The Best of All Possible Puzzle/Game Worlds?

[A sampling of the wide variety of modern puzzles and games. Fluxx cards, Bananagrams tiles, a wooden puzzle box, Pairs cards, David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register, Timeline cards, last month’s edition of The Crosswords Club, Puzzometry pieces, Cards Against Humanity cards, multi-sided roleplaying dice.]

This is the most exciting time in history to be a puzzler or board game enthusiast.

Think about it. If you want to play a game or solve a puzzle, you don’t have to go any farther than your pocket, since a plethora of puzzly goodness awaits you on your smartphone.

Puzzle apps are our bread and butter here at PuzzleNation, so this might feel like a cheap plug, but honestly, it boggles my mind how much more accessible puzzles and games are now than they were even five years ago.

And the app revolution is only one part of the story.

I was reading a book the other day, as I am wont to do on the long train rides to and from PuzzleNation HQ. Titled The Revenge of Analog, it was all about the cultural response to digital media, highlighting the resurgence of vinyl records, film, and other tangible alternatives to electronic formats.

In the chapter “The Revenge of Board Games,” the author discussed the social aspect of tabletop gaming, and how sitting down with people and playing a game is a far different, more rewarding experience than online gaming and other social media-based interactions. (A fine point to consider, what with International TableTop Day a little more than a week away.)

While I do think that’s partially true, I also think that downplays the ingenuity of the puzzle/game community. I think we’re the best of both worlds.

I mentioned in my Tak review last week that puzzles are being created today that could not have been five or ten or twenty years ago. The advent of 3-D printing and laser cutters for homes and small businesses has brought design, construction, and promotion literally to the doorstep of entrepreneurial puzzlers.

Just last week I received a new edition of Puzzometry in the mail, a perk for supporting a team for a school robotics competition. This laser-cut plastic jigsaw will keep me guessing for hours (if its puzzly siblings are anything to go by), and it was designed and manufactured by a single individual.

Old and new styles are meshing as never before. Many puzzle constructors are partially or fully supporting themselves via email puzzle subscriptions and direct sales to the customer. Events like the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games are organized and advertised mostly online.

Crowdfunding has leveled the playing field for many companies and designers in both puzzles and games, allowing more products than ever before to enter the market. (According to Kickstarter, tabletop game projects raised $52 million dollars in 2013, and that number has surely gone up in the meantime.)

You’ve got a proper board game renaissance as classic games and styles of play are meshing with new technology, and games from across the world are shared on YouTube, at Friendly Local Game Shops, or even in puzzle cafes like Toronto’s Snakes and Lattes or New York City’s The Uncommons.

Whether you’re a pen-and-paper solver or a Penny Dell Crossword App devotee, a fan of classics like Chutes and Ladders or a proud tabletopper experimenting with the newest games, this is an amazing time to be a puzzler or board gamer.

So keep playing. Keep puzzling. And share that with others.


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The 2017 New York Toy Fair, Part 2!

On Tuesday, I gave you a general rundown of what it was like exploring the massive spread of puzzles and games on display at this year’s New York Toy Fair.

In today’s post, I’d like to highlight some of the puzzles and games that most impressed me. I think many of these will also appeal to many of my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers as well.

So let’s dive right in!


One of the prime spots in the Launchpad area for first-time attendees was given to the team at Steamforged Games Ltd., who have brought the video game franchise Dark Souls into the board-game realm.

Between one and four players can test their mettle against various creatures, battling to capture their souls and use them to make your character stronger and more capable. The impressive array of miniatures, player cards, and tokens makes for an interactive experience that should satisfy both video game fans and board gamers alike.

For a more traditional family-friendly puzzle game, the crew at Befuddled Games has you covered with Kerfuddle and Tree Top Hop, both of which are suitable for solvers of any age group.

Kerfuddle combines a touch of Boggle with the ever-changing gameplay of Fluxx. Roll the dice and use them to form words, but be careful — the “Shake It Up” cards can make your word forming much more challenging.

Tree Top Hop is a great intro game for young players, as they move around the tree top, spelling words on their cards and racing to the treasure at the center of the board. By combining word-building and strategy, this is a terrific gateway game for new players.

Along the same lines as Kerfuddle is Twizmo! Words, except instead of dice, you have a Rubik’s Cube-style Twisty puzzle providing you with the letters you’ll use to build your word list. Designed by the same team who brought us Tak•tak, Twizmo! Words is a strong quick-play game for any Boggle fans in your household.

Snippets takes the list-building idea in another direction. Instead of random letters, you’re given a three-letter snippet of a word, and it’s up to you to come up with as many words containing that snippet as possible. So, if you’ve got TRA, you can write down EXTRA, TRAIN, STRAP, and so on.

And to close out this collection of word-forming games, we have Letter Tycoon, which adds a monetizing mechanic that really spices up the gameplay. Here, not only are you making money by forming words, but you can patent letters so that when other players use them, you cash in as well. It’s a really clever take on the word-building genre of games.

We now move on from combining letters to combining jigsaw pieces. The puzzles from Palmetto Puzzle Works all center around tessellations — shapes that repeat and interlock in many different ways.

Whether you’re trying to fit the pieces into a given space or you’re connecting them freestyle, these well-made wooden puzzles bring an M.C. Escher touch to the world of jigsaw-style solving.

Beasts of Balance, on the other hand, has players using game pieces in a different way, as solvers stack the animal shapes and try to keep their ever-growing tower of creatures and artifacts from toppling over. The game has a tablet interaction feature that enhances both the gameplay and the storytelling aspect of the game, making the most of new school and old school puzzling.

But if you’re looking to do some puzzly building in a different way, Maze by Seedling is a solid choice. Here, you can map out and design your own marble maze, and then tackle your own creation with a fully-functioning labyrinth board, complete with marbles, walls, and holes to avoid.

And while we’re on the subject of do-it-yourself puzzling, the crew behind Pinbox 3000 have designed a build-your-own pinball game system that allows for infinite customization. They give you everything you need to build a functioning game, and then leave the theme, bells, and whistles totally up to you.

I wrote about this one back when it was a Kickstarter project, and it was cool to see the brand continuing to thrive and grow.

Another gaming classic with a modern twist is Tatsu, which combines Asian-inspired mythology with backgammon-style gameplay. Designed by the same creative team as the tile-placement game Hive, Tatsu is a clever, elegant game all about strategy and guile. It’s easy to learn and tough to master, and I suspect it will do quite well.

If you’re looking to combine strategy with rapid-fire gameplay, Tenzi is for you. In Tenzi, you’re given ten dice, and you have to keep rolling them until all ten match. It’s like Speed Yahtzee! But with dozens of additional variant games at your disposal, from stacking to scoring to rule-shifting games, this dice game has legs and is easy to tote around to play anywhere.

If you’re looking to take your card games anywhere, the team at Narrows Hill have a great solution for you. The Card Caddy is not only a protective case for any deck of cards, but it opens up into a perfect card-dealing and sorting setup for ease of play.

We also got an early glimpse of a forthcoming addition to the Fluxx family of card games. Since Fluxx is celebrating 21 years on the market this year, the crew at Looney Labs is celebrating with Drinking Fluxx, a spirits-soaked version of their famous chaotic rule-shifting card game.

You can mix and match the various ingredients to try to create a winning formula (and perhaps a sideline as a bartender for your fellow players). Just make sure you call a cab after playing.

Whereas Tenzi and Fluxx are quite portable, Banana Bandits from CMON Games requires some space, since you have an entire 3-D building to set up as your game board. As you and your fellow players try to prove yourselves as worthy successors to the boss of the Banana Bandits, you’ll climb and explore the building, collect coins, and tangle with opponents, all on an impressively realized game space.

Will you be top banana, or is it time for you to split?

And the last game I’ll be discussing today is Doctor Who: Time of the Daleks, an elaborate galaxy-spanning game where you play as one of six Doctors traveling across time and space in order to complete missions, save the innocent, thwart your enemies, and generally wreak timey-wimey havoc.

Between the terrific miniatures and the expansive options available for players, this was one of the highlights of Toy Fair for me, and I can’t wait to see how they incorporate additional Doctors into the game later down the line.

Obviously this is just a small sample of all the fantastic, eye-catching puzzles and games that graced New York Toy Fair this year. But nonetheless, it’s an impressive group, covering so many different aspects of the puzzle and game world, and constantly blazing new trails in terms of creativity and innovation.

I have no doubt you’ll be seeing more about some of these projects as 2017 rolls onward.

[You can check out our full gallery of photos from New York Toy Fair on Facebook by clicking here!]


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Hall of Fame edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

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 Dungeons & Dragons!

I’ve written about Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games in the past, because I think they are a wonderful, underappreciated part of the world of puzzles and games. Some of the best and most satisfying riddles and puzzles I’ve ever solved were an integral part of a game of D&D.

So I’m excited to announce that Dungeons & Dragons has been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame!

Housed at The Strong National Museum of Play, the National Toy Hall of Fame recognizes those products and improvised toys that have played a crucial role in the development of children and teens.

Whether they assist in hand-eye coordination, storytelling, deduction, athletics, or creativity, they are all classic examples of toys tied to fond memories of childhood. Previous inductees include the Rubik’s Cube (2014), Hot Wheels (2011), the Radio Flyer Wagon (1999), Jacks (2000), and Play-Doh (1998).

And I for one think Dungeons & Dragons is a very worthy addition to this club.

From the induction notice:

Dungeons & Dragons and its imitators actually changed the nature of play.

In Dungeons & Dragons players assume the roles of characters who inhabit a world moderated and narrated by a Dungeon Master, a player who explains the action to others and solicits their reactions to the unfolding story. The Dungeon Master’s storytelling skills and the players’ abilities to imagine add enjoyment to the game. Some aspects of the play are familiar, such as dice. But the special dice for Dungeons & Dragons hold up to 20 sides. Rolling them determines each character’s individual strengths, plots their complex interactions, and decides the outcome of their encounters.

More than any other game, Dungeons & Dragons paved the way for older children and adults to experience imaginative play. It was groundbreaking. And it opened the door for other kinds of table games that borrow many of its unique mechanics.

For over forty years, Dungeons & Dragons has been synonymous with roleplaying, collaborative storytelling, and good old-fashioned sword-swinging derring-do. And I think it’s fantastic that it’s getting some long-overdue recognition for the positive role it has played in so many people’s lives.

Congratulations to you, Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax. Thank you for hours and hours of brilliant, engaging fun.


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Keep your Get Out of Jail Free card handy.

Recently, friend of the blog Chris Begley sent me an article about some interesting math facts. Most of them were about probability and how many people misinterpret the likelihood of various events happening based on bad assumptions about probability.

For instance, since you have a 50/50 chance of heads or tails when you flip a coin, it seems logical that if you flipped a coin ten times, you’d get heads five times and tails five times, whereas in reality, it’s common to have runs of one result or the other that fly in the face of that simple 50/50 assumption.

But that wasn’t the fact that caught my eye. I thought it was much more intriguing that not all spaces on a Monopoly board have an equal likelihood of being landed on.

And that can affect how you play. For instance, if you believe each spot has an equal chance of being landed on — 1 in 40, given the 40 squares on the board — you might opt to buy all three colors in a given area to give yourself a 3/40 chance (7.5%), or you might go for all 4 railroads to give yourself a 4/40 chance (10%).

[A breakdown of spaces and likelihood of landing, based on the UK version.
(Chance and Community Chest cards differ between UK and US versions,
though probabilities for spaces in the US version are quite similar.)]

But that’s not how Monopoly actually works. Some spaces are far more likely than others. This is partly due to rolling two dice every time you move (which makes 6, 7, or 8 spaces the most likely results). There are also rule cards that make some squares more likely than others.

The most common space to land on is Jail (due in no small part to the Go to Jail square and where Chance and Community Chest cards send you). The most common PROPERTY to land on is Illinois Avenue, followed by B&O Railroad, Tennessee Avenue, New York Avenue, and Reading Railroad.

[A breakdown of space probabilities for the US version of the game.]

On the flip side, Mediterranean Avenue is the least likely to be landed on, followed by Baltic Avenue, Luxury Tax, Park Place, and Oriental Avenue. (Again, the Go to Jail square comes into play, as Park Place is seven squares away and the most common dice roll is 7.)

I like that a little properly applied math might make you a better Monopoly player. (Though if I’m going to walk the Boardwalk, I’d rather be playing The Doom That Came to Atlantic City.)


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Mira Modi + dice = safer passwords for all!

Every time you sign up for a new website, email address, or social media account, you’re reminded of one of the most curious aspects of modern life for an Internet user: the increasing complexity of passwords.

Whether you’re being graded on the relative strength (or weakness) of your password based on its length or being required to include uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, punctuation marks, or other symbols along the way, passwords are getting more and more complicated in the name of Internet safety.

This modern form of cryptography often leads to one of three results:

  • you use the same password over and over for everything (not safe)
  • you have to write down different passwords to every site in order to keep them all straight (also not safe)
  • you opt for a password-management service to handle them for you (a bit unwieldy)

Well, as it turns out, an 11-year-old girl named Mira Modi might have the answers to all your password needs.

Mira started a company called DiceWARE to create passwords that are both secure and easy to remember!

From her website:

The DiceWARE method creates strong passwords that are easy to remember but extremely difficult for hackers to crack. Passwords contain random words from the dictionary, such as: alger klm curry blond puck horse.

For the very affordable price of $2, Mira will create a six-word password just for you, send it to you by mail, and then encourage you to customize it however you see fit — capitalized letters, number replacement, etc. — so even she won’t know your password when you’re done.

How does it work?

You roll a die 5 times and write down each number. Then you look up the resulting five-digit number in the DiceWARE dictionary, which contains a numbered list of short words.

So, essentially, the same randomness that can make Yahtzee a delight or a challenge will decide each of your six words. It’s ingeniously simple and designed to dissuade the usual hacking tricks.

Kudos to Mira for creating an affordable and immensely clever way to make our websurfing safer! This is puzzly thinking at its finest!


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Kickstarter Updates: Pairs, Baffledazzle, and Board Games for the Blind!

The Internet has truly changed everything: how we communicate, how we shop, how we learn, how news spreads, how businesses rise and fall. And the puzzle world is no different.

The Internet allows us to bring PuzzleNation apps right into your phones and tablets. Constructors are making names for themselves marketing directly to solvers. And now, with the growing influence of Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and other crowd-funding platforms, puzzlers and game designers are bringing terrific, innovative puzzles to life like never before.

I sincerely enjoy sharing crowd-funding news with the PuzzleNation audience, because it’s a rare opportunity to see a puzzle or a game go from an idea to a finished product from start to finish. I’ve reported on plenty of them, and today, I’d like to update you on a few successful campaigns that made it through the crowd-funding gauntlet and recently delivered their products to market.

The first comes from our friends at Cheapass Games, who actually launched two Kickstarter campaigns this year. Not only did they recently wrap up the funding process for a storytelling strategy game called Stuff and Nonsense, but they introduced a terrific new card game, Pairs, under their Hip Pocket Games brand.

[A handful of different Pairs decks, including a pirate-themed deck,
a goblin-themed deck, and a Professor Elemental-themed deck.]

Their campaign did so well that they’ve released the original Pairs deck (known as the Fruit Deck, pictured above) and ELEVEN alternate decks, each with a different theme, great custom artwork, and rules for an additional card game specific to that deck.

A social card game that’s easy to learn and hard to master, Pairs (confidently and humorously subtitled A New Classic Pub Game) recently hit stores, and I expect it will be a big hit.

Back in April, I posted about a campaign launched by the folks at 64 Oz. Games called Board Games: Now Blind Accessible. The campaign raised funds for several products designed to bring established board games to the visually impaired, including braille sleeves for card games and a 20-sided braille die, each allowing sighted players and non-sighted players to enjoy the same gaming experience.

It’s a wonderful cause, and I’m pleased to report that this month, they’ve released accessibility kits for numerous popular games, including Munchkin, The Resistance, and AEG Love Letter, with more on the way!

In addition to the accessibility kits, they’ve produced a card game called Yoink!, designed to be played blindfolded and relying on touch alone. I received a copy this weekend and tried it out with friends with great success.

[Check out the different patterns and shapes on these Yoink! cards. You have to collect three of a kind or three totally different ones to win, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.]

With other top games on the to-do list, 64 Oz. Games is doing great work for board game fans everywhere.

Finally, I have an update about Rachel Happen’s Baffledazzle campaign.

Raising nearly $14,000 dollars for a laser cutter and supplies to bring her jigsaw puzzles-with-a-twist to life, Rachel has completed production on her first run of Baffledazzle puzzles, shipping them out to backers AND loading up her new Etsy store.

And in honor of her successful campaign, I thought I’d do a brief series of unboxing photos to show you the care and attention she paid in packaging her puzzles for backers and customers.

Here’s the absolutely monstrous box I received in the mail,
loaded to the brim with packing peanuts.

And here are the carefully bubble-wrapped parcels of each Baffledazzle brand puzzle. The larger ones came complete with storage bags, hint and solution envelopes, and pins for each puzzle. (You can see two in the corners of the puzzle cards, as well as one on the drawstring of the top green bag.

And here’s a better look at some of the packaging. High-quality bags protect the wooden and acrylic puzzle pieces, and each is labeled with a signature “Hello, my name is Baffledazzle” sticker.

Two of the beautiful laser-cut wooden pieces from the Ozuzo puzzle.

A close-up of some of the carefully crafted puzzle pieces for the Cirkusu puzzle.

Rachel absolutely outdid herself with the Baffledazzle campaign, and I cannot wait to see what she cooks up next.

With the successes of Pairs, Board Games: Now Blind Accessible, and Baffledazzle, we can chock up three more victories for the online puzzle community. With so many creators out there and the technology at our fingertips, the puzzly possibilities are virtually limitless.

And in closing, I’d like to hear from you, PuzzleNationers. Have you supported any Kickstarter or Indiegogo puzzle campaigns? If not, would you in the future? Let me know!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!