Tabletop Day 2017: PuzzleNation Style!

Saturday, April 29, is the fifth annual International Tabletop Day! Whether you play board games, role-playing games, card games, dice games, puzzles, or logic games, this is the holiday for you, family, and friends to come together and play games

Although the actual holiday is tomorrow — making today Tabletop Day Eve — we celebrated early! The PuzzleNation Crew got together with our friends from Penny Dell Puzzles for a few hours of Tabletop Day fun on Tuesday! Games were played, snacks were consumed, and fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers were introduced to some terrific games.

[The spread of games available for the event. Can you name them all?]

As usual, the event started with people picking out their favorites and introducing new players to the game. Tsuro, a path-laying tile game where each player maneuvers a flying dragon across the board, was immediately snatched up by our first group of players.

While one table was occupied with Tsuro, I introduced several players to the quick-play pattern-matching card game Loonacy, which always lives up to its name. The fast-paced play and constantly changing images to match make for a fun intro game or a palate cleanser between longer-play games.

More hands of Loonacy followed as the Tsuro players moved on to the runaway Kickstarter sensation Exploding Kittens. The players bravely tried to avert and avoid the catastrophes induced by various adorable, oblivious. combustible cats.

But, as you can see from the photo above, everything game-related immediately came to a halt when Tabletop Day Cake arrived!

Shout-out to fellow puzzler Jen Cunningham for delivering a delicious dice-shaped treat fit for experienced tabletoppers and board game newbies alike!

After a much-appreciated cake break, we switched to dice games as several players filled their hands with colorful cubes and played Tenzi.

There’s something very enjoyable about hearing players shaking big handfuls of dice and preparing to roll them all at once. It’s like a drumroll. Great stuff.

As some players returned to work, others filtered in, and we opted to close out our Tabletop Day celebration with a bit of Apples to Apples.

It was a silly, mellow way to wrap up a terrific session of gaming. Another marvelous Tabletop Day success!

[Naturally, people waited with baited breath to see who won our raffle AND this terrific Bananagrams tote bag full of games and goodies!]

So, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, how are you celebrating International Tabletop Day tomorrow? Let us know in the comment section! We’d love to hear from you! And remember to check out Tuesday’s post for ideas on how to participate in a Tabletop Day event near you!


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International Tabletop Day is almost here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Best of All Possible Puzzle/Game Worlds?

[A sampling of the wide variety of modern puzzles and games. Fluxx cards, Bananagrams tiles, a wooden puzzle box, Pairs cards, David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register, Timeline cards, last month’s edition of The Crosswords Club, Puzzometry pieces, Cards Against Humanity cards, multi-sided roleplaying dice.]

This is the most exciting time in history to be a puzzler or board game enthusiast.

Think about it. If you want to play a game or solve a puzzle, you don’t have to go any farther than your pocket, since a plethora of puzzly goodness awaits you on your smartphone.

Puzzle apps are our bread and butter here at PuzzleNation, so this might feel like a cheap plug, but honestly, it boggles my mind how much more accessible puzzles and games are now than they were even five years ago.

And the app revolution is only one part of the story.

I was reading a book the other day, as I am wont to do on the long train rides to and from PuzzleNation HQ. Titled The Revenge of Analog, it was all about the cultural response to digital media, highlighting the resurgence of vinyl records, film, and other tangible alternatives to electronic formats.

In the chapter “The Revenge of Board Games,” the author discussed the social aspect of tabletop gaming, and how sitting down with people and playing a game is a far different, more rewarding experience than online gaming and other social media-based interactions. (A fine point to consider, what with International TableTop Day a little more than a week away.)

While I do think that’s partially true, I also think that downplays the ingenuity of the puzzle/game community. I think we’re the best of both worlds.

I mentioned in my Tak review last week that puzzles are being created today that could not have been five or ten or twenty years ago. The advent of 3-D printing and laser cutters for homes and small businesses has brought design, construction, and promotion literally to the doorstep of entrepreneurial puzzlers.

Just last week I received a new edition of Puzzometry in the mail, a perk for supporting a team for a school robotics competition. This laser-cut plastic jigsaw will keep me guessing for hours (if its puzzly siblings are anything to go by), and it was designed and manufactured by a single individual.

Old and new styles are meshing as never before. Many puzzle constructors are partially or fully supporting themselves via email puzzle subscriptions and direct sales to the customer. Events like the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games are organized and advertised mostly online.

Crowdfunding has leveled the playing field for many companies and designers in both puzzles and games, allowing more products than ever before to enter the market. (According to Kickstarter, tabletop game projects raised $52 million dollars in 2013, and that number has surely gone up in the meantime.)

You’ve got a proper board game renaissance as classic games and styles of play are meshing with new technology, and games from across the world are shared on YouTube, at Friendly Local Game Shops, or even in puzzle cafes like Toronto’s Snakes and Lattes or New York City’s The Uncommons.

Whether you’re a pen-and-paper solver or a Penny Dell Crossword App devotee, a fan of classics like Chutes and Ladders or a proud tabletopper experimenting with the newest games, this is an amazing time to be a puzzler or board gamer.

So keep playing. Keep puzzling. And share that with others.


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PuzzleNation Looks Back at 2016!

The year is quickly coming to a close, and as I look back on an eventful year in the world of puzzles and games, I’m unbelievably proud of the contributions both PuzzleNation Blog and PuzzleNation made to the puzzle community as a whole.

Over the last year, we explored board games and card games, strategy games and trivia games, dice games and tile games, do-it-yourself puzzlers and pen-and-paper classics. We met designers, constructors, authors, artists who work in LEGOs and dominos, and creative types of all kinds.

We unraveled math puzzles and used statistics to play Hangman and Guess Who smarter. We accepted the challenge of diabolical puzzles, optical illusions, Internet memes, and more.

We delved into puzzle history with posts about Bletchley Park, puzzle graffiti from ancient Greece, Viking board games, and modern mysteries like the Kryptos Sculpture and the Voynich Manuscript. We separated fact from fiction when it comes to puzzles and brain health, avoiding highfalutin promises and sticking to solid science.

We spread the word about numerous worthwhile Kickstarters and Indiegogo campaigns, watching as the puzzle/game renaissance continued to amaze and surprise us with innovative new ways to play and solve. We shared amazing projects and worthy causes like Humble Bundles and puzzle/game donation programs for schools that allowed puzzle lovers to help others.

We celebrated International TableTop Day, built a puzzle fort in honor of International Puzzle Day, attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games, and dove deep into puzzle events like the Indie 500, the UK Sudoku Championship, the 2016 UK Puzzle Championship, and Lollapuzzoola. We even celebrated a puzzly wedding proposal, and we were happy to share so many remarkable puzzly landmark moments with you.

It’s been both a pleasure and a privilege to explore the world of puzzles and games with you, my fellow puzzle lovers and PuzzleNationers. We marked four years of PuzzleNation Blog this year, I’m approaching my 650th blog post, and I’m more excited to write for you now than I was when I started.

And honestly, that’s just the blog. PuzzleNation’s good fortune, hard work, and accomplishments in 2016 went well beyond that.

In April, we launched Penny Dell Crosswords Jumbo 3 for iOS users, and in May, we followed that with Penny Dell Crosswords Jumbo for Android. In November, we launched our new Penny Dell Sudoku app on both Android and iOS.

But the standout showpiece of our puzzle app library remains the Penny Dell Crossword App. Every month, we release puzzle sets like our Dell Collection sets or the themed Deluxe sets for both Android and iOS users, and I’m proud to say that every single puzzle represents our high standards of quality puzzle content for solvers and PuzzleNationers.

We even revamped our ongoing Crossword Clue Challenge to feature a clue from each day’s Free Daily Puzzle in the Crossword app, all to ensure that more puzzle lovers than ever have access to the best mobile crossword app on the market today.

And your response has been fantastic! The blog is closing in on 2000 followers, and with our audience on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms continuing to grow, the enthusiasm of the PuzzleNation readership is both humbling and very encouraging.

2016 was our most ambitious, most exciting, and most creatively fulfilling year to date, and the coming year promises to be even brighter.

Thank you for your support, your interest, and your feedback, PuzzleNationers. Have a marvelous New Year. We’ll see you in 2017!


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Interactive Puzzling is Murder on a Work Day!

[Image courtesy of Carriageway.com.]

It all started with a board game at lunchtime.

TableTop Day is a popular annual event here at PuzzleNation, and several of my fellow puzzlers enjoyed it so much that they wanted it every week. Well, we couldn’t swing that — deadlines and all — so we play games every Wednesday during lunch.

During a particularly spirited round of 10 Minutes to Kill — a game where every player controls a hitman trying to take out three targets without being identified by the other players or the police — the subject of murder mysteries came up, and I let slip that I’d helped write and run several murder mystery dinners in the past.

[Image courtesy of Vancouver Presents.com.]

So, naturally, the idea of running a murder mystery at work became a recurring topic of discussion.

As a huge fan of interactive storytelling — be it tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, improv theater, LARPing, or other group activities — the idea appealed to me.

Of course, I had one huge hurdle to overcome: the work day.

You see, murder mystery dinners thrive on the theatricality of the event. Attendees can overhear arguments, catch snippets of banter and exposition as they walk around, and engage characters in conversation to learn more. The more you interact with the story, the better chance you have of solving the mystery, but even passive players will get the big picture.

But in a normal workday, I can’t stage big elaborate sequences, like a failed marriage proposal or someone tossing wine in another’s face. I’d have to find another way to deliver information, mysteries, and drama.

Thankfully, as a puzzler, I’m accustomed to writing clues. Cluing is simply delivering information in unexpected ways. Whether it’s through deceptive wordplay, puns, or connections with other entries, crosswords and logic problems are excellent training for being creative and stealthy while presenting important information.

So, I mapped out the murder and the characters I’d need to pull it off, and cast those characters from a group of fellow puzzlers. At the same time, I gauged interest from other coworkers to see who’d be interested in trying to crack the case, and began devising ways to weave them into the narrative. (This was more intimate than writing your usual murder mystery dinner for random attendees, since the latter is more about creating scenes than tailoring it to specific people and circumstances.)

[Can’t have a murder mystery without an animal for someone to pet fiendishly.
In this case, my trusty armadillo in a cowboy hat, Armando.]

My goal was to get everyone prepped to play on Monday, and then actually run the mystery on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the murder having occurred overnight.

Which led to another big hurdle. I couldn’t exactly stage an elaborate murder scene in a way that was unobtrusive to the workday, so I’d have to describe the scene to the players and let them ask questions about it.

But how do I leave clues for the players that are readily identifiable as clues and not just the ephemera of a working office? After all, any good murder investigation needs some convenient clues to uncover that will help unravel the mystery.

I opted to mark any clue (which were most often color pictures of actual items, like a stashed wallet or a threatening letter) with the symbol below, to remove any doubt that this item was involved someway in the murder mystery:

Okay, that takes care of the clues. But what about the actual interaction, where players ask questions of characters and gain the valuable knowledge needed to solve the crime?

Sure, a lot of that can be done through group emails and instant messenger programs, encouraging the investigators to share what they’ve learned, so there wouldn’t be random gaggles of investigators creating a distraction as they ponder the latest clue found or deduction made.

As a storyteller, whether you’re running an RPG or a murder mystery, you not only need to know the details of your story backwards and forwards, but you need to anticipate what questions the audience will ask.

And no matter how prepared you are, I assure you, the players will ALWAYS find a way to monkey-wrench your plans, whether they approach the problem from an unexpected direction or they ask for information you hadn’t prepared in advance. There had to be a simple way to reflect this in the actual gameplay.

To deal with this, I borrowed an idea from Lollapuzzoola and created Holmes Tickets, which were catch-all requests for deeper insight or information than had been provided. Basically, anything that would require outside intervention or skills beyond that of the casual investigator could be revealed by spending a Holmes Ticket.

Dusting for fingerprints, getting ahold of a coroner’s report, uncovering information on a missing check…all of these and more were results of investigators cashing in their Holmes Tickets at various points in the investigation.

So, how did the actual murder mystery go? Well, I’d love to tell you, but it’s not finished yet! The work day proved more intrusive than expected — damn those pesky deadlines and responsibilities! — so we’re rolling into a third day of passive gameplay.

By hook or by crook, the story will be wrapped up today, and I’ll be able to fill you in more on the actual story, clues, and progression of each investigation. For now, I’ll just let you know that there are currently three bodies to account for (our killer has been busy since Monday night), and a host of theories, but no firm accusations yet.

We shall see if justice is served or if our crafty killer gets away.


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The Connecticut Festival of Indie Games!

Last year, one of our most popular posts was Max’s review of the Boston Festival of Indie Games. And when I heard that Connecticut was hosting its first Festival of Indie Games this year on International TableTop Day, I definitely wanted to check it out.

Now, I have neither Max’s charm nor his good looks, but I hope you’ll indulge me in my own rundown of the CT FIG this weekend.

Elm City Games and The Grove combined forces to host the inaugural event in New Haven, and it made for a fun, intriguing, and intimate event.

The designers were spread out all over the building, wherever there was space, so you’d go down a hall and find a half-dozen tables, then head upstairs for a dozen more, and then down around random corners for a few more exhibitors. It was like a game-filled scavenger hunt with surprises around every turn.

One of the first booths I visited belonged to the folks at Geek Fever Games, because only last week, I touted their Kickstarter for Avoid the Void right here on PuzzleNation Blog!

They had a playtesting area set up where guests could try out the game, as well as several games available for sale, including an alien invasion game called Mars vs. Earth, a robot-building card game called Awesome Bots, and Young Wizards, a card game that brings magic and RPGs to life in a simple, easy-to-learn format.

I also had a chance to sit down with Todd from Filsinger Games — one of the nicest guys on the planet — who was offering an intriguing take on role-playing games: a pro-wrestling edition.

Yup, Filsinger Games figured out how to boil down all the mechanics and style of professional wrestling into a game you can play with any old six-sided die, and it’s great fun. The company has licensed with classic wrestlers and new indie stars to use their likenesses and move-sets for the game, and you can learn how to play in minutes flat.

I realize that RPGs and wrestling may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I was thoroughly impressed by the simple, elegant design of the game, as well as the outside-the-box variations, like ’80s-style video game wrestlers, monsters, and more.

It’s worth noting at this point that my goal was to make it to noon before spending any money on games. I arrived at the event at 10:30.

Slideways was the puzzle game to first crack my resolve, then my wallet.

[A progression of my first time playing Slideways. The creator was red and I was gold. As you can see, I lost. Also, the last photo looks different because I photographed it in nighttime mode in order to better show off the metallic colors of the flippable tiles.]

Proudly displayed alongside an award earned at the Boston FIG, Slideways is the brainchild of Tricia McLaughlin and distributed by R&R Games.

Combining the classic four-in-a-row playing style of Connect Four or Quarto with the board-manipulating game play of Rush Hour Shift, Slideways offers a lot of choice in a little package.

Plus you can change moves your opponent has made, allowing even more flexibility of play! (And if you order through the R&R Games website, use the promotion code SLIDEWAYS to get 25% off!)

[Designer Tim Blank closes his eyes dramatically before bestowing judgment upon an unsuspecting player.]

After visiting the well-dressed fellows at Gameworthy Labs (and winning a copy of Oh My Gods! in a raffle; review coming soon!), I continued exploring the plethora of possible booths to check out.

(It’s worth noting that unlike Boston FIG, CT FIG was almost exclusively board games and card games, with very few digital games to be seen. I suspect more digital games will be involved with every passing year.)

One board game that caught my eye was Dragoon, a clever reversal of classic fantasy storytelling tropes by the team at Lay Waste Games.

Usually, it’s humans fighting off dragons, but in Dragoon, you play a dragon whose lands are being invaded by humans! How rude! So it’s up to you to roar and be generally dragon-y and keep them away, all while stealing their gold, because as we all know, dragons love gold.

It’s a funny concept executed beautifully. With a cloth map as your game board, well-crafted metal pieces for the dragon and its cave, and some sharp game play mechanics, it’s terrific stuff.

I spoke to Jon Ritter-Roderick of Lay Waste Games, and he shared that this was another Kickstarter success story, and that they were taking pre-orders for the game because they’d already sold out of their original print run! (Good news for my wallet, since I would definitely have bought a copy right then and there.)

I had a similar experience when I sat down with the dapper crew behind Movie Buff, a card game that pits your movie knowledge against that of your fellow players. If someone names a movie, how fast can you name an actor in it or quote that movie?

[And the Oscar for Best Hair goes to…]

Combining your own knowledge of the movies with the order-shifting rules of Uno, Movie Buff is a fun and frenetic way to establish your cinematic dominance over friends and loved ones alike.

Oh, and spoiler alert: When we played a round to show off the game, I won. (They’re also taking pre-orders now.)

I next tested my puzzle-game skills in a round of GATUCA, a dice-rolling combat game based on DNA, of all things. (And riffing on the sci-fi film Gattaca.)

Oh, and my opponent? The nephew of the friend of the guy who designed the game.

Allow me to explain: The designer and his pals from The Board Room needed a fourth person to demo their game-in-development This Is Only a Test, so this amiable fellow (nephew of the friend of the designer) stepped up. And when the designer and his team went off to do a livestream demonstration of one of their games, said nephew-friend was left to man the table.

But he stepped up and made for an impressive opponent in my first round of the game. You roll dice to determine what components you have available, and then you apply them to the game sheets in front of you in order to attack, defend, or evolve. It’s a little overwhelming at first, but new players will catch on quickly, and it’s a fun variation on simpler dice-rolling combat games.

I went from learning about DNA (and how to make it work to my advantage in combat) to learning about language and color theory with the team at TPG.

They’re teachers who also play and design games, and their mission is simple: combine those two worlds to create games that help students learn.

Their flagship product is Verba, a language game that uses the card-combining game play of Cards Against Humanity or Apples to Apples in order to reinforce and engage foreign-language learning. Students are given sentences (the blue cards) and must complete them with one of the white cards.

With editions in Latin, Spanish, French, and English (for English language learners), it’s a terrific immersive way to explore an unfamiliar language with practice and fun, one that appealed greatly to the word nerd and language lover in me.

(They also had a game where you hatched dragon eggs with color theory, which looked fascinating, but that I didn’t get to try out. Hopefully I’ll get a second chance to give that game a shot.)

I did, however, get to try my hand at wielding the elements and bringing items to life, thanks to the crew at Rampage Games and their game Elements.

Elements is all about combining the elements fire, air, earth, and water to bring different substances into existence. You have to manage your limited resources, use your cards wisely, and outwit your opponents in order to complete your substances before they complete theirs. I can easily see this game appealing to all sorts of puzzle fans. (And it must have, since its Kickstarter campaign closed out successfully that very day!)

Nick Rossetti of Rampage Games was kind enough to walk me through some of the other games they also have available, including quick-play survival games like Woodland and Adrift, as well as Iron Horses, a card game where competing train companies battle to be the biggest and best in the land.

But it was their soon-to-be-available card game Aurora that piqued my puzzly interest. While Elements is all about building single items or substances, Aurora is about building entire solar systems and tending to them so that intelligent life may emerge. Talk about ambitious!

[Aurora and Elements were both added to the increasingly long list of games I would’ve bought on the spot, had they been available.

I did end up returning to the Geek Fever Games table and buying Awesome Bots, as well as a card game called Plus Word Plus that’s all about finding common ground between words.

And several other games from other booths.]

As you can see, there were so many noteworthy and interesting games that I can barely describe them all. Heck, this is a pretty long post. And guess what? We’re only halfway done. There were so many great games to cover that I’m splitting my CT FIG recap into two posts.

I devoted this post to games that are available right now (or will be soon). Thursday’s post will be all about games in development or not yet available for sale!


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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!