Worm Up! Or, "why I review games"

Alex Randolph is the designer of Worm up! - a game that just received a Major Fun award. An elegant little game for children, adults, families. A minor masterwork.

There's a quote by Randolph on the side of the box. I think it explains much about why his game is as fun, and as elegant as it is:
"Somehow," he writes, "I feel that boardgames are the beginning of everything truly human, and so, ultimately, of the highest human endeavors, especially those which I find most precious, because they have no purpose outside themselves. They are, themselves, their purpose. Poetry, art, music, story telling, pure mathematics, pure science, philosophy...all are spiritual luxuries. Luxuries are things that delight us, that we long to possess, but that we can very well do without. They are not practical. They are not needed for our survival. And board games? Board games are luxuries, too, of course, albeit minor and marginal, but in the sense of non-utility, perhaps the purest."
Such insights explain much of what fascinates me personally about games, and why I devote so much time to reviewing them.

Speaking of which, here's what I wrote:

There's something gently lovable about Worm up! O, it's fun, all right. Major FUN, in actual fact. But it's funny, too. And so spare in its design that it's what you might call endearing.

The colorful little game box contains 5 sets (each in a different color) of 7 wooden hemispheres. These are used to make worms - take a set, put the hemispheres, hemi-side down, in a column, and there you have it, your basic worm.

Then there are 4 black cylinders. Also wooden. And some cardboard pieces. Thick, durable cardboard to be sure. One of these pieces serves as the finish line, and two of the cylinders fit on either end of it. The other two cylinders are placed about 2-feet away to create the starting line. The other cardboard pieces are also in 5 sets. Each set consists of 5 rectangular tokens, numbered 4, 5, 6, and 7, and one with an X on it.

Once the goal and starting line are set up, players line-up their worms. Each of the 3 to 5 players selects one of the cardboard tokens, places that token face-down on the table, and turns their tokens over simultaneously. Players who have chosen the same number token don't get to move their worms. The others move their worms, one segment at a time, starting from the last segment, and sliding that segment to the head of the worm, the player who chose the lowest number going first. The X token allows you to either move your worm (any number that hasn't been already chosen) or move the goal (which takes on evermore strategic significance as the game progresses). To move the goal, you put your finger on one of the cylinders (anchoring it), and then, with your finger on the other cylinder, rotate the goal as far as you want to.

You can move your worm in any manner you wish, positioning pieces so as to make it twist and turn to block your opponents, as long as each worm piece is placed adjacent to the piece most recently moved to the head of the worm. Even though you're just sliding these little wooden half-domes from the back to the font of the line, as the game progresses, the worms seem to move in a wonderfully wriggly, worm-like fashion. Because the pieces are so simple, the illusion is that much more powerful.

And of course trying to predict what tile the other players might choose so you can choose differently is endlessly surprising, turn after turn.

The rules are brief and easy to learn. The game takes maybe 10 minutes to play, though we had to play it twice before we felt that the game was over, and then had to have a quite serious discussion about why we should really be playing it at least one more time. It's good for families whose kids are a precocious 7 or older. It's good for kids. It's a good game to play between more serious games. The packaging is very spare - very little space is wasted.

Gentle fun. A happy little diversion.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Par Out Golf

We used to play a game called something like Paper Golf. I was a kid then, so that makes it a folk game, at least. It was a great little game - you draw something that looks like a golf hole. You take your pencil and try to get from tee to hole in the fewest number of strokes. If you hit something (a tree, a rock) or go into a sand or water trap, you lose strokes or have to start your next shot from that point. And that's pretty much it. Except you have to do it with your eyes closed!

It was such a good game that, ever since I first played it, I wondered why someone hadn't come out with a commercial version, one that takes the game as seriously as it deserves. I am happy to inform you that someone has. And it's called "Par Out Golf." And it's, as I might have imagined, most definitely Major FUN.

Par Out Golf is played on a set of spiral bound, laminated pages. Special "wet-erase" markers are used so the line is easy to draw, won't smudge, and very easy to erase. The rules are very, very close to the game of golf, complete with sand and water traps, obstacles and slopes. So close is it to "real" golf, you can play each of five classic variations of golf: stroke play, match play, tombstone play, and pro play.

Of the several skills you practice while playing Par Out Golf, a fascinating, and, to any golf player, significant challenge is learning how to visualize your shot. The more observant you are, the more capable you are at remembering the lay of the land, the more effectively you can imagine the exact amount of drive to put on the ball, the better you'll do. This, of course, is the essence of Par Out Golf. Like "real" golf, Par Out Golf challenges both mind and body. If you want to know more about the physical and cognitive aspects of the game, take a look at the thoughtfully included essay: Par Out Science 101.

If you want, you can practice on the Driving Range (on another page) or use the 19th hole (on yet another page) to design your own. You can add your own obstacles, changing the difficulty of each hole, essentially making the game something you can play for-just-about-ever.

Par Out Golf is recommended for 1 to 4 players (it comes with four different wet-erase markers). If you must try before you buy, you can download the first three holes here.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Waiting Games

"Boredom," I explain, "is the mother of playfulness. Desperation, the father. This is one truth that you can explore, in depth, while waiting in line with kids. The particular joy of this realization is the attendant discovery that almost anything goes. The longer the wait, the lower the criteria for gamish acceptability. Even games that are just barely games. Even games that you have to make up as you go along.

Here are some of my favorite creative word games, and several games that are less creative, mildly challenging, and comfortingly time-spanning."

These games could save your very sanity.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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If it's May 19-26, it's National Backyard Games Week

Patch Products is once again sponsoring National Backyard Games week, bless their fun-making hearts.

In his Herald Tribune article Come Out and Play, Gerry Galipault catalogs some of the games scheduled for National Backyard Games week:
"Physical Education Hall of Shame (They may try to ban them at school, but there’s no law against them at home: Dodge Ball, Duck-Duck-Goose, Line Soccer, Messy Backyard, Musical Chairs, Simon Says, Spud, Steal the Bacon and Tag. Just watch out for bruised egos.) Office Olympics (Who says you can’t have games at work? Be more like Dunder Mifflin.)

"Old standbys (Capture the Flag, Crack the Whip, Family Flag Football, Frisbee Golf, Hide and Seek, Horseshoes, Hula-Hoop Contest, Jail Break, Kick the Can, Limbo, Marco Polo, Mother May I, Red Light-Green Light, Scavenger Hunt, Stoplight, What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?)

"Suitcase Relay (Pack a suitcase with all kinds of clothes. Participants unpack the suitcase, put on all of the items and run across to a line of waiting teammates. The first team to complete the relay wins.)

"Other relay games (Baby Care Relay, Backseat Driver, Ball Relay, Balloon Head Race, Banana Olympics, Beanbag Bowling, Big Foot, Blanket Carry, Bucket Brigade, Chimp Race, Cup Stack Relay Knock Down, Dizzy Basketball. Water Balloon Volleyball (Throw and catch water balloons over a volleyball net using a sheet or blanket.)

"Other water games (Beach Ball Balance Race, Beach Ball Bumper Pool, Dolphin Relay, Fill the Bottle, Greased Watermelon Polo, Hole In The Bucket, Jump Rope Water Splash, Over/Under Game, Poison Pool Toss, Shaving Cream Shoot Off, Sponge Toss Contest, The Shark & The Mermaids, Trash Target, Tugboat Relay Race."
I, on the other hand, would rather see a National DIY Games Week, where families invent and teach other families completely new games to play. But that's me. And, though the games are mostly competitive, they're so many of them that most playful purposes should in deed be satisfied.

via Yehuda

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Chateau Roquefort

Caution, perspective owners of Chateau Roquefort, some assembly is required. Do not attempt to do this by yourself. Why, you ask? Because no one, not even those who buy games just so they can poke things out, can believe how unusually pleasurable it is to everso gently punch the many pieces out of their frame - lovely, thick, two-sided, brightly printed, silk-textured cardboard pieces so well pre-cut that seem to fall out on command. It is an indelible experience of something well-made. Something made for kids and parents and especially people who like to collect things.

And even more especially for parents who like to collect things who also like to play with their kids who also like to collect things.

Chateau Roquefort is another beautifully made, European game from Rio Grand Games. It's a game of strategy and memory. The board remains mostly covered during play. On your turn, you can uncover part of the board, and you just might reveal images of different kinds of cheeses. Also on your turn (you have 4 moves per turn), you can move one of your mice (you have 4 mice) onto the board, or from the entrance to one of the horizontally or vertically adjacent squares, or from a square to yet another similarly horizontal or vertically adjacent square. You can also slide a row or column of squares, perhaps to reveal new kinds of cheeses, perhaps to reveal an empty hole, perhaps to cause one of your opponent's mice (as many as 4 players) to fall into said revealed pit.

It is probably true that children as young as six can play the game. However, they would have to be exceptional - given that there are many, many pieces, the loss of which would pretty much significantly impair the replayability of a unique and expensively beautiful game.

The object of the game is to win cheeses. You win a cheese when two of your mice are on squares revealing the same kind of cheese. There are many different kinds of cheeses. And you can only win one of each.

This is an unusually intriguing play principle - trying to position two of your pieces so that they are both rest on the same kind of cheese. On a unique kind of board (sliding tiles, always only partially revealed). Conceptually, it's probably elegant enough for a six-year-old to understand. But we believe that it is best suited to kids who are old enough to appreciate the beauty of the game, the necessity for taking good care of it, and the complexity of the relationships between all the different kinds of moves you take on one turn. It's probably a little too cute (wonderfully designed little wooden mice) for most boys of that age. But, given all those caveats, for the right players, kids, adults, and especially families, the game is the kind you may very well treasure, for ever.

There are some concerns about storage - given that there are so many pieces, and that the board is actually integrated into the box. You'll find a thorough discussion of the ramifications of all this in this review. Our conclusion: despite all the caveats, the game is Major FUN.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Can't Stop, can you?

Can't Stop is the Majorest FUN of one of the Major FUNnest game designers I ever had the honor to know. The late Sid Sackson was a passionate, modest, and remarkably accessible game inventor and collector. His expertise, his appreciation for an elegant design, his love of play is everywhere evident in this most accessible of his games. And, thanks to Face 2 Face Games, you, too, may soon find yourself delightfully unable to stop.

Can't Stop is a dice game in which players try to be the first to claim 4 of the 11 rows (corresponding to all the combinations of two dice) on the Can't Stop board. You have 4 dice. You throw all of them, and then combine them into pairs - however you want. So, if you throw, for example, a 3, 4, 5, and 6, you can move one space forward in the 7 and 11 columns, or one space forward in the 8 and 10 columns, or two spaces forward in the 9 column - thus giving you just enough decision-making power to make you feel responsible for whatever fate awaits.

Can't Stop is perhaps the ultimate fate-tempting games. Because, you see, your turn doesn't end with one throw. Oh, no. You can throw and throw again. Until, don't you know, you don't have a legal move. If you only had stopped right before that, you could have progressed significantly up the board, coming everso closer to claiming a row of your own. But you didn't stop, did you. Oh, you could have. You should have. But, no. O'ertaken, once again, by the sheer bravado of your unassailable hopefulness.

You have three white pieces to move, and a bunch of markers to plant. You throw the dice and move one or two of the pieces. You feel somewhat sanguine about your next throw, knowing that you'll have at least one more piece to move regardless. Of course, any column already claimed by another player can't be used. Which is good (because any move that you can't make is not counted as a possible move) and not so good (because you have fewer opportunities to win).

If you have the good sense to stop at the right time, you remove the white pieces, and use your markers to indicate your progress along those columns. If you have the bad luck not to stop in time, all the white pieces are given to the next player, whatever progress you might have made on your turn is obliterated, and the game goes on.

The game always seems winnable, until it isn't. As more and more columns are claimed, the temptation not to stop becomes evermore profound. And the likelihood that you should've when you could've evermore self-evident.

Can't Stop can be played by 2-4 players. Or by that many teams. For anyone old enough to play checkers and appreciate the value of profound chagrin.

from Major Fun

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An American Game for the Fourth, July-wise

Playing WashersOne of the especially playworthy aspects of celebrating the Fourth of July is the patriotically-motivated urge to engage the entire family in family gamelike events. These family gamelike events are designed to complement the traditional "Before the Fireworks Family Picnic" and are characterized by activities of the horseshoe ilk. Of all the horseshoe-ilk games, the game of Washers is perhaps the most family-appropriate, and the most American. According to the International Association of Washer Players, "The history of the game is cloaked in mystery but lends itself to colorful conjecture. 'Betcha I can toss this here washer into that oil can over yonder,' someone might have wagered years ago. Most certainly humble roots fathered the game as participants used readily-available parts, a hallmark of the game that survives even today."

The association recommends "standard round metallic washers, 2.5" in diameter with a 1" center hole." In case you were wondering. In case you weren't, you can play Washers with just about anything round and flat, or perhaps not so round or not completely flat.

For those of us who seek immediate, commercially-available, official-looking, moderately-priced gratification, there's Bulls-Eye Washers from Fundex. You don't have to dig any special pits (as the IAWP states: "although not absolutely necessary to the game, pits add an aura of legitimacy, provide for easy maintenance of the soil, and aid in scoring measurements.")

The washers have that perfect heft and pleasantly graphic markings. And the boxes (one might call them "portable pits") are easy to cary and set up. They each contain the recommended 3-point-worthy PVC target, surrounded by a tastefully green carpeted secondary target area. I especially appreciate that the targets are so adjustable - you can put them any distance apart, so that you can play the game almost regardless of age or ability. Some kids find that standing almost on top of the box is more than enough of a challenge.

Wide is the variety and comparative delights of the game of Washers. At perhaps another commercially-available extreme, we have the game of Chuckers.

Chuckers washer tossing gameThe people who've developed Chuckers like to call it a "family tossing game."

By "tossing game" they mean a game that involves, well, tossing things, as does, for example, horseshoes, and a variety of bean bag and target games, and of course washers, which is strangely enough also called, "cornhole," and most relevantly perhaps that quoits game where you throw rings around pegs.

So, in a way, if you know any one of these games, you'll know how to play Chuckers. In another way, because it combines different aspects of traditional games to result in a completely different, and, arguably, a far more majorly fun game - because it's a family game.

By "family" they mean a game that can be played by just about anybody - especially if you're kinda loose about the rules. Which you can be, easily. Because the game is almost self-explanatory. Because the game is so well made.

And because the game is as much luck as it is skill. Very interesting - how combining luck and skill, in just the right manner, so that you really half believe that you can master the thing, learn the right control, the precision positioning of finger and ring and foot and eye, while at the same time, you half know that it's really luck, not skill - sheer luck that your ring thing landed around the farthest peg or into the farthest target or wound up leaning on a peg, giving you exactly 21 points! Just enough luck so that anyone, regardless of skill, can win. Even you.

The rings you toss are made of rubber and steel. They've got, what you'd call, "significant heft." The things you toss them into are even more significantly hefty. Thick, sturdy, and yes, what you could only call "industrial strength" plastic. They are connected by a rope which is exactly as long as the recommended distance between the two targets. It's a game you can leave out for a while, at a family party, in a playground, a park, a classroom...

All of which is to say that, in addition to commercially-available inspirations, there are perhaps a minor infinity of washer-like games, that can be made out of a similarly minor infinity of materials - sand dollars and sand pits, old CDs and shoeboxes, dead golf balls and toilet paper tubes.... To we of the make-your-own-washer-game perspective, the entire modern world is an invitation to play. (see also Shoeshoes )

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Ladder Golf

Ladder GolfIf you've already read about the game of Washers, and you happened to come across the story about Laundry Balls, you should most definitely be reading the very article you are reading now, because this is yet another throwing, backyard-type game you can make out of junk, or buy commercially, and propogate great fun.

Many are the varieties and approaches to ladder golf. You might begin reading about how you can make your own, traditional version of Ladder Golf. Top Toss

Or, you might consider the immediate satisfaction gained from purchasing this ready-made version, called Top Toss, which has the added benefit of a less-than-traditional trapezoidal design for that "I really deserved that score" feeling.

Or, perhaps you might consider reading the Wikipedia article to find out all about the rules and origins and stuff.

Spin It You might even consider something like the "Spin-It " version of the game, which, as you can so clearly see from the thoughtfully attached illustration, has 4 different goals (each a different color), on a wheel-like apparatus which turns as soon as a bolo attaches itself, thus, giving rise to a different goal of a different color and scoring value, or not, depending on how many bolos therefrom append.

How potentially fun is that?

From Junkyard Sports

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Hasbro's Express Games

Take three of world's most popular games - Monopoly, Scrabble and Sorry - and turn them into new games that you can play in 20 minutes or less. What do you get? Would you believe you get some genuinely new, significantly fun games?

You have to abandon your expectations just a wee bit to appreciate what Hasbro's new Express Games series. The Express version of Monopoly isn't what you'd expect if you're thinking Monopoly, as in the board game, with all that money and those wonderful playing pieces and the trading and the sheer vengeance of watching someone land on one of your hotel-laden properties. It's a kinder, gentler dice game, where your major opponent is your own greed. And the Express version of Scrabble? Also a dice game. Where you play on a smaller board. And after you move, you remove, actually, the word that the previous player made. Which makes for a new challenge each turn. A new game, really, where the focus again is not strategic, but on your skills as a wordsmith.

And then you have Sorry. Again, there's no actual board. But if Express Scrabble and Express Monopoly both express a swifter, and less competitive contest, Express Sorry is everything you'd want in a game of vindication and retribution. Again there is no board. Dice, pawns and discs. Each of up to 4 players or teams has a disc to indicate which color pieces she is trying to gather. The dice indicate which of the four different-colored pawns you can collect from the center disc, or from the other players' discs. The dice have, of course, a wild side. But even wilder is the "Slide" side which allows you to change the color you are trying to collect, or to slide any of the opponent's discs to a new color.

All of the Express games are far more than 20-minute versions of the board games they are named after. They are more than reinterpretations. They are different games. Games in their own right. And they will take you by surprise. Very fun, unique surprises that you will want to experience many times, with just about everyone you know.

from Major Fun

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Dominoes like you never played them before

You know how every now and then you come across this beautifully packaged set of dominoes, sometimes in a tin, even, and the dominoes are in deed very nice - hefty, colorful, smooth - and sometimes there's even some kind of lovely plastic thing that sits in the center of the table or some place, and keeps score or turns around or even makes noise - and yet it's still dominoes? You know what I mean. Dominoes, in a nice package, but it feels like dominoes, and it looks like dominoes, and it plays just like dominoes. And you can't help feeling just a little disappointed, just a little like you were hoping maybe for a really different game, something new, something that maybe used dominoes, but was more interesting, more challenging, more, well, different?

Despair no more, my playful friend. For Highrise Dominoes is in deed a wonderfully different game. And the base that is included in the lovely tin is really functional, really central to the game.

The object is to build a tower of dominoes. First, a basement is built - 8 dominoes placed, face-up, in the bottom of the turntable base. From then on, players take turn building on to the base, the rule being that the domino has to match the numbers it rests on. And yes, you can lay your domino so that it rests on two different dominoes. And once that domino is laid, you can lay another domino on top of that. And the higher the level, the higher the score.

It's a completely different experience of dominoes. There's so much to look at. Which is why you're so happy that the turntable turns.

There are clear plastic blocks that are used when the dominoes you want to match are on two different levels. Which is fine, unless the dominoes are on two different levels that are more than one level apart. And then comes the joyous agony of having to maybe (gasp) draw another domino.

There are also wild dominoes, there's a double, with both halves wild. And there are others with only one wild half. But, boy, do you get to love those wild ones! Seeing as they are often the only ones that you can play. Which you really want to do. Because the first player to use all her tiles can get many, many points.

From Major Fun

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Rukshuk, a.k.a. "The Game of Rock Balancing," is, as you might infer, a game about balancing rocks. Well, not actual rocks, but cunningly contrived, highly rocklike pieces, in 5 different colors. Highly rocklike - hefty, and irregularly shaped rocklike. There are long, flat white "bridge rocks" (each player gets two of these to be used as required). The collection of building rocks includes smaller white pieces, which only count for one point, but all have somewhat flat, and most accommodating surfaces. Thus one can easily imagine oneself building white rock towers and things. Whilst the blue rocks are only flattish on one side, so the idea of stacking one on top of another appears to be, shall we say, not such a good one. Then there are the green rocks (rated as "difficult"), and the highly irregular, 4-point-scoring red rocks (candidly rated "impossible") and of course the high-scoring, but extremely rare gold rocks. None of which is actually a rock.

Then there are the 25 challenge cards, each depicting rock constructs of various difficulty and geographic significance. The Pinnacle formation, for example, is purportedly found on the Galapagos Islands, whereas the Pigeon Rock configuration is somewhere near the city of Beirut.

Players each draw seven rocks from the rock bag, thereby randomizing the scoring potential and challenge, since you really can't tell what color rock you'll be getting until you actually get it. Got it? A Rukshuk card and the sand timer are then turned over to reveal the challenge for the round and to start the rocky contest. Players can build and rebuild their rock construct, attempting to place whatever higher scoring color rocks they have in their indicated multiple-point positions, or not. Once all the sand has fallen, all construction ceases, and the scores are calculated accordingly.

Rukshuk is a surprisingly well-balanced game, if you excuse the expression. It can be played as a solitaire, or with as many as fivc players. The pieces, the fantasy, the challenge cards all work together to make the game intensely involving, even for the nimble-fingered few, wirh just enough chance and strategic depth to entice the less-than-dexterous many.

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Shakedown is a dexterity game of clearly Major FUN proportions. Basically, you're balancing playing-like cards on top of a narrow platform, adding new cards with every turn. But that's only basically.

Let's start at the bottom. The bottom of the "tower" upon which the cards are balanced. The same bottom where all the cards are stored, and from which all the cards are drawn during play. Let's also take a moment to look at the tower itself, how it twists, as if to make it even more challenging to figure out exactly where the actual center of gravity might be. A lovely thing, actually. Colorful. Self-storing enough that you could throw the box away and take the game with you to every party and family gathering within which you find yourself and others. Note, further, that the cards, which are drawn one at a time from the base of the tower, are drawn from the base of the tower. The base. Whereupon the tower stands. Imagine therefore the increasingly precarious conundrum thereby imposed every time you attempt to extricate a card from the aforementioned - having to perhaps lift the tower upon whose top all those other cards are so cunningly balanced so that you can get your card and take your turn.

Let's continue to the deck itself. Some cards have different values. Other cards ask you to perform acts of evermore significant challenge, like "play cards with non-dominant hand" or "hold tower and spin around" or perhaps "previous player - blow once from 5 feet." And now, at last, to the top, considerably smaller than the base, and yet whereupon the cards are to be placed (two corners of each card not touching any other card).

All in all, an elegant, almost self-explanatory, somewhat Jenga-like game, requiring steady-hands, a willingness to fail, and just enough luck to keep you from taking it seriously.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Croqkick - putting the kick in croquet

Croqkick is one of my favorite games in this extensive collection of "Giant Games" from Lettuce Make Thyme. One of. There's also Giant Ludo to consider as well as, of course, a similarly giant game of Snakes and Ladders. The thing is, when games get giant, the fun gets bigger. Why? Because: 1) more of you is involved (body, mind, relationships), 2) you can't take the game seriously. Which means that despite your most competitive urges, the focus remains firmly on the sheer, unmitigated silliness of it all, and 3) you don't have to learn anything in order to play - because you already know the game writ small.

Croqkick is an obvious, and elegant example of all of the above. So, there are no mallets. So, as your P.E. teacher might say, the game helps develop soccer skills. And if you're in the UK or within cheap shipping distance, you can buy the game here, as well - "6 x giant metal hoops, 4 colored footballs, and a wooden winning post. All packed in a canvas carry bag."

This whole giant backyard game thing seems to be a European phenomenon. Lettuce Make Thyme is in Canada. One step closer for Amerikind.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Camp Wiki

The Camp Wiki is a resource for anyone who cares about groups - from camp counselors to business trainers. Right now, it is far from encyclopedic. There aren't nearly enough games described. But the games that are described are of proven play value, and many are as innovative as they are fun. For example, this very small sample of Big Games has only two games on it - Giant Billiards and Giant Scrabble (Boggle). Both they are both invitations to a great deal of fun, there's just enough about them to inspire the creation of more such games (did I ever tell you about Giant Foosball?), and, being a Wiki, and free, it's also enough to invite contributions from anyone who cares about groups and growth and fun. It's a fragile resource, dependent on its members for expertise and self-censorship. One that we should nourish and protect.

Funspotting by Dr. Roger Greenaway

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Apparently, Ringo is like volleyball, played with a ring. The inventor, Wlodzimier Stryzewski, was, at the time, captain of "the Polish épée fencing team for the Academic World Championships 1959 in Turin." He explains: "in my childhood I and a small friend played catch with a tyre which had come off a pram, which we would throw over the tops of horse-drawn carriages driven a long the main road of Sochaczew, my home town. Oh yes! The field can symbolize my body. The tyre – is my sword. There shall be no time limit between the catching and the throwing, so I never know when my opponent will begin his attack and in which direction, as in any fighting game."

I read on: "First, you have to throw the ring from the spot where you caught it, second – when throwing at least one foot must touch the ground. You may only leap when catching, never when throwing. Otherwise the defending party would have no chance at all and the entire game would be senseless. But why? – He demanded. Because it’s my game and my rules – I said."

Stryzewski has made it his game ever since, and has brought to it a vision and passion that borders on pure zeal.

"Ringo is a very simple game," he writes, "even though challenging, a fighting sport combining maximum effort of the soul and body with all the natural human movement: run, turnover, jump, catch, throw, bend. To be a Ringo champion you need forecast ability of the chess player, tactic and reflection of a fencer, with power of a boxer, flexibility of a ballet dancer, jumping ability of a volleyball player, speed of a sprinter, and precision of an archer, intellectual link with partners like a bridge player, space imagination as a pilot and endurance of a marathon runner. With a focus to make Ringo an Olympic sport America Ringo Association will be bringing closer the dream of the families around the world to participate in the Olympic games participating in the family category where parents with their children will play other families of the world in the spirit of friendship and peace."

Families. Cool.

from Junkyard Sports: The Blog

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Funny Together

It seemed to me curiously appropriate, yearly-speaking, end-wise, for a moment of appreciation. For you, first of all. And second, for that very sweet thing that sometimes happens when we get together - when we get funny together.

Which, beyond reminds me beyond serendipitously of an article I just published on the Deep Fun site. I called it "Funny Together." So enamored have I apparently become of this particular article that today I find it literally incumbent upon myself to read it to you for our little FunCast, and to invite you to read along, if you so desire, by clicking, obviously, here.

I begin, should you still so wonder, with the following:
Sometimes, we are funny together. All of us. At more or less the same time. Singing a silly song, maybe, playing a funny game. Walking a funny walk, talking in funny voices, in foreign accents, in slow motion.

For me, being funny together with my wife, my kids, my grandkids, is almost always the funniest, the deepest, the most deeply funny.

We’re not being silly. No way. We’re being funny together. Magically funny. Even when we are doing silly things, it’s not at all about being silly, it’s all about the funniness that we’re creating together. The magic of it. All about the laughter we are sharing.

I think those times when we are funny together, those amateurish, funny together times, we are funnier than comedians and clowns. Funny beyond clever. So funny, we are taken by surprise by how funny.

From Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Featherball - a Handy Game Around the World

This 24-page, illustrated and PDF'd booklet describes how to make and play Featherball. Yes, yes, it's a shuttlecock, all right, familiar to all those who've ever played or wondered about badminton. Yet badminton itself is only one of a vast, international panoplay of shuttlecockish pastimes.
there's "Funderbirds," for example, a non-competitive game, similar to the perhaps far more familiar game of Peteca (which you, of course, might know better as Indiaca), only played without a net or court, like the bimillenially-played, Southeast Asian game of Chapteh but not like Jianzi, except no one is eliminated.

It is but one of many instructively playful resources awaiting those who download from it from Teamwork and Teamplay available to the connected many through the expertise, good will and generosity of Jim Cain, Ph.D.

funscouting by Roger Greenaway, author of the provocative and appropriately playful piece Reviewing for Fun.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Balancing Act

Balancing Aliens never disappointed us. And we were already excited, just opening the box. And from there, it just got more and more exciting. Such an elegantly made instrument of fun, so finely tuned, so subtle, so strategic, so silly.

The kind of silly you have to watch very, very carefully, and think about alot. That you can expect to get when you have a round game board, with bowling pin shaped pieces, that sits on a big screw, that can be raised or lowered, for different skill-levels. A board that has two sides, each of which a totally different game, each just as obviously the only game possible.

I mean, you could play it with 7-year olds who could probably beat you. And the very steady-of-hand 80 year old. And those of the less-steady persuasion could direct others where to move and get just involved in the strategic implications of it all. And you could be each as strategic as you can possibly get, and still, anyone might win, might be drawn inexorably towards adding just one more alien, teetering on the very precipice of improbability. Until lured by both scoring and collective-admiration potential, you upset the delicate balance, and all fall down.

Though dexterity is a definite advantage, winning the game is all about intuiting its strategic and physical dynamics. Even if your hand is not steady enough, you can still direct some younger hand and feel fully engaged in play.

Balancing Aliens is a fun toy and a fun game. Major FUN. As in award-winning. It's a near perfect model for what a good family game should be like. Because it's based on physical as well as strategic properties, and because the strategic properties are so well expressed by the physical properties, the rules of each of the two balancing games are as apparent to kids as they are to grown-ups. Kids will play with kids. Grownups with grownups. Kids with grownups. Equals in skill and delight.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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SET gets a Major FUN award

Today's Major FUN Award goes to a SET, a card game of perception and logic for one or more players, age six and up.

SET is such a fun challenge, so absorbing, so elegantly designed that it got the Major Fun award even though it's not really a party game (though, conceivably, there's no upper limit to the number of players), or a particularly new game (it was invented about twenty-five years ago) or the kind of game that makes you laugh.

Each card has from one to three symbols of one of three different shapes, of one of three different colors, either outlined, shaded or solid. This outlined, shaded or solid bit makes for yet another complication, so the SET makers, if I may so designate them (actually, it's SET Enterprises) have thoughtfully packaged the cards in two separate decks. The smaller deck contains just the solid ("filled") symbols, and is, consequently, much easier to play with.

The game begins by laying out twelve cards, face -up. Simultaneously, players compete to find three cards that comprise a SET. A SET is: "three cards in which each of the card's features, looked at one-by-one, are the same on each card, or, are different on each card." My wife understood this immediately. After playing several rounds, I discovered myself understanding it (I could find SETs) but still not being able to verbalize exactly what a SET is. Apparently, it's one of those left-right brain things. Which is key to why this game is so compelling. And why it works so well with even school-age kids. And why it's won so many awards. Including the coveted Major Fun award.

Also, because the design is so elegant, it invites variations, several of which, including a cooperative version (always my favorite) are described on the SET site.

SET Enterprises also offers a daily puzzle. It's a great way to get a sense of the game, and a genuinely absorbing challenge in and of itself.

SET is a great family game, a great game for school kids, an equally great game for adults, to play by yourself or at a party, or in a restaurant... Challenging. Elegant. Most truly Major FUN Award-worthy.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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If you've ever played Pictionary, you know how strangely cryptic, and yet amazingly effective drawings can become. As you get more familiar with the game and with each other, you reach a point where you can communicate remarkably abstract concepts with just a few lines.

Squint, from the consistently innovative and well-made games of Out of the Box Publishing is today's Major FUN Award-award winner.

Instead of drawing, you use any combination of Shape Cards to construct your clue.

Since it's so Pictionaryish, it's really easy to understand how to play. Until, that is, you actually try. And then it seems impossible. Until you keep trying. And, oddly enough, it is quite possible. Challenging, you bet. But surprisingly possible. As the game goes on, and people become more familiar with the shapes and what you can do with them (you can even "animate" them by sliding sections back and forth), it gets more and more intriguing. It definitely requires ingenuity, creativity and good imagination. Which makes the experience all that much more compelling.

There are three different words or phrases to try to guess on each of the 168 Squint cards (well, six if you count both sides). The role of a die determines which of the three you must use. (We decided not to use the die, and leave the choice up to the clue-giver. The challenge is deep enough at first, and, even though the three different choices are assigned different levels of difficulty - and point value - what may be difficult for one person to communicate can prove easier for the next.) The scoring is exceptionally compassionate. Both the guesser and guessee get points for a correct response.

Rounds are timed, so gameplay is fast and tense. The longer you play, the more adept you become at giving and interpreting clues. Eventually, you astonish each other with your collective brilliance.

We learned to use a ruler to indicate the bottom of the construct. We also seriously contemplated looking for a white surface upon which to arrange the cards. But, as the manufacturers so eponymously explain, squinting really helps.

Squint is a unique, brilliantly challenging guessing game that makes people feel good about their individual and collective genius. For 3-6 players, ages 12 and up.

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