PuzzleNation Product Review: Domino Maze

dominomaze0

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

What is it about dominoes that makes watching them fall such a satisfying experience? Is it the meticulous prep work required for a domino display? The balance and hand-eye coordination required to place each one? The danger of upsetting the whole thing before all the pieces are in place? The potential energy harnessed and ready to be unleashed as soon as the last domino is set up?

Whatever it is, it makes for one heck of a conclusion to a logic puzzle.

The creative minds at ThinkFun have conjured up a delightful twist on their traditional complete-the-path brand of logic puzzles, incorporating not just gravity, but the click-clack cacophony of a chain reaction in a new challenge for younger puzzlers and more experienced ones alike.

In today’s product review, we’re taking a look at Domino Maze.

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[One Challenge Card’s preset pieces in place. Note the three gates, each already balanced to topple over when the domino path crosses through.]

Domino Maze builds on the usual domino-stacking skills and tricks — splitting the path, making sharp turns, redirecting kinetic energy — by adding sequential gates that your domino path must pass through in order to complete each challenge.

The gates are numbered one through three, indicating the order in which you must hit your targets. (The gates are carefully balanced, so when a domino hits the target, the weight on top flips over, raising the numbered flap high AND knocking over the next domino in your chain.)

Similar to other ThinkFun games, the puzzle includes Challenge Cards, which increase in difficulty as you work your way through the deck. Beginner and Intermediate Challenges give way later to Advanced and Expert puzzles that will have you wracking your brain to employ the required number of dominoes, build your path, and hit the gates in precise order.

Note: Be aware that you need a completely flat surface for this game. The grooves will hold the domino, but the slightest mistake could send them tumbling. That’s particularly true when the staircases are involved. There’s no need to add a level of frustration beyond the natural challenge of the game by fighting gravity AND the designers’ puzzles.

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The Beginner-level cards are your introduction to the puzzle, taking you through the motions of how to place the dominoes, utilizing the numerous grooves in both the base and the elevated platform. As you proceed, the game adds new wrinkles to the game, like using the two pivot pieces (allowing you to change direction in a single move), splitting your path with the diagonal grooves.

That elevated platform is an especially devious and clever addition, since it not only requires more dominoes (to traverse one or both of the staircases that connects the platform to the base), but requires multi-dimensional thinking, like starting your path underneath the platform versus atop the platform. In this manner of solving, Domino Maze echoes other top-down logic puzzles in the ThinkFun library like Gravity Maze and Roller Coaster Challenge.

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[Two different angles of the same Challenge Card, mid-solve.]

You also slowly develop a sense of what I call “domino math,” the ability to look at the number of dominoes you have to work with, and immediately limit your choices and potential solutions based on what you know. For instance, three dominoes in a straightaway can cover half the board, but it costs three dominoes to make a 90-degree turn in one square, so you begin to recognize where resources MUST go vs. where they COULD go.

That’s a huge benefit down the line, when your dominoes (through splits and other maneuvers) must maximize their usefulness. It seems daunting when you look at a Challenge Card and see that you have to place 18 dominoes, but honestly, that’s less intimidating than looking at a card with gates scattered all over, and seeing you only have seven or eight dominoes to work with.

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But whether you’re a younger puzzler just getting started with logics, an experienced puzzler who likes the idea of combining a little hand-eye coordination with your solving, or a domino enthusiast looking for a new challenge, you’re bound to find the ever-escalating gameplay of Domino Maze to be a treat. (And just imagine the challenging pathways you could construct with two sets. Or a Rube Goldberg device made of ThinkFun puzzles.)

Watching those dominoes fall and those gates flip with the push of a single fingertip is a very fun and satisfying way to confirm that your puzzling skills are up to snuff. Plus there’s the sound, and the tactile sense of accomplishment with a path well-deduced and well-built.

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Very few puzzles offer that kind of fanfare for a proper solve, and the logical foundation behind cause-and-effect is rarely as enjoyable as it is in Domino Maze.

Domino Maze is available from ThinkFun and other participating retailers.


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Science Says Board Games Are Good For Your Relationship?

[Image courtesy of Medium.com.]

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

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

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

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

From the article on Baylor.edu:

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

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

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

[Image courtesy of Daily Mail.]

Here’s the breakdown on oxytocin release increases:

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

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

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

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

[Image courtesy of Grey Mass Games.]

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

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

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


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Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Puzzly Delights!

Merry Christmas, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! (And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, then Happy December 25th, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!)

I’m a sucker for a festive event, so I’ve got a puzzly double feature lined up for you today.

First, allow me to present a delightful video concocted by friend of the blog Hevesh5. Lily is a domino master who has created numerous domino chains and Rube Goldberg-style machines with elements that fit a given theme. So naturally, given the season, she’s devised a marvelous domino chain with all sorts of holiday elements. Enjoy!

And since we’re on a holiday kick, there’s an anagram challenge for you too!

What are the longest common words you can make from the letters in the following phrase?

M-E-R-R-Y C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S

No plurals or proper nouns are allowed, and you can only use the letters in the phrase. (Meaning, for instance, you can use 3 Rs, but not 4, since there are only 3 in the phrase.)

We came up with one 10-letter word, four 9-letter words, twelve 8-letter words, and thirty 7-letter words.

Let’s see how you do!

Have a marvelous holiday (or day), and happy puzzling to you!


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A Relaxing Game Night!

The world can be a very stressful place. We live under a constant deluge of news and information, and it’s so easy to get overwhelmed by it all. And while games can be a wonderful escape, you need the right games to restore your spirits and put you in a good mood.

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

So today, I thought we could turn our attention to games that are as tranquil as they are tactical, in the hopes of helping my fellow PuzzleNationers enjoy a calm gameplay experience.


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

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

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

[Image courtesy of Starlit Citadel.]

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

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

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

[Image courtesy of Board Game Quest.]

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

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

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

[Image courtesy of Starlit Citadel.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hopefully these suggestions will make your game nights a little more mellow. And if you’re looking for puzzlier ideas for a tranquil game night, check out our reviews for ThinkFun’s Kaleidoscope Puzzle and Looney Labs’ Zendo, both of which might scratch your puzzly itch in a relaxing fashion.

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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!

Halloween Hallowhimsy!

[The Gatekeeper from Lone Shark Games’ The Maze of Games,
one of the more macabre puzzly characters in history.]

Hello there, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

It’s Halloween, that spookiest of holidays, and I’ve got two puzzly videos loaded with today’s traditional tricks and treats!

The first video comes from musician and comedian Ali Spagnola, who has created a masterful mashup of 20 tunes loaded with Halloween spirit! Can you name all 20 songs?

I’m a little disappointed that Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” didn’t make the cut, but otherwise, this is awesome.

The second video comes from domino artist and friend of the Blog Hevesh5, who has created a new domino chain to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve in eerie, energetic fashion!

Whether it’s ghosts or goblins, ditties or dominoes, we hope you have a marvelous Halloween!


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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!

Puzzly World Records!

I was perusing the latest edition of The Guinness Book of World Records, and wouldn’t you know it, there was a whole two-page spread devoted to puzzly world records!

It seems appropriate to start with Rubik’s Cube records, since we just featured a speed solver in Friday’s post.

There are lots of world records involving twisty puzzles. The most Rubik’s Cubes solved while riding a unicycle? 18. The most solved underwater? 5 cubes in 1 minute, 18 seconds.

What about the smallest Rubik’s Cube? It’s only 10 mm, and it can be turned and solved just like a regular-sized Rubik’s Cube.

You know, friend of the blog Hevesh5 has helped set a few world records, but that should come as no surprise, really. Domino records are being set and then shattered all the time. I recently stumbled across a video where a top domino artist and his team set the record for the most mini-dominoes toppled:

And for something a little grander in scale, check out this video of a curious domino world record: the longest human mattress domino toppling:

How about the largest domino ever toppled? Prudential Financial created a domino that was over 30 feet tall, 15 feet wide, and 4 feet thick, which they toppled as the last domino in a chain where each domino increased in size until the world-record domino fell.

And for an amazing endurance test, a team of 60 people maintained a domino circle that toppled for 35 minutes, 22 seconds, continuously replacing dominoes as they fell around and around and around again.

Here’s one for the Scrabble fans in the audience. The highest opening score in a Scrabble tournament is 126 points for the word MUZJIKS (using a blank for the U), played by Jesse Inman in the 2008 National Scrabble Championship.

Speaking of personal achievements, Ashish Dutt Sharma of Rajasthan, India, created the world’s largest word-search puzzle! Inside a grid of 129,600 letters, you can find over TEN THOUSAND words on Sharma’s list.

Of course, given its size, it’s actually impossible to have a definitive list of words in the puzzle, because of the vast number of potential letter combinations in the grid. All the words that were intentionally placed in the list mix with hundreds more formed unintentionally.

[Image courtesy of Getty Images.]

To close out this rundown of world-record puzzles, let’s return to the time of King William III and Queen Mary II of England, who commissioned a hedge maze in Hampton Court Palace in Surrey, which still stands today, more than three hundred years later, as the oldest hedge maze in the world.

These are just a sample of the amazing puzzly accomplishments that have been achieved all over the world by intrepid puzzle fans. I can’t wait to see what my fellow puzzlers come up with next.


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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!