Steve Jackson Games is a recognized and well-regarded name in both the roleplaying and board game communities. With a tradition of creating games that offer engaging and curious twists on well-worn puzzle and game templates, you never quite know what you’re getting yourself into when you pick up one of their products.
They offered us the opportunity to try out two of their games for the Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, each with its own unique flavor and playing style, and we put them to the full PuzzleNation Blog test.
The Stars Are Right is a multiplayer card game where you rearrange the stars in the sky in order to summon minions and gather enough power to summon an elder god and destroy the world. It’s perfect for Christmas! =)
Seriously, though, this game is an effective fusion of several types of strategy and puzzle games. You have a simplified Magic: The Gathering-style card game with the different minions you can summon, as well as a wonderfully illustrated variant on a sliding tile puzzle in the 5×5 sky tiles laid out between the players.
Each card grants you a different opportunity to manipulate the sky (by flipping tiles over, swapping them, or shifting an entire row) and create new constellations. The more complicated the constellation, the more powerful the creature you summon, and the more points you get.
This sort of chain-solving and forward thinking becomes both more challenging and more enjoyable as you compete with other players and race toward your 10-point goal and victory. It’s as exciting to see someone change the sky to your advantage as it is frustrating to see your hard work foiled by an opportunistic move.
The artistic style of The Stars Are Right is thoroughly weird, channeling the works of H.P. Lovecraft and offering up all sorts of gross and bizarre creatures, which is juxtaposed nicely by the effective (and quite lovely) style of the sky tiles. It creates a curious separation between down-and-dirty (the card game aspect) vs. high-and-lofty (the elegant tile-puzzle aspect) that’s quite enjoyable.
All in all, The Stars Are Right is not only a strong introduction into more complicated card games, but a thoroughly fun puzzle game.
Which brings us to today’s second product review!
Castellan is a two-player puzzle-game where players both compete and collaborate to build an elaborate castle.
Every time a player completes a courtyard — walling it off completely from the rest of the game board — that courtyard is claimed, and the player is awarded points based on the number of towers framing the courtyard. The players have two small decks of cards that determine what pieces — towers, short walls, and long walls — they can play on their next turn, and once the cards are exhausted and every piece has been played, the player with the higher number of points wins, claiming the castle.
One of the most intuitive puzzle-games I’ve played in a long time, Castellan requires only a quick skim of the simple instructions before playing, making it a great introductory puzzle game for first-timers. And the molded plastic pieces add a wonderful tactile dimension to the playing experience. What kid, young or old, doesn’t want to build a castle?
But since the level of strategy and complexity is dictated by the players, this is hardly a game for kids alone. Puzzlers will find their spacial reasoning challenged as they assemble courtyards in their heads and try to determine which cards to play. Tactics and forward planning play a huge role in the gameplay, as you try to seize opportunities left by your opponent, claim courtyards, and use up your remaining pieces in ways that help you but won’t leave openings for your opponent to take advantage of.
And, quite honestly, it’s just fun to watch the board sprawl out as more and more pieces are added.
Castellan is appropriate for practically all ages (while The Stars Are Right’s monster art and general sensibilities could prove offputting to younger players or more traditional puzzle-gamers), but both bring something new to the table in terms of strategy, interactive gameplay, and puzzly challenges.
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