Bugs in The Kitchen: A game that’s light on the strategy but heavy on the fun


By: Jeff Bakalchuck

Games, like ice cream, come in lots of “flavors”. I’ve often remarked that there is a reason why Baskin-Robbins has 31 flavors and not two. We don’t all like the same flavors and sometimes we aren’t in the mood for a flavor we normally love. You’re probably wondering about all this ice cream analysis and thinking Boomer has finally cracked up. Maybe not. Ravensburger is a game company that publishes some of my favorite strategy games, such as Puerto Rico and Princes of Florence. Along comes Bugs in the Kitchen, which is about as opposite of those two games as you can get. It’s not a game with much strategy, but it’s a blast. It’s especially fun for the under eight crowd or adults that like to act like that crowd.

Game Concept:

It’s a simple idea. Take a game board and divide it into sections using plastic levers, shaped liked silverware, that allow you to create a maze of passageways. Place traps at each corner, one for each player. Add a special edition, black and orange colored, HexBug Nano. One that’s styled to look like that dreaded insect we don’t want in our kitchen. Then let the players move those levers in an attempt to trap that normally unwanted visitor and presto instant fun. Unless you are like my wife and terrified of those bugs. She’s so terrified of them, that I’m not allowed to name them. Here’s a hint, the Spanish edition of the game is titled “La Cucaracha”.

Game Play:

The game starts by setting the levers to one of three starting configuration and placing la cucaracha in the center. The youngest player goes first by rolling the die. The die has a spoon, a fork, a knife and three question marks. You then get to turn a lever that corresponds to the die roll. If you roll a question mark you can move any lever. The goal is to get the little bugger into your trap. Of course, all the while, the bug is dancing around, bouncing off walls and changing direction. Most player are tempted to try and wait for the bug to get into the right position before turning a lever. The rules even state: “If a player takes too long, the other players can tell them to hurry up”. There is something wonderful about any game that has a rule that allows you to say “Make a move already, I’m not getting any younger here”. When the bug lands in your trap, you get a chip. The first player to amass five chips wins. A typical game will last about 10 minutes.

What it isn’t:

This isn’t a game about strategy. The maze is small, so there isn’t time to an elaborate pattern. Usually after the second player has gone, the bug will have a path to one or more traps. It isn’t a game where you should be over-analyzing you moves. The bugs isn’t very predictable in its movement.

What it is:

Silly Fun. It reminds me of the silly and really fun games of the my childhood. Games like “Hang on Harvey” and “Time Bomb”. It’s a game that’s best played quickly. It’s a game that needs a shot clock. If you have an egg timer even better. Set the timer and start the game, if the timer goes off during your turn then you lose your turn. This forces players to move fast.

It’s a Target exclusive, so if you want a copy head to your local Target. Of course

Ticket to Ride – The Heart of Africa: Making a great game even better


By Jeff Bakalchuck

Today it seems like every successful board game has lots of expansions. Some expansions are just a tool to extract more money from a loyal fan base. Then there are those expansions that add real value. They add new elements or challenges that make a good game even better or take a great game and make it sizzle. The Heart of Africa by Days of Wonder is falls into that sizzling category.

The first thing to remember is that this is not a stand-alone game. It requires you to have either Ticket to Rideor Ticket to Ride Europe. You’ll use the trains and ticket cards from one of those games. Just like the base game you’ll be scoring points in 3 different ways. You get points for completed tickets, claiming routes and end game bonuses.

The map is a beautiful early 20th century depiction of the southern half of Africa. Place names are those that were commonly used at that time, so knowing a lot about African geography might actually slow you down. Expect that the first few games will take a little longer, as you learn where cities are located.

Differences from the base game:

The big new element that gets added is terrain. There are 3 different types of terrain cards, each representing 3 different route colors: Desert (Red, Yellow, Orange); Jungle (Green, Purple, Blue); Mountain (Grey, Black, White). When drawing a train card you can choose to take a terrain card instead. When claiming a route, you may simultaneously play terrain cards. A route that is three or fewer trains requires one terrain card, while a route longer than three requires two terrain cards. You are not required to play terrain cards, but if you do you double the value of that route. That’s right, double points. And since there is only a handful of long routes, this makes it very competitive. Terrain cards are kept face up in front of you, so everyone knows how many everyone else has. This is important as you must have as least as many cards of the type you want to use as any other player. Terrain cards used to double the route are then discarded.

There is no bonus for longest continuous track, but there is a bonus for most tickets completed.

Strategy differences:

The map is much more congested than in Ticket to Ride. This along with the double points for terrain make the game more about building routes then about completing tickets. There are almost no double track routes in the middle of the board, so if you don’t like cut-throat games I suggest you stick to 3 or fewer players. Compared to Ticket to Ride, a larger share of your total points will come from claiming routes as opposed to completed tickets. I think this makes it more a matter of skill and less about getting lucky with drawing good tickets.

Since some routes will be doubled, by using terrain cards, those of you that like to score the routes at the end of game will have a problem. How do you know which routes were doubled? You can switch to scoring each route as they are claimed or just use a marker such as a bingo chip or penny and place it under any route that is doubled.

Heart of Africa makes a wonderful addition to any game collection that include Ticket to Ride.

If you want check out the rules before you buy click here.

Finding a copy is easy, most places that sell Ticket to Ride will have this as well. Locally here in Durham try:

Atomic Empire

3400 Westgate Dr.
Suite 14B
Durham, NC 27707

Qwirkle Cubes: Can the son of Qwirkle live up to Dad’s reputation?


Qwirkle from Mindware is one of the top selling games in the world. It also won the prestigious 2011 Spiel des Jahres award as “Game of the Year” in Germany. It’s simple, fun and one of my favorite games.

It’s become very common in the game industry for publishers to try and milk every penny out of a top-selling product by creating a host of offspring. So when the folks at Mindware asked me to look at Qwirkle Cubes, during the New York Toy Fair, I was wondering how it would stack up against the original. Did the acorn fall far from the tree or not?

Object of the game:

Just like Daddy, this game has players creating lines based on either color or shape. The difference is, instead of tiles you have dice. And dice can be rolled and re-rolled to change their value. You score points based on the number of cubes in a row and earn a Qwirkle bonus for making a line of 6 in a row.


You get a cloth bag to draw the cubes from along with 90 Qwirkle Cubes. There are 15 in each of the 6 colors. Each cube has all 6 of the Qwirkle shapes in the same color. You also get an instruction booklet which has the rules in English, French and Spanish. Lastly you get fairly flimsy corrugated cardboard box. It’s up to you to supply paper and pencil, so some other means, to keep score.

Game Play:

Each player starts the game by drawing 6 cubes and rolling them. Unlike Qwirkle, where your tiles are keep hidden from the other players, your cubes are visible for all to see. At the start of your turn you decide which of your cubes you want to re-roll and then roll them. You can choose any amount including none. Then, just like with Qwirkle, you add cubes to the grid. You can only add in one line and all the cubes you add must share a single attribute, either shape or color. You score points, the same as in Qwirkle, for the number of cubes in a line that you create. If you create a line of six then you shout out “Qwirkle” and get an extra six point bonus. Lastly, you draw cubes to bring your hand up to six and roll the new cubes. In one significant different from the original game, if you have no legal move then you re-roll all of your cubes until you can make a play.

How does junior stack up against his old man?

You can see other players cubes and that allows for more strategy in playing your turn. Of course your opponents will have the option of re-rolling, so you can’t be 100% sure what they’ll have when their turn begins. Since each cube has all 6 shapes in one color, the colors they have will not change, only the shapes. The re-roll rule gives you more opportunity to get that missing shape and again adds a strategy element that doesn’t exist in the original game. It’s the same basic game play but I think it’s a more strategic game as you know what colors your opponent has. In fact, I like that aspect of the game so much that the next time I play Qwirkle I’m planning on trying it with the tiles visual to all players.

What’s not to like?

The only feature of Qwirkle Cubes that I don’t like is the box. That’s right, the box. It’s what the packing industry calls a Tuck Top Snap Lock Bottom (TTSLB) box. It’s what I call flimsy. I’ve never seen a TTSLB game box hold up over time. They aren’t designed for lots of opening and closing. It wouldn’t be a problem if Qwirkle Cubes was a crappy game. However it’s a great game and that means the box, like doors on the bus, will get opened and closed all day long.

Highly Recommended:

First Blocks by Haba: Quality Trumps Quantity


When in comes to consumer goods, we live in a Mega-Sized society. Everything seems to be super-sized, as if a product isn’t worth purchasing unless there is a lot of stuff in the box. Where we once had Small, Medium and Large for sizes, we now have Giant, Jumbo and Mega. You can go into a toy store and easily find children’s blocks in sets with hundreds of blocks.

First Blocks by Haba http://www.haba.de has only 8. That wasn’t a typo, it has exactly 8 incredibly wonderful blocks. The set contains: a car, a driver and 6 building blocks. So what makes First Blocks so special? It’s the quality of both the design and construction. The set is designed to stimulate a wide range of senses. One of the blocks has a mirror on one side, another has wooden beads inset and a third has a bell. The designs that are printed on the blocks are embossed giving some nice tactile feedback. Haba uses only water-based paints and varnishes. Safety matter to them and it shows. Unlike a lot of other painted blocks that I’ve seen, the paint doesn’t start to chip off when the blocks are banged around or chewed on.

The colors are bright and the shapes simple. It’s a product that is made to foster creative play. Each of the blocks engages a child’s brain in a different way. And best of all, did I mention that it has only 8 blocks? For those of us that often say “We’re gonna need a bigger house” when we cast our eyes out over the sea of mega-sized toys our children have accumulated it’s nice to have something that’s both compact and engaging.

My son Josiah never seems to get bored with this set. It’s almost always the first toy he reaches for.

Highly Recommended

You can get First Blocks locally at:

The Play House Toy Store

702 9th Street


It’s a great store, they even have a lending library, so you can try an item first.

Tumba: More than just a dexterity game


Tumba is a block stacking game from Poof-Slinky designed by the team of Noel Donegan & Luz Java. Before I tell you my thoughts on the game, a little disclosure. Noel and Luz are friends of mine and Poof-Slinky will be releasing one of my games this summer. If you’re saying, “Ah, he’s just shilling for a friend and a business partner” feel free to click the next button and pass on Tumba. If you do, you might just miss out on a great game.

The heart of the game is 50 rectangular blocks that players take turns stacking on top of each other. The blocks are made up of five cubes, each one being one of five colors (Red, Blue, Yellow, Green and Orange). At first you might be tempted to dismiss the game as a Jenga clone with lots of pretty colors. Well, remember that old adage about not judging a book by its cover? Tumba offers a lot more strategy while keeping the tension of not wanting the tower to fall.

Game Play:

The game play is quite simple. Take all 50 blocks and place them in the cloth bag. Then take the plinth and set it on the table. The plinth is just a wood block that you use as the starting pedestal for your tower. Noel and Luz came up with a clever opening, as the plinth has three slots, two parallel to each other and the third perpendicular to the other two. If the starting player wants to make a more challenging game they can use the single slot. For a more stable tower, use the two parallel slots. On their turn, players draw a block from the bag and add it to the tower.

Building rules:

Here is where things get interesting. When adding a block you can only build color on color. With five colors and 50 blocks, each color appears in each position exactly ten times. Part of the strategy is knowing what blocks have been played and what blocks are left. If the tower falls on your turn then you are out.


If you draw a block that you think can’t be played, either because you don’t have a color match available or because you think the tower will fall if you placed it on any available color match, you can declare “No Play”. The other players can decide to accept this, in which case you draw a replacement block. However, if another player does not accept this, they can challenge you. The player challenging then must place the block on the tower. If the tower falls then the challenger is out, otherwise you’re out.

Game End:

After the tower falls, the remaining players start a new tower. This continues until only one player is left.

Going Solo:

It’s not really a game with only one player, but it’s a nice challenge to try and use all 50 blocks without the tower falling.

More Strategy:

The game involves a mix of strategy and dexterity. If you want more strategy I have a nice variant for you. Get rid of the cloth bag and just place all 50 blocks on the table. Then, when it’s someone’s turn they can choose any block they wish. Don’t allow a No Play declaration. You’ll now have a game where players can try and leave their opponents with no legal play.


If you hate dexterity games, Tumba probably isn’t for you. However, if you like dexterity games then you really need to check out Tumba. It’s available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Target and lot of other stores.

I can do that, can you?

catGenerally when I see a new game that is based on a licensed product my hopes don’t run high. Far too often US game companies just license a book, TV show or movie then grab some bad game design sitting on the shelf and presto they have a game. What they’re selling isn’t a game but a name. This is especially true for children’s games. Maybe these game companies think that if the child likes the theme it doesn’t matter if the game is terrible.

When I can Do That games sent me their “Cat in the Hat” game I was pleasantly surprised. Not only was the game play creative, the theme was great and the theme fit the game. It was true to the spirit of Dr Suess books, it was fun. It is also an activity game that gets the kids moving.

The game play is simple and can be learned in about 2 minutes. Setup takes another 2 minutes. The components are made from thick foam and look very durable. In addition the pieces are large enough not to be a safety issue with small children. The game is about encouraging children to try things and thus build self-confidence.

On each turn players draw a red, blue and yellow card. If any of their cards say stop, their turn is over immediately. If none of the cards are stop cards then they get a chance to do an activity and earn stars. The red card gives the basic activity such as “Jump three times”, the blue card names an object from the game such as “The Fish” or “The Ball” and finally the yellow card tells how you must hold the object, such as “Under your chin” or “on your head”. The player then decides if they can do that activity. If they try it and succeed they get to keep the 3 cards. If they don’t think they can do it, they get to draw new cards and as long as they are not Stop cards, they can try the new activity. The cards have blue stars on them, the more challenging the card the more stars. The player with the most stars wins.

The activities aren’t too easy nor are they too difficult and the rules have a note to parents about customizing the rules to fit the abilities of the children. The box says ages 4-8, however it will be fine with younger children as well.

It’s a truly great children’s game. It’s fun, creative and helps build confidence.

Highly Recommended

Zelosport Finger Baseball Super Advanced Rules

baseball_55Back in 2010 I did a review of Zelosport’s Finger Baseball game.

It’s an outstanding game. However, the basic rules are missing some of the more advanced elements of baseball. My close friend Lee Presser and I decided to fill in those missing elements. So here are 5 additional rules that take the game to a new level.

  1. Bunting: The batter announces a bunt attempt before the pitch. Place the slide on home plate and aim for the out boxes just above the batters choice. If the slider touches part of the out boxes then the bunt is successful. The runners advance and the batter is out. If the slider falls short of that area then the catcher throws the lead runner out and the batter is safe. If the slider goes past the out boxes then a double play occurs. The lead runner is out along with the batter. If you have a runner on third(squeeze play) the rules are the same except for a sucessful bunt the fielder can attempt to get the runner at the plate. To do that, flick the slider from where it stops toward the plate. If the slider touches part of the plate the runner is out and batter is safe.
  2. Called 3rd strikes: If the pitch ends completely withing the white portion of the plate then the result is an automatic strike out.
  3. Sacrifice Fly: With a runner on third if the slider lands completely within strike boxes at the back of the outfield then the result is a sacrifice fly instead of a strike.
  4. Relief Pitchers: Once during a game a player may bring in a relief pitcher. The first inning of relief you pitch from the front mound and the second inning you pitch from the middle mound.
  5. Leads and Pick-off plays: A baserunner may be moved off the base up to the width of the baserunner marker. If the baserunner is off the base then the pitcher can elect to try a pick-off. To pick-off a runner flick the slider towards the base they are on. If the slider touches any part of the base then the runner is out. However, if the slider does not touch the base or any brown area around the base then the throw is wild and the runners advance 1 base.

All other rules stay the same.

For more information about Finger Baseball visit their website:


Catch the Match: Another gem from Reinhard Staupe

catchA few weeks ago, I wrote a review of Sherlock by Reinhard Staupe. Staupe is one of the top game designers in the business. Catch the Match from Playroom Entertainment is another example of why I think so highly of his work.

Game Overview:

The game consists of 15 cards. On each card is 15 different objects. All objects are shown in two different colors. Each card has the same 15 objects, but they are organized such that any two cards have one, and only one, object that is exactly the same. Players race to find this matching pair.

Game Play:

Shuffle the 15 cards and stack them face down. Take any two cards and turn them face up in the center of the play area. All players play at the same time. They check the two cards to find the one and only match. When you think you have found it, call out the name of the object. Point to the object to show the other players. If you are correct you take one of the two cards and turn it face down in front of you. If you are incorrect then you are out for this round and the other players continue to look for the match. The game ends when only one card is remaining.

That sounds simple doesn’t it? What makes it fun and, at times frustrating, is object are rotated differently on each card and appear in different locations. Racing against the other players, it’s a real challenge to find that match quickly.

The objects are all items that young children will be able to identify. The cards are over-sized, making it easy for little fingers to handle. They are also extra thick. Which means they will hold up well over time from the abuse those little fingers can dish out.

It may seem like having only 15 cards would limit the number of times you could play the game before you would get to know the cards too well for it to still be a challenge. Don’t worry, since the objects are scrambled and rotated, Catch the Match will remain challenging and fun no matter how many times you play it.

Other games have copied Staupe’s design of having one and only one matching item on any two cards. That doesn’t mean those games aren’t worth buying. What it does mean is that Staupe deserves high praise for the original idea. With thousands of games having been published over the years, it isn’t easy to invent one with a totally new concept.

Highly Recommended.

Suspend: A really addictive game from Melissa and Doug

mdMelissa and Doug make games? Please don’t adjust you glasses. You read that correctly. Melissa and Doug and now more than just a company that makes great toys. They have branched into the world of strategy games.

For years I had been a fan of Melissa and Doug’s high quality toys. When I opened the box for Suspend, I starting wondering if their games would live up to the standard they set with their toys. Happily, it did.

Game Play:

The game is very simple to understand. Your goal is to add a series of metal rods to what looks like a modern art sculpture. It’s a little like Jenga and a little like Villa Paletti. There are 24 game rods which is divided up among the players. The goal is to be the first player that gets rid of all their rods. The rods all have notches and you can hang your new piece on a notch or a straight section of any existing rod. If you hand a piece that causes another piece to touch the table you must reposition you piece. If you cause one or more pieces to fall then you must pick those pieces up and them to your pile.

It’s that simple. Well, the rules are simple, learning to balance the piece you add might take a little practice. The official rules add a few restrictions, such as you can only use one hand to place a piece. You should really think of these restrictions as optional, since they only really serve to make the game more challenging. You might want to relax the rules for younger players, while enforcing them for the adults. This is a great way to give a slight handicap to the kids. Of course, I suspect that after a few games the kids will be better than the adults and you might have to give the adults the handicap.


The game base is wood and the rods are all metal with plastic nobs on the ends. It’s very high quality and should last for years and years. I must give Melissa and Doug high marks for placing a highly visible Choking Hazard Warning right on the front of the package. So many companies try and hide that warning. Melissa and Doug put it front and center. It’s obvious that children’s safety really matters to them, as it should.

One personal pet peeve:

The game package is a plastic tube. I really hate games that are not in rectangular boxes. The reason is that they do not sit well on the shelf. They are difficult to stack. Also, are much more susceptible to falling off the shelf. Of course, I have over 300 games on my bookcases, so having new ones fit well is probably a more important issue for me. I still love the game. I would just love it a little more if it came in a box.

The package says for Ages 8+. I think that is a very conservative recommendation. Younger players might need to use both hands, but they should have no trouble playing.

You can find this gem just about everywhere that carries Melissa and Doug products.

Here in Durham, I recommend going to:

The Playhouse

702 Ninth Street

Durham, NC 27701

Gobblet: Quality game with Quality components

So often with American games these days, we must make a choice between quality components and quality games. Happily the folks at Blue Orange Games understand we don’t want to make that choice and produce a line of games that combine quality of game play with quality of components.

The first thing I noticed was the very high quality components. A solid wooden box, with a slide out lid the doubles as the game board, the form factor is just 9 ½ inches square and 2 inches thick, making it very easy to find shelf space for. The game pieces are very solid wooden pieces large enough for little hands. The rules are a short 1 page.

The object of the game is simple, place four of your gobblets in a row. The wrinkle is the 4 different sized gobblets are sized such that they fit inside of each other allowing players to Gobble up another piece. Like so many good abstract strategy games, gobblet is short on rules and long on strategy.

The game is played on a 4×4 board and each player gets 12 gobblets, 3 of each of the 4 different sizes.
On your turn you can choose one of 4 possible actions:

1)Put a new gobblet on the board
2)Move a gobblet already in play to any empty space
3)”Gobble up” any smaller sized gobblet with a gobblet already in play.
4)If your opponent already has 3 in a row, you can “gobble up” one of those pieces with a large sized gobblet that is not in play yet.

When moving pieces on the board, you only move the top piece, so the gobblet inside it will remain, possibly creating a four in a row. It’s important to remember what’s been gobbled up. If you touch a gobblet you must move that piece, so no changing your mind.

If you think this is just a 4×4 tic-tac-toe, think again. Gobblet offers a rich degree of strategy, making it suitable for a wide range of ages.

The game box says ages 7 and up and I think that’s a very reasonable age range. Blue Orange also makes a Gobblet Jr, which uses a 3×3 board with the same basic game play.

The instructions are clearly written and very well illustrated.

Blue Orange has bright yellow, easy to see “Choking Hazard” warning box which is more prominent then most of their competitors. However like so many game manufacturers they place it on the back panel of the packing, contrary to CPSC guidelines which call for it on the front of the package.

I’d rate this a terrific game for children 7-10 . It’s easy to teach and helps with motor skills, memory and critical thinking. The large game pieces will be easy for children to manipulate and are durable enough to handle the sometimes rough play from children.

Highly Recommended.