PN Product Review: Countaloupe

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

Everyone knows the exquisite tension that comes with rolling the dice in any game.

You might be counting the places until you land your token on the last property in a much-desired set in Monopoly, the dice already bouncing across the board. You might be sitting with four matching dice on the table, watching the fifth one tumble and wobble, hoping for that elusive Yahtzee. You might be on the brink of destruction in Dungeons & Dragons and only a miraculous toss of your twenty-sided die stands between you and oblivion.

You’re completely beholden to fate, or chance, or maybe both. It’s a central part of gaming.

But what if you had a little more say in the matter? What if your cleverness AND your math skills meant you could turn a dice roll to your favor?

That’s one of the things that sets today’s game apart from the rest. So let’s roll them bones and test our skills against the latest offering from the fruit-fueled Bananagrams family of games.

Today, we’re reviewing Countaloupe.

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In Countaloupe, two to four players each have a deck of slice cards, numbered from one to sixteen. Your goal is to roll the dice and discard slice cards from your deck.

How do you do that? By looking at the results of your die roll and using a little addition.

To discard a card, you need one or more of the dice to form the value of a given card. For instance, to discard the 1 slice card, you need a 1 on one of your dice.

To discard the 2 slice card, you need either a 2 on a die OR a 1 on one die and a 1 on another. As the numbers of the slice cards go higher, you can use either a single die result (up to six, of course) or a combination of dice to add up to the value of your slice card.

And if you’re sharp, you can eliminate more than one slice card in a turn.

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Look at this roll. There’s a natural 3, so you can ditch the 3 slice card. But you also have a 1 and a 3, meaning you can ditch the 4 slice card. You have a natural 5, so the 5 slice card goes. Finally, you have a 1 and a 5, so the 6 slice card can be discarded. (The 7 slice card stays, because there’s no way to form a seven with the dice as rolled.)

That’s four cards in one roll!

And as the slice card values increase, so do the number of dice you can roll.

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At first glance, it looks like this player is out of luck. Those dice don’t add up to 7.

But if you notice, there’s a “X4” on the card. That means you roll four dice for this card, not just three! If that fourth die is a 1, a 3, or a 6, then that 7 slice card can be discarded. (Again, math is a huge help here in spotting different possible ways to make 7.)

That continues for slice cards 12 through 16, which give you five dice to play with.

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This is a lucky roll at such a high number. Not only can you make 13 to discard the 13 slice card — 1+3+4+5 — but you can make 14 AND 15 with the available dice, leaving only one card left in your deck before victory.

But your math skills aren’t the only way to affect the game. You’ve probably noticed that white die in each of the previous rolls. What is that for?

That’s the Chance Die, and it mixes up the circumstances of the table randomly.

  • If you roll SWEET, you can trade your deck for another player’s deck. This means you can just pick a deck where the player is ahead of you OR steal a deck where the dice in front of you will eliminate more cards.
  • If you roll SOUR, you must trade your deck with whichever player has the lowest number on top of their deck (meaning they have the most cards remaining to discard)
  • If you roll NOPE, you gain control of the Nope! Chip, which lets you either protect your deck of cards from a SWEET theft or play it on another player’s deck, preventing them from discarding any cards until they control the Nope! Chip in a future turn

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Essentially, the Chance Die adds a little more spice to the game and offers another tool — the Nope! Chip — to allow for more strategic play.

There’s also the game mechanic called Taking a Risk, where you reroll the dice and try to discard more cards, but that comes with the penalty of regaining discarded cards if you fail.

So as you can see, a game that would otherwise suffer from a lot of the pitfalls of other dice games — where a series of bad rolls early can leave you just sitting at the table as others race ahead — still gives you other options, like Taking a Risk, playing the Nope! Chip, or hoping for a SWEET roll, putting the power back in your hands.

It’s also strange to find yourself rooting for low rolls after playing so many other games where high dice rolls were desirable. I couldn’t believe the disappointment I felt on that first roll after tossing 5-6-6. I would love a roll like that in D&D!

Factor in relatively brisk sessions (usually around the 10 minute mark) and an immensely charming mascot that is begging for a spinoff game all its own, and you’ve got a recipe for a really fun game of chance and strategy that all ages can enjoy. It actually makes addition exciting. How is that even possible?

(Your replay value may vary, of course, but when we started adding a wagering mechanic, betting on how many cards you could discard on a given roll, it added a nice injection of freshness after a ton of replays.)

[Countaloupe is available from Bananagrams and participating retailers at just $9.99!]


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Puzzles and Games With a Sacred Touch?

In recent times, religion and the world of puzzles and games have crossed paths with sometimes surprising results.

The film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, a fairly puzzle-centric thriller, was widely denounced by members of the Catholic Church, and there was similar resistance, though less vocal, against the sequel film, Angels & Demons.

And, of course, in the 1980s, the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons was condemned as Satanic and dangerous to young minds.

I say that the above is strange because, for the most part, these seem to be anomalies or isolated incidents. There are numerous instances throughout history where puzzles and games were embraced by religion, even used as tools to teach aspects of religious beliefs.

For instance, in ancient Egypt, we’ve seen evidence of puzzly techniques used not just to secure the tomb of Tutankhamun, but also to disguise the language and rituals employed by elite members of their society. Puzzles were entrusted to keep their secrets well beyond the grave.

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Plus one of the most ancient games in the historical record, Senet, seems to have evolved from being an enjoyable pastime into a spiritual tool.

You see, some Senet boards have religious iconography on them, believed to symbolize the journey into the afterlife. So gameplay — or the inclusion of the gameboard itself among the belongings of the deceased — represented that journey and the quest to learn more about it.

Some online articles have taken to referring to Senet as “the Rosicrucian board game of death,” which is a harsh misinterpretation.

There was also an afterlife connection with games for the Vikings.

According to Mark Hall, a curator at Perth Museum and Art Gallery, there have been 36 burials where board games of some description have been found in the graves around Northern Europe.

These grave sites grant intriguing insight into how the Vikings viewed board games as a learning tool. It’s believed that including a board game among the effects of the deceased signaled not only their skill and status as a warrior, but their preparedness for the afterlife itself. Heck, their win-loss records were even recorded for posterity!

Palindromes were believed to work as magical shields that protected those wearing the talismans bearing such clever wordplay.

Heck, even the shape of dice were influenced by changing religious views. Early dice games gave very little consideration to the shape or evenness of dice, because rolls were believed to be guided by Fate or some greater outside force, so the shape didn’t matter.

As religious beliefs evolved away from gods and greater forces intervening in such things, the general spirit of fairness in dice began to prevail, and the shape, balance, and pip distribution of dice became much more standardized.

And as for the Catholic Church, I certainly didn’t mean to make it look like I was picking on them in the introduction, because there are positive associations between the church and the world of puzzles and games as well.

And no, I’m not just talking about lighthearted products like BibleOpoly or the cottage industry of family-friendly games like Bible editions of Outburst, Scattergories, Apples to Apples, Scrabble, and Taboo.

Chess boards and other game boards have been found in houses formerly used by the Knights Templar, for instance.

There’s also the puzzly art of carmina figurata, poems wherein either the entire body of the poem or select parts form a shape or pattern. These works originated as religious tributes, poems where letters were colored red to stand out from the regular black lettering in order to draw attention to or highlight a certain religious figure.

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[“De laudibus sanctae Crucis” by Oliverus.
Image courtesy of WTF Art History.]

There would be hidden words or messages concealed in the text, some speaking of the religious icons at the center of the piece in glowing terms.

Do you have any favorite puzzles and games that have an element of religion to them, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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Tomorrow Is Free RPG Day!

Whenever I write about roleplaying games or Dungeons & Dragons in the blog — which isn’t all that often, given that it’s a niche activity, even in puzzle and gaming circles — I’m always encouraged by the fact that each post seems to inspire one or two people to reach out and ask for more details.

How does it work, exactly? How do you play a game with no game board? Does it have to be dungeons? Does it have to be dragons? How do I get started?

And there’s no better time to get started than right now, because tomorrow, October 16th, is Free RPG Day.

[Image courtesy of Lewis Brown.]

The concept behind Free RPG Day is simple. All over the world (but mostly in the United States), local game shops, hobby shops, and other outlets team up with RPG publishers to distribute new, fresh, and most importantly, free material for all sorts of different roleplaying games, systems, and settings.

Not only can you receive a wealth of new ideas and playing options in one fell swoop, but it serves as a terrific way to meet fellow roleplayers and build a community of game enthusiasts.

You can click this helpful link to find local spots near you that are participating in Free RPG Day, and I would highly recommend searching online for local game shops, game cafes, and even community centers like your local public library to see who is participating.

These shops will often be running demonstrations of games, tutorials on how to play, hosting raffles and contests, and offering terrific sale prices to encourage you to find the game that fits you best.

Every year, dozens of companies get involved, not only to encourage the growth of the game world, but to promote their own products. And what better way is there to get people hooked than with free exclusive materials begging them to try out this brand new world of play?

If you’re a Facebook or Twitter user, Free RPG Day has accounts on both platforms, and there are hashtags you can search to get more details on participating companies AND locations.

The world of roleplaying games is so much deeper than just the medieval hack-and-slash that is depicted on TV. Sure, there are swords to wield, monsters to fight, zombies to elude, but there are also gorgeous, peaceful games.

For instance, there’s Green Ronin Publishing’s Blue Rose AGE, set in a wild forest as full of spirits and beauty as it is potential danger. For Free RPG Day, they’re releasing a quickstart version of the game to give you a chance to sample its unique charm and play style.

The folks at 9th Level Games are publishing a collection of different indie RPGs, offering you a sampler of all sorts of play styles and settings all in one place.

[Image courtesy of GameZEnter.]

Other companies are offering sci-fi and steampunk and colorful animal adventurers, everything from Japanese anime-inspired adventure to Lovecraft-inspired World War II intrigue.

Here’s hoping you venture out this weekend and find something great. Roleplaying games offer a unique form of puzzling, gaming, and storytelling, and this could mark the start of something exciting and new. Roll the dice. Give it a shot.

And if you have any questions about roleplaying games in general or specific games and settings in particular, please let us know! We’d be happy to point you in the right direction.


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Halloween is almost here, and we have some spookily good deals for you to check out. You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

PN Product Review: Wonderland Fluxx

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

Today, we’re reviewing the latest release from the fiendishly clever folks at Looney Labs: Wonderland Fluxx.

There’s only one way to properly start this review, so come down the rabbit hole with us, won’t you?

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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.

The game can turn against you or spin in your favor in an instant; that’s both the challenge and the fun of playing Fluxx.

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I’ve reviewed a number of games from the folks at Looney Labs, particularly when it comes to new editions of Fluxx. In fact, I have a set series of steps I take when looking over and playtesting a new deck.

First, I spread out all of the cards in front of me so I can admire the artwork. Every edition of Fluxx has its own style — from the photorealism of Astronomy Fluxx to the almost Cubist style of some of the Star Trek Fluxx games — and I like to take in the aesthetic choices all at once.

Next, I pore over the keeper and goal cards. These are the heart of every game, and exploring which aspects of a given world — science, pop culture, nature, etc. — are highlighted helps immerse me in that world, which is part of the fun of playing a themed Fluxx game.

Finally, I delve into the action and new rule cards. This allows me to see how the new setting/theme is incorporated into the gameplay itself. Whether it’s the clever renaming of a rule card (one I’ve seen before) to reflect the new setting, or a brand new rule that mentions something intrinsically memorable about the setting, this whets my appetite for actual playthroughs to test the game’s refreshed mechanics.

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Reviewing Wonderland Fluxx made these steps a delightful experience. The art is, as you might expect, wonderful, full of whimsy and charm, often incorporating Sir John Tenniel’s actual illustrations.

The hand-sketched style immediately gives the game the classic feel of the stories, putting players in the mindset of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings.

Some of the keeper cards also grant additional actions to the players who use them — like taking additional cards, resolving creeper cards that would prevent you from winning the game, canceling surprise cards played by other players, etc. — that make them more desirable and handy than Keepers in other editions of the game.

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They do so in thematically appropriate ways for the stories as well, like the “Drink Me” potion affecting gameplay or the vorpal sword dispatching the Jabberwocky creeper card. (Though I was surprised the Cheshire Cat keeper didn’t make something disappear.)

This pattern continues with the action and new rule cards as well, right down to how the rules are worded. Some cards evoke the demanding mercurial style of the Queen, while others are more playfully worded. As you might expect from a card introducing a rhyming rule, the text of the card is written in verse.

And naturally there’s a card that makes everyone get up from their seats and move around the table.

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[Hey, we’ve taken a crack at this riddle once or twice ourselves.]

These little touches are what keeps each new edition of Fluxx fresh and interesting. It’s not just a new deck with a new theme, it’s a genuinely different play experience from that offered by a different Fluxx deck.

Alice in Wonderland has been revisited and reworked in pop culture many times — from American McGee’s Alice and Jeff Noon’s Automated Alice to Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars series and Batman’s Mad Hatter — but by choosing to stick closely to the original, Wonderland Fluxx already feels timeless, a familiar denizen of the family game closet, plucked off the shelf over and over again to enjoy.

Kid-friendly enough to welcome players of all ages, yet tricky enough to keep regular playthroughs fun and engaging, Wonderland Fluxx is a terrific gateway game, sure to open a door to a whole new world of tabletop play and surprises.

[Wonderland Fluxx is now available from Looney Labs and certain retailers.]


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Halloween is almost here, and we have some spookily good deals for you to check out. You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

Ten Year Celebration: A Brief History of PuzzleNation

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As you no doubt saw across all our social media yesterday, PuzzleNation is celebrating ten years of delivering quality puzzles to solvers.

Given this marvelous milestone, I thought I would take you on a brief trip through the history of PuzzleNation.

It all started with a website. PuzzleNation.com. A place to sign up, solve puzzles, and engage socially with fellow puzzlers in both forums and head-to-head puzzle-solving.

But that nearly wasn’t our name. No, in the early days, there was the suggestion that we call our site Puzzle Beach, but that got nixed fairly quickly. After all, you can really only enjoy the beach at certain times of the year, whereas you’re welcome to visit PuzzleNation and enjoy puzzles whenever you like!

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As the cover image for our Decade of PuzzleNation Puzzle Packet, I made a timeline chronicling the history of PN through our various puzzles, and the first few images are from PuzzleNation.com puzzles.

It started with a handful of puzzle types to solve. There were some favorites from our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles like Tanglewords and StarSpell, along with classics like crosswords, Sudoku, and word searches.

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I started working for PuzzleNation as the volunteer forum manager for the site. I answered questions, offered solving advice, posted conversation starters, and hosted contests for site users.

But even then, we knew our future rested in the pockets of millions of solvers: puzzle apps.

By the time we launched PuzzleNation Blog, our Penny Dell Crossword App was already available for iPad and iPhone.

Fred, our Director of Digital Games, joined us not long after, and has been deftly steering the ship ever since.

We soon followed with iBooks for Classic Word Search and downloadable puzzle collections called Penny Dell Jumbo Crosswords. The green, blue, and red icons should be quite familiar to our long-time app users.

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In 2014, we expanded our iPad puzzle app library to include Classic Sudoku and Classic Word Search, as well as launching an update to Penny Dell Crosswords, our flagship app. The next year, Penny Dell Crosswords came to Android by popular demand.

We relaunched a much improved Penny Dell Sudoku for all platforms the following year, and in 2017, we launched the first in our Daily POP series, Daily POP Crosswords. Focusing on themed days and the freshest puzzle themes and cluing, Daily POP Crosswords launched us to the next level in puzzle apps.

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Along the way, our programming team has gone from strength to strength, and the addition of insightful puzzlers, both behind the scenes and in the ranks of our contributing constructors, have made our puzzles better than ever.

Our most recent app launch was Daily POP Word Search, and as for what’s on the horizon… well, all I can say for now is that we have some very exciting projects in the works. Be sure to watch this space.

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[And this space too.]

And, as you might expect, as our brand evolved and grew, so did my duties at PuzzleNation. Soon I was social media manager for the forums… and then occasional blogger for PuzzleNation Blog… and then social media manager for the whole brand… and then lead blogger for PuzzleNation Blog as well.

It’s been an amazing journey, and we’re so grateful to have you, our fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, along for the ride. Thank you for your enthusiasm, your support, and your puzzly spirit.

For anyone who would still like to participate in our Decade of PuzzleNation Celebration and receive a free downloadable puzzle packet, there are a few ways you can do so:

  • Like us on Facebook and share our anniversary post there
  • Follow us on Twitter and share our anniversary post there
  • Join us here on the blog and share this post to either Facebook or Twitter

You only need to do one of those things! Once we’ve seen your shared post, we’ll contact you with the special code to download our anniversary puzzle packet by clicking the link below!

[Special super-secret PN Anniversary Packet link]

Thank you so much for supporting PuzzleNation and celebrating a decade of terrific puzzles with us. Happy puzzling, solvers!

Celebrating Ten Years of PuzzleNation With a Free Puzzle Packet!

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Hello PuzzleNationers!

Today marks ten years of PuzzleNation. Yes, on October 11th, 2011, we launched PuzzleNation.com and started on this marvelous journey of puzzle fun, learning, and growth.

A decade later, we have a marvelous line-up of puzzle apps and a thriving community of fellow puzzlers to design new puzzly delights for every day!

We want to thank you for your support, so we’re celebrating ten years of PuzzleNation with a free anniversary puzzle packet!

There are three ways to receive this wonderful puzzle bundle chronicling a decade of PuzzleNation in puzzly form:

  • Like us on Facebook and share our anniversary post there
  • Follow us on Twitter and share our anniversary post there
  • Join us here on the blog and share this post to either Facebook or Twitter

You only need to do one of those things! Once we’ve seen your shared post, we’ll contact you with the special code to download our anniversary puzzle packet by clicking the link below!

[Special super-secret PN Anniversary Packet link]

Thank you so much for supporting PuzzleNation and celebrating a decade of terrific puzzles with us. Happy puzzling, solvers!