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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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Written by: Stephen Conway

Calico

Calico

Flatout Games | AEG |  BGG | 

Designer: Kevin Russ
Publisher: Flatout Games, AEG 
1-4 players 30-45 minutes ages 13+
MSRP $40
Time to teach & learn: 5-8 minutes

text-the concept

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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Written by: Stephen Conway

Fantasy Ranch

Fantasy Ranch

Fantasy Board Games LLC|  BGG

Designer: Keisha & Anastasia Swanlund
Publisher: Fantasy Board Games LLC
2 – 4 players 15 – 75 minutes ages 5+
MSRP $40

text-the concept

You started when you were young. Riding the trails, corralling horses through the wilderness, guiding them through shows and into camp to add to your herd.

Next, you bought a barn and a small patch of land – just enough for a few horses. Can you make your ranch into the talk of the town? With a lot of hard work and planning (and a little luck), folks will flock from miles away to admire the ranch and the beautiful show horses you’ve raised.

Fantasy Ranch is a collection of six horse-themed games enjoyable by a wonderfully wide range of players, whether you’re a greenhorn or a grizzled ranch hand.

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The production quality of Fantasy Ranch is top-notch. There is a double-sided main board along with dice and tokens. There are also six double-sided ranch boards. Each player receives a player aid/ranch mat with photos from an actual horse ranch.

Two elements will most likely produce oohs and ahhs when revealed: the horse cards and horse figures.

There are 57 small wooden horse figures in five different colors and patterns. They are ridiculously charming.

The 57 horse cards, each feature a lovely photograph and game icons representing the horse’s abilities and talents.

All these elements combine to create a beautiful tableau as the game unfolds. Don’t be surprised if someone stops the game to take a pic or two of their ranch.

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There are two basic game modes: Trail Ride and Fantasy Ranch. Each of these modes has a beginner, intermediate, and advanced set of rules, each one building intuitively on knowledge and experience from the prior.

Trail Ride has a roll-and-move mechanism at its core. You will move along paths to reach a camp space at the end. However, the goal of the game is to collect horses that will increase your score. There are spaces to buy and sell horses along the way. There are terrain features which may make moving more difficult. And there are show spaces along the paths that could allow you to collect resources and additional horses. As you move through the levels of Trail Ride, you unlock new ways of scoring your herd, providing some strategic decisions about which horses to collect.

Fantasy Ranch is played over five rounds. Each round, players will select one action: buy horses, buy new locations on their ranch board, or collect six resources. At the end of a round, a horse show is held. Players will enter a horse in the competition, rolling dice based on the talents of each horse. Collect horses and build ranch locations that provide trophies to score points.

There are many gamerly elements added as you progress from level to level, including twist of fate cards that provide secret ways for you to score, hired hands that provide a temporary ability or bonus, and a deck of horse show cards that make the competitions change from game to game. There’s even an area control element added at the highest level, where control of ranch boards can shift from player to player depending on the size of your herd.

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Passion sets Fantasy Ranch apart. This game is the brainchild of two horse-crazy sisters, Keshia and Antastasia Swanlund. Their passion seeps into every aspect of the game, from the information on the horse cards to the detailed ranch profiles and the actual equestrian sponsors whose products are included on the board and cards. This isn’t crass commercialism; it demonstrates their deep connection to the subject which enhances the enjoyment of the game. You can’t fake this level of love and attention to detail. And you don’t have to be a horse nut like them to be pulled into the experience. If anything, their passion may inspire you to want to learn more about horses!

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I want to close by emphasizing the amazingly flexible game experience Fantasy Ranch provides in a single box. Name another game that can accommodate players from ages 5 through adult, giving each player along this spectrum an opportunity for a fun and challenging experience. You can tailor the game you want to play based on the players you have at the table on any given day or night. This is a rare and noteworthy achievement, and just one among many reasons you will rustle up a herd of Major Fun each time you play.

Written by: Stephen Conway

Special Note:

This review appears in the Fall 2019 issue of Casual Game Insider Magazine.

CGI publishes a wonderful selection of articles and reviews on a quarterly basis.  In 2019, a Major Fun review will be featured in the next several issues.

The Spiel, Major Fun and CGI share a common goal: opening doors to the wider world of play. We hope this cross promotion will invite more people into the game community.

Echidna Shuffle

Echidna Shuffle

Wattsalpoag|  BGG

Designer: Kris Gould
Publisher: Wattsalpoag
2-6 players 15-20 minutes ages 6+
MSRP $30

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Echidnas, prickly cousins to the platypus, love to roam the forest floor. They often bump into friends along the way as they walk their well worn paths. What the echidnas don’t know is this. The insects of the forest ride them everywhere… like the bus or the subway! Better yet, echidnas are like spiny unaware Uber or Lyft drivers, picking up and dropping off passengers as they shuffle along.

In Echidna Shuffle, each player has three colorful insects they are trying to get home. Can you catch a ride on an echidna and help it shuffle through the forest to your home stumps? The problem is there are so many echidnas around, they often wander off course, especially when you get close to your bug’s home!

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Echidna Shuffle can easily make a case for being the cutest game in the universe.

One look at the ridiculously adorable echidna figurines and you’ll be smiling. You will want to hold them. And talk to them. And play with them like a long lost pet. OK… maybe that’s just me. But I don’t think so! They are irresistibly cute.

There are also lovely stumps and insect figurines in bright colors: butterflies and ladybugs, ants and bees, grasshoppers and beetles – a group for each player. plus a bug token and a pickup marker.

The game board is big and bright and two sided, each one displaying a different layout of forest paths. There are big arrows indicating the directions of the paths.

Last but not least is the number board and the custom echidna die. It is a 6-sided die, but it is numbered from 2-7 with tiny echinda feet as its pips.

To begin, each player will select a pickup space. This is where all your bugs will catch a ride from the echidnas. The player to your left will get to decide where to place your three stumps. This means your stumps will most likely be annoyingly far away from where your bugs catch a ride

text-the mechanics

Echidna Shuffle is a dice-driven pick-up-and-deliver game. It’s a race between you and your fellow players to see who can get all their bugs delivered safely to their home stumps on the board.

Directly and indirectly, the echidna die drives each turn. On your first turn, you roll the die and based on that roll, you place a matching token on that number on your number board.

Then you get to move the echidnas a number of spaces equal to the number you rolled.

You can move any echidna on the board. You can even move multiple echidnas. No one owns them. So any of the cute little critters are fair game.

If you land an echidna on your pickup marker, then one of your bugs catches a ride! Place it on the echidna’s back. The two pieces connect together beautifully.

But here’s the catch.

There are a LOT of echidnas and only a few open spaces along the forest path! In order to move an echidna, you must follow the arrows along the path AND the echidna must have an open space on which to land.

Echidnas won’t jump over or land on occupied spaces.

If this cardboard forest has a golden rule it’s this: if there’s an echidna in your way, you must shuffle it along to another space.

Thus begins your struggle to keep the flow of echidna traffic moving! In order to move the one echidna you really want to move, you may need to move several others on the board to clear a path.

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Balance, reluctant kindness and temptation to mischief set Echidna Shuffle apart.

Balance comes in the form of the number board. The echidna die is numbered 2-7. Over the course of two turns you will get to move echidnas a total of 9 spaces, guaranteed. If your first roll is a 7, you mark this with a token on your number board. On your next turn you do not roll the die. Instead, you move the number token down along the arrow to the space with the 2. This means you get to move the echidnas two spaces as though you rolled a 2 this turn. If I roll a 5 on my first turn, I know my next turn I will move 4. A 3 first? Then a 6 next time.

This brings balance to the game since you will never have to worry about always rolling low. A low roll one turn guarantees your next “virtual” roll courtesy of the number board will be high.

Reluctant kindness and temptation to mischief are always present on every turn in Echidna Shuffle. Reluctant kindness comes in the form of moving an echidna with someone else’s bug. It could even mean delivering another player’s bug to one of their home stumps! The board is so tight with traffic that sometimes the only way to help yourself is to help someone else, too!

Temptation to mischief is rooted in the same dilemma. When the echidnas are blocking your best path and you don’t have enough moves to get them out of the way, the temptation is always there to move echidnas with other player’s bugs along a path that might make it harder for them to get home. Sometimes the only way to help yourself is to mess someone else up!

This decision point  – to be kind and/or mischievous is there every turn. And each time the cute little creatures move, some people will cheer while others will moan. This keeps everyone engaged and part of the game.

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On the great board game Venn diagram in sky (it’s a thing, trust me) Echidna Shuffle sits at the intersection of beauty, balance, interaction and simple strategy. Each of these elements provides its own invitation to play.

Beauty in the wonderfully charming pieces.

Balance in the number board equalizing high and low die rolls

Interaction in the fact you will most likely help or cause mischief for other players each time you take a turn

Simple strategy in the surprising level of planning and forethought available to every player.

You can accept any of these invitations. Or all of them. And they all lead to different kinds of fun.

All this in a game clearly geared toward very young players. This is a game for children that can operate on many levels at once.

The kids can fall in love with the beauty and the interaction. The balance and planning may be lost on them, while the parents or older friends or siblings can find fun there too.

There are even variants to explore and plenty of ways you could nudge the game to suit the needs of your group.

Echidna Shuffle is delightful and charming. It is most definitely Major Fun and a great example of what a modern game for kids can and should be.

Written by: Stephen Conway

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