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Major Fun Award-winning Games
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The Major FUN Award goes to games and people that bring people fun, and to any organization managing to make the world more fun, through its own person contributions, and through the products it has managed to bring to the market.

Major FUN especially likes games that:

*make people laugh
*are original, flexible, easy to adapt
*are well-made, durable, easily stored
*are easy to understand and teach

Games that receive an award are selected during "Games Tastings"- monthly gatherings attended by a random collection of local game-players. We start with a pile of unopened games, in no particular order. We read boxes and create our "menu" - a well-ordered stack of games. We then play our way through the stack. We rarely play a whole game through (that's why we call it a "Tasting"), unless we are having too much fun to stop. Those games, the ones we really don't want to stop playing, become candidates for a Major Fun Award. It's informal, not very scientific, but it's fun, and surprisingly accurate. The winning games are reviewed by Major FUN himself. There are no negative reviews, so, if you submit a game and it doesn't get reviewed, it's because, FUN-wise, it wasn't found to be, shall we say, Major.

for more, see: http://www.majorfun.com/

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201. Board Game: Regatta [Average Rating:6.14 Overall Rank:4619]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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Table top games saw me through middle school lunch. I’d throw down whatever dreck they had uncanned for us (elapsed time: 30 seconds) and then I’d set about the serious business of playing quarter basketball or pencil football for the remaining twenty-nine-and-a-half-minutes. A couple of props, a flat surface, an opponent—I had it made.

I would gladly bolt through my favorite meal (a thai peanut-sauce dish called pra ram long song thanks for asking…) in order to spend a bit more time with Gigamic’s table-top racing game, Regatta.

Now Regatta is a bit more complicated and prop driven than the games I played at school, but the conceit is the same. In this case, players race wooden sailboats across whatever flat surface they have handy. The game comes with four sailboats, four course buoys, and 54 movement cards.
The cards really make the game. Players hold five cards. Each card has an arrow that curves from one side to another. Sometimes a card will have multiple arrows so that the player has some choice. In short, players move their boats from one side of a card to another. When it is a racers turn to play, that boater places a card in front of his or her yacht so that the arrow starts at the bow of the yacht. The player moves the boat so that its aft quarters are on the tip of the arrow and the boat is facing the arrow’s direction.

The cards also serve to show where sailboats cannot go. Each yacht has a no-go region in front of it (so that another boat cannot block its turn. This no-go region is the size of one of the cards. You can move anywhere on the board as long as you do not move into the no-go zone of another player. There are also some special cards that allow double movement, extra turns, and an especially nasty one that makes an opponent miss a turn, but these just spice up the game’s elegant movement mechanic.

There is a surprising amount of strategy that goes in to placing the cards. Most cards do not move your boat in a straight line. Most curve to the left or the right so you have to set up a series of moves that play out over your next few turns. Saving up special cards for the right moment is critical.

The racing is clever and fast, and best of all there is no deep water!! Racing yachts in the comfort of my dining room? Major Fun.

2 – 4 players. Ages 5+

Regatta by Emmanuel Fille and Martine Moisand. © 2010 Gigamic.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/12/26/regatta/
 
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202. Board Game: Knock Your Blocks Off [Average Rating:5.68 Overall Rank:8173]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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Growing up, I had small set of Lincoln Logs. Enough to make a small cabin or a tall, skinny watchtower. I’m sure I tried many of the suggested structures, but the resultant building was only a step in a process. You see, I wasn’t all that interested in the structure per se, because I knew that whatever architectural masterpiece I created would be situated at the terminal end of plastic race track that curved up a flight of stairs where the other end was held in place by a few volumes of Collier’s encyclopedia. Within the bumpers of this track, a heavy red fire engine perched at the edge of the stairs awaiting only a nudge from my sister to send it hurtling toward a satisfyingly violent collision with whatever I had been able to construct at the other end.

Construction toys are never more fun than when you blast them apart, a fact that is wonderfully exploited by Gamewright’s Knock Your Blocks Off.
In short, each player builds a wall to hold up a crown. Once the walls are built, players try to knock off their opponents’ crowns. You score points for successfully knocking off a crown or when an opponent FAILS to knock off your crown.

I could stop right there and the game would be pretty sweet. Matter of fact, that would define a large percentage of my childhood games. Knock Your Blocks Off gives each player 6 blocks of wood for the wall, one block of wood for the crown, and a special DESTRUCTION DIE! The DESTRUCTION DIE (I just like writing it in all caps…) is the weapon each player uses against the other walls and it tells you how you will attack the walls. When it is your turn to attack, roll the DESTRUCTION DIE and check the result: Boulder = flick the die at the wall; Ogre = underhand toss; Dragon = Drop the die from a great height.

Did I mention the special powers?

Oh yeah. I thought that might get the attention of the nine year old boy in you. There are six kinds of walls you can build and each has a special power. The Fort is immune to Boulders. The Gate gives you bonus points for a successful attack. I won’t reveal more, but suffice it to say that the strategy of wall construction runs much deeper than “My wall is strong!!”
Much much deeper. The first to finish building their wall gets to grab the DESTRUCTION DIE. So speed is of the essence. BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!! Each block is painted so that only certain edges can match up. When you build your wall, the edges of the blocks must match correctly or you don’t get your special power.

To recap: you need strength, you need speed, you need smarts, and you need strategery.

I could generally muster two of those four attributes which probably explains why I lost as much as I did; however the game rekindled that sense of glee I had with my tube of Lincoln Logs and my red Hot Wheels fire engine. The game is fast and easy to learn. The rules (in English and Spanish) fit on a slim accordion fold booklet.

Build it and break it. It’s Major Fun with seven blocks of wood and a colorful die. What more could you want?

2 – 4 players. Ages 8+

Knock Your Blocks Off by Rebekah Bissell. © 2011 Gamewright.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/12/13/knock-your-blocks-off/
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203. Board Game: City Square Off [Average Rating:6.64 Overall Rank:3557]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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A great way to Major Fun’s heart is through his stomach. Unfortunately that’s due to a gastric bypass surgery gone horribly wrong. BUT another great way to his heart is through elegant design. We at Major Fun reward games that are easy to learn, and that means that some types of games and some game mechanics come back to the party in many different outfits.

Nothing wrong with this. Fun is fun.

Gamewright’s City Square Off is a competitive tiling game for two people (or two teams). Each player starts with a board, 21 tiles (much as you would find in Tetris variants), and a starting tile that is shaped like a city (each city tile is different). The city tile goes in the middle of each board and a deck of 21 cards (a card for each of the tiles) is shuffled. The top card is revealed and each player places that tile on their board. The player who runs out of space on his or her board loses.
We’ve seen games like this before, but City Square Off is compact, sturdy, and visually stunning. The game gives you 4 city tiles to use as starting pieces and each is unique AND they seem to represent 4 different periods of time and architecture. The nine-by-nine grid is sturdy, rigid, grey plastic, which admittedly sounds less than appealing and yet the bright orange and green tiles fit perfectly into the grid where they almost fluoresce against the grey surface. Everything fits into a compact box.
Games are quick, intuitive, and easy to learn. The designers also include several variants that shake things up. Start with the city tile ANYWHERE on the board. Don’t use the cards and each player races to see who can fill up all the squares on his or her board first. The variants suggest many other possibilities. Each game is fun and immediately replayable.

It’s Major Fun. Check it out.

2 players or 2 teams. Ages 8+

City Square Off by Ted Cheatham. © 2011 Gamewright.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/11/22/city-square-off/
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204. Board Game: Got 'Em! [Average Rating:6.16 Overall Rank:6792]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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As I’ve written before, the best strategy games (in terms of fun) arise from simple, elegant rules and game mechanics. Games of this sort provide an accessible portal into a contest that requires the players to make short term and long term plans based on…



Sorry about that. Got some verbosity lodged in my keyboard. Major Fun games like Got ‘Em! are easy to learn and you wanna play ‘em again and again and again.

This one is even reversible!! (I’ll come back to this in a second)
The basic premise is simple. Each player has a pawn on a seven by seven grid. On a turn, each player moves his or her pawn and places a plastic section of wall. Walls prevent movement in that direction. A player is eliminated if his or her pawn is ever surrounded by walls.

I mentioned the game is reversible, right? I meant reversible in the sense that some jackets are reversible. The board has two sides and each side has a distinct flavor of play and slight variations on the basic rules. One side is for the Bright Rules and the other side is for the Brainy Rules.
Bright Rules involves some random elements and utilizes a deck of 55 cards. The grid of squares on the game board is divided into four colors: red, green, yellow, and blue. Opponents still move their pieces and place walls, but their movement and wall-placement are dictated by the cards. Each player is dealt three cards. Each card has instructions for how to move your pawn and how to place a wall. For example: “move up to 2 spaces and place a wall on any GREEN square.” Not only must players work to avoid being boxed in, but they must also decide what cards will be most useful in later stages of the game.

Brainy Rules does away with the cards and the colorful grid. Players move their pieces and then may place one piece of wall anywhere on the board. Movement is based on the number of walls that currently enfold a player. Each pawn can move one space, but if your pawn is on a square that has a wall touching it, you can move your piece an extra space for each piece of wall. In some cases it is to your advantage to place a wall next to your own square. Doing so gives you one extra space of movement. That can mean the difference between scurrying frantically at the whim of your opponents and breaking into a clear space so that you can take the time to push your opponents around.

It is amazing how quickly the board fills with walls. What seems like a wide-open field of play turns into a series of dead-ends and shrinking courtyards. Especially with 4 players. Who knew that claustrophobia could be Major Fun?

Calliope has done a wonderful job of packaging the game, designing the pieces, and conveying both sets of rules. I appreciated the way each set of rules (complete with illustrations and hints) had its own tab on an ingeniously folded sheet of instructions.

Not since enacting Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado” in middle school have I had this much fun walling someone in. Well, there was also “The Black Cat.” And “The Fall of the House of Usher.” And “Buried Alive.” Come to think of it, I remember having more students in that class at the beginning of the unit on Poe…

2-4 players. Ages 8+

Got ‘Em! by Zach Weisman. © 2011 Compound Fun, LLC. Produced and distributed by Calliope Games.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/10/26/got-em/
 
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205. Board Game: Cornucopia [Average Rating:5.97 Overall Rank:4802]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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Engagement is an essential element of Major Fun games. There are lots of games that I love—especially strategy games—that I can’t consider Major Fun because there is too much down time. One person is playing but the other two or three have to wait for their turn OR wait while some action resolves between two other players. Doesn’t make the game a bad game—just means the game can’t earn a Major Fun epaulet.

Cornucopia deftly avoids down time in two ways: first, by keeping the action moving and second, by incorporating a system of wagering into each round. Even though one player controls most of the action each turn, I never felt like I could disengage from the action because I had something at stake.

At its most basic, Cornucopia is about making runs and sets. There is a deck of “Goods Cards” that represent 6 different colored vegetables (yellow corn, orange pumpkins, red tomatoes, purple eggplants, green grapes, and wild-rainbow cornucopias). These Goods Cards are set out in five columns (at the start of the game, 2 cards per column). A player attempts to complete a column by adding cards that make a run (five different cards) or a set (five identical cards). If the player completes a run or set, that person earns points. If the player fails, the person loses points. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins, and the game ends when the deck of Goods is played through twice.

Things get interesting with the betting. On a player’s turn, he or she places a bet on how many cards will be needed to complete a column. The more cards the player chooses, the lower the final score. Once the player chooses, the opponents have 10 seconds to bet if the player will succeed. Each player has a double sided YES/NO card and some chips that they use to place the wager. Not only did this serve to keep everyone glued to the results, it also proved to be a major factor in winning the game. The bets are small but they add up over the course of a game.

There are several ways to score points but most can be boiled down to completing (or failing to complete) columns and the bets you make on said success or failure.

Another fun aspect of the game was the trash talk. Because betting is involved and the amount of points to be earned in a round is determined by how FEW cards you choose to play, the opportunities for baiting, teasing, and ridiculing are nigh boundless. I say this with a certain amount of shameful glee because I encouraged this behavior with my 10 year old daughter and two of her friends. We just could not help ourselves. It is just too much fun to encourage someone to try to complete a column with only 2 cards and then bet against that person. Or bet for them and feel the same rush of accomplishment when they succeed.

Gryphon produces some beautiful and engaging games and Cornucopia does not disappoint. The rules are concise, well organized, and clearly illustrated. The cards are colorful and sturdy-made for lots of wear and tear. My only nit-picky complaint arises from the flimsy chips used for betting and keeping score, but that hardly prevents me from recommending this game. As you build your collection of enduring, Major Fun games, find a spot for Cornucopia. And make sure it’s easy to reach. I think you’ll want it a lot.
Cornucopia by Carlo A. Rossi and Lorenzo Tarabini Castellani.

Game theme, graphics, and development by Rick Soued and Carey Grayson. © 2010 FRED Distribution.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/10/24/cornucopia/
 
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206. Board Game: Kabaleo [Average Rating:5.65 Overall Rank:8106]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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There is an elegance of design to many Gigamic games that is impossible to ignore and Kabaleo keeps up the tradition. The conical pieces are simple, colorful, and they make a satisfying clack when stacked. This is not trivial because clacking and stacking are what you will do a lot in this game.

The elegance of the pieces underscores the elegance of the game. There are six colors. Each player has a different color, and the winner is the one whose color is on top of the most stacks once all the pieces are used.
So not only is the design of the pieces unique and striking, the design is also functional.

There are 24 Bases (cones with a single stripe of color) and 36 Pieces (cones with a double stripe). There are also 6 Target cones which are not colored on the outside but are colored INSIDE the cone. Players draw a Target at the beginning of the game and this becomes their color—a fact they keep secret during play. The number of colors with which you play is always two more than the number of participants. This makes it very difficult to guess exactly which color any player has.

Before play begins, the bases are scattered in the middle, and each player draws a certain number of Pieces from a bag. The Pieces may not be kept secret.

On each player’s turn, you take one of the Pieces and place it on a Base in the middle of the table. Pieces may not be placed on Bases of the same color, but you may place any Piece on top of any other Piece (say that 5 times fast). So a blue Piece could go on a pink Base and a green Piece could go on top of that blue Piece (making a 3 stack of cones). A green Piece could now be played on the previous green Piece BUT instead of stacking higher, you remove both green Pieces.

Different colors STACK. Same colors REMOVE. Piece on Base must be different colors.

That is some elegant game design.

Planning ahead is maddening. You don’t want to reveal your color so misdirection and blocking are good strategies; however as your opponents and you are running out of pieces, it becomes very important to free up your color in such a way that cripples an opponent.

Kabaleo is incredibly intuitive and gameplay is quick. The rules take up two very small pages in a rulebook that covers maybe 2 dozen languages. The rules also include wordless, pictorial directions that show what moves are allowed and what are not (especially handy for you anthropologists, semiologists, and sociologists studying cultures with no written or verbal language). Kabaleo is Major Fun because it feels fun to play and feels GOOD to play.

(Although I bet anyone of the Cold War generation who opens the box will think “Missile silo.” Go get the game and you’ll see what I mean.)

2 – 4 players. Ages 8+

Kabaleo concept by Jean Luc Renaud and is © 2010 by Gigamic.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/09/08/kabaleo/
 
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207. Board Game: Mermaid Beach [Average Rating:6.06 Overall Rank:8618]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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Adult gamers know: kids are HORRIBLE with games. Children should never be allowed to play board games without adult supervision. They lose pieces. They sit on the box. They don’t read the rules and even if they do read the rules they are likely to change them. Mid game. They always want to play something else, and worst of all, they mix games together.

Madness!!

Fortunately, Gamewright shoved aside the inner curmudgeon that rises up on such occasions and embraced the creative mixing and matching of eight-year-old Emily Ehlers. In the course of her family’s travels, Emily brought the world the card game Mermaid Beach.

When you play Mermaid Beach (and you will want to play it a lot when you learn it) you will recognize some classics: Go Fish! and Old Maid and Crazy Eights. But Mermaid Beach is greater than the sum of these parts. There is a great mix of strategy and chance in this game, as if the best parts of each were grafted together. Much like the merfolk themselves: part human, part fish, part magic, and all so delicious in a light butter sauce—er, I mean wondrous and whimsical.

The game consists of two decks of cards: 51 Beach Cards and 26 Shell Cards. The deck of Beach Cards is comprised of beach gear, merfolk (men and women), seaweed, waves, and one sea monster. In short: players are dealt 5 Beach Cards and try to gather the Shell Cards for points. When a player matches two beach items (sun, umbrella, sailboat, etc…) that player can turn in the pair for a Shell Card. Merfolk allow players to draw cards from the Shell Deck, take an extra turn, or (in the case of the Mean Mermaids) steal shells from other players. Waves wash away your opponent’s shells and seaweed forces them to draw an extra card from the Beach Deck.

A player can also “fish” for a match by asking an opponent for a type of Beach Card. If the opponent has the card, it must be passed over. If not, the opponent says “Go to the Beach” (or some other similar, fishing related phrase) and the player must draw from the Beach Deck.

There are other special cards and everyone tries to get rid of the sea monster. For all the different kinds of cards, the game moves quickly from the moment you deal out the cards to the moment you turn in your shells for a score. My daughters and their friends (aged 6 – 12) grasped the game almost entirely from looking at the cards and intuiting the game mechanics. There is a lot of luck but there are strategic choices to be made and it all happens so quickly and smoothly that I found myself eager for another round.

The Major was funner when the game had begunner, under the sea!!
The artwork is fantastic. The mermaids and merdudes shimmer and strike engaging poses. Especially the Mean Mermaids—they took center stage at my house. You can tell you have something special when you have one of the merfolk in hand.

Mermaid Beach is a fun game, Major Fun, and a great reaffirmation of the creative process. There might not be anything new under the sun (or the sea) but the combinations are multitudinous and magnificent. I’m glad that Emily mashed all these games together.

2 – 5 Players. Ages 6+.

Mermaid Beach was designed by Emily Ehlers (aged eight) and is © 2011 by Gamewright.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/09/03/mermaid-beach/
 
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208. Board Game: Party Gras [Average Rating:5.33 Unranked]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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I think that it is fitting that my first review as Major Fun should be Zobmondo!!’s frantic party game Party Gras. While it is true that my Hoosier roots run almost 40 years deep, I have a special connection to and fondness for the Crescent City. I started my MFA with the University of New Orleans in the fall of 2007—just in time for Hurricane Katrina to crash the party and unmask some of the uglier faces of the body politic. Despite the devastation (both social and physical) New Orleans prevails and a healthy dose of that contagious, joyful spirit made its way into Party Gras.
The game consists of a big deck of cards and a whole mess’a beads in a colorful plastic case. Divide the beads evenly among all players. Look at those beads. Covet those beads. The winner of Party Gras is the player who has the most beads at the end of the round.

Like any great parade, Party Gras requires a Grand Marshall. This person determines how long the round will last (10 – 15 minutes is good). The Grand Marshall begins the party, plays like everyone else, but is also tasked with settling any disputes. The Grand Marshall shuffles the cards, deals two to each player, and makes a pile of the rest. The party is about to begin. Look at your cards. Choose your mission…

There are six kinds of missions—six ways to take beads from another player.

In brief the missions are:
Mind Control: make another player do the action on the card.
Caught in the Act: Catch another player doing the listed action.
Talk it Out: Find one player who matches the description on the card. You will need to talk to them and ask questions.
Fashion Police: Find a player wearing the listed item.
Go Crazy: Perform a crazy stunt and get rewarded.

Challenge: Challenge another player to a crazy stunt.

Each card has three missions from which you may choose one. Most missions earn you one string of beads, but some earn you two. When you complete a mission, discard the card and pick another. You will always have 2 cards for a total of six possible choices. If the Grand Marshall thinks too many people are stuck, maybe you can draw a third. Or a fourth! Or trade ‘em all in keep playing. The Grand Marshall is in charge and better keep the party moving!!

The missions are a blast. Stuff like: “Make someone apologize for insulting you” and “Make someone refuse to kiss you” and “Find someone who likes tea better than coffee.” Everyone is talking at the same time. You never know if you are being tricked into something or asked a legitimate question. You can’t lie (otherwise Talk it Out doesn’t work) and you can’t refuse to do an action but refusing to do silly things in a party game means that someone is unclear on the concept of a party game!!

Party Gras is loud and fast and frustrating and MAJOR FUN!! There are plenty of Major Fun party games out there, but Party Gras brings the joy and releases it to the world in gales of laughter and ridiculous antics. All for a handful of beads.

Major Fun fo’ tru…

Party Gras is recommended for 4-12 players over the age of 13. It was designed by Greg Zima and is published under license by Zobmondo!! Entertainment LLC.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/08/28/party-gras/
 
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209. Board Game: Yomi [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:417] [Average Rating:7.25 Unranked]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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Gamers’ Games are Major Fun for the more experienced gamer. For one reason or another, these games are a bit more difficult or require a greater time investment than the games we generally award BUT we feel that they are well worth the effort.

Yomi is a card-based fighting game for two players. The game sets up a world in which ten characters fight in a tournament called Fantasy Strike. Each character has his or her or its own special abilities, but at heart, Yomi is a very colorful game of paper-rock-scissors. DON’T LEAVE YET!! I wouldn’t waste your time with that old chestnut. The learning curve for Yomi is actually quite steep BUT if you can keep in mind that the prime mechanic is a glorified exercise of paper-rock-scissors, then you will understand why I even considered reviewing this game for Major Fun.
Let me digress for a bit. The advent and subsequent popularity of collectible card games is a topic of fascination for me. I do not like CCGs in general. Not because of game play issues, but because of economic and equity issues. To my mind, the artificial rarity of games like Magic the Gathering and Pokemon creates a lot of waste and favors those who have more money. Constructing an effective deck is a wonderfully strategic and challenging endeavor, but it seems heavily weighted in favor of those who can either afford to buy lots of packs to sift for a few treasures OR those who can afford to buy a good card from someone who could afford to buy a lot of packs and sift for the treasures.

It is no surprise to me that card-based, deck-building games like Dominion and Yomi have emerged and are popular. These games use the engaging and strategic qualities of the CCGs, but all players start from the same pool of cards (or at least pre-established and balanced sets of cards). The only economic question is: can you afford the game? Once you have the game you and your opponents have everything you need. Winning and losing rests on your strategic choices (with a bit of luck).

Yomi contains 10 decks of cards and two playing mats where you place your cards and keep track of your character’s health. Each 56-card deck represents a character in the Fantasy Strike tournament. The cards are numbered and suited like standard playing cards (2-10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace of hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades). Each deck has 2 Jokers. The suits and numbers are one of the complicating factors of the game but each card essentially allows the player to make one of three actions: Attack, Throw, or Block/Dodge. This is where the paper-rock-scissors mechanic enters. Attacks beat Throws. Throws beat Blocks/Dodges. Blocks/Dodges beat Attacks. Each player starts with seven cards in hand. The round begins when each player selects a card and places it face down on the mat. Both reveal their card at the same time and use the paper-rock-scissors mechanic to determine who wins. Attacks and Throws and Dodges cause damage. Blocks prevent damage. The object is to reduce your opposing character to zero health.

Simple enough BUT complications abound. Each character has special abilities. Cards can be played in combination. Some cards must be played with other cards. Some cards negate other cards. Results from one round can affect how cards are used the next round. Not only does each card have a wealth of information encoded in symbols and several small boxes, but many of the cards are double sided (turned one way the card is a Block but turned the opposite way it is a Throw).

Needless to say, reading lots of fine print is a must in this game and even then you probably won’t appreciate many of the strategies that will work for each character until you have had a chance to play several times. There is a big time investment up front, but once you become familiar with the cards and the order of play, you realize that each deck represents a difference in style and strategy, not substance. What is impressive is that each deck, each character, has a unique skill set and these are balanced so well. A lot of thought and effort went in to creating characters that are equally matched.

I certainly appreciated the online version of this game. You can play the game against other humans OR you can play against the computer. I have only played against the computer, but in doing so it helped me understand how many of the special abilities work and how some cards can be played in combination with others. This helped me teach the card game to new players and bring them up to speed.

There are fighting games that are certainly easier than Yomi (Slugfest’s wonderful Kung Fu Fighting comes to mind), but the balance, variation, and strategy of Yomi makes it a rich and highly re-playable game. Competitive, addictive, and fun.

Yomi was designed David Sirlin and is © 2011 by Sirlin Games.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/08/07/yomi/
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210. Board Game: Exago [Average Rating:5.55 Overall Rank:8999]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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Goliath Games’ Exago (“hexagon” with a little off the ends…) is a strategic tiling game that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played Connect Four or tic-tac-toe. On the off chance that you grew up in an island culture that eschewed linear configuration skills in favor of more fractal or non-euclidean patterns, Goliath provides all the rules you need in order to play the game, plus colorful examples on two brief pages of instruction. Of course if you have trouble with curvilinear orientations you probably have issues reading anything…

Moving on.

Exago succeeds not in that its game play mechanics are especially original but in that it is so well designed, not to mention colorful, concise, and fun for up to 6 people.

Players try to align four of their tiles in a straight line. In a 3 – 6 player game, each contestant receives 6 hexagonal tiles of translucent plastic (red, green, yellow, blue, purple, or orange). The game contains 12 blue and 12 red tiles but those extras are used in a 2 player game. Play proceeds clockwise. Each person places one tile on the board. New tiles must connect to at least one of the tiles on the board. If there is no winner by the time the 6 tiles are placed, each player must move one tile of their color to an empty spot on the board.

As in most pattern completion games of this sort, participants have to choose between actions that complete their objective (four in a row) or frustrate their opponents. But while the mechanics and strategies are familiar (and quite fun), what makes Exago shine as a Major Fun game can be found in the design of the game. The hexagonal board comes in 2 pieces that slide and lock together. The board is a hexagonal grid that cradles each tile so that they do not shift or slide or jumble as new tiles are added. Best of all, each cell of the board is designed so that you can remove your tile by simply pressing on the tile’s edge. No need for fingernails. No tapping or prying. Just press on one side and the opposite edge rises out of the board for easy removal.

Thoughtfully crafted. Concisely described. Colorfully executed. Exago is Major Fun. I wonder if I can apply those same principles to my reviews…
Nah.

Exago was designed by Mark Forsyth and is © 2004 by Goliath Games LLC.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/08/07/exago/
 
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211. Board Game: Connect 4 Launchers [Average Rating:6.34 Overall Rank:5699]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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Connect 4 Launchers is a two-player, disc-flinging, two-level, three-version, four-in-a-row variation of Hasbro’s highly successful Connect 4 brand.

Each player has 21 lifesaver-like checkers, and a launcher. The game board requires minimal assembly – there are four pillars (made to look like stacks of checkers) and two transparent target boards. The target boards (which, at first, seem rather flimsy, but prove to be more than sturdy enough to withstand many rains of checkers) fit snugly into the notches at the top and bottom of the pillars.

The launchers are very sturdy, and work flawlessly. The lifesaver-like checkers rest securely on the top of the launcher. The forward part of the base of the launcher is angled so that you can more easily aim for the upper or lower target board. A slide on the base of the launcher allows you to keep score (should score need to be kept).

If you look at your entire collection of checkers, you will notice four different kinds of “power checkers.” Distinguished by the patterns on the inner ring, the powers of your power checkers will allow you to: 1) go again, 2) remove all the checkers from every space that is connected to that checker, 3) remove all the checkers in that row (horizontal or vertical), or 4) remove the checker in any one of the next to that in which it lands.

Now you know more than you need to play the first two variations, and all you need to play the last.

The first two are most appealing to the younger, and/or frenzy-seeking player. Both players launch checkers at the same time, and keeps launching until a) someone has managed to get four-in-a-row, or b) there are no more checkers to launch. This version is appropriately called “Basic Frantic Launch.”

Then there’s the second version, “Championship Frantic Launch.” This game is played very much like “Basic Frantic Launch,” and is most definitely equally frantic, but here, instead of the game being over when someone wins, you play a series of games, scoring each (this is where that scoring slide comes into play), and then playing the next. You get two points if you score in the top tray, and one for scoring in the bottom.

Finally, for the more strategically-minded, the “Advanced Power Launch.” There’s no franticity here. Instead, there’s turn-taking and something significantly akin to strategery. There’s most definitely an element of luck, no matter how strategic your intentions. But there’s also an equally strong feeling that you might very well have developed the control and aim and all the inherent affordances to get a checker to land exactly where you think it should be. And then there are the power checkers, which, depending on their power, can wreak significant havoc on your opponent’s planfulness. And also an interesting wrinkle where the player who has the majority of checkers in any space gets to claim that as her own, whilst should there be an equal amount, the space belongs to neither.

The rules are easy to learn and very well-written, covering every possible gameplay event (what happens if your checker completely misses the trays, or if you have no checkers but the other player still has his, or if a checker lands in a tray, but not in a space.

And, yes, of course, you can play as teams, passing the launcher back and forth, adding significantly to the sense of inner- and inter-team franticity.

All in all, Connect 4 Launchers offers a surprisingly wide range of opportunities for merry mayhem. It is very easy to learn how to play, easy to build and store, the games are short and engaging, the range of variations creating a game that’s rich enough to play again and again. It appeals equally to the 5-year-old, elder siblings and the playfully-minded parent. Major Fun for the whole family.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/07/31/connect-4-launchers/
 
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212. Board Game: Betrayal at House on the Hill [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:339]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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Gamers’ Games are Major Fun for the more experienced gamer. For one reason or another, these games are a bit more difficult or require a greater time investment than the games we generally award BUT we feel that they are well worth the effort.

Betrayal at House on the Hill by Avalon Hill / Wizards of the Coast is just such a game. The premise is very cool: you and the other players are exploring a creepy old mansion when you find yourselves part of the plot of a familiar horror movie. As you explore the sprawling edifice you will be attacked by mysterious forces and you will discover strange and powerful items. The tension mounts as you look through the rooms until the Haunt occurs, at which point everything changes and one of the players could become a traitor.

There are a lot of pieces to the game. This is one reason we felt that Betrayal is more suited for experienced gamers. There is a lot of reading so younger players might need more support. There are three rulebooks. Yup. THREE. This sounds more intimidating than it really is, and I’ll talk about the books a bit later. For all its pieces, the game breaks down to a few important items: 8 dice (the dice are numbered 0-2 instead of the traditional 1-6); character cards (information about your character); room tiles (add these to build the mansion); Event/Omen/Item cards (things that happen to the adventurers); and the Haunt Books (what to do when the Haunt occurs).

Much like one of our earlier Gamers’ Games, Forbidden Island, this is largely a cooperative game. Before the Haunt occurs, players simply wander through the house, collecting artifacts and items that may help them (and in some cases hurt them) later. Even after the Haunt begins, most of the players will work together to defeat the evil that they face.

The early phase of the adventure is all about exploring the house. The players start off on one long tile (the Entrance Hall, the Foyer, and the Grand Staircase). Doors lead off this tile but players don’t know what they will find on the other side of the doors. When someone goes through a door, he or she draws a room tile (there are 44 possible rooms) from a shuffled stack. The room is revealed and something can happen to the character. There are generally four possible outcomes to entering a room: an event occurs; an item is found; an omen occurs; or nothing (this is very rare). Events usually require the character to roll dice to see if they are hurt or helped by the event. Items are generally useful although some can also hurt the character (a statue that gives you more dice to roll but lowers your sanity). Omens provide useful items BUT they also herald the beginning of the Haunt. Each time an Omen is revealed, there is a chance that the Haunt will begin (determined by rolling dice). Each time an Omen is uncovered, the chance that the haunt will occur increases (50% chance with 6 Omens and 100% at 12).

The Omen device creates palpable tension, especially as the characters approach the fourth or fifth Omen. There is a lot of pressure to explore rooms to discover useful items as well as some of the dangers that exist in the house. The more you know about the house, the better prepared you will be for the Haunt BUT the more you explore means the more Omens you will find.

When the Haunt bursts onto the scene, the game makes a sudden shift. At this point, one of the players usually becomes the enemy, a Traitor, and tries to defeat the other characters. A chart tells the players what to do. Players look at the chart to find the last uncovered Omen AND the room in which it was found. The chart provides the name of the Haunt and the identity of the Traitor (there are a few Haunts in which there is no Traitor, but the mechanics are essentially the same as what I will describe here). The Traitor takes one of the rulebooks called the Traitor’s Tome and leaves the room. The rest of the players get the rulebook called Secrets of Survival. Both the Traitor and the Survivors turn to the page that describes their Haunt. This page provides a set of goals and instructions for winning the scenario. If the Traitor fulfills his or her goals, then the Traitor wins. If the Survivors fulfill their goals, they win.

There are 50 different Haunts!! Each one corresponds to storylines you have probably seen in various horror movies and novels. They have names like “I was a Teenage Lycanthrope” and “The Heir.” Perhaps the hardest thing about this game is refraining from reading through all the Haunts. The Traitors and Survivors are not supposed to know what each other is trying to do. In one game I played, the survivors had to escape the house but we were under attack by the Traitor and his minions. The process of escape was complicated so I thought that if I attacked the Traitor, he would have to defend himself and leave the others alone to make good the escape preparations. I was wrong. The Traitor’s character on the board was completely irrelevant to his victory conditions. My character went mad. His minions kept up the attack and the other Survivors met a gruesome death. Major Fun for all!!

The first game you play will probably take a while (over an hour) but successive games are much faster, sometimes over in 20 – 30 minutes. There is a lot of replay value, even with Haunts you know. The house constantly changes and there is room for many different strategies. Ultimately, Betrayal succeeds so well because it creates tension like any good piece of horror AND the Haunt scenarios engage players in familiar but challenging plots.

Betrayal at House on the Hill was designed by Bill Glassco and is © 2010 by Wizards of the Coast.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/07/17/betrayal-at-house-on-the-...
 
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213. Board Game: Hedbanz for Kids [Average Rating:5.36 Overall Rank:9401]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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Hedbanz is a funny, but definitely challenging guessing game for up to 6 players.

Each player wears a plastic, adjustable, well, headband. Each headband includes a card-holding slot. The cards it holds display colorful images, each with a text description helping other players to identify the image. Note the emphasis on other. This emphasis emphasizes that the person who is wearing that particular card on his head does not (and definitely should not) know what’s on the card. For some, especially the younger some, this is a grave challenge of moral and ethical fortitude. For others (most people who are 7 or older), it’s this very ethico-moral challenge that makes the game so interesting. Just knowing that everything you need to know about your current identity is right there, on your very head, and yet, though it would be everso easy to take a quick or longer look at the card, you really aren’t supposed to, and aren’t going to, either… Ah, there, in deed, is the rub.

The only way you can find out about who you are (what’s on your card) is to ask other people. And the only answers they can give are “yes” or “no” or maybe “could be” or “I don’t know.” So, in order to master the game, you need to exercise: 1) the art of asking questions, 2) the art of deductive reasoning, 3) the art of compassion – the last frequently proving to be the most crucial to maintaining playful relationships with friends and family. Why compassion? Because everyone is wearing a Hedbanz, and everyone, as much as you, wants to figure out what’s on their card. And everyone looks just a little bit silly wearing a picture on their head – which should remind people that the purpose of the game is really and only for fun, despite the fact that some really have trouble exercising 4) the art of patience, and 5) the art of self-restraint.

Hedbanz is very easy to learn. The more people play it, the better they get at all 5 of the abovementioned arts. Headbanz is fun. It’s fun, in a good, silly way, to think of yourself as if you were a bicycle or an ice cream cone. Because the rules are so few and so familiar (to anyone who has played 20, or even “Plenty” Questions (there are more variations here), the game is easy to adapt to players of different abilities (add a “hint” rule and people as young as 5 can play, too). It can be played almost anywhere (almost – it’s not water-proof). You can keep score, but you don’t have to. You can set time limits for each player’s turn (which explains the timer), but you don’t have to give everyone the same limit, and you can play without the timer and still have fun.

Headbanz was designed by Cathy McFadden and is published by Spin Master.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/07/13/hedbanz/
 
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214. Board Game: Trigger! [Average Rating:6.57 Overall Rank:3720]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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The fun of Trigger, the element that made us laugh every time we played, is in the revelation that our left hands and right hands are stupid. I mean bag of hammers, running-with-scissors, couple-shoes-short-of-a-pair stoopid. This is, after all, a game that presents true or false statements like: “You are related to at least one person at this table” and “You are married.”

In order to answer these outrageously obtuse questions, players race to be the first to slap a foam target (think of a round drink coaster) with their left or right hand. Left hand for False and right hand for True. Right is right. Left is false. How hard can it be?

Trouble is, when everyone is watching everyone else, it is really easy to mimic what someone else is about to do. The statement above about being related to a person at the table is a good example. I was looking at my daughter across the table and to my credit, I put out my right hand for True; however, before I could whack the target, I switched hands because one of the people next to me was putting out their left hand. So when we sorted the answers, I was stuck with this embarrassing FALSE answer to a question that is so obvious that it would be used to determine if I had suffered a concussion.

Trigger is Major Fun in a tiny round can. It comes with 60 cards, a foam target, and a concise set of rules. Each card is one of six colors on the front (orange, blue, red, violet, black, and green) and has six color coded questions on the back. Players receive 5 cards and one player starts as the referee. The referee asks a question. The other players race to slap the target with the correct hand. Once you slap your hand down, you cannot move it. This results in a pile of hands covering the target which the referee must sort out. The player with the first correct answer (the correct hand at the bottom) wins and receives the card. That player becomes the referee and reads a question that matches the color of the card they just won. The player with the first wrong answer (the lowest wrong hand) loses a card.

The game ends when one contestant runs out of cards.

You could determine the winner by who has the most cards. You could determine the winner by who made the fewest embarrassing blunders. Or you could just embrace the absurdities of human psychology that drive us to make responses we know are wrong just because we are under pressure and looking at other people. We could have kept score but we were having too much fun.

Trigger was created by Julien Sentis. It is © 2011 by Blue Orange.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/07/12/trigger/
 
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215. Board Game: LEGO Champion [Average Rating:5.92 Overall Rank:7859]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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LEGO is an elemental media of play: stick, ball, box, and LEGO. It is impossible for me to think about my childhood without LEGO present.

Colorful blocks. An ingenious locking mechanism. Simple pieces that can be combined into vast worlds. I am constantly amazed with the ways children can expand on the idea. I am also impressed with how the designers at LEGO suggest new and engaging ways for children and adults to think about this toy.

LEGO Champion adds another magnificent, Major Fun title to the company’s growing catalogue of board games AND it succeeds by utilizing the most basic piece of the LEGO universe: the 2×4 block.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed when I see all the different pieces that comprise the LEGO universe. Many are highly specialized pieces that were created for the themed sets. LEGO Champion eschews the custom pieces and delights the competitors with challenges that are based on only simple blocks. The game consists of a simple, rectangular game board; 8 LEGO people (each a different color); a LEGO Dice; and lots of 2×4 blocks (matching the colors of the LEGO people). The playing board must be constructed but it is very simple and clear instructions are included. Preparing the game for the first time didn’t take more than a few minutes.
Play moves clockwise. On his or her turn, each player rolls the LEGO Dice. Each face of the die is a solid color (red, yellow, purple, blue, orange, and green) that represents a type of challenge. When a color is rolled, that color of brick is placed on the game board, the player advances to that color, and a challenge ensues.

If green is rolled, JUMP AHEAD. The player simply advances to a green block and stops.

If red is rolled, the game is ON TARGET. The LEGO Dice is placed on the table and each player throws one LEGO brick at it. Closest wins.
Blue is CODEBREAKER. The roller puts three blocks together and the other players have to guess the order by asking only yes or no questions.
BLUFFING BRICKS is on orange. Every player grabs three bricks WITHOUT looking at them. Players bid on how many of one color are held in the hands.

Yellow TOPPLE TOWER was a big favorite. The roller places one brick on the table. The next person must snap together 2 bricks and balance them on the first. Play continues with each person snapping together one more block than the person before.

But purple SPEED BUILDER stole the show. The roller creates a sculpture of 8 bricks (one of each color) while the other players close their eyes. When the sculpture is revealed, the other players race to be the first to copy the creation.

The game is wonderfully customizable and the directions (oh those elegant, well-organized directions!!) encourage players to make up new challenges. The LEGO Dice can be modified in many ways—the game comes with four other faces that can be swapped onto the die (the bowling challenge was a blast). We were coming up with all sorts of games and variations as we played. Some of ours might turn out to be duds, but LEGO provides so many Major Fun examples that given a little time, families and friends will begin to accumulate their own personal favorites.

LEGO Champion really takes me back to what makes LEGO so vital and fun in the first place. It’s the same principle that often makes the box more fun than the toy in which it was wrapped. People want to play, and all they need are a few versatile pieces and some suggestions. Once they get going, the fun endures and grows.

LEGO Champion was designed by Cephas Howard and Jesper Nielsen. It is © 2011 by LEGO.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/07/11/lego-champion/
 
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216. Board Game: Dragon Face [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:5276]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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One of my personal tests for a good strategy game is what happens after I play. If I find myself walking around in a crowd, looking at people I might be able to jump, I know I’ve played something deep enough to engage my conceptual entirety.

Then, of course, I start thinking about who I can find to play it with me. Then about how easy it will be to teach. And how fun. And how impressed they’ll be when they see the beautiful fabric board and the hefty, two-sided pieces, and, of course, the long, red metal cylinder housing it all. And by that time, I know that the game I’ve just encountered is Major Fun.
Dragon Face is a bit like checkers and a bit like chess. Actually a bit more like chess than checkers. If you know chess, you will immediately understand how the pieces move. There are only three kinds: one, the Governors, move exactly like a pawn (one or two spaces forward on the first turn, attack only diagonally, can only move forward, and have a special power if they manage to cross the board). The other two are the Emperor (which moves exactly like a king in chess – one space in any direction – and, like the king in chess, if it is inescapably attacked, you lose); and the other, the ambassadors, moving as many spaces as they can, in a straight line.

But then you discover that they capture more like checkers – you don’t take the opposing piece off, you jump over it. And even then, you don’t take it off. You turn it over, and it becomes one of your pieces! (Similar to Shogi - the Japanese version of chess.)

Which makes you realize, eventually, that everything you know about chess – Indo-European or Japanese – is really no help at all. Which makes the game that much more interesting, that much newer.

Then, to add further fascination, the border around the playing area is called the “sacrifice zone” – which doesn’t sound too attractive if you ask me. But it is – oddly so. Some times, you find yourself jumping over an opponent’s piece, right into the sacrifice zone. If it’s one of your wonderfully powerful Ambassadors, the poor thing just stays there. Unless you manage to get one of your Governors across to the opposite side of the board, which, because of political implications too profound for a mere game maven, allows one of your lost Ambassadors to return to the conceptual fray.

All in all, Dragon Face is an exceptional accomplishment – a strategy game that is easy to learn, deep enough to engage a chess player, and elegant enough to invite your casual game player into extended strategic delights.
Dragon Face was very intelligently designed by Thierry Denoual, and is published by Blue Orange Games.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/07/10/dragon-face/
 
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217. Board Game: Wo ist Leo? [Average Rating:6.71 Unranked]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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We are aways deeply relieved when we discover a new, and unique children’s game. For some reason, parents tend to buy games that look like the games they played when they were children. When a new idea comes along, and when it’s this well executed, and this much fun, for people like us who care so much about kids and games, it’s something to celebrate.

Playing Where is Leo requires careful, but speedy observation. There are 28 “location cards” – made of thick cardboard, and brightly illustrated with storybook-like cartoons. There are two distinct graphic elements on each card. One shows a particular scene. The other is a thought balloon, in which an element from another scene is depicted.

To set up the game, all, except for 4 of the cards, are laid out in a circle. Face down. To start the game, all but one of the cards are turned face up. The card that is still face down is where Leo will begin his escape. As soon as that card is over, players look at the thought bubble on that card for the first clue. Then, without talking with each other, they try to find the location depicted in the thought bubble. When they discover that card, they also discover the next clue in its thought bubble. And on and on they travel, using only their eyes, until they think they’ve found the last card – the one whose thought bubble depicts a scene that is not present on any of the face up cards. That moment of very careful scrutiny can mean success or failure. Draw it out too long, and you may be right, but someone might be right before you.

As soon as a player thinks she knows which is the last card, she places a small wooden bone on that card. Other players can place their bone piece on different cards if they think that card marks the end of the trail. When all the bones are placed, or all the players acknowledge which card is truly the last, the player who has placed her wooden bone on that card wins the round.

To begin the next round, one location card is removed, and a new location card (from the four cards that were not dealt out) is put in its place.
There’s a smiling, wooden dog piece that is used to mark the beginning card, four very small wooden bones (one for each player), and 13 cardboard tokens (feeding dishes) to keep score. The first player to collect four feeding dishes wins.

Yes, the game is competitive. It’s definitely a race, and there’s no element of chance to ameliorate the intensity of the competition. But the challenge is so novel and engaging, and playing is so much fun, that losing really doesn’t have that much of a sting. Mentally traveling from card to card is a visual adventure – providing players with a deeply engaging, and challenging experience. It’s a race, but a fun one in which competition takes second place to the sheer joy of exercising skills of observation and interpretation.

Where is Leo was designed for kids from five-years-old up, by Michael Schacht with lovely, clear illustrations by Martina Leykamm and produced by Haba.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/07/03/where-is-leo/
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218. Board Game: Spell it! [Average Rating:5.84 Unranked]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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You throw the five letter dice into the conveniently felt-lined dice-throwing area. The letters appear: U S R S R. Though you only need to use three letters, you come up with the awe-worthy “RHINOCEROUS” – which uses all 5 cubes (scoring bragging rights) and earns you the 10+ chip. Yes, it would have been even better had this been the second or so turn, and you had exactly that roll and the category had been “wildlife.” But that, clearly, is neither here, nor there.

You collect your chip. Turn it over. And reveal the “Home Sweet Home” category, which entitles you and your fellow players to “any word related to things you can do or find in your home.” Can do or find. A bit generous for your typical Home Sweet Home category. But all the more welcome, eh? You toss the dice. The letters appear: P R R F U. And the race is on.
“REFRIGERATOR” you say? Good enough. More than good enough, even though you didn’t use all five letter cubes, as its 12 delightful letters earn you the right to pick up that most valuable of all 10+ chip, and to be the category-giver and the dice-tosser for the next round.

And so it tensely goes, players displaying verbal uncanniness, gathering chips, chip-after-chip-after-chip, until all the chips are used, or some pre-arranged score is reached or until you all can’t wait any longer to decide who the winner really is.

And no, you don’t get any extra points for using all the cubes. And yes, you can make it the rule that some people have to use more cubes than others, like, for example, because they’re younger, or because they keep on winning. But no, all you really have to use is any three cubes. And further no, it doesn’t matter if your word is longer than someone else’s if that particular someone else has already declared her particular word.
You can run out of a certain kind of chip. In that case, the winning player can take any chip. This adds a strategic wrinkle, if you’re interested in wrinkled strategies. If you can exhaust even the lowest scoring, four-letter-word chips, all the four letter words you come up with after that can earn you the 10+ chip, or whatever highest value chip remains. What this means is that, given the circumstances, proving your personal brilliance might not be the smartest move. Ah, so much like life, eh?

In addition to the dice there are seven stacks of chips, each stack worth from 4 to 10 points (indicating how many letters the winning word must have), each chip showing the score value on one side, and the category on the other. There’s one “Create a Theme” category which adds the opportunity for much interpersonal introspection and the opportunity to play compassionately or competitively depending on your whim and/or wisdom.
There are several other ways, in addition to your clever use of the “make a theme” category, you can fine tune the game to match the needs and interests of the players. As described, you can increase the challenge by making it the rule that everyone, or just the winning player, has to use more cubes in their word. In like manner, you can decrease the challenge. You can be more lenient in your definition of what meets a particular category (OK, you can use fictional characters in solving the Famous People category), or you can be more, shall we say, literal (only Russian authors). You can make the game shorter (by playing for a specific score or number of chips) or longer (playing for two or more rounds). This kind of flexibility significantly increases your chance to have a good game with almost anyone. And yes, you can play in teams.

Spell it!, from Blue Orange Games, was designed by Thierry Denoual, who also designed, among many other games, the Major Fun award-winning Yamslam, which also uses a similarly ingeniously designed, self-contained tin container to house dice, felt-covered dice throwing area, and seven stacks of chips, and yet, even more ingeniously, turns out to be an equally award-worthy, yet completely different game, entirely.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/07/03/spell-it/
 
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219. Board Game: Count Your Chickens! [Average Rating:5.21 Unranked]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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Count your Chickens is yet another significantly fun cooperative game from Peaceable Kingdom. It is the third of their cooperative games earning a Major Fun award (see Stone Soup and Hoot Owl Hoot). Like all of the five games currently in this collection, it is sensitively designed – sensitive to the environmental costs of producing a boxed game, sensitive to the way children play together best.

Of all their games, this one is designed for the youngest age group (children as young as three). It also has the very thing that many parents and teachers seem to need in order to justify letting their kids play games – an educational component.

We don’t give Major Fun awards because a game has anything to do with learning something. We give them because we think the game is fun, unique, inviting, easy to learn, easy to play, over and over again. A game that’s fun and also somewhat educational – well, there aren’t many of them at all, at all.

The educational component? Counting. Hence the name of the game. Hence the appropriateness for a 3-year-old. And the counting part is beautifully integrated into the game, adding a unique element to the excitement of the whole play experience.

When you open the clearly illustrated board, you see a windy path leading up to the chicken coop. There’s a large green field surrounding the path where you put all your chicks (small, round, chick-illustrated tokens). On the path are various animals and farm implements, with one exception the very farm animals and implements depicted on the spinner. That one exception is a cute, but pesky fox.

On your turn, you spin your well-made, freely-spinning spinner. When the spinner is all spun out, you look at the picture it is pointing to, and move to the first space on the track that shows the same picture. While you move, you count the spaces you travel. That number tells you how many chicks you can take off the field and put into the chicken coop. What a sweet connection to make, conceptually, and for the fun of the game. You can’t tell how beneficial a spin will be until you actually count out the spaces on the board. And, while the correspondence between the spaces on the track and the number of chicks further reinforces your understanding of the property of counting, there’s something magically fun about experiencing the connection.

O, and then there’s that pesky fox on the spinner. Land on it, and you have to evict one of your chicks from its happy place in the henhouse, and place it back in the wilds of the field. O, pesky, pesky fox.

So, you might not actually win. Despite your collective efforts and gathered wisdom, even if your parents are playing. So you might have to play the whole game all over again for yet another 15 minutes of gentle, cooperative fun.

Count Your Chickens was designed by Peggy Brown of Creative Consulting, LLC, with illustrations by David Walker. It is played peaceably, with 2-4 players.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/06/21/count-your-chickens/
 
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220. Board Game: Make 'n' Break CHALLENGE [Average Rating:6.08 Overall Rank:7184]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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Make n Break Challenge extends the popular Ravenburger series of games into the realm of head-to-head block-stacking death-match, where every move could be your last…

Until the next round.

The game is essentially a stacking race. There are 80 building cards that show what is to be constructed. Each card has a number that indicates the level of difficulty and the points to be earned (1-4). There is a card holder so that the opponents may both see the card. Each player is provided 10 colorful wooden blocks (2 red triangles, 2 blue cubes, 2 red cylinders, 2 green rectangles, 1 blue crescent, and 1 orange “bridge”) and a pair of wooden tongs.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment. A pair of wooden tongs, similar to those with which you would serve salad.

When a challenge card is revealed, the players race to build the structure on the card using only the tongs in one hand. And that hand? It has to stay behind a mark on the tongs so your fleshy, sensitive digits are almost 5 inches removed from the blocks you are attempting to stack. The first to complete the pictured challenge receives the points for that card. Another great twist in this game is the fact that the building cards have a wide variety of challenges. Many show a structure that the players must construct exactly as pictured, but some challenges allow players to make any structure as long as it follows certain rules. Some cards show the pieces that the players must use and the number of pieces that may be touching the table. Some tell how many can touch the table and how tall the structure must be. Some require the players to line the pieces up in order of size.

The wooden blocks present a significant test to human manual dexterity. They have heft, and their centers of gravity find interesting ways to spin in the grip of the wooden tongs. Their painted and polished surfaces are slippery. Add in the pressure of an opponent stacking and cursing mere inches from you and the Make n Break Challenge might be referring more to your composure than to the structures you are supposed to be building.
But once your sanity returns and your pulse comes back down into double digits you’ll find that you are itching for another go. And that feeling of an impending stroke—that was really the onset of Major Fun.

Although the game purports to be for 2-4 players (and only 2 play at any one time) we found that at least 6 could easily play by forming 2 teams and rotating through the “hot seat”. The pressure of spectators adds a kick to an already intense game.

Before I sign off, I also want to express our Major Appreciation to Ravensburger for the elegant and efficient packaging of the game. The pieces are solid and durable. The box cradles the game components in much the same way a custom toolbox has formed niches for each tool. And the card holder folds flat for easy storage. We at Major Fun appreciate the thought that goes in to the storage of our favorite games, and Ravensbuger deserves our praise.

Make ‘n’ Break Challenge is © 2009 by Ravensburger Spielverlag. Challenge version by Stefan Dorra and Manfred Reindl. Design by Kinetic, Ravensburger DE, and Kniff Design. Illustrations by Walter Pepperle.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/06/15/make-n-break-challenge/
 
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221. Board Game: Faux•Cabulary [Average Rating:5.85 Overall Rank:6947]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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Wordsmiths, rejoice, for you have at last been granted your game. Assemble your friends (three, at least; the more, the most definitely merrier). Assemble your wits and your sense of humor. Assemble your word parts.
To play Faux-Cabulary is to find oneself suddenly thrust into an intensely focused wordsmithy, where one’s inner wordsmith is challenged to cavort creatively whilst competing somewhat anonymously for the favor of the Wordmeister who determines which player (or team of players) has most successfully forged the perfect verbal coin, so to speak.

Faux-Cabulary is an ingeniously silly word game. One might even say “intelligently” when it comes to describing the silly that Faux-Cabulary brings into being – what one might call hyper-silly-icious, were one of that disposition, and should one find those particular word parts on three of one’s collection of word part cubes.

If one were counting, one would find 21 of such cubes in one’s Faux-Cabulary set, each face of each cube imprinted with a different word part. Along with the aforementioned cubes, one would also find 180, two-sided definition cards, each of which is so cannily worded so as to cause the silliness to leap several quanta. I exemplify: “That squishy, icy-cold last cherry tomato in the salad bar,” and “The aftertaste of a burp,” and “To constantly spend too much time in the rest room,” and “A person who gets pumped-up by listening to easy-listening music.”

One would similarly find six “cube covers.” These are cleverly designed cube-hiders, assemblers and conveyors, made of thin, but sturdy plastic, which one uses to: 1) hide one’s cubes from view as one is determining precisely which of the six faces of each of one’s three (or conceivably two or even one) word-part cubes to employ, in which order; 2) to cover one’s assembled cubes and 3) to convey one’s assembly to the current “Wordmeister” (a different Wordmeister meistering each round of play).
Key to playing Faux-Cabulary is to recognize that the goal is not to be “correct” (since that is impossible), but to know your Wordmeister well enough to be the whose “word” gets picked. Hence the humor, the outrageousness, the verbal shenanigans, the sheer, lovely, friendly silliness.

The game is designed by Matt Nuccio (click the link to read about the evolution of the design), graphics are by Design Edge, John Kovalic, and Cathleen Quinn-Kinney. This wonderfully fun, creative game is available, as one might guess, from Out of the Box Publishing.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/06/03/faux-cabulary/
 
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222. Board Game: Stone Soup [Average Rating:6.08 Unranked]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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You know the card game “concentration“? Of course you do. It’s that game where you turn all the cards face-down and then try to find matches. There’s got to be at least a hundred versions, mostly for kids, often for purported purposes, such as: memory training, image recognition, sight recognition, and on, and, of course, on.

Stone Soup is yet another game very much like the card game “concentration.” There are cards. You turn them face-down. You try to find pairs. But there are some significant differences of significant enough difference to make this game noteworthily Major Fun.

The most significant of these differences is that Stone Soup is a game you play cooperatively. If you win, so does everybody else. If you lose, you are most definitely not the only one. And this makes the whole concentration idea much more fun, especially when people of my age are playing with people of my grandchildren’s age, because, frankly, the minute I turn a card back over I pretty much can’t remember what it was that I had just seen. And three turns later, I absolutely can’t remember. And the kids can. Which means that they have at least as much to contribute to our winning the game as I do. OK. They have more to contribute. But I’m not talking about that.

There are a couple of other significant differences that make Stone Soup so much fun. Mixed among the pairs of yummy vegetable cards there are also “Fire Out” cards. Whenever someone turns over a card that says “Fire Out,” that card goes into the fire space. There are 10 fire spaces, and 10 fire cards. Now, as you so well know, in order to make a kettle of Stone Soup, you have to have a big kettle, full of water, and a big fire to heat everything up. And if the fire goes out, well, so much for the whole soup thing. Fill in the last fire space, and the game is over.

Fortunately, there’s also a Magic Stone card. If that gets found, it can be used to turn a Fire Out card back over before. So, if you do find a Magic Stone, you’ll want to save it. And once you use it, you’ll want to be absolutely sure to remember exactly where you put that Fire Out card you just turned back over.

So, it turns out that losing isn’t really anybody’s fault. There’s no blame. And winning is everybody’s win. And playing together, taking advantage of what actually is the shared memory, of what you might call the “group mind,” everybody gets to feel a little smarter, and rightly so.
Stone Soup, as all of the cooperative games from Peaceable Kingdom, is designed to be attractive to children. The theme is based on a familiar children’s story, the illustrations are bright, easy to understand, colorful. The equally colorful board sits on a cardboard platform in the box. There’s a hole in the middle. Stick your finger in, lift it out, and there are all the rules and promotional stuff, and an envelope full of pieces. Tear the envelope open, spill out the bright, stiff, cardboard pieces, and let the game begin. When the game is over, you have almost instant storage – just pour everything back into the box. The instructions are brief, and printed on the lid (printed on the lid! o, the sheer brilliance and non-losability of it all). The game can be played in maybe 15 minutes. Six people can play at the same time. And kids as young as 5 can easily grasp both the mechanics and fantasy of the game.

But as fun and valuable as it is for kids, it is even more fun and valuable for the family. Playing together, sharing memory, debating strategy, supporting each other, as equals – well, this is the stuff of love, the foundation of community, the very definition of family.

There’s a lot to be said for playing competitive games. Probably, too much, already. Clearly, there’s not been enough said for cooperative games. Unless you happen to be listening to Jim Deacove, founder of Family Pastimes, the inspiration for Peaceable Kingdom‘s cooperative game line, who’s been on my Admired Designers list for more than 40 years.

Peaceable Kingdom’s cooperative games are made responsibly. The paper used to make their games is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, the ink is soy-based, plastic parts, when used, are made of recycled plastic and are phthalate- and BPA-free, even.

Art by Laura Huliska-Beith. Award by Major Fun.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/05/20/stone-soup/
 
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223. Board Game: Triovision [Average Rating:6.59 Overall Rank:3943]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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Fat Brain Toy Company’s Tri-Spy is a pattern recognition game that takes a very small board and eight playing pieces and transforms them into a high energy, fast-paced mind-blender set on puree.

Or that’s the impression I got from my fellow players. I’m not too modest to say I rocked this game. And I will continue to rock the game so long as I do not play people like my brother-in-law—those people who play pattern recognition games like they are reading a Dr. Seuss book while I’m slogging through another tome of Dostoyevsky and wondering if I got the translated version or not.

Tri-Spy is very simple which is a criterion that recommends it to Major Fun. The board is a 4×4 grid. There are eight pawns (2 each of green, yellow, red, and blue). These are placed in a start pattern at the edge of the board. The start pattern never changes, but the pawns meander about as play progresses. Finally, there are sixty pattern cards 12 of which are arrayed face up around the board. Each card depicts a pattern of colored pawns that the players are trying to locate. The remaining cards form a draw pile.

Players score points by collecting the pattern cards in one of three ways. Option One: If a player sees a pattern that exists on the board, the player yells STOP, shows the pattern, and collects the card. This is rather rare. Option Two: If the player can make a pattern by moving ONE piece to an empty square, the player may yell STOP, move the piece, show the pattern, and collect the card. This is the most common way to score and results in the pawns migrating across the board like a flock of moths around a chandelier. Option Three: If there are no patterns, the first player to yell DEAD END gets to move two pawns to create a pattern, collect the card, and play resumes. This happened once in our game.

As cards are collected, new ones are drawn from a supply pile. Once the supply pile has been used up, the game is finished and players count the pattern cards they have collected.

The game comes with a great rule variation, called “Dashing,” in which each player has 10 cards face up in front of them. Players try to get rid of their 10 cards by making a pattern match BUT you can mess with your opponents. If you match one of your opponent’s cards, that card is thrown out of the game, your opponent must take one of your cards (as a replacement for the one you matched) AND draw an additional card from the deck. Play continues until one player has no more cards.

Frustration levels can rise rapidly but the satisfaction that comes from grabbing a pattern from someone who has been grabbing up cards every two heartbeats is exquisite. And Major Fun.

So I’ve been told.

Tri-Spy is © 2008 by IQ-Spiele and distributed by Fat Brain Toy Company. Authored by Susanne Galonska and designed by Mary Stadelman.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/05/16/tri-spy/
 
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224. Board Game: Befuzzled [Average Rating:5.38 Unranked]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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The real joy of reaction games is when things go wrong. Befuzzled from Fun Q Games gleefully directs players to perform the silliest actions in a split second. Your adrenaline is pumping, the decibels of laughter are crowding out all rational thought, and when the card is flipped, you know that you are supposed to flap your arms like a chicken but instead you moo like a cow and make binoculars with your fingers.

Great fun. Major Fun.

Befuzzled is simple party game played with cards that encourages a great deal of competitive silliness. The game consists of three types of cards. There are 24 Action Cards. These tell the players what to do. There are 8 Shape Cards. These are each paired with one of the Action Cards. There are 40 Flip Cards. These tell the players when to take an action.

Eight Action Cards are dealt face up. A shape card is placed on top of the Action Card so that everyone can see the shape and read the action. The Flip Cards are flipped by one of the players, called the judge. The Flip Card reveals a shape. All players, other than the judge, try to be the first to do the action that matches the shape. The judge must watch the players closely to determine who performed the correct action first.
In the case of a tie, the judge may be …er… persuaded, or the judge may order a tie-breaker of some kind.

As with a lot of reaction games, the rounds become more chaotic as they progress. In early rounds, players are looking for the shapes and reading the actions. After a few rounds, memory and instinct and anticipation kick in, and that’s when the mistakes start to happen. For me, the whole right-hand vs. left-hand concept seemed to get chucked out the window. More than once I had to bite back the phrase, “This is my left hand,” because I did indeed have my right hand in the air.

But it is the mark of a good game, a fun game, a Major Fun game, that the mistakes are as enjoyable as the win.

OK. Almost as enjoyable.

Befuzzled by Jeanine Calkin and Daniel Calkin. Illustration by Christine Payson and graphic design by Grand Prix Design Squad. © 2011 Fun Q Games, Inc.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/05/08/befuzzled/
 
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225. Board Game: Stomple [Average Rating:6.49 Overall Rank:4243]
Major Fun
United States
Indiana
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I was in the process of reviewing Stomple from Spin Master – an inspired use of the multi-hued marvels of marbles – when I was reminded of a fascinating video on how marbles are made. I know, I know. The game itself is what I should be telling you about, because it’s at least as marvelous as it is marbleous.

Nevertheless, before I go on, I find myself having to share this video with you. The hand-made marbles are exquisite, but I was struck by the mechanized marble production. Early in the process, the molten glass is cut and little blobs of glass fall into the interlocking grooves of long, cast iron screws. The blobs cool until they are recognizably glass marbles which then roll down through the chutes of sorting device: part Rube Goldberg and part Dr. Seuss. The machine makes thousands at a time. All those marbles. Where do they go?

Perhaps Stomple is their ultimate destination and purpose – a unique strategy game that pits 2 to 6 players against each other as the players stomp marbles off the playing board in order to trap their opponents.
The game consists of 49 marbles (7 different colors), 6 stompers (playing pieces shaped like a pawn with a marble on top), and the playing board. The board is what makes the game possible. Lots of marble games rely on rolling the marbles, but Stomple must hold them in place until a player can stomp them out of play. The marbles are randomly spread across the board. The board consists of a wooden box with a wooden lid. The lid is perforated by a grid of 49 holes, but the marbles don’t fall through the holes because there is a rubbery ring that cradles each marble in each hole. The marble doesn’t fall through the hole unless someone punches it down with one of the stomper pieces.

This game mechanic is so satisfying that many people will just want to set up the game and then punch the marbles through the holes. Forget the rules and the strategies. Forget winning and losing. This is like a sheet of bubble wrap (the kind with big bubbles) that you can replenish.

Luckily, the game itself turns out to be even more fun. The rules are quite simple. On your turn, starting with any marble on the outer rows, stomp any marble you choose. If there is another marble of the same color adjacent to your stomper, you must stomp that marble too. On your next turn you may stomp any marble adjacent to your stomper OR stomp any marble of your color anywhere on the board. This lets you jump around but it eliminates one more marble of your color. If a player cannot move (no adjacent marble and none of the player’s color), that player is eliminated. Play proceeds until all but one player is eliminated.

It is important to keep in mind that if there is a path of marbles of the same color, you must stomp the entire path once you start. Incredibly satisfying when you stomp someone else and heartbreaking when done to you.
The rules are easy to learn and there is a good deal of strategy that goes into your decision of what color to stomp and when to jump to your own color. The game proved at least as Major Fun for 2 as it was for 5 players. You play the game for score (or not) – the winner getting one point for each colored marble, and three points for each cat’s-eye marble left on the board. Everyone wanted another go, anyway, so those of us who like to carry a grudge to the bitter end found playing multiple rounds most satisfying. And setting the game up for the next round was as easy as pouring marbles from the Stomple box back on to the Stomple board. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.

Fun. Fun. Major Fun.

Stomple by Greg Zima. © 2010 Spin Master Ltd.

http://www.majorfun.com/2011/05/08/stomple/
 
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