Board Games and Puzzle Games For Solo Gaming!

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[Image courtesy of StoreMyBoardGames.com.]

Friend of the blog Lori reached out to me last week and asked about the best puzzle games and board games for solo play. A pal of hers was in need of game-centric distraction, and given the current global circumstances, she had no one with whom to play.

Never fear, friend-of-friend! We’ve got you covered.

There are all sorts of puzzles and games out there to keep you busy, and we’ll do our best to collect a few examples from different play style to provide a host of options.

So, without further ado, let’s look at some single-play fun!


Puzzle Games

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ThinkFun

When it comes to one-player puzzle games, ThinkFun should be your first stop. They’ve got puzzles with magnets, electrical circuits, marbles, dominoes, putty, rollercoasters, robots, computer programming, and LASERS. Whether you like disentanglement puzzles, logic puzzles, or mechanical puzzles, any one of these games is a terrific place to start.

[Link for more details.]

Knot Dice

Inspired by Celtic knot designs, Knot Dice is a puzzle game where you must turn, twist, and spin these beautiful dice to complete elaborate patterns. A handbook full of single-player (and multi-player) puzzles is included to get you started, but honestly, sometimes you can just roll the dice out, arrange them, and then challenge yourself to complete the pattern!

[Link for more details.]

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Wish You Were Here

Imagine an entire mystery hidden across a handful of postcards. That’s the multilayered puzzle experience offered by Wish You Were Here, where a series of coded messages awaits you. An entire narrative unfolds based on the clues you uncover and the puzzles you solve. It’s code-breaking, puzzling, and spycraft all in one.

[Link for more details.]

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Puzzometry

If you’re looking for a jigsaw-style challenge, Puzzometry might be your puzzle of choice. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available in seven different formats — including Puzzometry, Puzzometry Jr., Puzzometry Squares, and Puzzometry Hex — there are different levels of difficulty and different challenges posed by each.

[Link for more details.]


Board Games Designed for Solo Play

There is a small but thriving market for solo board games, which cleverly alter established game mechanics to pit you against the game itself.

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[Image courtesy of Board Game Geek.]

Black Sonata

In this movement and deduction game, you are a 17th-century detective, exploring London while trying to hunt down the identity of the Dark Lady who inspired Shakespeare’s sonnets. As you pick up clues to her identity and search for her in different locales, a stealth deck determines the Dark Lady’s movements. It’s a very cool mechanic that holds up after multiple replays.

[Link for more details.]

coffee roaster

[Image courtesy of Board Game Geek.]

Coffee Roaster

Have you ever tried to brew the perfect blend of coffee? Then Coffee Roaster might be up your alley. In this game, you randomly draw tokens representing coffee beans in order to roast them and improve your score based on their taste value. The game quickly becomes a balancing act of roasting the bean to its target level while handling other tasks. This mix of skill and random draw adds spice to a game all about flavor.

[Link for more details.]

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[Image courtesy of Board Game Geek.]

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective

Have you ever wanted to be the Great Detective, deciphering strange clues, finding evidence, and unraveling peculiar crimes? The closest thing I’ve found to being Holmes is playing Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, where a number of mysteries await the player. (You can play this game with up to 8 people, but the solo game proves to be a challenge worthy of master gamers and puzzlers.

[Link for more details.]

palm island

[Image courtesy of Board Game Geek.]

Palm Island

Many games are designed for ease of travel, but this is the only one I know that fits in the palm of your hand. Build your island, gather resources, and conquer challenges as you hold the fate of your island in your hand. With only 17 cards involved in the entire game, there’s a staggering amount of replay value included.

[Link for more details.]


Solo Mazes/Dungeons/Labyrinths

One subset of the single-player game genre is labyrinth-style gameplay, games where the player must explore and/or escape a labyrinth, dungeon, or other maze that unfolds in front of them and is different every time you play.

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[Image courtesy of Board Game Geek.]

One Deck Dungeon

Essentially an entire roleplaying campaign distilled into a single-player experience, One Deck Dungeon allows you to defeat enemies, outwit other dangers, and explore a dungeon as your character develops new skills and gains valuable insights into their quest. You can play standalone games or an ongoing campaign as your character grows into a full-fledged master dungeon raider.

[Link for more details.]

(There’s another game, 5-Minute Dungeon, that scratches a similar itch.)

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[Image courtesy of Board Game Geek.]

Onirim

Instead of a dungeon or a labyrinth, here you explore a realm of dreams, trying to find the keys necessary to unlock the doors and escape before the deck of cards runs out. With a 15-minute play time, a fun setup, and multiple expansions which add new wrinkles to future games, you’ll want to journey into the dreamworld again and again.

[Link for more details.]

The Abandons

Probably the toughest of the dungeon romp games, The Abandons pits you against a merciless labyrinth with limited resources and the deck literally stacked against you. You’ll need luck, quick decision making, and puzzly skill on your side to see daylight again with this one.

[Link for more details.]


Solo/Multi-Player Games

Finally, here are some great games that are best known as multi-player games, but with solo modes that still capture the playing experience.

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Jetpack Joyride

Plenty of games are about getting from Point A to Point B, but Jetpack Joyride makes the journey a puzzly delight. You must pilot yourself through a random collection of grids, using only a handful of Tetris-like game pieces to represent your path. You must complete your goals and escape, all without reusing a single Tetris piece. Jetpack Joyride combines puzzles and board games for a unique and fun gaming experience.

[Link for more details.]

Sagrada

One of the most beautiful strategy games on the market today, Sagrada is a singularly peaceful gaming experience. In this game, you’re trying to build a beautiful stained glass window out of dice while dealing with the requirements of your particular window AND the random dice rolled for your particular game. It’s challenging, soothing, and infinitely replayable.

[Link for more details.]

on the dot

[Image courtesy of eBay.]

On the Dot

On the Dot is a pattern-matching game. You have four clear cards with randomly-placed colored dots on them, and you must arrange all four cards so that the colored dots showing match a given pattern. Although this game is usually played in groups with the first person to complete the pattern winning that card, you can easily challenge yourself to see how fast you can conquer the various patterned cards awaiting you.

[Link for more details.]

bananagrams

[Image courtesy of Board Game Geek.]

Bananagrams

Bananagrams is a tile game where, much like Scrabble, players pull letter tiles and try to form small crossword-like grids. But in Bananagrams, you can anagram and rearrange the grid as needed, instead of being locked into using the words you’ve already played. This game will test your vocabulary and your anagramming skills, but it’s always satisfying to hear the tiles click as they’re placed beside each other.

[Link for more details.]

castle panic

[Image courtesy of Board Game Geek.]

Castle Panic!

You have to defend your castle in the center of the board from monsters on all sides in this deviously enjoyable game. Careful strategy and planning is critical in stopping them from taking down your defenses, collapsing your towers, and leaving your castle in ruins. Randomness can play a big role in this game, but even when you lose, you still enjoy the adventure.

[Link for more details.]

Honestly, most cooperative games like Castle Panic! can be played solo, since it’s you vs. the game. (You just might have to play more than one character to do so.)

In Forbidden Island, you must collect treasures and escape a sinking island. In Flash Point, you’re a fireman trying to fight a building fire and rescue the trapped occupants. In Burgle Bros., you run a team of robbers trying to pull off a heist in a multi-story building you have to climb in order to escape with the loot.

These are just a few of the cooperative games that really adapt nicely to a one-player game experience. (Some folks would recommend Pandemic as well, but I’ve found that the expansion set Pandemic: In the Lab is a more satisfying solo experience.)

I also went with simpler games here, but for more intensive play sessions, you could tackle solo versions of Terraforming Mars, Scythe, Viticulture, Eldritch Horror, Elder Sign, and Ghost Stories. These games have more set-up and deeper, more complex gameplay, but also provide satisfying gameplay experiences for a single player.


Do you have any other suggestions for puzzle games and board games that are terrific for solo players, fellow PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.

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PuzzleNation Product Review: Domino Maze

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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.]

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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A Shift in Puzzly Perspective

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I’ve had 3-D puzzling on the brain for a few days now, after a conversation about video games with a well-informed friend of mine.

What do I mean when I say 3-D puzzling? Well, I don’t just mean a puzzle that exists in three dimensions. I mean a puzzle where the solving experience requires all three dimensions.

Think about your average maze or a jigsaw puzzle. Although they’re three-dimensional objects, the solving is two-dimensional. Yes, there are certainly variations on these themes, like maze cubes where you navigate a marble from one place to another, or 3-D jigsaw puzzles that allow you to reconstruct famous landmarks. But these still rely heavily on two-dimensional solving.

Compare that with the iconic puzzle video game Portal, for instance. Portal requires you to accomplish different tasks, and you can only do so with your portal gun, a device that allows you to connect two different locations on the map.

[Image courtesy of Game Informer.]

That requires a complete realignment of your perspective, because you can walk in a straight line through one portal and emerge above, below, or at a 90-degree angle from where you started. This isn’t two-dimensional thinking anymore.

Between 3-D printing techniques and the constantly evolving engines behind video game systems, we’re seeing more and more examples of three-dimensional thinking in puzzles, and I’m perpetually amazed by what creators and designers come up with.

Check out this video of gameplay from the new puzzle game Etherborn:

Your character navigates elaborate three-dimensional landscapes, and gravity is wholly dependent on how your character is oriented at the moment. So you need to be clever enough to use the landscape in order to move your character in very unorthodox ways.

It’s fascinating, a step beyond some of the puzzles seen in previous games like Portal and Fez. (In those games, gravity still only worked in one direction, whereas Etherborn breaks even that fundamental baseline.)

I think this sort of puzzling appeals to me so much because the change in perspective that comes from solving in an additional dimension completely rewrites the rules we thought we knew.

Imagine for a second that you’re inside a corn maze. Now think about the paper mazes you’ve solved. See the difference? In the first scenario, you’re beholden to the meager information you get from following each path, whereas in the second, you can plan a route from above because you have much more information. You can see dead ends and avoid them.

The three-dimensional scenario is far more challenging than the 2-D solving you’re doing with the paper maze.

ThinkFun managed a similar feat with Gravity Maze, a puzzle game that required you to move a marble from the starting cube to the ending cube. The main challenge was that you had to build the path with only the given materials, and then just drop the marble in. All the puzzling happened at the beginning, and then you became a bystander as the marble traversed the solution you built.

This isn’t just plotting a path like in a normal maze, it was understanding a chain of events you were setting in motion, like cause and effect. It’s like building a simple Rube Goldberg machine and watching it go.

But whether you’re manipulating portals, shifting perspectives, dropping marbles, or solving corn mazes, you’re pushing your puzzly skills into new dimensions. And that’s just the puzzles we have now. Imagine what comes next.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Roller Coaster Challenge

ThinkFun’s products are all about learning through experimentation. Whether you’re making music note-by-note with Compose Yourself, mastering the basics of programming in Robot Turtles, or tackling complete-the-path puzzles with marbles, lasers, robots, or electronic circuits, kids and adults alike get the chance to put their puzzly chops to the test.

Roller Coaster Challenge is the largest, most ambitious ThinkFun puzzle game to date, featuring several dozen pieces and challenge cards galore to test your ability to bend momentum and gravity to your will as you complete unfinished roller coaster tracks!

[With multiple track lengths, posts for building support pylons, 90-degree turns to navigate, and even a loop you can construct, you’ve got all the ingredients you need for a roller coaster worthy of the name.]

The concept is fairly simple. You have challenge cards that offer a starting layout. You’re given the beginning and ending points of the track, and some pieces in between. You are also told which pieces you’ll need to use to bridge the gaps and finish the track. Now it’s up to you to place them correctly and then test your creation with the little red roller coaster car.

Not only is the building plate bigger than those in any previous ThinkFun puzzle game, but the sky is the limit as you build onwards and upwards in order to solve your challenge card and give your little roller coaster car the ride of its life!

The challenge cards serve as the perfect introduction to solving the game’s puzzles, teaching the solver how to identify pieces by length, how to avoid missteps, and even how to get the most out of the available pieces.

But the challenge cards are just the beginning. Roller Coaster Challenge encourages you to develop your own roller coaster layouts, and even share them with the company!

After battling my way through numerous challenge cards of all difficulties — ranked from easy to super hard — I began indulging my creative side by constructing my own layout.

Naturally I had to go above and beyond, trying to weave two tracks together so one would use the loop, and the other would rocket the roller coaster car through the loop and over a gap before reuniting with the track itself.

[OSHA would shut down my roller coaster so fast…]

In terms of scale, creativity, and sheer visual panache, Roller Coaster Challenge is the most ambitious and impressive ThinkFun puzzle game to date. The DIY encouragement built into the solving experience really adds something extra to the enjoyable (and sometimes challenging) layouts provided by the game’s designers.

Roller Coaster Challenge was the result of ThinkFun’s first venture into crowdfunding, and when it came time to go big or go home, they went big, and solvers reap the benefits with this dynamic, fun product.

Roller Coaster Challenge is available through ThinkFun and other vendors for the very affordable price of $29.99.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Lunar Landing

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

ThinkFun has emerged as the premiere vendor of logic puzzles for solvers of all ages. Whether they’re challenging you with marbles, lasers, or electronic circuits, their complete-the-path games offer lots of puzzly fun.

Their latest offering, Lunar Landing, seems at first to fall into the same pattern, but as you learn the rules and begin tackling the challenge cards included, you quickly realize there’s more than meets the eye at play.

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In Lunar Landing, your goal is to pilot the red shuttle to an emergency entry port in the center of the landing grid. Sounds easy enough, right? But the twist is how you get there.

Scattered across the landing field are helper bots which help your shuttle move around the landing field. The shuttle can only move toward one of the helper bots in the same row or column. The shuttle must move from helper bot to helper bot until it reaches the emergency entry port.

Because Lunar Landing is set in space, the shuttle can’t just stop wherever it chooses. Once the shuttle is set on a path toward a helper bot, it continues along that path until it reaches that bot. This means you can pass right over the emergency entry port unless there’s a helper bot in the correct position to stop the shuttle on that red square.

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This movement mechanism is the engine behind each of the 40 challenge cards in the deck. Progressing in increasing difficulty from beginner to intermediate to advanced to expert, the challenge cards provide you with the starting layouts for each landing grid. You place the shuttle and helper bots as instructed, and then try to puzzle out how to complete the task at hand.

The early scenarios are all about moving the shuttle from place to place. In later challenges, you’ll have to move the helper bots as well, positioning them to form a path that’ll bounce your shuttle to the center of the grid.

The helper bots move in the same way as the shuttle — toward another helper bot along a row or column — and as the scenarios evolve, you’ll rely on moving the helper bots more and more.

It’s a bit like a sliding-tile puzzle, since you can only move the shuttle along certain paths, as determined by the locations of the helper bots. Many of the challenge cards can only be conquered by setting up a chain reaction, which gives Lunar Landing the feeling of a one-person chess game: You’re trying to see several moves ahead, looking for the perfect sequence of moves that will let you achieve victory.

Taking a simple scientific concept — objects in motion tend to stay in motion — and building a logic game around it is very clever, and it makes for a solving experience that feels new and challenging. Since each piece can potentially move, depending on the challenge card layout, there are more variables at play here than in previous ThinkFun logic puzzles.

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The helper bots are modeled on classic robot designs from the 1940s and 1950s, and that adds to the game’s charm, as if the vivid Technicolor visions that predated the Space Race have finally been realized.

The landing grid doubles as storage for the challenge cards and game pieces, making for an easily transported puzzle game that can be enjoyed anywhere at the drop of a hat.

Lunar Landing continues the fine tradition of ThinkFun puzzle games, keeping even experienced puzzlers on their toes with inventive gameplay and outside-the-box thinking. What a treat.

Lunar Landing is available from ThinkFun through Amazon and other online retailers. Click here to check out other ThinkFun product reviews!


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Kickstarter Roundup!

I’ve covered a lot of puzzle-centric Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns in the blog, because I think it’s fascinating how many puzzle variants there are, and how many puzzle-loving creators are enthusiastically seizing the opportunity to add their own delightful gaming and puzzling twists to the market.

In previous posts, we’ve seen Baffledazzle‘s jigsaws with a twist, Completely Puzzled‘s community-building outreach, and 64 Oz. Games‘ campaign to adapt popular board games and card games for vision-impaired players. Some very creative and worthwhile projects have been realized with the help of crowdfunding.

Heck, several of the games and puzzles showcased at last month’s New York Toy Fair were brought to life thanks to crowdfunding!

So here are a few more projects that I think are worth your time.

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The Maze is a series of Choose Your Own Adventure-style books with a curious puzzly twist: they place the reader inside a labyrinth and challenge you to read through the book and escape!

It’s an extended spacial-awareness puzzle where you need to visualize where you are in the maze at all times, overcoming obstacles and pitting your memory against the labyrinth itself.

A third of the way to its funding goal, The Maze envisions a series of mazes of varying difficulties for readers to tackle. It’s an intriguing take on a classic puzzle genre.

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For a more traditional puzzle product, there’s The Grid. This multi-colored visual delight challenges players to place all of their tile pieces on the board before their opponents, mixing luck and strategy in a Qwirkle-style battle.

The Grid combines clever tile design with visually arresting gameplay, and the campaign has already reached its initial funding goal, meaning that additional donors are helping to refine the game with higher quality pieces and other add-ons.

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From the elegant to the gloriously silly, our next campaign is Munchkin Shakespeare.

This latest edition of Munchkin from the team from Steve Jackson Games adds a literary touch to its famous line of puzzly card-battle games, as players do their best to team up, betray each other, and run amok in the hopes of gaining loot and escaping combat intact.

The bard himself and characters from his most famous plays are unleashed in cartoon form, ready to wreak havoc in all sorts of creative ways, wielded by cunning players and puzzlers with a penchant for sword-swinging nonsense in iambic pentameter.

This is another campaign where the initial funding goal has already been reached, and with only a day or two left in the campaign, they’re pushing towards some exciting stretch goals.

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Our last campaign combines logic and deduction with mechanical puzzles, as the crew from ThinkFun launches their very first Kickstarter to bring Roller Coaster Challenge to life!

In the spirit of Gravity Maze and Laser Maze Jr., Roller Coaster Challenge presents players with some of the pieces of a puzzle and tasks them with completing a working model with their remaining pieces. This time around, you’re building a roller coaster track, with all the soaring loop-de-loops and plunging slides you’d expect from the theme park attraction.

With expansions including Kickstarter-exclusive roller coaster cars and additional pieces to create even taller, more complex models, this one could be a winner. Will you be able to complete the numerous twisting, turning variations, or will the perfect roller coaster track elude you?

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But before I go, I want to revisit a previous Kickstarter success story that we’ve covered in the past: The Maze of Games.

Mike Selinker’s interactive puzzle novel has been on the market for a few years now, and as far as he knows, no one has conquered the final maze in the book.

And to give solvers a better chance at completing the book, the diabolical puzzlesmith has created The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze, a tie-in story with hints for cracking the most diabolical puzzly labyrinth that giant tome has to offer.

It’s only available for a short time, so if you’re hoping to one day best The Maze of Games, be sure to snag a copy!

And let us know if any of these puzzly Kickstarters piqued your interest! With so many worthy projects and products in the pipeline, hopefully one of them catches your eye and receives your support!


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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!