The PN Blog 2017 Countdown!

It’s one of the final blog posts of the year, so what do you say we revisit all of 2017 with a countdown of my ten favorite blog posts from the past year!


#10 Farewell, David

I don’t mean to start off this countdown on a sad note by mentioning the loss of fellow puzzler and Penny Dell colleague David Lindsey. But it was an incredibly rewarding experience to talk to those who knew him better than I did, and put together a memorial piece in his honor. I learned so much, and it was a valuable part of the healing process for all of us. I had two different opportunities to get to know David, and that’s a rare gift.

#9 The Puzzle of the Bard

Puzzle history, codes, and wordplay are three common topics around here. So when I found a story that neatly covers all three, I simply couldn’t resist. Although this one is more conspiracy theory than verifiable puzzle history, it was great fun to do a deep dive into the ongoing debate surrounding Shakespeare’s identity and put a puzzly spin on the subject. The research alone made this one worthwhile.

#8 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide

Every year, one of my favorite activities is putting together our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide. I get to include the best products sent to me for review by top puzzle and game companies, mix in some of my own favorites, and draw attention to terrific constructors, game designers, and friends of the blog, all in the hopes of introducing solvers (and families of solvers) to quality puzzles and games.

#7 Cultural Sensitivity and Crosswords

Sadly, crosswords in general, and New York Times crosswords in particular, have a reputation for being stodgy, steeped in arcane vocabulary, obscure facts, and antiquated cultural references. As part of the ever-evolving narrative surrounding cultural sensitivity — not just ethnic, but in terms of gender and sexuality as well — it’s important to do more than acknowledge the debate. You have to participate in it.

#6 Puzzles in Unexpected Places

One was tucked away on a university website. Another sat in plain sight on a tombstone. The third came to light in a music fan’s collection. What did all three have in common? They represented a simple fact: puzzles are everywhere, a part of the cultural fabric in innumerable ways. I’m cheating a bit by mentioning three posts here, but they all fit the pattern. And it’s so much fun to discover puzzles in unexpected places.

#5 Puzzles for Pets

April Fools Day pranks are an Internet tradition at this point. Some websites go all out in celebrating the holiday. (Heck, ThinkGeek has started using the holiday to tease the public’s interest level in “fake” products, going on to actually release some of those April Fools pranks as real items later in the year!)

So when the idea was floated for PuzzleNation to get in on the pranking fun, I couldn’t resist. The result — Puzzles for Pets — was as layered as it was silly, complete with fake quotes, splash pages, and more. I even got my own dog, Bailey, in on the gag.

#4 Design Your Own Escape Room

Bringing a puzzle-solving mindset into other social activities has always been a passion of mine. I’ve written in previous blog posts about using my puzzly experiences in designing murder mystery dinners and other events. This year, I had the opportunity to try my hand at designing an escape room-style experience for a friend’s birthday, and sharing some of what I learned with you was a genuine treat.

#3 ACPT, New York Toy Fair, and more

There are few things better than spending time with fellow puzzlers and gamers, and we got to do a lot of that this year. Whether it was supporting new creators and exploring established companies at New York Toy Fair or cheering on my fellow puzzlers at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, getting out and talking shop with other creators is invigorating and encouraging. It really helps solidify the spirit of community that comes with being puzzly.

#2 Puzzle History

I mentioned puzzle history as a frequent blog post topic in #9, but recent revelations by government agencies in both the United States and Great Britain have allowed puzzlers greater access than ever before to the history of codebreaking over the last century or so.

In fact, so much information has come to light that I was able to do a three-part series on the history of the NSA and American codebreaking post-World War II. This was a labor of love that took weeks to put together, and I think it’s some of the best work I’ve ever done for the blog.

#1 Daily POP Crosswords

There’s nothing more exciting than getting to announce the launch of a product that has been months or years in the making, so picking #1 was a no-brainer for me. It had to be the announcement of Daily POP Crosswords.

But it’s not just the app, it’s everything behind the app. I’ve had the opportunity to introduce you to several of the terrific constructors we’ve recruited to make the puzzles as fresh and engaging as they can possibly be, and you’ll get to meet a few more in the weeks to come.

It may sound self-serving or schlocky to talk about our flagship products as #1 in the countdown, but it’s something that we’re all extremely proud of, something that we’re constantly working to improve, because we want to make our apps the absolute best they can be for the PuzzleNation audience. That’s what you deserve.

And it’s part of the evolution of PuzzleNation and PN Blog. Even as we work to ensure our current products are the best they can be, we’re always looking ahead to what’s next, what’s on the horizon, what’s to come.

Thanks for spending 2017 with us, through puzzle scandals and proposals, through forts and festivities, through doomsday prepping and daily delights. We’ll see you in 2018.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Zendo

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

Experienced puzzlers are familiar with deduction as a puzzle-solving method. They may know it from solving logic puzzles, determining who brought what to Thanksgiving dinner. They may know it from asking questions in Clue in order to eliminate possibilities and figure out who killed Mr. Boddy, where, and how. They may know it from brain teasers, riddles, puzzles, or card games.

But they’ve probably never tried their hand at a deduction puzzle game quite like Zendo.

In Zendo, the players pull pieces from a communal pile in order to build different structures, using pyramids, wedges, and blocks. One player, the moderator, chooses a secret rule for the players to uncover, and builds two structures. One of these structures follows the secret rule, and one does not, and both are marked as such.

Secret rules can be as simple as “must contain all three shapes” or “must contain exactly four pieces.” They can be as complex as “must contain more blue pieces than blocks” or “must contain at least one yellow piece pointing at a blue piece.” Some rules involve how pieces touch, or how they’re stacked, while others demand no touching or stacking whatsoever. The field is wide open at the start of the game.

Players then try to deduce the secret rule by building structures themselves, arranging pieces from the communal pile into various patterns and asking the moderator for more information.

[Can you tell what the rule is by looking at these two structures?]

They can do so in one of two ways. The first is by saying “Tell,” wherein the moderator marks the player’s structure with either a white token or black token, depending on whether the structure fits the secret rule.

The second is by saying “Quiz,” wherein every player guesses whether the given player’s structure fits the rule. Every player who guesses right gets a guessing token.

Guessing tokens, as you might suspect, are spent to guess the secret rule. But the moderator doesn’t answer with a simple yes or no. The moderator instead must build a new structure, which will either fit the secret rule (but not the player’s guess, and get marked with a white token) or fits the player’s guess (but not the secret rule, and gets marked with a black token).

This back-and-forth between players can be frustrating or informative, depending on how specifically you frame your guesses. It also tests the creative mettle of your moderator, which adds a curious wrinkle to the game. Not only are you competing with your fellow players to figure out the secret rule, but you have to deal with the often crafty skills of the moderator.

[Does this second sculpture give you any hints?]

It’s an ever-evolving puzzle that can change in an instant with a new bit of information. You might confirm you’re on the right track, or realize you’ve been looking at the structures incorrectly all along, and you’re back to square one (or, you know, pyramid one or wedge one).

But thankfully, Zendo is easily scalable for solvers of any age or solving skill level. You can keep the secret rule simple or make it complex, depending on who is playing. And if you’re the moderator, you have a free hand in determining how much information your structures reveal.

Like Fluxx and other games under the Looney Labs umbrella, Zendo has tons of replay value, and it’s a puzzle-game that ages well, since solvers with more experience are not only better players, but more devious moderators as well. This is some seriously puzzly fun.

Zendo is available from the crafty crew at Looney Labs, and it’s also featured in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Doctor Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted

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

Some board games are known for their iconic characters. You know the Monopoly guy, all the folks from Candyland, the mouse from Mouse Trap, the cast of suspects from Clue, and more. But one of the flagship characters from Cheapass Games might be new to you. His name is Doctor J. Robert Lucky, and players have been trying to kill him for twenty years now.

The game Kill Doctor Lucky has taken many forms over the decades — including several versions where players tried to save the infamous doctor instead — but the newest variation takes things in a spookier direction.

In today’s review, we look at Doctor Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted.

[Just half of the new game board.]

This expansion includes a new game board and new instructions, but that’s all; everything else you need to play is contained in the Deluxe 19.5th Anniversary Edition of Kill Doctor Lucky, including cards and tokens.

The endgame is also the same: kill Doctor Lucky before another player does. And while the same rules apply — you have to be alone in the room with Doctor Lucky and out of sight of every competitor — this expansion adds one curious wrinkle: all of the players are ghosts.

You see, in Doctor Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted, Doctor Lucky is trying to sell off his famous mansion, but the ghosts who also reside there wish for Doctor Lucky to stay, and they’ll go to any lengths to keep him around.

And you might not think that one curious wrinkle could radically change a game, but you’d be wrong. The fact that you’re a ghost means you can pass through walls, ceilings, and floors. That is a huge alteration in both strategy and game mechanics.

You can more quickly maneuver into a room with the Doctor, but you can also thwart your opponents by sneaking into a neighboring room and spoiling their murder attempt by observing the proceedings through an open door.

After all, it saves a lot of time to pass through a wall instead of leaving a room, moving down the hall, and entering the next. (Passing between floors is an even bigger time saver! Slipping through the ceiling and dropping in on someone is a marvelous feeling.)

Factor in the secret portals connecting several of the rooms, and suddenly the mansion is much more accessible.

This expansion harkens back to the early days of Cheapass Games — when they would send you the necessary pieces for their game and encourage you to harvest the extra bits (like dice and tokens) from games you already owned, thereby saving money all around — while adding new touches and revitalizing a game you already know quite well.

Plus, if Kill Doctor Lucky seems less family-friendly than you’d prefer, you can always call this Spook Doctor Lucky and give it a Scooby-Doo-esque twist.

Doctor Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted (and the Deluxe 19.5th Anniversary edition of Kill Doctor Lucky) are available from Cheapass Games. And the expansion is also featured in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!


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!

PuzzleNation Product Review: Deluxe Pairs and BRAWL

[Note: I received free copies of these games in exchange for fair, unbiased reviews. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

Today, we’re looking at two card games that demand very different approaches to player strategy. The first requires you to patiently and craftily outlast your fellow players, while the other focuses on outmaneuvering your opponent as quickly as possible.

Today, we’re reviewing Deluxe Pairs by Hip Pocket Games and BRAWL by Cheapass Games.

The goal of Pairs is to avoid getting points, and you get points when you draw matching pairs of cards throughout the game.

It’s a bit like Blackjack, except the deck is designed to favor some cards over others. You see, a Pairs deck has one 1 card, two 2 cards, three 3 cards, and so on, all the way up to ten 10 cards. So not only is drawing a 10 dangerous because of its high point value, but it carries the additional risk of being more likely to come up in a deck than, say, a 2 or a 3.

As the dealer works his way around the table, you have the option to either fold or take a card. If you fold, you accept the lowest value card in play, and add those points to your total. If you take a card and end up with a pair, you end up with the value of that paired hand in your total.

The total score to avoid depends on the number of players, but the first person to reach or exceed that score loses, ending the game. So, essentially, this is less a game about winning and more a game about lasting longer than everyone else.

Deluxe Pairs expands on this idea by including a Companion Book with over 30 additional rulesets and variations. Originally, some of these variations were tied to Pairs decks of a specific theme (Deadfall was originally created for a wild west-themed deck, for instance).

But the revamped version of the Fruit Deck — the original Pairs deck — allows you to play all sorts of variations without needing those specialty decks.

BRAWL is about playing out combat in real time between two characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Each character’s deck is made up of hits, clears, blocks, bases, presses, and freezes. Your goal is to score as many hits as possible on your opponent by the time the match is over.

A match starts with each player placing one base card on the table. These represent combat encounters, so you need to play your hits, blocks, and other cards on the base cards for them to work. If you can’t play them, you must place them in your discard pile instead.

Hits and blocks are color-coded, so you have three different kinds: blue, green, and red. Once you’ve played one color on a base, you can only play further hits and blocks of the same color on that base. For instance, if there are only two bases up, and you’ve played a red hit on one and a blue hit on the other, then any green hit cards must be discarded until a third base is played.

Since your deck is shuffled, you won’t know what card you have to play until you draw it, making for a hectic game that mixes strategy with luck and speed. The faster you can react and take advantage of the cards as they come up, the more likely you are to outmaneuver your opponent and score hits.

Once the freeze cards at the bottom of the deck come up, the match is over, and you count up the number of hits on each base. Whoever has more hits wins the base, and whoever wins the most bases wins the game.

Similar to Slapjack and other quick-reaction card games, but with greater options and depth of play, BRAWL is frenetic, but fun. And with six player decks to choose from, experimenting to see which decks work against other decks makes for some serious replay value.

For starting players, I highly recommend using the Bennett and Chris decks in training mode, since they’re more balanced and forgiving for newer players, and the turn-based nature of training mode helps build confidence and experience in spotting opportunities for using your cards.

As you grow more familiar with the game’s mechanics, you can experiment with the nuances of the other characters, as well as introducing additional speed AND additional players in tournament mode.


I thoroughly enjoyed both of these games. They were very different play experiences, obviously, but both forced me to think tactically while remaining quick on my feet. Both games would be welcome additions to any puzzler’s social game collection.

Deluxe Pairs is available here from Hip Pocket Games and the six BRAWL character decks are available here from Cheapass Games. And both of these games are featured in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

Next week, we’ll be reviewing another game from the Cheapass Games library: Dr. Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted.


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!

PuzzleNation’s 2017 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

Happy Holidays and welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2017 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

Each year, we scour the world of puzzles and games for the best, the most engaging, the most creative, and the most enjoyable products we can find, and we think this year’s collection is the best we’ve ever had!

We’ve got three different versions of the Gift Guide for your perusal, each of them absolutely loaded with all sorts of puzzly goodness and designed to make your puzzle and game shopping as easy as possible!

You can view the products in the Gift Guide organized by category, by age group, or randomly in a grab bag format!

So, if you’d like to view products sorted by category (puzzle games, board games, puzzle books, etc.), click the wreath!

If you’d like to view products sorted by age group, click the penguin!

And if you’ve got a puzzle lover on your list and you’re not sure what to get them, you can scroll through a wonderful mixed bag of products by clicking the crossword tree!

A lot of terrific companies and puzzle constructors are taking part in our gift guide this year, and we’re sure you’ll find something for every puzzle lover on your list! Happy browsing and happy puzzling to you and yours!

PuzzleNation 2017 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Category

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2017 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

We’re excited to be bringing you our biggest gift guide ever! There are so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you this year. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is broken down into categories for ease of searching. We have puzzle books, downloadable puzzles and puzzles by mail, jigsaw puzzles, puzzle games, board games, card games, dice games, and party games. We’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for any puzzler on your list!


This year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide is sponsored by the new Daily POP Crosswords app!

Daily POP Crosswords offers a different themed puzzle every single day, spanning everything from TV and film to sports and music!

Available for both Android and iOS users, you get terrific content from some of the world’s top constructors! And the download is free!


Puzzle Books

Pencil-and-paper puzzles are alive and well, and we’re happy to share some of our favorites with you.

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Maybe you’re looking for one kind of puzzle, like Colossal Grab-a-Pencil Book of Logic Problems ($10.50) or the Fill-In Value Pack ($8.95). Or perhaps you like some variety in your solving, and you’d prefer the Home for the Holidays Word Seek set ($32.95), complete with pencils, coffee, and snacks to keep you puzzling, or the Super Grab-a-Pencil Pocket Bible Gift Set 2-Pack ($12.50). Or you’d like to unwind with their Coloring Book 4-Pack ($14.95) and sip some coffee from a vibrant Word Nerd mug ($9.50). Either way, the folks at Penny Dell Puzzles have got you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter throughout the holiday season. Between 10% and 20% off all sorts of puzzle bundles and books!

And while we’re on the topic of puzzle books, some of the best constructors working today have released their own books for your perusal! And with New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some quality puzzlers within these pages!

–David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register ($7.48)

–Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords ($8.95)

–Erik Agard’s Food for Thought Crosswords ($7.48)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley and Francis Heaney’s Drunk Crosswords ($7.06)

–Cynthia Morris’s American Acrostics Volume 5: Puzzling Holidays and Celebrations and CynAcrostics Volume 3: You Don’t Say? ($9.95 each)

–Foggy Brume’s One-Word Word Searches ($7.50)

The Maze of Games: The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze by Mike Selinker and Gaby Weidling

The Maze of Games is one of the most diabolical puzzle books ever conceived. It allows the protagonists AND the reader to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of different puzzles in the hopes of conquering each of the labyrinths within the book.

The puzzle book has proven so diabolical that they’ve released The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze, a hint book designed to help solvers free Samuel and Colleen from the final labyrinth once and for all! ($9.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of The Maze of Games!]

The Maze series by Brad Hough

If you’re looking for a first-person maze-solving experience, The Maze is precisely your speed. Dropping the reader in the first room of a maze and describing the scene to you, it’s up to you to mentally put together the map as you progress from page to page (and room to room). With volumes of increasing difficulty and complexity available, you might never find your way out! ($8.49 and up)

[Click here to check out our full review of The Maze series!]


Downloadable Puzzles and Puzzles by Mail

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between by-mail offers, subscriptions, and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The Crosswords Club, edited by Patti Varol (puzzle bundles by mail, available in both regular and large print; $39.95 for 12 issues)

Puzzle Your Kids by Eric Berlin ($5/month, or puzzle sets available starting at $3.99; one free puzzle per week)

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles) ($20 for 1 year)

–Matt Gaffney’s Daily Crossword ($24 per year) and Weekly Crossword Contest ($26 per year)

–Andrew Ries’ Aries Xwords ($20 per year)

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($26 for 1 year)

–Joon Pahk’s Rows Garden puzzles ($20 for 1 year) and Variety puzzles ($15 for 1 year) OR get both for $30!

–Patrick Blindauer’s Broadway Puzzlefest ($20)

Crossword LA 2017 puzzle pack ($5)

–Bryant Park 2016 and 2017 tournament puzzle pack ($10)


Jigsaw Puzzles

Puzzometry

For a next-level jigsaw challenge, Puzzometry is tough to top. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available as Puzzometry ($16.50), Puzzometry Jr. ($12), and Puzzometry Squares ($16.50), you’ve got three distinct challenges appropriate for different ages!

[Check out the full review of Puzzometry by clicking here!]

 

Tavern Puzzles / Tucker-Jones House Inc.

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to remove twice as many pieces in a Collaborative Effort or free the triangle from Tridiculous, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($24)

Lightbox (Eric Clough)

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. As gorgeous as it is challenging, Lightbox is a very eye-catching puzzle that always wows new solvers. ($85)

[Check out our full review of Lightbox by clicking here!]


Puzzle Games

//CODE: On the Brink, //CODE: Rover Control, and //CODE: Robot Repair (ThinkFun)

Learning to program is quickly becoming a valuable skill for people of all ages, so why not get your kids started early with games that teach them the basics of coding in fun, accessible ways. The //CODE series of games does precisely that, teaching sequencing with On the Brink, and then moving onto plotting with Rover Control and logical deduction with Robot Repair. These games mix education and puzzle solving to great effect. ($14.99 each)

[Click here to read our full review of the first //CODE series puzzle game, On the Brink!]

GIANT Word Winder (David L. Hoyt)

Created for schools, libraries, and other homes of learning, GIANT Word Winder challenges solvers to locate words within a large word seek-style grid. The end goal? To create a path from one end of the board to the other. A great team puzzling activity for younger solvers, it also comes in a math-fueled version. ($475)

Roller Coaster Challenge (ThinkFun)

Lots of puzzles are all about figuring out which piece goes where, but rarely does a puzzle game then reward you by sending a car racing down your completed puzzle. Roller Coaster Challenge incorporates the logic puzzles synonymous with ThinkFun into a fun, track-building set that will delight solvers of many ages. Who doesn’t want to design their own roller coaster? ($29.99)

[Click here for our full review of Roller Coaster Challenge!]

Color Cube Sudoku (ThinkFun)

For a new twist on Sudoku, look no further than Color Cube Sudoku. Simply place one cube on the tray, and then try to figure out how to place every other cube so that you don’t repeat a color in any row or column. It’s tougher than it looks! ($19.99)

[Click here to read our full review of Color Cube Sudoku!]

Zendo (Looney Labs)

Puzzle games are all about the rules, but what if you don’t know the rules? That’s where Zendo comes in. This puzzle game is all about figuring out a given rule by arranging Looney pyramids and other shapes into various designs, and seeing if those designs fit the mysterious rule. A game of deduction and trial-and-error, Zendo is a very different solving experience. ($40)

[Review coming soon!]

Pinbox 3000 (Cardboard Teck Instantute)

How about the chance to build your own game? Is that puzzle enough for you? Pinbox 3000 provides all the pieces you’ll need, plus valuable advice for brainstorming and creating your very own pinball game. It’s endlessly customizable, so you can make your Pinbox pinball game as simple or as complex as you like! ($49.95)


Board Games

Some of the puzzliest games on the market today are being made by top-flight board game companies, and we’ve got some marvelous games that will appeal to puzzlers of all ages!

Doctor Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted (Cheapass Games)

People have been trying to kill Doctor Lucky for over twenty years, but now, ghosts are getting in on the act! Doctor Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted is an expansion of Kill Doctor Lucky, so you’ll need the base game to play, but with a new gameboard to explore and new movement mechanics — since all the players are now ghosts — this adds all sorts of new possibilities to a terrific game. ($16)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

castellan1castellan3

Castellan (Steve Jackson Games)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Word-a-Melon, Big Letter Bananagrams, and Qwordie (Bananagrams)

Bananagrams are the uncrowned kings of word-forming tile games, and no matter what sort of speller and anagrammist you are, they’ve got a game for you.

If you like Bananagrams but just want bigger, easier-to-read tiles, then Big Letter Bananagrams has your name on it (or will, when you spell it with the 50% larger tiles). To add a touch of Memory-style strategy to your word-forming gameplay, Word-A-Melon would be right up your alley. And if you prefer a bit of word association with your word-building, then the strategy and quick-thinking of Qwordie is for you. ($19.99 each)

[Click here for our full review of all three games!]

The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games)

Bring the insane real-life rivalry of paleontologists Cope and Marsh to life in The Great Dinosaur Rush! As you collect fossils and discover your own unique dinosaur, you must also steal bones, sabotage other scientists, and more! Show off your cunning and creativity in this game that proves historical truth is weirder than fiction! ($50)

walk-byscrabblelexicographerscrabbledrawingroomscrabble

Walk-By Scrabble BoardLexicographer’s Extended Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including the Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble for those with mega-syllabic ambitions ($29.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($149.95) — not to mention the mindboggling World’s Largest Scrabble Game for $12,000! — but few are as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]

Less (InventedFor)

A strategy game with the speed and simplicity of Checkers but the depth and replayability of Chess, Less is travel-friendlier than both, with a gameboard that breaks down into bar coasters. With new tiles forming the board every time you play, no two games are alike, and even the straightforward task of racing your opponent to the opposite corner becomes a worthwhile challenge. ($17)

[Click here to read our full review of Less!]

tsuro

Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Your goal is to avoid meeting another dragon or flying off the board. It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($23.00)

qwirkle

Qwirkle (MindWare)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train DominoesQwirkle is a tile-placing game where you try to maximize your points while minimizing the help you give to your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump into! ($19.95)

Tak: A Beautiful Game (Cheapass Games)

Many new games build off of classic mechanics, but very few new games truly feel like they could have been played centuries ago. Tak definitely fits that mold, using simple wooden pieces to create a game that feels both fresh and ancient all at once. Inspired by the eponymous game in Patrick Rothfuss’s KingKiller Chronicles series, Tak is a wonderful two-player game that quickly grows addictive. ($55)

[Click here for our full review of Tak!]

Word Domination (Uproarious Games)

Can you steal treasure and amass territory using your spelling and anagram skills? You can in Word Domination, a mix of resource management and word forming that encourages you to steal from and outmaneuver your fellow players. For a James Bondian touch with your Bananagrams, give this one a shot. ($32.99)

[Click here for our full review of Word Domination!]


Card Games

Doctor Who Fluxx (Looney Labs)

Could anything be as chaotic as traveling through time and space with The Doctor in the TARDIS? How about a card game about The Doctor and his adventures where the rules change every turn? Doctor Who Fluxx combines the classic sci-fi franchise with one of gaming’s most flexible rule sets to create an ever-evolving gameplay experience. Fluxx has never been better. ($20)

[Click here for our full review of Doctor Who Fluxx! And be sure to check out other Looney Labs games, like Chemistry Fluxx, Math Fluxx, and Nanofictionary!]

Spaceteam (Timber and Bolt)

Can you repair your ship and get the engines up and running in five minutes before a black hole ends your space adventure forever? That’s the name of the game in Spaceteam, a cooperative, communication-based game where you have to accomplish various tasks with your fellow players while sharing tools. It’s delightful chaos, and the 5-minute timer really adds something to the game play. A definite favorite around here. ($24.99)

Deluxe Pairs (Hip Pocket Games)

Building on the legacy already established by the bar-friendly series of Pairs decks available, Deluxe Pairs offers a new artistic spin on the classic Pairs “Fruit Deck,” as well as a companion booklet with rules for numerous Pairs variants you can play with the deck! This isn’t just one card game, it’s dozens! ($17)

[Click here for our full review of Deluxe Pairs!]

Unspeakable Words (Playroom Entertainment)

Some word games might drive you mad, but only Unspeakable Words actually makes keeping your sanity part of the gameplay! As you spell different words, you have to make a die roll to see if spelling the word cost you a bit of your sanity. If you lose too much of it, you’ll start uttering unspeakable words, which can be worth more points… if your sanity can take it! A fun twist on Scrabble and other word-forming games. ($19.99; deluxe edition $24)

BRAWL (Cheapass Games)

Fighting games have been all the rage in the video game world for decades, but BRAWL lets you tackle the tactics and action of a fighting game right in your hand! Each character has a signature deck with their own moves, and with 60-second rounds and additional tournament rules, you get a lot of bang for your buck. ($8.50 per deck, two decks to play)

[Click here for our full review of BRAWL!]

Scrimish (Nexci)

Combine the card game War with elements of Chess and Memory, and you’ve got something approximating Scrimish, a card game that’s effortless to learn, but offers endless possibilities. Can you protect your crown card while hunting down your opponent’s? With cards for both defense and offense, there’s a lot packed into just 25 cards apiece! ($9.99)

[Check out our full product review of Scrimish by clicking here!]

timeline-game

Timeline (Asmodee Games)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before or after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning) history! ($14.99 and up)

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The Oregon Trail (Pressman Toys)

The classic computer game comes to life as you and your fellow players team up to survive the perilous journey along The Oregon Trail. With art evoking old-school computer games, rampant threats and calamities to endure, and a long and challenging road to travel, will any of you will make it to Oregon? ($14.99)

[Check out our full product review of The Oregon Trail by clicking here!]

Better With Bacon and Just Coffee (Looney Labs)

These expansion packs for the sweet-serving card game Just Desserts add new faces and new desserts to keep the gameplay fresh and tasty! Whether you’re adding a bit of bite with the Better With Bacon set or pepping up your treats with the Just Coffee set, these expansions add new life (and calories) to an already terrific game. ($5 each)

[Click here to check out our full review of Just Desserts!]


Dice Games

Tenzi

All of us have rolled dice in games before, but can you roll what you need as fast as possible? That’s the challenge of Tenzi, a game that pits up to four players against each other in tests of speed and dexterity. Can you roll 10 6’s before everyone else? ($14.95)

Knot Dice (Black Oak Games)

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. With single-player and multi-player puzzles included, you’ll be tying yourself in knots for days! ($29.95)

[Click here to check out our full review!]


Party Games

Slapzi (Tenzi)

Slapzi will keep you on your toes. In this quick-reaction game, you’ve got to match your picture cards to the clue cards before your opponents. But with clues like “Not sold in a hardware store” or “Two of the same letter together,” this isn’t as easy as it appears! ($19.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of Slapzi!]

schmoviesleek

Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze)

Are you the funniest, punniest one in your group of friends? Find out by playing Schmovie, the party game that pushes you to scribble down the best name for an imaginary movie created on the spot! Now redesigned in a sleeker box and playable by all ages, this is the movie game for everyone. ($19.95)

[Check out our full product review of the original version of Schmovie here!]


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in this year’s holiday puzzly gift guide!

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