PuzzleNation Product Review: Tak

Puzzles and games are constantly advancing and innovating, incorporating new technologies, new production techniques, and a lengthy legacy to build upon. In this blog alone, we’ve looked at 3-D printed puzzles, logic games that involve actual lasers, and puzzles that were brought to life thanks to internet crowdfunding; none of these were possible fifteen or twenty years ago.

But today’s game is something different. It’s a brand new game that feels like a classic from centuries past, a board game that feels timeless.

Today, we’re reviewing Tak by James Ernest and Patrick Rothfuss.

You may recognize Rothfuss’s name from his Kingkiller Chronicles novels, including The Wise Man’s Fear, where he first referenced the tavern game Tak. Now, game designer James Ernest has helped him bring the game to life.

Tak has a very simple concept: two players each attempt to build a road connecting opposite sides of the game board. The first player to successfully complete their road wins.

To do so, you place game pieces called stones, one at a time, on various spaces on the board. The stones can either be played flat (meaning they’re part of your road) or standing on edge (meaning they’re a wall, blocking any road’s passage through that space).

It’s an easily grasped mechanic that allows for a great deal of gameplay flexibility. Since flat stones can be stacked, you can seize control of part of a road by placing your flat stone atop your opponent’s. Then again, your opponent could play his capstone, flatten one of your walls, and instantly make it part of his road.

The game can be played on boards as small as 3×3 and as large as 8×8, allowing for greater difficulty and strategic opportunities. And considering that you can move stacks of pieces (as long as your flat stone tops the stack), that opens the field even more for tactical moves to grant you control of more road.

With so many moves and countermoves available to the player, no two games of Tak feel alike, and even the puzzliest player will no doubt find themselves surprised by a cunning opponent. (And the game encourages this, since your very first move will be to place one of your opponent’s pieces on the board. Each player does this before continuing forward using only their own pieces.)

This balanced system ensures that players stay engaged until the very last move, making for an elegant play experience that feels earned, win or lose.

The full title of the game is actually Tak: A Beautiful Game, and it’s hard to disagree. The simple, yet distinct game pieces grant an earthy, homegrown feel to the game, and the gorgeous art (both in the companion book and the Selas 3×3 game board, pictured above) only enhance the experience.

Rothfuss and Ernest have really outdone themselves with this one. Tak feels at home in the 21st century as it would in the 18th. That’s something both rare and special.

The core version of Tak is available through Cheapass Games, and you can find other boards and variations at The Tinker’s Packs.


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Kickstarter Round-up!

International TableTop Day is this Saturday, a day where we celebrate getting together with family and friends to play games! Board games, card games, role-playing games, puzzles…anything that involves gathering in person and having fun around a table fits the bill!

But we simply can’t wait until Saturday — plus the office is closed that day — so we’re hosting our PuzzleNation’s TableTop Day event in-house TODAY! And I figured what better day could there be for a round-up of puzzly crowdfunding campaigns marking some of the newest and most intriguing projects in the puzzle-game industry today!

I’ve covered various campaigns for board games, card games, and puzzle projects across the Kickstarter and Indiegogo crowdfunding platforms over the years, and today I’d like to share three more that could use your attention.

The first is the strategy game Tak.

Tak is a collaboration between game designer James Ernest, head honcho of Cheapass Games and Hip Pocket Games, and author Patrick Rothfuss, creator of the Kingkiller Chronicle series, to bring to life a game featured in Rothfuss’s novel The Wise Man’s Fear.

The premise sounds simple: build a road of pieces connecting opposite sides of the board. By using some pieces as parts of your road and others as walls to block your opponent, this mix of chess, Stratego, and Go is all about strategy. Plus, the game is adaptable, playable on square boards as small as 3×3 and as large as 8×8.

This is a new pub game that feels like a timeless classic, and it looks perfect for puzzlers of all ages.

Now let’s move from the pub to outer space with another Kickstarter campaign, Avoid the Void.

This is a different sort of strategy game, since it’s all about outlasting your opponents, not completing a task first. In Avoid the Void, whole sectors of space are being replaced with black holes, and everyone is scrambling to gather resources and elude these hungry death traps.

You’ve got an ever-changing gameboard, intriguing alien races (including one resembling a piece of cake), and all the reason in the world to deceive, outmaneuver, and betray your fellow players, just so you can stay in the universe a little while longer.

This is a game designed for replayability, allowing you to indulge in all of the diabolical selfishness of games like Monopoly, but without the huge time commitment. After all, the universe is collapsing and there’s no time to waste!

And speaking of replayability, the makers of this last Kickstarter campaign are known for puzzle games with high replay factor. Let’s talk about Pyramid Arcade from Looney Labs.

We normally talk about Looney Labs card games like Fluxx or Loonacy, but their original product line revolved around the Looney Pyramids system: various games you can play with their signature colored pyramids.

Now, they’re launching Pyramid Arcade, covering TWENTY-TWO different games and encompassing 90 pyramids of various colors. It’s their largest release ever, and with all the variants and mini-games they’ve created for these game pieces over the years, this promises to be a game set with endless possibilities.

Pattern-matching games, chess- and Tic-Tac-Toe-inspired games, bluffing games, strategy games, and even a tower-building game…Pyramid Arcade literally has something for everyone.


These are three intriguing and very worthy projects, and I hope you contribute to one or more of them. As someone who has become a regular donor to various Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns, I am proud to have funded some marvelous new ideas and watched them take shape over the months that followed.

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Puzzles at Sea with Jonathan Coulton!

Fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, I’ve got something special in store for you today. Friend of the blog and Penny Press puzzle editor Jason Keeley is guest-blogging for me today, sharing his experience tackling an impressive puzzle hunt aboard a cruise ship earlier this month.

So, without further ado, take it away, Jason!


[Jonathan Coulton, your host for the next eight days…]

I just got back from JoCo Cruise Crazy 5, an 8-day excursion to the Caribbean on a massive ship. In brief, Jonathan Coulton is a musician famous on the internet for his songs about robots, zombies, and disaffected mad scientists. Five years ago, JoCo (as his fans sometimes refer to him) decided to invite a bunch of his fans onto a cruise ship, take them to some tropical destinations, and entertain them along the way.

He also brought a number of other performers with him, from stand-up comedians to TV personalities to other musicians. Guests such as singer Aimee Mann, Grant Imahara of Mythbusters, and Wil Wheaton of Star Trek: The Next Generation have all been a part of previous JoCo Cruises.

[A few of the guests from this year’s JoCo Cruise: Wil Wheaton,
author Patrick Rothfuss, and author John Scalzi]

Curtis Chen isn’t here just for a vacation or to listen to his favorite musician perform, though. Oh no, he, and his group of talented puzzle writers, are here to bend your brain.

Curtis, believing that many of his fellow passengers probably shared his love of puzzles, volunteered his time to put together a “Puzzle Hunt”: a series of puzzles, often unified by an overarching theme. Once on the ship, he released a couple of puzzles each day, all of which eventually feed into a final “meta” puzzle.

There were no prizes, except for a large button and bragging rights, but the Puzzle Hunt has been quite successful over the past five years. It hasn’t been uncommon to see a handful of people clustered around a nearby table after each day’s puzzles have been released, helping each other out.

[A group gathered around a table, except they’re tackling a few games
from our friends at Looney Labs instead of the Puzzle Hunt…]

This year’s Puzzle Hunt was titled “Number Five is Alive,” and the puzzles were themed around helping a self-aware computer come to terms with its new-found sentience. It begins quite innocently, with a page of knock-knock jokes, except some of the words were replaced with pictures.

Then it ramps up to an acrostic and a Star Trek-themed Sudoku. Then, they put out a modified clock with flashing LED lights. As they flash and spin, I realize that they are spelling out words in semaphore. Luckily, Curtis supplied solvers with a handy cheat sheet for that particular alphabet.

But halfway through the decoding process, something hits me: I should have been turning the clock at certain times so that the 12 was in different positions. Otherwise, most of the message is gibberish!

That sort of thing represents the two-step nature of many of the Puzzle Hunt puzzles. It’s often not enough to be see that “debase sing sin laugh far furry” is a broken speech-recognition software’s way of interpreting the familiar saying “the best things in life are free.” You’ll also have to extract certain highlighted letters from that phrase (and all the others) to build a final quote, which is the information you’ll need for the meta puzzle.

And this year’s meta puzzle was a doozy.

Once I had the keywords from the previous 12 puzzles, I entered specific letters from them into three different grids that appeared to be a random collection of circles and lines. These connected circles spelled out encouraging phrases (such as “Thanks for helping me!”), but I knew I wasn’t finished.

Another sheet gave me instructions for folding these three grids, origami-style, until I had three shapes which had to somehow be fitted together in a certain way to form one three-dimensional object. I struggled with it all throughout lunch, but when I finally figured it out, it was a moment of triumph. The connected circles on the outside now spelled a question that led me to a final keyword, earning me a special sticker to put on my button. Success!

[A huge assortment of games available for guests to play…]

While there were no shortage of concerts and events to attend on the cruise ship, I went out of my way to participate in this enjoyable and challenging event. Curtis and his team of puzzlers (John, Josh, Sean, Corby, and DeeAnn) put together a series of puzzles that taxed my intellect and facilitated conversation with the other passengers. Kudos to them all!


Thank you to Jason for his outstanding writeup of Number 5 is Alive and the JoCo Cruise in general!

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!