Yottsugo is a Keeper!

You, of course, know Yottsugo – the Major Fun award-winning word square game. And you probably expected, based on our enthusiastic review alone, that it would prove to be a candidate for the Keeper award, because it’s that kind of game: well-made, unique, deeply challenging, one you want to play again and again. A puzzle, really. A word puzzle.

And yes, it’s a solitaire. But equally yes, it’s fun to solve it with a friend. A close friend who doesn’t frustrate easily.

Bud did you know that there is a genius-level bonus puzzle available to you online?  You did? Well how about all those other online Yottsugo puzzles brought to you via the Yottsugo Random Puzzle Generator?

A Keeper. Most definitely a Keeper.

Major Fun Keeper award

Yamslam is a Keeper

Yamslam, like Yahtzee… Well, alright, as we noted when we first gave the game a Major Fun award, it’s a lot like Yahtzee.

On the other hand, it’s so well packaged, so cleverly designed, so, well, exceptional, that it has proven itself to be a game that we just don’t get tired of.

It works, like a good machine – smoothly functioning, reliably fun. The scoring chips and holders, the dice with the two different colored pips, the way everything fits, the smattering of actual decision-making you have to do – the whole package lends itself so beautifully to fifteen minutes of gentle but absorbing fun. You feel like the game is taking care of you, keeping things interesting and under control.

Play it by yourself. Play it with up to four people: kids, parents, friends. Try a few variations, or make up your own. Yamslam. It’s a Keeper all right.

From Blue Orange games.


Finding your Keepers

When I was holding game tastings in Redondo Beach, chief Taster and good friend Marc Gilutin and I were talking about what we should call games that were even more Major Fun than the games we called Major Fun. He suggested “keeper,” and that seemed like such a perfect description for those really special games. Keeper.

Some games you loan out. Some games you give away. Some games you hold on to. For a very long time. You hold on to them, not so much because you are such a master at them, but much more because there are some people you like playing with who like playing those games with you.

It’s the people you hold on to, because they’re fun, because you love them, that determine the games you hold on to.

These are games that you can play again and again, whenever the time is right and the mood is right. Because there are so many different times and different moods, the games you hold on to the longest are the games that you still like playing, even though the time has changed and the mood has changed. So when you feel like keeping score, you do. And when you feel like playing just for the fun of it, you do. And when you feel like making up a different way to play together, you can, and you do. Most of these games are table games.

Some are also toys. A few are game you play on an iPad or -Pod or -Phone or maybe on a computer. Those, the computer games, you tend not to hold on to as long or play quite so often because most of them are harder to change, harder to adapt to the changing moods and modes of you and the people you love playing with. Because you play from different places, different times.

We, my wife and I, have a few games that we think of as Keepers. Only a few. Currently, the only computer games we seem to be playing together are solitaire and Draw Something. We like to help each other find answers, we share the funny. Also, most of our Keepers are tile games: Bananagrams, Qwirkle, Rummi-Cube. There’s something so flexible about these games. Not just the pieces and configurations, but the rules. Maybe because there are so few rules. And we don’t usually keep score. We more often just take turns appreciating each other’s brilliance.

There are other games that we play from time to time, just for variety. Some dice games, some more word games. We hold on to them, so they’re what we might call “Keepers-in-Waiting.” Some Keepers we keep for company. Word on the Street and Reverse Charades, for example.

A Keeper is some kind of game or toy or plaything or -place that keeps you together with the people who keep you together. May you find a lot of them.

Word on the Street is a Keeper

We gave the Major Fun award to Word on the Street in 2009. Since then, it has continued not only to be one of our favorite word games, but has shown itself to be as much fun for two people as it is for 12. Or 13 even. (Or uneven, actually. Yes, you can play in teams. No, you don’t really need the same number of people on both teams.)

This is a significant accomplishment for any game: to be so much fun with so many different groups in so many different settings – couples, families (with kids 8 and up – for younger kids, there’s also the Major Fun award-winning Word on the Street, Junior), a party full of adults, or families.

It can be taken very seriously – I mean, you can actually keep score, if you have to. Have tournaments, even. Or it can be taken as a light-hearted invitation to play with words and spelling and vocabulary and each other – with the only goal being to amaze each other with your cleverness.

It’s very well made. The tiles have a satisfying, hefty feel. The board and cards are durable. The “street” theme is cleverly echoed in the design. It’s a game you’ll want to keep for-basically-ever.

That’s why we’ve decided to call it a Keeper.

Fastrack a Keeper!

Fastrack, the Major Fun award-winning dexterity game, has proven itself to be one of those games that keep on getting played and played and played again. This takes it beyond  Major Fun, into the realm of pure Keeper-hood.

It’s well-made, all-wood, very easy to learn, takes only a few minutes to play, fun for kids as young as 5, and for adults as old as me. It’s the kind of game you can pick up during a break, and spend just enough harmlessly aggressive energy to come out with everyone laughing. There’s also enough of a possibility that skill has something to do with winning to make you want to keep playing. And just enough noisy, fast fun to keep you from caring.

Rhino Hero – a Keeper!

As with all games that receive the Keeper award, Rhino Hero has already been singled out as Major Fun. Read the review to find out why. Now to explain why it is a Keeper.

Before you read the rules, look at the picture. Then, get together with the child of your choice and together and use the Rhino Hero cards to build the highest tower you possibly can before everything falls down due to your local cat or stray child or breeze. Now, we don’t have to explain why Rhino Hero is Keeper.

Maybe for a next step, you can draw your collective attention to the two different kinds of cards: there are the folding cards (the wall cards) and the non-folding (the roof cards). If you look at the roof cards, you’ll notice that on one side of each card there are lines, a bit like the lines you’d find in an architect’s drawing. So, just to make the building part a little more challenging, see if you can make the wall cards fit the lines.  Maybe spread all the roof cards on the table, plan-side-up, and take just the card that you think would be easiest, or most interesting. See if you can use all the cards, or estimate how many cards will be left over when the tower falls. You can take turns if you want.

And then, maybe, read the rules. And learn about what those beautifully foil-stamped symbols mean. And what you are supposed to do with the Rhino. And then discover that there are, in deed, strategic implications, adding to the challenge, and the fun. And then play again. And again.

Rhino Hero is as much fun to play with as it is to play. That’s why we call it a Keeper.

Dancing Eggs earns Keeper award

From the first time we played Dancing Eggs, we knew there was something truly noteworthy about the game. The design (it comes in an egg carton, for goodness sake!), the durability, the hilarity, the ease of learning, the elegance of the rules – all signs of a game that we’d want to play again and again.

As with most games that eventually receive our Keepers award, the design is so elegant, and the play value so rich, that the game can be easily adapted to the abilities of the players. Adults can play with kids because we can make different rules for the adults (adults don’t run, they shuffle) so that they can play safely and fairly. If someone can’t run at all, then maybe all they have to do is say the alphabet backwards while everyone else is running to get back to their place in the circle. If the penalty for dropping an egg seems too harsh for a five-year-old, maybe all she has to do is stop long enough to get all the eggs back into position, and then the game just goes on, and on.

It’s a funny game. We all get a little, well, ridiculous, silly even, just in playing it. So we don’t really need to take it seriously. And we can play together, with anyone.

The components are exceptionally sturdy (the hard rubber eggs, the one wooden egg, the large wooden dice), and will most definitely outlast the egg carton container. And egg cartons are very easy to replace.

Durability, simplicity, flexibility, easy to learn, fun to play again and again, with different people of different ages and skills. A Keeper, if ever there was one.

Bug Out – a Keeper

It’s always good news when we find another Keeper. And Bug Out  is very good news, in deed.

This simple matching game turns out to be remarkably flexible – suitable for kids as young as pre-school age, for families and even for a party full of grown-ups.

You get two decks, each with 36 cards. One deck is round. The other square. The round Bug cards are two-sided, each side showing the same bug. The square Leaf cards are also two-sided, but only one side shows the bug. In the beginning of the game, you put all the Bug cards out and distribute all the Leaf cards equally between players. Then everybody races through their Leaf cards, looking for the matching Bug card, slapping it down, and on to the next, and on, racing to be the first player to run out of Leaf cards.

Now here’s the thing. Sure, you can play it on a table. And sure, you can have everyone sitting down. Or you can have everyone standing up. Or you can play it on the floor, with people standing up or sitting down. Since the Bug cards have the same bug on both sides, you can just drop them anywhere and they’ll be right-side-up. And you don’t have to keep all the Bug cards together. There’s a variation called Big Bug Out that tells you to play with the cards spread out on the floor, but you might as well plant them all around the room and down the hall and into the other room so that people wind up running around and amok, generally screaming.

And each way you play, on the table or on the floor or in the whole house or outside or in school is different.

And the game is strong enough and simple enough that you can change the rules, if you want, and play in teams so that people with limited abilities or very different skill sets can help each other win, or all play in one big team and everybody can help everybody beat the record for how long it takes to get all the bugs cozily covered by their matching Leaf cards. Or a relay race maybe? Or if you’re playing with the back-bending-challenged, you could arrange the Leaf cards on the floor and have them drop the Bug Cards onto them (easier, because the Bug Cards are the same on both sides).  Or what about giving some players Leaf cards and others Bug cards and have them try to find each other? Or take one Bug Card or Leaf Card out of play and see if you can figure out which one is missing.

You get the picture? Flexibility. Adaptability. Variability. Fun for everyone, anywhere, again and again.

And it comes in a travel case, too!

Travel Qwirkle

The Major Fun Keeper award-winning Qwirkle is now available in a handy travel-size carry-everywhere version. Everything we loved about the original game is still the same. Even the tiles are still made of wood. They’re smaller (3/4-inch), but stand just as easily, and the smaller size makes it the game something you can play on a restaurant table or the empty seat of a nearby chair.

The zipper case is very attractive. And the travel version sells for $10 less than the original.

Life is good.

Say Anything, Family Edition

As you indubitably recall, Say Anything received not only the Major Fun award, but the extra special, invaluably honorific Major Fun Keeper award.

Now that Say Anything is available in its long-awaited Family Edition, one would naturally wonder if it could possibly be as award-worthy as the original. Does the new collection of family-appropriate question cards make it not only more child-appropriate (eight and up) but equally as adult-alluring?

After exhaustive Tasting (exhausting also – mostly from laughter), we are pleased to announce that it is our very considered opinion that Say Anything Family Edition is in every way as much of a Keeper as the original version. We were especially amused to discover that adults could play the family edition, and, with little prompting, interpret these carefully crafted child-appropriate questions with as salacious of insinuations as the most adult-classified adult or even teen-ager.

Major Fun, indeed, for kids, families, adults, around the dinner table, at a party, wherever fun is welcome.

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