Kickstarter Roundup!

Oh yes, it’s that time again.

For years now, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been hotbeds of innovative puzzle and game design, and I’m always happy to spread the word about worthy projects that I think will delight and intrigue my fellow PuzzleNationers.

So let’s take a look at some projects that are currently seeking funding and see if any pique your interest!


The first is Peter Gordon’s Fireball Newsflash Crosswords.

Culturally timely clues and entries are a hallmark of this marvelous variation on Gordon’s long-running Fireball Crosswords brand, and you can be guaranteed that each Fireball Newsflash Crossword grid will be well-constructed and cleverly clued.

With twenty puzzles sent to you by email — one every two to three weeks — you’ll always have some terrific puzzling to look forward to.

Gordon has a knack for melding flowing grid design with sharp, topical entry words, and much of the time, you’ll not only be impressed by how much material makes it into the grid, but by what major and minor events you’ve missed recently! Gordon’s history of topnotch puzzles is all the incentive you need to contribute.

He’s already at one-third of his target goal, and he only launched a few days ago. I suspect Peter’s got another successful project on his hands here.

For the roleplaying-game enthusiasts out there, our second offering is right up your alley: Treacherous Traps.

Designed for the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons — but easily adapted for all sorts of other RPG systems — Treacherous Traps offers obstacles and surprises for players of any experience level.

Whether you’re selecting one of the specially tailored decks or the hardcover book containing all 250(!) traps, you’re sure to find plenty of devious ammunition to toss at your players.

Treacherous Traps has blown way past its original goal, but there’s still plenty of time to get in on the ground floor of some fun and crafty additions to any roleplaying campaign.

For our third and final offering today, we’ve got a new board game with ancient ties.

Enso Koi is a strategy game where each player tries to capture their opponents’ koi fish while protecting their own. As players navigate the pond, seize and maneuver stones, and eliminate the rival fish, they’ll have to devise tactics while playing both offense and defense.

A mix of piece-capturing games like chess and territory-control games like Risk, Enso Koi offers an elegant new take on classic board game tropes.

It’s about a third of the way funded already, and for a first-timer on Kickstarter, that’s pretty impressive!


Have any of these games hooked you? Let us know which ones you’re supporting in the comments section below! And if there are any campaigns you’re supporting that we missed, let us know!

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PuzzleNation 2018 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Category

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2018 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

We’re excited to be bringing you our biggest gift guide ever! There are so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is broken down into categories for ease of searching. We have puzzle books, downloadable puzzles and puzzles by mail, jigsaw puzzles, puzzle games, board games, card games, dice games, party games, and miscellaneous puzzle swag. We’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for any puzzler on your list!


This year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide is sponsored by Daily POP Crosswords!

Daily POP Crosswords offers a different themed puzzle every single day, spanning everything from TV and film to sports and music!

Available for both Android and iOS users, you get terrific content from some of the world’s top constructors! And the download is free!


Puzzle Books

Pencil-and-paper puzzles are alive and well, and we’re happy to share some of our favorites with you.

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Maybe you’re looking for one kind of puzzle, like their Logic Problems Spectacular ($8.99) or some variety with the Mammoth Grab A Pencil Book of Brain Boosters ($10.50). Or perhaps you’d like a little something extra, and you’d prefer the Signature Fill-Ins Puzzle Gift Set ($32.95), complete with pencils, coffee, and snacks to keep you puzzling, or the Signature Sudoku Puzzle Gift Set ($32.95). Or you want to unwind with their Flying Colors coloring book ($6.99) and sip some coffee from a snazzy I’d Rather Be Puzzling Travel Mug ($7.95). Either way, the folks at Penny Dell Puzzles have got you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter throughout the holiday season. They’ve got bundles and discounts for days!

And while we’re on the topic of puzzle books, some of the best constructors working today have released their own books for your perusal! And with New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some quality puzzlers within these pages!

–David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register ($5.35)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Octopus Crosswords ($5.59)

–Matt Gaffney’s Fast & Fun Mini Crosswords ($6.18)

–Andrew Ries’s Maverick Crosswords ($8.31)

–Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords ($8.95)

–Erik Agard’s Food for Thought Crosswords ($8.95)

–Cynthia Morris’s American Acrostics Volume 6: Puzzling American Culture and American Acrostics Volume 7: Puzzling Explorers and Adventurers ($7.95 each)

The Gatekeeper’s Bundle by Mike Selinker, Gaby Weidling, and Eric Harshbarger

The Maze of Games is one of the most diabolical puzzle books ever conceived. It allows the protagonists AND the reader to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of different puzzles in the hopes of conquering each of the labyrinths within the book.

And The Gatekeeper’s Bundle combines The Maze of Games, The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze hint book, and the new Maze of Games Map all in one place! ($74.95)

Of course, if you’ve already got The Maze of Games and The Theseus Guide, you can pick up the Maze of Games Map on its own right here! ($14.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of The Maze of Games!]

Puzzlecraft: How to Make Every Kind of Puzzle by Mike Selinker and Thomas Snyder

Updated seven years after the original version hit shelves, the new and improved Puzzlecraft is a self-contained masterclass in puzzle creation. Covering everything from crosswords and Sudoku to logic puzzles and brain teasers, this is the perfect launchpad for any and all aspiring puzzlers and constructors! ($29.95)


Downloadable Puzzles and Puzzles by Mail

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between by-mail offers, subscriptions, and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The Crosswords Club, edited by Patti Varol (puzzle bundles by mail, $39.95 for 12 issues)

Puzzle Your Kids by Eric Berlin ($3/month, or puzzle sets available starting at $3.99; one free puzzle per week)

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles) ($22 for 1 year)

–Matt Gaffney’s Daily Crossword ($24 per year) and Weekly Crossword Contest ($26 per year)

–Andrew Ries’ Aries Xwords ($12 per year)

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($30 for 1 year)

–Joon Pahk’s Rows Garden puzzles ($20 for 1 year) and Variety puzzles ($15 for 1 year) OR get both for $30!

Crossword LA 2018 puzzle pack ($5)

–Bryant Park 2018 tournament puzzle pack ($5) and 2016/2017 bundle ($10)

Topple puzzle magazine ($1 per issue)


Jigsaw Puzzles

Puzzometry

For a next-level jigsaw challenge, Puzzometry is tough to top. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available as Puzzometry ($17), Puzzometry Jr. ($12), and Puzzometry Squares ($17), you’ve got three distinct challenges appropriate for different ages!

[Check out the full review of Puzzometry by clicking here!]

 

Tavern Puzzles / Tucker-Jones House Inc.

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to remove twice as many pieces in a Collaborative Effort or free the triangle from Tridiculous, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($25 each)


Puzzle Games

Cat Crimes (ThinkFun)

A mischievous cat has turned your living room upside-down… can you figure out which one? Cat Crimes adds an adorable domestic twist to deduction-style puzzling with a cuddly cast of kitty miscreants for you to place at the scene of the crime, if you can read the clues properly! ($12.99)

[Check out our full review of Cat Crimes by clicking here!]

IcoSoKu (Project Genius)

Perhaps the most diabolical brain teaser is the one you make yourself! In IcoSoKu, you place the numbers into the grid ball, and then try to puzzle out how to place the plates so that they all fit! It’s tougher that it looks and twice as fun! ($19.99)

[Click here to check our full review of IcoSoKu!]

Zendo (Looney Labs)

Puzzle games are all about the rules, but what if you don’t know the rules? That’s where Zendo comes in. In this puzzle game, you arrange Looney pyramids and other shapes into various designs, and then see if those designs conform to a mysterious rule. A game of deduction and trial-and-error, Zendo is a very different solving experience. ($40)

Plus there’s a brand-new expansion pack with additional rules for the game! ($5)

[Check out our full review for Zendo here!]

Lexicon-GO! (Winning Moves UK)

Are you a word-forming pro? Take your speed-solving skills and try them out with Lexicon-GO!, a Scrabble-style tile game suitable for solvers of all ages! ($12.95)

[Click here for our full review of Lexicon-GO!]

Chroma Cube (Project Genius)

Deduction puzzles have never been so colorful! In Chroma Cube, you need to puzzle out where to place twelve richly colored cubes, with only a few tricky clues to help you out! Take logic puzzles into the third dimension with this minimalist delight! ($19.99)

[Check out our full Chroma Cube review here!]

Pinbox 3000 (Cardboard Teck Instantute)

How about the chance to build your own game? Is that puzzle enough for you? Pinbox 3000 provides all the pieces you’ll need, plus valuable advice for brainstorming and creating your very own pinball game. It’s endlessly customizable, so you can make your Pinbox pinball game as simple or as complex as you like! ($49.95)


Board Games

Some of the puzzliest games on the market today are being made by top-flight board game companies, and we’ve got some marvelous games that will appeal to puzzlers of all ages!

Deblockle (Project Genius)

It sounds so simple! Just move your four cubes from one side of the board to the other. But Deblockle is more than meets the eye, and as you race against your opponent to puzzle out a path to victory, you’ll push your puzzly skills to the limit! ($24.99)

[Check out our full review of Deblockle here!]

The Island of Doctor Lucky (Cheapass Games)

People have been trying to kill Doctor Lucky for over twenty years, and this time around, you’re visiting his exotic island estate to try your murderous luck against the titular Doctor! The Island of Doctor Lucky offers a new gameboard to explore and new movement mechanics — including the Doctor’s very distracting cat — this is the best addition to the series yet! ($40)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

castellan1castellan3

Castellan (Steve Jackson Games)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Shadows in the Forest (ThinkFun)

It’s lights out with this unique exploring game that pits players against brightness and darkness! In Shadows in the Forest, one player searches the board for magic little creatures, while the other players try to keep them hidden! In the darkness, who knows who will win? ($24.99)

[For our full review of Shadows in the Forest, click here!]

The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games)

Bring the insane real-life rivalry of paleontologists Cope and Marsh to life in The Great Dinosaur Rush! As you collect fossils and discover your own unique dinosaur, you must also steal bones, sabotage other scientists, and more! Show off your cunning and creativity in this game that proves historical truth is weirder than fiction! ($50)

walk-byscrabble

drawingroomscrabble

Walk-By Scrabble BoardTile Securing Travel Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including Tile Securing Travel Scrabble for those who want to solve on the go ($39.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($249.95) — not to mention the mindboggling World’s Largest Scrabble Game for $12,000! — but few are as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]

Laser Chess (ThinkFun)

The classic game of positioning and strategy gets a 21st-century upgrade! In Laser Chess, you use mirrors and careful piece-placement to bounce your laser beam across the board! Can you remove your opponent’s obstructing pieces and light up their king with your laser? If you do, you win! ($39.99)

tsuro

Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Try not to meet any other dragons or fly off the board! It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($23.00)

Chessplus

The first thing you learn in chess is how the pieces move. But what if that could change? What if you could make new pieces that move in unexpected ways? How would that change the game? With Chessplus, you’ll find out, as you mix and match chess pieces in order to capture your opponent’s king. The possibilities really are endless! ($39.95)

[Click here for our full review of Chessplus!]

qwirkle

Qwirkle (MindWare)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train DominoesQwirkle is a tile-placing game where you try to maximize your points while minimizing the help you give to your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump into! ($18.39)


Card Games

Star Trek FluxxStar Trek: The Next Generation Fluxx, and The Bridge Expansion Pack (Looney Labs)

The chaos and ever-changing rules of Fluxx finally meet their match as they tackle the crews of the Federation’s most famous vessels. Whether you’re using the original series team in Star Trek Fluxx ($20), the crew of the Enterprise-D in Star Trek: The Next Generation Fluxx ($20), or combining both decks with the help of The Bridge Expansion Pack ($5), these cards will take you where Fluxx has never gone before!

[Click here for our full reviews of Star Trek Fluxx, Star Trek: The Next Generation Fluxx, and The Bridge Expansion Pack!]

Ricochet Poker (Hip Pocket Games)

Have you tried poker without the bluffing? With Ricochet Poker, you’ll sharpen your wagering and tactical skills by playing the cards, not the players! The player with the worst hand controls the action, but the player with the best hand wins the pot! ($10)

[Our full review of Ricochet Poker can be found here!]

Spaceteam (Timber and Bolt)

Can you repair your ship and get the engines up and running before a black hole ends your space adventure forever? That’s the name of the game in Spaceteam, a cooperative, communication-based game where you have to accomplish various tasks with your fellow players while sharing tools. It’s delightful chaos, heightened by the five-minute hourglass timer counting down your dwindling seconds before disaster strikes! A definite favorite around here. ($24.99)

Get the MacGuffin (Looney Labs)

Endurance is the name of the game here! (Except not.) In Get the MacGuffin, your goal is to outlast your opponents by being the last player with cards in their hands or in play! If you get the MacGuffin, you’ll be in good shape! But beware the thief, he could spoil your day! ($10)

[Click here for our full review!]

Unspeakable Words (Playroom Entertainment)

Some word games might drive you mad, but only Unspeakable Words actually makes keeping your sanity part of the gameplay! As you spell different words, you have to make a die roll to see if spelling the word cost you a bit of your sanity. If you lose too much of it, you’ll start uttering unspeakable words, which can be worth more points… if your sanity can take it! A fun twist on Scrabble and other word-forming games. ($21.83; deluxe edition $24.34)

Constellations (Xtronaut Enterprises)

Sometimes, we can move heaven and earth! Constellations is all about collecting stars and building famous constellations, then placing them in the night sky! The more effective your constellation-building, the higher your score! ($19.95)

[Check out our full review of Constellations here!]

Scrimish (Nexci)

Combine the card game War with elements of Chess and Memory, and you’ve got something approximating Scrimish, a card game that’s effortless to learn, but offers endless possibilities. Can you protect your crown card while hunting down your opponent’s? With cards for both defense and offense, there’s a lot packed into just 25 cards apiece! ($9.99)

[Check out our full product review of Scrimish by clicking here!]

timeline-game

Timeline (Asmodee Games)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before or after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning) history! ($14.99 and up)

Girl Genius: The Works (Cheapass Games)

When you mess with the machine, you never know what might happen! In Girl Genius: The Works, you will play, spin, and remove cogs (cards) from the machine in order to earn points. But be careful, since chain reactions could leave your opponents in better standing by the time your turn is done! With multiple starter decks to choose from, Girl Genius: The Works will keep you coming back for more. ($10)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

Mary Engelbreit Loonacy (Looney Labs)

The singular pattern-matching chaos of Loonacy gets a lovely aesthetic update in the newest edition of the rapid-fire card game! Mary Engelbreit Loonacy marries the bright colors and warm tones of Engelbreit’s art with the fun and furious card-slapping gameplay of Loonacy! ($15)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

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The Oregon Trail (Pressman Toys)

The classic computer game comes to life as you and your fellow players team up to survive the perilous journey along The Oregon Trail. With art evoking old-school computer games, rampant threats and calamities to endure, and a long and challenging road to travel, will any of you will make it to Oregon? ($14.99)

[Check out our full product review of The Oregon Trail by clicking here!]


Dice Games

Button Men (Cheapass Games)

It’s one-on-one combat with dice in Button Men, a quick-play game that deftly balances luck and calculation! Can your strategy and math skills overcome your opponent and the random chance of rolling and re-rolling the dice? ($35)

[Click here to read our full review for Button Men!]

Sagrada (Floodgate Games)

One of the most beautiful strategy games on the market today, Sagrada is a singularly peaceful gaming experience. Compete with other players to build the most beautiful stained glass window, but with dice instead of glass! Unique and challenging, Sagrada is something else. ($44.95)

Fluff (Bananagrams)

Get ready to put your bluffing skills to the test with a kid-friendly round of Fluff! This fun version of Liar’s Dice will have you wagering, guessing, and deceiving your way to victory… or dicelessness! ($12.99)

Knot Dice (Black Oak Games)

Can you twist, turn, and spin these dice to complete beautiful, elaborate patterns inspired by Celtic knots? That’s the name of the game with Knot Dice, a dice game as challenging as it is gorgeous. With single-player and multi-player puzzles included, you’ll be tying yourself in knots for days! ($29.95)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

Tenzi

All of us have rolled dice in games before, but can you roll what you need as fast as possible? That’s the challenge of Tenzi, a game that pits up to four players against each other in tests of speed and dexterity. Can you roll ten 6’s before everyone else? ($14.95)


Party Games

Slapzi (Tenzi)

Slapzi will keep you on your toes. In this quick-reaction game, you’ve got to match your picture cards to the clue cards before your opponents. But with clues like “Not sold in a hardware store” or “Two of the same letter together,” this isn’t as easy as it appears! ($19.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of Slapzi!]

schmoviesleek

Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze)

Are you the funniest, punniest one in your group of friends? Find out by playing Schmovie, the party game that pushes you to scribble down the best name for an imaginary movie created on the spot! Now redesigned in a sleeker box and playable by all ages, this is the movie game for everyone. ($18.95)

[Check out our full product review of the original version of Schmovie here!]

Decrypto (IELLO USA)

Can you covertly communicate with your teammates without revealing your secret code to the opponent team? That’s the name of the game in Decrypto, a party game all about word association and deduction. The first team to crack the opposing team’s codes twice wins! ($19.93)


Miscellaneous Puzzle Swag

If you’re looking for puzzly magnets, keychains, teddy bears, and more, the team at All of the Things have puzzle treats for you! Their table was one of the marketplace highlights at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, and we’re happy to welcome them to the Gift Guide this year!


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in this year’s holiday puzzly gift guide!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

PuzzleNation Product Review: Shadows in the Forest

[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.]

Strategy games come in all shapes and sizes, so if you want to stand out these days, you have to bring something special or unique to the table. And with Halloween fast approaching, a strategy game with some spooky mechanics would really hit the spot.

ThinkFun’s latest strategy game, Shadows in the Forest, fits the bill nicely, delivering one bright idea with a twist: it’s played in the dark.

Designed for 2-7 players, ages 8 and up, Shadows in the Forest is essentially an elaborate round of Hide and Seek.

One player is the Seeker, a lantern-wielding explorer who is wandering the woods searching for Shadowlings, peculiar creatures that lurk in the shadows and are vulnerable to light. The other players are the Shadowlings, working together to stay out of the light and thwart the Seeker.

So how do you play?

First, you set up the board, assembling and placing the physical obstacles — trees, stumps, rocks, etc. — that will create shadows for the Shadowlings to hide in.

Then, place the lantern on one of the red stones in the pathway on the board. Turn on the lantern and shut off the lights. (You’ll want it as dark as possible to really immerse everyone in the game and make the most of both the lantern and the glow-in-the-dark die that comes with the game.)

Now the Seeker has to shut their eyes as the other players place the Shadowlings in the shadows created by the lantern.

Once the Seeker opens their eyes, the game begins.

The Seeker uses the die to determine how many spaces the lantern moves. Any Shadowlings revealed by the lantern during the Seeker’s turn are frozen in place, and the Seeker takes their masks. Those unmasked Shadowlings are unable to move until they are unfrozen by other Shadowlings.

Once the Seeker’s turn is done, the Seeker closes their eyes, and the Shadowlings move. Unlike the Seeker (whose lantern has to stick to the path), the Shadowlings can be moved anywhere on the board. They don’t need to stick to the path or adhere to a die roll to determine how far they can travel.

The only rule for them? They cannot move anywhere the light touches. They must stick to the shadows. (There’s no jumping, climbing, or otherwise bypassing the light. The Shadowling’s movement can curve or turn, but must be an unbroken line along the board.)

[This Shadowling is caught in the light, and therefore frozen.]

The goal of the Seeker is to freeze all of the Shadowlings and take their masks. The goal of the Shadowlings (who play as a team) is to gather every Shadowling on the board in the same shadowy place.

It’s an intriguing hook for a game, but unfortunately, the instruction manual is vague and not terribly intuitive. It does a poor job of explaining both how the Shadowlings move and how they unfreeze Shadowlings touched by the light.

In each of our test games, we had to resort to house rules and clarifications in order to play the game. For instance, even while hiding, we decided the Shadowlings should face outward (away from the obstacle), so their masks would shine brighter if the light revealed them. Additionally, we made Shadowling players trace their intended path along the board with their finger first, in order to reveal if they touched the light of the lantern at any point.

As for the freezing/unfreezing rules, we decided that any Shadowling that lost its mask couldn’t move, even if the lantern’s movements plunge them back into the dark. Only when another Shadowling touched them in the dark could the mask be returned and the Shadowling unfrozen. (This may very well be the intended way to play, but the instructions are unclear, so it’s hard to tell.)

Once we’d established these ground rules, the game really came together.

[Can you see both Shadowlings?]

It becomes a battle of strategy. The Seeker tries to reveal and freeze the Shadowlings in place while searching for others, while the Shadowlings must outmaneuver the lantern, stay in the shadows, rescue their pals, and mass in one place.

It’s amazing how a simple movement of the lantern piece can not only bisect the board and pin down the Shadowlings, but alter the shadows on the board in unexpected ways.

The obstacles are easy to assemble and disassemble, and the battery-operated lantern (batteries included!) throws off a surprising amount of light for its size. The Shadowlings are adorable, each with their own little look and personality, and yet, easily vanishing into the darkness. This game has style to burn.

Although adults can play the game, we found that games either ended very quickly (if the Seeker rolls poorly or the Shadowlings were massed on the far side of the board from the lantern) or lasted a very long time (similar to chess games where the pieces on both sides are depleted and players simply chase each other around the board endlessly).

But when playing with younger solvers, the Shadowling team play and the convention of playing in the dark made for a unique gaming experience — particularly if an adult is the Seeker, and one adult joins the Shadowling team of younger players. Seeing the kids conspire against the adult to lurk in the shadows is a delight.

In the end, Shadows in the Forest is a fantastic idea for a game that, while not executed to perfection, still makes for a fun time.

ThinkFun’s Shadows in the Forest is currently available at Target, Amazon, and participating retailers, for $24.99.


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

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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Computer Program Teaches Itself to Solve Rubik’s Cubes!

I tried to warn you, fellow puzzlers.

I wrote posts about computer programs that play chess, Scrabble, Go, Atari games, and Jeopardy! I wrote posts about programs that solve crosswords. I even wrote posts about robots that solve Rubik’s Cubes in a fraction of a second.

And they’re getting smarter.

Say hello to DeepCube, an AI program that is now the equal of any master Rubik’s Cube solver in the world at solving 3x3x3 cubes.

And unlike other AI programs that have learned to play games like chess and Go through reinforcement learning — determining if particular moves are bad or good — DeepCube taught itself to play by analyzing each move, comparing it to a completed cube, and reverse-engineering how to get to that move.

It’s labor-intensive, yes, but it also requires no human intervention and no previous information. Chess-playing programs like Deep Blue work by analyzing thousands of previously played games. But DeepCube had no previous history to build on.

It started from scratch. By itself.

And became a Rubik’s Cube master.

In only 44 hours.

Compare that to the 10,000 hours it supposedly takes for a human to become an expert in anything, and that’s a mind-blowing accomplishment.

[Image courtesy of YouTube.]

From the Gizmodo article on DeepCube:

The system discovered “a notable amount of Rubik’s Cube knowledge during its training process,” write the researchers, including a strategy used by advanced speedcubers, namely a technique in which the corner and edge cubelets are matched together before they’re placed into their correct location.

Yes, the program even independently recreated techniques designed by human speed-solvers to crack the cubes faster.

The next goal for the DeepCube program is to pit it against 4x4x4 cubes, which are obviously more complex. But supposedly, deposing human puzzle solvers as the top dogs on the planet isn’t the finish line.

No, this sort of three-dimensional puzzle-solving is only an intermediate goal, with the ultimate endgame of predicting protein shapes, analyzing DNA, building better robots, and other advanced projects.

But first, they’re coming for our puzzles.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Deblockle

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

Chess, checkers, backgammon, Go, Othello… all of the classic board games rely upon the idea that both players know how the pieces can and will move from round to round. That way, they can strategize, they can prepare defenses, they can circumnavigate your attempts to flummox them. To outmaneuver someone, you have to know how they can maneuver.

But what if your opponent could potentially move in five different ways? How would that alter your strategy? How would that alter your gameplay?

Beware, fellow puzzlers… one-on-one board gaming just got a little more complicated with Deblockle.

Masterminded by the team at Project Genius, Deblockle pits two players head to head to see who can remove their four blocks from the board first.

That’s right, there aren’t sixteen pieces to keep track of, like in chess, or twelve, like in checkers. There are just four blocks for you, and four blocks for your opponent.

But here’s where things get tricky. Each turn, you have two moves. The first move is to roll one of your blocks into an adjacent space (either vertically or horizontally).

The second move is to place your block according to whichever symbol that landed face-up because of that roll.

There are six symbols, each with a corresponding action:

  • Stop: your turn is over, there is no second move
  • Cross: move your block one space either horizontally or vertically
  • X: move your block one space diagonally
  • Hoops: move your block three spaces (vertically or horizontally) in any combination, including backtracking over a space you just occupied
  • Slider: move your block either vertically or horizontally until you reach the end of the row or column, or until you’re stopped by another block

With each of those second moves, you’re not rolling the block to reveal a new symbol; you’re picking it up and placing it into its new position.

And yes, there are six symbols, and I only listed five above. That’s because the sixth symbol, the star, can only be revealed if you’re rolling onto one of the star spaces on the board. By rolling the block star-side-up onto a star space, you remove the block from play.

That’s the only time you can roll your block star-side-up, and the only time you’re allowed to occupy a star space with your block.

There are only two star spaces on the board, and you can only remove your blocks from the game if you utilize the star space opposite you.

And that’s when things get really tricky. Because it’s entirely likely that your opponent’s blocks will prevent you from rolling onto the symbol you wanted. So you’re puzzling out how exactly to roll and move your blocks so you’ll end up adjacent to the star space with the star symbol waiting to be rolled face-up, and also playing defense to impede your opponent’s efforts to navigate and manipulate the board to their own advantage.

It’s a lot to keep track of, and it makes for an immensely engrossing, engaging puzzle duel for two players. You’ve got the resource management of Risk, the piece placement mechanics of chess, and the defensive gameplay of Stratego and other strategy games.

And since the blocks are placed in their starting positions by your opponent — after rolling them randomly to see which symbol is face-up to start — every game of Deblockle is different. Opening gambits — like those you can learn in chess — are useless, because you won’t know how you can move your blocks initially until your opponent places them.

There is a wonderfully fresh challenge factor to Deblockle that many other head-to-head board games lack. While playing the game over and over will allow you to develop techniques and skills for how to better move your blocks, there are no shortcuts to becoming a better player through sheer repetition, because each opening setup is different.

Project Genius has managed to stuff a massive amount of gameplay, strategy, and style into those four little blocks, and they’ve got a real winner on their hands here.

[Deblockle is available from Project Genius and other participating retailers, for players starting at 8 and up!]


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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!