PuzzleNation Product Review: Constellations

Plenty of games offer ambitious goals for the players to achieve. You become a real estate tycoon in Monopoly, a castle owner in Castellan, and a time-traveling adventurer in U.S. Patent Number 1. You could traverse the country in The Oregon Trail, save the world in Pandemic, or conquer it in Risk. That’s part of the magic of games.

But what if you could build the night sky? What if you could harness the stars themselves, assemble constellations, and place them into the heavens above?

Now that is a puzzly endeavor worthy of your attention. And that’s the concept behind the game in today’s product review. We’ll be trying out Constellations by Xtronaut Enterprises.

Constellations combines the resource management card game mechanics of Just Desserts with the pattern-matching tile play of Carcassonne to create an educational and engaging play experience.

Each player starts with five star cards. Each star card represents a different type of star (or in some cases, two of that type of star). The star cards are used to assemble various constellations in order to score points.

The game begins with one constellation already placed in the sky, as well as three possible constellations to build. Players may reserve one of the three constellations, making it their primary goal and removing it from play for the other players.

As you can see in the picture above, different constellations require different combinations of star cards. Some constellations are simpler, so they’re worth fewer points. Other constellations have higher values, but more complex combinations of star cards, which may be harder or more time-consuming to collect.

[One constellation tile, plus the star cards played to complete it. As you can see, you can use extra stars as needed (like a Two B-Type Stars card above), as well as using O cards as wild cards (as I did for the two A-type stars needed to complete this constellation.]

Once a player has gathered all of the star cards necessary to complete the constellation, they then must play it in the night sky, placing it adjacent to one or more of the constellations already completed.

You score points by placing a constellation so that the gemstones along the edges match the neighboring constellation(s), and there are additional points available for placing constellations beside other constellations (as they would appear in the actual night sky). For instance, Leo Minor offers a two-point bonus when placed next to either Leo or Lynx.

Different arrangements of gemstones around the edges of the constellation tile require you to be crafty when and where you place your tile, since more matching gemstones means more points.

[In this layout, Taurus was added perfectly, matching gemstones with both Perseus and Ophiuchus. Pegasus, on the other hand, matched Perseus nicely, but only matched one gemstone with Orion.]

Unfortunately, you have to play a completed constellation, and sometimes the gemstone patterns don’t match up at all. If that’s the case, you’ll lose two points for a constellation played out of place. (Once again, the closer you get to placing your constellation as it would actually appear in the night sky, the better it is for your game.)

All of the game’s mechanics are designed around actual science, which is a very cool touch. The star cards include “Did You Know?” facts about each type of star, and the instruction booklet also includes a short guide to stargazing, star classification, and little write-ups for each constellation included in the game. (There’s even a criss-cross-style crossword on the back page!)

Constellations is great fun, requiring strategy, timing, and puzzly observational skills in order to effectively play the game. The educational aspect doesn’t detract from the gameplay at all, and the alternate rules offered in the back (as well as rules for shorter and longer gameplay times) offer an impressive amount of replay value.

All in all, Constellations mixes card games and tile games with ease, and it makes for a fun and mellow gameplay experience.

[Constellations is available from Xtronaut Enterprises and other select retailers.]

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Puzzles from Across the Sea

A fellow puzzler passed me a copy of a Spanish puzzle book, and I thought I would share its intriguing visual and linguistic stylings with the PuzzleNation audience. (I’ve done this once before with a German puzzle book, and I hope to obtain more from other countries to really give PuzzleNation a PuzzleInternational flavor!)

Now, my Spanish isn’t as sharp as it used to be — any facility I once had with the language, I credit to years spent selling hot dogs outside a Home Depot, rather than six years of classes across middle school and high school — but I should be able to muddle through enough to explain the variations in these puzzles from ones you might be more familiar with.

In any case, let’s get to the puzzles! [Click on each for a larger version.]

The first thing you notice about these clued grids is that there’s none of the diagonal symmetry that defines traditional crosswords. Instead, there’s a curious singlet-letter arrangement along the top and left side. (It’s almost like a kakuro puzzle, with shared clue boxes offering across and down hints.)

Here the across and down clues offer hints for overlapping letters, like a Brick by Brick mixed with a Camouflage puzzle.

This puzzle works by isolating syllables in each hexagon cell, and creating words by reading these syllables in the direction indicated by the arrows next to each clue.

In this “sopa de letras” — a word search, but literally translated as “soup of letters” — the solver must identify each of the 12 drawings around the grid and find those words in the grid.

This one is pretty self-explanatory, as the solver places letters to form five-letter words according to the set letters and the arrows provided. (Interestingly enough, the title translates as “Noughts and Crosses.”)

Ah, here’s something familar! A logic puzzle is a logic puzzle no matter where you travel.

This wonderful spread of variety puzzles offers an array of challenges, with puzzles involving encryption, letter-shifting, deduction, and brain teasers!

It’s always a treat to explore puzzles from another culture’s perspective. Thanks for taking this journey with us today.

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!