Nekojima

Release: 4/30/24   | Download:  Enhanced  | MP3

Run Time: 80 min   | Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

There are dog shows and cat shows, but have you ever heard of a fish show? Goldfish fans from across the land compete each year to display the most sensational swimmer. It takes talent and planning to create the most pleasing arrangement of colorful scales. Can you win Best in Show with your finest fish?

Nekojima

Designer:  Karen Nguyen, David Carmona

Artist:  Gilles Warmoes

Publisher:  Unfriendly Games | Hachette | BGG Entry

1-5 players  15 minutes  ages 7+   MSRP $36.99

Time to teach/learn:  3-4 minutes

Full show notes on all the segments are available at The Spiel.

Music credits include:

Sixteen Cats | Joey Michaels | the song

The Seeking Cat | Moss Harmon | the song

Ride Ranke | by FinnKalvik | the song

Stray Cat Strut | El Jimador | the song

Cat Naps | Raymond Grouse | the song

Hand-to-Hand Wombat

Hand-to-Hand Wombat

Designers: Cory O’Brien
Artist: Matthew Inman
Publisher: Exploding Kittens
3-7 players 15 min ages 7+ MSRP $26
Time to Teach/Learn: 3 minutes

Written by: Stephen Conway

No one knows why wombats enjoy architecture. A desire to build towers is buried deep in their bones. But there are exceptions, wicked wombats, born to make trouble. Hand to Hand Wombat pits a team of builders against fuzzy little secret sowers of chaos. The builders must stack pieces to create three towers, while the bad wombat works to sabotage them without getting caught. This might seem easy or impossible depending on what team you’re on, until you discover the twist. Everyone plays with their eyes closed!

The entire game takes place within the confines of the box lid.

In it, you’ll place all the pieces needed to complete three towers. Each tower has a spindle and six nubbly square pieces. The pieces have holes in the center, allowing them to slide onto the spindles. The piece with 6 nubs along its edges is the base of the tower. The five nub piece stacks nicely above it and so on.

To play, deal out wombat cards to see who is on the builder team and who is the wicked wombat. Do not share your identity with anyone else! Place all the tower pieces and the spindles in the box lid and you’re ready to go.

The goal in Hand to Hand Wombat is to complete towers if you are a builder, or to keep towers from being built if you are wicked.

Each game round is 90 seconds, plus a vote. When the timer starts, everyone closes their eyes (no peeking!). Builder Wombats try to assemble the three towers, using one hand only, placing the widest piece of each tower at the base (the six nub piece), then the five and so on. You can communicate with everyone at the table. You can pass pieces to each other. You can even place your hand over a spindle to prevent others from messing with it. You can never take pieces out of the box to sort or save them.

While the Builders are building, the Wicked Wombat is trying to screw things up. You must be subtle, though! If you’re too obvious, you’ll get caught. You might give someone the wrong piece, or place a piece on a spindle out of order. You might even rotate the box lid! Even TALKING REALLY LOUDLY could be enough to throw things off.

At the end of the round, all players vote on who they think the wicked wombat is. If one player has more than half the votes, that player is out! That player does not reveal their identity and the game continues. Reset the timer and the goal is the same. Build towers or cause trouble.

Each round, one team scores. The builders must get at least two towers built to score one point. If they build all three, they score two points. If only one tower is built, the wicked wombat scores one point. If no towers are complete, the sneaky side gets two points. First team to score three points wins the game.

A subtle but important note: the wicked wombat can win even if they have been voted out, since the builders won’t know they have discovered the traitor! The Builders have to complete 2 towers each round or the wicked wombat still scores points. The Wicked Wombat will cackle with glee if they win because the builders didn’t trust each other.

It is hard to think of another game that combines such disparate elements: cooperative stacking paired with a traitor. By all rights this game could be a hot mess. And yet, this marriage works! Playing blind with just the right amount of time pressure balances everything. Even without a player trying to wreck things, getting a group of people to work together without sight to build three simple towers takes an incredible amount of teamwork and communication. The traitor certainly needs to play a role in creating chaos, but the clock and the cloak of darkness allow each side to figure out a way to play that works best for them.

Hand to Hand Wombat is a hilarious invitation to play. Teamwork based on touch and talking and trust is a challenge you’ll almost certainly stumble through the first few rounds. And therein lies one kind of fun. You can’t take yourself too seriously in order to find a way to accomplish this ridiculous task. If you’re wicked, trying to listen and literally feel your way through the game to find ways to subtlety wreck everyone else’s plans is a deliciously fiendish kind of fun. But wait, there’s more. Hand to Hand Wombat yearns for an audience. It is play as a form of performance. It’s hard to argue that any onlookers might have even more fun watching than the goofballs playing the game!

June 2023

Written by: Stephen Conway

Root Beer Float Challenge

Root Beer Float Challenge

Designer: Brady Peterson, Tim Swindle
Publisher: Gray Matters Games | BGG Entry
2-8 players 30 min ages 8+ MSRP $25
Time to Teach/Learn: 2 minutes
Written by: Stephen Conway

You have come together to crown a new champion by assembling that most tasty treat – the root beer float! The ice cream, the soda, the straws and cherries are laid out and ready. Using these charming props, you will compete to complete a series of hilarious challenges – sometimes on your own, sometimes with a team, and sometimes head-to-head. Be the first to collect the right combination of ingredients and you’ll claim the crown!

Instead of a box, the game itself comes in a giant root beer can! The can is more than just a gimmick. It is actually an integral part of the game.

Inside the can are four sturdy straws, two cherries, and a large scoop of ice cream (a white plastic ball). These are the ingredients you’ll use to complete challenges.

There are three decks of challenge cards (solo, co-op, and head-to-head) and a 6-sided die. The backs of the cards are color coded and have one to three ingredients displayed. The die has sides that match the colors of the decks.

Last but not least is a deck of individual ingredient cards. These are the trophies you’ll collect for completing challenges.

The goal of the game is to collect the right set of ingredient cards to make a root beer float. You’ll need a can of root beer, some ice cream, a cherry, and a straw.

On your turn, you roll the die and draw a challenge card from the deck that matches the color you rolled.

If it’s a solo challenge, you’re on your own. If it’s head-to-head, pick a player to compete with. If it’s co-op, pick a partner to help.

The challenge cards are wacky and ridiculous. Each one will lay out what props you need to use and the goal you need to accomplish. Here’s a few examples:

Solo Challenge – Bounce the ice cream ball into the can from one straw length away.

Co-Op Challenge – One player balances two straws on the back of their hand. They must transfer the two straws to the back of their teammate’s hand. The straws cannot fall.

Head-to-Head Challenge – Players balance a cherry on their heads then walk ten paces forward and ten paces backward. The player who returns first (or goes the farthest) wins.

Give the challenge your best shot! Not every one will go your way and that’s ok! The game goes fast; you’ll get ‘em next time. And if you land upon a challenge that is beyond your capabilities, no problem, just pick a new one.

If you complete the challenge, you collect an ingredient card of your choice from the ones shown on the back of the card. In a co-op challenge your teammate gets one, too. In a head-to-head challenge, your opponent will collect one if you lose!

The first to collect the right ingredients for the root beer float wins the game.

Root Beer Challenge celebrates the joy of active, silly fun. It brings the spirit of the playground indoors. Each challenge is an event in and of itself – a mini-game that includes opportunities for little triumphs and laugh-out-loud disasters. The scale and the stakes are balanced such that the fun comes from the playing, from testing yourself against each silly challenge, whether you succeed or fail. In fact, the failures are often more fun, more hilarious, and more memorable!

Many years ago, the beloved founder of the Major Fun Award, Bernie DeKoven, wrote a book called Junkyard Sports. In it, he lays the foundation for over 75 different games using low or no cost found objects. Think of the made up games played at recess; games you assembled with rules to accommodate the equipment, time, and players you had on hand.

Root Beer Float Challenge carries a torch that was lit by Junkyard Sports. The game reminds us that this flavor of active silly fun is always available and can be created on the fly. It is not something we need to abandon or deny ourselves as “mature” adults. The door to play is never closed. Sometimes all we need is a small push to peek through and rediscover Major Fun.

December 2022

Disney Mad Tea Party

Release: 10/10/2022    | Download:  Enhanced  | MP3

Run Time: 38 min   | Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Welcome to the Mad Hatter’s tea party! It’s always six o clock and that means it’s always tea time. Here’s another plate of biscuits. Take two. There’s no time to wash, so the cups and saucers pile higher and higher. Just make sure you’re not the one to crash the party, smashing stacks of cups, making them tumble and topple from the table. That would be ever so rude.

Disney Mad Tea Party is a nerve wracking cup stacking game atop a very precarious table. Be the first to play all your cards or stack every last cup to win. Tension tuned by skill, strategy and a touch of luck drives each decision you make.

Listen in to explore the game and discover why we think it’s Major Fun.

Disney Mad Tea Party

Designer: Funko Games

Publisher:  Funko Games

2-10 players  15 minutes  ages 5+   MSRP $20

Time to teach/learn:  2 minutes

Music credits include:

A Very Merry Unbirthday  |  by Ed Wynn & Jerry Colonna  |  the song

Mad Hatter  |  by Melanie Martinez the song

Kabuto Sumo

Kabuto Sumo

Boardgametables |  BGG

Designers: Tony Miller
Artist: Kwanchai Moriya
Publisher: Boardgametables
2-4 players 15 min ages 6+ MSRP $44
Time to Teach/Learn: 3 minutes

Written by: Stephen Conway

If you listen closely you can hear it… KLONK! The mighty Kabutomushi, the magnificent Rhinoceros beetles are knocking heads, sumo wrestling. Their epic duels in the World Insect Wrestling Championship are the stuff of legend! Now, you and a swarm of challengers are here to contend for titles and your place in history. Position is everything. It will take balance, steady hands (and maybe a little luck) to push and pivot your opponents from the ring!

Kabuto Sumo is a beautiful game. First, artist Kwanchai Moriya creates an enticing colorful world full of flamboyant insect heroes worthy of any professional wrestling circuit.

The play surface, the wrestling ring, is a raised cardboard platform in the shape of a tree stump. A separate cardboard pushing platform butts up against the stump, allowing each player to introduce new pieces to the ring.

Chunky smooth wooden discs in three sizes and three colors will populate the board. Each player will begin with a few discs in their personal supply.

Each player has a wooden insect wrestler token and a special move token in a shape that reflects the insect’s species. Each wrestler also comes with a reference card outlining their abilities. For younger or new players, Junior league cards outline rules for a simpler and slightly faster game.

To play, discs and wrestlers will be arranged in a pattern on the stump according to the number of players. Choose your wrestler, gather your discs, and get ready to rumble!

The goal is simple: push your opponent’s wrestlers from the ring OR run your opponents out of pieces to play.

Kabuto Sumo draws great inspiration from old school coin push arcade games.

On your turn, you will select one of the discs in your personal supply and place it on the pushing platform. You may place the platform anywhere around the wrestling ring. Then, using one hand, push the disc from the back of the piece until it is completely in the ring. You can push your disc at any angle as long as you push in a straight line. If discs fall out of the ring as you push, you collect them into your personal supply. Then your opponents take their turns, selecting and pushing discs until someone’s wrestler falls or runs out of pieces to play.

NOTE: While your goal is to push the opponent from the ring, you constantly need to replenish your supply of discs by knocking some from the ring. Lose sight of this and you could find yourself scrambling just to stay in the game!

Kabuto Sumo is a great example of inclusion in game design. Signature moves add depth and strategy. The Junior League makes the game approachable to anyone.

Each wrestler has a set of superpowers. Some are triggered when their signature piece is pushed. The Stag Beetle’s mandibles can capture opponent’s discs. Others are triggered when certain conditions are met. If the Blister Beetle’s wrestler is touching another wrestler at the end of your turn, that opponent must give you a piece. Ouch!

But these powers come with a catch. They must be earned during the game! You’ll be forced to discard discs, stack some on the board, or even give discs to your opponents in order to use your powers. Suddenly the game operates on an entirely different level. Planning how and when to trigger your powers will likely be the key to victory!

At the other end of the spectrum, the Junior League option provides a quick and easy way for anyone to join the fun. Each wrestler starts with their signature piece and other discs. No special powers, just push and push and let the wrestlers fall where they may. The concept is so simple. There should be no barriers to entry in a game like this. No matter your interest or experience level, there’s a version of Kabuto Sumo to fit the way you want to play.

Kabuto Sumo teaches its players to savor and play with balance. Mind and body are all called to action. Planning and pushing pieces to making them fall is a primal kind of Major Fun, even when your plan goes sideways.

August 2022

Written by: Stephen Conway

Hibachi

Release: 12/15/2021    | Download:  Enhanced  | MP3

Run Time: 42 min   | Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

It’s a hectic night at the Hibachi restaurant. So many hungry people to feed. And so many different dishes! The spatulas are ting -ting-tinging against the hot cooktop and the onion volcanoes are erupting, as shrimp and steak, broccoli and mushrooms and rice fly from plate to bowl. No one leaves here hungry!

Hibachi is a charming dexterity driven set collecting game. Players throw their chef’s coins (hefty poker chips) to gather ingredients and special actions to fill recipes.

Give a listen to learn how Hibachi puts a fresh face on elements of chance and skill. And be ready for a heaping helping of Major Fun!

Hibachi     Grail Games  |  BGG 

D: Marco Teubner (Safranito, Flying Kiwis,
A: Kerri Aitken
P: Grail Games
2-4 players ages 10+ MSRP $40
Time to Teach/Learn: 3-4 minutes

Music credits include:

I Don’t Want to Throw Rice  by Dolly Parton  |  the song

Throw It Away  by Abbey Lincoln  |  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!

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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.

***

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

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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. 

***

Written by: Stephen Conway

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

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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!

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.

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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

Cupcake Academy

Cupcake Academy

Blue Orange Games |  BGG 

Designer: Erwan Morin
Artist: Stephane Escapa

Publisher: Blue Orange Games 
2-4 players 10 minutes ages 8+ MSRP $22
Time to teach & learn: 3 minutes

text-the concept

Seven minutes separate you and your team of pastry chefs from enrolling at the world famous Cupcake Academy. How many assignments can you complete, exchanging and stacking colored cups on plates, readying them for the kitchen?  Be quick, but be careful. The judges are very picky, so each order has to be just right for everyone to move on. Complete all the assignments before time is up and you’ll enjoy the sweet taste of victory!

text-the components

The components in Cupcake Academy are colorful and charming and help set the mood. 

There are 20 hard plastic cupcake cups in five different sizes and bright colors. The cups nest nicely into each other whether right side up or upside down.

Each player has a set of three personal plate tiles. This is where you’ll stack your cups. The team also shares one large plate tile. This is where you’ll swap cups.

A deck of 60 assignment cards will define your challenges each game. The assignment cards are color coded for two, three, or four players.

A seven minute sand timer drives Cupcake Academy and keeps players on their toes.

To play, shuffle and create a stack of assignment cards based on the number of players. Each player arranges their cups in a single stack on their center personal plate. Place the shared plate within each reach of everyone. When the team is ready, flip the timer, the first assignment card, and the game begins!

text-the mechanics

Cupcake Academy is a cooperative stacking and pattern matching game driven by logic. The goal is to complete all the assignment cards within the allotted time.

An assignment card shows a specific arrangement of cups for each player. The color and size of the cups shown is important. 

The position of the cups on the plates, though, doesn’t matter. So, if I need to have my big green cup on a plate, it doesn’t matter which one of my plates it is on.

In order to complete an assignment, every player must create a layout with the right number and color of cups to match the goal. The shared plate must also be empty.

When complete, flip the next assignment and continue until you complete the stack of assignment cards or run out of time. If you finish all the cards, huzzah! Your group becomes the next class of students at the Cupcake Academy. If you run out of time, not to worry, there’s always next semester (or the next game).

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A collective logic puzzle is the sweet gooey center of Cupcake Academy.

On the surface, the goal to be accomplished seems so simple. What could be hard about placing the right color and size cup on a plate?

First, remember each player has five cups to begin the round, nested like Russian dolls, with the large pink cup covering the rest. Using only one hand for the whole game, you’ll be unstacking and restacking your cups to try and match the pattern.

If the assignment shown asks for you to have a blue cup and an orange cup showing on your plates, the remainder of your cups are going to have to go somewhere else. This means you are going to have to hide the others by nesting them OR send your cups along to another player. But here’s the thing…

The chefs running the Academy are a tricksy bunch. You cannot simply give or take cups from another player’s plate. You must use the shared plate to transfer cups AND, to make matters worse, there can only be one cup on the shared plate at a time.

The challenge and fun of Cupcake Academy comes from learning when and how to unstack and restack your cups so that you can keep the ones you need, hide others underneath, and send the rest on to your teammates.

You need to understand your own needs, but the game forces you to look at the whole assignment, to factor in the needs of your teammates, too. Together, you have to puzzle out how to pass cups in the right order via the shared plate so that everyone can create the right combination.

Communication is key to success and will almost certainly create hilarious moments of failure, too. It’s almost inevitable that at some point your team will have to scramble to undo an entire chain of swapped cups in order to fix a problem in the pattern.

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Cupcake Academy is a series of interconnected puzzles that blossom into a  fun and challenging game. Time pressure and teamwork create a sometimes thoughtful and sometimes frantic experience that requires focus and contributions from everyone. The better you communicate, the more you’ll accomplish. 

Cupcake Academy is a surprising and wonderful blend. It manages to evoke the old world charm of a slide puzzle (shift pieces, make a pattern) while drawing inspiration from video game culture.  What was once a solitaire experience is now gamified – a layered puzzle with multi-player co-op mode unlocked. It even comes with a checklist of achievements you can unlock as you ramp up the difficulty of the game.

Cupcake Academy can speak to a lot of people, spanning generations. It’s a mash-up of thinky and dexterity elements that feels fresh and different. It is clever enough to engage the brain but hectic enough to unlock the simple magic of Major Fun.

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Written by: Stephen Conway

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