A Game Kerfuffle in Wisconsin Politics?

We have a game day in the office once a week. Wednesday has been known as Game Day around here for years now, and we have a small group of regulars who use their lunch hour to eat, socialize, and play games. It’s a marvelous way to break up the work week, meet new friends, try out new games, and relax a little.

Those are all positives. It has never impacted productivity or caused any problems, save for the occasional scheduling snafu when people need the conference room.

But apparently, similar activities are causing problems in the Wisconsin State Senate.


[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

According to a reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal, the legislative pages have been playing games during work time.

There are conflicting reports about how much time has been spent playing games; some folks are upset with people playing games on company time, while others point out that downtime is common and as long as their duties are being performed capably, what’s the big deal?

Well, the game they’re playing is probably what’s raised eyebrows.


[Image courtesy of the New York Times.]

It’s called Secret Hitler, and given the emotionally charged political climate in the United States, it’s understandable how this particular choice of game might be controversial.

For the uninitiated, Secret Hitler is a social deduction game, similar to Werewolf, Mafia, and other games, where the goal is to root out a hidden traitor among the players.

Only in this case, as the game’s title states, instead of a mafia member or a werewolf, it’s a Secret Hitler lurking among the players, as well as players trying to place the Secret Hitler into a position of power.

More controversially still, there’s an expansion pack to the game that adds members of the current administration to the game.

It’s unclear which version of the game has been making the rounds in the Wisconsin State Senate offices. After all, in February 2017, free copies of Secret Hitler were shipped to all 100 members of the United States Senate by the game’s creator.


[Image courtesy of TabletopFinder.]

Now, I am purposely not going to make any statements about this administration, regardless of my personal feelings. I make a point of not getting into politics in this blog. It’s supposed to be a place for puzzle and game fans to find out news, read reviews, and revel in all things fun and puzzly about the world.

That being said, I’m sure the choice of Secret Hitler was deliberate.

Maybe it was intended as a way to blow off steam in a political climate that is more tense than ever. That certainly wouldn’t be the most diplomatic choice, but you can easily see how it would make for a tongue-in-cheek way to defuse office stresses.

On the other hand, maybe it was intended as a statement, a sly shot at the current administration and ill feelings towards particular people in the government or political limelight. I don’t know.

But it’s pretty clear to me that it’s the game that got these pages in trouble, not the act of playing games. If they were playing Forbidden Island or Fluxx or Chutes & Ladders or any of a hundred other games in their downtime, it probably wouldn’t be a big deal.

I’m curious to see what the fallout from this story will be. According to reporter Riley Vetterkind, the game has been confiscated and HR is investigating the matter.

I hope nobody loses their job because of a game, whether it’s a political statement or just a ballsy choice of time-wasting and indulgence.

But it makes you wonder if any other games are popular in political offices and whether they’d prove as controversial as this one.

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!

Solo Solving and Single-Player Board Game Fun!

Have you ever been in the mood to play a board game or do some non-paper-and-pencil puzzling, but you don’t have anyone around to play with?

Well, there’s no reason to fret, fellow puzzlers, as there are plenty of options out there for solo gamers and puzzlers.

Today, we’d like to suggest a few options for a terrific single-player solving experience!

The Abandons

I’ll start us off with one of our most recently reviewed games. The Abandons is a one-player maze game where you’re exploring a labyrinth that’s different every time you play. You’re at the mercy of the draw pile for the most part, but the more you play, the better you get at managing your meager resources and exploring the seemingly endless corridors. Can you find your way out?

[If you’re looking for a similar gaming experience, you can also try One Deck Dungeon or Brad Hough’s The Maze.]



For a more traditional solving experience, Puzzometry presents classic puzzle-solving with a modern twist. This next-level jigsaw-style solving will push your Tetris skills as you twist, turn, and maneuver the pieces into seemingly endless combinations, trying to find the one solution that completes the grid.

There are several different Puzzometry puzzles — the standard one, an easier junior one, and a squares-based one — but each offers its own challenges.

Knot Dice

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.

This is one of those games I find tremendously relaxing as I trace the various patterns and try to form different designs.

Chroma Cube

Deduction puzzles have never been so colorful! Each challenge card offers a different layout of set cubes, along with clues to unravel in order to place all twelve cubes. The clues grow trickier with every card, ensuring that you’ll constantly find new challenges as you solve.

Thinking Putty Puzzle

Our friends at ThinkFun are masters at putting together single-player puzzle-game experiences, and Thinking Putty Puzzle is just one example. It sounds simple at first: connect two colored dots with a length of stretchable putty. But when you have multiple colors on the board and you can’t overlap your paths, suddenly it’s a much more challenging deductive endeavor.


A puzzle box unlike anything you’ve ever seen, Lightbox creates different patterns of shadow and light as you shift and arrange the various plastic plates that make up the box. As you twist and reset them, different electrical connections are made, and different plates light up.

This is another puzzle game that I find quite soothing, even if I can be frustrated by the seemingly endless combinations available.



Although co-op games are designed to bring together several players as they work to defeat the game itself, many co-op games also offer satisfying single-player campaigns. Pandemic allows you the chance to singlehandedly save the world from four deadly outbreaks, if you’re quick and clever enough!

[Forbidden Island, Castle Panic!, and other co-op games are also worth your time if you enjoy this kind of gameplay.]

Do you have any suggestions for good single-player puzzles and games, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!

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!

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.

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!

Board Games: A Good Reason to Gather

Are board games the cure for what ails ya?

According to Quartz writer Annaliese Griffin, they just might be.

She suggests that board games provide a “temporary respite from the problems of 21st-century life.”

By bringing people together — something often lacking from today’s increasingly isolated lifestyles where people interact more through social media than face-to-face engagement — board games become a community builder, a catalyst for socialization.

From the article:

A good board game builds in enough chance so that any reasonably skilled player can win. Even in chess, famously associated with warfare and military strategy, the emphasis is not on who ultimately wins, but on the ingenuity that players display in the process.

In all of these ways, board games release players — however temporarily — from the maxim that life is divided into clear, consistent categories of winners and losers, and that there is a moral logic as to who falls into which category. As film and media studies professor Mary Flanagan tells The Atlantic, board games prompt us to reflect on “turn-taking and rules and fairness.”

[Image courtesy of Catan Shop.]

What’s interesting to me about the article is that she mentions Euro-style games like Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne — which are two of the industry leaders, no doubt — but still games that pit players against each other.

What’s interesting to me about an article that’s meant to be about how board games can make you “a nicer person with better relationships” is that the author focuses exclusively on competitive games. I am a huge fan of a smaller subsection of board games — cooperative games — which invite the players to team up against the game itself. You collaborate, strategize, and work together to overcome challenges, succeeding or failing as a group.

In cooperative games, the glow of your successes are heightened because you get to share them with your teammates. And the failures don’t sting as much for the same reason.

[Image courtesy of Analog Games.]

Co-op games like SpaceTeam, Castle Panic!, Forbidden Island, The Oregon Trail card game, and Pandemic — not to mention many roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons — reinforce the positive, social qualities of all board games. I highly recommend checking them out.

And with the rise of board game cafes like The Uncommons in New York and Snakes and Lattes in Toronto, plus play areas at conventions like Gen Con and events at your Friendly Local Game Shop, there are more opportunities than ever to engage in some dice rolling camaraderie.

You can even make it a regular thing. Every Wednesday, we play a game at lunch time, and it quickly became one of the highlights of the week. (This week, we celebrated winning Forbidden Desert on our Instagram account! I always intend to post something every Game Wednesday, but I often forget because I’m so focused on playing the game.)

Take the time out to enjoy puzzles and games. You won’t regret it.

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!

International Tabletop Day is almost here!


Saturday, April 29 is International Tabletop Day, a day that has been set aside for family and friends to get together and play games. Board games, card games, role-playing games, puzzles… anything that involves gathering in person and having fun around a table fits the bill!

Although the actual holiday is Saturday, we’re celebrating early around here! The PuzzleNation Crew is getting together with our friends from Penny/Dell Puzzles for a few hours of Tabletop Day fun this afternoon!

Games will be played, snacks will be consumed, and fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers will be introduced to some terrific games.

(Sadly, a lot of personal favorites will have to be excluded — Forbidden Island, The Oregon Trail card game, choice offerings from Cheapass Games and other great companies — because they take more than 30 minutes to play. It IS a work day, after all.)


[The Nashville Public Library has an Eventbrite page up for their Tabletop Day Event.]

And as for the day itself, there’s a plethora of events to enjoy! Check out the official International Tabletop Day Facebook page for information, as well as your local library, community center, and friendly local game shops! There are sure to be events, game demos, get-togethers, parties, and more if you just go looking for them!

Heck, the crew at The Loft Game Lounge in Ottawa is even hosting a Tabletop Day Prom!

Oops, gotta go. It’s almost time for our Tabletop Day celebration. Let us know how you’re celebrating in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you!

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 Connecticut Festival of Indie Games, Part 2!

And we’re back!

Yup, I attended the CT FIG event last Saturday, and there were so many great games to talk about that I simply couldn’t get the job done on Tuesday. So we’re back with the second half of my event recap.

Last time, I focused on games that are available now or will be soon; this time around, it’s all about games in development!


I’d say that more than half the games at the event were in development or not yet published. Some were clearly in beta testing or working with a prototype, hoping to gauge the interest level of puzzle and game fans. Others were gearing up for Kickstarter campaigns, or in the middle of one, or had even tried Kickstarter previously, only to go back to the drawing board. Still others were hoping to impress game publishers or make contacts to help take their games to the next level.

It was interesting and insightful to see the creative process at work here, not only to observe how crowdfunding has revitalized the puzzle-game and board-game markets, but simply to watch firsthand as designers interact with players and learn from each and every playthrough.


And, to be honest, it’s fun and invigorating to be around enthusiastic people. Virtually everyone I met at the CT FIG was genuinely excited to talk about their games, and they clearly loved what they do. For many of them, these prototype and unreleased games are their babies, their pride and joy, and they were absolutely stoked to show them off.

That’s the kind of infectious energy I can definitely get behind.

One of the first people I talked to at CT FIG was Darrin Horbal of DPH Studioz. He had three games to show off, all in varying stages of development.


His flagship game is The Guardians of AsunDur, a collaborative game where players work together as guardian angels to defend AsunDur from dark forces.


By rolling dice and utilizing colored gems, they battle back the forces of darkness in co-op game play that encourages teamwork and strong strategic planning.


That same style of game play factors into another of Darrin’s board-game projects, Starguard: The Grey Wars, a space-combat game where alien conquerers threaten six different star systems, and only a concerted team effort will prevent the invading alien forces from running roughshod across the galaxy.

I’m a big fan of co-op games, and both of these games had in-depth, elegant systems of play that offered plenty to keep experienced players busy without losing younger players in the shuffle.


The last game he brought for display was Khroma Zones, a more traditional player-versus-player card game that was easily the puzzliest of the three games. Utilizing the same color-matching game mechanic as Guardians of AsunDur in a simpler format, it’s a great game for families and younger players that might not be ready for more involved game play.

But Darrin was far from the only game designer to have multiple projects in the works.


[Ravenous River, a card game inspired by the classic cabbage-goat-wolf river-crossing brain teaser, shares space at a table with ChronoSphere, a Timeline-style card game with bluffing (recently funded on Kickstarter), and Baker Street Irregulars, a crime-solving puzzle game set in the world of Sherlock Holmes.]

I’m pretty sure Isaac Shalev of Kind Fortress set the high-water mark for the event. He had six games at his table, each with their own unique flavor. (Only one, the abovementioned Ravenous River, was available for purchase there, but I sincerely hope some of his other games follow suit soon.)


There was something for seemingly every style of card game or board game fan here, from the card-flipping game Flip the Table to the resource-management strategy game set in feudal Japan, Daimyo.

But the one that most appealed to my puzzly sensibilities was Seikatsu, a three-directional tile-placement game that mixes and matches elements from a half-dozen classic games to provide a wonderfully balanced game-play experience.


Unlike many scoring games where tile placement can easily disqualify you from gaining points, Seikatsu assigns one of three directions to each player, meaning virtually every tile on the board could score points for every player. This simple tweak adds massive game-play opportunities, making for a wonderful puzzly session that encourages, rather than discourages, new players.

Kickstarter was a recurring theme in many of the conversations I had with game designers that day. Several of the games I covered in Tuesday’s post were funded and brought to market thanks to crowdfunding, and many others would soon be following suit.


Super Hazard Quest, a card game inspired by 8-bit side-scrolling video games, is on Kickstarter right now (and recently passed its funding goal, thanks in part to the team’s impressive hustling during CT FIG, no doubt).

In the game, you take on the role of a classic video game archetypal hero — the floating princess, the spy, the alien hunter, etc. — and you build and explore a unique video game world while racing to be the first to reach the final boss.


As several event goers and I played through a spirited round of the game, co-creator Mike Mendizabal told me that the game was actually intended as a cooperative game (like Guardians of AsunDur or Forbidden Island), but the players in play testing refused to work together! So they ended up retooling the game for individual achievement.

I love learning little in-development details like that.


Christopher Bowden of Winter Moon Games shared his own story of development tribulations and lessons learned as I observed a playthrough of his company’s flagship game, Pandemonium Estate.


A board game with shifting board pieces and game play that encourages players to betray each other, Pandemonium Estate is a colorful, dark, and very fun game that indulges the more playfully mean-spirited side of board games. (You know that shamefully satisfying feeling when you play Sorry and bump another player’s game piece back to the start? Multiply that by about 50 and you get something approximating the sinister glee of Pandemonium Estate.)

Christopher told me that he and his team had already taken the game to Kickstarter, but they quickly realized they’d done so before either they or the game was ready. They took some much-needed time to retool, refocus, and get their ducks in a row, and it proved to be a valuable learning experience.

They’re looking forward to bringing their new and improved version of the game to Kickstarter sometime in the future, and I suspect they’ll have great success when they do.

One game that I expect will do quite well is This Is Only a Test, Carl Van Ostrand’s game featured at The Board Room’s table. (I also referenced The Board Room in my previous post when I covered the DNA dice game GATUCA.)


This Is Only a Test is a resource-management game fueled by ’50s nostalgia and doomsday prepping, as you and your fellow players try to gather the necessary materials to survive the end of the world. But be warned…this might be a real nuclear threat, or it might simply be a test. Neither you nor any of the other players will know which is the case until the very end of the game.


It’s an intriguing game mechanic, one I haven’t really encountered before. In most games, you might not know who will win, or how they’ll do it, or what obstacles they’ll face, but I can’t recall another game where the actual endgame is unknown until the last card is played.

Oh, and speaking of the end of days, that brings me to our next game, Pyramidia.


In this puzzly game of curses and construction, you and your fellow players are racing to build the finest Egyptian tomb possible. You gain points for your management of labor, for how much gold you save, and for how magnificent your structure is.

I think the physical building aspect, as well as the numerous ways to win the game, will appeal to puzzle solvers and board game fans both. The triangular game pieces not only added a nice touch stylistically to the game, but they created game play openings for players to either curse each other or themselves for a tactical advantage.


As the game was explained to me, it immediately became clear how much effort had gone into balancing the various styles of play, and I could easily imagine how many hours and hours of brainstorming and playtesting go into each and every one of these games.

And hey, if you’ve got a board-game idea and you’d like to meet up with fellow aspiring designers and players, look no further than CT FIG attendee Alex Wilkinson. He’s part of a group called Let’s Make Games CT based out of New Haven, and they’re always happy to participate in game testing, brainstorming, and all things game development.


He had two games to show off — a space exploration game called Hypergate that allowed for some engaging role-playing scenarios, and a hilarious card game called Misfit Monsters, where lesser-known creatures like the YOLO Phoenix and the Half-Centaur could do battle.


It’s genuinely exciting to be around people who love what they’re doing, and that positive energy was all over the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games.

I want to send a big thank you out to all of the amazing developers, designers, and game fans I talked to. I wish them all great success, and I hope to see many of these games on the shelves of game shops and retailers in the near future!

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!