates
to the judge in some way.
Players themselves set the boundaries of the game
from round to round; it’s a negotiation, a dance that creates a safe space for
everyone to have fun. It’s an unexpected and wonderful risk – to leave so much
room in the game for players to explore and define the limits of the game.
And in some ways, this makes Wombattle more
activity than game.
But that’s ok.
Wombattle is focused on fun, first and forever. It’s an arena for laughter and silliness.
Wombattle embodies an essential element that inspires the Major Fun Award: the simple joy of play. This joy is open to everyone. Any time, anywhere. Wombattle gives us permission to be playful. And it deflects attention away from winning. If you’re playing to win Wombattle, you should be playing a different game. Wombattle is a vehicle for laughter and fun and a reminder to not take yourself or the game too seriously.
To this end, each player writes down a reward they will give (a high five?, a compliment?, a cookie?, a hug?) and places it in the box. The winner will draw one and the player with the most votes will, too. It might not be a paragon of sophisticated game design but Wombattle is a work of demented genius. It soars because it is a source for the creative semi-structured joy we discover through play.