PuzzleNation Product Review: Zendo Expansion

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

Expansion sets have become an integral part of the gaming experience. Whether they offer new wrinkles to an established game, allow you to add additional players, or create new ways to use the same game pieces, they revitalize games that might’ve become less fun or interesting after lots of play.

It’s difficult to strike a balance with expansion sets, since they must respect the game that came before and add to it in a meaningful way, but without introducing any game-breaking mechanics or otherwise compromising what made the original game fun in the first place.

The designers at Looney Labs are absolute pros when it comes to balancing their expansion packs. Each one enhances the gameplay without sacrificing any of the original game’s clarity or cohesiveness.

In the past, we’ve looked at Looney Labs expansions like Fluxx Dice (which add further mayhem to an already chaotic game of Fluxx), the Just Coffee and Better with Bacon expansions for Just Desserts (which add new dishes and characters to deepen gameplay options), and the Bridge Expansion for Star Trek Fluxx and Star Trek: The Next Generation Fluxx (which allow you to combine both games into one).

Today, we’re looking at an expansion pack for one of the company’s most immersive and challenging puzzle games: 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.

So, how does the Zendo Expansion affect the original?

[The gray areas of the card are variable options to choose from, meaning each card offers several different possible rules depending on the moderator’s choices.]

The Zendo Expansion is a ten-card deck of new secret rule cards that allow the moderator to create more complex and challenging structures for the other players to unravel.

But these ten cards offer much more than just the rules themselves. They encourage both the moderator and the players to be more creative, considering not just the shapes and how they interact, but the overall look of the structure.

One of the cards requires players to shape the structure’s shadow into a given shape. Moving beyond the pieces themselves and incorporating the light and shadow of the play area is a clever and unexpected way to use the Zendo pieces.

It immediately sends your brain in new directions, both as a player trying to deduce other secret rules in later game sessions and as a moderator looking for new ways to prove or disprove players’ theories with your own builds.

Not only does the Expansion deck add all sorts of new twists on the original game, but it makes you want to be more ambitious and clever in your guesses and structures the more you play.

With new rule cards ranging from easy to difficult, players of all skill levels will benefit from adding this set of cards to their puzzle game arsenal.

Zendo and the Zendo Expansion are available from Looney Labs, and both are featured in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!


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A Logic Puzzle Mystery, Brought to Life!

Halloween might be over and done with, but there’s still plenty of spooky puzzling to be found if you know where to look.

For instance, if you’re looking for a game that takes the traditional logic puzzle in a new direction, let’s talk about Return of the Obra Dinn, a PC game that has received some rave reviews recently.

In 1802, the merchant ship “Obra Dinn” set out from London for the Orient with over 200 tons of trade goods. Six months later it hadn’t met its rendezvous point at the Cape of Good Hope and was declared lost at sea.

Early this morning of October 14th, 1807, the Obra Dinn drifted into port with sails damaged and no visible crew. As insurance adjustor for the East India Company’s London Office, find means to board the ship and recover the Crew Muster Roll book for assessment.

With that intense historical premise to work with, you know you’re in for a few scares and some sinister storytelling.

So the game centers around a first-person perspective of this ship as you explore what happened to the crew. You’re armed with two items: a book that contains the ship’s manifest and other documents, and a pocketwatch that, when worn near a corpse, magically reveals what happened at the moment of the character’s death.

The book works like a standard logic problem’s puzzle grid, where you can fill in the information you know and deduce, say, the last names of five people in a marching band, their ages, and what instrument they play. Except, in the case of the Obra Dinn, instead of the details of a fictional marching band, you need to uncover the identity of every person on the ship, how they died, and who killed them.

The pocketwatch sequences are the centerpiece of the puzzle, giving you a static scene of the moment of death, the characters frozen in place, along with the sounds and dialogue that accompanied the person’s demise. You can walk around the frozen scene and examine details, using the book to help document what you discover and slowly eliminate possibilities from the list.

It’s a bit like a scene from Sherlock or Hannibal, as you play the detective walking through the death scene, trying to tease out the key information lurking within.

So the book is both a solving tool and the main body of the puzzle itself, a place for storing information, making guesses, and confirming when you have the correct chain of events for a given character’s death.

The Obra Dinn is one giant, interconnected puzzle, built out of many little moments like this, and only when you’ve taken the time to examine all of it, exploring the ship and the crew from all angles, can you fill in the story of what happened.

It’s essentially a murder mystery novel, but only the first chapter and the finale are in place; it is up to you as you piece together disparate fragments and assemble the narrative. In the end, it’s a simple story, but one told backward, forward, and out of order.

Return of the Obra Dinn is the kind of storytelling that takes puzzles off the page and plants them smack-dab in the center of your imagination. And that’s pretty cool.

If you’d like to try out the game for yourself, Return of the Obra Dinn is out now on PC and macOS for $19.99.

[For more information, check out these reviews from Kotaku and Screen Rant, as well as the creator’s homepage.]


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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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Answers to our Thanksgiving Logic Puzzle!

It’s been a week since Thanksgiving, so it’s about time we gave you the answer to our Turkey Day logic puzzle!

In case you missed it, here’s the puzzle:

Connor, Emma, Russell, and Taylor are celebrating Thanksgiving together. To save money, each of them is bringing a different side dish (cranberry sauce, green beans, mashed potatoes, or yams). Each of them is also bringing a different dessert (apple pie, chocolate cream pie, pumpkin pie, or sugar cookies). With the help of the clues below, can you puzzle out who brought which side dish and which dessert?

1. Emma didn’t bring the green beans, but she did bring pumpkin pie.
2. Connor brought the cranberry sauce, but he didn’t bring chocolate cream pie or apple pie.
3. The person who brought the yams also brought the chocolate cream pie.
4. Taylor brought the green beans.


Okay, last chance to solve it before we give you the solution!

Here we go!


Now, this isn’t as difficult as some of the diabolical brain teasers we’ve tackled in the past, but for someone new to logic puzzles and deduction, a puzzle like this can be daunting.

The key to logic puzzles is to organize your information in a simple and efficient way, so that you maximize the amount of information you glean from each clue.

So let’s list out our four holiday guests and all of the possible food options.

Now, let’s proceed through the clues and fill in our chart.

1. Emma didn’t bring the green beans, but she did bring pumpkin pie.

Since we know nobody brought the same dessert as Emma, we can black out pumpkin pie for everyone else, as well as blacking out the other dessert options for Emma, since each person only brought one dessert.

2. Connor brought the cranberry sauce, but he didn’t bring chocolate cream pie or apple pie.

When you add Connor’s info to Emma’s, you not only get his side dish and his dessert, since he didn’t bring chocolate cream pie, apple pie, or Emma’s pumpkin pie.

3. The person who brought the yams also brought the chocolate cream pie.

At first, this clue doesn’t seem to tell us much, because we don’t know who brought the yams or the chocolate cream pie. But we do know that Emma didn’t bring the chocolate cream pie, so she didn’t bring the yams either.

And if she didn’t bring the yams, the green beans, or Connor’s cranberry sauce, by process of elimination, she brought the mashed potatoes.

4. Taylor brought the green beans.

This last clue ties it all together. If Taylor brought the green beans, then Russell had to bring the yams. And since the person who brought the yams brought the chocolate cream pie, we know that was Russell as well, and Taylor brought the apple pie by default.

And there you have it. All that info in four simple clues.

We hope you enjoyed our little Thanksgiving logic puzzler!


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May the Fourth Be With You!

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Hello fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! It’s Star Wars Day, and what better way to celebrate than with a puzzly Star Wars brain teaser!

A fellow Star Wars fan found this logic puzzle online and tasked us with solving it. Can you unravel the fiendish Imperial plot? Let’s find out!


Rebel Roundup

The Empire came up with a brilliant plan in order to trap various members of the Rebel Alliance: creating a fake Rebel summit. Each Imperial agent involved would invite a Rebel to the summit while posing as one of the Rebels being invited.

It would have worked perfectly, except for the fact that Admiral Ozzel posed as the person that he had invited. OOPS. Courtesy of Ozzel’s bumbling, the Rebels were warned ahead of time and armed themselves, hoping to turn the tables on the Empire.

Thanks to Han Solo’s timely warning, Luke had hidden his lightsaber and a vibroknife with R2-D2 and C-3PO respectively. These extra weapons allowed the seven Rebel agents of them to escape. It also helped that Admiral Ackbar arrived last in his ship, Home One.

Each Rebel arrived in a different spaceship, but two Rebels hitched a ride with fellow agents, so only five spaceships were involved.

Answer these questions:

  • Who traveled with Leia?
  • Who traveled with Luke?
  • What vehicle did each Rebel arrive in?
  • Which Imperial invited which Rebel?
  • Who did each Imperial pose as?
  • What weapon did each Rebel carry?

Here are your clues:

1. Leia, having been warned by Han, carried a concealable Holdout Blaster. She did not arrive in an X-Wing, nor did she fly the Millennium Falcon.

2. Han wouldn’t let anyone fly his baby. Han carried his Heavy Blaster Pistol, ready to shoot the Imperial who invited him while posing as him. This naturally made Han suspicious.

3. When Admiral Ackbar saw who invited him, he put his Force Pike to the Imperial’s throat. He was not invited by Darth Vader, who had posed as R2-D2.

4. C-3PO arrived on the Tantive IV, along with another passenger. This was not the ship Lando used.

5. The Lady Luck was flown by the man invited by Admiral Piett. Its pilot, who traveled alone, carried a Blaster Rifle with him. He gambled a bit, and almost crashed into Luke’s X-Wing. The Imperial who invited him posed as Admiral Ackbar.

6. Grand Moff Tarkin invited Admiral Ackbar. He did not pose as Luke Skywalker, nor did he pose as Leia.

7. General Veers invited R2-D2. Veers posed as R2-D2’s best friend. Captain Needa did not pose as Lando.

8. Leia was led to believe that Luke invited her to the summit. Emperor Palpatine invited Luke while posing as Leia. R2-D2 delivered his weapon to the Rebel so he could keep his father busy long enough for everyone to escape.

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Good luck, fellow puzzlers! Although the puzzle is a bit easier if you’re familiar with the Star Wars Universe, any solver should be able to crack this puzzle with the clues provided!

Let us know if you solved it in the comments below! And May the Fourth Be With You!


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Cracking Einstein’s Riddle!

Fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, it’s time to put on our thinking caps and crack another puzzly mystery!

I’ve seen this riddle making the rounds online lately, and like many logic problems, puzzles, and brain teasers that go viral, it claims that 98% of the world couldn’t solve it!

Well, I don’t buy that. (I also don’t buy that Einstein created it or had anything to do with it, but since it circulates under the name “Einstein’s Riddle,” I’m also calling it such.)

[Image courtesy of Mental Floss.]

Einstein’s Riddle

  • There are five houses that are each a different color.
  • There is a person of a different nationality in each house.
  • The five owners drink a certain drink. They each smoke a certain brand of cigar and also have a certain pet. No owner has the same pet, smokes the same brand of cigars, nor drinks the same drink.

CLUES

1. The British man lives in the red house.
2. The Swedish man has a dog for a pet.
3. The Danish man drinks tea.
4. The green house is on the left of the white house.
5. The owner of the green house drinks coffee.
6. The person that smokes Pall Mall raises birds.
7. The owner of the yellow house smokes Dunhill.
8. The person that lives in the center house drinks milk.
9. The Norwegian lives in the first house.
10. The person that smokes Blend lives next to the one that has a cat.
11. The person that has a horse lives next to the one that smokes Dunhill.
12. The one that smokes Bluemaster drinks beer.
13. The German smokes Prince.
14. The Norwegian lives next to a blue house.
15. The man that smokes Blend has a neighbor that drinks water.

The question is “who owns the fish?”


Now, the first step is going through the clues and getting all five options for every variable. This will help us with the second step: building a grid to help us organize information.

  • Colors: Blue, Green, Red, White, Yellow
  • Nationalities: British, Danish, German, Norwegian, Swedish
  • Beverages: Beer, Coffee, Milk, Tea, Water
  • Cigars: Blend, Bluemaster, Dunhill, Pall Mall, Prince
  • Pets: Birds, Cat, Dog, Fish Horse

Okay, let’s build our grid. Now, we could list every intersection of information, like a full logic problem grid, but I don’t think that’s necessary here. We can simplify.

So where do we start? Well, since several clues refer to a first house, a center house, or neighboring houses, let’s assume that we’re talking about five houses in a row, and use that as our top line. Then we can list all of the other categories we need to determine along the left side.

Now let’s fill in what we know from the clues. We know the Norwegian lives in the first house (clue #9), the man living in the center house drinks milk (clue #8), and the Norwegian lives next to the blue house (clue #14).

This might not seem like much, but we can already determine what color the Norwegian’s house is. The British man lives in the red house (clue #1), so the Norwegian’s house isn’t red. The green house is on the left of the white house (clue #4), so the Norwegian’s house is neither green nor white, since there’s no house to the left of the Norwegian’s house, and the house to the right is blue. Therefore, the Norwegian’s house is yellow, the only color left.

And that tells us something else. The owner of the yellow house smokes Dunhill (clue #7), so we know what the Norwegian smokes. Plus, the man who keeps the horse lives next to the man who smokes Dunhill (clue #11), so we know the pet for the blue house.

We can now determine the color for every house. The green house is to the left of the white house (clue #4), and the owner of the green house drinks coffee (clue #5). But since we already know the owner of the center house drinks milk, that means the green house has to be the fourth, and the white house the fifth. Therefore, the center house is red.

But that’s not all we know now! The British man lives in the red house (clue #1), so we can place him as well.

Hmmm, where do we go from here? Well, let’s take a look at the beverages. We know the Norwegian doesn’t drink coffee or milk, but we also know that the Danish man drinks tea (clue #3), so the Norwegian doesn’t. We also know that the one that smokes Bluemaster drinks beer (clue #12), and the Norwegian smokes Dunhill, so that eliminates beer. Therefore, the Norwegian drinks water.

Since the man that smokes Blend has a neighbor that drinks water (clue #15), we can place Blend in the second house. (Clue #10 tells us that the person that smokes Blend lives next to the one that has a cat, but right now, we can’t be sure if that’s the first house or the center house, so let’s table that clue for now.)

But remember clue #12, the one that smokes Bluemaster drinks beer? Well, we know all the drinks except the second house and the fifth house, and the owner of second house smokes Blend, so the owner of the fifth house must both smoke Bluemaster and drink beer.

That leaves tea as the only possible beverage for the second house, and the Danish man drinks tea (clue #3), so we can place him as well.

Now we’re cooking! The German smokes Prince (clue #13), and since we know the nationality of the third house’s owner and what the fifth house’s owner smokes, the only option remaining is the fourth house. By process of elimination, that also places the Swedish man in the fifth house and Pall Mall in the center house.

And we’re left with only the pets to place. Appropriate, given that the question that got us started is “who owns the fish?”

According to clue #2, the Swedish man has a dog for a pet, and the person that smokes Pall Mall raises birds, so that takes care of the center and fifth houses, leaving only the first house and the fourth.

Clue #10, the one we put aside earlier, now comes into play. The person that smokes Blend lives next to the one that has a cat, and since the neighbor on one side (the center house) raises birds, that leaves only the first house open to have a cat.

Therefore, the German man — who smokes Prince, drinks coffee, and lives in the green house — also owns a fish.

98% of people can’t solve it? Apparently, I have greater faith in solvers than “Einstein” did.


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