PuzzleNation Product Review: Anatomy Fluxx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These rules offer bonus card draws if:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anatomy Fluxx is available now from Looney Labs!

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The value of puzzles in school…

A friend of the blog passed along an intriguing link the other day. A post on ReadingRockets.org raised a serious question about the legitimacy of using certain puzzles as teaching tools.

From the article: “We were recently told by an administrator that research shows that crossword puzzles and word search puzzles have no educational value.”

No educational value? Are they kidding?

Now, I admit that the concern for puzzles to be used as time-fillers instead of teaching tools is a fair one. But to dismiss them entirely is a bit premature, especially when you’re considering the potential for elementary school-age students.

Obviously, both crosswords and word searches have vocabulary-building aspects, but that ignores the true potential each puzzle adds to an educational environment.

Let’s start with word searches.

Properly employed, word searches can be marvelous tools for pattern recognition and efficient problem solving.

For instance, imagine giving a class a particular word to find amidst a field of options. Instead of “passively locating words”, as one commenter noted, they’re left to devise their own method for quickly and efficiently locating a word with eight possible orientations.

Do they scan top to bottom, or left to right for the first letter, or an uncommon letter? Do they rely on certain vowel or consonant combinations that might jump out at them? How a student solves a given puzzle can give insight into how they tackle other challenges.

Beyond this, I think they’re ignoring a simple fact regarding word search solving: the further you get into the solve, the harder the grid is to read.

Seriously. If you’re halfway through a word list, your grid is full of lines and circles distracting you from the other words in the grid. Those pattern recognition skills I mentioned earlier become even more important.

(These may seem like rudimentary solving skills, but they’re excellent launchpads for further educational lessons down the road.)

And what do crosswords bring to the table? Plenty.

Crosswords foster both a familiarity with wordplay and deductive reasoning. Solvers unravel puns and riddles, encounter synonyms and antonyms, as well as puzzling out answers from letters provided by crossing entries.

People who write off crosswords as too trivia-heavy are ignoring a field of puzzles that not only challenge cultural and historical knowledge, but pop culture, sports, and language.

Plus, can anyone deny the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing a crossword?

Anything can be a time filler when improperly employed. But puzzles are not only non-intrusive ways of introducing new words to a student, they’re exercises in efficiency and problem solving.

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