Fastrack – NHL Edition

NHL FastrackFastrack by Blue Orange Games is Major Fun. It is a Keeper.

Thanks to a partnership with CSE Games (a Major Fun winner in their own right) Fastrack now comes in an NHL edition.

The game remains the same: try to get all of the discs to the other side of the board. To do this you must fling them with an elastic band through a narrow slot in the board. Your opponent is trying to do the same thing. Through the same narrow slot.

Madness ensues!

01 AwardThe game is brilliant. Fast paced and nerve jangling. What has been added in this edition is NHL themed artwork. The board is designed like a hockey rink. The discs are hockey pucks. NHL logos adorn the edges. It’s a nice touch.

2 players. Ages 5+

Fastrack was designed by Jean-Marie Albert and is the NHL edition is © 2014 by Blue Orange Games.

Aztack

aztack_gamerNow that all those Mayan and Aztec apocalypses are over, we can get back to building pyramids for recreation instead of in an attempt to stave off the end of life as we know it.

Whew!

An early adopter of this new recreational approach to Mesoamerican architecture is Blue Orange Games and their fantastic stacking/tiling game Aztack.

The game consists of 60 rectangular tiles that resemble dominoes. Instead of pips on each side of the tile, there are Aztec glyphs—images that represent important symbols in Aztec culture. The four glyphs (flower, water, deer, and flint) are combined in many ways and in five different colors: green, orange, grey, blue, and burgundy.

To start play, 12 tiles are arranged in a 2×6 rectangle in the middle of the table. Each player draws 12 tiles. On your turn, you place one of your tiles on the base of the pyramid or pass if there is no space for a legal move. If you pass, you can jump in later. Play proceeds clockwise until everyone must pass. The winner is the one with the fewest remaining tiles.

The rules for placing the tiles are simple and well-illustrated by the rules. You must place your tile so that it bridges two tiles beneath it. The tile you place must also match both of the glyphs OR both of the colors. If it matches all colors and glyphs you get to discard an additional tile from your hand.

01 AwardThe simplicity of the rules belies a wonderfully complex and shifting matrix of choices. There is a great balance between making moves that will limit the choices of your opponents and those that will keep the board open for your future placements. Luck plays a sizable role but there is enough choice to develop strategies in order to manage the random elements.

Aztack is well made and beautifully illustrated. It is fascinating to watch as the pyramid rises from the base. Each one is unique and really very beautiful.

And Major Fun…

2-4 players. Ages 7+

Aztack was designed by Brad Ross & Jim Winslow and is © 2014 by Blue Orange Games.

Doodle Quest

doodle_gamerDry erase markers are cool. Maybe it’s that I grew up in the waning age of chalkboards and became a teacher just as dry-erase boards were becoming ubiquitous. The vivid colors just seemed so vibrant compared to the tinted chalk I had to work with in secondary school. This is what it must have been like for my grandparents when the world got color just after the turn of the 20th Century…

Doodle Quest is a clever little drawing game that has more to do with spatial awareness than drawing skill. It’s also a clever little maze game that is quite a challenge to complete even when you can see exactly where you need to go.

The game comes with 18 quest cards, 4 transparent sheets of plastic, 4 dry-erase pens, and 4 fish stencils. The quest cards are double sided with one side being for beginners and the other for more advanced players. Each quest tells players how they can solve the puzzle by drawing a few lines. The players then have to draw the lines on their transparent sheet without measuring or touching the quest card. The transparent sheet is then placed over the quest card to see how well each player did.

For example: one quest asks you to add 4 spots to a clown fish. Some parts of the picture are worth 0 points. Some parts are worth 3 points. Some parts are worth 4 points. If your dot falls ENTIRELY within one of the 3 or 4 point areas you get those points. If it even touches one of the zero point areas you get nothing. Needless to say, the areas are interspersed so that a small variation in the wrong direction will earn you a nice fat goose egg.

01 AwardDoodle Quest was a huge hit when we played this with our kids. It is one of those activities that adults will have very little advantage over the kids and there are lots of ways to even the playing field. A great family game that is engaging and challenging for a wide range of ages.

The illustrations are silly and colorful. The materials are durable and make great use of the dry-erase medium. This is one of those games that can only exist because of the dry-erase technology. I applaud the designers for seeing the unique and Major Fun possibilities held within these mildly intoxicating markers.

1-4 players. Ages 6+

Doodle Quest was designed by Laurent Escoffier and David Franck and is © 2014 by Blue Orange Games.

Niya

niya_gamerNiya is a quick little strategy game that draws its inspiration from Japanese garden prints. Each player represents one of two clans who are trying to quietly take possession of the emperor’s beautiful garden. Violence in such an exquisite location is out of the question but there are rules for entering the garden and if you can align your clan just right the space can be yours.

The garden is made up of tiles that are shuffled and placed in a 4 by 4 grid. Each grid square contains two of the following images: rising sun, poem flag, bird, rain cloud, maple leaves, cherry tree, pine tree, and iris. Each player also has eight clan member tokens. The game starts when one player places a token on the grid. Opponents alternate placing tokens until one gets 4 in a row, a box of 4, or prevents the other from making a legal move.

After the each token is placed, the next player must put a token on a tile that has an image in common with the previous tile. For instance, if I play on the tile with the Sun and the Iris, my opponent could only play on those tiles that have either a Sun or an Iris on them. Capturing tiles becomes a strategic battle to achieve an advantageous position while impeding the options of your opponent.

01 AwardIn many ways this is a variation on tic-tac-toe. I imagine there are optimal strategies for first placement and response moves, but nowhere near as simplistic as tic-tac-toe. Because there are two elements to keep track of and the board changes with each and every play, the exact same strategy will not work each time. Figuring out good approaches will probably happen over the course of several games. Fortunately, the games are quick and Major Fun.

The game is beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully designed. The tiles are double sided, heavy-duty cardboard, and the tokens are a high-density plastic. Rules, tiles, and tokens fit in a compact tin. It’s an elegant strategy game with great art and intuitive rules. Great for quiet evenings and rainy days.

2 players. Ages 8+

Niya was designed by Bruno Cathala and is © 2014 by Blue Orange Games.

Spot It! Freeze

spotitfreeze_gamerIt has been well established that Spot It! is Major Fun.

For evidence, you may look here…

…and here

…and here

…and here

Although it seems like we have sufficiently covered this point, I don’t think it can be over-stated how clever the basic game is. You have 55 cards. Each card has eight images. Any two cards in the deck have exactly one image in common. Games revolve around trying to find which one is the match. Spot It! Freeze adds a timer to the mix. The electronic timer has two modes: countdown and random.

I’ll admit that most of us at Major Fun were skeptical that a timer would add much to the game. After all, the point of Spot It! is to be fast. Surely a timer couldn’t help much.

We were wrong.

Blue Orange has come up with some great games that utilize the two types of timer to great effect. The most basic game requires the players to collect cards from a pile in the middle. Play proceeds as normal until a player successfully makes a match with one of the blue images (cold-based images like ice and snow are always blue). When that happens, that player yells “Freeze” and the countdown timer is started. The player has 10 seconds to play solo—no one else can interrupt. When the 10 seconds is over everyone else can jump back in.

Playing by yourself is an advantage, but not nearly as great as you might first imagine. The countdown adds pressure that tends to interfere with your ability to spot the similar images. It breaks the flow and it also gives your opponents time to look at the card and jump in at the end of the countdown.

01 AwardAnother variation involves the random timer (a loud ticking sound) that plays like Catchphrase. Each player has a stack of cards they are trying to get rid of. A card is turned face up in the middle of the table and the timer is started. One player flips their top card up and tries to make a match. Once they do, play moves clockwise to the next person. If the timer stops on your turn (before you can play a card) then you take two cards from the middle pile. You can also reverse the order by matching a blue item and saying “Freeze.” You don’t have to reverse things but you can.

This is a great game variation for a wide range of players. It equalizes things quite a bit. My daughter is fantastic at the basic Spot It! Far and above the best player in our group. She can consistently take on and beat all the rest of us COMBINED. This variation (called Flash Freeze) means that she still has to wait for the rest of us and it is possible for us to keep her from playing (or at least give her very little time). I’ll admit that it seems petty and cruel to keep my 12 year old daughter from playing her cards, but short of gouging out her eyes, I’m not sure there is any other chance the rest of us have.

And she has lovely eyes.

Spot It! Freeze is a great expansion of the Spot It! universe. It is the only one to not come in a round tin but the timer is also a compact box for the cards. It is clever and bright and fast and oh so Major Fun.

2 – 8 players. Ages 8+

Spot It! Freeze © 2014 by Blue Orange Games.

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