PuzzleNation Product Review: Brad Hough’s The Maze

Mazes are nothing new to even the most casual solver. Whether it’s a puzzle collection, a place mat at a chain restaurant, or a coloring book loaded with time-filling activities, we’ve all traced a path through a maze with pencil, crayon, or marker.

But in most paper-and-pencil mazes, we look down on the map from above, so we have the advantage of perspective, the ability to spot dead-ends ahead of time, the opportunity to make wiser choices with more information.

As anyone who has ever tackled a corn maze will tell you, maze navigation is far more challenging when you’re inside the puzzle itself, rather than observing it from a bird’s-eye view.

And that’s what makes Brad Hough’s The Maze series of puzzle books something different and far more challenging: they’re mazes designed from the first person perspective. You must imagine yourself walking through this maze, selecting each turn and hoping it will lead you to the promised land.

It’s a marvelous concept, offered in a variety of difficulty levels according to the size of the maze:

  • Easy is a grid of 5 rooms by 5 rooms.
  • Normal is a grid of 7×7.
  • Moderate is 9×9, Challenging is 12×12, and Intense is 15×15.

As you make your choices, you’ll flip to different pages in the book, just as you would in a Choose Your Own Adventure-style story, maneuvering your way to either a dead-end (forcing you to turn back) or your desired exit.

But those are the only decisions you’ll make. There are no monsters to slay or traps to navigate, as there are in labyrinths in Dungeons & Dragons. There are no moral conundrums to unravel, as in Choose Your Own Adventure books. There is simply The Maze… and you. This is bare bones storytelling designed as both a pure puzzle-solving experience and as a blank skeleton upon which you can built your own story.

There are no tricks or endless loops to wander into. This is a fair challenge meant to be unraveled by crafty minds with excellent spacial skills.

Although The Maze lacks the frills of many other labyrinth-style puzzles, it does a marvelous job of portraying the sort of blindness and trepidation that comes with actually residing within a maze, knowing that each choice is more crucial the farther you venture forth.

The Maze (in various sizes) is available from Amazon and other online retailers.

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It’s Follow-Up Friday: A-maze-ing edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of building-sized puzzles!

In the past I’ve mentioned some truly monster-sized puzzles, from the apartment building crossword in Ukraine to multi-story games of Tetris played on the sides of office buildings.

Well, another world record has been set for super-sized puzzles, this time in Dubai!

The largest vertical maze in the world (certified by the folks at Guinness!) can be found on the side of a 55-story building aptly known as Maze Tower.

Although LED lights make the maze quite an eye-catching spectacle at night, the maze is also visible in the daytime, since it was physically built along the side of the building.

All it needs is a digital minotaur prowling the corridors to chase off prospective solvers.

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!

PuzzleNation Product Review: Gravity Maze

This week, we’ve got mazes on the brain, so it’s only appropriate that the folks at ThinkFun sent us a maze-based puzzle game to try out. Join me as we give the full PuzzleNation Blog treatment to Gravity Maze.

In a previous review, I accepted the challenge of ThinkFun’s Laser Maze, a logic game requiring players to direct, divert, and split an actual laser beam with mirrors in order to light up various targets on the board. You had to map out the beam’s path in your head and figure out how to place the game pieces in order to hit every target.

Impressively, Gravity Maze has raised the stakes, building on Laser Maze’s premise and adding a third dimension. Whereas Laser Maze only operated along length and width to cross the board, Gravity Maze’s falling marble has to be shuttled across the board while descending from its launch point as well.

With color-coded tower pieces of various heights and configurations — some levels have ramps to the next lowest level, others have open spaces, and still others house turns for the marble to navigate — it’s up to the solver to add only the pieces listed on the card in order to build the marble’s path to the red target box, each tower clicking into place.

There are 60 challenge cards that range in difficulty from beginner to expert. In the earliest challenges, there are only a few pieces on the board, and there’s a clever black dot system telling you which direction each set tower faces. But as you get accustomed to using the towers and move from beginner to intermediate cards, a new wrinkle is added: sometimes, a tower must be placed horizontally in order to complete the path.

And as you progress into advanced and expert cards, you have to get craftier. The marble often has to double-back, passing through the same tower multiple times on its way down.

Check out the path the marble takes to reach the red target box in this one:

[It’s hard to draw a line in three dimensions.]

You can see the colored ramps that direct the marble from the blue tower to the yellow to the green, and then back across. The marble then drops out of the blue tower and into the purple one beside it, where it makes a right turn, passes through the yellow tower, drops into the gray tower, and lands in the red target box.

This next-level spatial awareness offers a serious challenge to puzzlers of all ages, and I admit, some of these advanced and experts had me stymied for a bit.

Heck, sometimes, a tower must be used horizontally, but above the game board itself.

Gravity Maze is easily the most challenging ThinkFun product I’ve had the chance to tinker with, but that didn’t make it any less fun. The box says “Ages 8 to adult,” and I agree wholeheartedly. Puzzlers of any age will enjoy tackling these three-dimensional logic problems and seeing the marble wend its way into the target box.

[To check out other PuzzleNation reviews of ThinkFun products, click here.]

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!

PuzzleNation App Review: Paper & Light

Welcome to the sixth edition of PuzzleNation App Reviews! Today we continue our quest to explore the world of puzzly games and apps for your tablet or smartphone!

Our resident App player and puzzle fiend Sherri has another intriguing game for us today, so let’s get down to business and dive into her review of Paper & Light for iPad and iPhone!

If you enjoy mazes, then Paper & Light is the game for you. It is an iOS game in which you are a cardboard box who must navigate your way around obstacles to the exit.

This is a very cute game. You play a cardboard box, and your friend is a bright firefly. Your goal in each level is to find your way around other boxes, toolboxes, and various other obstacles to the exit. The firefly is quite helpful, as it’s your only source of light. While you only have a narrow range of light from the firefly, you can switch between the cardboard box and the firefly as needed.

The game is divided into chapters and there are 15 levels in each chapter. As the firefly, you can scope out the area to plot your route to the exit. You earn stars for not using the firefly, but you can redo the level to get the star. For collecting 12 stars in each chapter, you earn a special reward.

I played through the first chapter, The Basement. To open later chapters, you need to complete a certain number of levels. I was pulled in by the cute graphics. I enjoyed playing the game. The levels were laid out in a pleasing manner and became increasingly more difficult. A big drawback, though, is that you can’t move the box very quickly. My wrist became quite sore as I was playing.

[Pictures courtesy of Yahoo.]

The mazes became more and more challenging as the game progressed. It did become a bit monotonous, and my wrist hurt after a while, but it was still an enjoyable way to pass the time. Figuring your way out of the mazes really worked the brain.

Ratings for Paper & Light:

  • Enjoyability: 3/5 — If you enjoy mazes, this is the game for you.
  • How well puzzles are incorporated: 4/5 — This is quite a puzzly game. You need to plot your path around the obstacles well.
  • Graphics: 3/5 — The graphics are simple but cute. The eyes on the cardboard box move when you move it, and the firefly flutters. The obstacles have some nice detail.
  • Gameplay: 2/5 — The box doesn’t move very quickly, so your wrist can get quite sore trying to reach the exit.

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!

Let’s get this party (kick)started!

The newest tool in the arsenal of big thinkers and big dreamers is crowdfunding, wherein creators take their ideas directly to the people in the hopes that a lot of small donations will add up into capital to make their ideas reality.

Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have literally made dreams come true, and that’s as true for puzzle entrepreneurs as anyone else. Many top-tier constructors are going straight to the fanbase with their puzzles, and with marvelous results. Constructors like Trip Payne, Eric Berlin, and Matt Gaffney have all had success on Kickstarter and Indiegogo with previous campaigns.

And I wanted to spread the world about some other puzzly endeavors that might interest the PuzzleNation readership.

There’s only a few hours left in the kickstarter campaign for musical duo the Doubleclicks.

This marvelous musical duo has not only written songs about numerous nerdy subjects — board games, Dungeons & Dragons, and dinosaurs among them — but they’re also champions of self-expression and self-confidence, especially among the geek girl community. (Their song “Nothing to Prove” served as the buoyant soundtrack of a video decrying “fake geek girl” nonsense.)

Pairs, a card game for two to eight players, was just launched yesterday by the folks at Cheapass Games. A 5-minute card game where the goal is to NOT gain points, Pairs is designed to be easy to learn and easy to play.

[Click here to check out our session of 5 Questions with Cheapass Games president and game designer James Ernest.]

Apps and online games have also gotten into crowdfunding. There’s Colorino, a color-matching strategy app that would appeal to the Candy Crush crowd, as well as Puzzle Nuts 2. A sequel to the physics-based puzzle game Puzzle Nuts, Puzzle Nuts 2 challenges players to negotiate different contraptions and figure out how to transport all of their acorns from one end of the screen to the other. Fans of Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, and other mechanical-style puzzles could find plenty to enjoy here.

A master maze designer with several successful Kickstarter campaigns under his belt has already reached his primary goal, and is now striving to reach a major stretch goal. (Stretch goals are additional finish lines that creators can make available if their initial goal is met. Stretch goals often include more puzzles, finer artwork, additional game pieces, and other details that allow for a richer play experience.)

And then there’s Steam-Donkey, a card game where you try to attract visitors to your steampunk beachside resort. With ne’er-do-wells all around, it’s a game with emphasis on art and characters with a curiously distinct flair all its own.

High Heavens is a combination board game/card game/miniatures game that places the player in a battle between the gods. Right now, creator Ryan Lesser is on his second Kickstarter campaign, an expansion that will offer new gameplay options, miniatures, and characters to the original High Heavens set. (The original High Heavens was also funded through Kickstarter contributions.)

Sweet Escape is a platformer strategy app where you try to lead walking bits of candy to safety while dealing with all sorts of obstacles and threats inside a bizarre factory.

Finally, over on indiegogo, we have PuzzleFix, a photo jigsaw puzzle game actually encourages people to submit their own photographs to become new puzzles.

The amazing thing about all of these projects is that the audience, the potential fans, have an enormous role to play in not only sharing their thoughts with game and puzzle creators, but they can show their support for designers and projects they believe in, and do so in a meaningful way.

I’ve contributed to several of these campaigns with high hopes, and I can’t wait to see how they turn out.

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