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A Game-ful Day at Cloud Cap

21 Feb

On Saturday I spent nearly a full day at Cloud Cap Games, one of my favorite Portland establishments. First, I taught a Rubik’s Cube class to seven enthusiastic students. It was awesome to see things clicking in people’s brains as we moved through the steps to solving the cube. I think I can use what I learned during this class to refine my teaching methods and materials and come back later with an even more successful lesson.

After the class, I had a three-hour break before returning to Cloud Cap for my friend Ken’s awesome birthday game night.

Chris has a go at Perfection.

First, I had my nerves rattled while playing a few rounds of Perfection, which is that game from the eighties where you fit a bunch of little plastic shapes into the appropriate spot on the board, and after a minute or so the whole board pops up and all the pieces go flying. Startled me every time!

Next up was a game called Timeline: Inventions, which is right up my alley because it’s about inventions! The object is to place a card with an invention on it (e.g. Sign Language, blue jeans, the compass) on a timeline, relative to the other cards that have already been played. The more items on the timeline, the harder it gets. How come I didn’t invent that game?

Then we split into two groups and I played a card-based game called Kittens in a Blender. The premise is pretty gruesome, but it has some mechanics I really liked. Each player has a bunch of kittens they’re trying to save by putting them in the Box, and everyone tries to get the other players’ kittens into the Blender before throwing down a Blend card. I was the first person to blend any kittens, and it was surprisingly traumatic. If it sounds weird, it’s because it is.

For the next round, the whole group came together to play The Resistance. Four players including me were secretly chosen to be spies and our task was to sabotage the missions. I liked this game a lot because it’s basically just trying to psych people out. I don’t have a great poker face, but we won anyway!

To close out the night, I played a lively game of Pick-up Sticks.

Thanks to James and Kirsten of Cloud Cap for hosting the Rubik’s class, and to Ken and Erin for hosting the game night. It was such a good day!


Things a Five-Year-Old Says During Game Night

30 Jan

My niece and I had a game night this weekend, during which she said the following things:

After winning two rounds of Chinese Checkers: "I'm magical."

After winning four rounds of Uno: "I'm a professional."

After a failed attempt at the Rubik's Cube: "This game is great." (long pause) "I'm being facetious."

After losing at Battleship: "Let the trash-talking begin, stinker."

More than Pork and Shellfish: An Interview with Ian Framson, Co-Creator of Taboo Jewish Edition

17 Dec

I recently posted a blog entry referencing the amazingly fun party game, Taboo Jewish Edition. It’s just like regular Taboo, except it makes you feel guilty when you don’t call your mother. JK. One of the creators of the game, Ian Framson, kindly agreed to answer my questions about how it came to be. I love that Ian and his business partner Seth were able to take a simple idea that originated around the board game table and turn it into a viable business opportunity. Inspired? Yes indeed. Now, I wonder if there’s a market for TabVark

Kosherland is also a thing!

Everybody’s Invited!: Why do you think the world needs a Jewish version of Taboo?

Ian Framson: I’m not so sure the “world” needs a Jewish version of Taboo. There are 7 billion people in the world. Only a small fraction of them are Jewish board game players. My general business philosophy has been if you can find 1 person who wants your product/service, you have a customer. If you can find 1,000 people just like them, then you have a market. We found a niche market.

I love playing Taboo (and many other board games). With all of the mobile and online games out there — board games have really become a lost art. While playing Taboo with Jewish friends, we found ourselves drawing upon references to Jewish camp experiences we shared, songs, holidays, and other common Jewish experiences that enabled us to better play the game.

After one such session, I went online to search for “Jewish Taboo”… and I couldn’t find anything. At the time (mid-2008), my friend Seth Burstein and I had been tossing around various business ideas. Seth shares my passion for Taboo and we both agreed we should create a few Jewish-themed Taboo cards. “A few” quickly turned into hundreds.

EI!: How did you go about pitching the game to Hasbro?

IF: We started by researching Judaica product distribution channels. We spoke with a few dozen folks who run temple gift shops. All roads led back to Abe Blumberger, Owner of Jewish Educational Toys (a specialty Judaica products manufacturer/distributor). As it turns out, Abe had been trying to create this game but found it challenging to create the 1008 Taboo cards required to have a complete game. We struck a deal whereby we would provide the content for the game and Abe would negotiate licensing rights with Brian Hersch and Hasbro. 3 years and 24 redrafts later, Taboo Jewish Edition became a reality. Our family friendly game is now sold in hundreds of brick and mortar Judaica shops, through online retailers like Amazon, and seasonally at big box retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond.

EI!: Did you do extensive user testing on the guess words and the taboo words? Did you test with both Jews and gentiles?

IF: During the 24 redrafts of our game content, we worked extensively with the team at JET to make sure the content met their strict quality control standards. Through play testing with Jews and gentiles, we determined it would be best to have an easy side (blue) and hard side (green) to each card. We also chose to write Hebrew and Yiddish words as English transliterations and, when possible, provide a definition for these words in parentheses. Our goal in making these design decisions was to increase the play-ability and broad appeal of the game.

We leaned heavily on our family and friends both in creating the content and during play testing. One of my favorite play testing sessions was during my family Chanukah party in 2009 where all of the cousins, aunts, uncles, and even grandmother played our early cards which were printed on my home computer and hand-cut to roughly appear like Taboo cards. After each card was played, I took notes regarding which Taboo words should be modified.

EI!: I think a Jewish version of Monopoly would reinforce harmful stereotypes, but the idea of a Jewish Jenga kind of makes me laugh. Are there other games for which you’d like to see a Jewish version?

IF: JET has Apples to Apples Jewish Edition which is quite fun. I would love to see (or maybe even help create) a Jewish version of Pictionary. However, I fear that consumer appetite for traditional board games may be declining. There are lots of high tech distractions that compete for our time and reduce our attention spans. Family dynamics and the amount of quality time families spend together is also changing.

EI!: What advice do you have for an aspiring board game maker?

IF: As an entrepreneur, I am extremely cognizant of the effort I expend and the corresponding impact. The light must be worth the candle, as the expression goes. I would encourage others who are interested in creating games to closely examine the market, consumer demographics, distribution channels, and the overall business environment before launching a product.

Taboo Jewish Edition would make a great Hanukkah gift. Buy it here.

Games People Play: Taboo Versions That Don’t Exist Yet

11 Dec

I bet you'd never considered just how Jewish "fruit" is.

My friend Elise recently brought “Taboo: Jewish Edition” to a game night at our friends’ house and, after an important discussion about why on earth the makers didn’t just call it Tabjew, I started thinking about what other versions of Taboo would be fun to play. Here are a few that reflect what I’ve been thinking about lately:

  • Taboo: Explorers and Adventurers. Example guess word: Roald Amundsen; Taboo words: Antarctica, South Pole, Fram, Robert F. Scott, Norway
  • Taboo: Great Inventions. Example guess word: post-it notes; Taboo words: sticky, yellow, 3M, adhesive, stationery
  • NASA Taboo. Example guess word: Mercury 7; Taboo words: first, John Glenn; Alan Shepard, test pilots, The Right Stuff
  • Muppet Taboo. Example guess word: Frank Oz; Taboo words: voice, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Yoda

p.s. I also think Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas should have his own version, but I didn’t include it because I don’t think about him very often.

Game On: An Interview with James Brady of Cloud Cap Games

26 Jun

About a month ago, while I was visiting Portland, OR, my friend Russ invited me to a game night at Cloud Cap Games, a well-stocked local game shop that can be rented out for parties. It was hard choosing which games to play, but in the end I had a blast playing Reverse Charades, 7 Wonders, and Word on the Street. The staff at Cloud Cap are awesome (and demonstrated a great deal of patience as we tried to understand the somewhat complicated rules of 7 Wonders), and the shop itself is like a candy store for your brain!

James Brady is the owner of Cloud Cap, and he generously agreed to answer my questions about the shop, what makes a good game night, and how to use games to get out of a bad mood.

Everybody’s Invited!: Why did you open Cloud Cap Games? What was the inspiration?

James Brady: 
I opened Cloud Cap because I love games and game stores, but I did not like any of the game stores in the Portland area. I have fond memories of a few different game/toy stores in the neighborhoods where I grew up. The game stores in Portland are very good at what they do, which is cater to customers whose primary hobby is playing games. Unfortunately this creates stores that scare off more casual gamer players and families. I wanted a game store that felt like a toy store, with comfortable play space and a focus on games for a wide variety of interests and ages. [Editor’s note: This is exactly what I loved about the store!]

EI!: When you host groups of people in your play space, you provide a selection of games to choose from. What’s the thought process that goes into selecting that group of games? What advice would you give to someone who is planning a game night?

JB: Choosing games for different groups is never easy. Age is of course our first consideration. After that, play time, complexity, and player interaction are major factors. Shorter games with significant player interaction and limited choices are best for most groups. For groups that prefer games with more complexity, we consider the number of options a player might have on a given turn, and try to match that with the group’s level of game play experience. Some games provide lots of choices and can be a bit overwhelming for many.

As far as advice to someone planning a game night, I guess I would advise to start by first identifying whether the group is at all interested in playing strategy games. If even one person is not interested in strategy games, attempting to play one could ruin the evening for that person. In this case I recommend playing some party games (like Apples to Apples [Editor’s note: I previously reviewed Apples to Apples here], Dixit, or Telestrations) or some short card games, especially ones with a sense of humor (like Guillotine or Killer Bunnies). For a group that is interested in strategy games, I recommend getting a sense of the types of games they have played before and choosing a game to play based on that. Pay very close attention to the game duration, more than 90 minutes is not enjoyable for many.

EI!: You specialize in board games, card games, and puzzles. How do you feel about video games?

JB: I really enjoy video games, but I also feel that they can be dangerous for some. They provide a level of stimulation unmatched by any other form of entertainment, they are very passive, and they provide no valuable social interaction. Having said that, they are a blast to play. But given the choice, I’d rather play a tabletop game with friends than stare at a screen all night.

EI!: What has been most surprising to you about running Cloud Cap?

JB: I think the most surprising thing about running the shop is the immediate and overwhelming positive response. The community has been extremely supportive and we have actually had to pace our growth. Despite the novelty of our products, many are willing to give them a try, many more than we expected at this point.

EI!: What’s the best game for getting out of a bad mood? Best game to play while taking a break from studying? Best first date game?

JB: Hmmm, currently the best game for getting out of a bad mood is probably Telestrations because it can create some hilarious situations, especially when people try to crash the game. For taking a break from studying, Dominion is hard to beat, its plays quick and requires a good amount of thought to pull off a win, just enough concentration to get your mind off the studies, but not so much as to be exhausting. For a first date, I would highly recommend Yikerz, which is a fairly new game for us, but its a fast physical game using magnets that easily creates laughs and screams.

Games People Play: Wordplay Round Up

13 May

My favorite Tom Swift cover art, for obvious reasons.

Games People Play is a series where I attempt to make the world a better place by encouraging more game playing.

Here are some word games that I’ve discovered recently. The first two were brought to my attention by my friend Elise, who always chooses just the right words, whether she’s talking about website usability (her job) or Bruce Willis movies (sometimes seems like her job). The third is courtesy of the Internets.


A spoonerism is an inversion of corresponding sounds, such as “falls through the cracks / crawls through the fax” or “”Sarah Palin / parasailin’.”

Game-ify it! Turn it into a guessing game by providing clues, such as “A group of falsehoods and a shortage of baked goods” (answer: pack of lies / lack of pies) or perhaps “Video game siblings and neighborhood madres” (answer: Mario Brothers / barrio mothers) [that one is an Elise original].

Tom Swifty (or Tom Swiftly, depending on which page of the internet you’re viewing)

A Tom Swifty is made up of a quote and an attribution that are linked by a pun. Here are some choice examples:

  • “That’s the last time I’ll stick my arm in a lion’s mouth,” the lion-tamer said off-handedly.
  • “I will curve the midterm grades,” Tom remarked normally.
  • “Let’s practice our synchronized swimming,” they said together. [This one is by my co-worker, Kim!]
  • “Nnnn,” Tom murmured forensically.
  • “I dropped my toothpaste,” said Tom, crestfallen.
  • “I’ve lost my job,” said Tom redundantly.
  • “I’d love a pineapple,” Tom said dolefully.
  • “A word that contains all six vowels? And I suppose you want those vowels to appear in alphabetical order?” asked Tom facetiously.

Game-ify it! Make it competitive by providing a quote, and seeing which of your friends can come up with the most creative attribution.

p.s. “By the way, the name Tom Swifty comes from the series of Tom Swift books about a young inventor,” Hannah added originally. is a fun site with a few different daily competitive word games. My favorite is the Analogies game, where an analogy is set up and players compete to come up with the best conclusion (as voted on by everyone). Here are some recent winners (in each of these examples, the first part was provided, and the second part was the winning entry):

  • He’s like a vitamin: if the food is good, he’ll be there.
  • She’s like geometry: she was being difficult, so I dropped the subject.
  • He’s like a sin: I’ll be damned if I let him back into my life.
  • He’s like a speedometer: the most frequently consulted member of the panel.
  • He’s like hiccups: everyone gives me advice on how to get rid of him.
  • He’s like a v-neck sweater: I thought he was perfect until I found the pills.

Clever, eh?

Games People Play: Games Roundup

25 Mar

Games People Play is a series where I attempt to make the world a better place by encouraging more game playing.

I’ve got games on my mind this week. Here are some game-y things to do:
  1. If you are in New York City, participate in the Come Out & Play Festival in June and July. And it’s not too late to submit your idea for the Real-world Games For Change Challenge. (If you are reading this after April 15th, it is too late. Sorry to have misled you.)
  2. If you are anywhere, check out SCVNGR, a location-based mobile app that lets you check in at various places and complete challenges (examples include: tin-foil origami, riddles, physical challenges, etc.) It’s the game that travels with you!
  3. Host your own Minute to Win It party. For those of you who haven’t been able to watch a game show since Bob Barker left The Price is Right, let me explain that Minute to Win It is a game show where contestants complete short, physical challenges to win lots of money.  Party planner Abbie Jones, who recently hosted her own Minute to Win It-themed birthday party, says that the How To portion of the show’s website has all the information you need to host your own party. It lays out the rules and materials you’ll need for each game. Abbie says not to worry about not having a million dollar prize to motivate people. “It turns out that people will play for pride and for the birthday girl.”
  4. Another possible party theme: Old Timey Parlour Games. Check out Wikipedia’s list of Parlour Games. They’re mostly word games like Elephant’s Foot Umbrella Stand and The Minister’s Cat, but there are a few strangely physical ones like  Squeak Piggy Squeak (basically what it sounds like + one player sits in another player’s lap) and Snap Dragon (taking raisins out of brandy that you’ve lit on fire without burning yourself and while looking demonic).