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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Play Like Gods

There are far too many games for young kids in which someone has to lose so someone else gets to win. Sure, it's a basic truth of life and all, but many young children really have difficulty with losing. And playing a zero-sum game isn't a very good way to help them learn how to cope with losing and/or winning.

So I wrote this article.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Torus Games

Here's something else to be thankful for. Torus Games is the latest of Jeff Week's wonderfully playworthy, genuinely educational, free, downloadable Geometry Games (both Mac- and PC-compatible).

Jeff explains: "Eight familiar games introduce children ages 10 and up to the mind-stretching possibility of a “multiconnected universe”. Games include: tic-tac-toe, mazes, crossword puzzles, word search puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, chess, pool and apples. While playing the games, kids develop an intuitive visual understanding of a model universe that is finite yet has no boundary. Players who master the games on the torus may move on to try them on the more challenging Klein bottle. Even though the games were designed with kids in mind, adults interested in topology, geometry and cosmology have also found them enjoyable and enlightening."

It is a gift, supported by the National Science Foundation and people who seem to care about kids and learning and believe in the educational value of play.

Let us give thanks. Let us play.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Gratitude Dance

It's called "The Gratitude Dance" - an invention of Matt and Brad of Junior Attractors - something just a wee bit silly, playful, and spiritual - the Gratitude Dance.

I grow sometimes suspicious of these things that use fun for a purpose, and there's something quasi-religious about gratitude, but, for G-D's sake, already, the Gratitude Dance is good, sweet fun, loving fun - just the kind of fun you'd want to think of your teens having, just the kind of fun that even your silly old self might want to be having with them.

via David Cicia's Bliss of Peace weblog

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Booby Trap, at last!

Booby Trap is what you'd call a "classic kids' game." It's been around since the 60's (originally a Parker Brothers game), and has been recently re-released by Fundex. For kids old enough to appreciate the patience, dexterity, observation skills, and luck necessary to win, Booby Trap is a study in fascination.

An assortment 63 pieces (three different discs, each of a different width and color, each with a peg handle in the middle) is literally squeezed in the playing frame so that they are as tightly packed as possible. The squeezing is achieved by attaching a rubber band to a "tension bar" on one side of the frame. The goal of the game, then, becomes to remove as many of the discs as you can without disturbing the tension bar.

The larger pieces are, of course, worth the most points, and are, equally of course, the most difficult to remove. And yet, oddly enough, if you are very observant, or lucky, you might easily pick one that, despite appearances to the contrary, lifts out with the greatest of ease and heart-lightening joy. Of course, after someone's judgment or luck proves to be less than successful, and the bar moves, and other pieces get sprongged off the board, the tension, for the next player, is considerably, so to speak, released.

There is a rule which can be very difficult for younger children to observe - the one about having to move whatever you touch. The desire to test before plucking frequently overwhelms the need to play strictly by the rules. Those who are old enough to appreciate the sagacity of the touch-it-pluck-it rule will derive immense satisfaction, and the sometimes shockingly violent evidence, of the efficacy of their observational powers, and will be moved more quickly to laughter than to tears in either event.

This restored release of Booby Trap also includes a variation which allows for a shorter game. Six narrow boards are included, one for each of the up to six players. Each board shows a different sequence of pieces that must be selected. It's a good challenge, and, depending on what happens before your turn, and what size piece is next on your board, often surprisingly more than adequate.

From Major Fun

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Kids, Magic, and The Confoundingly Crazy Crate-O-Mystery

The Confoundingly Crazy Crate-O-Mystery (from Fundex Games, available here) is a confoundingly clever way to introduce kids into magic. They get magic apparatus (ok, toys), comic book-like instructions, and an instructional DVD that shows them how each of the ten tricks included in this kit is performed, and the secrets that make each trick work. These materials are central to the magic of the Cofoundingly Crazy Crate-O-Mystery. The biggest obstacle to mastering any illusion is learning how to do it. You can go to a magic shop and buy hundreds of wonderful tricks, but when it comes to learning how they work, and how to perform them, you have to rely on cryptically written instruction slips, usually in small print, that convey little if anything of the art of it all.

Most of the 10 magic tricks are performed with with the assistance of wonderfully toylike apparatus, which is exactly how it should be. There's plastic monkey with detachable tail, feet, arms, hat and banana. And a sheet of tattoos. There's the crate itself, made of sturdy cardboard with magnetically sealing doors on 4 sides. There's a special magic handkerchief. And some other stuff. I don't want to get too specific here, because it might give away some of the secrets to the Confounding Craziness of it all. You'll also need two cookies and a dime. And I can't tell you why.

Magic is a very special kind of play. It's part science and part theater. The Confoundingly Crazy Crate-O-Mystery is a well-presented introduction and invitation to a unique form of fun - one that can last a lifetime. Especially recommended for kids who are old enough to read (8 and up), disciplined enough to practice and perfect their secret arts, and enjoy being the center of awe-struck attention. Major FUN, indeed.

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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Gobblet, Jr.

It was more than two years ago when a game called "Gobblet" became the first strategy game to get a Major FUN Award. Today, it's Gobblet, Jr., a simpler version of Gobblet where the goal is to get three-, instead of four-in-a-row.

What makes the game so attractive is: 1) it's based on tic-tac-toe - so, if you know tic-tac-toe, you'll be able to understand how to play, pretty much immediately; and 2) it's way more interesting than tic-tac-toe. Way. Each player gets two sets of nesting cylinders. Players take turns placing any of their cylinders down anywhere on the board. And yes, if you have a larger cylinder, you can even put it on top of your opponent's cylinder. Which, you probably already see, has enough strategic implications to make playing the game utterly fascinating. OK. Maybe not as utterly as Gobblet, uh, Sr., where you have three sets of nesting cylinders and are playing on a 4x4 board on an even more woody box, but definitely utterly enough.

Though it's called "Gobblet, Jr," it's not getting a "Kids" award, or even a "Family" award, but a full-fledged, adult-worthy, Thinking games award, just like its bigger brother.

See, at the last Tasting, I didn't tell anyone about the other Gobblet. I showed them Gobblet, Jr., and I said, look, even though it looks like a kids' game, play around with it as if it were a big person's game, deserving of the best of your very adult selves. And they did. And it was. Even in its simpler, 3x3 version. A game to be taken most maturely. Even if kids like it, too.

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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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It's called "Spit." It's also called "Speed," which is actually more descriptive of a major prerequisite for playing this game of double solitaire. But I think Spit captures the experience a little better. Not that anyone actually spits. But there are times when you find yourself somewhere between drool and slobber as you try to balance strategy with speed. Given the mind-and-card-bending delight of the frolicsome fray, the game is frequently, and mistakenly relegated to children. It is this egregious error in judgment that led to my renewed interest in the game. This, and the discovery of a most satisfyingly competitive online version that one can play, for virtually free.

I needs must point out that Spit/Speed has been the inspiration for more than one family-frenzy-worthy card game. Like, for example, the Major FUN Award-winning Qwitch. Qwitch goes beyond Spit, as it were, with its own unique deck of cards bearing both letters and numbers, and the canny use of a special die that changes the criteria for the order in which cards get played.

If you find Spit and Speed insufficiently amusing, you might consider the more sedate, semi-strategic, turn-taking game of Spite and Malice. Very adaptable. Spawning many significant variations. Playable by a minor multitude. Spit-like in concept. But not Spit.

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