Lemming Mafia

Humans love their stories. Especially those that feature animals. As soon as someone recognizes something vaguely human in the way an animal behaves, you can bet that story will make its way into our collective unconscious in much the same way that beach sand always makes its way into our collective sandwiches.

A few animals, the ones that have a lot in common with their human cousins, get a lot of stories: monkeys, dogs, cats, wolves, pigs, crows, horses, mice. Some get only a few passing words. The lemming has one story but it is a doozy.

I won’t be the one to go all Mythbusters on the story (you can find that here). Instead, I’m going to warmly embrace the over-the-top, absurd twists supplied by Mayfair’s Lemming Mafia.

So everyone “knows” that lemmings jump off cliffs. And everyone “knows” that mafiosos love to gamble. Add some dice and you have Lemming Mafia!

The game consists of a board with a twisting linear track (start to finish), a regular die, 2 “Lemming” dice, 36 betting cards, 18 mission cards, and 6 lemming figurines. Each lemming is color coded and these colors are used on each side of the lemming dice. At its most basic, the game consists of rolling the 3 dice and moving one of the lemmings (shown on the 2 lemming dice) a number of spaces equal to the number on the regular die. As the lemmings move toward the finish line at the end of a pier, the players bet on the finish order. Points are scored after one lemming leaps off the pier. Successful bets score points. Most points win.

Of course it’s more complicated than that. Each space on the track can help or hurt the lemmings as they race toward the end of the pier. When players roll the dice they have to decide which lemmings will help the bets they have made. The betting cards are used to predict the finish order of the lemmings. The mission cards give players special conditions that must be met to win points (for example: “Green finishes before Red”). If you want Green to finish before Red, you will move Red so that it lands are spaces that hurt the lemmings—maybe give Red some concrete boots—and you will move Green to spaces that will zip it toward the finish line. Needless to say, your opponents have different ideas for the lemmings. Despite all the choices and complications that emerge from the betting process, the game is very intuitive and the rules are clearly illustrated.

Silly? Yeah. Major Fun? Are you kidding? Lemmings! In fedoras. Jumping off a pier. And there is no saving the lemmings. Only betting on their watery demise. So limber up your best wise guy voice and get yourself fitted for concrete galoshes.

For 3 – 6 players, ages 8+

Lemming Mafia game design by Michael Rienick. Art and graphics by Joscha Sauer. © 2010 by Joscha Sauer and distributed by Mayfair Games, Inc.

Snake Oil

Ever hear the expression “snake oil salesman?” Ever think about what it’d be like to be that guy, driving through the untamed wilds of the West with a wagon load of magic elixer chock-full of medical marvels of pleantifully purported properties?

You know how, in your heart of hearts, you always thought it might be fun to be that guy, pitching dubious delights to the half-believing  – especially if you were the one who made it out of town without getting both tarred and feathered?

Well, step right up and let me tell you about Snake Oil, the party game that’s sure to cure the direst of doldrums. Just look at this box full of colorful cards – 285 of them, just counting the Word Cards, and another 72 if you add the Customer Cards.

The Colorful and Clever Customer Cards? That’s how you find out the kind of person to whom you are making your pitch: a pirate, maybe, or a sports fan, or maybe a dumpster diver or dumped lover. The Word Cards? The only thing you get to figure out exactly what you’re pitching.

Six word cards for each player. You say you got: wig, whistle, lace, closet, safety and paint? Go ahead. Choose any two. You say the customer on the Customer Card is a sports fan? You say for some reason, not perfectly clear to you at the moment, you pick “whistle” and “wig?” And it’s your turn? And you have 30 seconds to explain why every sport fan in the world, and especially the customer in question, needs a wig whistle? Hey, what can possible be more fun, more practical, more exciting than a wig whistle? Wear it. Blow it. Want it? You know it!

Everybody gets a turn playing the customer. After a sale is made, that player wins a Customer Card. Everybody (except the last customer who didn’t get to sell anything) then takes two more Word Cards, and someone else gets to play Customer. After everyone has had a chance to play Customer, the salesperson who makes the most sales wins.

Snake Oil is crazy fun. It’s fun to play the salesperson, enthusing your little heart out pitching a truly absurd product to a whimsical, and often genuinely silly customer. The intensely purposeless creativity, the sheer passion of the pitch, the remarkably consumer-like arbitrariness of the customer. Hilarious fun of major proportions.

The manufacturer recommends Snake Oil for 4-9 players, age 13 and over. Snake Oil was created by Jeff Ochs, design by the design company, available from S-s-nakeoil.

Rhino Hero

Rhino Hero is a kids’ game, unless they allow their parents to play. And then, when the kids are asleep, it’s party time.

It’s a direct descendant of playing house of cards. But it’s a game instead of an exercise in masochism. And an innovatively fun game it is.

Of the 59 cards, 31 of them are “roof cards” and 28 are wall cards. The wall cards are scored down the middle so they can fold. The cards are much thicker than playing cards, which you might consider innovation number one. The folding wall card, which, as you might expect, stands upright much more easily than a standard playing card, and is far easier to build on top of, is innovation number two – a much more significant innovation, especially in the eyes and hands of younger players. The wall cards are also illustrated, so that one side looks like the outside of a house, and the other, the inside. You could consider this innovation number three, as it adds a constructive fantasy element which playing cards lack. But it doesn’t actually affect the playing of the game.

The Roof Cards are most definitely significant, innovation-wise and game-play-wise. Hence, we shall consider them innovation number three and four. Number three because on every roof card is an outline determining where the wall cards are to be placed – there may be only one wall card in the middle, or two wall cards in a surprising variety of positions. Clearly, roof cards that call for only one wall card result in a far less stable construction and hence more tension-filled game. The fourth innovation comes from the foil-embossed symbols on each of the roof cards – symbols which add truly gamish mayhem, resulting in a) direction of play being reversed, or b) the next player skipping a turn, or c) the next player drawing a new roof card, or d) having to use two roof cards on the same turn, or e) or having to take the small wooden Rhino of purportedly super significance from wherever it is, and place it on that card, without, of course, knocking down any of the surrounding or supporting cards.

In the beginning of the game, each player is dealt a hand of roof cards. The first player to get rid of all her roof cards wins. This card-game-like aspect is what you might easily consider the fifth innovation in this innovatively fun game.

The overall design is so effective that you can disregard the rules entirely and still have a grand old time, either by yourself, or cooperatively with your friends and family. Or, you can follow the rules, and have an even grander time, filled with tension, surprises, laughter, and much hilariously sudden toppling.

Rhino Heroe is for 1 to 5 players, as young as five and for older folk of steady hand. A round takes maybe 15 minutes. Cleverly designed by Steven Strumpf and Scott Frisco, with fanciful art by Thies Schwarz. From Haba, available in the US from Maukilo. Not just fun, mind you, but Major Fun.

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