The ten funnest games of 2009

Of all the Majorly Fun games we played in 2009 (until November), here are the 10 funnest:


HABA Ball Run

The HABA Ball Track Building Set is, by all measures, a toy to treasure. Made of European Beechwood, the pieces are beautifully finished, and a pleasure to touch, lift, position, reposition. The basic set includes just enough ready-made sections of track and tunnels to make the purpose of the toy immediately accessible, and more than enough building elements to invite curiosity, imagination and endless elaboration. The HABA Ball Track Building set will engage children in hours of play, exploration, design, construction and, above all, experimentation.

Truth be Told - "The Laugh out Loud Pretend to Know your Friends Game

Before we delve too deeply into the nature and wonders of Truth be Told, let me ask you to fill in this particular blank: "The most expensive thing I purchased last month was ____________ " And by "I", I mean "me," majorly speaking, fun himself. Now, on your paddle-like, write-on, wipe-offable, nicely thick True Answer Paddle cards, write the answer that you think was the one I gave. Remember, you get one point for everyone who votes for your answer. And one point if you vote for mine. (If you wrote down my answer, I find myself that much closer to you as well, insofar as I get a point too.) And now, one at a time, in sequential order, everyone, except me, of course, reveals their answers. I then, with great flourish and conceptual fanfare, reveal my "true" answer. Scores are recorded on the convenient, also write-on and wipe-offable scorekeeping card. And then, on to the next Truth Teller.

Dixit - a party game of subtlety, sensitivity and creativity

Dixit is a surprisingly lovely and subtle party game in which players try to guess which image was selected by the "storyteller." The rules are simple enough to learn in a few minutes. The 84 large cards are beautifully and evocatively illustrated. And the whole game can be played in well under an hour. The subtlety of the game comes from the scoring system and from a growing understanding of the art of being a successful storyteller - for art is what it is.

Tumblin' Dice

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

Worm up!

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. 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. Gentle fun. A happy little diversion.

Word on the Street

Take all your consonants except for the ridiculous ones like Q, X and Z. Put them on your satisfyingly hefty bakelite tiles. Now, make a long game board, like a 4-lane highway with a divider strip just wide enough and long enough to accommodate all of your happily hefty letter tiles. Next, get together a deck of 216, often surprisingly laugh-provoking, double-sided category cards, like: "The Brand of Clothing Worn by One of the Players," and "Something that is Wasted," and "Something Used by Scuba Divers," and "A Word that Describes a Car Crash," "A Title Used for Males but not for Females." Add a cardholder and sand timer. And those are all the ingredients needed for a new and notably Major FUN word game called "Word on the Street" from those frequently Major FUN game publishers, Out of the Box. Everything, of course, except for the rules. And there in lies the tickle.

The Bilibo Game Box - a child's tool kit for game invention

The Bilibo Game Box is not just a toy. It is a tool kit for the very young game designer (age 4 and up) and an invitation to inventiveness for the rest of us. The Game Box contains a die with interchangeable faces and six sets of differently-colored discs that fit in each face. There's also a set of six, plastic, hand-sized "mini-Bilibos," in each of the six colors corresponding to the colors of the discs. The Bilibo Game Box is remarkably innovative and brilliantly designed, but the real value of it only becomes apparent when it is used as a tool for playful, inspired invention.

Monopoly Deal

Before I go into too much detail, let me tell you this: Hasbro's Monopoly Deal is fun. It's a card game that gives you that Monopoly feeling. You build monopolies and even put houses and hotels on them, and pay for them, in the millions of dollars - all with a deck of cards. But it's faster, and shorter, and easier, and at least just as much fun.

Bananagrams - a crossword tile game you can play everywhere with anyone

Bananagrams is a word game that uses letter tiles - 144 unusally finger-friendly, bakelite letter tiles. Basically, you draw a bunch of tiles and try to assemble all of them into a crossword array. If you succeed, you draw another tile. And so does everyone else. Because the game is so simple to explain, it is also simple to change - to adapt to different skill levels, different environments and time constraints. Read, for example, Lance Hampton's exemplary story of how he plays Bananagrams with his kids. We're working on variations for teams, and maybe even cooperative versions.

Consensus®

Consensus® is a party game - the kind of party game to which you will eventually be comparing all other party games. If your kids are old enough, it's just that kind of family game - the kind you'd want your family to play. It's a game that makes people laugh, think, talk and listen to each other. Most of all, it's the kind of game that brings people together and keeps them together.

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I Can't Complain

During a recent conversation with my friend Zalman (see this story to get an idea of what a blessing his friendship has been to me), I asked him how he was feeling - a perfectly reasonable question, considering what getting older does to people. He said something like: "for a man as old as I am, everything's fine." I knew this was not a good report. And so ensued a dialogue about getting old, about the failing body and the increasingly apparent justification for kvetching - Zalman being stolidly anti-kvetch, Bernie, nevertheless, pointing out the actual fun, if not necessity, for a good kvetch.

It can most definitely be fun, don't you know, kvetching: embracing the abject agony of existence - in particular, yours; rejoicing, in your miserable way, at the extent of your daily suffering.

For Zalman, however, it turns out to be a joy best denied. For him, it is better to spend life celebrating life.

Which reminded me, as I apparently needed to be, of why I chose to call myself "Major Fun" in the first place. Sure, I know the joys of kvetching, believe you me, and how much fun a good group kvetch can be. On the other hand, kvetching isn't something you do with a guy called "Major Fun." Laughing. Playing. Being silly. Not wallowing in the muck of misery, not delving into the depths of despair - but jumping as high as you can, for joy.

Times being what they are, I need to be constantly reminded. And if you remind me, maybe I'll remember to remind you.

So yes, call me Major Fun. And when you ask me how I'm doing when I'm not doing well or feeling well or acting well, I'll probably say something like "I can't complain." Because, see, as Major Fun, I can't complain - not as Major Fun, not now, not when there's so much fun to be made.


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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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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Send virtually anything to virtually anyone, virtually for free

If you happened to find yourself in such a position, and you wished to express, materially, in a virtual-sort of way, your personal appreciation for my ongoing existence, you might very well wish to send me a gift of some sort - especially if it didn't cost you anything. The question remains, however, what to get me. I've narrowed it down to: Pottery Classes, a Digital Camcorder, and a dress-up outfit. As an added incentive, if you happen to choose the one I really, really, really wanted most in the world, given only those three choices, you'd get three thumbs-up points and so would I! So, see, I really do want you to guess the one I really want, because then we both gets thumbs-up points. So the game is about giving each other things, things that'd be nice to be able to give each other, virtual, no-cash-value gifts that nonetheless are genuine acts of thoughtfulness.

This is GiftTRAP Live, Virtual GiftTRAP, yes, the Major FUN award-winning GiftTRAP of that very same name. Only, it's online now, and it's all grown-up into a game for online social networks, if you know what I mean.

On the one hand, it's a kind of an eCard, so to speak, a nice virtual thing you can send people. Way more personal than a joke. Just as much fun. On the other hand, it's a great way to start that "what do you really want for your birthday, or holidays" conversation. So it's like Web 2.0, see, interpenetrating virtual and actual space. Now that you know that I'd actually prefer the dress-up outfit, you know where to shop for me. And you can shop online, even. And it's like one of those Mass Multiplayer Online Games you sometimes read about, like Second Life, only the life on GiftTRAP's stage is kinder and gentler and more fun.

It behooves me to admit to a personal interest in this project. It was a comment I made back to the Nick from GiftTRAP that kicked off this whole project, and I've been lucky enough to kibitz on various iterations of this game as its evolved.

Which is why I get to be the first to blog about it going live.



from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Q-BA-MAZE

Q-BA-MAZE is a marble run construction toy, in the tradition of Boyongolo, the HABA Ball set, the Quercetti Marble Run, the Skyrail Marble Run Roller Coaster, and, of course, Cuboro. In the tradition of, and yet, unique, and uniquely worthy of our collective attention.

Actually, all these toys, and many more like them, are worthy of our collective attention. Building a marble run engages both creative and scientific reasoning. Every design must ultimately "work," not only aesthetically, but also mechanically. No matter how good it looks, if the ball doesn't go where you think it should, or if the run isn't as long as you hope it should be, you're just going to have to build it differently.

Now, back to Q-BA-MAZE. I promise not to use the word "amazing" more than once - after this. First, allow me to use the word "cube." As in Cuboro, the basic building block is a, well, block. Unlike Cuboro, there are only three types of blocks, they are made out of a durable polycarbonate, translucently acrylic-like plastic, and they fit together in most satisfyingly interlocking configurations. They can slide into each other along their sides, they can be stacked on to each other, they can be built up and out into cantileverishly cunning constructs. They also work. One of the three, the one that opens on both ends, works in a most curiously delightful manner. It is a switch, of sorts. With no moving parts. But when a ball drops into it, the ball will often hesitate before traveling left or right, sometimes hesitate a most tantalizingly long time, as if deliberating. And this turns out to be a particularly delicious deliberation, adding just that extra touch of surprise, just that extra change in rhythm that makes the whole, multi-colored construct that much more surprising, that much more engaging.

Q-BA-MAZE comes with a bunch of steel balls - not because they're easy to lose, and definitely not because they're easy to swallow (hence, the small child advisory), but because the more balls you drop into it, the more complex the pattern of the fall, the more fun it is to watch - a visual equivalent of the difference between melody and symphony.

Watch the video, read the blog, construct your own myriad of delights, or build any of the configurations you find online, like this one, if you happen to have purchased the 50 count set (36 blocks and 14 balls).

You'll be amazed.

via Major Fun

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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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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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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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Dots Amazing!

You need a real artist to take a simple children's puzzle, like Connect-the-Dots, and transform it into something worthy of mature, adult-worthy consideration. A real artist.

And that's just what David Kalvitis is, an artist. And that's just what he's accomplished with his many Dot-to-Dot books.

Let me give you a few examples:
Stars puzzles: You start at number 1, as you would expect, and continue connecting dots in order until you come to a star. Then you have to look for the next number, which could be anywhere else in the puzzle, and continue from that number to the next star. And on and on, number-to-number-to-star. Jumping around from place to place on the puzzle, you really have no idea what you're drawing, sometimes until the very last star.

Arrows: You see this big field of arrows - no dots at all. Just arrows. So there's absolutely no visual hints about what the puzzle is about. You look for a circled arrow and start there, following where it points until you come to another arrow, and you take off in that direction. Of course, if you make a mistake, just one, small, easily explicable error, you soon find youself wandering realms of graphic chaos. Which is why, despite Kalvatis' heartfelt recommendations that all his puzzles be done with a marker, we find ourselves frequently recommending a soft pencil with a very good eraser.

Compass: Here, you get nothing but an array of dots with a few symbols sprinkled in hither and yon. You look for a star and, then read the directions printed above the puzzle. And I do mean directions. Like, from the star, go: N (North(, and then Wx2 (two dots west), and then SWx2, and then on and on and on, and if you do it exactly right, you'll end up at an A. And then, from the A, you start on the next line of instructions....
For an elementary school teacher, the different puzzle types involve skills that are closely tied to the mathematics curriculum. For the rest of us, they are an invitation to return to a deeply satisfying, often remarkably peaceful pastime.

These are but three of the innovative, challenging and inviting variations of connect-the-dots Kalvitis has created for us. And, if you're a social puzzler, it turns out that many of them can be solved cooperatively - especially the big puzzles, or puzzles like the Star puzzles that you solve in segments.

There are five volumes of the "Greatest Dot-to-Dot" series, so far. The first four are a great introduction to the wide variety of puzzle types. The fifth volume is most appropriately called "Super Challenge," where you'll find puzzles that span two pages and hundreds and hundreds of dots. There are also four volumes of Kalvitis' Newspaper Dot-to-Dot puzzles - smaller, but every bit as innovative.

Each puzzle is a work of art in its own right. When you complete a puzzle, you are rewarded with images that are themselves often surprisingly vivid, sometimes rich in detail, sometimes spare and subtle. Often drawn in perspective. Never stiff. Never blocky. Always surprising.

from Major Fun

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Stack revisited

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

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

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

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


from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Rukshuk

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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Puzzling Fun

Before we talk about Pete's Pike and some of the other delightfully new puzzle/games from ThinkFun, answer me this? Have you ever tried River Crossing? If not, stop reading now, click on the ThinkFun, answer me this? Have you ever tried River Crossing link, and try it right now, on-actual-line. How about Rush Hour? Tipover? Go ahead. Click away. You can play all three. It is to sing the puzzle electric.

Of course, you'd be missing the feel of the puzzle/games themselves, the well-made, cleverly designed, intelligently portable, box-throw-out-able packaging of it all. But you'd get a good sense of what these puzzle/games are all about - how they involve moving pieces on a board, pieces with different properties, boards with different layouts. And how each layout is really a new puzzle. And how the puzzles range in difficulty. And, most importantly, from a major fun perspective, how they invite kibitzing.

The different levels of challenge allow you to challenge yourself as much or as little as you want to. Go ahead, start with the the first card. Be a beginner. Enjoy your competence. Feeling feisty. Skip a card or two. Try something intermediate. Because you can challenge yourself as much or as little as you want, the puzzle/games are especially fun - you never feel yourself overwhelmed or bored (unless you want to be).

Then there's the kibitz-attraction - because the puzzles are visually attractive, and because what you're trying to do is generally easy to explain (see, I'm trying to get this goat (Pete) to the top of the mountain (OK, the middle of the board), and I can move Pete up or down or across from where he is until he's right next to one of his Goats. And I can move the Goats the same way.) So, if you're feeling social, and you want that wonderfully collaborative experience of thinking together with somebody, well, then, you've got a game fun enough to play at a party. And if you're not feeling so social, you can just sit on the sofa, all by yourself, and still have significant fun.

So the very design of these ThinkFun puzzles is the very kind of design that lends itself to Major FUN-ness. And when you have a bunch of these puzzles together (in addition to Pete's Pike, we had HotSpot, Cover Your Tracks and Treasure Quest - all new, each fun), you can amaze yourself and friends at how darn clever these puzzle/games really are, how each, similar in all the good ways, is so different, in similarly good ways.

Take Hot Spot. Very, very similar to Pete's Pike, you might say, except with "Bots." Only, Bots can jump over each other. In fact, a Bot can jump over two Bots, if it feels so compelled. Not diagonally, of course. Very different. You have to think a different way. Not like your Pike's Pete thinking, oh no. Not at all.

And then there's Treasure Quest and Cover your Tracks. Not quite as self-storing, perhaps, but with a significantly adequate drawstring storage bag, for those who seek portability and boxlessness. But very different from Hot Spot or Pete's Pike. Cover Your Tracks, with its four, large, asymmetrical pieces that fit on the board in only certain ways, and its slide-under puzzle cards, very, very different from Treasure Quest, with its sliding gate and four kinds of square tokens (you gotta love the Gold Masks that you push/side along the board), and your statuesque, token-pushing Hero - and yet, in a way, remarkably similar to all the other ThinkFun puzzle/games. Similarly well-made, similarly ingenious, similarly fun, differently puzzling.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Balanko

Balanko is such a straightforward invitation to fun that you almost don't need to read the rules. There's a ball on a string. There's another ball that rides a curved track. There are pits of various score values - the center and widest pit being, naturally, both the easiest to get the ball into and of the lowest value. There are sliding scorekeepers to keep track of your achievements.

One player releases the rolling ball. The other player releases the swinging ball, hoping that the swinging ball will hit the rolling ball into a high scoring pit. The only other thing you might want to know, suggested-rule-wise, is that the ball-roller, sitting on the opposite side of the game, can try to catch the ball-swinger's, uh, ball. Which is actually a good idea, given that if she doesn't catch the swinging ball, and the rolling ball is still rolling, her opponent can try to catch it and again take yet another swing.

If nothing else happens, sooner or later the swinging ball is going to hit the rolling ball anyway. On the other hand, it could make the rolling ball go into either the ball-swinger's or the ball-roller's pit. So, if one player doesn't catch it, the other player might consider it strategically sound to grab for the swinging ball as soon as it's in range.

Setting it up is a bit less straightforward, but the instructions are clear, the steps few, and it is easy enough to do (once you rid yourself of certain expectations about how it "should" go together) that you won't mind having to take it apart and put it back together. Though you'll probably want to keep it assembled and ready to play with for-practically-ever.

We've given Balanko the coveted "Major Fun Family Game Award" because it is the kind of game that will be as much fun for kids as it will be for adults and probably even more fun for kids and adults together. For similar reasons, it's also getting a Party Games award, even though only two people can play it at a time. And, if that's not enough to interest you, you should know that it is being seriously considered a Keeper.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Cineplexity

What's the name of that movie? The one with a Native American, or maybe a Hawaiian. By a river, I think, or a lake or a stream of some sort? Oh, you know what I mean. Yeah, that's it, Blue Crush. Wait, there's another movie, also with a river or lake or stream, and there was a wheelchair, I think, or was it a crutch, no, a cane. Wait, could that be Cane River?

Is part or all of this conversation at all familiar? Have you now or ever engaged someone in a similar movie-related dialogue? Well, then, Cineplexity is, without doubt, the very game you should be playing at this very moment, verily.

We were actually amazed at how fun this game turned out to be. Sure, it reminded us of the oft-touted, trend-setting, Major FUN-award-winning, Out of the Box Publishing easy-to-learn party game Apples to Apples. As well it might, considering that it is published by the aforementioned themselves. But, you see, it looks so Apples-to-Apples-like with its many cards and simple rules and calling out for 4 to 10 players and stuff, that you'd assume it's pretty much another of those many Apples to Apples variants, only about movies. But you'd be wrong. It's a different game. Completely. Sure, there's a judge (cleverly called the "director"). And the Director doesn't actually play, because s/he has to do the, um, judging. But that's it, Apples-to-Apples-similarity-wise.

In Apples to Apples everything is relative, the actual degree of relativity determined by the judge. In Cineplexity, you have to come up with a "real" answer - a verifiable, actual movie including, beyond doubt, the actual scene or props, or belonging to the specified genre, whose characters have the certifiable characteristics depicted by two, or perhaps three, of 504 the randomly drawn Cineplexity cards. And, amazingly, there seems always to be at least one movie that usually at least one person knows that matches precisely.

Oh, the intensity. And oh, oh, the brain-wracking. And, ah hah hah, the laughter.

Cineplexity. Surprisingly different. Not so surprisingly fun.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Shakedown

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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Whoonu

Whoonu? Good game. Good question. As in "who knew." Or, "who knew, out of a choice between goldfish, sand castles, climbing trees and fried chicken, you'd like climbing trees the best. Sure, sure, those people who don't know you from Adam wouldn't know such a thing. But even me, your best friend?"

You get 300 cards (a significant amount, but one can't help wonder if there are even more cards waiting to be expanded thereunto), six stacks of six chips, each stack worth one more point, and a small envelope in case you want to be extra certain that no one can see who thought what about you. So, on this turn, you're the one. Everybody else gets four cards. And sure, given that there are only four out of 300 cards, it's just as likely that there'll be something or nothing that you'll really like amongst the four. You remove the cards from the envelope of secrecy, contemplate them for a bit, and then place them, face-up on the table, in order of what you deem to be least to most favorite. Players then claim their cards, and you reward them with the corresponding chip - the highest scoring chip going to your favorite.

The game is just short enough to keep it light, just long enough to keep it involving. The game mechanic of the chips (when the chips are all used up, the round is over) makes the game that much easier to play.

And that's pretty much that. Simple, elegant, just enough luck to keep you from taking anything seriously, just enough to make you want to know as much about everybody as you can. For sure, you'll be learning a lot about each other. For also sure, you'll be laughing a lot, surprised a lot, feeling somehow closer to each other, having had just enough fun so that you don't really care who actually won - because just getting to play Whoonu together is already very much like winning.

Thanks to Kevin and delightful daughter Kelsey Eikenberry for introducing me to Whoonu. Feel free to thank me for introducing it to you.



from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Acronymble

Acronymble is most definitely a party game, and most assuredly a game that will make you laugh. Hence, most probably, Major Fun.

MAJOR. As in More Active Jollies Organized Ridiculously, or, perhaps Mighty Attractive Jauntiness Of Ribaldry, or even Mellifluent Acronym Judging Oscillates Randomly.

Players compete (more or less) to create phrases or sentences (you get an additional point of your acronym is a sentence) from a collection of randomly drawn tiles. The number of tiles is determined by the draw of a card from the Length Deck. And what you have to do with them is determined by the draw of a card from the Composition deck. There are four different kinds of cards in the Composition deck: one tells you to also use a nonsense word, another to use only words that start with the same letter, and another to select any word starting with the chosen letter, and make an acronym from it. And the fourth kind of card tells you to do what you would have done anyway without the card.

Everyone but one player (the master of ceremonies for that round, a.k.a. the "NYMWIT") votes for a favorite. Votes are tallied. Players move the corresponding number of spaces on the board, et, obviously, cetera.

How long you have to think is determined by the throw of a die, which tells you how much time to set on a tension-inducingly noisesome kitchen-type timer.
The rules are written with enough humor and playfulness to keep people from taking the rules too seriously - there are constant invitations to make up your own rules, suggestions like "If a player doesn't finish in time, don't disqualify them (maybe drum your fingers or whistle a bit)." Whistle and drum we did. Laugh a lot we also did. Major FUN was most definitely had.



originally posted in Major Fun

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Meaningful fun, Major fun, and Deep Fun, too.

I was reading an article called "Happiness 101." So I found myself thinking about doing "meaningful" things. Things like being engaged in meaningful work and doing meaningful deeds and having meaningful relationships and making meaningful nises such as those contained in today's FunCast.

Thinking about all this meaning because the article described a connection between meaningfulness and happiness. And, after significant intro- and extrospection, I came to a natural conclusion: meaningful stuff is fun. Saying, doing, thinking, acting, working, learning almost anything actually meaningful, is always fun. Really fun. Deep fun.

Almost anything meaningful is fun. Even if you're cutting potatoes in a food kitchen for the poor, it's fun. It's a feel-good fun that comes not from what you're doing but who you're doing it with and for.

But when the thing you're doing is itself fun, like, for example, batting a balloon around, and you're having fun batting the balloon with the people you're batting around with, and they're having fun, with you, with each other, and they are people who need to have this kind of fun almost desperately - children, the hospitalized, the institutionalized, the people of countries at war, the less-abled, less-skilled, less-lucky - well, that's a unique kind of fun, a life-fulfilling fun that really needs it's own name.

For the time being, I'm suggesting calling this specific kind of fun, and equally specific kind of meaningfulness, "Major fun."

"But," you everso rightfully exclaim, "Major Fun is a whole nother thing - an award, see, given to, if I'm not mistaken, 'games that make people laugh.'," you right-as-rainedly observe.

"Precisely," I respond, quoting myself, "When a game makes you laugh, whether you're playing alone and laughing or playing with others and laughing with them, it's not just a game, it's an event. And at the moment of the event, the fun you're having is as meaningful as breathing. Deep Fun. Meaningful fun. Major fun. If you know what I mean."



from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Cosmic Cows

Cosmic Cows - you gotta love them cows. Tiny little, doll-like, plastic cows. All ten of them.

And then there's the game. You know Yahtzee? OK. Think of it as Yahtzee with cows. And you're playing a Yahtzee kind of tug-of-war with your opponent, trying to get maybe all 5 dice the same so you can super beam the middle cow, as it were, all the way to your winning zone. Kinda like getting a Yahtzee in, uh, Yahtzee. Or maybe a full-house so you can move one cow three spaces closer to you and the other, two. Before, of course, your opponent, no doubt, pulls them back. Ten different cows to shoot for. Five different dice. The number of spaces a cow gets to move depends on how many dice show that number. Oh, and you get three rolls, like as in, well, Yahtzee.

But it's not Yahtzee. It's Cosmic Cows, and darn if those little cows and that dicey equivalent of tug-of-warring them back and forth across the board doesn't make it feel like something really different than Yahtzee. Not like a dice game at all. But a board game. And a sweet, light, semi-strategic board game it is. One that has very cute little plastic cows and is really easy to learn how to play - especially if you know how to play games like Yahtzee.



from Major Fun

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Five funnest games for 2006

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

The Five Most Major Fun party games for 2006 are:

Wits and Wagers combines trivia with betting to create a unique party game - one that can involve anywhere from 3 to 21 players in an evening or half-hour worth of relatively painless trivia questions and sometimes near-painful strategizing.

Knowbody Knows, for example, exactly how many hours Tom Hanks sleeps in a week. Probably not even Mr. Hanks knows that. So, OK, so you don't know. You can still guess. Because, see, it's only a guess, and, as the designers of the game are so ready to remind us, Knowbody, actually, Knows.

Quelf is a silly game. For those of us who are mature enough to appreciate silliness as an art form, it is both a bench- and a watermark of wackiness. If you find yourself unwilling to, for example, "suck your thumb in silence and start rolling the dice. When you roll a '3,' shout, 'Get off my land!' in your best chipmunk voice," mayhap Quelf is not exactly your kind of game.

GiftTRAP is a party game about giving each other gifts. The better you are at giving people the things they really want, the better you do at the game. How do you like that for a party game premise? giving each other presents. Well, we loved it!

Luck of the Draw is described as "a game for the artistically challenged." And I am happy to tell you that this turns out to be a remarkably accurate description of the very people who will have the most fun playing it: the people who don't like games that make them draw.



See all my articles about these games.


Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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In10sity

In10sity, you see, is Trivia-like in it's nature, but a kinder, gentler, and significantly Major Fun-worthy Trivia game.

In10sity is called that way, because all of the 700 trivia-like questions can be answered with a number, a relatively small number, between 1, and don't you see, 10. Which makes all the difference between the Trivia games of known Triviality, and this cleverly, but perhaps misleadingly Trivia-like game of In10sity. If it's numbers, you can just guess. And if you're right, it doesn't necessarily mean that you knew anything at all about the question in question - not as necessarily as it means that it could have been just dumb luck. Or perhaps some uncanny sensitivity, some ability to empathize to the point of... Nah. A lot of times, it's luck. I mean, how many Danny DiVito's do you think it would take to reach the top of a bamboo plant?

Funny, impossible, sometimes requiring actual knowledge, In10sity is party-worthy Trivia game, designed specifically for people who are more interested in testing their collective capacity for luck and laughter, than in demonstrating superior knowledge.

Everything included in the game, from the board to the "answer dials" and the three different dice - giving variable scoring potential each turn. Well thought-out, well-produced, worth playing again and more than likely again.



from Major Fun

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Beyond 99

Zeus on the Loose is quite solidly based on everything that makes the kids' card game 99 fun to play. And, quite like the Major FUN-awarded game Straw, it makes a good game, better.

Zeus on the Loose adds new cards, with new powers, a lot more interaction, and a Zeus statue.

Let me summarize the root game, as it were, according to Pagat, who classifies 99 as an "adding game": "These are...games, in which the values of the cards are added together as they played in a single pile, the object being to avoid taking the total above the target score (98, 99, 100 respecively)."

So, you see, if your card has the power of, for example, reversing the digits (one of my favorites), you can make the card total, which is currently at, for example, 93, become 39, don't you see.

Interesting. Fun, even. But it's the "lot more interaction" that earned Zeus on the Loose it's Major FUN for Kids award. It would have to be. Because the added functionality and the significantly silly images of male and female Greek gods, and even the cool little Zeus statue cannot be compared in fun value to the Stealing Zeus rules.

You see, to win, you must be the Holder of the Zeus. To be the Holder of the Zeus, you must steal it from a player who is currently Zeus-Holder. O, you steal quite openly, there is no deception involved. Merely the experience of complete, if temporary, vindication. And then it gets stolen from you. And you can't win without it. And then you do a "Same Number Sneak" (see the rules), and steal it back. And, well, it's like a whole nother game, as it were. Like 99, sure. And Straw. But a whole new level of fun.


from Bernie DeKoven's FunLog

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Reinventing Tic Tac Toe

Flip-Tac-Toe is a 3-in-a-row game on a 4x4 board for 2-4 players. And that's not all. It's a Tic-Tac-Toe game that breaks almost every convention of Tic-Tac-Toe, and yet, when all is said and done, is still definitely Tic-Tac-Toe.

You get 12 big bright foam chips apiece. You put one of your pieces anywhere on the board. Or you move a piece anywhere on the board. Yes, that's right, I said move "a" piece, as in any piece, as in one of yours or one of anyone else's. Anywhere. Even on top of another piece (unless there are already 4 pieces on it). And if there are stacks of pieces, you can also turn a stack over, on your turn, so to speak.

A stacking strategy, they explain, is to try to get your color on top and on bottom of a stack, like a sandwich - so that it always stays the same color even when flipped. Very interesting. And very different when you play with 3 or 4 people, stack-sandwich-making-strategy-wise.

Easy to learn, because it's tic-tac-toe. Takes a while to master, because it's so much more.






from Bernie DeKoven's FunLog

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GiftTRAP - playing with empathy

GiftTRAP is a party game about giving each other gifts. The better you are at giving people the things they really want, the better you do at the game.

How do you like that for a party game premise? giving each other presents.

Well, we loved it!

What fun to think about what other people might want for a present! What a fun thing to think about for a change! What a fun way to play with other people - giving presents to the very people you're trying to beat, winning because you're good at guessing what other people might want!

OK, so they're not, like, real presents. They're only photos. But in the world of GiftTRAP, they're real enough. So real enough that you actually get excited when people give you the gifts you really want. Really excited. Even though they get more points than you do. And you're just as excited when you give people the gifts they most really wanted. Because they get excited. And, just maybe because you get more points than they do.

GiftTRAP is masterfully packaged. The board, for example, is folded into a U-shape that fits everso well into the GiftTRAP box (well, cube, actually). Since each player has to use a lot of different pieces (2 scoring markers, 9 gift tokens, and 4 choice tokens), all of the player's chosen color; the pieces come in their own individual, appropriately colored organza drawstring bags. Then there are the many decks of cards - 640 of them. Just so you never run out of something new to give each other.

But it's the game itself that deserves the most attention, and praise. Praise, because it's probably the first and only party game in which empathy is a strategically valuable commodity, empathy and intuition, sensitivity and appreciation, even.

GiftTRAP is a new kind of party game. A kinder kind. A Major FUN kind.




from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Junkyard Sports Foundation

Apparently, during a giglag (giglag - time spent between jobs), I decided to form a one-person Junkyard Sports Foundation. Really. A foundation. A genuine, grant-making organization - except that what the Foundation grants is fun, and the organization is pretty much me.

Though the Foundation is newly organized, it has self-funded and maintained several online publications for years, including this weblog. One of the Foundation's most recent grants, also self-funded, is the worldwide, online distibution of the complete instructions for conducting the Junkyard Golf Course and Community-Building Event with Potluck.

For more Foundation activities, stay tooned to this weblog, and associated Foundation-supported weblogs (Junkyard Sports and Major Fun).

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Senior-Worthy Games

Last week, I wrote a piece called "Games Seniors Play.

Spurred to action, I, your local Defender of the Playful, have created yet another Major Fun award. For games that are good enough to interest the grown-up mind, without making too many demands of a somewhat outgrown body. I am calling this award the "Major Senior-Worthy Fun" awards.

So I started with games that have already been recognized in a Major-funlike manner, and singled out those games that don't require too much speed or dexterity. Each and all a genuine challenge to mind and wit, all and each an invitation to mature, skilled, grown-up, fun.

Should you know of any other games that we should seniorly consider, please leave word.

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Tumblin-Dice

Think of perhaps shuffleboard with dice. Think, for example, of a shuffleboard that is on five levels, with, where there were once pucks to slide, dice to, well, slide perhaps or flick or shove. A shuffleboard looking pretty much exactly like this.

Think further of the role, or roll, of luck - how the dice, even though you try to slide them everso carefully, tend to change faces when they descend a level. There's an intimation of the possibility that one could control all of this, making the die land 6-up even by the time it reaches the X4 level after having knocked all the opponents' dice to off-table oblivion. On the other hand, there's an unavoidable element of luck which makes a 7-year-old often as successful as a 57-year-old. Think of this, and you'll understand, almost immediately, why Tumblin' Dice has received a Major Fun Family Game award.

If you know shuffleboard, you'll know how to play Tumblin' Dice. When I introduced the game at the Tasting, I asked my fellow Tasters to play the game without looking at the rules. With almost no discussion, they played almost exactly the way the designer had intended them to. Because the game was so easy to figure out, it is exceptionally welcome in a variety of settings, especially recreation centers, classrooms and my house.

Speaking of classrooms, the game requires enough arithmetical calculations to make it actually useful in almost any elementary school setting. When a die lands in special scoring sections of the board, the face value of the die is multiplied by a given factor. So, in figuring out a total score players exercise both additional and multiplication, and, one might argue, even algebraic skills.

But don't let its educational implications fool you. Tumblin-Dice is an invitation to minutes or hours of play, for kids, for adults, for the whole darn community. Did I mention adults? The kind of adults who might be interested in playing, um, professionally?

It's made as well as it plays - a big, polished, two-piece all wood, table-worthy game that you might never put away. Ever.

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Play! The Art of the Game

Play! The Art of the Game is a new exhibit at the Cobra museum in Amstelveen (near Amsterdam). According to the promotional description, the exhibit "reveals that play and playfulness are inextricably linked to the art of our time. There are marked parallels between the areas of art and play. Both are separate from everyday working life, are self-regulating, irrational and aimed at pleasure."

Though I've often written about the play/art connection, the following description is a far more informed, and useful overview of the influence of one over the other:
"Game and play have been defining impulses for major 20th and 21st artists. Innovative thinking and the experiment were their guiding principles. Marcel Duchamp dedicated himself to the game of chess and gambling, Hans Arp, Hugo Ball and Kurt Schwitters aspired to a more playful interpretation of the concept of art by using word games and chance, the Fluxus artist George Maciunas made a funny-looking ping-pong table, in their film 'The Way Things Go' Fischli & Weiss play around with the concepts of action and reaction, Jean Tinguely made moving constructions while Laurel & Hardy act like children in the film 'Brats'."
Thanks to fun scout Martin Booman for this find.

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Wits & Wagers

Wits & Wagers combines trivia with betting to create a unique party game - one that can involve anywhere from 3 to 21 players in an evening or half-hour worth of relatively painless trivia questions and sometimes near-painful strategizing.

The trivia questions are all answered with numbers. e.g.: "How many times to the Beatles sing the word 'Yeah' in the song She Loves You?" and "According to July 2004 estimates, how many people live in the U.S.?" Players record their answers on write-on, wipe-off cards, with write-on, wipe-off markers (supplied). What makes this all somewhat kinder and gentler is that the likelihood of anyone knowing the actual answer is very low. So, it's more like a guessing game - anything from educated to wild will do. Which makes the whole game far more inviting and replete with jollitude than most exercises in trivia.

Then there's the betting. Answers are arranged numerically on the heavy duty vinyl betting mat (probably one of the thickest and most durable ever put into a game). The median answer has the lowest pay off because it is the most likely answer to be correct. Higher and lower answers have increasingly higher pay offs since they are riskier bets. Players bet their chips on which guess is the closest, without going over (what one might be tempted to call the "Price is Right" rule). Since you don't have to bet on your own guess, the betting round is like an exercise in second guessing, only with more information. Like what each player is willing to bet on which answer - especially since you can bet on two different answers. As your opinion tends to undergo massive changes once you see what all of your friends think, winning Wits & Wagers becomes less a demonstration of what you know than of how well you know the people you're playing with!

Designed by Dominic Crapuchettes, Wits & Wagers is a rare accomplishment - combining two ordinarily very different game concepts into something unique and uniquely playworthy.

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Very, Very Big Bubbles

We took this picture during our last Tasting. David and company are on our front lawn, learning to use "beebo Big Bubble Mix" to create what can only be called an XTREME bubble. "Our mission," say the XTREME Bubble Team "is to manufacture and distribute to all people, the most exciting, amazing and revolutionary bubble solution in the history of the world! We believe that if every person in the world had a chance to play with beeboo Big Bubble Mix, the world would become a better place." Yes, beebo Big Bubble Mix, the same beeboo Big Bubble Mix used to blow the " the World's Largest Free Floating Soap Bubble."

There was no question at all about the Major FUNness of the XTREME bubble-making experience. I personally have never seen bubbles so large, so ameoba-like in their blobitude, so surprising in their floaty formations. Not having made an exhaustive comparison, I can not attest to the fact that beebo Big Bubble Mix results in the biggest of all possible bubbles. It worked. It was easy to mix, easy to make work. Learning to use the bubble wand was most definitely an integral part of the whole experience. As a connoisseur of all things fun, I can tell you that this stuff is great fun. And I mean great!

At a purported savings of $6, you're probably going to want to purchase the entire 1 Bottle of beeboo™ Mix & 1 Bubble Wand starter kit. Then, you'll probably have to get the 2 bottles of beeboo™ Big Bubble Mix, unless you find yourself ready for the 4 bottles of beeboo™ Big Bubble Mix

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Paradice

"Paradice is interactive art, a game of give and take. Players explore decisions made in response to changing circumstances and engage with the contradictions of competing needs."

Interactive art? At almost $200, it better be art! And fun, too.

It is my honor to be able to inform you that Paradice is both.

The pieces. You have to see them in the light to really appreciate how the hand-poured resin seems to shine with its own internal brilliance.

The game. You have to play it. Because playing it completes the artwork. Which means you have to read the rules. And learn about the pieces. Pieces that have names like: Opportunity, Circumstance Changer, Human Being, Forest Spirit, the Rainforest, Palm, Coniferous and Deciduous trees. Yes, that's correct, Forest Spirit. It's clearly a strategic game, with some element of chance (Opportunity looks and acts exactly like a round die). But then there's the thing about being either the Giver or the Taker. And only the Giver can win. So if you're the Taker you might think that your only purpose in life is to keep the Giver from winning. Until you are able to internalize the strategic implications of the rule that at any moment, depending on the roll of Opportunity, you might have to change roles entirely.

As you continue playing, the whole game seems filled with light and delight. You finally see through the game (Paradice being only the first product of a company called "See-Through Games"), and begin to perceive the artist himself, John O'Neill. "John O'Neill," begins his artist's statement page, "is an artist committed to the realignment of art with society in forms that people can appreciate and afford. He pursues the synthesis of artistic inspiration with insight into the human situation."

He is also a friend of mine. Which, in the case of this review, is a mixed blessing. I am not as impartial as I should be - not enough to actually give this game a Major Fun Award. And because I have the honor to know him personally, when I see through Paradice to the artist, I see someone of vision and integrity and an abiding love of life.

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