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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PuzzleNation Product Review: Chroma Cube

[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.]

As longtime readers know, puzzle games centering around logic and deduction can come in many different forms, from cats milling around a living room to abstract shapes interacting in curious ways. They often have many moving parts and solving mechanics to keep in mind.

But other logic puzzles strip away flashy trappings and overly elaborate designs and take a minimalistic approach to puzzling. The subject of today’s product review, Chroma Cube, falls neatly into the latter category.

Chroma Cube boils a deduction puzzle down to its essentials, employing pleasing design that seems basic, but allows for great depth and challenge nonetheless. All you need to tackle Chroma Cube is a game board, twelve colored cubes, and your challenge cards.

The object of the puzzle is simple: complete each challenge card by placing all 12 cubes in the correct positions on the board.

Most of the challenge cards place some of the colored cubes for you to get your started. Once you’ve set up your board to match the starting pattern on the card, it’s up to you to use the clues provided to figure out how to place the remaining cubes.

The challenge cards ease the solver into the puzzle at first, relying mostly on clues about positioning on the board, referring to rows, columns, and neighboring cubes.

As you might expect, with each new challenge card, the puzzles increase in difficulty, and the clues grow more complex and inventive. Some refer to colors only by the first letters — leaving you to ponder whether it applies to Brown or Black, for instance) — while others offer contextual clues, like a rule that the cubes in each row should be in alphabetical order from the left to right.

A few even rely on knowledge outside the puzzle game itself, like knowing the colors in the Irish flag. These clues are rarer, but add a nice bit of crossword-style flavor to an otherwise Sudoku-like solving experience.

The team at Project Genius did an excellent job of keeping the clues fresh and interesting, constantly introducing new rules and wrinkles to the puzzles. By the time you’re encountering puzzles with no set cubes, or ones that require you to swap set cubes with newly placed cubes — a very clever twist on the idea of “set” pieces — you realize that no matter how many tricks you’ve figured out, the challenge cards have new ones waiting for you.

(Naturally, these are only some of the clue mechanics you’ll encounter. I don’t want to spoil some of the really inventive and challenging ones.)

Chroma Cube’s later challenge cards offer plenty of difficulty and cluing craftiness to keep established puzzlers coming back for more, but without alienating new solvers that have developed and honed their deductive talents by playing through the game’s earlier scenarios.

I was thoroughly impressed by how much the creative team at Project Genius got out of 12 colored cubes and a wooden board to place them on.

Not only that, but the game is beautiful, eye-catching in its presentation. The wooden pieces have a weight to them, and solving is a delightfully tactile experience. (The challenge cards can be tucked away in a slot within the board, making it a breeze to move around the house.

Heck, you could easily leave it on your coffee table as a puzzly conversation piece and it wouldn’t look out of place.

Chroma Cube is a wonderfully visual take on classic deduction-style solving, one that will keep you on your toes from the first challenge card to the last.

Chroma Cube, distributed by Project Genius, is available at Barnes & Noble and other participating retailers.


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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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A Dollar For Your Thoughts? It’s the Hundred Dollar Puzzle!

[Image courtesy of ColourBox.com.]

That’s right, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! It’s that time again when we pit our puzzly minds against a fiendish brain teaser and test our mental mettle!

You might’ve seen this brain teaser making the rounds on social media. It’s known as the hundred dollar puzzle, and unlike most brain teasers, this one is less about the puzzle and more about how we got to the solution.

Intrigued? You’re not the only one. Let’s take a look at the brain teaser:

A young man sees a shirt for $97. He borrows $50 from mom and $50 from dad. He buys the shirt and is left with $3 change.

He gives $1 to mom, $1 to dad, and keeps $1 for himself. Now he owes his mom $49 and his dad $49.

$49 + $49 = $98 + his remaining $1 = $99. Where did the other $1 go?

[Image courtesy of CollecTons.]

People love brain teasers like this, because at first glance, and even at second glance, the math SEEMS to hold up.

But the real trick to this one is that it’s asking the wrong question. The other dollar didn’t go anywhere.

The problem here is… as soon as he pays his parents back, it’s no longer about one hundred dollars. It’s about ninety-eight dollars.

Let’s look at total borrowings versus borrowings after paying back his parents. The original specs were:

What he owed: $100
What he had: $3 and a $97 dollar shirt.

But the goalposts changed when he paid his parents back a dollar each. (And if he plans to pay the loan off a dollar at a time, it’s going to take FOREVER for them to get their money back.)

What he now owes: $98
What he has: $1 and a $97 dollar shirt.

The math adds up. Your total borrowings go from $100 to $98 dollars, and you spent $97 dollars and put the extra dollar in your pocket.

So the final equation in the brain teaser is flawed. It’s not $49 + $49 = $98 + his remaining $1 = $99. It’s $49 + $49 = $98 = his remaining $1 and his fancy shirt $97.

[Image courtesy of Ali Express.com.]

Sometimes, brain teasers aren’t about crunching numbers, but finding the logical flaw in the puzzle itself.

We hope you enjoyed unraveling the hundred dollar puzzle, and if you have any brain teasers, riddles, or other puzzly suggestions for mental challenges to conquer, let us know in the comment section below! We’d love to hear from you!


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A Scavenger Hunt with a Dragon at the End?

Although I’m the only one who works in the puzzle field, I’m far from the only member of my family with puzzly skills.

Mom is a whiz at cracking crosswords, Sudoku, and Jumble puzzles. My younger sister demolishes jigsaw puzzles, rules trivia games and bar trivia nights, and has a knack for tackling escape rooms. My older sister loves city-spanning scavenger hunts like The Great Urban Race.

And although the GUR is no longer running, plenty of other events around the country are waiting to be discovered to scratch the puzzly itch of enthusiastic solvers.

One of them is coming up in a few weeks, in fact. If you’re near Boston, you can join the Boxaroo crew for their third annual City Scavenger Adventure, The Dragon of Bostonshire!

On August 19th from 1pm to 5pm, Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park will be the starting point — and final destination — for a quest worthy of the name…

Once upon a present time, in a parallel universe known as Bostonshire, a loud rumbling echoed throughout the land. As the town became concerned, the noble Knights of Bostonshire went to investigate… and lo and behold! They discovered a ferocious, enormous dragon, raging and breathing fire. Alas, the Knights are in dire need of YOUR help- will you and your team be able to help them defeat the dragon before Bostonshire is destroyed?

Teams of up to 5 will race around Boston in order to take pictures, solve puzzles, accomplish tasks, and hopefully collect enough clues to return to the park in order to complete the final challenge and slay the dragon!

I reached out to the Boxaroo team for a bit more detail, and they kindly indulged me, explaining that the scavenger hunt aspect of the quest is a combination of puzzle-solving, running around, and accomplishing tasks. The puzzle-solving ranges from memory games and trivia to logic puzzles, with each location providing a different challenge to overcome in order to earn a clue.

It sounds like an awesome time, and I hope it’s a grand success for the players and organizers alike! Click here for more details!

What do you think, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Will you accept the challenge of the Dragon of Bostonshire? Have you competed in an event like this one? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you?


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May the Fourth Be With You!

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 and puzzler sent in this delightful little logic puzzle, and we decided to share it with you! Can you crack this SW gift mystery?


Three friends had three kids who were all named after Star Wars characters. For Star Wars Day one year, all three kids (Han, Leia, and Luke) got different Star Wars LEGO sets as gifts (the Millennium Falcon, an AT-AT, and an Imperial Star Destroyer).

Each set had a different number of pieces (1345, 1432, or 1569) and each kid took a different amount of time to complete the model (2, 3, or 4 hours). Using the clues below, can you figure out which kid got which model, how many pieces it had, and how long it took them to build it?

1. The model with the most pieces took the most time to complete, but the model with the least pieces did not take the least amount of time to complete.

2. The models weren’t to scale, so the Millennium Falcon actually had more pieces than the Imperial Star Destroyer, a fact that Luke was upset to learn since he likes bigger models.

3. Han spent the three hours between opening his gifts and lunch building his model.

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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