Category Archives: Action/dexterity games

Cornerstone

If there is a person in the house who claims “I’m not a game person” (and every house seems to have at least one and often several), watch how they react when they witness a game of Cornerstone or Cornerstone Essential (Good Company Games, 2010). Cornerstone looks like a toy – and it probably could be considered a toy, except it comes with rules for up to four players and victory conditions, which means it’s really a game.

But this game has broader appeal precisely because of its toy-like qualities: it involves building with blocks and then using little people (meeples!) to climb on the resulting tower. How is that not fun?! The whole point of the game is essentially to be the king of the structure by the time it’s completed, or else to be at the highest point when the structure falls down. So it’s building blocks mixed with king-of-the-hill, and I challenge any fuddy-duddy daddy out there who thinks he’s too cool to play a game to ignore this while it’s going on. It can’t happen!

It isn’t a block-building free-for-all, however. Each player takes one of the four colors and two special wooden rings. The four-block neutral starter piece is laid on the table, and players start playing on it – and this is where it gets interesting. Each player has twelve building blocks with which to add to the structure, but the building blocks vary in terms of how many unit blocks they are composed of, and there are two of each. For example, there are two building blocks that consist of one unit block, two that consist of two unit blocks, and so on up to the two that consist of six unit blocks. On each turn the player must roll two dice, and the resulting roll of the two dice give the player two options for which building blocks to choose (doubles allow you to choose any block). If a player rolls a two and a four, for example, that player may choose to build with the 2-block building block or the 4-block building block.

The placement rules are such that, when adding to the structure, one full face of a block must be in contact with at least one other full face of the existing structure, such that the resulting structure retains a checkerboard pattern. In other words, a solid face must go against a clear face, and vice-versa; neither clear faces nor solid faces may touch each other. Once a block is added successfully, the player may (and should, if everything is going well) move his/her meeple to any spot perceived to be advantageous through the upcoming opponent turns. Meeples may move only one block at a time, any distance, but they may only move vertically if there is a single step with which to do it or horizontally if they are adjacent to that block. They may not jump up two or more blocks, and they must be directly below the vacant space they want to occupy (they may not move diagonally across and up in one turn). Meeples also may not move through a block that is occupied by another player.

That is the essence of Cornerstone! The “Essential” version is pretty new on the market (as I write this), and it contains the wooden rings, two of which are held by each player. They each represent a special move: when played, a ring allows a player to either jump two vertical levels instead of one, or else it allows a player to move through another player who may be blocking the path. These do alleviate the occasional problem of being totally sealed off on a ledge, or worse, a cave, thanks to other people’s blocks, but there are only two that each player can use throughout the game.

Although it doesn’t appear to be a game heavy in strategy, some players are extremely deliberate about which die roll they use, and precisely where to put the block they have chosen. If the tower is knocked down, the offending player has lost the game, and, of the other players, the one with the highest meeple at the time wins.

I like this game, and have listed it among my top ten family games because it is fun for members of every demographic. It can be played by kids alone, by teens alone, by adults alone, or else by the whole family at once. And it can be just as fun for each group alone. It’s a safe bet for ANYONE in the family!

 

 
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Ooga!

Fast action, involving a wooden plunger-tipped “spear,” makes Ooga! (SimplyFun, 2008; aka Dino Booom, 2004) a unique game that appeals to the entire family.

Ooga! consists of “spears,” square “dino” tiles, rectangular “menu” tiles, and four “bone” tiles. Players use the spears to “capture” dino tiles, in an effort to accumulate the dinosaurs depicted on the menu tile. The catch is that the players must compete in rounds, and each round the slowest “dino hunter” must go without a tile.

The dino tiles are laid out, face up, in the center of the table, and a menu tile is turned over. The goal of the game is to acquire more of the menu tiles than any other player. Menu tiles are acquired when a player has successfully hunted each of the colored dinosaurs depicted on that menu card and yelled “Ooga!” before any other player.

But dinosaur tiles can only be hunted one at a time, and according to the “roll” (actually, it’s a “drop”) of the bone tiles. Three of the four bone tiles depict habitats (plains, forests, mountains), so only dinosaur tiles with those backgrounds may be hunted during that round. The fourth bone tile depicts coconuts and fruit, allowing a hunter to choose the corresponding “coconut” dino tile, which is a wild card (representing any color and type of dinosaur on the menu tile).

At the beginning of each round the bone tiles are dropped, revealing the range of habitats that may be chosen by any player. Each player must then immediately decide which dino tile to “spear” based not only on the habitats rolled, but on the type and color of the dinosaurs listed on the menu tile. Whichever player is slowest at choosing an appropriate dinosaur tile must do without a tile for that round. As soon as a player has accumulated each of the dinosaurs (by type and color) depicted on the menu tile, that player must shout “Ooga!” and turn in their tiles. They win the menu tile, and a new menu tile is turned up.

The challenge of quickly determining which of the dinosaur/habitat combinations to choose, coupled with the actual fun of “spearing” that tile, makes this an exciting little game. It definitely has appeal for younger players, but adults can enjoy it too, even alongside youngsters (although the youngest players would have trouble keeping all of the elements straight and still act quickly enough to compete, so I would recommend a handicap for more mature players in that case).

I had two problems with Oooga! Although it should have been simple enough to learn, it took a careful reading of the rules to really understand how to play because they don’t clarify the difference between a hunting “round” and a menu “day.” Besides that, the bone tiles are two-dimensional. Unless there is a large enough playing surface, dropping them can disrupt the rest of the playing area, or else they can bounce off the table onto the floor. One has to sacrifice the satisfying randomness of just throwing them up and letting them land wherever, for a more controlled and less random drop onto a smaller part of the playing area.

Overall, Ooga! turns out to be a lot of fun. It lends itself to multi-generational play, it involves quick-thinking and dexterity, and excitement builds as the game progresses. I recommend it to any gaming family or group of kids!

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101 Dalmations – Spoons Card Game

 

Spoons Card Game: 101 Dalmations (Friendly Games, 2008) is a licensed version of a classic card game, Spoons, of which there are many variants. The key aspects of all spoons games are fast-paced card drawing and discarding, collecting certain sets of cards, and, when one player has made his or her goal, the mad-dash grab for spoons laid out in the middle of the table, which will leave one player without a spoon and eliminated from the game.

This 101 Dalmations version has one of the simplest rule sets there can be. It consists of a standard card deck, 13 cards in each of 4 colors. There are no face cards – they are printed with different images of various dalmations from Disney’s 101 Dalmations, and simply numbered 1 – 13. In the place of spoons the game comes with five 12 cm-long acrylic dog bones, labeled with the name of the game.

dalmations spoon game layout

Each deal consists of 4 cards, and the dealer begins each round by drawing a card, then passing one card face down to his or her right. The next player picks up that card, and passes another to the right, and so on around the table. The final player will discard to a separate discard pile, and the process repeats. As soon as a player has gotten 4-of-a-kind (the same number, not color), he or she lays down their cards and grabs a bone. The rest of the players should also reach for a spoon as soon as possible. Since there should always be one bone less than the number of players, one player will always be left without a bone. That player is eliminated, and a new hand is dealt until after the final round, when there is one player left standing – the winner!

This game is very simple, and because of its theme it appeals to small kids and fans 101 Dalmations fans. It is recommended by the manufacturer for 6 and up, but any child able to read numbers can play because the rules are so straightforward. There is some strategy involved, so older kids will do better. For example, watching the discard pile is a good way to guess at what might still be coming; younger kids won’t understand this, but it is worth teaching (never too early to learn inferential logic!).

I recommend this game to any lover (or collector) of 101 Dalmations who also likes card games, but only if they’re prepared to play with children. It could be made more challenging for older kids and adults by adding variations from other spoons games; unfortunately the rules don’t come with any suggestions for doing so.

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Feed the Kitty

feed the kitty boxFeed the Kitty (2006, Gamewright) is quick and simple, and an excellent way to involve several kids in a game without losing their interest, at least for a little while.

Feed the Kitty is a themed version of the cult favorite LCR, which means you roll the dice and win or lose tokens until every player but one is out of tokens. In the case of this game, the tokens are mice. The two dice have images of mice, a cat food bowl, or a sleeping cat. If a mouse is rolled, then a mouse moves to the player on the left. If a cat is rolled, the player gets to keep a mouse. If the food bowl is rolled, a mouse has to go into the green bowl. If a player runs out of mice, they remain in the game because they might receive a mouse prior to their next turn. Only when there is a single player left with mice does the game end.

feed the kitty components

One moment a player might have several mice while a neighbor could be down to zero, yet two turns later the tables can be turned. The very quick change of fortunes actually make the game fun and exciting. In its own way it introduces the concepts of probability and luck to kids, and in an engaging way.

I recommend this game to kids who aren’t likely to sit through longer board games. It’s fast-paced, so there is no waiting long between turns, and of course the game elements and theme are fun to handle and even pretend with.

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