Stacking up the best new games of the year

Clack is a fast-moving game, similar to Blink or Spot It.
Clack is a fast-moving game, similar to Blink or Spot It. The Wichita Eagle

Gwen Ottenberg has a new favorite game manufacturer, and it’s easy to understand why.

“There’s no more than five rules in all their games — brilliant!” Ottenberg said of Amigo Games, a German-based company making its first leap into the U.S. toy market this year.

“Because if you can’t explain it in five rules, you probably don’t want to play.”

Ottenberg, owner of Imagine That Toys at 29th and Rock Road, knows that’s not always the case with board games. Sometimes, like on a snowy winter day with a roaring fire and a burbling pot of chili on the stove, it’s fun to sit down together with a slightly complicated strategy game and spend a couple hours learning something new.

But this year I’m all about Clack! — a new matching-and-stacking game by Amigo that’s easy to learn, quick to play and just as fun for 5- or 50-year-olds.

“Oh yeah, I love this,” I told Gwen during our recent visit, elbowing her out of the way as I matched green stars, blue flowers and purple arrows to build my tower of magnetic discs. Clack-clack-clack! It reminded me of Spot It, a lightning-fast card game that’s another Tobias family favorite.

“I knew you would,” she answered, smiling — but still managing to stack her discs taller than mine.

If you’re looking for a fun new family activity this year — for your own crew or as a holiday gift — here are some to consider.

  • Clack! (ages 5 and up, $17.99) — Spread out the magnetic discs, roll the dice and scramble to match the picture and the color. This one can get a little wild as players use the magnetic clacks to build their stacks. Scoring is easy — just line up the stacks to see whose tower is tallest.

  • Eye Sea (ages 10 and up, $17.99) — In this brainstorming party game, players lay out nine cards and race to combine any two to create a phrase, movie title, compound word, song lyric, slogan or any recognizable combination of words, from “party time” to “Baby’s Got Back.” When I played with Gwen, she matched a police siren and hamburger to create “fast food.” I matched a house with a pair of handcuffs to form “house arrest.” When the deck runs out, whomever has collected the most cards wins.

  • Duck-a-Roo (ages 3 and up, $19.99) — This game was a big hit with Gwen’s 3-year-old daughter, who was among the first to test it at a toy market last January. It’s a memory-match card game with a ducky little twist: Line up Mama Duck and her three babies around the “pond” of chunky tokens. Take turns flipping cards to try to match the color of the last duck in line. When you find a match, say, “Duck-a-Roo!” and swim the little duckie to the front of the line.

  • Azul (ages 8 and up, $39.99) — Make strategy, not war! In this gorgeous (and non-violent) strategy game, you’re a tile artist who has been challenged to embellish the walls of the Royal Palace of Evora. Players take turns drafting colored tiles from suppliers to their player board. Score points based on how you place your tiles to decorate the palace. Extra points are scored for specific patterns and completing sets, and wasted supplies hurt the player’s overall score. Fans of European games such Ticket to Ride or Settlers of Catan will love this one.
  • Otrio (ages 8 and up, $49.99) — This heirloom-quality wooden game is great for all ages and would make a fabulous family gift. Players race to arrange circles into a three-in-a-row pattern (ascending-, descending- or same-sized). “Like tic-tac-toe on steroids,” Ottenberg explained. The rules are simple, but the game can get pretty complex, which keeps it fun.
  • Engine Engine No. 9 (ages 5 and up, $19.99) — Another new Amigo game with beautiful pieces and enough twists and turns to keep all ages entertained. Locomotives race for the finish, but tracks move and switch with each roll of the dice.
  • Cube Puzzler Go (ages 8 and up, $14.99) — Family time is great and all, but sometimes you want a non-screen activity that one person can just pick up and play. In this spatial reasoning game, one or more players try to build a cube from seven colorful puzzle pieces, putting them in the right order to solve one of 80 3-D challenges.
  • Itzi (ages 8 and up) and Risky Itzi (ages 17 and up, $19.99) — Remember Tenzi? It was the stocking stuffer of the year in 2012, and was quickly followed by Slapzi and Snapzi. This year’s game from the creators of Tenzi is Itzi, a word game in which players race to get rid of cards based on how quickly they can match answers to categories: “It’z an ice cream flavor” or “It’z something that makes you laugh.” Risky Itzi, for adults only, follows the same concept but with categories that can lead to off-color answers.