PuzzleNation Product Review: The Island of Doctor Lucky

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that. And this concludes the disclaimer.]

For over twenty years now, the devious minds of Cheapass Games have pitted players against the intrepid J. Robert Lucky. Whether you’re a guest in his luxurious mansion, a ghost haunting his beloved abode, or an attendee of one of his famous dinner parties, the goal is always the same: kill Doctor Lucky.

In the latest iteration of the game, you’ve been invited to a soiree on Isla Fortuna, Doctor Lucky’s mysterious private island. As you, your fellow guests, and the good doctor explore the island, you’ll encounter hazards, discover weapons, accumulate luck, and (appropriately for the internet age) occasionally get incredibly distracted by a cat.

But the goal, as always, remains the same: kill Doctor Lucky.

Murder is a private matter. You have to eliminate Dr. Lucky without any other player in sight. None of your opponents can be in the same location on the island as you and the Doctor when you make your attempt. Even someone observing the murder from a neighboring location will foil your attempt.

But there’s a further complication Doctor Lucky’s cat Ragu (the black disc) is so distracting that anyone sharing a space with her cannot see outside that region. So if you’re in the same area as the cat, and someone in a neighboring region is trying to kill Doctor Lucky, you’ll be unable to prevent the murder by observing it.

As you can see, killing Doctor Lucky requires a combination of skill, strategy, luck, and cunning. Some weapons are more dangerous in certain parts of the island. The cat’s ability to distract players can be a hindrance or a gift, depending on how you use her.

Even when you manage to outmaneuver your opponents and isolate the Doctor, it will no doubt take you several tries to kill him; your opponents can thwart your murder attempts by altering the Doctor’s chances of survival (by expending their luck cards).

They can also hamper your gameplay by tossing hazards your way, causing you to sacrifice cards from your hand or deplete your cache of luck.

But the more attempts you make — either to kill the Doctor or to hamper your opponents — the faster you can move around the island and the more dangerous your murder attempts become. This is a game that rewards patience and boldness alike.

The engrossing gameplay is enhanced by the humor and style that permeates the game from top to bottom. There are shamelessly punny regions on the map — like Salient Point and Tiger Woods — and a host of hilarious Failure and Hazard cards to entertain you as you scheme.

The artwork is simple, evoking an old-timey sense of adventure and derring-do with the scratchwork-style drawings and aesthetics, while the cast of characters is vividly rendered, offering each player a particular motive for wanting to off the infamous Doctor.

All in all, The Island of Doctor Lucky is the most ambitious edition yet, encouraging players to interact with each other more than ever before, and offering the Doctor further chances for survival. Even long-time fans of the series will find delightful, challenging new wrinkles to enjoy here. As the game strays farther and farther from its Clue-inspired roots, it only grows richer and more engaging.

The Island of Doctor Lucky is available from Cheapass Games and participating retailers.


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The Curious World of Ancient Board Games

A few weeks ago, we delved into the surprisingly deep history behind games still commonly played today, like Go, chess, and various dice games. But we barely scratched the surface when it comes to ancient gaming. There are numerous games that fell out of favor centuries ago, only to be resurrected in the modern day by game enthusiasts and historians.

In today’s blog post, I’d like to dust off a few of these ancient games and briefly discuss what we know about them. It’s game history time!

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

A popular Viking game whose heyday was between the fourth and twelfth centuries, Hnefatafl was a popular game throughout Scandinavia. This mouthful of a game — sometimes called Viking chess by modern game fans — was so ubiquitous back then that it was mentioned in several of the Norse Sagas.

Amazingly, although game pieces and fragments of game boards have been recovered, no one is entirely sure how the game is played, so rules have been reconstructed based on a similar game called Tablut.

Translated as “board game of the fist,” Hnefatafl is part of a family of games called Tafl games, all of which take place on a checkerboard-style play space with an uneven number of game pieces.

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

Unlike Hnefatafl, the Royal Game of Ur has survived the centuries pretty much unscathed, thanks to a copy of the rules recorded on a Babylonian tablet. Played in the Middle East centuries ago — in places like Syria and Iran — the Royal Game of Ur was clearly popular, as evidence of the game has been found as far away from the Middle East as Crete and Sri Lanka.

The game and its trappings penetrated deep into Middle Eastern society. An Ur game board was carved like graffiti into a wall in the palace of Sargon II (dating back to the 700s BC). The Babylonian tablet indicates that certain game spaces were believed to be good omens, and could be interpreted as messages from the beyond.

The game was eventually either supplanted by backgammon or evolved into a version of backgammon, depending upon different historical accounts.

[Image courtesy of Chess Variants.com.]

Tori Shogi dates back to 1799 in Japan. Also known as Bird chess — thanks to game tiles named after phoenixes, cranes, and swallows — Shogi is played on a board seven squares wide and seven squares deep.

Unlike many chess variants, Tori Shogi allows for captured pieces to return to play, a nice twist that deepens the familiar gameplay style.

[Image courtesy of Bodleian Libraries.]

But chess and backgammon aren’t the only games with centuries-old precursors. The geographical game Ticket to Ride also has an aged forebearer in Binko’s Registered Railway Game, which was built around a map of the United Kingdom.

An educational game about placing trains on the map and determining how far they travel, this game has survived the decades relatively unscathed by time.


Those are just four examples of games that were either lost and then rediscovered, or games that fell out of favor, only to be resurrected by curious modern players.

And once again, these games are just the tip of the iceberg. There are centuries-old versions of The Game of Life, Parcheesi, a dating game, checkers, and more when you start digging!

As you can see, games have been a part of human civilization dating back millennia. We were always meant to play puzzles and games, it seems.


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Kickstarter Roundup: Ad Quest!

A well-designed board game can make nearly any endeavor a fun and engaging gameplay experience.

Sure, there are games where you endure monstrous onslaughts (Castle Panic!, Dead of Winter), cure outbreaks (Pandemic), escape dungeons (Welcome to the Dungeon, Escape: The Curse of the Temple), and conquer rival civilizations (Small World, Risk).

But there are also games where you manage a farm (Agricola), grow bamboo (Takenoko), run a newspaper (Penny Press), or build a stained glass window (Sagrada). Your goal doesn’t have to be earth-shaking to be worthwhile and engrossing.

And there’s a game currently seeking funding on Kickstarter that fits the latter pattern. You might not be slaying dragons or toppling empires, but you will definitely be in for the fight of your life.

The game is called Ad Quest, and I think you should give it a look.

Ad Quest places you in the shoes of an advertising creative team. You’ll conceive your ideas, deal with clients, test your ad, produce it, and polish it until it’s a shining example of your work, fit for your portfolio.

Designed with a razor-sharp wit and a potent dose of cynicism, Ad Quest creates a challenging and entertaining gauntlet for you and your fellow players to run, peppered with obstacles like focus groups, rogue clients, and celebrity meltdowns.

The game board is sleek, the cards are wonderfully designed, and the game strikes an elegant balance between real-world frustrations and clever design, ensuring that you’ll be kept on your toes throughout the entire game.

You can check out the Kickstarter campaign here, and be sure to follow the Ad Quest Instagram account for more details, pictures, and behind the scenes glimpses into the game and design process. Additional details can also be found at adquestgame.com.

I think creators Adam Samara and Michael Camarra have a real winner on their hands here.


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Citizen Shoutout: Game Shop Edition!

Welcome to the second installment of a brand-new monthly feature on the blog, Citizen Shoutout!

Each edition of Citizen Shoutout is an opportunity to say thank you. It allows us to put the spotlight on folks in the PuzzleNation community who contribute to the world of puzzles and games in a meaningful way.

And in our sophomore edition, I’d like to highlight my friendly local neighborhood game shop, Gamer’s Gambit!

Danbury, Connecticut is the home of Gamer’s Gambit, a combination comic book store, hobby shop, and hub of gaming activities of all shapes and sizes.

Boasting one of the widest ranges of games for sale in any store in the state, the store is a one-stop shop for all sorts of board games, card games, dice games, roleplaying games, escape room games, and even some video games. Along one wall, there’s a bevy of comic titles and graphic novels, along with all sorts of accessories, collectibles, and gaming paraphernalia. From Funko Pops to paint for miniatures, they’ve got everything.

But behind the game shelves, trade paperbacks, dice, and snacks, there’s the highlight of the store: the play area.

The tables are big enough to accommodate character sheets, DM screens, miniatures, and maps for an immersive Dungeons & Dragons game, yet narrow enough to allow for competitive rounds of card games like Magic: The Gathering.

And the game room is often the centerpiece of whatever’s planned for that day. With demos for new games, tournaments, regular game nights, costume events, and release parties for comic books, board games, and card games, there’s always something going on in the store.

The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, making their recommendations more reliable than most. After all, you’re getting the skinny from fellow gamers and roleplayers.

I can’t say enough good things about Gamer’s Gambit. It’s a great place to shop, try out new games, and mingle with fellow game enthusiasts. I’m proud to highlight the shop in our latest Citizen Shoutout.

But what about next month? I’m glad you asked.

In the future, I’d like to take suggestions from my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers for those we highlight in each month’s post.

It could be a puzzler or designer who inspires you, a constructor who challenged you or surprised you with a puzzle, or someone who did something kind in a puzzly way.

Maybe you have a favorite local game shop / hobby shop where you meet other puzzlers, or that introduced you to a favorite game. Maybe your local library held an event that piqued your puzzly interest.

Maybe you’d like to give a shoutout to an escape room you think others would enjoy, or to a puzzly event (a scavenger hunt, a tournament, a collaborative event, etc.) or to someone who went above and beyond to make a puzzly experience truly memorable.

You can submit your suggestions for the next Citizen Shoutout on Facebook, on Twitter, or in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.


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PDP Tabletop Tournament: Round 3

Two weeks ago, 15 intrepid members of the Penny/Dell Puzzles crew (as well as yours truly, your friendly neighborhood PuzzleNation blogger) embarked on the first stage of a four-week journey: The PDP Tabletop Tournament.

In Round 1, the field was culled from sixteen competitors to eight after tense battles of On the Dot and Bananagrams.

In Round 2, it was halved again as this group of elite puzzlers went to war in games of Timeline and Qwirkle.

We’re down to just four competitors, each inspiring their own hashtags: #TeamNikki, #TeamRick, #TeamGordon, and #TeamJenn.

What awaited them in Round 3? Let’s find out, shall we?

Unlike Rounds 1 and 2, there wouldn’t be two games to play. Instead, all four competitors would play a single game, and the top two scorers would go on to the championship finals next week.

The game for Round 3? Sheriff of Nottingham.

Sheriff of Nottingham is a card game that mixes strategy, resource management, and bluffing. The 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 of these cards is worth points, and the contraband goods are worth more than the legal goods. Of course, the contraband goods are illegal, so if you’re caught bringing them to market, there’s a penalty.

And, unfortunately, in order to get your goods (legal or otherwise) to market, you have to get past the Sheriff.

For example, in a four-player game, let’s say the first player is the Sheriff. The other three players will each place up to five cards in their bag, then snap it shut, and declare what’s inside to the Sheriff. A player may be telling the truth about the contents of her bag, or she may be lying. The Sheriff can choose to either let a bag pass through unchecked or open and inspect the contents of any bag.

Anything that gets through the Sheriff goes into your market stand and is worth points at the end of the game. If the Sheriff chooses to check your bag, one of two things happens. If you were honest about what’s in the bag, the Sheriff pays you the value of those items. If you lied about the contents of your bag and the Sheriff catches you, you must pay him a penalty, and any contraband goods in the bag are seized.

[Nikki places a kindly offering of cheese from a fellow player
into her marketplace during her turn as the Sheriff.]

Of course, you can always negotiate with the Sheriff before the bag is opened. Bribes (of coin, product, or favors) can be offer, and deals can be made.

Once the Sheriff has either let the players’ bags through or finished the inspections, everyone settles their goods in the marketplace, the next player takes over as Sheriff, and the cycle starts again.

The game ends after every player has been the Sheriff twice. Then the players count up the value of everything they’ve brought to market — including any contraband they’ve snuck through — as well as their coin piles. (Plus, there are bonus points to be gained if you brought the most of any product to market. For instance, the person who brought the most apples is King of Apples, and the person who brought the second-most is Queen of Apples. Both titles are worth points.)

This game is obviously more complex and involved than the games played in Rounds 1 and 2, so there was a practice game last Thursday to allow players to familiarize themselves with the rules and the gameplay.

Once starting coins and cards were allotted to each player (plus a few coins extra to encourage wheeling-and-dealing/bribery), the game commenced. In the end, only two of the four players at the table would be moving on to the finals. What combination of Nikki, Rick, Gordon, or Jenn would face off for the championship?

As it turns out, there was already a wrinkle there. Jenn unfortunately couldn’t make it to the tournament this week, but she was allowed to choose a player to sub in for her: JP. Although she didn’t know what game would played in Round 3 when she picked him, as it turns out, she chose well. JP not only won the practice round last week, but he’d won a previous game played a month or two ago.

JP started off as the Sheriff, and surprisingly, he let the other players off easy, choosing not to inspect any of their bags for contraband (perhaps hoping such kindness would be reciprocated when he brought goods to market in turns to come).

[As Sheriff, Gordon inspects the contents of Nikki’s bag, looking for contraband.
He’ll be disappointed, and end up paying her for the inconvenience.]

As Gordon, Nikki, and Rick each took a turn guarding the path to market, this first go-around proceeded quickly. There were only a few attempts to sneak contraband through. There was also a touch of bribery, but hey, that’s part of the game. In fact, Rick rejected a bribe from Gordon at one point and chose to inspect his products anyway, which was a surprise.

All in all, only ten minutes passed before the role of Sheriff returned to JP.

The tension picked up as the second go-around began, and game play slowed down considerably. People were being more deliberate in both choosing the items for their bag and in their deliberations as Sheriff.

[Rick watches intently as Gordon chooses what to take to market.]

One of the things that makes Sheriff of Nottingham so engaging is that you can’t ever really know who is winning. Whenever someone sneaks contraband through (or pays off the Sheriff to look the other way), you have no idea how many points they scored. All you know is that they got something of higher value to market. Unless you make a concentrated effort to keep track of the goods people are focusing on — particularly if they’re hoping to score those bonus points as King or Queen of a product — it can be tough to know exactly where you stand, points-wise, compared to the others.

Nerves began to fray as more goods flooded the marketplace. Sheriffs looking for “contributions” drove harder bargains, adding both coins and goods to their coffers. Apples became quite a valuable foodstuff for bribes, particularly when Nikki was Sheriff.

Rick’s second turn as the Sheriff coincided with the last turn, and he ominously declared, “This is going to be a very expensive round.” Everyone laughed, but given how strongly Rick had been playing, they also knew he’d be driving a hard bargain for anyone trying to score last-minute points by sneaking contraband through.

This second go-around lasted nearly twice as long as the previous one, and emotions were running high as Rick’s turn as Sheriff ended and the gameplay concluded.

We then counted up the legal goods everyone brought to market, and determined who would be scoring bonus points. Everyone did well here, racking up some valuable eleventh-hour coinage.

  • JP was King of Cheese.
  • Rick was King of Chickens and Queen of Cheese.
  • Gordon was King of Bread and Queen of Apples.
  • Nikki was King of Apples (thanks in part to those marvelous bribes), Queen of Bread, AND Queen of Chickens.

The judges then swooped in to count everyone’s haul, and the players stepped away from the table to enjoy some marvelous cookies and treats provided by the judges… and await their fate.

In the end, it was a very close game. Only fourteen points separated the top scorer and the third place finisher. (Less than 30 points separated the entire field.)

Gordon secured a spot in the finals with top score (165), followed closely by Nikki (159) and Rick (151), with JP closing things out (137).

So it would be Nikki and Gordon proceeding to the finals! Congratulations to both of them, as well as kudos to Rick and JP for their impressively strong performances throughout the game.

The finals will held as part of our annual International Tabletop Day event next week!

And, of course, a crown, scepter, and Game Night Gift Pack await the eventual champion.

To be concluded…

[You can check in on the next round of the tournament live on Tuesday on our Instagram account!]


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Making Board Games More Accessible Than Ever!

[Image courtesy of Make Board Game.]

I’m a huge proponent of the idea that there’s a game out there for everybody. Some prefer fun, lighthearted fare. Others like the high-stakes of a winner-take-all scenario. Some thrive in cooperative games where victories are shared and losses softened by camaraderie, while others like one-on-one strategic battles.

But no matter who you are, there’s a game out there for you.

Unfortunately, for colorblind gamers or those dealing with visual impairments, some of the most popular games are less accessible.

[Ticket to Ride remains one of the more colorblind-friendly games on the market today. Image courtesy of Board Game Duel.]

I’ve had several colorblind friends tell me that the color-and-pattern-matching tile game Qwirkle is a no-go, because the game’s colors (as well as the black tiles on which those colored symbols are set) can cause serious confusion that hampers gameplay.

Although there’s no official colorblind-friendly edition of Qwirkle on the market, there is a colorblind-friendly version of the game that has been shared online. The color palette is more accessible, and instead of black tiles, the base tiles are gray.

Other games have also picked up on the need to keep their multicolored games accessible to a broader audience. As mentioned in a recent post on the official Tabletop Day website, the game Lanterns: The Harvest Festival incorporates specific symbols for each of their differently colored cards to make it easier for colorblind players to distinguish them.

And if you’re a visually impaired game enthusiast, there are other companies out there working hard to ensure you have the widest possible range of games to enjoy.

The folks at 64 Oz. Games produce specialty sleeves and other modifications for established board games and card games, allowing visually impaired players to play alongside their sighted pals.

[An image from their successful Kickstarter campaign a few years ago.
Image courtesy of 64 Oz. Games.]

A combination of Braille and clever use of QR codes has opened up games like Munchkin, Cards Against Humanity, Coup, Love Letter, Seven Wonders, King of Tokyo, and numerous roleplaying games to a previously excluded audience.

Add items like their 3D printed Braille roleplaying dice and a touch-based game called Yoink! that is based on tactile gameplay, and you have a wonderful resource for all sorts of game fans.

As we gear up to celebrate a day dedicated to gathering with family and friends to enjoy playing games, it’s a pleasure and a privilege to acknowledge those who are going above and beyond to make sure as many people as possible can participate.

It’s a beautiful thing.


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