Published on May 27th, 2011 | by Greg0
Games and Toys of Note: Shaking, Flipping, and Knotting
It’s summer now- graduation season is upon us, and school is over or almost over for most pupils. Which means it’s time to find some new ways to occupy your family time, and some fun new means of diverting the kids. Last week, we took a look at a few board games that didn’t really impress. But we have also tried a few we liked, and an interesting toy as well- they didn’t make us want to turn in our Dominion decks perhaps, but definitely made an impression after a few plays.
We’ll start with Flip Out from Gamewright. This is definitely a family game- not well-suited to adults, but perfect for ages 8 and up. The game itself consists only of about 90 pieces and a few card holders, but the rules make the game. You can play with two to five players, but we recommend somewhere in between- too many made it feel a bit short, but too few resulted in a stall at one point. Basically, each player gets to pick from two of a few possible actions: you can flip a card (they are one-sided, so memory and recall are tested), or swap the positions of any two cards including other player’s racks and your own. You can also “score” on a set of four to six same-colored cards- either from your rack or an opponent’s. Scored cards are removed, and racks refilled- they hold six at a time. If you score another player’s cards, though, they get to keep one. And when the deck runs out, the player who has the most cards in their scoring pile wins. It’s fun, moves pretty fast, and keeps everyone in the game. And the strategies can be fairly complex. It won’t impress older teens, but can be fairly played between parents and kids. Flip Out runs about $20, and is widely available.
On a different note, we have a frenetic party game- Shake ‘n Take from Out of the Box. This one is pretty odd, if easy to explain. You can have between two and ten players at a time, though it’s better with 4 or more. Aimed at ages 8 and up, we felt that it could work for younger folks as well, thanks to the included double-sided dry-erase game mats. At it’s heart, there is a pattern matching component here- a sort of “decipher the shape of an alien creature”. One side is a bit difficult- it takes a few extra moments to examine the shapes and figure out whether a drawing is a heart, circle, triangle, star, or square. At least, at first it does- after some practice, it does become easier, so that newcomers are at a slight disadvantage. The other side of the mat is simpler, so that kids can stand a fighting chance. Also in the box are markers, die, and a pair of ‘shakers’. Two players are active at a time (or four, if the group is larger than five players). One is busy rolling their die and drawing circles around the aliens on their mat that match the shape- they can re-roll at any time and keep circling. The other player is shaking a small dome, waiting for an alien head to appear- and when it does, they snatch the marker up and can start rolling and circling themselves. And… that’s it. The markers are fun, the game mats a bit cutesy but original, and it’s simple to learn. There isn’t much depth, but kids seem to enjoy it- shaking, grabbing, drawing, and even the odd alien theme. Again, this might not be the right choice for a group of adults, but in the hands of a family, Shake ‘n Take is easy to like.
Finally, if games are a little too energetic, there are always toys. They don’t have to be dull or too expensive though- we’ve been watching our staff play with the Brainstring. Basically a set of colored strings contained in a transparent plastic ball, the joy is in knotting and unknotting them. You move lovely colored nubs around the surface of the ball to adjust the strings inside, and can create a brainteaser of knots to meet many difficult levels. It feels like fun, easy to pickup and nice to hold- or just place around to entice others. But unlike a Rubik’s Cube, it did feel a bit fragile. The strings themselves seem a bit liable to break, though our ball held up to a decent amount of abuse. If you like brainteasers, and have exhausted many of the others, this a solid bet. It might not quite be a classic, but is certainly unique, and at $15 or so a decent value.