|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!
Designer: J. Evan Raitt
Art: Kwanchai Moriya
1-5 players 20 min. ages 8+ MSRP $15
Time to teach/learn: 2-3 minutes
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
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
Designer: Kevin Russ
Publisher: Flatout Games, AEG
1-4 players 30-45 minutes ages 13+
Time to teach & learn: 5-8 minutes
Your calico quilt starts as a pile of simple fabric in colorful floral patterns. Patiently you cut, fold, and sew each piece into precise shapes and designs. Your goal? Create a cozy refuge, an irresistible napping platform for every cat in the house.
Calico is a charming tile laying game filled with beautiful strategy and art.
Players compete to create the best quilt. Will you focus on an overall design? Embellish different areas with buttons? Or attract a variety of fuzzy feline friends to help you score?
Calico is a beautiful game. Beth Sobel’s illustrations do a masterful job of drawing in even the most casual player for a closer look. The adorable orange tabby cat curled up on the cover of the box sets the tone for the game. The world of Calico is a peaceful warm place on a cold night.
From the 108 colorful hexagonal patch tiles you’ll use to create your quilt, to the whimsical button tokens, and the five double sided cat scoring tiles (with matching cat tokens), Calico employs cuteness to a degree that should almost be illegal.
Each player has a thick-ridged quilt board on which you will place your patch tiles. There are three spaces marked on the quilt board for your design goals. Each player has six design tiles, so three will be chosen and “sewn” onto your board before the game begins.
Likewise, three cat scoring tiles will be selected at random for all players.
Mix up the patch tiles and place three face up on the table. Then allow each player to draw a hand of two patch tiles and we’re ready to play!
The goal in Calico is to place patch tiles in your quilt to score the highest number of points. Designs, buttons, and cats each grant points in a variety of ways.
A turn in Calico is deceptively simple. There are two parts.
Part 1: Place one patch tile into your quilt. This tile can go into any open space on the board.
Part 2: Draw a tile from the three face up patch tiles available to refill your hand.
Once your turn is complete, a new patch tile is drawn from the bag to replace the face up one you removed.
The game ends when every open space on each player’s quilt board is filled with a tile. Each scoring category will be judged and the player with the highest point total will be awarded the title Master Quilter and win the game.
Calico is a game of layered strategy – of color and pattern. There are six colors of patch tile and six different patterns
The challenge and delight in Calico comes from trying to weave different scoring combinations together with the placement of each colored and patterned tile.
In order to appreciate this aspect of the game, let’s look at the three ways to score: buttons, cats, and designs.
Buttons score by color. For each grouping of at least three like colored patch tiles, you place a button on your quilt. If you manage to place six different colored buttons on your quilt, you get a bonus rainbow button.
Cats score by pattern. Two pattern tiles are drawn to indicate each cat’s favorite type of pattern at the beginning of the game. Each cat tile also shows a specific configuration of tiles or a specific number of tiles. If you can create that configuration or the right size group of tiles in one of the cat’s favorite patterns, you get to place a cat token on your quilt. And every time you fulfill a cat’s pattern preference, you get to place a new cat on your quilt. Some cats preferences are easy to meet; others are considerably more difficult. Easy cats score less; picky cats score more.
Design tiles can score by color AND pattern. Each design tile maps out a recipe describing a specific combination of tiles needed to surround it.
For example, a design tile might want to be surrounded by three pairs of like tiles. You could fulfill this recipe by placing a pair of green tiles, a pair of blue tiles, and a pair of yellow tiles around it. You could also fulfill the recipe by placing two striped tiles and two polka dot tiles, and two floral pattern tiles around it. With some careful consideration and tile placement, you could score this design tile both ways!
Buttons, cats, and designs are independent ways for you to score but their needs will overlap and conflict from the moment you place your very first patch tile on the board.
To gain points in one area, you most often have to be willing to forgo points in others. The delicious fun and agony of Calico comes from these decisions. Want a quilt covered in cats? You’ll most likely give up making elaborate designs. Decide to focus on buttons? Cats may look elsewhere to nap.
Calico is not a game about perfection. Your final quilt won’t be perfect. It’s a game about creating something of beauty with what you have on hand. Your decisions create the beauty in the game. And this makes it truly satisfying when you are able to mesh several scoring opportunities together by placing a single tile.
Calico will entice you to grab your thimble, put on some music, and pour yourself a nice cuppa tea. This peaceful game harbors simple beauty and hidden depth. That makes Calico a wellspring of Major Fun and a worthy recipient of our Spiel of Approval.
Written by: Stephen Conway
Designer: Dave Schultze
Publisher: Gridopolis Games
2-4 players 20-60 minutes ages 8+
Time to teach & learn: 5-6 minutes
Gridopolis is a game of construction and capture. Players build a multi-level modular board and then use pawns and kings to jump and capture their opponent’s pieces. Teleporters and blockers present challenges and opportunities in equal measure. And the game board itself will shape every decision you make, because each player has a chance to add new elements to it as the game unfolds!
Gridopolis has a wonderful set of basic building components that snap together to create multiple game boards. There are pads that make up the spaces the pawns and kings will move on. There are links that join pads together. The links have little nubbins that connect to posts, so game boards can be stacked together to form a three dimensional play space.
Gridopolis is aptly named, because you’ll feel like you’ve created a small cityscape each time you play.
There are suggested layouts for your first few games, but once you understand the basic concept, the sky’s the limit – each game board in Gridopolis can rise from the imagination of the players.
Each player has six large colorful pawns to begin the game. The pawns can be flipped over to become Kings during the game. There are Kingerizer pieces in each player color; they nest into the pad spaces along the edge of the board to indicate a player’s home row.
There are also Hyper-pads and blocker tokens that will create different patterns of movement on the board when they are in play.
Once the Gridopolis board is built (including Hyper-pads), pawns are placed on opposite sides, separated by a neutral unoccupied area. Now you’re ready to play!
You’ll find many echoes of classic, almost universally known, games like Checkers and Chess in Gridopolis.
Your turn consists of selecting a pawn to move one pad (one space) in any direction, including diagonal movement AND including moves up or down! Every pawn has a home row marked by the Kingerizer pieces. A pawn’s move can never be backwards toward its home row.
Jumping is not only allowed in Gridopolis, it’s the essence of the game. You can jump over your own pieces to extend a pawn’s movement. If you jump over an opponent’s piece, you capture it and remove it from the board. And just like it’s classic cousin, you can chain together multiple jumps to capture multiple pieces in a single move. You can even sacrifice your own piece by jumping off the board in order to make a capture! Your opponent gets the Kamikaze piece, so this move is one of desperation, usually.
If you can maneuver a pawn to the home row of an opponent, it flips over and becomes a King. Kings move just like pawns EXCEPT they get an optional bonus move after the first. This extra move gives you a ton of flexibility and adds new decisions and strategies to every turn.
If you land on a Hyper-pad, your piece beams immediately to another space with an empty hyper-pad on the board. The Gridopolis board may look big, but with even just a few hyper-pads, no space is safe… or very far away!
Envisioning and anticipating possible jumps across multiple levels makes Gridopolis a lovely dance between aggression and safety. Can you extend your pawn’s reach without risking a capture or exposing your home row, allowing other players to create kings?
For a longer game, you can play until only one person has a piece remaining on the board. For a shorter game, you play a set number of turns and score based on how many pieces you collect and how many you have remaining on the board. High score wins.
Planning for the unknown sets Gridopolis apart.
Instead of moving a pawn or king on your turn, each player has two additional options:
you may place a blocker token on the board
you may add a new space to the board.
A blocker token is played to an unoccupied pad. That space is eliminated from play for the rest of the game.
To add a new space to the board, you select pieces from a mini-construction kit each player starts with at the beginning of the game. You have three pads (with connector links) and two posts. You can add a space to any level. You can even add a level to the board with a post!
These options blow the game wide open.
The board is not a static thing in Gridopolis. You have to account for and anticipate not only where your opponent might move but what your opponent might do to change the very landscape of the game!
If the board was too sprawling, this could lead to brain-lock. By keeping the spaces of the game board limited, Gridoplolis encourages players to consider their options from different angles and perspectives in a very literal and fun way!
It’s a tricky thing to build a game on the back of such well known classics. There are so many poor examples floating through the world of games. They invite comparison with the greats and almost always are found wanting.
What Gridopolis accomplishes is special and noteworthy. It strikes a lovely balance between familiar and new elements. It offers players a fun remix of the original. The classic is still recognizable in some form, but Gridopolis sings to new generations of players with a voice that is distinctive enough to rise up from the chorus of wannabes.
Gridopolis combines the Lego-like joy of building with a meditative fun akin to a game of 3-D chess versus Mr Spock on the Enterprise. And, as Gridopolis is the first in a series of games using these same components, it’s encouraging to imagine many new paths to Major Fun building from this common ground.
Written by: Stephen Conway
Designer: Brandon Beran Artist: Josh Cappel
Publisher: Grand Gamers Guild
2 players 15 min. ages 8+ MSRP $15
Cue the James Bond music….
In Pocket Ops, you are a spymaster, infiltrating a secret facility with a team of agents to steal a doomsday device. Unfortunately for you, a rival agency has sent their own spies on the very same mission. Using the tools and skills available, you must position your agents in key areas so you can grab the device before your opponent.
Pocket Ops is a game that could almost fit in your pocket. They’d have to be big pockets, yes, but it’s worth noting this is a game you can take anywhere and play anywhere. The entire game fits in a box that is 4 inches square.
Inside this bite sized box, there’s a board, a set of blueprint cards and wooden agent tokens for each player. There’s also a cardboard key card plus the dreaded doomsday device and its 2 power crystals.
The board is a three by three grid depicting the secret base. Each grid space is lettered A through I.
The nine Blueprint cards match the lettered grid spaces on the board, so each player has a card lettered A-I.
The agent tokens come in two forms – regular spies and specialists. You have 7 regular spies and 8 specialists. The general spies look like ninjas and the specialists have an icon depicting their special skill.
And the doomsday device and its crystals are how you keep score. Collect the device and a crystal and you win!
To play, each player takes their cards and general spies. Flip your specialist tokens face down and mix them up. Draw two and secretly decide which one to keep. Reveal your selection to your opponent and you’re ready to play!
Pocket Ops draws its inspiration from a game almost everyone already knows: tic-tac-toe.
The goal remains exactly the same: arrange your pieces on the board in a row of 3, vertically horizontally or diagonally.
In the classic game you draw an X or an O to claim a space. In Pocket Ops, you’ll place a spy or a specialist.
How your spies and specialists get onto the board is a much more tricky proposition in this game!
Each turn, one player will try to place a piece and the other player will try to predict where that piece is being played. The player with the Keycard token will be the Placer in the first turn and his or her opponent will be the Predictor.
Each turn in the game has three parts and goes like this:
1. The Predictor selects one of the 9 Blueprint cards and places it face down. This letter card is the Prediction.
2. The Placer selects either a regular spy or a specialist token and places it on a grid space on the board.
3. The Prediction card is then revealed. If the Prediction was correct, the token is removed from the board. If the Prediction was wrong, the token remains on the board. If the token was the Specialist, that token’s ability kicks in.
So, as the Placer on any given turn you may not actually get to play a piece if the Predictor can get in your head!
When the turn ends, the Keycard passes to the other player and roles are now reversed. The new Predictor selects a card. The Placer selects a token and places it on the board and the Prediction card is revealed.
And the game continues back and forth – predicting and placing (or not!) – until one player maneuvers three tokens into a line on the board. The first win, you grab a power crystal, The second win, you grab the doomsday device and celebrate your victory. So it’s best 2 out of 3.
The Specialist tokens really make Pocket Ops shine.
Each player has 8 of them and each one has a unique ability that will trigger if the token is played to the board.
Each Specialist’s ability changes the way you look at the board and the options available to win.
So let’s take a closer look at them.
Most are played to empty spaces on the board.
The Sniper eliminates a foe (an opponent’s token) from a space that is in a straight path (no diagonals).
The Mole allows you to switch two pieces adjacent to the Mole – one must be friendly and one a foe.
The Ninja eliminates an adjacent foe (including diagonals).
The Pusher travels into an adjacent space on the board and pushes other tokens into the next space or even off the board.
The Grappler swaps places with a foe in a straight line (no diagonals).
The Hacker allows you to play TWO prediction cards as the Predictor from now on until you make a correct Prediction.
There are two Specialists that are played to spaces already containing a token
The Courier is played to a space with your own spy. The Courier pushes that spy into an empty adjacent space (no diagonals).
Last but not least the Assassin is played to a space with an opponent’s spy. The opponent’s spy is eliminated.
These abilities, taken on all at once, might seem like a lot to keep track of, but keep in mind you will only ever have one Specialist in play during a round. Each ability is really quite easy to grok, so you only really have to keep track of one at a time (Even so, I created a simple quick reference sheet for the Specialists you can download here – it even fits in the tiny box).
The effect these Specialists have on the game is tremendous. From a seemingly straightforward game, the board becomes a very strategic battleground. No token is safe and no token can be guaranteed to stay put!
As the Predictor you have to think beyond the obvious 3 in a row tic-tac-toe strategies to see how and when and where your opponent might be tempted to use his or her Specialist. LIkewise, as the Placer you have to be cagy about when to use your Specialist. Select an obvious spot and you might not benefit from its ability at all!
There’s already plenty of cat and mouse in this game, move and countermove, trying to make the less obvious choice each round so you can just get a piece ANY piece on the board. Adding Specialists makes this game cat and mouse chased by a rhino through a hedge maze filled with angry porcupines.
If I started out this review by saying “I’ve got this great new take on tic-tac-toe” you might have clicked away or at the very least rolled your eyes a bit.
After all, tic-tac-toe, played amongst skilled players, is a game that cant be won. It’s a great discovery and lesson in life when we learn this. But it pretty much kills much of our interest in ever playing the game. The game isnt fun enough since the outcome is all but ordained.
It takes real moxie to look at a classic like this and say, I can make it relevant, strategic and fun to a modern game playing audience. But that’s just what designer Brandon Beran has done.
And even if the game comes to a draw, like the original, its not a draw. The player with the Keycard (the Placer) loses the round! Which adds another layer of thinking when the board begins to fill up.
What I love most about Pocket Ops is how it takes something so familiar and uses that foundation to do something interesting and challenging, while still preserving the essential simplicity and speed of the original. Despite all these extra layers, a typical game takes no more than 10 minutes to play.
When is a game more than just a variation? When does a game rise up out of the primordial soup to evolve into its own animal?
This might be a question for the ages but I’d argue that a game makes this leap when it finds a way to build something new atop the foundation of the old. Adding deduction and bluffing elements to the basic 3 in a row goal of the original allows Pocket Ops to make that leap.
This isn’t tic-tac-toe on steroids. It’s Pocket Ops. It can and does stand on its own two feet. You can see its family heritage but you shouldn’t be too quick to judge based on from which branch of the great game tree it grows.
If you’re looking for a quick game that you can take practically anywhere and teach to practically anyone – a game that’ll provide a challenge after hundreds of plays – and a game that’s just plan fun – stop looking. You’ve found it in Pocket Ops.
|Release Date: 3/13/2017||Download: Enhanced | MP3|
|Running Time: 51 min||Subscribe: Enhanced | MP3 | RSS|
|“No one wins a dance. Why would I want to win anything other than a beautiful game?”
– Bredon The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Tak comes to us from two beautiful and beautifully different minds.
First from writer Patrick Rothfuss. In his epic fantasy series The Kingkiller Chronicles, Kvothe, the protagonist, learns the game of Tak from a courtier named Bredon. The game becomes the basis for their friendship and the foundation for understanding Bredon’s worldview.
Second from game designer James Ernest. Inspired by the novels, James brought Tak from the page to reality. But creating a game that is supposed to be on par with the likes of Chess or Go is no small task!
And yet Tak is just that. A game that feels universal, simple, elegant and accessible. A game that you can play anywhere and with anyone. A game that is beautiful because HOW you play matters as much as winning or losing.
And a game that is worthy both the Major Fun and Spiel of Approval Award!
Listen in to explore Tak – it’s backstory, the game itself, and why we think it deserves an honored place on your table, too.
Tak: A Beautiful Game
Designer: James Ernest & Patrick Rothfuss
Publisher: Cheapass Games
2 players 15-20 min. ages 8+ MSRP $9,$55,$90
Music credits include: