|Release: 4/1//2018||Download: Enhanced | MP3|
|Run Time: 82 min||Subscribe: Enhanced | MP3 | RSS|
|Westward ho! Immigrants from around the world have flocked to the United States to start a new life. As the country expands its territory to the Pacific, more and more pioneers set out, using stagecoaches and wagon trains, to reach new cities and towns along the way.
Each town has its own needs – a barkeep here, a farmer there, bankers, merchants, soldiers, innkeepers, and even a gold digger or two. Your job in Pioneers is to help these folks find a place that suits them by building roads and using your stagecoach. The player who does the best job settling this new generation of Americans will win the game
Pioneers is a gateway game to a new generation of players just discovering the hobby. It’s easy to learn, easy to teach and each time you play, you’ll discover new layers of depth and fun by charting a different path, literally.
Each pioneer you settle will give you a new way to see the game. And best of all how everyone else plays will change your decisions. Their choices will let you see the game in a new light every time.
Listen in for a full review and discover why Pioneers deserves BOTH the Major Fun and Spiel of Approval Awards!
Designer: Emanuelle Ornella Artist: Markus Erdt
Publisher: Queen Games
2-4 players 60 min ages 8+ MSRP $50
For info on the Game Sommelier segment featured on the show, check out the show notes at The Spiel!
Music credits include:
Publisher: Frost & Frost
2-4 players 15 min. ages 6+ MSRP $28.95
Squaremino is a clever and strategic twist on the tile laying classic. The goal remains the same, however: be the first to play all of your tiles to win.
There are 64 square domino tiles in the game. Each one measure s1 1/8” on each side is 3/8” thick. They are made from a nicely weighted material which gives each tile just the right heft. It’s a pleasure just to hold and fiddle with your tiles as you’re setting up and playing.
The 64 tiles are divided into 4 colored suits: red, blue, yellow, and green. Each suit has 16 tiles numbered 1 through 4. So there are four of each number within a suit. Keep in mind, unlike a conventional domino, each tile only has a single number instead of two.
To play, you spread out all the tiles face down and each player draws 12 tiles as a starting hand. The tiles are thick enough to stand on their own, so it’s easy set your hand up in a line.
Like most domino games, you’ll need room for several lines of tiles as the game goes on, so make sure to leave plenty of room in the middle of the table to play. Push the unused dominoes to the side as a draw pile and you’re ready to go!
Each player will take turns playing 2,3 or 4 tiles to create a shared board – lines of tiles extending vertically and horizontally, crossword style.
There are two simple rules for playing tiles.
The set of tiles you play must be consecutive numbers in the same color
The set of tiles you play must be the same number but different colors.
So, a 1-2-3 in blue would be legal. So 4-4-4 provided that each 4 was a different color.
There are a few no-no’s in the game.
You can never play a single tile. And you can never play more than four tiles at once or extend a line of tiles past four.
The tiles played must be in a straight line. And the tiles played cannot create a square of tiles on the board.
If you cannot or do not want to play, you draw an extra tile from the face down pile and add it to your hand.
The first player to get rid of all his or her tiles wins the game.
Many times a Major Fun game will be a champion of innovation. It will offer up an experience that is totally new and very different from other games.
In the case of Squaremino, what makes it noteworthy is its decision to not stray too far from the comfort zone of the classic on which it is based.
There are certainly new strategies that are very different from the classic. This is not a game of matching numbers. You’re playing either a sequence or a set to build the board.
And the game does offer a bonus for completing a row of four tiles. Each time you do this you have the option to turn in a tile and draw a replacement. Setting yourself up for these bonuses and also keeping your opponents from them is key.
What makes Squaremino special and noteworthy, though, is that it resists the urge to reinvent the wheel. It would have been very easy to add several additional layers of complexity to the game, bonuses for longer runs or making certain shapes within the layout of the board. But I’m certain this would not make the game better.
Sometimes the key to fun is knowing when to stop. Knowing what not to ad,. Perhaps it’s like negative space in painting. The things that are not there help give art shape as much as the things that are.
The structure of the game is one any domino player will recognize. And though it borrows some of its inspiration from games like Qwirkle (another Major Fun winner), Squaremino feels familia and comfortable. Like a favorite sweater or perfectly broken in old pair of shoes.
Its so familiar, in fact, many may even think they have played before because it stays true to the soul of the classic. It celebrates its heritage but finds a way to stand on its own.
That’s a fine line and a fun line for any Major Fun game to walk.
Whether you’re learning for the first time or the pips on your set of double twelves have worn off, Squaremino is a game almost anyone will find hours of fun playing.
|Release: 3/1//2018||Download: Enhanced | MP3|
|Run Time: 68 min||Subscribe: Enhanced | MP3 | RSS|
|Genealogists are a curious and squinty lot. They spend much of their lives buried in the archives doing research, trying to uncover hidden branches of their family trees.
All those late nights are about to pay off. If all goes well you’ll have enough information to prove your lineage is historically significant – a family tree for the ages!
Ancestree is a tile drafting game where each player cultivates a family tree over three rounds. You’ll build dynasties, marriages, and wealth to score points.
The game is wonderfully simple to learn but the scoring system makes each decision matter and each decision fun.
Ancestree is also inclusive. It celebrates diversity and allows us to play with the idea of family. Allowing more people to find themselves in the game is a powerful and playful idea. Inviting more people to the table helps open a door to the wider world of games and (we hope) allows even more people to share the joy and fun we find through play.
Listen in for a full review and discover why Ancestree is Major Fun!
Designer: Eric M. Lang
Artist: Larry Elmore & Adelheid Zimmerman
Publisher: Calliope Games
2-6 players 20-40 min ages 8+ MSRP $30
For info on the Truckloads of Goober segment featured on the show, check out the show notes at The Spiel!
Music credits include:
|Release: 2/19//2018||Download: Enhanced | MP3|
|Run Time: 64 min||Subscribe: Enhanced | MP3 | RSS|
|From millers and brewers to knights and nobles, it takes all sorts to build a kingdom.
In Majesty, players recruit subjects to help create a prosperous new realm. Each character offers a simple but specialized way to bring wealth, health and security to the crown.
Majesty is an easy to learn, wonderfully elegant and interactive card game. Each character card you add to your kingdom will have implications within and beyond your borders.
The game is simple enough for almost anyone to learn but also modular, so as you learn, you can tailor the rules to suit your tastes.
Not only does this make Majesty: For the Realm Major Fun, it means you have a hand in defining the kind of fun you have every time you play!
Majesty: For The Realm
Designer: Marc Andre
Artist: Anne Heidsieck
Publisher: Z-Man Games
2-4 players 20-40 min ages 7+ MSRP $40
For info on the Back Shelf Spotlight Games we cover, check out the show notes at The Spiel!
Music credits include:
|Release: 10/17/2017||Download: Enhanced | MP3|
|Run Time: 50 min||Subscribe: Enhanced | MP3 | RSS|
|Word Slam is a team-based word guessing game.
One teammate provides clues in the form of word cards on a rack.
Can your team guess the target word first?
Now this might sound like many other party games BUT… Word Slam does something different. Something noteworthy. Something ridiculously simple and ridiculously fun.
Word Slam forces each team to use a fixed set of words as clues.
The challenge and the joy in the game comes from the very clever omissions from the decks of words you use as clues. The word you want is never there, so the game pushes you to be creative with the words provided. To find freedom inside the limitations imposed.
This simple twist – limiting the language you can use to communicate with your team makes Word Slam both frustrating and fun, because, in a very real way, the fun comes from the frustration.
Listen in to learn more about the game and why we think it is unequivocally Major Fun!
Designer: Inka & Markus Brand
Publisher: Thames & KOSMOS
3-99 players 45 min ages 12+ MSRP $39.95
Music credits include:
|Release: 9/7/2017||Download: Enhanced | MP3|
|Run Time: 34 min||Subscribe: Enhanced | MP3 | RSS|
|Fuji Flush is a wonderfully simple card game.
Your goal is to flush all the number cards from your hand, one card at a time. There are lots of low cards in the deck and fewer high cards.
The higher number you play, the more likely you are to flush it BUT here’s the twist. If two players play the same number, they are added together. This means low cards can often band together to beat high ones.
It’s a game about strength in numbers. And the more people you play with, the more fun the game becomes.
Designer: Friedemann Friese Artist: Harald Lieske
Publisher: 2F Spiele, Stronghold Games
3-8 players 10-20 min ages 7+ MSRP $14.95
Music credits include:
|Release: 8/15/2017||Download: Enhanced | MP3|
|Run Time: 38 min||Subscribe: Enhanced | MP3 | RSS|
|It might come as a suprise to learn that mole rats make perfect astronauts.
Or maybe we should call them ratstronauts?
Their skin can’t feel pain. They can lower their metabolism and breathing. They’re resistant to cancer and can even survive without oxygen for a time.
You and your fellow players are mole rats living on a space station in a galaxy far far away.
Suddenly, the alarm blares… INTRUDER ALERT! The station is being overrun by intergalactic snakes!!
It’s up to your team to gather the right emergency supplies and find a way to the last escape pod before time runs out. Just don’t forget the duct tape!
Listen in to discover why we think this cooperative game is great for kids and adults and is most definitely… Major Fun!
Mole Rats in Space
Designer: Matt Leacock Publisher: Peaceable Kingdom
2-4 players 20 min ages 7+ MSRP $20
Music credits include:
Designer: Adam Daulton Art: Chris Byer, Jaqui Davis
Publisher: Action Phase Games
2-4 players 15-30 min. ages 10+ MSRP $20
It’s a little known fact that animals make the best ninjas. In fact, there’s a secret camp where they go to train. Whether you’re a hamster, a camel, a sloth or a platypus, Sensei Saru can teach you to master the arts of the shadow warrior.
Today, the Sensei has a special challenge for all his students. Each animal clan will enter the arena and face each other in a grand melee. You must use your skills combined with the opportunities you find in the arena to remain standing while others fall.
Do this and Sensei Saru will name your clan to be his personal apprentices, and the best students at Ninja Camp!
The Ninja Camp is a card game. There are 80 cards in total.
There are 8 clan cards. These represent the different animal students attending Ninja Camp. Each player will play animals from a clan and each animal has a special ability you’ll be able to use once per game. The artwork is ridiculously charming and you may want to take a minute to let everyone look through the cards and decide which one they like best.
The main deck is made up of Skill cards, Walls and Traps. These cards will be laid out in a grid to form the training ground, the arena where your animals will compete for the Sensei.
Skill cards will make up the bulk of the arena. Each card describes a specific ninja move and shows the point value of the card.
Each player will also start with two basic skill cards to begin the game : Evade and Sprint.
Last but not least, each player has four wooden ninja meeples (ninjeeples!) These nifty little guys represent your animal clan and will move about the arena as you play cards.
You’ll take turns placing 3 of your ninjeeples into the training ground one by one, making sure each one is on a different Skill card. No ninjas allowed on the walls !
Ninja Camp is played over a series of turns. On your turn, you will either play a Skill card from your hand OR you will use your animal clan’s special ability. Your card or your clan ability will enable you to move one of your ninjas on the board.
Each clan has a very cool and very powerful special ability, BUT… you can only use your clan’s ability once per game. Once you have used it, flip your clan card over. Here are some examples.
Most turns you’ll be playing a Skill card from your hand.
Each Skill card describes a specific way you must move one of your ninjas on the board. You must be able to follow the movement instructions on the card in order to play it.
Here are the 7 different skills ninjas use to move in the arena:
Evade – move 3 spaces in any direction
Stealth – move 2 spaces and claim the first card your ninja steps onto.
Dodge – move 1 or 2 spaces, including diagonal
Sprint – move in a straight line until you reach an edge, wall, hole or another ninja.
Ambush – move straight until you land on an opponent’s ninja. Push that ninja one space back.
Leap – move over a hole in the arena and land on the next card after the hole.
Shadow – copies the skill of the last card played.
There are a few general guidelines that apply unless a Skill specifically allows you to break the rules: no diagonal moves, no passing through other meeples (yours or another player’s), and no passing through or landing on the same space.
One of the key challenges in the game is deciding what card to play and what ninja to move. But there’s another factor you have to consider on every turn and this factor is….
When you move your ninja, you collect the card where your ninja began its move and add it to your hand.
This means you will have more options available in your hand of Skill cards as the game moves along.
Suddenly, the choice of which card to play and which ninja to move may be determined by what card you want to pick up OR what card you want to land on! You may move a ninja because you really need the Leap card where it currently resides. Or you may move a ninja because you want to finish your move on an Sprint card, so you can pick it up later on in the game or simply prevent others from getting to it.
Picking up cards from the arena also means that the board will have gaps or holes. This will make movement more difficult or downright impossible as the board continues to shrink turn after turn. It’s inevitable that your ninjas will come to a point where they are trapped in a small area of the board. The trick in Ninja Camp is to keep as many ninja active as long as possible so they can collect more cards.
When you cannot move any ninjas (or you choose not to move) you pass and play will continue without you. When all players pass, the game ends and we’re ready to score.
The cards you collect and/or play during the game determine your score. If you were unlucky and collected any traps, they count as negative points. You also get points for the cards your ninjas rest on at the end of the game.
This scoring system also adds a simple but nifty level to each choice you make in the game.
It might seem obvious that you want to head for the highest point value Skill cards as often as you can. And this does make them juicy targets. But there’s just one problem. The higher point value Skill cards are also the more difficult cards to use in the game because their movement rules are more restrictive. So you might end up landing on a big point Skill card but find it very hard to move from it. Most often, the player whose ninjas remain active and agile wins, not the player who focuses solely on big point cards.
A game of Ninja Camp feels like a sparring match. You act, your opponents react. It’s a dance of move and counter move on a rapidly shrinking board.
The beauty and fun of Ninja Camp comes from its simplicity and economy. Now, I don’t mean economy in terms of its price (though it is a great deal at $20). I mean economy of language in its rules.
So often games that offer challenging strategy on this level require a much more complex set of rules.
There are seven basic moves in the game and after using or seeing these moves used a couple times, it will be easy for most players to remember each one.
This means you don’t spend time fighting the rules ; you spend your time looking for the best possible option based on the choices available. No one wants to be mired in a laundry list of exceptions and rules to remember.
By keeping the rules so streamlined, designer Adam Daulton allows a wide range of players to dive into the game really quickly and gives each player a chance to discover the fun and challenge that comes from deciding what to play and who to move and trying not to get your ninjas trapped.
For this reason Ninja Camp makes a great game for both kids and families while providing a wonderful challenge for more experienced gamers as well.
The charming variety of animals and the random arena also gives Ninja Camp great staying power since it will be a different experience every time you play.
Ninja Camp finds depth through simplicity. That’s the kind of wonderful surprise that makes it Major Fun. And it’s a reason you might want to step into this arena and go toe to toe with the next clan of hamsters you meet!
|Release Date: 5/15/2017||Download: Enhanced | MP3|
|Running Time: 43 min||Subscribe: Enhanced | MP3 | RSS|
There’s trouble brewing in the small town of Forgerville. The night before the new abstract art exhibition at the museum, all the paintings have gone missing!
Luckily the museum employees have a plan. Overnight, they will paint furiously and replace the paintings with abstract works of their own.
Picassimo is a party game where players create, disassemble and reassemble works of art. You’ll use a 6 part canvas to create your drawing and then mix up some of the parts and present your masterpiece to the other players, your critics. They must then try to guess the subject of your artwork, even though the pieces are out of order, by mentally reassembling the parts.
Best of all, you really don’t have to be an expert artist to do well at Picassimo. That’s because Picassimo allows you to look at each work of art and draw each work of art in a new way.
That’s what we call innovation. And it’s also what we call Major Fun!
Listen in to learn all about the game and discover whether Picassimo should be hanging in your gallery at home.
3-6 players 30 min. ages 8+ MSRP $45
Music credits include:
Designer: Scott Almes Art: Mr. Cuddington Publisher: APE Games
2-5 players 60 min. ages 10+ MSRP $50
There’s little doubt today’s world is dino-crazy. Few things fire our imagination like seeing the bones of these massive reptilian beasts that once ruled the Earth. And yet this was not always the case. Dinosaurs became part of popular culture due to the Great Dinosaur Rush over 120 years ago!
In the late 1800s, rival paleontologists scrambled to be the first to discover and promote new species of dinosaurs. They often stooped to devious and underhanded means to compete with and embarrass anyone who happened to get in the way. This Wild West approach to science left a black mark on American paleontology but this race for bones led to the discoveries of over 142 species of dinosaurs in a just a few year’s time! The flood of new bones to museums sparked public interest and the dino-craze that still rages on today!
In The Great Dinosaur Rush, each player is a famous fossil hunter from this era in history. Over three rounds you will search the American prairie for bones and use them to build the best dinosaurs and place them in museums. But beware, your opponents may try to sabotage your efforts along the way! You may need to play a little dirty to win, but if you gain too much notoriety, you could lose everything!
The game comes with a bag of 210 wooden dinosaur bones. The bones come in five different colors, each color representing a different part of a dinosaur’s skeleton. Some will go on the board and the rest go in a drawstring bag.
There’s a game board representing the dig sites where you will discover the bones and several museum score tracks.
Each player has a screen (which you will use when building your dinos) plus a wooden paleontologist meeple and some scoring cubes.
There’s a bag of 45 notoriety tokens. The tokens are numbered 1-3. When you do underhanded things, you’ll have to draw from this bag.
There are 15 paleontologist cards, each one representing an actual fossil hunter of the era, complete with a small bio.
Last but not least are the 21 Dinosaur Bonus Cards. These cards show a specific layout of bones to create named dinosaurs. Some you may know and love and many you may not.
The game is played over the course of three turns. Each turn you has three parts: field, build and exhibit.
The field phase has the most parts and is the real meat of the game.
In the field phase, players collect bones, move their paleontologist on the board, adjust the museum score track and then take an action. Some of these actions are normal and some are notorious. If you take a notorious action, you will have to draw from the dreaded notoreity bag which can hurt your chances at winning.
Let’s look at each part in a little more detail.
You collect bones based on where your paleontologist is on the board. On the first turn, each space has three bones. Empty spaces will fill in with two on turn two and one on the last turn of the game, meaning you’ll collect the most bones early in the game and the least bones later on.
You move your paleontologist in a straight line as far as you want. You can pass other players but not tar pits. Remember, wherever you land, you’ll be picking up bones there to start your next turn.
On the board there are five museum scoring tracks. Each one corresponds to a different aspect of the dinosaur you’re going to build: size, height, length, ferocity, uniqueness. You choose one track and move its score cube up or down. This is your chance to improve or diminish the scoring potential for one particular aspect.
So after collecting, moving and adjusting the museum track you have one final choice to make: what action do you want to take?
There are three normal and three notorious actions from which to choose.
Normal actions go like this.
Publicize: You can move a score cube on one museum track up or down again.
Donate: You can get rid of three bones to score points or get rid of a notoriety token.
Research: You can draw an extra dinosaur bonus card.
Notorious actions go like this.
Sabotage: You can draw and place a notoriety token on the board. Anyone who moves through this space will have to pick it up.
Dynamite: You get rid of the three bones on the space where you stand and then draw three new bones from the bag and keep them.
Steal: You can steal a bone from a space adjacent to the one where you stand, including a space with an opponent.
Notorious actions come with a catch, though. You must draw a notoriety token from the bag. The tokens are numbered 1-3. Keep your tokens secret. They will either help you or really hurt you when it comes time to score at the end of the game. Playing a little dirty is ok, as long as the other players are dirtier than you!
It might seem like a lot to take in the first turn but each part flows nicely to the next. There’s a nice aid with the actions on your player screen so you can see all your options at a glance.
Even better, there’s a family version of the game included that ignores notoreity altogether, so you can ease yourself into the game if the many actions seem too much at first.
Players will repeat the field phase three times each turn and then move on to Build and Exhibit, which brings us to….
All the decisions you take in the field phase, to acquire bones, to move and position the museum track – all the actions you take are driven by one goal: build the best dinosaur you can!
Now this isnt some theoretical task. You actually get to take the bones you collect and physically build a dinosaur behind your screen!!
Remember the colored bones correspond to particular parts, so each dino must have a head, a neck, a spine, ribs, two limbs and might even have some unique features. There’s a helpful chart on each player screen outlining the various requirements for building your dino.
The important thing to remember is that within these general guidelines, the sky’s the limit. You can arrange the bones to make your own personal dinosaur any way you can imagine.
Dinosaurs like these!
Behold the Dogosaurus. Notice the spiked tail and horns. A reptilian cousin to man’s best friend?
Next up is the Squareadactyl. Graceful wings lifted this gentle square headed beast into the clouds.
The mighty Triangasaurus Rex hopped like a kangaroo on its massive hind legs and attacked with the massive triangular cudgel on its tail.
And last but not least is the Overbitetrodon. Its massive head and bottome jawis held up by an ultra-strong neck. It feeds itself using arms on its head and twin tails.
And if you’ve done a great job collecting the right bones, you may even be able to build one of the dinos depicted on your bonus cards. These will score extra points.
I cannot adequately express how fun it is to be in charge of creating your own dinosaur each turn. You must use all the bones you collect so you may have to get creative with extra long tails or a giant head or a really really long set of arms. It’s a bit like a puzzle but it’s a puzzle that you can form and reform until you find the shape that pleases you best and (you hope!) will score you the most points. Best yet, you keep the bones you dug up on previous turns, so as the game moves forward, you’ll build bigger and bigger dinosaurs.
And honestly, regardless of your ultimate scoring potential, so much of the joy of the game comes from putting your dino together in a way that will cause the others to laugh and marvel when they see your creation!
When everyone is ready, you reveal your dinos and move on to the Exhibit, the last phase of each turn. Look back to the museum tracks and score based on the position of the cubes on each track.
Who has the largest dino? (the most ribs)
Who has the tallest dino? (neck plus the longest limb)
Who has the longest dino? (tail plus spine)
Who has the most ferocious dino? (head plus shortest limb)
Who has the most rare dino (most unique bones).
First second and third places score, so even if you’re not the longest or tallest, you can still rack up points. If you’re able to build any of your special dino cards, show them and score those points too.
So there’s planning during the field phase, the joy and strategy of making dinos in the build phase, and then the payoff with scoring points in the exhibit phase. Each turn ends with its own payoff which makes each turn almost feel like a game in and of itself.
At game’s end the high score wins the game BUT…
Remember those Notoriety tokens? The player with the most notoriety has to SUBTRACT his or her total notoriety taken throughout the game from his or her final score. Other players get to ADD their notoriety to their scores! This means if you play too nicely, you may miss out on a bunch of points and if you play too dirty, you run the risk of a huge negative at the end of the game. The trick is to be a little mean but not so mean you cost yourself the game. It’s a terriffic challenge – very cleverly implemented but easy to understand.
The Great Dinosaur Rush is certainly at the higher end of the complexity scale when it comes to Major Fun but it is a worth recipient of both honors due to the inclusion of the family rules and the outrageous amount of fun and freedom players have in creating new dinosaurs every turn.
As a Spiel of Approval winner, the game provides great payoff for strategic thinking and the notoriety mechanics give each decision several layers to think through. There’s also a great deal of effort to bring the actual history of the period into the game. Each paleontologist not only has a short biography but they each have a special power that is in synch with the person’s story as well.
For instance, you can play as Mary Anning a noted fossil hunter who discovered one of the first and most complete pterodactyls. She was the inspiration for the tongue twister “She sells seashells down by the seashore. ” Since she was such a prolific fossil hunter, her ability allows her to draw three bones from the bag and place them in her space on the board if that space is empty.
Or you could play as Barnum “Mr. Bones” Brown. He was the cheif fossil hunter for the American Museum of Natural History. His preferred method of searching for fossils was dynamiting fields and picking through the rubble. Naturally, his ability involves dynamite. If you take the dynamtie action, you get to draw an extra bone from the bag.
I love games that can be appreciated by many different players on many different levels. The Great Dinosaur Rush is a wonderful example of a game that strikes a fantastic and fun balance between strategy and accessibility.
Plus, did I mention you get to build dinosaurs every turn?
Easy to see why this game has won our hearts. Give it a go and I think there’s a good chance it might stomp and roar its way into your heart, too.