PuzzleNation Product Review: Slapzi

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

One of my favorite games that we featured in our New York Toy Fair posts was the dice game Tenzi. The mix of strategy, luck, and quick reaction times made for a perfect storm of chaotic fun.

So, when I found out that the team behind Tenzi also had a card game, Slapzi, I figured it was worth a look.

Slapzi’s concept is simple. There are two kinds of cards: picture cards and clue cards.

You are dealt five picture cards, each one bearing a picture of an object on the front and a picture of a different object on the back. Your goal is get rid of the five cards in your hand.

Each turn, a clue card is flipped over, revealing a quality of certain objects (“Not sold in a hardware store”) or a quality of certain objects’ names (“Two of the same letter together”).

You need to quickly look at your picture cards and determine which one fits the clue card. The first player to slap a picture card down over the clue card successfully gets rid of that card.

The sheer variety of objects on the picture cards — ranging from “hammock” and “teddy bear” to “eagle” and “sandwich” — means that there are plenty of chances to match the clue cards as they come up, but only if your reflexes are fast enough.

The creators also included plenty of variant rules, including ones where you match two clue cards at the same time, ones where you avoid matching the clue cards, and even one where every clue card is in play at the same time, with all players racing to empty their hands first.

Naturally, we couldn’t resist putting a slightly puzzlier spin on the game by playing with only one side of each picture card available to players. This added a level of strategy to the game, since you had to decide which objects might prove most beneficial.

After all, if you don’t have a living creature in your hand, you could find yourself out of luck with many of the clue cards. This restrictive gameplay introduced a more tactical element than some of the other rule variants.

That being said, every version of the game that we tried was a lot of fun. The rush to slap cards down, the excitement as your hand dwindles, and even the occasional pause where someone tries to justify an odd choice (like “teddy bear” for “thinner than a pizza box” by arguing about teddies who have lost their stuffing) made for great moments and plenty of laughs.

If you’re looking for a quick-reaction card game for all ages with loads of variation for more strategic solvers, Slapzi is an excellent choice.

Slapzi is available on Amazon, at various online retailers like The Good Toy Group, and in stores now.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Math Fluxx

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

Fluxx has been one of Looney Labs‘s flagship products for over two decades now. It’s the card game with constantly changing rules, a game where the path to victory can vanish or appear at a moment’s notice.

But after Batman Fluxx, Firefly Fluxx, Holiday Fluxx, and many other versions, what more can they do with the concept to keep it fresh and interesting?

As it turns out, plenty. And with their latest release, Math Fluxx, the Looney Labs crew proves they still have plenty of tricks up their sleeves.

Now, anyone who has played Fluxx in the past is familiar with the basic gameplay: you collect keeper cards and put them into play. Different combinations of keeper cards complete different goals, and each player has the chance to put different keeper cards and goal cards into play in order to win.

Along the way, players affect how the game is played by utilizing action cards and new rule cards which alter what players can and can’t do. Suddenly, you’ll have to trade your hand with another player, or start drawing three cards each turn instead of one.

But instead of matching images like you do in most versions of Fluxx, in Math Fluxx players have to use keeper cards with numbers on them in order to complete different mathematical goals.

Some of the goals are simple, like having 4 and 2 as keepers to make 42 (the answer to life, the universe, and everything). But other goals are more complex, like forming two pairs of keeper cards like a poker hand, or having the highest score on the table in keeper cards.

For example, there’s a goal where you win if you’re displaying your own age with keeper cards. But since people playing will probably have different ages (and therefore, different keepers for that goal), you could lose by playing that goal too early.

Achieving these goals requires more strategy than your usual game of Fluxx — which is built more on seizing opportunities, since the gameplay is often quite chaotic — and the game’s creators doubled down on this by introducing new rule cards that let you achieve some of the goals in different ways.

For instance, instead of forming 42 with a 2 card and a 4 card, one new rule would allow you to complete that goal by playing keeper cards that, when multiplied, form 42.

These new wrinkles add a tremendous amount of depth to the gameplay (and I haven’t even mentioned the meta rule cards that alter gameplay for an entire session rather than a few turns, if players are feeling particularly ambitious).

Math Fluxx also cleverly sneaks in real-world mathematical concepts for younger players, in case you’re looking for a stealthy way to reinforce learning through playing games.

I was thoroughly impressed by the variety in new rules, goals, and gameplay tweaks introduced by Math Fluxx. It shows that there’s plenty of life in the Fluxx franchise, and that spirit of innovation and playfulness infuses each round of play, encouraging players to be just as clever and creative with their own gameplay.

Math Fluxx will be available March 9th, but you can preorder it by clicking here! And to check out all of our reviews of Looney Labs games and products, click here!


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Joel McHale Hides Puzzles Where You’d Least Expect!

Last year, I was surprised to stumble across a puzzle in the autobiography of comedian, actor, and magician Neil Patrick Harris, Choose Your Own Autobiography. It was a clever Neil-centric cryptic word-cross puzzle that rewarded attentive readers, since all of the answers were about events Neil discussed in the book.

So I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised to again discover a puzzle in a celebrity autobiography. But this time around, comedian, host, and actor Joel McHale has upped the ante by offering three puzzles in his book Thanks for the Money: How to Use My Life Story to Become the Best Joel McHale You Can Be.

Amidst hilarious anecdotes, bad advice for starting a career in Hollywood, and actual biographical facts, Joel includes a word-cross, a word search, and a matching game, all of which are about him!

The matching game is arguably the toughest of the three, since you have to match the image of him to the name of the character he portrayed.

The word-cross, though, is not far behind when it comes to difficulty, since the limited crossings offer fewer helpful letters to assist in solving. Not to mention that more straightforward clues like 1 Down — Second word in title of ninth chapter — are few and far between. More often, you encounter something like 14 Across — Anagram for synonym of puzzle.

Plus, there’s no clue at all for 33 Down, making the grid even tougher.

Although I was able to solve most of the grid, some of the entries eluded me.

Still, I have to give style points to 29 Across: “Police Academy” star, if his name had one less “T” and he invented movable type for printing presses.

The word search, which is branded a “Wrod Jembul” (since Joel is dyslexic), is both the most creative and the most solvable of the three puzzles.

In this puzzle, you’re given thirteen clues for various products Joel has done advertisements for, and you need to find them in the grid. Except every entry is jumbled up, complicating things greatly.

Although the puzzle is not perfect — FITBIT can be found in two ways, as can IHOP, and KLONDIKE BAR is the only entry spelled out for some reason — it’s great fun and a very fair solve.

Thanks for the Money is a very fun read, outrageous and engaging in equal measure. But finding a few puzzles inside? That’s the cherry on top.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Lightbox

Puzzle boxes are among the oldest and most intricate mechanical brain teasers in the long history of puzzles, and they’re only growing more complex and ambitious. With the advent of 3D-printing, access to new materials, and computer design elements to help bring ideas to fruition, the only limit at this point is the imagination.

In today’s blog post, we look at the latest innovation in the puzzle box genre of brain teasers: Lightbox by Eric Clough.

This Kickstarter-funded puzzle box arrives in fairly innocuous packaging. When you remove the lid, you find a second box make of lasercut felt inside. These six pieces of this box make up its own little puzzle, as well as doubling as light-absorbing packaging for the main event.

Inside, we find the Lightbox, a stack of ten magnetically-connected acrylic plates, plus the thicker bottom plate containing a USB-rechargeable battery.

I plugged in the USB cord (included, naturally) in order to charge the battery, and twisted a few of the plates into different configurations, watching as the box lit up in my hands. (I only needed to charge it a little bit before pulling the plug and playing with the Lightbox for almost an hour.)

As you manipulate the various plates into different combinations, the lights embedded in the various plates would activate, and light would play off of the holes cut into each plate, creating 3D sculptures of light and reflection within the Lightbox itself. I’ve never seen anything like it.

You can move individual plates or stacks of plates by lifting them off the main stack, twisting, and then repositioning them. (I call it twisting, even though you’re not twisting the box like parts of a Rubik’s Cube, you’re lifting them and rotating them 90 degrees, 180 degrees, or 270 degrees.)

Sometimes, it’s fun simply to see what effect each action has on the interplay of lit plates and dark plates. Getting the entire cube to light up is a real treat.

Eventually, the time comes when you’re ready to put the Lightbox away for a bit. (That little battery ensures that just unplugging the USB cable doesn’t do the job.) And no puzzler worth their salt is going to put it away still lit up, right?

And then, of course, another layer of puzzling begins, as you twist and place the various plates and watch them either light up or go dark, depending on their positions. It can be both amazing and frustrating when you twist a plate halfway up the stack, and suddenly the entire box lights up! Diabolical!

Lightbox straddles the line between puzzle and art, making it a great desktop bauble. (Though I think I’ll leave mine at home. Otherwise, I won’t get anything done at work.) The smart packaging and clever design ensure you’ll return to this puzzle again and again.

Admittedly, some of the lights flicker a bit instead of shining brightly, as if the connections aren’t quite perfect, but that’s a small nitpick for something this delightful.

[You can find more information about Lightbox by clicking here, and explore its long journey from idea to product by clicking here.]


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Knot Dice

Celtic knot designs are both gorgeous and intricate, allowing for elaborate unbroken paths to be formed within circles, crosses, and other shapes. Game designer Matthew O’Malley found inspiration in those wonderfully interwoven images, and the result is the subject of today’s review.

In the puzzle game Knot Dice, you have eighteen identical six-sided dice featuring a different pattern on each face of the die. In order to form a completed design — in either one dimension or three dimensions — a solver uses the patterns on each face to form unbroken paths.

[The six faces of a Knot die. Top row: end-cap, chain, branch;
Bottom row: sharp corner, rounded corner, crossing.]

There are rulebooks included for both single-player puzzles and multi-player games.

The puzzles center around completing designs by moving dice, sliding them, or rotating them, depending on the puzzle, and many of the puzzles begin with starting patterns provided by the game designer. These puzzles are simple and quite elegant, making wonderful use of the various patterns on each die.

The games are a bit more inventive, many of them centered around Celtic history and mythology. Whether you’re collaborating with other players to build elaborate knotworks, racing to complete different knots, or capturing your opponent’s token, there are numerous clever and creative ways to employ the patterned dice to their fullest potential. (Both the game and puzzle booklets contain a 4×4 game board and a page on which to track your scores.)

But the best part about this puzzle game? The dice. They’re beautiful, and the rich green shading makes the intricate patterns pop, drawing the eye immediately. (I must admit, I’m probably biased design-wise, as I have a set of roleplaying dice with the exact same color patterns.)

The game took almost a year to deliver to Kickstarter backers, and much of that time was spent making sure that the mass-produced dice for the game met the high standards of O’Malley’s early designs. He wanted the dice to be vivid, polished, and usable for the numerous puzzles and games that had been devised for the set. That rigorous attention to detail and demand for perfection has paid off in truly eye-catching fashion.

Knot Dice puts a new twist on traditional dice games, and the fluid gameplay and design will appeal to both puzzlers and game fans alike. This game was definitely worth the wait.

[Knot Dice is a Black Oak Games product and available online here!]


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How to Get Started in Games

[Image courtesy of The Board Game Family.]

So, it’s after Christmas, and you’ve been gifted with a new game, or a roleplaying book, or someone showed you a new card game and you want to know more. Or your New Year’s Resolution is to learn more games, play more games, solve more puzzles, or even make some puzzles yourself.

Basically… how do you get started?

Here. You get started right here. I’m going to run down my favorite guide books for gaming, puzzles, tabletop play, roleplaying, and more, creating the perfect first step to a new world of play for you.

Let’s get cracking!


My first recommendation is also the most recently published book on my list.

The Civilized Guide to Tabletop Gaming by Teri Litorco is a perfect introduction to all things gaming. This delightfully nerdy tome is loaded with thoughtful advice covering everything from choosing new games to teaching them to others, as well as building a game group for regular sessions or roleplaying games, and more.

From how to deal with cranky gamers to how to host your own major gaming events, Teri has dealt with every obstacle imaginable, and she offers her hard-won first-hand knowledge in easily digestible tidbits. Even as an experienced tabletop gamer, roleplayer, and puzzler, I found this to be a very worthwhile read, and I think you will too.

If card games are your poison, then what you need is a copy of The Ultimate Book of Card Games by Scott McNeely.

What separates this book from many other card game books — namely the ones attributed to Hoyle (the vast majority of which had nothing to do with him) — is that it doesn’t claim to be the definitive source. It provides the key rules for how to play, and then offers numerous variations and house rules that expand and refine gameplay.

There are more than 80 pages of variations of Solitaire alone! Kids games, betting games, games for two, three, four or more, this is my go-to guide for everything that can be played with a standard deck of cards.

What if you’re already a fan of games, but you want to play them better? If that’s your goal, check out How to Win Games and Beat People by Tom Whipple.

Monopoly, Jenga, Hangman, Operation, Trivial Pursuit, Twenty Questions, Checkers, Battleship… heck, even Rock, Paper, Scissors is covered here. With advice from top players, world record holders, game creators and more, you’ll find advice, tactics, and fun facts you won’t see anywhere else.

For instance, did you know that letter frequencies in Hangman are different from letter frequencies in the dictionary? ESIARN is the way to go with Hangman, not ETAOIN.

That’s just one of the valuable nuggets of info awaiting you in this book.

Ah, but what about puzzles? There are so many amazing puzzle styles out there, how do you know where to begin learning to construct one of your own?

I’d suggest you start with Mike Selinker and Thomas Snyder’s Puzzlecraft.

If you’re a puzzle or game fan, you already know their names. Selinker’s The Maze of Games is featured in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide; Snyder is better known online as Dr. Sudoku, and we explored several of his creations in our Wide World of Sudoku post a few years ago.

Snyder and Selinker break down the fundamentals of dozens of different puzzles, explaining how they work and what pitfalls to avoid when creating your own. You can easily lose hours within the pages of this in-depth handbook — I know from firsthand experience — and you always come out the other side a stronger constructor.


Do you have any favorite books about puzzles and games that I missed? Let me know, I’d love to hear about them!

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