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.


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.


PivitAs you might imagine, we play a lot of games here at Major Fun, and after a while those games start to fall into rather predictable categories. In turn this can lead to a certain predisposition toward the ones we see most frequently. Tiling games are common and although I enjoy many of the ones that we get (see recent Major Fun Award winners here here and here…) when I open up the box I’m already settling in to a comfortable, laid back mental slouch.

So when we dumped Pivit out on the table and started flipping the tiles over, I had slipped into leisurely chat mode. It’ll be like Qwirkle, I thought. Lots of down time as each person takes a turn. Good for catching up on gossip with my friends.

To be fair, Pivit is a lot like Qwirkle in basic mechanics. You have tiles of different shapes and patterns. You arrange the tiles in interconnected lines so that either all the colors or all the shapes are the same in the line (but NOT BOTH). There are even WILD tiles. How hard could it be if it has WILD tiles?

Well, Pivit is more like a marriage between Qwirkle and Banangrams. I did not appreciate this confluence of game mechanics until I got my butt handed to me three games in a row by my step-daughter. You turn over your tiles (24 of them) and then try to be the first to create a crossword-style matrix. Your opponents are your timer. There are score blocks that are laid out in the middle of the table—one fewer than the number of players. Once you complete your matrix, you grab the highest score block you can.

The pressure is intense. Not only from other players but from the01 Award concentration it takes to differentiate the patterns. The patterns aren’t subtle but they have enough similarities that it is easy to confuse them in the heat of the moment. Mistakes were common which means that you could go from having the highest point block to nothing very quickly.

This is not a leisurely paced tiling game. It is a great lesson for those of us who have gotten complacent in what we expect from familiar categories of games.

We’ve been playing a lot of great games from MindWare recently and this one is no exception. The design of the materials, the clarity of the rules, and the elegant game-play speak highly of the care that goes in to their games.

Limber up your fingers and your minds and check out Pivit. It’s Major Fun.

2-4 players. Ages 8+

Pivit was designed by David Peterson and is © 2013 by MindWare.

Survive: Escape from Atlantis

SurviveSurvive: Escape from Atlantis has been traveling a long time to make it to Major Fun.

Created in 1982, Survive: Escape from Atlantis is a board game with hexagonal tiles that change over the course of the game in a fashion similar to what you would find in more recent games like Forbidden Island and Settlers of Catan. As the story goes, you control a team of explorers who have discovered the island of Atlantis only for it to disappear beneath your feet. You must escape across hostile waters, either by boat or by swimming, to safe ground (the corners of the game board) before the volcano rumbling beneath the island goes all Pompeii on your…

As for tiles, you have three basic kinds: beach, forest, and mountain. These sink at different rates. The beach tiles disappear first, followed by the forests, until only the mountains remain, only to finally succumb to the inevitable collapse of the soon-to-be-lost continent. The tiles are cleverly constructed so that the beach tiles are thinner than the forests which are thinner than the mountain tiles. In this way players can instantly and intuitively tell what spots are most imperiled. Stronghold Games has done a fantastic job of designing all aspects of this edition.

Surrounding the island there is a wide expanse of ocean that teems with sharks, whales, and sea monsters. These entities slowly awaken as the island collapses and wreak havoc upon the explorers as the players try to make guide them to safety. Whales capsize ships. Sharks eat swimmers. Sea monsters destroy anything they catch.

Once the island is created in the center of the board, each player has 10 explorer pieces to place. The explorers have numbers 1 – 6 on the bottom of their bases which represents how many points each are worth. The goal is to have the most points at the end of the game, not necessarily the most survivors. When you place your pieces you decide where they go but once they have been placed you can’t look at their value. In the chaos of the game it is easy to forget which piece is which so there is a lot of tension as your explorers become threatened or are close to rescue.

On your turn you take four actions in this order: play a special tile (if you have one), move your explorers, remove a terrain tile, and roll the creature die. The terrain tiles are double-sided: one side shows terrain the other gives you a special action. Sometimes this allows you to summon a creature. Sometimes you can move your explorers. Sometimes you can prevent others from attacking you. Some tiles you can hold on to. Some must be played immediately.

awardOnce you move your explorers you must remove a terrain tile from the board. Beach tiles must go first. Mountains are last. If possible you try to dump your opponents into the drink. Because that’s where the creatures are and, as the blood-thirsty competitor you are, you get to command those creatures to smite your foes.

Your last action is to roll a die and move whatever creature comes up. This is how you prevent your opponents from reaching safety. Eat them with sharks. Capsize their boats with whales. Obliterate them en masse with monsters and whirlpools.

The removal of terrain tiles, in addition to the special actions they provide and the fun of dropping your opponents into a watery grave, also serve as the game’s timer. Under one of the eight mountain tiles there is a volcano. When it is turned over, Atlantis explodes killing any explorer who has not reached safety. Players tally up the score for each survivor.

The game has a lot of pieces but the art design and the instructions make the entire process very easy to follow. The most difficult aspect is probably the movement rules because there are different rules for swimmers, but once you have that down, the rest is very intuitive.

And very fun. Survive is a strategic game but one in which your plans often have to be scrapped and replaced as the island disappears and the ocean fills with flesh-hungry monsters. Of course, we control the flesh hungry monsters so maybe that says more about us as a species than we would like to admit. But revenge is so much fun!! And the sea creatures are so very very hungry…

2-4 players. Ages 8+

Survive: Escape from Atlantis was designed by Julian Courtland-Smith and is © 1982 by Stronghold Games.

Forbidden Desert Leacock has a knack for creating games about overwhelming odds. In Pandemic, players race against the advancing tide of infectious disease. In Forbidden Island, that race is against the literal tide as the mysterious island you are exploring sinks beneath the waves.

Forbidden Desert places the characters in a similar situation as desert sands threaten to engulf the party and bleach their bones dry.

Death by disease, death by drowning, and death by dehydration. Fun times.

Forbidden Desert is a cooperative game in which the players try to assemble a mysterious flying device so that they may escape the ravages of a desert storm. This goal is virtually identical to that of Forbidden Island. As a matter of fact, the game shares many features with Leacock’s previous cooperative games (Forbidden Island and Pandemic) but these similarities only benefit the game. If you have played one of the others before then your entry into Forbidden Desert will be that much easier. If you have not played the other games, the rules are easy enough and the instructions clear enough that you will still be playing in a matter of minutes.

The game consists primarily of tiles, cards, and pawns. The 24 tiles are shuffled and distributed in a 5×5 grid (there is no middle tile—this represents the sand storm). The cards are used to provide special equipment to the players and used to determine the strength and movement of the sand storm. Special sand markers are used to show where and how deep the sand is piling up around the board. The pawns represent the characters.

Each player controls a character. Each character can take four actions on their turn. Each character carries a certain amount of water and also has a special ability. For example: the Archaeologist can dig through more sand; the Meteorologist can help control the sand storm. In all there are six different adventurers.

The last major piece of the game is the storm meter. As the game progresses, the sand storm gets worse. The storm meter records the strength of the storm. If it gets too high, everyone loses.

If any of the characters runs out of water, the group loses.

If you run out of sand markers… yup, the group loses.

The only way to win is to gather the four pieces of the flying machine and make it back to its launch pad. Wherever that may be…

awardWe loved Forbidden Desert. We died a lot. A LOT. But everyone is always engaged and the tension of the game is exquisite. We liked it more than Forbidden Island which is one of our favorites.

As it stands, Forbidden Desert has several things going for it. The way you find the treasure pieces is ingenious and does not require gathering cards. This is one of the big differences with Forbidden Island. The characters also have a wider range of actions—there are more choices to make which means there are more ways to die but a much stronger sense of agency. Finally, the sharing of water and items really emphasizes cooperative play.

I can’t recommend this game highly enough. It is exciting and endlessly interesting. The artwork is fantastic (although I think Forbidden Island would win that contest) and the game design such that even novice players will be immersed in the adventure with only a minimal amount of prep time.

It’s probably as much fun as you can have with sand that is not part of a beach.

2-5 players. Ages 10+

Forbidden Desert was designed by Matt Leacock and is © 2013 by Gamewright.


We’re back!! After a spring hiatus we have a ton of games lined up. So let’s kick it off with a great card game from our friends at Game Salute

There are many many ways to play Duco. This is not to say that the game doesn’t come with rules. It also doesn’t mean that the game is like an empty box that your kids will play with more than the toy that came in it. No, I mean that the game literally comes with many sets of rules all based off of a simple set of mechanics. Once you learn the basic mechanics there is lots of fun to be had.

But don’t be in a hurry. The basic rules are fun on their own.

At its heart, Duco is a tiling game. Players take turns placing cards in a grid so that the sides of the cards match up with the cards already in play. The better your cards match, the better your score.

So how to make (or lose in the case of the Bard) a winning match? The trick is in the cards.

There are 75 cards in the game. Each card is divided into nine squares. The center square contains the Duco logo and a color (this is used in some of the variations but not the basic game). The outer eight squares contain a variety of shapes (circles, crescents, stars, triangles, squares, and wild) in a variety of colors (red, blue, green, yellow, black, and rainbow). The wild shapes can be any of the other shapes while the rainbow can be used for any color. A match is determined by placing a card next to a card on the table. If the three boxes have the same shape OR color as the boxes in the other card, the player has a match and scores points: same shape OR same color = 1 point; same shape AND same color = 2 points.

The game ends when one player reaches 50 points.

awardThis is a great social game as well as an engaging solitaire. A restaurant game for when you are waiting for your entrees to arrive. You can always score and sometimes you find a place where your card scores on two or more sides. Those moments when you discover a multi-sided match are very satisfying. Almost embarrassingly so. It’s fun but after a while you will want more.

And here’s where the game just keeps on giving. Duco suggests seven distinct variations that each have their own unique strategies and styles. I won’t go into them all here, but my favorite was the one they called Stress. This is a speed variation in which play occurs simultaneously. Each player has 10 cards. The first one to finish counts down from 30 and then everyone must stop. Scoring occurs at the end and unplaced cards are unscored. In this variation, the middle color is important because it identifies each player when it comes time to score.

The speed and the matching and the messing with other people. Definitely Major Fun.

This is like a Swiss army knife of tiling games. Handy in so many situations. It does require a decent amount of space to play, but there are so many ways to play that you will want to keep this around for those down moments when it’s important to keep your friends or kids occupied.

I would actually forget the thing I was waiting for and keep playing.

1-5 players. Ages 6+

Duco was designed by Henrik Larrson and is © 2014 by Game Salute.


It’s been a good week for Tim W.K. Brown.

For those of you who read the fine print for our last game review, you will notice that Tim’s name showed up as the designer of Grid Stones.

And now, scant days later, here he is again, along with the good people at CSE Games.

Quartex is a tiling game that shares a lot of features with another Major Fun game: Cirplexed. Both games require players to draw tiles and play them on the grid that forms in the center of the table. Players score points for the patterns that they complete where the corners of the tiles come together. In Quartex there are four shapes that the tiles can make: yellow circles, purple crosses, red squares, and blue stars. Despite these similarities, there are a few significant differences that make Quartex Major Fun in its own regard.

awardFirst, each of the tiles is unique. No two tiles are alike. This means that you have to be careful as you place your tiles because you cannot count on getting pieces that will set up predictable patterns. It also helps to keep track of which corner-shapes have been showing up a lot. Those will dry up after a while and you don’t want to get stuck with tiles that can’t complete one of the four shapes.

Secondly, tiles can only be played if ALL the corners match up. In Cirplexed you could play even if some corners did not make a color match. Not so in Quartex. It’s a small but significant change in the way you play the game.

Finally, scoring is accomplished through the collection of tokens. Each time you complete a corner-shape, you collect a token of that color. There are 10 tokens of each color. At the end of the game, you multiply the number of tokens you have collected by the number of remaining tokens. This makes some tokens worth a lot more than others. For example, if you have 2 blue tokens and there are only 3 tokens left in the stack (your opponents have the rest) then you earn six points. If you have 2 red tokens and there are 6 left in the stack then you earn 12 points.

The game is easy to learn and quick to play and it all fits nicely in the included bag. The press-board tile pieces are well shaped, but they are much smaller and lighter than the wooden tiles of Cirplexed, so this game is less suitable for seniors or those who lack fine motor control.

All in all, Tim W.K. Brown has scored a few more Major Fun points with another well-crafted strategy game.

2 – 5 players. Ages: 8+

Quartex was designed by Tim W.K. Brown. © 2012 by CSE Games.

Grid Stones

After last week’s review of Flash! some of you might be looking to slow things down a bit. Speed and noise are not the only fun to be had. Contemplative strategy games allow for slower, less reactive thinking. They also lend themselves to conversations and the more measured paces of the chat.

Grid Stones gives those of us who enjoy the more deliberate pace of a strategy game a chance to limber up those slower but deeper neurons.

At its heart, Grid Stones is a pattern recognition game, similar to Tri-Spy or Set. Unlike those examples, speed is not an issue. Each player is given a hand of three cards on which are depicted a 3×3 grid and a certain pattern of glass beads. The game board is a 5×5 grid on which the players either place or take away glass beads.

On your turn you may place one bead on the game board OR take one bead off. You may not slide beads around. If, on your turn, you find a pattern that exactly matches one of your cards, you may reveal the card. The game ends, and the winner determined, by the first person who reveals all three of their cards.

awardIn my experience, players have a tendency to crowd together on the board. The thinking is that if a bunch of pieces are in one place then it is more likely that we will be able to complete a pattern; however, the more people who play in a tight area, the more likely they are to move the exact pieces we need.

Planning ahead in this game is not a precise science. Strategy revolves around creating good opportunities so that you can quickly recognize or create a pattern when it is your turn. There is a good deal of second-guessing that goes on as you watch what choices your opponents are making.

And finally, there is always the dark glee that bubbles up when you ruin your neighbor’s plans and hear that exasperated sigh. That’s definitely Major Fun.

The game rules are clear and short and virtually intuitive. The board is well designed and clearly shows how to play with 2, 3, 4, or 5+ players. You’ll be playing in moments and able to play through several games in one sitting.

2 – 7 players. Ages: 7+

Grid Stones was designed by Tim W.K. Brown. © 2008 by Grid Stones, the game is available through CSE Games.

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