Wii Fit Plus

Island Cycling (via The Bit Block)

So, you finally buy yourself a Wii. And because you’ve been so good and so patient, you wind up with the Wii Plus. And you play. And you play some more. And you visit, virtually, every part of the virtual island. You fly, you bowl, you do it all. And great fun is had by all, precisely as promised. You are not disappointed. Even after you’ve acclimated yourself to the many Wii wonders – the controller that responds so responsively, that vibrates and even sings to you; the realistic, fully-rendered, 3-dimensional-looking ocean paradise (is that a whale? thar she blows!), populated by everyone you’ve played with and a cast of hundreds, who wave at you when you pass, and sometimes even cheer, while all the time accompanied by a richly detailed soundscape that further engages your senses: touch, sound, vision, humor.

And then you say to yourself, I think I’ll by me a Wii Fit Plus. Why? Because I want to, as the song says, put my whole self in.

So you buy it, even though it costs half as much as the Wii console, because you have dreams of the Wii taking you to places you’ve never played before.

Now, somewhere in the back of your copious intellect, you know that the Wii Fit Plus has something to do with fitness. And even though you just want to play, you silly person you, fitness is something that people take seriously, and the Wii Fit Plus is, of necessity, just as serious about helping you do precisely that. So you unpack it and set it up and find yourself sufficiently mollified by the intuitive ease of it all. And then you step up, as it were, on the Wii Balance Board, as instructed. And you continue to do as instructed, registering yourself, so to speak, informing the Wii Ones of your birthdate, your height, and other rather personally, but fortunately password-protectable details, and get informed of your BMI, and your balance (it is called a “Balance Board” don’t you know) and your body age. Your body age! Arggh! And, at last, unavoidably confronted by your precision-determined state of decrepitude, you meet your personal trainer.

All of which is to say that yes, if your goal is to become more fit, you can now, thanks to your purchase of the Wii Fit Plus, pursue that goal with ultimate seriousness.

On the other hand, you can also have fun. Actually, lots of fun. Fun that is so much fun you almost don’t realize how much actual exercise you’re having. Of course, the Wii Plus people take great pains to inform you of your progress in sometimes painful detail, and they use words like “failed” and “unbalanced” to make sure you know just where you stand, or didn’t. But, ultimately, it’s the fun that makes the whole thing worth our collective interest, and the fun is plentiful and varied.

The majority of the new and improved Wii Fit games are in their own section called “Training Games.” (Again, in order to keep with the seriousness of it all, they had to use the word “training.” Fact is, this is where the fun is, where, according to my playful way of viewing the world, the Wii Fit Plus becomes something very much like a paradigm for the whole fun-fitness connection.) There are 16 games in this section (others can be found in sections devoted to “strength,” “aerobics,” and “balance”).

Of those 16, Island Cycling is probably the best place to start. It demonstrates how the system can engage your whole body (you “steer” with your Wii controller and “pedal” by marching in place on the Balance Board), it’s relatively easy to master, and, most significantly, there’s no time pressure. So you can bike around the virtual island, both hither and yon, knocking flags down or not. Of course, the less time it takes you to find and knock down all the flags (a handy interactive map helps guide you), the higher your potential score. But if your goal is to get comfortable with the system whilst engaging your considerable self in a leisurely tour of the virtual environs, you will find Island Cycling fun and pleasant, even though you just happen to burn some calories in the process. And your pre-schooler will want to play it as much as you’ll let her.

Then there’s Bird’s-Eye Bull’s-Eye, which is clearly silly, and most obviously fun. Silly? First of all, you’re a chicken. And I mean that in the best possible way. You look like a chicken. You fly like a chicken if a chicken could fly. Second, you fly by flapping your arms. So yes, there you are, standing on your Wii Fit Plus Balance Board, actually flapping your personal arms. And there you also are (as faithfully rendered by your Mii avatar), on your TV, looking like a chicken. Lean left, right, forward or back to navigate. Don’t flap too hard or you fly too high. Find a target. Land on it. Get more points (time). Find the next. Try to land dead center for the most points.

As funny as it all is, it’s not a little kids game, by any measure. The controls, though intuitive, are engagingly complex. Keeping your body properly positioned while your arms are flapping at just the right speed requires a very fine-tuned sense of balance.

Here’s what I mean:

(one of many excellent instructional videos from WiiFolderJosh)

Major Fun-wise, the games included with Wii Fit Plus are worth the price, even worth suffering through the sometimes insufferable humorlessness of the whole “fitness” concept, because they so beautifully exemplify the fun-fitness connection.

Though the games may look childish, Wii Fit Plus is not just for children. Children already know how much fun it is to use their bodies, to test their physical limits, expand their abilities, engage themselves fully, physically, emotionally, mentally, and unconditionally in the world they are growing into. But for adolescents, adults and seniors, for the differently-abled and the significantly-abled, the games of Wii Fit Plus demonstrate, over and over again, the sheer joy of exercising our many abilities, all at the same time. Whether you’re cycling around the island, flying like a chicken, throwing and dodging snowballs, driving your Segway into beachballs, being a drum-major, keeping time,  leading the throngs, skateboarding, doing Kung Fu, navigating your bubble through a maze of waterways, running an obstacle course, or balancing on top of a ball while juggling – you will have so much fun you could almost (if only they didn’t constantly remind you) forget that you were exercising.

On the other hand, maybe all the reminders will help you remember that fun is, after all, the best exercise you can get.

The Wii – an introduction

Nintendo WiiWii Sports Resort for the Wii is the first videogame  to receive a Major Fun award. Despite frequent urgings from some of our veteran Games Tasters, we’ve maintained a deliberately narrow focus on board and table games and puzzles that are easy to learn, generally take less than a half-hour to play, and, most importantly, invite laughter. There are few enough people who recognize the importance of such games, so we accepted it as our obligation to remain one of that particular few.

The Wii is a recent evolution of those computer-like machines that attach to your TV, first introduced in the 70s by Magnavox and Atari. Like the earlier machines, the Wii, introduced in late 2006, also attaches to your TV and accepts a variety of different controllers and special game discs. Its wireless, motion-sensing controllers, which allows players to interact much more physically with a wide range of games and activities, proved to be a significant evolution of game technology, especially for people who spend the majority of their time sitting (in front of a computer or TV), which covers most of our population. Even though you may only use the hand controller (though new kinds of physical controllers are introduced every year), your whole body follows. By engaging mind and body, the Wii invites a much healthier, more physically and mentally restoring kind of play. And, surprisingly, this proves true for a remarkably wide range of ages, the Wii becoming almost as ubiquitous in the senior center as it is in the youth center.

Since its introduction, the Wii has continued to evolve. The controllers further connect the player to the game by vibrating and making their own sounds as the player’s cursor moves about the playscape. They have become more responsive to a wider variety of physical motions. The console can connect to the Internet, wirelessly – further extending the capabilities of the machine and allowing players to interact remotely.

The current version is significantly fun – so inviting, so easy to set up and learn, so mentally, socially and physically engaging, that we were forced to accept that our consistent focus on games of the non-virtual kind was doing no one a service. Because it’s so entertaining, to play as well as to watch other people play, and so easy to understand, it can just as easily involve the whole family. Because it’s so attractive, it can become a welcome addition to any party – game, dance, food, for family and friends.

The package includes everything you need to play (except your Wifi station and TV): the console (in black or white), a Wii RemoteTM controller with a Wii Motion-PlusTM accessory, a NunchukTM controller, and two “games” – Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort.

For anyone new to the system (like we were), the technology is so impressive that it becomes difficult to suppress the giggles of awe long enough to appreciate the games themselves. But the games are the thing, so to speak, and of the two games included in the system, Wii Sports Resort is the one thing that led us not only to giving the system a Major Fun award, but to introducing a whole new category of games to our Major Fun repertoire.

To begin playing, you create your own Mii, an avatar that, despite the easy, menu-driven input, you can make look remarkably like yourself. For children especially, this interaction is so engaging that they can spend a half-hour or more creating their avatar in their own image. Once completed, the virtual stand-in can demonstrate its ever-increasing prowess in each of the 12 sport-like games. Wii Sports Resort introduces a veritable slew of sport-like activities to choose from, many of which can be played by as many as 4 players.

We highly recommend that you begin with a game called Island Flyover. It’s the easiest game to understand and play, the interface the most intuitive. You hold the Wii Remote very much like did when you were a kid, flying your hand outside the open window of a speeding car. As you fly over Wii Island, you encounter all the various environments used in other games in the Sports Resort package. Ambient sounds apparently coming from the landscape invite further exploration. Eventually, you discover targets which you attempt to fly through for score. You can, of course, ignore the targets, and just fly around for the sheer thrill of it all, twisting and turning your virtual plane, smashing into things only to be reborn, dangling from a parachute. The following video, courtesy of someone who actually calls him- or herself SonicPinhead, captures the game perfectly:

This is only one of three flying activities included in the Air Sports section (there’s also sky-diving and parachute jumping), and Air Sports is only one of 12 different sport-like games – each providing an engaging, yet light-hearted challenge, each appealing to children (as young as 3) and adults (older even than I am).

When you play a new game, you are taught how to play, either before the game in a special practice session, or during the game. In either event, the instructions are always clear, and never too complex. You learn how to do one thing, and then, when the time is right, introduced to yet another thing you can do. The individual games are all structured to invite repeated play. Every time you play one through, another variation becomes accessible. This gives you more and more choices (up to a certain limit for each game). Your progress is tracked, so that you can compete with, or simply admire yourself. When you achieve a perfect score or something of similar ilk, you get a special “stamp,” further validating your self-esteem. Curriculum development and text book authors could learn a great deal by studying the pedagogical architecture of the Wii.

In many ways, the opportunity to choose from so many different games, variations and levels of difficulty lends itself to exactly the kind of play experience I have so long championed – because the players determine what games are “good enough” for them to play again and again, rather than the games determining whether the player is good enough to play, the game remains an invitation to fun rather some arbitrary measure of your “excellence.”

We had a difficult time determining which game was our favorite – so difficult that we were ultimately forced to accept that the extensive variety of games appealed to an equally extensive variety of moods. Some times, especially after a day of less-than-fulfilling social interaction, the “Showdown” game (the third in the Swordplay game series, Showdown is revealed only after you’ve played Duel and Speed Slice) proves to be almost ecstatically fun. Basically, you get to hack your way through an increasing number of computer-generated opponents, who, after all, are trying to do the same to you. I know, I know, it seems, shall we say, violent, but it’s violence of a very cartoon-like kind, abstract, and bloodless. Other times, the graceful flow of Frisbee Golf (the third in the Frisbee series) provides unparalleled release.

The package also includes Wii Sports. A brief comparison between the two games, both technically excellent, illustrates perfectly how the system has evolved. Simply put, it has become much more playful; the narrative much funnier, the fun much more major.

10 Days in the Americas

The Ten Days… series continues. You’ve been through Africa and Asia and Europe. Now it’s time for some island hopping in the Caribbean, South American cruises, and flights that zigzag across the equator.

The game mechanics for 10 Days in the Americas haven’t changed much but there is a new twist. Cruise ships have been added which allow very long connections through the major ocean regions. You can string together more than one ocean liner so that circumnavigating the continents opens up a very wide variety of destinations. But much of the game is familiar. Gather and arrange your country tiles so that you can progress from one location to another over the course of ten days. Plan your strategy and then see how Lady Fortune makes hash of your itinerary.

If Out of the Box keeps putting out expansions to the series, we will soon be able to make a more literary adventure when we play Around the World in 80 Days

Wherever you spend your ten days with Out of the Box, it’s Major Fun.

10 Days in the Americas was designed by Alan R. Moon and Aaron Weisblum. Illustration and graphic design by John Kovalic and Cathleen Quinn-Kinney. © 2010 Out of the Box Publishing Inc.

Will Bain, Games Taster

“Just have fun. It’s Wicketball. It’s all good.”

If you can kick a ball, you can play it. If you can roll a ball, throw a ball, bounce a ball, you can play it. You can play it in the sand. You can play it in the snow. You can play it in the dirt. You can play it like golf, you can play it like croquet, you can play it like both games simultaneously. You can play it with kids, you can play it with seniors, you can play it with kids and seniors and anybody who wants to play. You can create your own course. You can make it very hard. You can make it just easy enough to make you want to keep playing. You can play it seriously, you can play it for fun.


It’s Wicketball.

It’s not something to be taken lightly, this Wicketball game. Just ask the postman who delivered our set. 65 pounds! Designer/publisher Bob Zoller explains that each wicket weighs 6.5 pounds. And you get eight of them. And two soccer balls. And then there are the flags clips and flags, and the DVD and the rules and the list of 64 more ways you can play Wicketball.

See, these wickets are solid metal. They’re designed to be banged into the ground with a sledgehammer, to resist seriously kicked soccer balls, to last pretty much forever.

Keeper AwardThe thing about Wicketball is that it can be played anyway that’s fun for you. They’re an invitation to creativity as much as they are to fun. You want to bowl the balls instead of kicking them, sure, why not? You want to kick the balls backwards, play on your hands and knees, play at night, play with your eyes closed? You want to make the course cover a few acres? You want to play in the snow or sand? You want to play with kids, with the whole family, with seniors, with the whole community? You want to play it like golf or croquet or more like soccer?

Just like Bob Zoller says: “Just have fun. It’s Wicketball. It’s all good.” It’s Major Fun!

Tumblin’ Dice

When Randy Nash first developed Tumblin’ Dice, he did what any game inventor would do – especially one who created a game that people really loved – he started his own company. Recently, the older/wiser Mr. Nash licensed his game to Fred Distribution – a company with a genuinely deep appreciation for really good games. And they honored his concept, and made it a little more attractive, and just as well-made, and just as much fun.

The game is called Tumblin’ Dice, which is exactly what it was called when we first gave it our highest award – the Keeper. I am happy to say, this renewed version is at least as much of a Keeper as it was then.

Think of it shuffleboard with dice. You’d be wrong, but you’d understand almost all you needed to know in order to start playing. There are four sets of dice, each a different colors (and lovely colors they are). Each set has four dice. Players take turns flick/slide/rolling their dice, starting on the top level, aiming towards one of the three platforms on the lowest levels. If your die reaches the third level, you get exactly as many points as are on the top of the die. If your die reaches the fourth level, you get twice as many points; the fifth level, three times as many, and if you reach the lowest level, you multiply the face of the die by four.

Since players are taking turns, there’s a good chance that someone will knock your high-scoring die off the board. So the game can get quite competitive. There’s a lot of opportunity to develop skill. But there’s enough chance (despite my desire to maintain the illusion, I don’t think it’s really possible to determine what face of the die will show up at the end of a roll) to keep things interesting, even for the poor-of-aim.

The turns are very short, and a whole round can take only a few minutes. So everyone stays involved even when there are four players. And as soon as one round is over, and all the points are scored, people are ready and eager to play again. It’s a perfect family game. For children who are still learning to add and multiply, it even has some educational value – not enough to spoil the fun, just enough to make their parents willing to let them play, too. If the multiplication is too hard, instead of multiplying you can just add extra points for dice that reach the scoring levels. Because of the skill required, and the competitiveness, adults can get intensely engaged. Because of the luck factor, anyone who can flick/slide/roll a die has a reasonable chance of winning. And, if you have some perverse need to make it even more challenging, you can try removing some or all of the pegs on the bottom two levels. I tried. I put them back.

Tumbln’ dice is a big game. Some assembly is required. But it’s easy and takes maybe 90 seconds the first time. And just as easily disassembled and snuggled back into its box, in maybe 45. Of course, somebody who hasn’t played it yet will probably come over shortly after you’ve finally put it away, and you’ll find yourself gleefully putting it back together again.

Tumblin’ Dice is an investment in long-lasting, generation-spanning fun. The payoff is Major FUN.

Yamslam – like Yahtzee, but not Yahtzee at all

Yamslam GameNo, it’s not Yahtzee. On the other hand, yes, it’s a lot like Yahtzee. You roll five dice. You get three rolls during which you can re-roll all or any of the dice. You want to get maybe two pairs, or even better, three-of-a-kind, or better yet a small straight, and then there’s a flush, which you can’t get in that other game, which is better yet, and then there’s a full house, and four-of-a-kind, or even better a full house, and your large straight, and, of course, your all-dice-of-the-same-number Yamslam, which makes you yell “Yamslam,” take any chip you want, and an extra turn. And what all of this Yahtzee-likeness does is make Yamslam easier to learn. But, no, it’s not Yahtzee.

There are chips, for example, which you don’t get in that other game – four for each of the possible winning combinations. Each chip is worth more points, depending on probabilities. When you succeed, you collect a chip, making scoring for that particular combination one chip less likely. When there are no chips, that combination can no longer score. Then there’s the possibility that you might gather one or more of each of the seven kinds of chip, for which you score more points, or that you might get six out of the seven, or all of a particular kind of chip, or take the last remaining chip – in which case you score yet more.

And then there’s the “flush” possibility. The odd numbers on the dice are one color, the even another. You score a flush (if you want it) when all the dice are the same color.

Put all these together and you have something that is clearly not Yahtzee. Fewer combinations, a faster game, more possibilities for scoring, all stored in a metal tin that contains the game with efficiency and grace. Place the chips in their well-marked holders, leave the dice on the pleasingly-cushioned felt-lined bottom, close the lid, and no matter how hard you shake the set, everything stays in place. Forget the rules? All the score possibilities are conveniently described on the perimeter of the box.

Designed by Thierry Denoual (who also designed the Gobblet games), Yamslam is a gift of light-hearted, undemanding fun for anyone in the family who is old enough to add. And then there are variations to try, including at least one for those times when you just need to be by yourself.

Yahtzee? Most definitely not. Fun? Majorly!

10 Days in Asia

I began my world travels years ago, where I spent 10 thrill-filled days in Africa, and I recall, even now, remarking at how remarkable it all was, how much fun we were having learning about where Africa has all its countries. Even though that wasn’t really the point of the game, as much as the delicious dialog between luck and logic that this game, like all good card games, seems to be all about.

It’s a card game, really – a tile game, even, for 2-4 players, maybe 9 to certainly adult. Not a board game at all even though you spend a lot of time looking at the board. You never really play on the board. You play on card holders, two of them, actually, one numbered 1-5, the other 6-10. You pick a card and place it into any slot in your card holder. And then another, and then other. Planning, all the while, to place each card so that when all ten are assembled onto your card holders, they will be in the right order, each country card leading to another, geographically adjacent country card, unless it’s a boat card and the boat card is the same color as the ocean you share with that country card, and even, after that, if you get another country card of a country that happens to be on the same ocean, then you can probably take the train to that country, which is, in turn, a non-stop plane-ride away from Vladivostok, as the saying goes.

But, of course, it never goes that way, and you wind up having to discard and pick and replace and let me tell you the planning, the heights and clarity of logic one can manifest, only to be felled by something as stupid as luck, argh, it’s enough to make you have fun. Sizable fun. Major FUN.

Anyhow, that was then. And that was Africa. There’s been USA and Europe. And now there’s Asia. And what does that mean? It means it’s a whole new game, one that you know how to play, but with O so many, many Asian countries. And the board, isn’t it subtly, and everso welcomely larger? And what about trains? Isn’t this the first of the 10 Day series to have trains? But it’s another 10 Days game, all right. You’re on a trek as fun as your Africa ever was, or USA or Europe, even, but in yet another part of the world called “Asia,” with so many Asian-sounding countries to learn about, and with such a fun way to do it, while you’re having so much fun playing, thanks to the cleverly globe-spanning people who made these trips possible.

Stack revisited

I am certain you recall that Stack received a Major Fun Award a little over 4 years ago. In fact, it was a recipient of several awards: the award, the award, the much-touted award, and even, oddly enough, it was found most . And you probably even recall why.

I, on the other hand, have been exploring the game in greater depth, especially recently as I work more and more with various groups of seniors hereabouts. And what I have been exploring, actually, is the, shall we say, “Super Stack” set – two different sets of the Stack game (the deluxe, jumbo, of course), each set having different color dice, thereby enabling me to play a game with 8 people.

The large dice that come with the deluxe version prove to be especially comforting for senior eyes and hands. Easy to read, even at a distance, enjoyable to hold because of their greater heft, and easier to stack because of their larger size. Having enough for eight people makes the game ideal for building a sense of community and friendship. Because the group is larger, people don’t can play at a safe distance from each other (psychologically safe), but because they’re all sharing the same set of dice, they feel connected. If we need to, we can easily divide into smaller, more intimate groups. But having all those dice means that each player has twice as many options to consider. On the one hand, it makes the beginning of the game that much easier and more inviting. On the other, it makes the endgame that much more dramatic. Stacks get built, options constantly get fewer and fewer, the need to play strategically gets more and more vivid.

Stack, even with only 4 colors, has never disappointed us as a game for almost all ages. But having twice as many dice turns out to be more than twice as flexible, twice as interesting, for at least twice as many people.

Games Tasting at the Senior Center

Our first meeting at the Veterans Park Senior Center in Redondo Beach began with a game of Tumblin-Dice. It was at least as effective, and fun, as I had thought it was going to be – easy to learn, challenging, and yet with enough luck to keep people from taking it too seriously. Especially, given that people had come into the center expecting to learn more about how to play Texas Hold ’em. Even older people, who had difficulty standing, were moving around, waiting for their turn with very apparent glee. The only obstacle was keeping score – doing the arithmetic calculations of adding and multiplying the spots on the dice – which, of course, is part of the challenge for children as well as seniors. Since this was the first game we played, I helped with the scorekeeping. Trying to slide the dice into the scoring areas was more than enough to keep people focused on fun.

But the event really didn’t become major fun, until we started playing A to Z. At first, there were just enough players so we could have one for each of the 4 boards. There are two dice – one, the category die, determines which of 6 questions you are trying to answer, the other, the timer die, determines how much time you have (15 or 30 seconds), and two special events – one that allows you to cover up any empty space, and second which lets you take chips off the board of any other player.

As I taught the game, I suggested that we ignore, for the time being, both of the dice. When it was someone’s turn, that player would pick a card, select any one of the six categories, and start the timer (giving themselves 30 seconds). I think, because we knew we were ignoring some of the rules (cheating, perhaps?), the game became even more fun. Later, when more people came in, we had to share boards, so it became a game between teams. And this made the game even more fun. Individual players didn’t feel so pressured because they were part of a team. We all knew we were kind of cheating (picking whatever item we wanted from the category cards, disregarding both dice), so the game became a shared thing, one that we had all adapted, for our own use, for our own fun.

And major fun it was.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Solitaire for seniors?

Dear Major Fun,

Do you have/know of any adaptive games for seniors to do on their own? My dear Auntie recently entered a nursing home at age 96 after having been independent her whole life. She now needs major assistance & can participate in very few group activities. Although they do have an activities director, that person does things like bring Auntie magazines. Auntie used to love to play Bridge; I was thinking that if she had a flannel board of some kind that could hold cards for Solitaire that would be one thing she could probably do in her wheelchair or in bed. I haven’t been able to think of other solo activities, nor have I been able to come up with anywhere to find a board like I’m describing for playing cards.

Major Fun replies:

I’ve been Googling around. I think magnetic playing cards might be your best alternative. I found them fairly widely available. The most often recommended seem to be these.

However, since you asked, most seniors I know really crave people to play with, a lot more than things to play with by themselves. The real, life-restoring stimulation that they so much need comes from, well, living things.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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