Relaxing Games: More Tranquil Than Tactical

Everybody has a copy of Monopoly lying around, but that’s not really the most relaxing game experience, is it?

Most of the classics, however fun, are also pretty competitive. But what about games that help restore your spirit, ease your anxiety, and put you in a good mood?

As much fun as co-op games like Forbidden Island, The Oregon Trail Card Game, and Castle Panic! can be, they can also be a little stressful. And if you’re looking to relax, those might not be the games for you.

So today, I thought we could turn our attention to games that will help you enjoy a more calming gameplay experience.


Now, before I get started, I’m well aware that you might not have these games at the ready. Maybe you’re a jigsaw family and you find calmness and distraction in placing those last few satisfying little pieces and completing the image. Or maybe you like making your own fun with pencil and paper.

Whatever your jam, as long as you’re engaging in play and passing the time in fun ways, you’re already ahead of the game.


When I asked fellow game enthusiasts for games that are mellow and relaxing, the first one that always comes to mind is Tsuro.

In Tsuro, up to 8 players adopt the role of flying dragons soaring through the sky. Each player chooses from the tiles in their hands in order to build paths on the board, representing their paths through the sky. Naturally, these paths will eventually intersect, and you need to be careful to avoid colliding with another dragon or following a path right off the edge of the board. (Both of those scenarios cause you to lose.)

Despite the potential for competition, most Tsuro games are peaceful affairs as everyone enjoys watching their dragon token loop and swirl across various intersecting paths, hoping to be the last dragon standing on the board. It’s a beautiful, simple game that only takes about twenty minutes to play, and it’s the perfect palate cleanser after a more stressful round of some other game.

beforetherewerestars

[Image courtesy of Board Game Geek.]

Some of the most enjoyable and low-key game experiences are storytelling games. I could recommend one with high-fantasy flavor like Once Upon a Time or one with a tongue-in-cheek Addams Family-esque humor like Gloom. But the one that piques my interest the most is based in mythology and sharing stories around a fire.

In Before There Were Stars…, players claim constellation cards to use in crafting the origin story of the world itself. Each player shares how things were in the beginning, at the dawn of civilization, when a great hero emerges, and at the end of days. Along the way, players grant each other points — little star-shaped point tokens, naturally — for their favorite story moments, as everyone encourages each other in creating epic mythologies.

Although there can be a winner based on points, playing this game always feels more like a storytelling session than a competition, and it can lead to some unforgettable gaming moments.

[Image courtesy of Starlit Citadel.]

Tokaido is another game about movement, but in a very different vein. Players in this game are all travelers, journeying across Japan’s famed East Sea Road from Kyoto to Edo. Whereas most travel-based games are about reaching a destination first, Tokaido is about reaching a destination with the widest array of meaningful experiences.

Along the way, your character can meet new people, enjoy new cuisines, collect souvenirs, visit hot springs, and visit scenic locales. You add experience points for these events (and acquire achievement cards) that represent your traveler partaking of these experiences.

This elegant game bypasses traditional competition entirely, building a unique game mechanic out of living your best life.

[Image courtesy of Board Game Quest.]

Sagrada is another wonderfully visual game about individual accomplishment. In this game, each player is building a stained glass window using different colored dice. No dice of the same color can neighbor each other, so you need to be strategic about how you place the dice you roll.

Each window is different, and has certain rules for maximizing points. (A certain pane can only be a certain color, or a certain die value, etc.) The players can boost their scores by selecting cards that reward them with points if they create certain patterns within their stained glass window.

Except for competing for the best point total at the end, there’s virtually no interaction between players. You’re all simply working simultaneously on the best window, which is a gameplay style that breeds camaraderie more than competitiveness. It’s genuinely encouraging to see fellow players make good choices in dice placement to create the most beautiful, elegant window patterns.

[Image courtesy of Starlit Citadel.]

For a change of pace, let’s look at a game that’s more about interaction with other players. Dixit is a gorgeous card game where each player is given a handful of cards, each depicting a different, unique, evocative piece of art.

Player 1 will choose a card from their hand and say a word or phrase to the other players that has some connection to that card. It could reference color, or part of the imagery. It could be a joke, or an idiom, or a song lyric. The goal is to be vague, but not too vague. The other players will then each select a card from their hand that could also be described by Player 1’s statement, and the cards are all shuffled face down so no one can see who submitted what card.

The cards are then all placed face up, and each player (except Player 1) votes on which piece of art they think Player 1 chose. Player 1 gets points if some (but not ALL) players chose his card. (If every player chooses it, the clue was too easy, and Player 1 gets no points.) And any other player’s card that earns votes also earns that player points.

This sort of associative gameplay really encourages your imagination and teaches you about how the other players think. There’s no other game quite like it on the market today, and it makes for an intriguing, low-key gaming experience.

Finally, let’s close out today’s post with a classic tile game that mixes Uno-style color- and pattern-matching with Mexican Train Dominoes-style gameplay. Qwirkle is a bit more competitive than the other games on today’s list, but it’s still a game more about collaborating than outdoing your opponents.

By placing different tiles onto a shared play area — either by matching colors or matching symbols — players earn points. If you complete a Qwirkle — a pattern of all six colors for a given shape or all six shapes in the same color — you earn bonus points.

The lighthearted gameplay style lends itself to friendly competition rather than the cutthroat mien evoked by games like Monopoly. Qwirkle’s not about grinding the other players down, it’s about adding to a colorful world in interesting, inventive new ways.


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Suggestions from the World of Puzzle Books!

Back in March, we did a round-up of all sorts of puzzle books for solvers looking to return to the simplicity of solving with pencil and paper. We focused on books loaded with puzzles for your enjoyment.

But that’s only a small sampling of the books available to puzzle fans. In addition to straight-forward puzzle books, you can find guides on how to make puzzles and games, books offering historical or social insight on the puzzle-game genre, and even fiction books that incorporate puzzles into the storytelling.

So today, we’re doing another puzzle-book round-up, but we’re expanding the scope a bit to cover some delightful puzzle-themed books you might’ve missed recently.


puzzlesnacks

If you’re relatively new to solving — or you’d like to introduce someone to the world of puzzles — then Puzzle Snacks by Eric Berlin is a terrific place to start.

Loaded with over 100 puzzles that run the gamut from fill-ins and clued puzzles to brain teasers and wordplay games, Puzzle Snacks fits solvers of any experience level, helping build up your puzzle skills while introducing you to dozens of variations on the puzzles you know.

shawnwsmodern

For the word seek/word search fans, we’ve previously recommended the word search puzzles of Shawn Marie Simmons, which are geared toward bookworms with themed lists based on literature.

Her latest offering is 25 Word Search Puzzles for MODERN Literature Lovers. With word lists tailored to different iconic authors and works of literature — ranging from the Lord of the Rings and Virginia Woolf to Roald Dahl and Margaret Atwood — you can revisit your favorite reads as you go searching each grid for a bevy of fun and familiar words.

cluebyclue

But maybe you’d like to mix some light puzzling with a touch of adventure-filled storytelling for either you or younger solvers. In that case, the recent Netflix revival of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? might have what you’re looking for.

A series of tie-in books for the show are now on the market, and the best of them is Clue by Clue by Catherine Hapka. Centered around the former thief’s efforts to do good and thwart her former allies, Clue by Clue sets Carmen and the ACME team on a treasure hunt for a prize that’s been missing for centuries.

What makes this book so noteworthy is the decoder wheel built into the cover itself! By rotating the wheel, you can decipher different coded messages throughout the book, cracking the case alongside Carmen and her allies.

keymaster

If you’re looking for a little more narrative heft with your puzzling, then the latest addition to The Maze of Games universe is probably up your alley.

Now that The Maze of Games has finally been solved after years of attentive puzzling, a new answer guide is available: The Keymaster’s Tome.

But this isn’t just the perfect walkthrough for the ultimate puzzle novel; this is an in-universe story in its own right, as the characters of Colleen and Samuel Quaice share their thoughts and reactions to the puzzles they encountered through The Maze of Games.

It’s a really fun and clever take on answer guides, and offers some nice character notes from the heroic and determined Quaice siblings.

avidlyreads

Our last offering turns to the world of board games, as the author shares both his own personal experiences with games and how different types of games create different play experiences.

Avidly Reads Board Games by Eric Thurm covers topics like the pluses and minuses of cooperative games, the emergence of legacy games, the infamy of Monopoly, and the curious subgenre of political games (both the intentionally nasty and those that history has judged poorly). Along the way, Thurm offers glimpses into various aspects of modern gaming.

More a series of short essays than one cohesive narrative, Avidly Reads Board Games is one man’s look at a world of games that is constantly evolving, yet remains tied to its earliest successes.

Can you think of any terrific puzzle books we missed? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Building Better Bonds with Board Games

friendsboardgames3

[Image courtesy of Toy-TMA.com.]

Earlier this year, we discussed a study indicating that playing board games was good for your relationship. The results of the study revealed that the act of playing board games actually coincided with the creation of new chemical bonds of affection for the person with whom you’re playing the game.

Well, as it turns out, it’s not just romantic relationships that benefit from the board game experience, as another article suggests that social relationships also benefit from communal play like board games.

From the article on QZ.com:

Board games, along with role playing and table games like Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons, allow players to enter into a controlled state of conflict. The process of engaging in that conflict is fun even when you lose, and the outcome is likely to be different the next time around.

A good board game builds in enough chance so that any reasonably skilled player can win. Even in chess, famously associated with warfare and military strategy, the emphasis is not on who ultimately wins, but on the ingenuity that players display in the process.

friendsboardgames2

[Image courtesy of Den of Geek.]

It’s a simple combination, really. Board games offer not only an achievable goal — something that can feel rare in our ever-complicated world — but a sense of fairness to the proceedings that might feel equally rare. Everyone is operating on the same footing, everyone is capable of the same actions, and (ignoring previous experience with the game) everyone has a fair chance of succeeding.

Heck, in most games, taking turns is built into the game. Board games are orderly affairs. Even the chaotic ones operate under a standard set of rules that are reassuring and clear. Life is rarely so simple.

In addition, there is the comfort-building social aspect of getting together to play games. Conventions like Gen Con and holidays like International Tabletop Day are designed around the joys of shared play, and more and more, you see game stores, hobby shops, libraries, board game cafes, and other locations offering game night activities and bringing people together.

friendsboardgames1

[Image courtesy of Review Geek.]

I wonder if there are any games that are commonly regarded as strong relationship builders. I’m sure cooperative games would rank higher than most, but then again, sometimes the spirit of competition can also bring people together.

Fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, is there a particular board game that you prefer for family or friendly game nights? What about games you enjoy playing with your significant other? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Inclusiveness in Puzzles: New LGBTQ+ Scrabble Words!

wordwithfriendsjedi

From time to time, someone will ask me whether a certain word is appropriate for a crossword. It could be a new constructor, or an aspiring constructor, or a fan of crosswords. It could be about a relatively new slang term, or an obscure word, or a foreign word, or a celebrity. Sometimes, they’re wondering if it’s too hard, or too new, or too niche, or whether it’s appropriate for crosswords at all.

That’s the thing. There is no one source you can go to for all your crossword questions. There’s no definitive list of appropriate words or phrases, because the language is constantly changing and evolving. Pop culture is dynamic, and new ideas, concepts, and personalities are always cropping up. In that way, crosswords are essentially eternal, because the source material constantly shifts in popularity and familiarity. There are always new words to fill those iconic black-and-white grids.

But, if you were looking for that mythical definitive list of appropriate words, it’s not unreasonable to assume you’d go to the International Scrabble Dictionary, the official source for what is allowed as a valid answer word in a game of Scrabble.

Recently, for the first time since 2015, new words were added to the approved list. Over 2800 fresh entries are now officially eligible for tournament and at-house use, and they’ll all appear in the latest edition of Collins Official SCRABBLE Words. (Collins, which also publishes the Collins English Dictionary, added the words after they were approved for use in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary last year. These 2800 words join over 276,000 already approved for Scrabble play.)

It’s quite appropriate that we’re covering this story in June. As many of you are aware, June is Pride Month, and awareness of LGBTQ+ issues and culture affects all aspects of life, even puzzle games!

Among those 2800 newly-approved entries are non-binary and gender-neutral words like “genderqueer” and “agender,” as well as related terminology like “misgender” and “cisgender.”

But the LGBTQ+-friendly term that’s getting the most attention in Scrabble circles is “ze”. This two-letter word is a gender-neutral pronoun, allowing individuals who don’t identify as strictly male (he/him) or female (she/her) to better differentiate themselves and their gender identity.

letterz

For Scrabble players, the word opens up a whole host of new possibilities. After all, “ze” allows far greater opportunity to score big points by playing that valuable Z tile. (“Ze” is only the third two-letter z-word to be authorized for the game, joining “za” and “zo.”)

Now, obviously, in the grand scheme of things, this is a very small step for LGBTQ+ representation, but it is a step. After all, every opportunity to include LGBTQ+ culture and embrace it is part of making it a more familiar part of life for all of us.

In this small way, Scrabble includes previously marginalized individuals by not only accepting these new words, but by changing and adapting in order to do so. It’s an act of welcoming.

Here’s hoping there are far more acts like this, big and small, to come.

[Sources: Pride.com, New York Times, Collins Dictionary.]


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Science Says Board Games Are Good For Your Relationship?

[Image courtesy of Medium.com.]

One of the hallmarks of a healthy relationship is enjoying the same activities. If you’re spending time together doing something you both find engaging, then you’re golden.

But, as it turns out, there are some activities that offer greater benefits than others.

According to a recent study published by Baylor University, couples who play board games together are actually strengthening their relationships chemically.

[Incidentally, there is a hilarious world of photos dedicated to couples with chess boards out there. Here are just some of my favorites.]

From the article on Baylor.edu:

For the study, Melton and Maria Boccia, Ph.D., professor of child and family studies, recruited 20 couples ranging in age from 25 to 40. Couples were randomly assigned to participate in one of two couple dates — game night or couple art class — for one hour.

One group played board games in a familiar home-like setting. Couples were alone. These couples chose familiar games that would not require them to read instructions.

The study was designed to examine any increase in levels of oxytocin in the couples’ hormone levels. Oxytocin, often referred to as the hugging hormone, plays a role in building social connections.

[Image courtesy of Daily Mail.]

Here’s the breakdown on oxytocin release increases:

  • men in the art class
  • women playing board games
  • women in the art class
  • men playing board games

Curiously, while there wasn’t a significant difference between the latter three categories, men in the art class released 2 to 2.5 times more oxytocin than the other groups.

There were measurable increases in the oxytocin levels for both men and women playing board games, lending credence to the idea that playing together is good for your relationship.

Some of the games used in the study: cards, checkers, chess, dominoes, and Monopoly. Given some of my unpleasant experiences playing Monopoly, I’m surprised that one didn’t throw off the curve somewhat.

[Image courtesy of Grey Mass Games.]

It does make me wonder, though, if some games would provoke greater oxytocin releases than others.

Would cooperative games like Pandemic, Forbidden Island, or Castle Panic! lead to increases, or is the type of game irrelevant? Are more stressful games, like those with timers or ones where quick reaction time is integral to winning, less likely to build those chemical connections?

Sounds like a field ripe for further study. Of course, I’m a little biased. I’ll take any excuse to play more games. =)


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PuzzleNation Blog Looks Back on 2018!

2018 is quickly coming to a close, and as I look back on an eventful year in the world of puzzles and games, I’m incredibly proud of the contributions both PuzzleNation Blog and PuzzleNation made to the puzzle community as a whole.

Over the last year, we explored board games and card games, strategy games and trivia games, dice games and tile games, do-it-yourself puzzlers and pen-and-paper classics. We met game designers, constructors, artists, YouTubers, and creative types of all kinds.

We unraveled math puzzles and diabolical brain teasers. We pondered optical illusions, Internet memes, and more, even questioning our place in the world of puzzles as AI and solving robots continued to rise in capability.

We delved into puzzle history with posts about ancient board games from centuries ago, Edgar Allan Poe’s secret codes, and the legacy of influential female codebreakers and spymasters previously lost to revisionist history like Elizebeth Smith Friedman and the Countess Alexandrine. We brought to light valuable examples of puzzles in art, comic strips, animation, music, television, film, and popular culture.

We spread the word about numerous worthwhile Kickstarters and Indiegogo campaigns, watching as the puzzle/game renaissance continued to amaze and surprise us with innovative new ways to play and solve. We shared worthy causes like Queer Crosswords and Women of Letters, as well as amazing projects like new escape rooms, puzzle experiences like The Enigmatist, online puzzle quests, and long-running unsolved treasure hunts.

We celebrated International TableTop Day, offered up puzzly suggestions for Valentine’s Day, attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, and dove deep into an ever-expanding litany of puzzle events like the Indie 500, BosWords, and Lollapuzzoola.

We found puzzly ways to celebrate everything from Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas to Star Wars Day and the anniversary of the Crossword, and we were happy to share so many remarkable puzzly landmark moments with you.

It’s been both a pleasure and a privilege to explore the world of puzzles and games with you, my fellow puzzle lovers and PuzzleNationers. We marked six years of PuzzleNation Blog this year, I’m closing in on my 1000th blog post, and I’m more excited to write for you now than I was when I started.

And honestly, that’s just the blog. PuzzleNation’s good fortune, hard work, and accomplishments in 2018 went well beyond that.

Every month, we delivered quality content for both the Penny Dell Crosswords App and Daily POP Crosswords. Whether it was monthly deluxe sets and holiday bundles for PDCW or the world-class topical puzzles by some of the industry’s best constructors for Daily POP, hundreds of topnotch crosswords wended their way to our loyal and enthusiastic solvers.

And a little more than a week ago, we launched our newest puzzly endeavor — Wordventures: The Vampire Pirate — bringing you a unique, story-driven puzzling experience, complete with gorgeous visuals, atmospheric music, and an immersive mystery to keep you solving!

But whether we’re talking about crosswords, Sudoku, or Wordventures, I’m proud to say that every single puzzle represents our high standards of quality puzzle content crafted for solvers and PuzzleNationers.

And your response has been fantastic! Daily POP Crosswords is thriving, we’re very excited about the response to Wordventures, the blog has over 2300 followers, and with our audience on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms continuing to grow, the enthusiasm of the PuzzleNation readership is both humbling and very encouraging.

2018 was our most ambitious, most exciting, and most creatively fulfilling year to date, and the coming year promises to be even brighter.

Thank you for your support, your interest, and your feedback, PuzzleNationers. The new year looms large, and we look forward to seeing you in 2019!


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