Relaxing Games: More Tranquil Than Tactical

Everybody has a copy of Monopoly lying around, but that’s not really the most relaxing game experience, is it?

Most of the classics, however fun, are also pretty competitive. But what about games that help restore your spirit, ease your anxiety, and put you in a good mood?

As much fun as co-op games like Forbidden Island, The Oregon Trail Card Game, and Castle Panic! can be, they can also be a little stressful. And if you’re looking to relax, those might not be the games for you.

So today, I thought we could turn our attention to games that will help you enjoy a more calming gameplay experience.


Now, before I get started, I’m well aware that you might not have these games at the ready. Maybe you’re a jigsaw family and you find calmness and distraction in placing those last few satisfying little pieces and completing the image. Or maybe you like making your own fun with pencil and paper.

Whatever your jam, as long as you’re engaging in play and passing the time in fun ways, you’re already ahead of the game.


When I asked fellow game enthusiasts for games that are mellow and relaxing, the first one that always comes to mind is Tsuro.

In Tsuro, up to 8 players adopt the role of flying dragons soaring through the sky. Each player chooses from the tiles in their hands in order to build paths on the board, representing their paths through the sky. Naturally, these paths will eventually intersect, and you need to be careful to avoid colliding with another dragon or following a path right off the edge of the board. (Both of those scenarios cause you to lose.)

Despite the potential for competition, most Tsuro games are peaceful affairs as everyone enjoys watching their dragon token loop and swirl across various intersecting paths, hoping to be the last dragon standing on the board. It’s a beautiful, simple game that only takes about twenty minutes to play, and it’s the perfect palate cleanser after a more stressful round of some other game.

beforetherewerestars

[Image courtesy of Board Game Geek.]

Some of the most enjoyable and low-key game experiences are storytelling games. I could recommend one with high-fantasy flavor like Once Upon a Time or one with a tongue-in-cheek Addams Family-esque humor like Gloom. But the one that piques my interest the most is based in mythology and sharing stories around a fire.

In Before There Were Stars…, players claim constellation cards to use in crafting the origin story of the world itself. Each player shares how things were in the beginning, at the dawn of civilization, when a great hero emerges, and at the end of days. Along the way, players grant each other points — little star-shaped point tokens, naturally — for their favorite story moments, as everyone encourages each other in creating epic mythologies.

Although there can be a winner based on points, playing this game always feels more like a storytelling session than a competition, and it can lead to some unforgettable gaming moments.

[Image courtesy of Starlit Citadel.]

Tokaido is another game about movement, but in a very different vein. Players in this game are all travelers, journeying across Japan’s famed East Sea Road from Kyoto to Edo. Whereas most travel-based games are about reaching a destination first, Tokaido is about reaching a destination with the widest array of meaningful experiences.

Along the way, your character can meet new people, enjoy new cuisines, collect souvenirs, visit hot springs, and visit scenic locales. You add experience points for these events (and acquire achievement cards) that represent your traveler partaking of these experiences.

This elegant game bypasses traditional competition entirely, building a unique game mechanic out of living your best life.

[Image courtesy of Board Game Quest.]

Sagrada is another wonderfully visual game about individual accomplishment. In this game, each player is building a stained glass window using different colored dice. No dice of the same color can neighbor each other, so you need to be strategic about how you place the dice you roll.

Each window is different, and has certain rules for maximizing points. (A certain pane can only be a certain color, or a certain die value, etc.) The players can boost their scores by selecting cards that reward them with points if they create certain patterns within their stained glass window.

Except for competing for the best point total at the end, there’s virtually no interaction between players. You’re all simply working simultaneously on the best window, which is a gameplay style that breeds camaraderie more than competitiveness. It’s genuinely encouraging to see fellow players make good choices in dice placement to create the most beautiful, elegant window patterns.

[Image courtesy of Starlit Citadel.]

For a change of pace, let’s look at a game that’s more about interaction with other players. Dixit is a gorgeous card game where each player is given a handful of cards, each depicting a different, unique, evocative piece of art.

Player 1 will choose a card from their hand and say a word or phrase to the other players that has some connection to that card. It could reference color, or part of the imagery. It could be a joke, or an idiom, or a song lyric. The goal is to be vague, but not too vague. The other players will then each select a card from their hand that could also be described by Player 1’s statement, and the cards are all shuffled face down so no one can see who submitted what card.

The cards are then all placed face up, and each player (except Player 1) votes on which piece of art they think Player 1 chose. Player 1 gets points if some (but not ALL) players chose his card. (If every player chooses it, the clue was too easy, and Player 1 gets no points.) And any other player’s card that earns votes also earns that player points.

This sort of associative gameplay really encourages your imagination and teaches you about how the other players think. There’s no other game quite like it on the market today, and it makes for an intriguing, low-key gaming experience.

Finally, let’s close out today’s post with a classic tile game that mixes Uno-style color- and pattern-matching with Mexican Train Dominoes-style gameplay. Qwirkle is a bit more competitive than the other games on today’s list, but it’s still a game more about collaborating than outdoing your opponents.

By placing different tiles onto a shared play area — either by matching colors or matching symbols — players earn points. If you complete a Qwirkle — a pattern of all six colors for a given shape or all six shapes in the same color — you earn bonus points.

The lighthearted gameplay style lends itself to friendly competition rather than the cutthroat mien evoked by games like Monopoly. Qwirkle’s not about grinding the other players down, it’s about adding to a colorful world in interesting, inventive new ways.


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The King of the Monsters Rampages Across the World of Board Games!

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When it comes to licensing and variant titles, no board game comes close to the empire of different versions available that has been amassed by Monopoly.

Not only can you get one tailored to every one of the 50 states, but there’s a version of Monopoly for practically every pop culture phenomenon out there, covering everything from Game of Thrones and Star Wars to Spongebob Squarepants and The Office. There are versions with credit cards instead of cash, and even a cheater’s edition where players can be handcuffed to the board.

Sure, other classic board games are following suit. You can find versions of Clue centered around The Golden Girls or Dungeons & Dragons, and a Nightmare Before Christmas version of Operation out there.

But that’s a drop in the ocean compared to the myriad versions of Monopoly that are available for board game fans.

Even Godzilla is getting in on the fun.

monopolygodzilla

[Image courtesy of Mental Floss.]

Yes, there’s a Godzilla-themed Monopoly game now, complete with renamed properties, monster-influenced money, special game pieces, and rebranded Chance and Community Chest cards.

There are even factories and bases to build instead of houses and hotels.

But I must ask the obvious question. If you’re moving a monster token around the board, why aren’t you smashing houses and hotels instead of building bases and factories? I mean, the only monopoly your average kaiju is looking for is a monopoly on destruction, am I right?

Maybe a few intrepid players will cook up some fun variant rules that encounter the monsters to rampage rather than rebuild.

Of course, if you’re looking for an excuse for destruction, maybe the accompanying Godzilla-themed Jenga will be more up your alley.

godzilla-jenga

[Image courtesy of Bloody Disgusting.]

Yes, it’s just like normal Jenga, except the tower pieces are painted to look like pieces of a building, and Godzilla is slowly marching toward it, his atomic breath glowing as he anticipates the unbridled joy of knocking over yet another skyscraping edifice.

That’s certainly more in keeping with the King of the Monsters and his traditional manner for dealing with massive man-made structures. It won’t be as destructive as, say, Smash City or Terror in Meeple City, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

And, honestly, if there are two games that could use a little destructive sprucing up, it’s Monopoly and Jenga.


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Have You Been Playing Uno Wrong All Along?

unocards

The holiday season is one of the few times in a given calendar year I play games with most of my family members.

The necessity of gathering for multiple events — it takes two or three days to see everyone around Christmastime, based on geography, family obligations, and such — creates opportunities for group gameplay that simply don’t exist other times of the year.

This got me thinking about house rules.

Every family has house rules for games and activities. Maybe it’s where you stand and throw in a round of cornhole, or what’s fair in a game of Horse, or how many do-overs younger kids get during a trivia game. It could be whether you call all shots during a pool game or only the 8-ball shot. That sort of thing.

I virtually guarantee that every household has some house rules for Monopoly, whether it’s doubling your $200 if you land directly on Go or collecting previously-paid fees when you land on Free Parking.

As it turns out, a lot of us have been playing Uno with house rules as well.

Get this:

unocards3

That’s from the official Uno Twitter account, which I didn’t know was a thing.

This was also a total surprise to me. Growing up, I learned that you can stack Draw 2 cards or Draw 4 cards. Apparently, in some households, you can add to Draw 2 with a Draw 4 or a Draw 4 with a Draw 2, making a Draw 6 for an opponent.

In any case, that sort of stacking has never been allowed in the official rules.

Gasp! That means many heartbreaking Uno moments from my childhood could have been avoided!

So, I decided to dig a little further. Were there other rules I didn’t know about?

As it turns out… there were.

unocards2

In this Facebook post from January of 2018, an astonished Uno player discovered this little gem in the Uno rule book:

Did y’all know that you can only play the Draw 4 Wild card IF you have NO other cards of the same color that can be played??! AND if you suspect that someone has illegally played this card, they have to show you their hand. AND if they in fact played the card illegally they must draw 4, but if not, the person who challenged the play must DRAW 6?

How am I only learning about these rules now?! I, for one, never knew that you could force someone to show you their hand if they broke the honor system Go Fish-style.

Have these revelations changed the way you play Uno, fellow puzzlers? Or am I in the minority as part of a group that thought we knew the rules, but were very much mistaken?

Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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Puzzly World Records: Redux!

guinness20205

[Image courtesy of Amazon.]

A few years ago, I wrote a post chronicling some of the puzzly world records I’d found while reading the latest edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. Back then, I was surprised to see a two-page spread dedicated to puzzle-centric records.

As I perused this year’s edition of the iconic record-keeping tome, there was a two-page spread dedicated to Rubik’s Cube world records alone. (There were numerous other puzzly records scattered throughout the book as well.)

So, since 2019 is drawing to a close in the next few weeks, why not dedicate one of the last blog posts of 2019 to the most up-to-date puzzly world records I can track down?

Shall we? Let’s shall.

Let’s start with a few Scrabble records.

On January 21, 2012, Singapore’s Toh Weibin amassed the highest score ever recorded in a Scrabble tournament at the Northern Ireland Scrabble Championship in Belfast, scoring 850 points.

January is apparently a good month for word-tile world records, as on January 5, 2015, Lakshan Wanniarachchi set a record for playing the most opponents in Scrabble simultaneously — 40! — in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He defeated 31 of the 40 players in order to qualify for the record.

(So, yeah, you might have more Words with Friends games going at once than Wanniarachchi did, but did you win that many? Probably not.)

guinness20201

[Image courtesy of Chess.com.]

Instead of multiple opponents, how about one opponent for 20 hours and 15 minutes?

That’s how long chess masters Ivan Nikolic and Goran Arsovic faced off in Belgrade on February 17, 1989, where they set a world record for the most moves played in a single chess game: 269.

We can stick around Europe for one more puzzly world record, this time in Wageningen, Netherlands, as the Ceres Student Association teamed with Hasbro to create a Monopoly board the size of three-and-a-half tennis courts. Yes, on November 30, 2016, they unveiled a 9,687-square-foot version of the famously frustrating game board.

9,687 square feet? That’s pretty big, I guess. Unless, of course, you’re talking about a world record set in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, where everything is ludicrously oversized and lavish.

guinness20202

[Image courtesy of DMCC.]

On July 7, 2018, the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) unveiled the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle, a 65,896-square-foot puzzle that commemorated the late Sheikh Zayed.

And speaking of jigsaw puzzles, students at the University of Economics Ho Chi Mihn City in Vietnam set a record by completing the jigsaw puzzle with the most pieces — 551,232 pieces! — on September 24, 2011, breaking the record previously set in Singapore — 212,323 pieces — which had stood since 2002.

guinness20203

[Image courtesy of Guinness.]

According to the Guinness article covering the event:

It took the students 17 hours to first break up the 3,132 sections, each containing 176 pieces, into which the jigsaw puzzle had been divided, and then re-assemble them to create the puzzle.

Seventeen hours of puzzling is ambitious, but what about 24 hours of puzzling?

That’s what Richard Bragg, Daniel Egnor, Amanda Harris, and Ana Ulin — aka Bloody Boris’s Burning Bluelight Brigade — tackled when they set the world record for most escape rooms attended in one day. On October 3, 2018, they visited 22 escape rooms in 24 hours in Moscow, Russia. The team’s success rate was just as impressive; the team escaped all but one of the rooms in the allotted time.

Now that’s an escapade.

Of course, we couldn’t have a world records puzzling post without talking about the Rubik’s Cube.

The official fastest time for solving a standard 3x3x3 Rubik’s Cube is held by Feliks Zemdegs, who set an average time of 5.8 seconds in the 2017 Malaysian Cube Open. (In competition solving, the average time across three different solves comprises your official time.)

The unofficial record for the fastest 3x3x3 solve — meaning it was outside of tournament conditions — was set in China: 3.47 seconds by Du Yesheng.

But that’s only the official size. What about other Cubes? Let’s look at the fastest solves (that I can verify):

  • 7x7x7: 1 min 47.89 sec by Max Park
  • 6x6x6: 1 min 13.82 sec by Max Park
  • 5x5x5: 37.28 sec by Max Park
  • 4x4x4: 18.42 sec by Max Park (starting to see a pattern here…)
  • 2x2x2 (average solve): 1.51 Lucas Etter
  • 2x2x2 (single solve): .49 sec by Maciej Czapiewski

And, just to show off, Stanley Chapel holds the record for a blindfolded 4x4x4 solve: 1 minute, 29 seconds.

guinness20206

[A different blindfolded solver. Image courtesy of Le Rubik’s Cube.]

Of course, now that we’ve mentioned one weird way to solve a Cube, let’s explore a few others.

Feliks Zemdegs set another world record by solving a 3x3x3 one-handed in 6.88 seconds. On March 1, 2015, Bhargav Narasimhan solved five Rubik’s Cubes one-handed in a blistering 1 minute, 23.93 seconds.

Daniel Rose-Levine holds the record for solving a 3x3x3 with his feet: 16.96 seconds. Not to be outdone, Que Jianyu unscrambled a trio of Rubik’s Cubes with his hands and feet simultaneously in just 1 minute, 36.38 seconds, in Xiamen, Fujian Province, China. (For the record, he solved one in each hand and one with his feet).

He later hung from a pole to record the fastest time to solve a Rubik’s Cube upside-down: 15.84 seconds. (He also holds the record for solving three Cubes while juggling, doing so in 5 minutes, 2.43 seconds.)

Jack Cai solved one blindfolded in 16.22 seconds. On July 22, 2018, at the Delhi Monsoon Open in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, India, Shivam Bansal shattered the field with the most Rubik’s Cubes solved while blindfolded: 48 out of 48 in under 1 hour.

George Turner holds the record for solving on a pogo stick: 24.13 seconds.

Krishnam Raju Gadiraju solved 2 Cubes simultaneously — underwater! — in 53.86 seconds. Kevin Hays achieved a world record for solving eight 3x3x3 Cubes underwater on August 19, 2015. He held his breath for 2 minutes and 4 seconds.

[Here’s a YouTube video of a different, but still impressive, underwater solve.]

Now let’s get truly ridiculous.

Phillip Kwa’han Espinoza holds the world record for most 3x3x3 Cubes solved while running a marathon. On November 14, 2015, he solved 839 Cubes over the course of 4 hours, 56 minutes, and 1 second during the 26.2 mile run in the REVEL Canyon City Marathon in Azusa, California, shattering the previous record of 175 Cubes.

26.2 miles is pretty good. But what about 12,000 feet?

That’s how high up Dan Knights was in June of 2003 when he jumped from a plane and solved a Rubik’s Cube in freefall while skydiving. He solved it in 34 seconds… which is good, because he only had 40 seconds before he’d have to deploy his parachute to safely execute a 12,000-foot fall.

To close things out today, let’s look at some Rubik’s records about quantity.

What about the most cubes solved:

  • one-handed while treading water in one hour? 137 by Shen Weifu
  • on a unicycle? 250 by Caleb McEvoy
  • on a bicycle? 1,010 by P K Arumugam

Finally, in January 27, 2018, the Kaligi Ranganathan Montford Group of Schools set a world record by bringing together the most people simultaneously solving Rubik’s Cubes — 3,997 — at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai, India. The average time to solve for the assembled students? A few minutes.

guinness20204

[Image courtesy of Guinness.]

Imagine the records people will set in the 2020s.


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A Puzzle Hunt at a Wedding Reception?

puzzlelove

We’ve seen our fair share of puzzly romance here on the blog over the years, particularly when it comes to proposals. There was the Rubik’s Cube proposal, the Monopoly proposal, and of course, the two proposals facilitated by our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles.

Heck, just recently, YouTuber and author Hannah Witton proposed to her partner using some Fluxx cards she created especially for the occasion!

hannathwittonfluxxall

But in today’s blog, we’ve got a new twist on things. We’ve seen puzzly proposals… but how about a puzzle-fueled wedding reception?

When Laser Webber (half of the wonderful musical duo The Doubleclicks) and Richard Malena got married, they decided to celebrate the day with a puzzly reception, since they love puzzles and games, and they knew some of their guests were diehard puzzle/game fans as well.

So, what’s the perfect hook for a wedding reception puzzle?

Simple. Their rings had gone missing, and it was up to the puzzlers in attendance to find them!

laserwedding2

Each table at the reception had a theme — Dungeons & Dragons, Oregon, Lord of the Rings, etc. — and on the back of each placemat was a letter. The letters spelled out a word related to another table’s theme, leading to certain tables teaming up. (There were also bonus letters on some of the placemats, which would be used in the next clue.)

So, say there were nine tables, and those nine tables boiled down to three teams (three tables per team), those teams could then combine the bonus letters from their tables to spell a bonus word.

The three bonus words, when combined, formed the phrase “ringing present interior.”

A-ha! A clue must be lurking on the present table!

The solvers made their way there, and shook the presents. Although several of them made interesting noises, only one contained a bell that rang out in suspicious fashion. The guests paused for a second, then tore into the paper and opened the box, revealing a Rubik’s Cube.

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Naturally, this one had been personalized for the event, with letters or star stickers on it in addition to the usual colors. When solved, from left to right, the cube read:

THESECRETCOD
EBEHINDTHECO
NSTELLATIONS

or

“the secret code behind the constellations.”

The eyes of solvers immediately turned to the paintings of constellations that decorated the reception area. Or, more specifically, to what was behind the paintings. With a touch more destruction — paper backings to the paintings, rather than wrapping paper this time — a number of playing cards were revealed, each with bits of a message painted on.

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When properly arranged, the message on the cards read, “What did that hobbits ask when he tricksed me?”

How clever is that? Not just a Lord of the Rings reference (one sure to delight LOTR fans in attendance), but a reminder of what they were looking for… the lost rings of the newly married couple.

The solvers then confronted the emcees and asked the crucial question, “What have I got in my pocket?” and the emcees revealed they had the rings all along.

The guests had triumphed and reunited the couple with their rings!

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It was a really unique way of celebrating being together with friends and loved ones — and doing something you love in a big, fun, silly, personalized way as well — and we here at PuzzleNation Blog are forever impressed by the creativity and puzzly ingenuity of our fellow puzzlers.

[For the full story, including a hilarious mishap during the placemat portion of the puzzle hunt, check out Richard’s blog post about the reception here.]


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Science Says Board Games Are Good For Your Relationship?

[Image courtesy of Medium.com.]

One of the hallmarks of a healthy relationship is enjoying the same activities. If you’re spending time together doing something you both find engaging, then you’re golden.

But, as it turns out, there are some activities that offer greater benefits than others.

According to a recent study published by Baylor University, couples who play board games together are actually strengthening their relationships chemically.

[Incidentally, there is a hilarious world of photos dedicated to couples with chess boards out there. Here are just some of my favorites.]

From the article on Baylor.edu:

For the study, Melton and Maria Boccia, Ph.D., professor of child and family studies, recruited 20 couples ranging in age from 25 to 40. Couples were randomly assigned to participate in one of two couple dates — game night or couple art class — for one hour.

One group played board games in a familiar home-like setting. Couples were alone. These couples chose familiar games that would not require them to read instructions.

The study was designed to examine any increase in levels of oxytocin in the couples’ hormone levels. Oxytocin, often referred to as the hugging hormone, plays a role in building social connections.

[Image courtesy of Daily Mail.]

Here’s the breakdown on oxytocin release increases:

  • men in the art class
  • women playing board games
  • women in the art class
  • men playing board games

Curiously, while there wasn’t a significant difference between the latter three categories, men in the art class released 2 to 2.5 times more oxytocin than the other groups.

There were measurable increases in the oxytocin levels for both men and women playing board games, lending credence to the idea that playing together is good for your relationship.

Some of the games used in the study: cards, checkers, chess, dominoes, and Monopoly. Given some of my unpleasant experiences playing Monopoly, I’m surprised that one didn’t throw off the curve somewhat.

[Image courtesy of Grey Mass Games.]

It does make me wonder, though, if some games would provoke greater oxytocin releases than others.

Would cooperative games like Pandemic, Forbidden Island, or Castle Panic! lead to increases, or is the type of game irrelevant? Are more stressful games, like those with timers or ones where quick reaction time is integral to winning, less likely to build those chemical connections?

Sounds like a field ripe for further study. Of course, I’m a little biased. I’ll take any excuse to play more games. =)


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