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Grab Tree Branches, Collect Animals, and Lie Your Pants Off Courtesy of MJ Games

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Canadian publisher MJ Games has been around since at least 2007, and I have written about them in this space, um, zero times. Maybe that's not surprising given that MJ Games focuses on small games for children and the family and typically releases at most a couple of games in a year, but they released two games at the end of 2017 and have two more coming in 2018, and all of this info is in front of me now, so here I am writing about them.

• November 2017 saw the release of Dominique Ehrhard's No Bluff!, a new edition of his game Johnny Controletti from 1997. Yes, we have 20th anniversary editions — okay, not really — of games that didn't make a huge splash the first time around, but in many cases old games work as well as new ones, especially when they're a bare bones design like this one that relies more on player psychology than specific game mechanisms:

Players begin with nine money cards totaling $13,000 in various denominations, including two cards worth zero. In turn, players roll a colored die, then offer at least one face-down money card to the player indicated by the roll. That player may either accept the offer or challenge it. After challenging the offer, the player rolls a numbered die. If the number is greater than the amount of money offered, the offering player must add at least one face-down card to the mix and begin the process anew. If the die roll is equal to the money, the offer must be accepted. If the roll is less than the offer, the offering player keeps his money and the challenging player must pay the offering player the amount offered. The first player who reaches $25,000 wins.

No Bluff! has also been released in Poland, and the game is due out in France in 2018.

Valéry Fourcade and Jean-Philippe Mars' Big Bluff Quiz, which was also released in November 2017, is another bluffing game, albeit of a very different type as it seems like a branch on the Terra family tree. An overview:

Big Bluff Quiz, a.k.a., BBQ, is a question game in which you can win even if you don't know any of the answers! You may pretend you know them, be self confident, and end up a little lucky. Do not push your luck either as BBQ may "grill" you.

To set up, place fifteen tokens numbered 2-16 in the middle of the playing area. One of the players takes a card and reads the question. All players may then take one of the numbered tokens, which represents both their bet and the number of answers they think they know. If the question asked you to name the planets in the solar system, for example, a player who took the #5 token is saying that they know five planets and are betting 5 points. One of the players is then chosen to give their answers. They win their bet if they succeed and lose it if they fail. The other players win their bets even if they didn't know any of the answers!

Okay, "number of planets in the solar system" is not a difficult question, yet the listed suggested age is 14+, so either we're elbowing one another fiercely for tokens or else this question is not representative of those in the box. Hmm. In any case, Big Bluff Quiz will be released in 2018 in France (by Goliath), in Poland (by NK), and in Russia (by Lifestyle), with a release in the U.S. and Germany in 2019 by Goliath. Long-term planning, y'all.

• In the first half of 2018, MJ Games will release Safari Golo from Andrea Angiolino, this being a 2-6 player game for ages 7 and up. An overview of what's happening in the game:

In Safari Golo, players compete to be the first to see six different types of land animals, but to do so they need to hop from island to island while trying to remember where everything is that they've already seen.

The game includes fifty tiles: six each of six different land animals, two whales, and three each of four other sea animals. Shuffle these tiles face down, then place five (still face down) around each of thee ten islands while the players start on the central, eleventh island. On a turn, a player first looks at any face-down tile on the board, then moves to any island adjacent to their current location except the one where they just looked at a tile, then they draw and reveal a tile from the island where they just arrived. If the tile shows a land animal, they keep it. (Exception: A player cannot have three tiles of the same type. If they would take one, they instead place it on any empty location on the game board.) If the tile shows a sea animal, they take the special action associated with that animal, then discard the tile.

If you arrive on an island with another player and that player has a duplicate animal that you don't already have, you can give them an animal tile of your choice to take one of the duplicated animals.

Collect six different types of land animals first, and you win! If multiple players complete their sextet the same round, then the player with the most overall animals wins.

• Another 2018 title coming from MJ Games is Arbra Kadabra, a 2-4 player dexterity and set collection game from Liesbeth Bos that will probably be easier to imagine once we can see the game's components. For now, though, we have this game description:

You are in the enchanted forest, and you must leave before night. The magic tree stands in the middle of the forest. It is a multi-colored tree that you may grow or shrink, and you must overcome its challenge to escape. Specifically, you have to insert all your wooden pieces in the tree trunk and capture a precise number of your opponents' trunk pieces. Be smart and skilled, and you will succeed. Otherwise, you will turn into a mushroom and spend one thousand years near the tree with all the ones who missed before you!

All players start Arbra Kadabra with ten wooden trunk pieces in your color, with the die (showing 1/1/2/2/3/3) and the base of the tree in the center of the table. On a turn, you roll the die, then either add a number of pieces to the tree or remove a number of pieces to the tree equal to the number that you rolled. (If the tree is too short to take pieces, then you must add them.)

When you add pieces to the tree, you must add pieces of your own color first. Once you have no more pieces of your color, you can instead place pieces of other players' colors. Why would you have pieces of their color? Two reasons: (1) When you remove pieces from the tree, you must take them from the top down; you can't remove pieces from the center of the tree. (2) If the tree collapses on your turn, then you must take all of the pieces that fell and add them to your collection.

What are you trying to do with all this building and unbuilding? To win the game, you must have none of your own pieces in front of you. In addition, you must have exactly four of the opponent's pieces in a two-player game, exactly three of each opponent's pieces in a three-player game, or exactly two of each opponent's pieces in a four-player game. Do this first, and you win!

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