A Magic Puzzle Box? (Solved on YouTube For Your Convenience)

One of the cooler bits of promotion I’ve seen from a gaming company recently was executed by the team at Magic: The Gathering for their new Zendikar Rising brand.

For the uninitiated, Magic: The Gathering is a collectible card game where players buy starter decks and booster packs of cards in order to build the best possible deck with which to battle their friends in card-playing combat. Each player is a wizard known as a planeswalker, playing cards that represent creatures summoned, spells cast, magical items used, and more.

So what was their intriguing promotional tactic?

They sent out a bespoke chest — a puzzle box to entice players, gamers, and social media influencers — accompanied by a riddle which offered clues for each stage of the puzzle box to help solvers unravel its secrets.

Now, sending a puzzly chest of treasure to gamers is an instant win. If you’re a fan of fantasy narratives like those woven into the gameplay of Magic: The Gathering, this is the perfect enticement.

But that was only the company’s first stroke of genius in their Zendikar Rising campaign.

Their second was sending a box to YouTubers Rose Ellen Dix and Rosie Spaughton.

Rose and Rosie are a charming married couple who post all sorts of comedic content, social commentary, and slice-of-life vlog posts on YouTube. They also host a gaming channel where their specialty is being very bad at games.

So when I saw that they were tackling the M:TG bespoke mystery box for their next Let’s Play Games video, I knew it would make for terrific viewing.

I was not disappointed.

First, they read the letter accompanying the puzzle box, which detailed their role as adventurers trying to sort out this treasure box while the rest of the party continued on their adventure.

Their mission was to solve the riddle and uncover the treasure inside the mystery box.

Here’s the riddle that awaited them:

A brave adventurer
must apply pressure to the Planeswalkers
and they will venture
to reveal the key to their powers.

Strength in numbers is a sign of great force,
but only one truth can endure this course.
Find the pin that reveals the way,
and set it free before you’re led astray.

True secrets can only be seen
when you can align with the machine.
It will twist and it will turn
and it will be spun until your fingers burn.
Wait until you feel the lift
to reveal underneath the glorious gift.

The end of your journey arrives
Hold tight the stone and consider your lives.
For they will be pulled together by an invisible magic
Push down your might so it will not be tragic.
Turn it but a quarter of the way.
All four stones will ensure their sway,
Revealing a secret panel you must remove
and seek the answer that your talents will approve.

Brave adventurer, thy quest has come to an end,
but fear not, for your gifts will tend
to your strength in magic in Zendikar.

While Rose immediately suggests throwing the box or setting it on fire, Rosie focuses on the logo on top of the box, and Rose begins pressing on it. Eventually, Rosie pressed on the right spot, revealing a secret compartment and a key.

The key opened the outer box, which revealed two smaller puzzle boxes, both wrapped in fabric.

Rosie’s box had two dials on the lid, which both had to be turned to a certain point for the box to open. Rosie quickly figured this out, revealing two booster decks for their new Zendikar Rising game, as well as two small metal pyramids that would be needed for the next stage of the solve.

Rose’s box appeared to be nailed or screwed shut, but one of the pins could be removed, allowing the lid to slide open sideways and reveal the treasure inside: two more booster decks and two more small metal pyramids.

Inside the main box, below the two smaller treasure boxes, was an elaborate panel with four dials and two holes. The trick was to place the pyramids in the correct spaces, turn them a certain way, and lift the panel to reveal the treasure. This required a bit of trial and error, but the dynamic duo would not be denied.

The panel lifted, revealing two Zendikar Rising Commander Decks. The Commander Decks are designed specifically to introduce new players to the game and ease them into the world and gameplay. (The cards in the Booster Packs can augment and add to the Commander Decks.)

While the puzzle box is hardly the most challenging out there, it was an absolute delight to watch Rose and Rosie tackle it. They’re effortlessly hilarious, and their frustration (as well as the bickering that ensues) was very entertaining.

Also, it’s thoroughly enjoyable to hear two people who don’t play Magic: The Gathering describe the game. The mix of sheer enthusiasm and total vagueness regarding actual gameplay did a pretty solid job of making the game seem exciting and inviting.

I look forward to seeing them try their new Zendikar Rising sets out. It will probably be a terrific gateway video for new players.

Well played, Magic: The Gathering.


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Building Better Bonds with Board Games

friendsboardgames3

[Image courtesy of Toy-TMA.com.]

Earlier this year, we discussed a study indicating that playing board games was good for your relationship. The results of the study revealed that the act of playing board games actually coincided with the creation of new chemical bonds of affection for the person with whom you’re playing the game.

Well, as it turns out, it’s not just romantic relationships that benefit from the board game experience, as another article suggests that social relationships also benefit from communal play like board games.

From the article on QZ.com:

Board games, along with role playing and table games like Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons, allow players to enter into a controlled state of conflict. The process of engaging in that conflict is fun even when you lose, and the outcome is likely to be different the next time around.

A good board game builds in enough chance so that any reasonably skilled player can win. Even in chess, famously associated with warfare and military strategy, the emphasis is not on who ultimately wins, but on the ingenuity that players display in the process.

friendsboardgames2

[Image courtesy of Den of Geek.]

It’s a simple combination, really. Board games offer not only an achievable goal — something that can feel rare in our ever-complicated world — but a sense of fairness to the proceedings that might feel equally rare. Everyone is operating on the same footing, everyone is capable of the same actions, and (ignoring previous experience with the game) everyone has a fair chance of succeeding.

Heck, in most games, taking turns is built into the game. Board games are orderly affairs. Even the chaotic ones operate under a standard set of rules that are reassuring and clear. Life is rarely so simple.

In addition, there is the comfort-building social aspect of getting together to play games. Conventions like Gen Con and holidays like International Tabletop Day are designed around the joys of shared play, and more and more, you see game stores, hobby shops, libraries, board game cafes, and other locations offering game night activities and bringing people together.

friendsboardgames1

[Image courtesy of Review Geek.]

I wonder if there are any games that are commonly regarded as strong relationship builders. I’m sure cooperative games would rank higher than most, but then again, sometimes the spirit of competition can also bring people together.

Fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, is there a particular board game that you prefer for family or friendly game nights? What about games you enjoy playing with your significant other? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Hide & Word Seek With These Puns We Toyed Around With

Yes, yes, it’s that time again. It’s hashtag game time!

For years now, we’ve been collaborating on puzzle-themed hashtag games with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles, and this month’s hook was #PennyDellPuzzleToys, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles with action figures, cars, dolls, brands, characters, and anything else related to toys!

Examples include: Connect Four Square, Ouija Exchange Boards, and Bop-It’s Your Move.

So, without further ado, check out what the puzzlers at PuzzleNation and Penny Dell Puzzles came up with!


My Little Puzzler

Cabbage Patchwords / Cabbage Patchworks Kids

Alphabet Soup-erball

Bowl Gameboy

Mix and Matchbox Cars

Mr. Potato Headings / Mr. Potato Heads and Tails

Barbie Styling Heads & Tails

Barbie and KenKen Dolls

Evel Ken-ken-ievel action figure

License Fashion Plates

Stretch Armstrong Letters

Etch A Stretch Letters

Slide-O-Crayon

Slip and Slide-o-grams

Chutes and Letter Addition

Word Play-Doh / Play-Doh-ku

Word Playmobil

Blue’s Clues in Twos

The Match Game of Life

Mousetriplex

Diamond Minecraft

Raggedy Anagrams

Trivia Pursuit Frame

Mega Blokbuilders

Slinkywords

Sock Monkeywords

Linkwords-in-Logs

Lincoln Logic Problems

Anagram Magic 8-Balls / Anagram Magic 8-Ball Square

Anagram “Magic—The Gathering” Square

Brick by Rubik’s Cube

KakuRubik’s Cube

Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Kakurobots

Giant (Sudo)Koo-ties

Toss Across and Down

Jack in the Letterboxes

Furby Another Name / All Furby One

Ted-Dilemma Ruxpin

View Masterwords

See n’ Say That Again

Speak & Spellbound / Speak & Spelldown / Speak & Starspell

Strawberry Shortz-cake

Mighty Morphin’ Flower Power Rangers

Flower Pow-Pow-Power Wheels Pow-Power Wheels POWER WHEELS!


One of our contributors went above and beyond in musical fashion, resurrecting the old Crossfire riff for some puzzly fun:

It’s some Timed Framework in the future
The ultimate challenge
CROSSWORDS!
CROSSROADS!
You’ll get caught up in the
CROSSBLOCKS!
CROSS PAIRS!
You’ll get up in the
CROSS ARITHMETIC!
CROSS ANAGRAMS!
CROSSOUT QUOTE!
CROSSNUUUUMMMBBBEEEEEERRRRRRSSS!!!!


Have you come up with any Penny Dell Puzzle Toys entries of your own? Let us know! We’d love to see them!

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Max reviews the Boston Festival of Indie Games!

Hello Puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! Today we’ve got a special treat for you! The intrepid Max Galpern, 12-year-old game enthusiast and son of our Director of Digital Games Fred Galpern, will be taking over PuzzleNation Blog for the day!

[Max, trying out a new virtual reality game at Boston FIG.]

You may remember Max from his cameo appearance in our Laser Maze product review or his work in our first video review for Star Realms (alongside his dad).

I’m happy to hand over the reins to Max as he gives us the lowdown on the Boston Festival of Indie Games.

[Glenn’s note: the photo comments are my only contributions.]

Take it away, Max!


I went to the Boston Festival of Indie Games (FIG) on September 12 in 2015. This festival has been going on for many years now. It used to only show digital games and this year is the first year they’re introducing tabletop games.

[A brief glimpse of Boston FIG.]

First, I went into the tabletop showcase, and when I walked in I saw a big poster for EPIC, the card game. I’ve played EPIC before. Earlier this year, my dad backed the Kickstarter campaign, so we already have the game and really like it. I walked right over to the EPIC booth and played a game with my dad right away. I crushed him in the game we played!

[A sample of some of the stunning art featured in EPIC.]

EPIC is a card game that consists of 120 cards that are all different, and among them are 4 colors/factions: Red (evil), Green (wild), Yellow (good), and Blue (sage). If you know how to play Magic:The Gathering (MTG) you may pick this game up as easily as I did. It has many of the same abilities as MTG but worded differently. EPIC is a really fun game, and I totally recommend it.

After EPIC, I walked around and saw this game called PBL Robots.

[Here’s an illustration of a sample attack in PBL Robots.]

My dad and I walked past it and it looked pretty cool, so I wanted to check it out when we circled back. We walked around for awhile and then sat down to learn about PBL Robots. When the creators were explaining the rules, I realized I had thought of a game like this one many years ago.

You start with a base robot and a pilot. Then you play cards that may be an arm, a pair of legs, shoulders, an action, a hangar, crew members, or a better pilot. When you’re ready to attack, you roll dice according to the part you are attacking with and/or the part you are attacking. It was amazingly fun to play, and I hope to play it again.

After that I went to the video game section, where I tried a game called Space Jammers. It was pretty fun, and if you have a Windows computer you can play it at igs.io/spacejammers.

Next, I played a video game called Sylvio.

[Max, matching wits with Sylvio on a PC. Now THAT is focus…]

It’s a survival horror game where you take the role of a girl who records ghosts with a microphone. The sound in the game makes it even more creepy. It is a very fun game. If you like games like Slender you may like this too.

Last but not least, I played a game called Loose Nozzles by my Dad’s friend Chris Foster and his son Ian. It’s a fun game for iPad where you fly a rocket ship to save the stranded people below. I recommend this game for children of all ages to play.

[Ian welcomes you to give Loose Nozzles a try!]

This year’s Boston FIG was a blast, and I can’t wait for next year to revisit things I saw this year AND see new stuff.

P.S. My Dad bought a card game called Poop (it’s like Uno, but more gross). I accidentally left it at the festival but two awesome people who work there found it and are sending it to us. Thanks, Caroline & Shari!


Thanks for the terrific rundown, Max! We’ll have to have you back again soon.

For more info on the Boston Festival of Indie Games, click here! And if you’d like Max to take over more often, let us know in the comments below!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

100 Games to Know!

PAX East is one of several conventions under the PAX brand, all of which are dedicated to gaming. Created by the folks behind the popular webcomic Penny Arcade, PAX East has become a premier destination for video games, board game creators, and gaming enthusiasts from all walks of life.

One of the panels this year featured prolific puzzler and game creator Mike Selinker, author of The Maze of Games and creator of numerous popular board games and card games, including Unspeakable Words, Pathfinder, and many others.

He hosted a panel entitled 100 Games You Absolutely, Positively Must Know How to Play, and over the course of the hour-long event he ran down 100 board games, card games, and video games that he considers to be essential knowledge for every game fan and game designer.

He stressed that this was not a list of the 100 best, the 100 most important, or the 100 most fun games, and that virtually every person’s opinion would vary.

And then he laid out a fantastic list of games in many styles and formats:

  • Tabletop RPGs (Dungeons & Dragons, Fiasco)
  • Electronic RPGs (The Legend of Zelda, The Secret of Monkey Island)
  • Deduction Games (Clue, Mafia)
  • Tile Games (Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Settlers of Catan)
  • Tabletop puzzle games (Scrabble, Boggle)
  • Electronic puzzle games (Myst, Bejeweled, Portal, You Don’t Know Jack)
  • Platformers (Super Mario Bros. 3, Katamari Damacy, Limbo, Braid)
  • Simulators (Madden NFL, Starcraft, FarmVille, Minecraft)
  • Traditional card games (Fluxx, Gloom, Uno)
  • Deck-construction games (Magic: The Gathering)
  • Electronic action games (Mario Kart 64, Halo, Plants vs. Zombies)
  • Rhythm games (Dance Dance Revolution, Rock Band)
  • Strategy board games (Ticket to Ride, Pandemic)
  • Tabletop war games (Stratego, Axis & Allies)
  • Open world video games (Grand Theft Auto, World of Warcraft)
  • Creative tabletop games (Cards Against Humanity)

Several favorites of mine made the cut — like Mafia, a brilliantly simple murder mystery card game requiring nothing more than a deck of cards — and he had excellent reasons for including every game and excluding others.

Although plenty of worthy games didn’t get mentioned, I can’t come up with any game styles that Selinker missed, nor can I come up with any particular games that were egregiously excluded. I love Qwirkle, Timeline, and Castellan, for instance, but I feel like each of those gaming styles were well represented.

[He was careful to cover his bases.]

Can you think of any that the keen eye of Selinker missed, my fellow puzzlers? Let me know!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

5 Questions with James Ernest of Cheapass Games

Welcome to another edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, writers, filmmakers, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole.

And I’m overjoyed to have James Ernest as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

James Ernest represents Cheapass Games, a company with a brilliantly simple rationale: they know you have board games at home, so why jack up the price of their games by making you buy more dice, chips, or tokens? Their games contain exactly what you need to play the game, and describe precisely what you’ll need to scrounge up from other games in order to play.

As president and game designer, James is instrumental not only in maintaining the Cheapass Games legacy of great games for a fair price, but he’s also adept at utilizing Kickstarter campaigns and social media to communicate directly with the devoted board game and card game audience. In doing so, he’s helped introduce numerous hilarious and innovative games to the market, including:

  • Unexploded Cow: a card game where you try to rid the world of mad cows and unexploded ordnance.
  • U.S. Patent Number One: a game where you and your opponents build time machines and race back in time to register for the very first patent. [Glenn’s note: Currently out of print, but one of my all-time favorite board games.]
  • Veritas: a Risk-like strategy game where you try to become the predominant Truth in Dark Ages France while monasteries burn down around you. (Check out our full product review here!)

James was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!

5 Questions for James Ernest

1.) For nearly two decades now, the Cheapass Games brand has been synonymous with affordable games with tongue-in-cheek humor and high replay value. How do you know when a game is right for your brand? What role do you play in bringing these games to market?

I’m the designer as well as the publisher for Cheapass Games, so I play nearly all the roles. I try to create products that fit into that format. When I make something that doesn’t fit the format, I often look for other ways to bring it to market, such as finding another publisher, or using a separate imprint under Cheapass Games.

For a while I used “James Ernest Games” as an imprint for my higher-priced games, though I currently release everything as Cheapass. I also used the “Hip Pocket” brand for smaller, more abstract games, and that one will be coming back next year.

2.) Many of the games in your library rely on a combination of strategy and step-by-step chain thinking, both skills most puzzle enthusiasts have in spades. Are you a puzzle fan? And what about that style of gameplay appeals to you?

The challenge in creating a strategy game is to make a puzzle with variety, so it can be replayed without getting dull. Part of that variety comes from rules that can give rise to meaningfully different game paths, and part of it comes from the interaction of players with different strategies.

As you’ve mentioned, I also like games to have stories, and that works in a similar way: the story has to be open-ended enough that it can proceed differently each time. The game is more like an environment where the players tell their own stories, rather than a way to tell a linear story. This is obvious for RPGs [roleplaying games] but I think it’s true for other games as well.

3.) You’ve created games of your own as well as helping others bring their games to life. What puzzles and board games, either in gameplay or in the experience of producing them for sale, have most influenced you?

I learned a lot about game construction from playing and working on Magic: the Gathering. A lot of my games have decks of different card types, balanced to produce the right mix of hands, based on my experience doing deck construction in Magic.

I also draw a lot of my approach to games from Pitch, which is a cutthroat trick-taking game. In a nutshell, you can choose different strategies in that game, either to play conservatively and win slowly, or to take risks and have the potential to win quickly or move backwards. Neither of those strategies is dominant and that makes the game good. Of course I also play a lot of poker, which contains similar choices.

4.) What’s next for James Ernest?

My next project is Pairs, a “New Classic Pub Game,” which I will be Kickstarting in February. After that, I have a couple of older Cheapass Games that I want to bring back into print. And I’m working on a new tabletop miniatures game called Cagway Bay, which is pirate-themed and diceless. I have a number of new game projects as well, but right now I’m not announcing any of them because I can’t be sure when they will be ready.

5.) If you could give the readers, writers, aspiring game designers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

If you want to create things, there is no substitute for practice. Don’t just read about games; don’t just play them. You have to make a lot of games.

Many thanks to James for his time. You can check out the latest news from Cheapass Games on their website — including their upcoming Kickstarter campaign for the game Pairs! — or follow James on Twitter (@cheapassjames). I cannot wait to see what he and the great folks at Cheapass Games come up with next.

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