Category Archives: 15-30 min


Who hasn’t played this game at one time or another, without the help of actual cards, or a board? My brothers and I, and now my wife and I, routinely try to stump each other with lyrical trivia.  Any music lover would like Encore (Endless Games, 1989). This is the kind of party game that nobody really wants to start playing – who wants to show off their own tone-deafness, after all? – but ends up getting everybody gathered around, laughing, and contributing a song or two from their own repertoire.

The game very simply requires each team to identify and sing lyrics from a song, at least six words in length, that include one target word that is drawn randomly from the deck. Teams alternate on the same word until one team fails to come up with an original answer, at which point the other team wins the right to move closer to the end.

There is a newer version of Encore out (first picture), but we played the older version (pic number 2), and because the old tunes are still around, it was still full of relevant words. Unfortunately, I can’t offer an opinion on the cards available in the current edition – but I honestly have no doubt the target words are a decent sample of easy, difficult, and in between. In addition to the word cards, the game comes with a board,  a die, pawns, and a marker.

The target cards are shown below – each listing five everyday words. On one team’s turn, the die is rolled and their pawn moved; the color of the space they land on refers to the colored word on the card they must play. That team them must come up with a song including that word, and sing at least six lyrics that include it. Once they do, the other team must come up with a different song. Turns alternate until one team appears stuck. At that point the other team can impose a time limit (20 second sand timer), but if that first team comes up with a song, the other team then has a time limit as well. Once a team fails to come up with an appropriate answer, they lose control of the dice.

The yellow spaces on the board correspond to “category” questions, and are self explanatory. Otherwise there is nothing special about the color categories on the cards.

Encore is billed as a game for music lovers, but it really is a democratic game, with musical elements for the whole family. As bad as people might consider their singing to be, once among friends all bets are off, inhibitions are cast aside, and it’s all about laughing and enjoying the company.

This is an easy game to recommend to just about any group. The fact that players are matching their own repertoires against the word in question makes it appropriate for any age group (over 8, that is) and any English-speaking country. It is definitely a nice family game, because it can bring people together across generational lines.

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Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow

I finished my last game of The Werewolves of Millers Hollow (999 Games, 2001) less than 10 hours ago, and I can’t really wait to tell you about it! This is such a unique game, and the interaction is so interesting, that I’m a little embarrassed and ashamed that I waited so long to play it! (And I call myself a game lover – bah!)

In this game, players (except for the “Moderator”) play the part of simple townsfolk – but some of them are werewolves and wake up at night to kill an innocent victim, and then arise in the morning among the rest of the townsfolk. The townsfolk then all try to decide who among them might be a werewolf, and the player chosen is lynched! Of course, that player may end up being a werewolf, or an innocent victim. Eventually, there are only werewolves or townsfolk left, and they have won the game.

The key to The Werewolves of Millers Hollow is that players do not know the actual identity of any of the other players (per cards, above), and when nighttime falls, all players close their eyes as if asleep, only “waking” when they have a role to play. There are only a few werewolves – up to four – per game, but they are the only ones who know who they are, and when they mingle with the rest of the townsfolk during they day they must avoid being found out.

So the game starts when the moderator, whose job it is to run the game and communicate decisions among the players without giving away identities, deals a card to each player. That card becomes that player’s identity (see below). Ordinary Townsfolk simply close their eyes during the night phase, and open them when night is over, and then help try to determine who might be a werewolf during the day. The Werewolves act like townsfolk, but during the night phase they, at the moderator’s cue, open their eyes and communicate silently to decide on a victim. The moderator then silently taps the victim to let them know they were killed by the werewolves, and the werewolves close their eyes again. When the moderator announces morning time, everyone except the victim opens their eyes, and the victim’s identity is revealed.

When the day begins, all players (including the werewolves, who are acting like regular townsfolk) debate and choose by vote which other player is a werewolf. That unlucky player is “lynched” and then their identity is revealed (By the way, when players are “killed” they are out of the game, and may not participate…but it is still a lot of fun to watch!). The (optional) sheriff card can go to any player, by vote of all players at the beginning of the game, and that role confers on them two votes when deciding who is a werewolf. That can be particularly bad if a werewolf ends up becoming elected sheriff, because as the number of players dwindle, those two votes are increasingly powerful!

If a player is not a werewolf, they are a townsfolk (but the sheriff can be either). The townsfolk may be ordinary, or they may have a special role. The Fortune Teller (above) wakes up first after all the town has gone to sleep, and they get to “peek” at another player’s identity. It is up to them, after that, how to use the information.

More special townsfolk cards are below. The Little Girl has the option of opening her eyes while the werewolves are awake, to peek at them – however, if she is caught peeking at them then she will automatically become the next victim! The witch has two potions, one for healing (bringing back one dead person) and one poison (for eliminating one person); the witch wakes up after the werewolves have killed and gone back to sleep, and she determines whether to use her healing or poison potion that night, or not. She may use each only once, and they may be used on herself.

At the beginning of the game, the Thief may opt to remain a regular townsfolk, or they may choose one of two remaining cards from the deal. The Hunter, when killed, gets one shot at one player, taking that player with him. Cupido gets to play matchmaker – any two players of Cupido’s choice become instantly in love and MUST protect the interests of their loved one. If one of the lovers dies, the other must follow (by taking their own life!).

And so goes The Werewolves of Millers Hollow. The game is so exquisitely interesting because each person has information to share and an identity to hide at the same time, and they do not know who is who. It’s a game of guesses (usually wrong on my part – lol!), suspicion, hunches, and luck. It takes about 20 minutes or so (depending on how many are playing) to play a single game, but as I said earlier it is very easy to play many games in a row. In fact it’s hard not to.

I absolutely recommend this game to any group of people gathering just about anywhere. It would even be great for more formal gatherings where there is a need for an ice breaker or a team-building type exercise. I can envision modifications to make it even better for something along those lines. That said, it is also perfect for later nights, when the more raucous games, or the more serious games, are over and there are enough people left behind to make it work.

There is an expansion of The Werewolves of Millers Hollow called “New Moon,” and a re-implementation called The Village (that is, it’s a newer version of the original with added features); see pictures below. I have yet to try these, but you know they are high on my list!

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It is very hard to find a game in which kids can expect to compete with adults, but Sherlock (Playroom Entertainment, 1999) is one of them. It is strictly a memory game, but it uses a much more interesting mechanism than classic memory games (such as “concentration”).

Sherlock consists of a deck of cards (see pic below), which depict a simple iconic image, a number, and an arrow. There is one “Sherlock” card used as a starter. The illustrations are clear and attractive, and geared toward children’s tastes without being too babyish.

The game is played by dealing 8 cards to the center of the table in a circle. Players have a chance to memorize the identity of each card. If necessary, an adult can be handicapped by getting less time to memorize at this point. When players are ready, the cards are turned face-down, and the Sherlock card is laid down next to one card, which is to serve as the starting point.

On a turn, a player must accurately identify the card adjacent to the Sherlock card; if wrong, the player who missed it chooses a new spot for the Sherlock card and play passes to the next player. If the guess is correct, that card is left face-up and the number and arrow on the card indicates the direction and number of cards to jump to. In the example below, the guessing player identified and turned over the pail first (note the Sherlock card above it), moved one to the right and identified and turned over the cherries, then moved three to the left and identified and turned over the comb, and so on. The turn ends when a player guesses long enough that they end up on a card that they have already turned over. In the example below, the chair indicates a move two spaces to the right, which would be the already turned comb. The guessing player wins that card and replaces it – first for all to see, and then face down. The other cards are turned back to face-down, and the Sherlock card is moved to a new spot for the next player. The first to collect 5 cards is the winner!

Since Sherlock is a kid’s game, it’s simple, but it is still a nice challenging game for adults to play with their kids. It even offers a great opportunity to observe and assist kids as they discover and implement memory strategies – which can end up being useful throughout school and life in general.

I highly recommend this game for any child (5 and up), and any family with children. Most people who have played will tell you it’s more fun than they expected, as it was for me. So buy this game – it’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s fun!

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hive box

Hive (Gen Four Two Games, 2005) is a simple two-player strategy game that takes less than a minute to learn, about 15 minutes to play, and a very long time to master.

The game is composed entirely of 11 black and 11 white hexagonal tiles, and can be played anywhere because only a flat surface is required. Various creatures are depicted on the tiles: The Queen Bee (qty 1), Spiders (qty 2), Beetles (qty 2), Grasshoppers (qty 3), and Soldier Ants (qty 3). Each creature has a specific movement ability, and the goal of the game is to enclose the opponent’s Queen Bee completely, thus preventing her from moving.

Players take turns placing the tiles onto the table. The first two tiles must be in contact along an edge, but from then on any new tiles introduced into the game must be placed so they touch only a tile of the same color, also edge to edge. On a turn, a player may introduce a new creature to the game, or else move an existing creature…and here is where it gets interesting.

Since each creature gets a different move, initial placement (when they are introduced) is critical. The Queen Bee can move one space at a time, in any direction.The Soldier Ant can move any number of spaces along the outside perimeter of the existing hive. The Spider must move exactly 3 spaces without backtracking. The Beetle may only move one space per turn but it is also able to crawl on top of the hive, blocking whatever it is sitting on. The Grasshopper jumps over pieces in a straight line, from one end of a row or column to the next available space.

hive layout

There are two important rules beyond movements. The first is that all tiles must remain part of one contiguous hive, so a tile that creates a bridge from one tile to another cannot be moved (The “One Hive Rule”). The second regards “Freedom of Movement.” A tile may only move if there is room for the entire hexagon to exit the space; a tile that is surrounded by 5 other tiles may not move through the opening, since it can’t fit without disrupting the hive.

The simple rules and open-ended hive configuration make this an excellent game, but there is real value-added in a few ways. The pieces in this edition are composed of heavy bakelite, so they are substantial and feel good when you play. This edition also comes with a travel tote, so it’s even easier to carry than the small box you buy it in (see pic).

hive travel bag

The best games are simple, but have an elegant and endless array of possible outcomes. That is the case with Hive. People who like 2-player games ought to love it. The bug theme makes it appealing for youngsters (8 and up), and the size and appearance of the pieces make it great for seniors. The aesthetic value is very high, even high enough to have it out on the coffee table. It is portable and packable. But the game play itself is really what’s best about it, and that’s why I’m recommending this game to just about anybody.

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Apples to Apples

apples to apples boxOnce a decade a game strikes just the right chord with the public and flies off the shelves. Apples to Apples (Out of the Box, 1999) is such a game. This game has been played and enjoyed by so many people, and their friends, and friends of those friends, and so on, that people all over the world who “don’t play games” have loved it. It defied all odds and sold a million copies in the US without ever having been on the shelf of WalMart (as of that point in time).

Apples to Apples is a social game; it stimulates conversation, elicits laughter, moves fast, and keeps every player constantly involved. It is comprised of two decks of cards. One deck is green; green cards each have an adjective listed, along with a few synonyms. The other deck is red; red cards each have a noun (person, place, or thing), along with a brief – and humorous – description. One player acts as judge each round, and turns over the green (adjective) card and reads it. Each other player must choose the red (noun) card from their hand of seven that he or she thinks is best described by the green card. The judge takes the submitted red cards without looking at them or knowing which player submitted which card, and then judges them; he or she will decide which of the red cards really is the best match to the green card (see pic). The player whose card is chosen wins the green card; The first player to seven green cards wins.

apples layout

In the example above, the foreground player needs to determine which of the seven red apple cards is most likely to be chosen as ‘expensive.’ One could argue for car crash, or even for hockey, because they are both expensive in their own way, but Paris, France is expensive in many, bigger ways, so it is an excellent choice – but will the judge think so?

apples judges choice

After all players have submitted their red cards, the judge has to choose one. The key is to submit a card, if you can, that will resonate with the judge. In the example above, even though they might agree that Paris, France is a very expensive city to visit, or build, or whatever, they might have had a recent emotional experience with a hospitalization so the cost of an operation is what they think of when they see the word ‘expensive.’ The judge could also be more impressed with the cost of lobster, or skiing, or even paying taxes. And so it goes. The judge chooses which red card they like the best, and the players who didn’t win usually let the judge know exactly why their cards were better choices…and the conversation continues. Arguments are defused by the cards being anonymously submitted, and by the explicit rule that the judge can use any way of determining what is the best card.

Apples to Apples is easy to learn, and everybody plays at once (which is typical of games by Out of the Box). Game play typically lasts about a half hour, but any number of rounds can be played. Rounds are so quick that you can get a few done in very little time. It is very common to simply play the game without regard to a winner; people just like to play for the fun of it.

There are a number of expansions and variations available. Expansions ($19.99) are basically the same game with all new cards, which is nice to have because they can be mixed together with the original cards. There are at least 12 stand-alone variations on the basic Apples to Apples game, including Apples to Apples Jr (Out of the Box, 2002), which will be reviewed elsewhere.

I absolutely recommend this game to just about anyone in the market for a game, especially if looking for a game to appeal to a mixed-age group. It’s great for families, groups of friends and coworkers, and is safe as a gift to just about anybody.

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Blokus 3-D, aka Rumis

blokus 3d box

Blokus 3-D (Educational Insights, 2008; aka Rumis – Educational Insights, 2003) is more than a 3-d version of regular Blokus (see review elsewhere on this site)! The goal is to be the player with the most blocks visible from above, so rather than simply building a 3-dimensional tower, a player must be mindful of what colors will be visible, and what the next player (s) might be able to do with his or her play.

There are four basic building patterns that can be used which determine the general shape of the building: the Tower, the Corner, the Steps, and the Pyramid. The number of players determine the limits of growth – for example in a two-player game the tower can only be four rows high, but in a four player game a tower can be as high as 8 rows. The single building rule in this game, short of staying within the limits of growth, is that a block face of one piece must touch the block face of another piece of the same color.

blokus 3d board

The game board is textured, as it is in Blokus, to help keep the pieces in place. It also has a lazy-susan feature so a player can inspect every angle.

Blokus 3-D is sufficiently similar to its predecessor that it would appeal to the same kinds of people. It is still relatively simple, there are very few rules – only the shapes and limits add more complexity – and it is also brightly colored and aesthetically pleasing. The goal of building in three dimensions rather than two, however, is what sets it apart from the first Blokus, and that’s what makes it a different game. There is a lot more involved in trying to get your pieces to be visible, in the end, from above within a three-dimensional space, than in claiming two-dimensional space.

I recommend this to anyone who loves Blokus, as it represents a step up. It’s another great family game for homes with young kids getting older (it’s recommended for ages 8+), but it’s fun for playing with as a toy, too! Anyone who likes puzzles, especially skill puzzles and visual puzzles, might like this game as well. Blokus 3-D would be a great game to have in a math classroom, as well.

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blokus box

Blokus (Educational Insights, 2000) is a multiple award winner because it is fun but simple, it can be enjoyed by a wide range of players, and it has tremendous replay value. Many friends list this among their favorite family games.

Blokus consists of a plastic grid and four colors of plastic tiles that exist in a variety of tetris-like multi-unit-square shapes (see pic, below). Players take turns placing their pieces in such a way that the corner of the piece they place must touch a corner of any preexisting piece (the first piece must cover the corner square)…and that is the only rule. When a player can no longer place any pieces on the board, they are finished. Once all players are finished, they count all of the unit squares left in their hand, and lose one point for each. Players who used all their pieces get +15 points, and if they used the single one-square piece they get +5.

blokus board

There are variations, and some households introduce their own special rules, for example handicapping older children or parents by restricting the corner-touch rule. One can even play solitaire by trying to fit all the pieces onto the board.

Because it’s simple and it can accommodate adults and children and mixed-age groups, I recommend it to any group whatsoever – from children 5 and up to senior citizens. It’s especially good for people who like to dive right in without having to learn complicated instructions. The pieces are colorful and easy to manipulate, and the raised grid on the board keeps the game relatively disturbance-free.

If you have no idea what game to buy, especially for youngsters, for a birthday present, or whatever, this game is an easy choice.

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