Puzzles and Games With a Sacred Touch?

In recent times, religion and the world of puzzles and games have crossed paths with sometimes surprising results.

The film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, a fairly puzzle-centric thriller, was widely denounced by members of the Catholic Church, and there was similar resistance, though less vocal, against the sequel film, Angels & Demons.

And, of course, in the 1980s, the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons was condemned as Satanic and dangerous to young minds.

I say that the above is strange because, for the most part, these seem to be anomalies or isolated incidents. There are numerous instances throughout history where puzzles and games were embraced by religion, even used as tools to teach aspects of religious beliefs.

For instance, in ancient Egypt, we’ve seen evidence of puzzly techniques used not just to secure the tomb of Tutankhamun, but also to disguise the language and rituals employed by elite members of their society. Puzzles were entrusted to keep their secrets well beyond the grave.

the seal on king tut's tomb

Plus one of the most ancient games in the historical record, Senet, seems to have evolved from being an enjoyable pastime into a spiritual tool.

You see, some Senet boards have religious iconography on them, believed to symbolize the journey into the afterlife. So gameplay — or the inclusion of the gameboard itself among the belongings of the deceased — represented that journey and the quest to learn more about it.

Some online articles have taken to referring to Senet as “the Rosicrucian board game of death,” which is a harsh misinterpretation.

There was also an afterlife connection with games for the Vikings.

According to Mark Hall, a curator at Perth Museum and Art Gallery, there have been 36 burials where board games of some description have been found in the graves around Northern Europe.

These grave sites grant intriguing insight into how the Vikings viewed board games as a learning tool. It’s believed that including a board game among the effects of the deceased signaled not only their skill and status as a warrior, but their preparedness for the afterlife itself. Heck, their win-loss records were even recorded for posterity!

Palindromes were believed to work as magical shields that protected those wearing the talismans bearing such clever wordplay.

Heck, even the shape of dice were influenced by changing religious views. Early dice games gave very little consideration to the shape or evenness of dice, because rolls were believed to be guided by Fate or some greater outside force, so the shape didn’t matter.

As religious beliefs evolved away from gods and greater forces intervening in such things, the general spirit of fairness in dice began to prevail, and the shape, balance, and pip distribution of dice became much more standardized.

And as for the Catholic Church, I certainly didn’t mean to make it look like I was picking on them in the introduction, because there are positive associations between the church and the world of puzzles and games as well.

And no, I’m not just talking about lighthearted products like BibleOpoly or the cottage industry of family-friendly games like Bible editions of Outburst, Scattergories, Apples to Apples, Scrabble, and Taboo.

Chess boards and other game boards have been found in houses formerly used by the Knights Templar, for instance.

There’s also the puzzly art of carmina figurata, poems wherein either the entire body of the poem or select parts form a shape or pattern. These works originated as religious tributes, poems where letters were colored red to stand out from the regular black lettering in order to draw attention to or highlight a certain religious figure.

tumblr_m6a31vnnxo1qggdq1

[“De laudibus sanctae Crucis” by Oliverus.
Image courtesy of WTF Art History.]

There would be hidden words or messages concealed in the text, some speaking of the religious icons at the center of the piece in glowing terms.

Do you have any favorite puzzles and games that have an element of religion to them, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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Answers to our International Tabletop Day Puzzle (Plus a Special Offer!)

a story to die for box

Before we start with today’s blog post, we’ve got a special offer for you from the puzzly folks at ThinkFun!

Have you checked out our reviews of their new unsolved crime series of puzzle games? In Cold Case, you’re tasked with going through the evidence and solving the case!

There are two editions of Cold Case; A Story to Die For is available for preorder now, and A Pinch of Murder will be available for preorder on June 14th!

And if you click this link and use the promo code 20COLDCASE, you’ll get the puzzle game for 20% off!

Enjoy!


tabletopday_logo

Last week, we celebrated International Tabletop Day with some puzzly recommendations, suggestions, and an anagram mix-and-match puzzle, all in the spirit of celebrating gathering with friends and loved ones — in person or virtually — to play games together.

The challenge was to unscramble the names of famous board game characters from the entries on the left, and then match them up with the correct board game from the list on the right.

We’re sure you managed to unravel all those jumbled phrases, but just in case, let’s take a look at the solution.

First, let’s look at the anagrams.

  • Resist Clams = Miss Scarlet
  • Screenplay Bunching = Rich Uncle Pennybags
  • Niceness Fir Sport = Princess Frostine
  • I, Hyphen Pro = Henry Hippo
  • Air Ma = Maria
  • AI Zag Rug = Gigazaur
  • Cam Sat Ivy = Cavity Sam
  • Be Brother = The Robber

And now, for a splash of color, here is the solution for the matching portion of the puzzle.

tabletop-day-mix-and-match-solution

How did you do with the puzzle? Did you enjoy International Tabletop Day? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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It’s International Tabletop Day!

tabletopday_logo

It’s International Tabletop Day!

Whether you play board games, role-playing games, card games, dice games, puzzles, or logic games, this is the holiday for you, family, and friends to come together and enjoy games.

So, to celebrate, we’ve got a grab-bag of different ideas for you today. Want to learn more about games through video playthroughs? We’ve got you covered. Want to solve a Mix and Match puzzle all about games? We’ve got you covered. Want to play something similar to Monopoly that’s not Monopoly? We’ve got you covered.

Please enjoy this somewhat chaotic sampling of board game-themed goodness in honor of Tabletop Day!


monopoly

Monopoly is the most famous board game in history. We really can’t discuss the topic of board games without mentioning Monopoly.

But Monopoly has its issues. It takes a long time to play, and if you fall behind, it’s incredibly difficult to catch up. Plus, if you get eliminated, it’s not fun to watch other people keep going.

So what do you do if you like some of the game mechanics in Monopoly but not the total package? Easy! Use our handy-dandy guide to find other games that do part (or ALL) of Monopoly better than Monopoly!

Maybe you enjoy buying property and building it up with enhancements and making money with it. That’s great. You should check out Lords of Vegas.

It’s a casino-building game set in the early days of Las Vegas. It’s got play money, dice, all sorts of strategy, plus a gambling mechanic where you can make up for monetary shortfalls. It’s a brilliant game and so so much fun.

Maybe it’s collecting valuable cards, negotiating and trading with other players that you enjoy most about Monopoly. Terrific! You should try Sheriff of Nottingham.

In Sheriff of Nottingham, players collect cards with different goods to take to market — apples, chickens, bread, and cheese — as well as cards of contraband items (like spices, mead, and weapons). Each turn, one player is the Sheriff, trying to stop the other players from sneaking contraband into the market. So you can bluff, or bribe, or try to sneak goods past the Sheriff, or just play it straight with regular goods.

The game allows for trading, cutting deals, being sneaky, and bonuses for being the person with the most of certain goods (apples, for instance) at the market. It’s so much fun, and allows for lots of fun interaction throughout the game, since nobody is ever eliminated.

Do you like completing colored sets of items? Outmaneuvering other players? Claiming valuable property that other players want? Pretty much everything involved in Monopoly is also part of Ticket to Ride.

In Ticket to Ride, players collect cards and play train cards on a map in order to complete different train routes to earn points. Not only can you score by completing those routes under your banner, but you gain bonus points if you can connect distant locations through your railways.

It covers a lot of the strategy and craftiness that made Monopoly famous, but in a sleeker, quicker package.

Oh, and if you want a totally off-the-walls Monopoly-inspired game, there’s always The Doom That Came to Atlantic City.

In this game, you crush houses to claim properties, play Chants (instead of Chance) cards, and basically try to be the best doomsday cultist at the table, summoning your monstrous god to end the world before the other players can.

It’s delightfully tongue-in-cheek, great fun, and a hilarious inversion of a lot of classic Monopoly tropes. I highly recommend it.


Oh, were you looking for some great video content? We’ve got you covered!

If you’re looking for great recommendations and playthroughs of games that your family will love — like Sushi Go, Codenames, Tak, or Takenoko — Girls’ Game Shelf is one of my favorite YouTube channels. The hosts (Kiki and AnnaMaria) are brilliant and insightful, the players are hilarious, and the game choices are topnotch.

It’s been a few months since they’ve uploaded, but there’s a load of terrific content already waiting for you there. Check out Girls’ Game Shelf!

And for slightly less-family friendly — but still fantastic — fare, No Rolls Barred‘s game playthroughs are uproariously funny. Whether they’re bickering over Telestrations, betraying and misleading each other in epic-length games of Blood on the Clocktower, or simply pitching insane products with Snake Oil, their videos are incredibly entertaining.

Plus the channel has top ten lists of games by genre or play-style, skits, and glimpses of game history. They recently passed 50,000 subscribers on YouTube, and their content keeps getting better. Check them out!


Yes, it’s a puzzle on International Tabletop Day. Hey, we’re PuzzleNation, we’ve got to include some puzzly fun, don’t we?

Today, we’ve got a Mix and Match puzzle for you. Can you anagram these phrases into the names of characters from famous board games, and then match them up with their board game?


How are you celebrating International Tabletop Day? Let us know in the comment section below! We’d love to hear from you.

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International Tabletop Day Is Next Week!

tabletopday_logo

Over the last 18 months or so, an uncountable number of events had to be cancelled or postponed due to safety restrictions. Everyone knows someone whose wedding or graduation or vacation was affected by the pandemic. Major holidays were disrupted.

As more people across the country are fully vaccinated and things start to open up, people are naturally starting to plan get-togethers with those they haven’t seen and share communal experiences denied to them over the last year.

For puzzle and game fans, the same is true, as folks all over are gearing up for this year’s International Tabletop Day.

International-Tabletop-Day

As long-time readers of the blog know, International Tabletop Day is one of the highlights of the puzzle/game calendar, especially around here. We usually celebrate with an open game session with tons of games to try, snacks and game-themed treats, and more.

There was some controversy back in 2019 regarding when to actually celebrate Tabletop Day. It had been celebrated at the end of April for years, but then the official creators “moved” the date to June 1st, so there is a little bit of debate regarding when to celebrate this year’s game-fueled event.

But whether you’re celebrating on May 29th or June 1st (or any other date that suits you), we’ve got plenty of suggestions for how to enjoy the day, no matter what your circumstances!


In Person

If you’re gathering a small group of like-minded vaccinated chums for Tabletop Day fun, there’s plenty you can do:

  • Host a short game tournament and crown the winner King/Queen/Non-Binary Ruler of Tabletop Day
  • Have people dress up as favorite games or game characters
  • Have secret game-related rules for people to follow, like not being allowed to say certain words or trying to accomplish certain tasks (stealing a candlestick, referencing Clue, for instance)
  • Create specialized Bingo cards with games or rules or inside jokes to cross off as they happen, and have some small prize for people who get Bingo
  • Refresh with old classics OR break out something new from your stash that you’ve been desperate to play for months

[Image from Stranger Things courtesy of The Verge.]

At Home

If you’re trying to keep things mellow but still enjoy the day, here are some suggestions for the game fans in your household:

  • Play a communal storytelling game where the story goes around to each player and you have to build on what other players have said before. You can even add a twist to it with cards to play that add story elements, settings, and other weird obstacles to incorporate into the story at a moment’s notice.
  • Use Candyland as a guide, but each of the different colored spaces represents cards to draw or tasks to complete or other neat personalized challenges or prizes!
  • Try to kitbash together two games and make up new rules on the spot, and play your new hybrid game to see how it works! You’d be surprised how a few new twists can bring new life to old classics that have grown a little stale
  • In the same vein, make up your own game by playing 1000 Blank White Cards! (The link suggests everyone submit 5 cards, but I prefer that everyone submit as many cards as they can think of!)

no rolls barred

[Image courtesy of No Rolls Barred.]

Virtual

Maybe you’re still hesitant to gather together to celebrate. No problem! There are some terrific virtual options for you, no matter how you connect online with friends and family:

  • Writing games where you need to compare answers (like Scattergories or Hive Mind) are perfect for this sort of interaction, because all you need is some paper and something to write with!
  • Trivia Night! There are tons of ways to do this, either by having someone write the trivia, or use pre-set trivia games or websites, or even log into an app like Kahoot and have everyone virtually compete in the same online quizzes.
  • Play a social deduction game like Mafia or Werewolf by having one person run the game and assign players their rolls! This requires some coordination (and a willingness by players to shut their eyes and adhere to the rules), but it can be great fun if you pull it off!
  • Sign up for virtual board game spaces like Board Game Arena to communally play virtual versions of your favorites. (Also, there are tons of online versions of games as varied as Telestrations, Wits & Wagers, Uno, Secret Hitler, and many many more if you’re willing to search for them! All you need is one person to share their screen and run the game for you, and you’re in!)

horse race puzzle

One game that quickly became a favorite in our virtual office game group is Dobbins or Bobbins, a DIY parlor game that is huge fun.

Essentially, you pick a topic — the usual one is racehorse names — and have everyone who is playing submit 5 fake racehorse names each ahead of game time. Then you find 5 real racehorse names, and you create 5 lists.

Each list has a fake name from each of the players, plus one of the real names. (The person running the game can also submit a fake name if you want to spice things up a bit.)

Then everyone gathers (in person or online), and you read one of the lists. The goal is for every player to pick the real racehorse name. You get three points for guessing the real racehorse, but you also get a point for every player who picks your fake racehorse name! (Also, you can play with the rule that, if no one guesses the real horse, the person running the game gets three points, making them the antagonist.)

So even if you don’t find the real racehorse, you can clean up on points if you trick the other players into picking your horse!

After five rounds, the player with the most points wins.

And you don’t have to limit the game to racehorses. Our group has played Dobbins or Bobbins with board game names, Christmas movie titles, professional wrestler names, and more!

(Yes, you do need one person to host/organize this one, but it’s great fun to watch everyone play. Also, tricking them with a fake name is very satisfying.)


Will you be celebrating International Tabletop Day, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.

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Candyland: Pastime or Past Its Prime?

If you ask the average person to name five board games off the top of their head, you can pretty readily guess some of their replies. Monopoly is always there, Scrabble is often second, and then you’ll get a smattering of Candyland, Chutes & Ladders, Sorry, and the like, and then a few outliers like Mouse Trap, Trouble, The Game of Life, and so on.

Candyland is a perennial name on that list, but if you look around the Internet where modern board game enthusiasts congregate, Candyland often appears on lists of the worst board games.

Why is that? Does Candyland get a bad rap?

Well, yes and no.

Strangely enough, the reason that causes so many game fans to put it on “worst” lists is the same reason it is celebrated as a good intro game for children: lack of choice.

Candyland isn’t really a game. There are no moves to make, no strategy to employ. Nothing you say or do will make you the winner. The game is purely one of chance. Once the deck is shuffled, the game is essentially over. (Chutes & Ladders and the card game War suffer from the same problem.)

Defenders of Candyland say that this is intentional… which is true. The game was designed to entertain and distract children either suffering from polio or trapped inside because of polio.

But defenders also argue that the game teaches children about reading instructions, learning to take turns, pattern-recognition, and more, all without the “complication” of actual tasks to complete.

But this is a weak argument, because virtually ANY game can teach these things and still offer children choices to make that affect the game.

Still, kids absolutely love Candyland. It’s bright and simple and silly, and the characters are charming.

So, what can we do to make the game engaging for solvers who actually want to do something, but won’t alienate the simplicity factor that makes it appealing to the youngest board game fans among us?

We institute some house rules!

1. Pick a card

Give the players two, three, or four cards to choose from. By allowing them to actually choose a card, there’s some level of strategy involved, even if it’s still a race to the end.

A variation on this idea is the push-your-luck house rule. In a regular game of Candyland, after you draw your card, you can ditch it for a second random draw. If you choose the second card, you must play it. This is a simple modification, but one that still allows players to affect the game in a meaningful way. Do you press your luck or accept the card you know you have?

2. Spot the color

One house rule suggested that a child should have to look around the room and point out an object that’s the same color as the card before they can move forward. While this doesn’t affect the gameplay, it does reinforce the idea that you can use Candyland to teach pattern recognition.

[A gritty reboot of Candyland by artist Shira-Chan.]

3. Deception

Now, it’s probably not a great idea to teach your kids about lying through board games. (After all, you’ll never be able to trust them in a game of Battleship ever again.) But adding a deception element can turn Candyland into an introductory poker game.

Basically, you draw your card, and announce your move without showing the card. If someone thinks you’re lying, they can call you out.

If you are lying, you don’t move AND you lose your next turn. But if you’re not lying, the player who accused you loses a turn.

4. Add trivia

This was a variation in my house on more than one occasion. Since there are six colors on the game board — and six categories in Trivial Pursuit — we combined the two.

When you draw a color card, you must answer a question of the corresponding color. Get it right, and you move on. Get it wrong, you stay where you are.

There are all sorts of terrific ideas out there to make Candyland more enjoyable for players of all ages — for instance, we found some good suggestions listed here which we didn’t cover — and with a little creativity, you can resurrect a classic and make it new again.

And we’ll leave it to you to decide if it’s a good or bad game after that.


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What’s Better in Puzzles and Games – Loud or Quiet?

One of my favorite things about puzzles is how peaceful they are.

Sure, escape rooms can be cacophonous, and dropping a jigsaw puzzle can be infuriating, but for the most part, puzzles are soothing.

The satisfying scratch of pencil on paper as you fill in a word, watching the pile of unplaced jigsaw pieces slowly dwindle as the picture continues to form, getting a little victory chime when you solve a puzzle in your favorite app…

Board games, on the other hand, tend to get loud.

Sometimes, it’s good-natured debate or enthusiastic contributions, like when things get tense in a cooperative game, or when the game generally encourages rambunctiousness, like Throw Throw Burrito.

Other times, it’s a by-product of the gameplay itself. There’s a fair amount of frenzied clacking in Hungry Hungry Hippos, for instance, but I never hear people complain about the noise that comes along with a round or two of marble-chomping.

[Image courtesy of Grey Mass Games.]

Of course, that increase in volume can be for reasons that are a little more heated. Maybe someone betrayed someone else in a game like Sheriff of Nottingham. Monopoly famously inspires people to flip the board in frustration.

Social deduction games where identities are secret, or where there’s some level of deception involved, also tend to get pretty loud. Whether it’s Mafia, Ultimate Werewolf, Secret Hitler, Blood on the Clocktower, or others, raised voices are common.

But when it comes to loud board games, I think we can all agree that one particular dexterity takes the cake.

Say it with me now…

JENGA!

Yes, Jenga — by design — is loud. The only way the game can end is with a toppling tower of wooden blocks. CRASH! I know several board game cafes that have banned it for that specific reason.

Sure, KerPlunk can be loud, but even a stack of falling marbles doesn’t seem to compare to the jarring clatter of a stack of Jenga tiles hitting the table and/or the floor.

Sure, Perfection can be loud, but that’s kind of the point. You’re trying to complete the task BEFORE the buzzer. So it is possible to play without the cacophony.

Jenga is so infamously loud that there are other games that sell themselves on being quieter than Jenga but offering the same stacking mechanic. Rhino Hero and Rhino Hero Super Battle employ cards instead of wooden blocks, so the collapse is less more tolerable, while Catch the Moon employs ladders, which makes for an oddly soothing yet still stressful game experience.

But where do you stand on noise-making games and puzzles? Do you like them soothing and soft or calamitous and crashing? And just what is the loudest game? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.


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