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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PuzzleNation Product Review: Constellations

Plenty of games offer ambitious goals for the players to achieve. You become a real estate tycoon in Monopoly, a castle owner in Castellan, and a time-traveling adventurer in U.S. Patent Number 1. You could traverse the country in The Oregon Trail, save the world in Pandemic, or conquer it in Risk. That’s part of the magic of games.

But what if you could build the night sky? What if you could harness the stars themselves, assemble constellations, and place them into the heavens above?

Now that is a puzzly endeavor worthy of your attention. And that’s the concept behind the game in today’s product review. We’ll be trying out Constellations by Xtronaut Enterprises.


Constellations combines the resource management card game mechanics of Just Desserts with the pattern-matching tile play of Carcassonne to create an educational and engaging play experience.

Each player starts with five star cards. Each star card represents a different type of star (or in some cases, two of that type of star). The star cards are used to assemble various constellations in order to score points.

The game begins with one constellation already placed in the sky, as well as three possible constellations to build. Players may reserve one of the three constellations, making it their primary goal and removing it from play for the other players.

As you can see in the picture above, different constellations require different combinations of star cards. Some constellations are simpler, so they’re worth fewer points. Other constellations have higher values, but more complex combinations of star cards, which may be harder or more time-consuming to collect.

[One constellation tile, plus the star cards played to complete it. As you can see, you can use extra stars as needed (like a Two B-Type Stars card above), as well as using O cards as wild cards (as I did for the two A-type stars needed to complete this constellation.]

Once a player has gathered all of the star cards necessary to complete the constellation, they then must play it in the night sky, placing it adjacent to one or more of the constellations already completed.

You score points by placing a constellation so that the gemstones along the edges match the neighboring constellation(s), and there are additional points available for placing constellations beside other constellations (as they would appear in the actual night sky). For instance, Leo Minor offers a two-point bonus when placed next to either Leo or Lynx.

Different arrangements of gemstones around the edges of the constellation tile require you to be crafty when and where you place your tile, since more matching gemstones means more points.

[In this layout, Taurus was added perfectly, matching gemstones with both Perseus and Ophiuchus. Pegasus, on the other hand, matched Perseus nicely, but only matched one gemstone with Orion.]

Unfortunately, you have to play a completed constellation, and sometimes the gemstone patterns don’t match up at all. If that’s the case, you’ll lose two points for a constellation played out of place. (Once again, the closer you get to placing your constellation as it would actually appear in the night sky, the better it is for your game.)

All of the game’s mechanics are designed around actual science, which is a very cool touch. The star cards include “Did You Know?” facts about each type of star, and the instruction booklet also includes a short guide to stargazing, star classification, and little write-ups for each constellation included in the game. (There’s even a criss-cross-style crossword on the back page!)

Constellations is great fun, requiring strategy, timing, and puzzly observational skills in order to effectively play the game. The educational aspect doesn’t detract from the gameplay at all, and the alternate rules offered in the back (as well as rules for shorter and longer gameplay times) offer an impressive amount of replay value.

All in all, Constellations mixes card games and tile games with ease, and it makes for a fun and mellow gameplay experience.

[Constellations is available from Xtronaut Enterprises and other select retailers.]


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Anatomy Fluxx

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

When compared to the staggering number of pure-entertainment games out there, the number of educational games — that are still lots of fun — is pretty small. But it is growing steadily, and the team at Looney Labs is at the forefront of that endeavor with a series of education versions of their classic card game, Fluxx.

With Math and Chemistry covered by previous editions, the Looney Labs crew looked inward for inspiration for the next edition in the series, Anatomy Fluxx, and they’ve struck gold.

For the uninitiated, Fluxx is a straightforward card game. You collect keeper cards and put them into play. Different combinations of keeper cards complete different goals, and each player has the chance to put different keeper cards and goal cards into play in order to win. So you might find yourself working toward completing the goal at hand when suddenly somebody plays a new goal, and the object of the game changes.

Along the way, players affect how the game is played by utilizing action cards and new rule cards which alter what players can and can’t do. Suddenly, you’ll have to trade your hand with another player, or start drawing three cards each turn instead of one.

So here, you’re combining different organs and body parts (your keeper cards) to form different bodily systems (your goals). But creating Anatomy Fluxx wasn’t simply a matter of swapping out keepers and goals with biology references.

In addition to the usual rule change cards regarding how many cards to draw, how many play, hand limits, and so, they’ve introduced rules to make use of bonus educational information at the bottom of each keeper card.

These rules offer bonus card draws if:

  • you can name an organ after hearing the facts about it
  • you can recite the facts for a given organ
  • you can offer an alternative, true fact about a given organ

There’s even a meta rule you can use to ensure that at least one educational card is in play at all times, if you really want to reinforce the trivia provided!

And the innovations don’t stop there. They’ve built upon the concept of creeper cards — detrimental keeper cards that can prevent you from winning — by introducing ungoals: goal cards where all players LOSE when the wrong combination of creeper cards are played.

Not only do the ungoals offer additional stakes to the game, but they serve an educational purpose as well; the ungoals highlight actual medical dangers. If you have the Mutation creeper, alongside either the Lungs keeper or Prostate keeper, the Cancer ungoal is met and everyone loses. (The poignant fact at the bottom of the Cancer ungoal states “Breast cancer is most common, followed by lung and prostate.” Sobering, but true.)

But that’s not to say that all of the new features of the game are dour. Take, for instance, the Heartbeat rule card: if someone has the Heart in play, and they perform a heartbeat sound during the other players’ turns, they’ll earn bonus cards. That’s the sort of silliness that makes Fluxx great fun.

All in all, I was impressed by the depth of creativity that went into the latest offering from Looney Labs. This is a game that lives up to the chaotic, replayable spirit of Fluxx, but with new tactics, solid educational information, and some important messages to take away from the game as well. Their educational Fluxx series continues to impress.

Anatomy Fluxx is available now from Looney Labs!


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PuzzleNation Product Review: ThinkFun’s Kaleidoscope Puzzle

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

Clear, or transparent, cards are a rarity in puzzles and games, but they offer a terrific gameplay mechanic: the ability to stack cards without obscuring information.

The clear cards in the storytelling game Gloom allow players to add and subtract points from various characters as the grim and whimsical stories unfold. The quick-play pattern-matching game On the Dot — which was part of last month’s Tabletop Tournament — challenges players to properly arrange four clear cards — each with randomly-placed colored dots — in order to match a given pattern before their opponents do.

Now, the creative minds at ThinkFun have put a wonderful, vibrant twist on the clear-card genre of puzzles and games with their latest release: Kaleidoscope Puzzle.

[Two of the six kaleidoscope tiles.]

In Kaleidoscope Puzzle, you have six octagonal tiles, each with its own pattern of tinted and clear quadrants. It’s up to the solver to arrange either two or three of the six tiles in order to recreate the patterns on the challenge cards.

First off, I want to say that this might be the most aesthetically pleasing puzzle I’ve ever solved. Just turning the kaleidoscope cards in my hands in front of a light is enjoyable, letting the snowflake-patterning on each card blur and come into focus anew as the cards line up, each time matching and mixing the various colored quadrants to create eye-catching effects. It’s brilliant in its simplicity, and unlike any color-based puzzle I’ve seen on the market today.

It almost feels like putting together a stained-glass window, particularly as the challenge cards progress and the patterns grow more elaborate.

[One possible combination of those two tiles.]

The Beginner challenge cards help to familiarize you with the gameplay. You quickly figure out placement and color combinations. As you transition into the Intermediate challenge cards, the patterns grow more elaborate, and honestly, more beautiful. It’s amazing the combinations you can conjure with just two of the six possible kaleidoscope tiles!

Halfway through the Intermediate challenge cards, they ratchet up both the possibilities and the difficulty, as you now have to create the patterns with three kaleidoscope tiles. Now you’re trying to cover all four quadrants with color patterns, and it becomes about maximizing what each tile offers.

But it’s in the Advanced challenge cards that the game really separates itself from On the Dot-style solving, because Kaleidoscope puzzle has the color-mixing element as well. Not only are you manipulating the kaleidoscope tiles to place the basic colors where you need them, but you also need to create green, orange, and purple patterns as well.

Toward the end of the Advanced challenge cards, you start to deal with eighths instead of quadrants, divvying up the field into increasingly more complicated designs, reminiscent of pie charts.

Sometimes, you might discover alternate ways to form the patterns, which is very satisfying indeed. It also speaks to how adaptable the six kaleidoscope tiles are, since you can arrange them in seemingly endless combinations.

By the time you reach the Expert challenge cards, you’ll be turning, flipping, and rearranging these tiles like crazy to form the intricate patterns on the cards. It’s an unexpectedly relaxing form of puzzling, a meditative mix of challenge and aesthetics.

[The same pattern coming to life under a desk lamp.]

I cannot say enough good things about this puzzle. Mixing the resource management of how to get the most out of each tile you choose with the striking visuals of the kaleidoscope tiles makes for a unique solving experience.

Puzzles that are as satisfying to look at after the solve as they are to solve in the first place… that’s a true rarity. What a treat.

[Kaleidoscope Puzzle is available from ThinkFun and participating retailers, starting at $9.99!]


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Get the MacGuffin

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

There are all sorts of different card games out there. Some require you to empty your hand of cards before your opponents can. Some are about accumulating the right cards to accomplish certain tasks, reach certain totals, or match certain patterns and images.

Today’s card game is a little different, because it’s not about emptying your hand, accomplishing goals, or matching images… it’s all about outlasting your opponents.

In today’s product review, we explore the latest offering from the crew at Looney Labs: Get the MacGuffin.

At first glance, this might simply seem like a scaled-down version of Fluxx. You have action cards (which affect how you and other players play the game) and object cards (which are placed down in front of you, like the Keepers and Creepers in Fluxx).

As you might expect from the name of the game, getting the MacGuffin is a worthwhile accomplishment, but it’s not the true endgame here. It’s just one very attractive way to reach the endgame.

Between the action cards and object cards, you’re simply trying to keep cards in your hand or in play in front of you while your opponents whittle down their own meager stashes of cards. If you run of cards, you’re out of the game.

And this happens faster than you’d think. With only 23 cards in the deck — 7 object cards and 16 action cards — you could run out of cards in only a few turns. You see, each player starts with the same number of cards. But there’s a big difference between the minimum number of players (two, which means you each get 5 cards, leaving 13 cards out of play) and the maximum number of players (eleven, which means you each get 2 cards, leaving 1 card out of play).

The cards vary wildly in value. Some are very silly; play The Shrugmaster, for instance, and you simply shrug, using up a turn. Otherwise, you don’t affect the game or the other players in any way.

Compare this to a valuable card, like The MacGuffin, which can be picked up and played again over and over. As long as you have that card in play in front of you, you will always have another turn. In a game where every turn can cost you cards, The MacGuffin is a powerful card to wield.

Players familiar with Fluxx will find some of the actions and object card powers familiar, as they allow you to randomly remove cards from other players’ hands, swap cards (or hands) with other players, and even block other cards from being used.

The balance of cards and actions is impeccable. While some cards are very influential, there is always another card in the deck that can remove it, shift it, or neutralize it. (For every MacGuffin, there is not only a Backup MacGuffin, but also a Fist of Doom.)

This adds tons of replay value to a card game that at first blush might seem limited. But the level of card interaction — like the Rock, Paper, and Scissors cards pictured above — make each game an unexpected treat.

Plus it’s a hugely different game based on the number of players. With a big group, you need to be more aggressive, because you could run out of cards in a few minutes. With a smaller group — or just a pairing — you have to strategize more, protecting your valuable cards while trying to prevent your opponents from taking advantage early. Or, heaven forbid, getting the MacGuffin.

Not only that, but the art on each card is terrific. The random characters on the object cards in particular — everyone from The Merchant and The Spy to The Thief and The Assassin — hint at a larger narrative, a bigger storytelling world that the game seems to only scratch the surface of. They feel like the misfits from a particularly wacky Guy Ritchie heist movie, adding a fun element of whimsy to the often-dastardly proceedings.

Get the MacGuffin is a quick-play game that you’ll want to play over and over again.

[Get the MacGuffin is available from Looney Labs and other participating retailers, starting at just $10!]


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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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