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: Back Spin by ThinkFun

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

Imagine someone hands you a small puzzle game. You twist and turn it this way and that way, trying to line up all the different colored components so that they match, spinning and manipulating it so that one particular piece falls into place, but by doing so, three others end up somewhere else, and now you have to chase them down.

It probably sounds like I’m describing solving a Rubik’s Cube, but the same description fits cracking the latest puzzle game from ThinkFun: Back Spin.

And you know what? Back Spin is the younger sibling of the Rubik’s Cube that I wish I could’ve tried out first.

[Both sides of Back Spin, with the spheres all mixed up between the two.]

Designed for solvers aged 8 and up, Back Spin only features two sides (front and back) to Rubik’s six, but each of those sides has six small colored chambers, intended to hold matching colored spheres. Rotating the front or the back allows you to line up these chambers and swap spheres between them.

As for the spheres, there are nine different colors to sort; red, yellow, and orange are on both sides, but each side has a different shade of blue, green, and pink/purple, meaning some spheres can go on either side, but some are only meant for the front or the back.

Whether you’re moving colored spheres from back to front or rotating them in overlapping chambers to shift the spheres’ positions within the chamber — a la the sliding tiles in one of those picture puzzles — this is an introduction to chain-thinking and solving, a step up from simpler mechanical brain teasers, but not nearly as daunting as Rubik’s infamous cube.

[Alright, it’s solved! Oh, no, wait, this is only one side. Darn.
There are still spheres misplaced on the other side of the puzzle.]

And although the game is marketed as a single-solver puzzle, you really need two: one to mix all of the spheres up, and the other to unravel it. It’s much more satisfying to conquer the challenge someone else sets out for you than one you set for yourself, because you can’t help but retain some of the steps involved in mixing up the puzzle.

Having someone else mix up the spheres not only allows for a tougher solve, but the process of mixing them up for another solver is just as valuable a puzzling experience as solving it.

[Okay, this time I’ve got it. All the spheres properly placed on both sides. Phew!
(You can also see that there are only two purple spheres, since one chamber
has to allow a sphere to pass from back to front for the puzzle to be solvable.)]

Back Spin is a wonderfully vivid variation on a classic style of puzzle solving, one whose simple mechanics — a wheel that goes back and forth and holes that line up — allow for deep, meaningful, logic-based puzzling.

It encourages exploration and experimentation, staving off both the boredom and the frustration that more difficult brain teasers often spark. It’s a terrific addition to the ThinkFun line-up of puzzle games that teach while you play.

Back Spin is available for $14.99 on the ThinkFun website. To check out previous ThinkFun product reviews on PuzzleNation Blog, click here.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Here We Go Again edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

Follow-Up Friday is an opportunity to look back on past posts and puzzly topics. Whether we’re updating you with new developments, providing answers to a previously-posted brain teaser or puzzle, or simply revisiting a subject with a fresh perspective, Follow-Up Friday lets us look back and look forward.

In today’s edition, I’d like to revisit optical illusions. One illusion in particular, in fact.

It’s hard to believe that almost exactly a year ago, I dedicated an entire post to explaining the viral Internet phenomenon known as The Dress.

For those who have forgotten (oh, how I envy you), the above picture of a dress was uploaded to Tumblr, and the Internet collectively lost its mind debating whether the dress was white and gold or black and blue.

But why are we revisiting this topic? Because there’s another oversaturated photo of an item of clothing sweeping the Internet these days.

I give you… The Jacket.

And this time around, there are FOUR possible color combinations that people are debating: blue and white, black and brown, green and gold, and green and brown.

So, take a look at that picture, and tell me what you see.

Made your choice? Okay.

According to this article on ABC News, the jacket is blue and white:

High school sophomore and Santa Clarita, California, resident Mariam Kabba said she began a group chat Thursday about the dress after one of her friends was adamant that her blue-and-white jacket was brown and black.

To be fair, I did a quick search of men’s and women’s jackets on the Adidas website, and the only color combinations I saw that fit the style and striping of The Jacket were…you guessed it, blue and white.

But I suspect that won’t dissuade doubters. I can still remember the ardent arguments of the white and gold faction during the heady days of The Dress.

I also wonder if Adidas might capitalize by releasing a four-set of The Jacket jackets, so you can truly have whichever one you see in the picture. That’s what I’d do.


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PuzzleNation Product Reviews: Takat and Noueni

In today’s product review, we look at two card games that are all about matching colors, identifying patterns, and scoring points, but in very different ways. Today, we put Takat and Noueni under the PuzzleNation Blog microscope!


Let’s start with Takat.

A card game for 2 to 4 players designed by Tyler Kilgore, Takat is different from most pattern-matching tile games or card games because it’s not about maximizing points…it’s about scoring as few points as possible as you place cards and create different colored shapes on the board.

The game starts with each player secretly drawing a card that reveals that player’s color for this game. Not only are you trying to conceal your color from your opponents, but you’re trying to guess what color they have, based on how they place cards and build shapes on the board.

[Some of the multicolored tiles. There are only two legal plays represented here: the second and third tiles in the top row, and the third tile in both the top and bottom rows.]

The multicolored patterns on the cards allow for all sorts of placement options. When you place a card, you can either neighbor a card on the board or partially overlap it, but you always have to make sure the colors match. If the edge of a card is red and blue, the card you place beside it must also be red and blue.

Since the goal of the game is to score as few points as possible, the strategy quickly becomes a mix of bluffing and deduction. You have to complete shapes in your opponents’ colors without revealing your own. (For instance, if you keep building red, blue, and yellow shapes but not green ones, you’ve told your opponents you’re purposely avoiding green, which will only encourage them to build green shapes and give you more points.)

In this game in progress, the players have mostly avoided completing any shapes; there’s the mostly-round yellow shape on the top right as well as the pointy red shape below it (which is partially formed by two overlapping tiles, unintentionally obscuring the black line at the bottom right of the yellow shape.) Those two are the only shapes completed, which means those shapes are worth more points than shapes that aren’t enclosed by black lines.

But since you can score points on neighboring tiles as well as completed shapes, you have to pay as much attention to who placed a tile as you do to what tile they placed.

For instance, on the bottom left, there’s 2 points for the neighboring red tiles, 3 points for the blue shape above it, and 2 points for the yellow rectangle beside the blue shape, despite none of those shapes being closed by black lines.

The game ends when all cards have been played. Then the players reveal their colors, and the points on the board are tallied up, based on how many shapes were made (and how many were completed), as well as how many cards were used in making each shape. The lowest score wins.

The game play of Takat is pretty easy to pick up, but the scoring is a bit more esoteric and takes some getting used to. It does, however, make for a fun variation on the usual tile-placement scoring game, and as a fan of games like Mafia and other bluffing/concealment games, it does make for a more tense playing experience than your average round of Qwirkle.


Now let’s take a look at Noueni.

Designed by 263 Games, Noueni is also a card game for 2 to 4 players that involves pattern-matching, color-based scoring, and cards that can either overlap or sit next to other cards. But there are some important distinctions between Noueni and Takat.

For example, each player chooses their color at the start of the game, and there’s no attempt to conceal it from your opponents. Also, like many pattern-matching games, highest score wins. In this game, your score is determined by how many of your scoring orbs are on the board by the end of the game.

Each card has two colored scoring orbs and a pattern of black lines emerging from them. Those lines are the connectors, and they determine how the cards placed on the board line up. Any card played must link up with the other cards on the board, whether there’s zero, one, two, or three connectors along that neighboring edge.

As you can see, the green scoring orb on the upper left connects to the red orb by three connections, but the other red orb connects to a yellow orb with only two. So far, there have been no overlapping cards played, so all four players are tied with two scoring orbs showing apiece. (The connections aren’t part of the scoring; they’re just the mechanism for lining up cards.)

A few moves later into the game, the yellow (upper right), red (upper left), and blue (middle) players have all added to the board using those matching connections, but the green player has overlapped half of a blue card, using those connections and obscuring the blue scoring orb.

Overlaps allow you to cover your opponents’ scoring orbs and claim those spots for yourself, but you have to exactly match the connections they left behind. (You can only overlap half of a card already on the board, so even if the green player had a card exactly matching BOTH of the blue card’s connections, that’s an illegal play. The green player could, however, overlap half of one card and half of another, if the connections lined up.)

And that’s where the strategy aspect of Noueni comes into play. It’s a mix of expanding the board and placing as many scoring orbs as possible, but also seizing the opportunity to hide your opponents’ orbs and match those same connection patterns.

The game ends when all cards have been placed, and the player with the most visible scoring orbs wins.

Noueni is more straightforward than Takat, which will make it more accessible to new players, but it also lacks the tension of hiding your color and ferreting out your opponents’ colors. On the flip side, Noueni does maintain that ever-present paranoia that at any point, someone might drop a card on top of yours and steal a key scoring orb at a crucial moment in the game.

Both are terrific games that build on the pattern-matching color tile game format in interesting ways, requiring more from a player than simply outscoring their opponents. You need to outthink them too.

Takat and Noueni are both available from The Game Crafter.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: That Dress edition

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today I’d like to return to the subject of optical illusions.

Yes, by popular demand, I’m talking about The Dress.

untitled-12-660x334

[The original photo is in the middle. To the left, the photo has been color-corrected toward white and gold. To the right, the photo has been color-corrected toward black and blue.]

For those who haven’t heard — and wow, I’m sincerely amazed you haven’t by now — the above picture of a dress was uploaded to Tumblr not too long ago, and the Internet collectively lost its mind debating whether the dress was white and gold or black and blue.

Some people think that color blindness has something to do with the different opinions on the dress, but the answer is simpler than that.

I’ve written about optical illusions in the past, and this photo is another prime example. As for why people are seeing two different sets of colors, it’s all about visual context and how we interpret contrasting colors.

The photo is saturated with sunlight, which skews the color of the dress. But for some people, when their eye color-corrects to determine what they’re looking at, they discount the blue in the photo, and end up seeing white and gold. Other people discount the gold in the photo, and see blue and black.

(This was also one of those cases where actually tilting your laptop screen could significantly change how the colors looked, since changing the angle of your screen altered how the image interacts with whatever light sources are nearby.)

I’ll give you another example. Check out this image from Gizmodo:

18kyr2pu3n22hgif

These green and blue spirals, contrasted against the pink and orange, appear to be different colors, but they are actually the exact same color. Our eyes are fooled into seeing them as different shades by the alternating stripes around them. (The “green” have orange contrast while the “blue” have pink.)

The differing interpretations of The Dress operate under the same principle.

Oh, and for the record, here’s the dress without the sunlight skewing the color scheme, as seen on Ellen DeGeneres’s show:

people-behind-the-dress-appear-on-ellen-02

So which camp were you in, fellow puzzlers? White and gold or black and blue?

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It’s Follow-Up Friday (in color!)

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

For those new to PuzzleNation Blog, Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and update the PuzzleNation audience on how these projects are doing and what these people have been up to in the meantime.

And today, I thought I’d mention a curious and clever board game development I stumbled across recently.

One of the most popular games from our recent TableTop Day event was Qwirkle.

A wonderful tile game featuring different colors and symbols, Qwirkle follows in the strategy and pattern-matching tradition of Uno and Mexican Train dominoes.

Unfortunately, my fellow puzzlers and I quickly discovered that the colors chosen for the game are difficult for colorblind players to tell apart. And in a game where you don’t want to show other players your tiles before you play them, it becomes much harder to tell the different between red and orange tiles, which is a crucial distinction during gameplay.

Thankfully, a software developer and board game fan named Joe Michael McDonald took it upon himself to design a colorblind-friendly color palette for Qwirkle.

qwirklecolorblind

[On the left is the standard Qwirkle color options. On the right is McDonald’s colorblind-friendly variant.]

It’s a terrific example of player ingenuity solving an unforeseen problem and opening up the game to a whole new audience.

Kudos to you, sir. Here’s hoping more games offer a colorblind-friendly variant very soon.

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