Ten

Release: 11/29/2021    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 81 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Ten is a press your luck card game with a twist. The goal is simple: assemble the longest runs of consecutive cards in four colors. How many cards are you willing to draw as you push two different totals closer and closer to ten? Use currency cards to buy from the market or win auctions for wild cards. Be careful, though! If you bust, everyone else may cash in.

Engaging, interactive, and filled with tough decisions, Ten is great for all ages. Listen in to explore the game and discover how Ten delivers on its promise of Major Fun.

ALSO in this episode… a Game Night Grab Bag segment featuring Brenna Noonan and Doug! The challenge: games where you build the board as you play.

Ten      

AEG  BGG  Buy 

Designer: Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin, Shawn Stankewich

Artist: Shawn Stankewich

Publisher: AEG

1-5 players  15-30 min.  ages 10+   MSRP $20

Time to teach/learn:  2-3 minutes

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For info on the other segments featured on the show, check out the show notes at The Spiel!

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Interstitial music credits include:

Rotary Ten  by REM  |  the song

Count to Ten  by Timbuk 3  |  the song

Ten Years Gone  by Dread Zeppelin  |  the song

Hammer Time

Hammer Time

HABA USA  |  BGG 

Designer: Shaun Graham, Scott Huntington
Artist:
Natalie Behle
Publisher: HABA
2-4 players 15 minutes ages 5+ MSRP $25
Time to teach & learn: 2-3 minutes

text-the concept

Sparkle mountain stands before you, its caverns filled with glittering gems. You and your crew of gnomes are ready to fill your wagons with riches, tapping rubies, diamonds, and emeralds loose from the walls with your trusty hammer. There’s just one problem. Dragomir the Dragon sleeps under the mountain. Make too much noise and he will chase you away!

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Hammer Time is a sparkly sight to behold. 90 brightly colored gemstones in 6 different colors will be strewn across the game board. The game board is very unconventional; it’s the bottom of the box turned over, so it forms a mini-table. There’s a large mousepad-like sticker illustrated with cavern walls and Dragomir the Dragon sleeping in the corner. You will permanently attach this to the box bottom.

It’s no surprise the chunky wooden hammer is the star of the show.

There are two types of cards in the game: task cards (which can provide a bonus gem) and wagon cards (each player has four).

Finally, there’s a color die used for the Master variant of the game.

To play, spread out the gems on the box. Each player shuffles their wagon cards and flips one face up. It’s hammer time!

text-the mechanics

Hammer Time is a game about knocking gems off a box with a hammer. The first player to fill four wagon cards with gems wins the game.

On your turn, you will take the hammer and tap along any side of the box. You can knock gently or with great gusto BUT the goal is to tap just hard enough to knock the right combination of gems off the edge of the box.

If you knock even one gem off the box, stop hammering! Your turn is over.

Count the gems you knocked off. If there are 8 or less gems, great! Compare the gems to your wagon card. Each wagon card has a specific combination of colored gems. If any of the gems you knocked off match your wagon card, place them on the card. Diamonds are wild. When the wagon card is full, set it aside, flip over a new wagon card, and return the gems to the board.

If you knock off nine or more gems, watch out! You made too much noise with your hammering! Dragomir wakes up and all the gems are returned to the board.

While hammering a box might sound easy, it is tricky to find just the right touch. Tap too light one turn and the next you will send half the gems flying!

Task cards provide another incentive. After knocking off gems, check the task card to see if you complete it. A task could ask for a certain number of gems or a certain type of gem. If you fulfill this requirement, you complete the task. This task card can be used as a wild gem to fill any spot in a wagon.

You can only fill one wagon and one task per turn.

Once you’ve collected the gems you can, return uncollected gems to the board and pass the hammer to the next player.

The first player to fill all four wagons walks away from Sparkle Mountain, the richest gnome in the realm!

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The Master variant to Hammer Time adds another layer of craziness. Each turn a die is rolled and the player will have to hammer the box in a wacky way.

You might have to hammer with your eyes shut, or use your fist instead of the hammer at all. You might even have to lay your head on the table as you hammer. Each turn builds to another fun crescendo with the roll of the die, followed by laughs and groans based on the result.

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It’s dangerous describing a game that operates on this level of playfulness. It can easily kill the fun. It’s like over-explaining a joke.

Hammer Time is a reminder that the simplest kind of fun can often be the most lasting.

The pleasure that comes from whacking the side of a box and seeing what happens, unlocks a joy that we can all share regardless of age or experience.

The brilliance of Hammer Time is that is doesn’t try to cover up this experience with too many rules. It embraces the core element (the hammering!) and celebrates it. Win or lose, the real pleasure comes from playing. That is the heart and soul of Major Fun.

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Written by: Stephen Conway

Flapjack Flipout

Flapjack Flipout

Mind The Gap Studios  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Peter Newland
Artist:
Thea Baldwin
Publisher: Mind the Gap Studios
2-4 players 15-30 minutes ages 8+ MSRP $30
Time to teach & learn: 3 minutes

text-the concept

The morning rush is on! The griddle is hot and the batter is ready. Don your apron and join the crowd of short order cooks in the kitchen. Sling the most pancakes and complete three orders to become the Champion of Breakfasts!

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Flapjack Flipout is a mini-diner in a box. 

There are 50 large cardboard flapjacks in many different varieties: chocolate chip, blueberry, apple, pumpkin, plain, plus a daily special, and even a moldy one. The front side of each pancake shows its flavor, while the back side of each pancake is the same. 

The deck of order cards looks like pages from a receipt book from any greasy spoon restaurant. Order cards list the number and type of pancakes wanted by a customer.

The most eye-catching element of the game are its six large wooden griddles. This is the skillet you will use to flip your flapjacks as you play.

Last but not least, every diner needs a bell, so we know when an order is complete.

To play, everyone grabs a griddle. Spread the flapjacks around the table, face down. Shuffle the order cards and place the bell where everyone can reach it. Now you’re ready to start flipping!

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Flapjack Flipout is a frenetic race to flip and collect the right combination of pancakes to fill the current order. 

Each round starts when a new order card is revealed and read out loud to all players. 

Now the frenzied flipping begins! Take a face down flapjack and place it on your griddle.The goal is to flip the pancake over to reveal its flavor. It may take a few tries… ok, maybe more than a few (and a lot of laughing), but you’ll cheer when you stick the landing each time.

Once you reveal the flavor of the flapjack, you will place it on the table in front of you FACE DOWN. When you think you have flipped the correct number and type of pancakes to fill the order, ring the bell. Flip over pancakes from your face down stacks to reveal the right combination for the order.

If you’re correct, you earn the order card. If there’s a mix-up and you reveal an incorrect combination, play continues for the others, but you are out for the round.

The first player to collect three order cards wins the game.

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Many games combine pattern matching with dexterity. And for good reason. It’s a tried and true combination – like peanut butter and chocolate. In fact this duo is so successful, very few games in this genre vary from the formula.

Flapjack Flipout adds a third ingredient to the mix: memory. Suddenly the game is not just about a player’s talent slinging cardboard. A player must also devise a simple system to organize their pancakes, since all successfully flipped flapjacks will end up face down on the table.

This trio of elements creates a wonderful tension between the need to go fast while flipping and a need to go slow enough to remember what type of pancakes you flipped and where you put them.

Memory serves as a clever catch up mechanism as well. If you did not win the last round, you may save the pancakes you flipped. When the next round begins, you may already have some or even all the flapjacks needed to fill the order… if only you can remember where you put them.

“Take your time,” the game says, “but hurry!”

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Flapjack Flipout is quick, challenging, hilarious, and accessible to players of almost any age and experience level. And like any good diner whose cooks can whip up a custom order, you can tweak the game to suit many different players.You can up the difficulty by adding moldy pancakes and daily specials, or dial the game back for younger players by separating the dexterity and memory elements. There are even rules for team play – one player flipping two griddles at once, the other loading each one. You may be starving by the time you finish playing, but there’s no doubt Flapjack Flipout offers up a full menu of Major Fun. 

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Written by: Stephen Conway

Shifting Stones

Release: 6/28/2021    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 95 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

A mysterious grid of 9 ancient stones lies before you. Rearrange them to match your pattern cards and score points. The challenge is, these pattern cards may either be used to move/flip the stones or score points… but never both! 

Therein lies the maddening but simple genius of the game. Shifting Stones is a light game but not a slight game. Familiar, yet full of surprises, this is a game for players from all walks. Play with your kids; play on a lunch break, or at the pub at the end of a long day. Deep enough to offer a challenge, but approachable enough to allow space for fellowship as you play.

Tune in to discover why Shifting Stones is a modern classic and most certainly Major Fun!

Shifting Stones       

Gamewright |  BGG

Designer: J. Evan Raitt

Art: Kwanchai Moriya

Publisher: Gamewright

1-5 players  20 min.  ages 8+   MSRP $15

Time to teach/learn:  2-3 minutes

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For info on the other segments featured on the show, check out the show notes at The Spiel!

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Interstitial music credits include:

Stone God  |  by Martin Denny  |  the song

Stone  |  by Faces  |  the song

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Hats

Release: 5/14/2021    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 42 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

It’s a garden party in Neverland.You came for the tea and cookies, but the Mad Hatter has other plans. You are swept into a game gathering wondrous and colorful hats, a hurricane of haberdashery a maelstrom of millinery. The clock is ticking… in eight short turns, by swapping cards on the tea table, can you assemble the most cherished collection of chapeaus?

Tune in to explore this card shedding, set collecting game and discover why Hats is Major Fun!

Hats       

Thundergryph Games  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Gabriele Bubola

Art: Paolo Voto

Publisher: Thundergryph Games

2-4 players  20-30 min.  ages 10+   MSRP $25

Time to teach/learn: 3-4 minutes

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For info on the other segments featured on the show, check out the show notes at The Spiel!

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Interstitial music credits include:

Witch’s Hat  by Robin Williamson  |  the song

Witch’s Hat  by  Smell of Incense  |  the song

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Decipher

Decipher

Heidelbär Games  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Bill Eberle, Greg Olotka, Peter Olotka
Artist:
Kwanchai Moriya
Publisher: Heidelbär Games
2-4 players 30 minutes ages 10+ MSRP $30
Time to teach & learn: 3 minutes

text-the concept

Decipher is a clever but simple call and response word guessing game. Using your powers of deduction and construction, can you build a word from small letter fragments offered up by a puzzle Maker each round? Decipher the clues the quickest and you’ll score well. Stump the players with a tricky word and you’ll rake in the points.

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Decipher is the second game in the Letter Piece series from German publisher Heidelbär Games. Each game in the series features 4 brightly colored plastic letter pieces. The pieces fall in to two categories – sticks and curves. There’s a long red stick and a short yellow stick. There’s a wide blue curve and a tight green curve (a U-shape).

Along with these pieces is a construction template showing how each letter in the alphabet can be built using these four shapes. The letter R, for instance, is made using a red stick, a yellow stick and a green curve.

In addition to these letter pieces, there are letter tiles A-Z, one letter per tile. Each tile depicts a letter using its proper construction layout.

These word tiles will be placed in to a Word Rack, a sort of cardboard wallet that can be folded and flipped over. More on this later.

There are tokens for guessing, and scoring bonuses, “No” tokens for the Puzzle Maker, plus a large game board / screen and a score pad.

The most notable and amazing component in Decipher, though, is the box insert. For such a simple game, Decipher has one of the most elaborate game box inserts I have ever seen!

The game is played using the box. There are special areas for each letter piece, larger ones for the letter tiles, and a space for the puzzle Maker’s NO tokens.

The insert serves two functions. It has a slot for the cardboard screen so the puzzle Maker can select a mystery word for the round and collect the needed tiles and letter pieces.

Once selected, the screen lays flat across the storage compartments and becomes the game board. There are separate spaces cleared marked on the board where each letter of the word will be built as you play. Last but not least, the insert as a special angled area for the Word Rack which will face the Puzzle Maker. 

text-the mechanics

Each round in Decipher one player will be the Puzzle Maker and the rest of the players serve as Word Seekers. The Puzzle Maker comes up with a mystery word. Word Seekers will have opportunities to guess the word as each letter in the word is built piece by piece on the board. After each player has played as the Puzzle Maker, the player with the most points wins the game.

A brief word about the Word Rack.

The Word Rack is a simple but ingenious gizmo that helps facilitate the game. The Puzzle Maker selects a word and spells it out placing the correct letter tiles into the word rack. Once selected, the word rack is folded up and closed like a wallet, flipped over and then placed into its special cubby hole in the box insert.

This makes the Word Rack visible only to the Puzzle Maker and the mystery word is now lined up with the spaces marked out on the game board.

Here’s why this is both important and cool.

Each turn, the Puzzle Maker will offer a single letter piece to one Word Seeker. The Word Seeker will then take a guess as to where this letter piece belongs in the word by placing the letter piece on a space on the board. The Puzzle Maker will respond YES or NO. Yes meaning, the piece belongs in that space and is part of a letter ; no meaning it isn’t. 

The Word Rack is a constant and important visual reminder of what letter pieces go with each space on the board. With the mystery word, lined up in its shielded cubby hole, the Puzzle Maker can respond quickly and confidently as each Word Seeker makes a guess.

If the Word Seeker is correct on the first guess, huzzah for the Seekers! You now have some information about what that letter could be. If the first guess receives a NO from the Puzzle Maker, that space on the board will receive a NO token which will cover that shape letter piece on that space on the board and the Seeker must guess again. Eventually, the letter piece will find a home on the board since the Puzzle Maker may only give you pieces that are part of the word. The goal for Seekers is to place pieces with as few NOs as possible since each NO will give the Puzzle Maker points at the end of the round.

As the game progresses more of the mystery word will appear on the board and Seekers may want to solve the puzzle and guess the word. Each Seeker may make only three guesses to solve the puzzle each round. If you solve the puzzle and guess the mystery word, wahoo! The round ends and we move on to scoring. If you are incorrect, the Puzzle Maker will take one of your guess tokens and score it at the end of the round.

If the word is a tricky one and only three letter pieces remain in the Puzzle Maker’s supply, we move into Bonus Mode for the round. With so much information available to the Seekers, each turn becomes a little more deliberate. The Word Seeker who is up must ask the Puzzle Maker for a letter piece. In doing so, the Puzzle Maker will receive a bonus token for extra points at the end of the round. Why so deliberate? Forcing the Seeker to ask for a piece allows players to make guesses at the mystery word before handing bonus points to the Puzzle Maker.

Eventually the round will end with one Seeker guessing correctly or all Seekers running out of guesses.

If a Seeker guesses correctly, they collect the Decipher token for 5 points plus 2 points for each left over Bonus token. The Puzzle Maker receives the Decipher token for 5 points if no one guesses the word. The Puzzle Maker also scores 1 point for each NO token on the board, 1 point for each guess token collected, and 2 points for any bonus tokens. Word Seekers who did not guess the word can also score a few points – one point for each unused guess token.

A new round begins with another player becoming the Puzzle Maker. When all players have had a turn as Puzzle Maker, tally the final score and the player with the most points wins!

text-apart

Decipher is the spiritual successor to parlor game classics like Hangman / Wheel of Fortune. In adding deductive and semi-cooperative elements, Decipher reinvents these timeworn classics for a modern audience.

It might not be obvious at first, but as the game progresses, the Seekers can begin to make important deductions about each letter in the word as the Puzzle Maker places NO tokens on the board (not unlike another classic – Mastermind). Because each letter must be built using a specific set of pieces, even a single NO begins to eliminate some letters from contention altogether. Likewise, when a letter piece eventually finds its home on the board, Seekers can begin to narrow down possible letters based on a single shape. 

If the Puzzle Maker hands you a wide blue curve piece, for instance, you know that it must be part of a C, D, G, O or Q since these are the only letters in the game that use that specific letter piece!

As the Puzzle Maker, the challenge is to dole out the pieces in such a way that will keep the range of letters as open as possible. This will generate more NO tokens and possibly allow you to reach bonus mode for the round.

While there is an individual winner, teamwork among Seekers can help insure the Puzzle Maker never gets to the bonus round. This tacit nudge toward cooperation makes the game feel like a communal effort. It also makes the game more accessible to players who might normally be intimidated by word games. Even though one Seeker may net the big points for a round, most likely there will be a cheer amongst the Seekers when the word is revealed.

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In Hangman, pressure in the game is provided by time. Only so many turns before the poor stick figure meets an unfortunate end. In Wheel of Fortune, pressure in the game is provided by the other players. Someone more clever (or more fortunate) might line up the letters before you.

Decipher combines both these elements into a single experience while adding a third source of pressure – the Puzzle Maker! It is not a guarantee the Seekers will solve every word, but it is very likely, given that all the letter pieces will eventually be revealed. The added challenge to each round in Decipher is to solve the puzzle quickly because the Puzzle Maker stands to gain in many different ways the longer it takes to discover the word.

Simple in concept. Elegant as an object of play. Adaptable to the needs of different players. Puzzle Makers can create longer words for experienced wordsmiths or shorter words for neophytes. Have a large group? Play in teams. Put simply, Decipher is built for Major Fun. 

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Written by: Stephen Conway

Funfair

Release: 3/29/2021    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 90 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

A coaster with 17 loops… a pirate ride that actually sinks… a fairyland with unicorns you can pet… and did I mention – six foot corndogs! How would you build the theme park of your dreams? Funfair gives you a chance to do just that.

Play cards to assemble an exciting mix of five attractions. Add enhancements and staff, match blueprints, and build a showcase feature to bring in the crowds

Funfair nudges players to indulge the simple pleasure of surrendering to a flight of fancy. Build a fantastic world over the course of six rounds – a world to delight the child in all of us – a world that will make your park a must-see destination for generations to come.

Listen in to explore the game and discover why it earns both our Spiel of Approval and the Major Fun Award!

Funfair       

Good Games Publishing |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Joel Finch

Art: Mr. Cuddington

Publisher: Good Games Publishing

2-4 players  30-60 min.  ages 8+   MSRP $40

Time to teach/learn: 10 minutes

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For info on the other segments featured on the show, check out the show notes at The Spiel!

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Interstitial music credits include:

Are You Having Any Fun?  by Alex Pangman (with Bucky Pizzarelli)  |  the song

Fun Day  by Stevie Wonder  |  the song

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Cloud City

Cloud City

Official Site |  BGG  | Buy

Designer: Phil Walker-Harding
Artist:
Fabrice ROS
Publisher: Blue Orange Games
2-4 players 30 minutes ages 10+ MSRP $35
Time to teach & learn: 3 minutes

text-the concept

You are an architect creating a layout for a network of interconnected skyscrapers. Up and up, higher and higher, the city rises! The City Council will select only one architect’s plan – the most ambitious expansion will gather the most votes and become a blueprint for your very own city in the clouds!

text-the components

Houses have curb appeal. Games have table presence. Cloud City’s 3-D elements are fun and engaging and will draw attention whenever it is played.

There are 96 plastic buildings split evenly between 3 different colors: green, blue and sandy brown. All buildings of a single color are also a single height. Sandy buildings are the tallest, green buildings are medium, and blue are the shortest.

Each color building has a set of 31 matching walkways. The walkways come in 5 different lengths.

48 square city tiles depict different configurations of colored buildings rising above the clouds. Each tile is split into four grid squares and each tile has a mix of two open cloud spaces and two spaces with a green, blue, or sand colored building.

There are also some start tiles, one for each player and some special request cards that add more scoring options.

To play, each player takes a start tile and places matching colored buildings on the corresponding spaces shown on the tile. The remaining city tiles are shuffled and each player receives a hand of three tiles. Three tiles are also  flipped face-up for all to see. Give yourself enough room on the table to build around, since your city is about to expand!

text-the mechanics

Cloud City is a game about building bridges. The more bridges and the longer bridges you can construct to connect buildings of similar height, the more votes you will secure from the City Council. The most votes wins the game.

The game is played over 8 turns with 4 players or 11 turns with 2 or 3 players.

At the end of a four player game, your city will be a square – a 3 by 3 grid of 9 city tiles with buildings rising from each tile and bridges connecting some. 

At the end of a 2 or 3 player game, your city will be a rectangle  – either a 3 by 4 or a 4 by 3 grid of city tiles, again with buildings and connecting bridges.

Each turn in the game you will do two things and have an option for a third.

You will pick one tile from your hand and add it to your city.

You will place matching colored 3-D buildings on the corresponding colored spaces on the tile.

Last but not least, you now have the option to build bridges between buildings. 

The bridges come in five different sizes spanning 1,2,3,5 or 8 spaces. The top of each building is made in such a way that the point of each bridge will nestle down snugly into the roof.

There are a few restrictions to keep in mind when building each bridge.

A bridge can only connect buildings of the same color/height (always a flat walkway – never any ramps).

A bridge cannot pass over an open area without a city tile under it.

A bridge cannot cross over a building of the same color/height.

A bridge cannot lay across another bridge of the same color/ height.

And last but not least, each building may only have two bridges connected to it.

You are welcome to build as many bridges as you like on a given turn, provided you follow these restrictions.

That said, you are never obligated to build a bridge. You always have the option to wait and build on a later turn. 

After playing a tile, placing buildings, and deciding whether to build bridges, you draw a new city tile into your hand either from the face up row of city tiles or the top face down tile from the draw pile.

Play continues until each player’s city is complete (9 tiles in a 4 player game, 12 tiles in a 2 or 3 player game). 

Scoring is simple. Each bridge has a number of points listed on it. Add up all the points on the bridges you have built. This is the number of votes you receive. Most votes wins the game.

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Each choice allows your city to expand – every new tile offers new buildings and possible connections. But each choice also begins to set the boundaries for your city – giving shape and limits to what you will be able to build in just a few short turns. This means you have to have pay attention to how your city expands and contracts with every choice you make. 

You have to consider how to line up like colored buildings in order to build bridges. Small connections are easier to line up, but they yield fewer points. In order to leave large gaps open for longer bridges to be built, you will most likely have to focus on one specific level and not try to optimize every possible path. The pressure of building in such a small area makes every choice in the game meaningful, challenging, and fun.

Something as simple as the layout of the colored buildings on each tile in your hand becomes extremely important when considering how to keep each level on your city open for longer bridges and higher scores. 

This makes the choice of what tile to take at the end of each turn significant. If you don’t think ahead to your needs beyond the current bridge, your city will fill up and leave you with buildings in the way, preventing longer bridges.

What tile to place is important, but when to place bridges is just as critical. Early on, you can bank on points by connecting smaller, obvious paths. But there’s also risk involved. Because each building can only have two bridge connections, you might close off larger scoring potentials. Wait too long, though, and another building might go up, blocking your path.  

And even when things don’t go according to plan, the game goes so quickly, you’ll be left wanting to try again and make better choices next time. Cloud City condenses the quiet, contemplative fun of a much longer and more involved game into a brief encounter. A short story instead of a novel. No less moving or interesting for its brevity, but certainly more accessible.

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Cloud City is Major Fun because it is condensed, refined. Play a tile, place buildings, build bridges – rules easy enough for players from mid elementary age to retirement to grok the basics and learn by doing. 

It is also hard to overstate the powerful draw of creating a 3-D map of your own to marvel at when the game is done. Your choices make something to be admired and studied whether you win or lose.

Francie enjoys her city after a game.

Cloud City earns our Spiel of Approval because it offers an even deeper level of strategy and gameplay through the addition of special request cards.

These cards provide additional ways to score. 

Some cards deal with bridges: points for building many separate paths, or closed loops, or a path with the highest total value. 

Other cards focus on buildings: points for building the most of a given color, or the most buildings with a single bridge connection.

There are even request cards that take points away! Negative points for crossed bridges or freestanding buildings without any bridges at all.

The rules and flow of the game remain completely unchanged – but the goals you strive for and HOW you play each turn make the game completely new and different. 

The suggestion in the rules is to play with two request cards at a time. We could not resist adding more request cards to our games until eventually we were playing with every request card and every new scoring rule in effect. You will want to work up to this level, but in just a few games, my guess is you will want to take on the challenge of scoring as many possible ways as you can within the same pressure packed small set of turns.

Does the Cloud City need these extra layers to be enjoyable? Not at all. 

The game is open to such a wide range of players and experience levels – this makes Cloud City a lovely introduction to the quiet fun that is possible through strategic thinking and thoughtful play.

Does Cloud City benefit from having these advanced options available? Absolutely!

The game itself builds bridges to deeper and more nuanced decisions without adding complexity. Each decision has more consequences to predict, making for a greater challenge to assemble a winning plan. 

Most of the time, a player must move on from an open and accessible strategy game to find an experience with more layers and depth. It’s a remarkable achievement for Cloud City to house both in one box.

No matter what level of strategy you enjoy, there’s a simple, beautiful elegance to the dance your mind does when you play Cloud City. There are so few turns in each game, every one matters in surprising and fun ways. We don’t need to build this game up. Cloud City, for all its headiness, has set down deep roots in Major Fun.

***

Written by: Stephen Conway

Ubike Tours: Taiwan

Release: 3/15/2021    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 90 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Let’s take a bike trip around northern Taiwan. So much to see!

The night markets in Taichung, the great Buddha statue in Changhua, the Hakka Round House in Maioli, the Science Park in Hsinchu, Da Xie Old Street in Taoyuan, Cape Santiago in New Taipei City and Liberty Square in Taipei City just to name a few…. 

Play scenery cards to visit as many sites as you can over the course of nine stops. The traveler who plans the best and pedals great distances will score well and create a memorable trip.

Ubike Tours: Taiwan draws inspiration from two beloved modern classics: Six Nimmt and the 10 Days In series. It combines familiar mechanisms with a clever press-your-luck element to create a lovely balance of strategy and chance.

Grab a bike, explore each option and be ready to pounce when opportunity presents itself. There’s a fun world waiting for you in Ubike Tours: Taiwan behind the flip of every card.

Tune in explore the game and discover why it is Major Fun!

Ubike Tours: Taiwan       

Big Fun Games |  BGG

Designer: Chih-Fan Chen

Publisher: Big Fun Games

2-4 players  30 min.  ages 8+   MSRP $30

Time to teach/learn: 3-5 minutes

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For info on the other segments featured on the show, check out the show notes at The Spiel!

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Bicycle Race (cover)  by Dirty Catfish Brass Band  |  the song

We Will Rock You (cover) by Los Miticos del Ritmo | the song

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Yura Yura Penguin

Yura Yura Penguin

Official Site |  BGG  | Buy

Designer: Ryoko Yabuchi
Artist: Ryoko Yabuchi

Publisher: Ryoko Yabuchi
2-6 players 10-15 minutes ages 7+ MSRP $28
Time to teach & learn: 2-3 minutes

text-the concept

An iceberg has melted and a whole village of penguins needs a new home! Can you stack together enough ice to build them a place to stay? The wind (or other players…) might make it wobble, so it will take a steady hand to find the right balance to place each level and find a perfect spot for each bird.

Yura Yura Penguin is a charming and clever card-based dexterity game where players build an uneven tower higher and higher, placing blocks of ice and penguins on different levels. Be the first to play all your ice cards and avoid making the tower topple to win the game.

text-the components

Every part of Yura Yura Penguin greets you with a sense of artistic and whimsical beauty. The box sparkles, the rulebook has cartoon penguins to guide you through the instructions. And the pieces you play with… they practically beg you to set the game up. 

There are 48 round ice cards, each one flecked with sparkly reflective bits.  The cards come in three colors: white, light blue and dark blue. Each card has an icon in the center, describing it’s action. There are a few tri-colored Aurora cards which serve as wild cards and contain special icons. The back of each card has a lovely stylized illustration of ocean waves. 

There are 14 cardstock icebergs. The icebergs are scored so they can be folded to form a u-shape. They are flat along their base and jagged along the top.

There are 18 jewel-like ice crystals, large translucent and faceted. They come in three colors that match the colors of the ice cards.

Last but not least are the adorable wooden penguins. The base game comes with four lovely basic birds.

I would highly encourage you to seek out the deluxe version which features 13 additional different painted penguins! These birdies are beyond cute. Each one depicts a different shape, size, or species of penguin.

You’ll find tiny white flippered penguins, banded and crested ones, ones with brush tails or yellow eyes, emperors and babies, and one giant (now extinct)!

In addition to the rulebook, there’s a wonderfully detailed booklet allowing you to get to know each species as well as general information about penguins.

To set up, spread out the ice cards face down in a rough circle to form “the sea.” Each player draws a hand of cards from the sea based on the number of people playing.  A thick coaster-like start card is placed in the middle of the sea to form the foundation of the iceberg tower you’re going to build. Keep the penguins and ice crystals handy, because now you’re ready to play!

text-the mechanics

Yura Yura Penguin is a card stacking dexterity game with a dash of strategy and an emphasis on balance.

Players take turns in clockwise order, taking an action and then playing a card, creating a gloriously teetering tower of ice. 

On your turn you will look at the icon on the card played prior to you. The icon shown gives you a set of instructions to follow. This is your action for the turn. Some icons make you build the tower higher. Others make you place items in the tower (an ice crystal or two,  maybe even a penguin). Special icons on the tri-colored Aurora cards add an Uno element to the game, forcing you to draw cards, reverse the order of play or skip a turn.

When building higher, you stack a u-shaped iceberg card to form a new level.

Ice crystals placed in the tower are placed on the 2nd highest tier with the least number of crystals. This can be a tricky little puzzle to tease out.

Penguins placed in the tower are always placed on the 2nd highest platform. 

Note you’re never adding pieces on the topmost level of the tower, always the 2nd highest level or lower.

If all the pieces have already been placed in the tower, then your job gets even more challenging. You will have to take an existing piece from the tower and move it to a higher position!

Once you have followed the instructions on the prior card, it’s time to place a card from your hand onto the tower. The new card you play must match either the color or the icon on the prior card.

So if the prior card played was dark blue with an iceberg icon, I would first place a new iceberg card on the tower and then have my choice to play a dark blue card or a card with an iceberg icon on top of the iceberg to form a new level to the tower.

The card you select is always played to the top level of the tower. 

It could happen that you do not have a card that matches the color or icon of the previous card. In this case, you’ll draw a card from the sea. If that card plays, great. If not, add that card to your hand and your turn is over.

The goal in Yura Yura Penguin is to play all the cards in your hand. The first player to accomplish this wins OR… if one player causes the iceberg to break or fall the game ends immediately.

Now, let’s be serious. The joy and the fun at the heart of the game comes from building the ice tower higher and higher, only to see it come crashing down. 

Each card you add to the tower can and often will make it more wobbly. And each card you play will dictate a set of instructions for the next player. As the tower starts to sway a little more, maybe you decide to play a card with a penguin icon, forcing the next player to place a wooden bird on a higher level, tipping the balance even more. 

If you manage to rid yourself of all your cards to claim victory, you will probably get a polite round of applause.

BUT you’re even more likely to receive cheers and high fives from bringing the tower down. It’s a special kind of game that finds a way to celebrate defeat as much or more than victory.

What the game really builds toward is an explosion of laughter and delight as one too many cards or birds or ice crystals causes the tower to collapse in a heap.

If only a few small pieces take a tumble, or even a single card falls from the tower on your turn, you are allowed to try and recover and rebuild. But if even two cards fall free, the iceberg is considered broken, and the game ends.

text-apart

The basic game offers a wonderful experience to players who are young and young at heart. The deluxe edition of Yura Yura Penguin, however, makes the game remarkable in ways that are not only about adding fancier components.

The 13 new penguin tokens change the game in dramatic and devilishly fun ways. Instead of the generic penguins, players can agree on a specific set to use for the game OR each player can select a penguin of their own to try and move up through the tower.

My personal favorite, though, adds a delicious element of brinksmanship to each penguin card played. When you are forced to place a penguin in the tower, the player prior to you gets to select any penguin from the supply for you to place! 

Now you might take it easy on someone, giving them a reasonable sized penguin to add to the tower, hoping they will do the same for you later. BUT as the cards stack higher and higher, the GIANT wooden penguin always looms as a threat. And in most games it will be a matter of when and not if this chunky fellow finds a spot to roost adding even more tension and fun to see if the tower will hold.

If this was not enough, the deluxe edition includes a wooden polar bear token that adds yet another way to play. When one of two polar bear cards is added to the tower, the rules of the game change completely.

The polar bear will be placed on the top level of the ice tower and from this point forward all cards and tokens in the game are played on the top level of the tower for the rest of the game. Suddenly the tower builds out instead of up and gets very crowded! You will have to learn an entirely new set of skills to do well and keep the tower from falling.

The flexible and expandable rules provided by the deluxe edition nudge us to see the true fun of the Yura Yura Penguin comes from the many different ways we can enjoy and create a more thrilling wobbly tower.

text-final

From engaging gameplay to the look and feel of the cards and tokens, there is a quiet and remarkable artful attention to every aspect of the Yura Yura Penguin. Each of these many small decisions has an important impact on the game. Even the title helps set the scene. Yura Yura is a word in Japanese that describes the sound of something swaying in the wind and waves.

Collectively the result of these small but artful decisions is an invitation to play that is nearly impossible to refuse. There’s a fun world waiting for you inside this small box – a simple promise to make but never an easy one to fulfill. 

Simple joys like this are often the best and most lasting, i think, because we can lose ourselves in them over and over, regardless of age. 

That is what Yura Yura Penguin provides – an open door to Major Fun.

***

Written by: Stephen Conway

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