Aisle after aisle, there were some serious gamers at Gen Con. There were lots of determined looks of players sitting at tables, struggling to understand new rules and contemplating next moves. And then there was the USAopoly booth where people were just giggling and having a goofy good time, thanks to two new family friendly games: Lift It! Deluxe and Wonky. Sure, there was plenty of fun to be had all over Gen Con, but these two dexterity games attracted some of the biggest laughs … and plenty of stares from passersby.
Packed in a most unusual and eye-catching box, Wonky is a “crazy cubes card game.” In the box are nine oddly shaped wooden cubes, three different sizes in three colors. Additionally, there is a deck of 54 cards. It’s simple to play and easy to learn; players are dealt seven cards that dictate which color or size of block they must play. Additionally there are cards, like Uno, which allow players to skip their turns or reverse play order.
On your turn, you must play one of your cards and (unless your card says otherwise) add a block to the tower. You can only use one hand and you can’t nudge the existing tower in any way. When you place your block, it must hold for a count of three and only then is your turn over.
If a block (or all the blocks) falls from the tower, you must draw three additional cards, collect all the blocks into a common pile, and start the tower over. The first player to get rid of all his or her cards wins. The only caveats to winning are that you must place a block on your final turn and, if you are the player to place the final block in a tower of nine blocks, you automatically win.
Sounds simple, right? Well, it’s not. Playing your cards correctly is a challenge because you can’t win if your final card is a large blue block that also happens to be at the base of the current tower. And if you held on to the “any color large block” for a final card, you may have a tough time placing it (if one’s available) on a teetering stack of small blocks.
We had a lot of fun playing this game, rattling off about 3 or 4 games in a row every time it has hit our table. Each game only lasts 10-15 minutes and any number of people can play — just adjust the number of cards dealt at the beginning of the game or move to teams.
Because blocks have different angles, radials, and slopes on their corners and faces, choosing how to place a block can be fraught with tension. Should you place a block that will make it nearly impossible for the player who follows you? But what if she plays a Reverse card and you have to go again after your cutthroat block placement? Or is your goal just to place a block and live to fight another round? Do you even have a card you can play? If not, you must draw until there is a card you can play. Each block placement is met with the same laugh-to-determined-pursed-lips-to-laugh sequence that often accompanies other dexterity games like Jenga or Operation. It’s very enjoyable.
Lift It! is an award-winning game that has finally made its way to American shores. Formerly a Danish game known as Bild’it, Lift It! is a game that’s almost more fun to play as teams than head-to-head. It’s a building game where players try to arrange pieces to match the orientation and placement of elements as dictated by a building card. When taking on a project as a solo challenge, the card is timed, but when going head-to-head, it’s simply first to finish.
Players can either hold cranes in their hands or wear a crane attached to their foreheads via a velcro strap. Each crane consists of a string and specialized hook hanging from a plastic arm. Using your hand is relatively easy, but forget this rule and only use a crane strapped to your forehead. It makes the game so much more fun. In fact, it’s almost mandatory to ignore the default rules and go with the more challenging, alternate rules for the whole game.
In the basic rules, players pick teams, place a token on the board, and decide who will go first. Around the outside of the board, squares dictate what a player or team will do on their turns. Most squares allow a free choice of building by head or by hand.
If you are racing against time in a solo challenge (represented by most of the squares on the board), there’s a 40-second egg timer in the box. You flip it according to how many timer icons are on the card. These can be a challenge when first starting off, so
I suggest downloading the free iOS and Android app, which you can customize to give longer times, or use your smartphone or a kitchen timer. When the time runs out, you get to advance a space for each element you’ve placed correctly according to the building card and an additional four spaces if you completed the card.
There are additional spaces like Explanation Spaces, which require the player on your right to explain the card to you as you build — you can’t look at the building card at all. There are also spaces that require you to build by head, but you’re already doing that, and Duel Barriers. After crossing one of these you must battle the player to your left — first to complete the same building card wins all the points and advances the corresponding number of spaces. Play continues until one player/team crosses the finish line and the one with the most points (spaces) at the end wins.
As I mentioned, you need to ignore the rule allowing the movement of the crane by hand. Using the head is tougher, but much more fun and rewarding. It also cuts down on the desire to cheat a little by inching your fingers down the string. Additionally, feel free to ignore the clock, to an extent. The enjoyment in the game is trying to build and sometimes 40 seconds (or 80 or 120) just aren’t enough. Set your own time limits; you’ll have more fun. Finally, the rule I like to avoid is single players against each other. The hook is created so it can either be hung from the center (for a single player) or on both sides (for a team). Working together and communicating to try to manipulate a hook hanging between two players is not only ridiculous-looking, it’s ridiculously fun too.
USAopoly has a couple of very fun games on their hands. It’s no wonder there was so much laughter from their booth. Neither require very much strategy, but dexterity games seldom do. Both are quality family games and both are very qualified to be party games for your next get-together.
I look at, and play, a lot of games and I show every box to my kids to gauge their interests. Wonky and Lift It! were both huge winners from the moment they saw the boxes and I even had to track down both of them from their rooms so I could write them up. That’s a great sign.
Wonky is pretty interesting and has the same “On no, please let the round end before it gets to me … please let it end … darn!” kind of dread that Open Sesame had. Managing your cards to give you the best chance to get rid of them is a bit of a challenge and the choice of playing mean or safe, with the possibility of retribution or reversal of gameplay, makes for some hard choices. We were definitely surprised that nine wooden blocks could be so much fun.
While Lift It! is lots of fun, as well, it’s the game I had more nitpicks with. Most of them were rules-related and easily circumvented by going with the harder rule. By relaxing the time regulations and only using the head crane, the game was exponentially more fun. Playing with a team is more fun if you have four players, but it is nearly as enjoyable with just two. The board and build types lacked purpose for us. In five play-throughs, we never landed on an Explanation Space, though we tried some just for fun.
The other problem with the board is that after the first turn or two, gameplay turns into one duel after another until the end because each win sweeps a player past another Duel Barrier. Despite all those gripes, it’s very simple to house-rule Lift It! and make it really, really enjoyable. I especially liked that it wasn’t immediate evident how to accomplish some of the building cards – they were little puzzles unto themselves.
And beside my nitpicks, it’s wonderfully fun. After all, the fun is in the building. And the feelings of quickly alternating frustration and silliness of having plastic parts swinging from a crane attached to your forehead are only surpassed by the rush of placing your last piece before the timer goes off or just before your opponent.
Both games are available now and great for family game night or after dinner with friends.
Disclosure: GeekDad was sent samples of these for review purposes.