Kickstarter Roundup: Ad Quest!

A well-designed board game can make nearly any endeavor a fun and engaging gameplay experience.

Sure, there are games where you endure monstrous onslaughts (Castle Panic!, Dead of Winter), cure outbreaks (Pandemic), escape dungeons (Welcome to the Dungeon, Escape: The Curse of the Temple), and conquer rival civilizations (Small World, Risk).

But there are also games where you manage a farm (Agricola), grow bamboo (Takenoko), run a newspaper (Penny Press), or build a stained glass window (Sagrada). Your goal doesn’t have to be earth-shaking to be worthwhile and engrossing.

And there’s a game currently seeking funding on Kickstarter that fits the latter pattern. You might not be slaying dragons or toppling empires, but you will definitely be in for the fight of your life.

The game is called Ad Quest, and I think you should give it a look.

Ad Quest places you in the shoes of an advertising creative team. You’ll conceive your ideas, deal with clients, test your ad, produce it, and polish it until it’s a shining example of your work, fit for your portfolio.

Designed with a razor-sharp wit and a potent dose of cynicism, Ad Quest creates a challenging and entertaining gauntlet for you and your fellow players to run, peppered with obstacles like focus groups, rogue clients, and celebrity meltdowns.

The game board is sleek, the cards are wonderfully designed, and the game strikes an elegant balance between real-world frustrations and clever design, ensuring that you’ll be kept on your toes throughout the entire game.

You can check out the Kickstarter campaign here, and be sure to follow the Ad Quest Instagram account for more details, pictures, and behind the scenes glimpses into the game and design process. Additional details can also be found at adquestgame.com.

I think creators Adam Samara and Michael Camarra have a real winner on their hands here.


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Citizen Shoutout: Game Shop Edition!

Welcome to the second installment of a brand-new monthly feature on the blog, Citizen Shoutout!

Each edition of Citizen Shoutout is an opportunity to say thank you. It allows us to put the spotlight on folks in the PuzzleNation community who contribute to the world of puzzles and games in a meaningful way.

And in our sophomore edition, I’d like to highlight my friendly local neighborhood game shop, Gamer’s Gambit!

Danbury, Connecticut is the home of Gamer’s Gambit, a combination comic book store, hobby shop, and hub of gaming activities of all shapes and sizes.

Boasting one of the widest ranges of games for sale in any store in the state, the store is a one-stop shop for all sorts of board games, card games, dice games, roleplaying games, escape room games, and even some video games. Along one wall, there’s a bevy of comic titles and graphic novels, along with all sorts of accessories, collectibles, and gaming paraphernalia. From Funko Pops to paint for miniatures, they’ve got everything.

But behind the game shelves, trade paperbacks, dice, and snacks, there’s the highlight of the store: the play area.

The tables are big enough to accommodate character sheets, DM screens, miniatures, and maps for an immersive Dungeons & Dragons game, yet narrow enough to allow for competitive rounds of card games like Magic: The Gathering.

And the game room is often the centerpiece of whatever’s planned for that day. With demos for new games, tournaments, regular game nights, costume events, and release parties for comic books, board games, and card games, there’s always something going on in the store.

The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, making their recommendations more reliable than most. After all, you’re getting the skinny from fellow gamers and roleplayers.

I can’t say enough good things about Gamer’s Gambit. It’s a great place to shop, try out new games, and mingle with fellow game enthusiasts. I’m proud to highlight the shop in our latest Citizen Shoutout.

But what about next month? I’m glad you asked.

In the future, I’d like to take suggestions from my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers for those we highlight in each month’s post.

It could be a puzzler or designer who inspires you, a constructor who challenged you or surprised you with a puzzle, or someone who did something kind in a puzzly way.

Maybe you have a favorite local game shop / hobby shop where you meet other puzzlers, or that introduced you to a favorite game. Maybe your local library held an event that piqued your puzzly interest.

Maybe you’d like to give a shoutout to an escape room you think others would enjoy, or to a puzzly event (a scavenger hunt, a tournament, a collaborative event, etc.) or to someone who went above and beyond to make a puzzly experience truly memorable.

You can submit your suggestions for the next Citizen Shoutout on Facebook, on Twitter, or in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Star Trek Fluxx and Star Trek: TNG Fluxx

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

Innovation is part of the fabric of the puzzle/game industry. Constructors and game designers are constantly pushing the envelope, finding new ways to reinvent the puzzles and games we love in order to create new solving and playing experiences. Every new wrinkle is a step forward, and Looney Labs has been at the forefront of that movement for years now.

And it’s only fitting that Fluxx, a card game all about dynamic gameplay and ever-shifting rules, continues to grow, evolve, and adapt, adding new gameplay mechanics to an already loaded bag of tricks.

Their newest release also fits that ambitious aesthetic. After all, the Star Trek series has always been about boldly going where no one has gone before. Today, we’re doing the same as we review Star Trek Fluxx, Star Trek: The Next Generation Fluxx, and a special expansion pack.

For the uninitiated, Fluxx is a straightforward card game. 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. So you might find yourself working toward completing the goal at hand when suddenly somebody plays a new goal, and the object of the game changes.

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.

Star Trek Fluxx marries the chaotic gameplay of the now-classic card game with familiar characters and themes from the iconic science fiction franchise to create a fresh and enjoyable play experience.

The special touches are immediately identifiable, as the title at the top of every single card is written with the famous Star Trek font.

Even as you collect and play cards bearing the images of beloved characters like Kirk, Uhura, and Spock, you’ll find yourself on a strange new world, as unfamiliar new actions and obstacles appear in your path. I encountered Action cards I don’t recall ever seeing in previous Fluxx games, like Taxation, which requires every other player to give you one card from their hands, and Brain Transference, where you switch seats, cards, Keepers, and Creepers with another player.

Not only that, but lurking in the deck amidst rules, keepers, and goals is an Ungoal, a card that works like a goal, except when all of the conditions on the card are met, everyone loses.

But that unpleasantness is balanced nicely by the many references to the classic show featured throughout the game. As a long-time Star Trek fan, it warmed my heart to see the goal card Majel’s Voice, which credits actress Majel Barrett (wife of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry) in her dual roles as Christine Chapel and the voice of the Starfleet computers in future editions of the series (as well as Deanna Troi’s mother, Lwaxana, in The Next Generation).

I was also delighted to see the Fizzbin card, which features ridiculous rules reminiscent of the fictional game Kirk and Spock make up as a distraction in the episode “A Piece of the Action.”

These clever touches not only add depth to the gameplay, but serve as welcome nerdy reminders to fans of the series, little inside jokes that entertain, even as they wink and nod in tongue-and-cheek fashion.

The Star Trek: The Next Generation edition of Fluxx covers a lot of the same ground as Star Trek Fluxx — including a special font for the card titles, Ungoals, and gameplay mechanics built around the technology like the Transporter — but adds numerous little touches that make for an enjoyably distinct play experience.

The Holodeck, for instance, comes into play with several cards, proving to be just as big a distraction (and occasionally, annoyance) as it was in the TV show. Some of the Keeper cards also grant additional actions to the players who use them — like taking additional cards, resolving Creepers that would prevent you from winning the game, etc. — that make them more desirable and handy than Keepers in other editions of the game.

Not only that, but the cards are packed to capacity with inside jokes and fun references to events from the series. From the officers’ poker night to Picard’s harrowing declaration that “There Are Four Lights,” many of the show’s most memorable moments are reflected in some way in the gameplay.

Heck, there’s even a rule card that rewards you for communicating using only names and numbers like the aliens in the classic episode “Darmok.” It’s a super-clever idea based on a much-loved episode of the show.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Fluxx has all of the strengths embodied by Star Trek Fluxx, but still feels like it was created specifically for fans of the Picard years. It’s an elegantly balanced approach.

And, for the very first time, two Fluxx games have been designed so that you can combine and mix them to create a unique play experience!

Although there’s nothing stopping you from mixing Fluxx games — the card backs always look the same, after all — sometimes differing games don’t mesh well, spoiling the fun. But in this case, not only were the two games designed to have similar elements — crew members, technology, ships named Enterprise — but there’s a small bonus pack, The Bridge Expansion, which is crafted to make the most of merging your two games.

Yes, much like the Borg, you can assimilate each game’s individual strengths into a single, unified core.

With goals that encourage crossovers between the two shows, as well as a rule card called The 5 Card Mission (referencing the U.S.S. Enterprise’s original 5-year mission), The Bridge Expansion allows for double the Fluxx-fueled chaos and fun.

Whether you’re choosing to play one of these new star-spanning editions of the game, or combining all three products for the ultimate Star Trek Fluxx experience, you are guaranteed to be surprised and amused. Looney Labs games continue to innovate, entertain, and grow in both complexity and cleverness, and they’ve truly outdone themselves this time around.

[Star Trek Fluxx, Star Trek: The Next Generation Fluxx, and The Bridge Expansion are all available now from Looney Labs and certain online retailers.]


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Vault Assault

There is no rivalry in the world of make-believe more iconic than cops versus robbers, and rarely has that classic dynamic been as frenetic and as fast-paced as it is in the dice game we’re reviewing today, Vault Assault.

The goal of the robbers is to acquire as much wealth as possible and then escape before the cops arrive. The goal of the cops is to minimize the amount the robbers acquire/get away with and capture the robbers before they can escape.

Each round, the players will portray both the cops and the robbers, allowing players opportunities to both rack up lots of ill-gotten gains and minimize the loot captured by the other players.

Each round consists of two phases: the Diamond Heist and the Vault Assault.

In the Diamond Heist phase, the cops and robbers each line up five of their dice. (The cops do so secretly, laying out an arrangement of three alarm symbols, one dye-pack symbol, and one diamond symbol in any order they choose.) The robbers lay out five wire symbols, and then choose one to flip, trying to match the one they flip to the diamond symbol the cops have secretly chosen.

Essentially, the Diamond Heist is part strategy, part luck as the robbers try to steal the diamond by cutting wires to the security system, while the cops lay dye-pack traps to ensnare the robbers. Either the cops will begin the Vault Assault with an advantage or the robbers capture a diamond tile as part of their loot.

[In this scenario, the robbers chose poorly, and triggered the alarm, meaning that the cops will start with one die already rolled when the Vault Assault starts. The robbers could have opted to flip another die in the hopes of finding the diamond, but in the end, they opted not to risk giving the cops a greater advantage.]

Once the Diamond Heist phase is concluded, the Vault Assault begins, and the game kicks into another gear.

Tenzi- or Yahtzee-style dice rolling and quick decision-making become crucial as both cops and robbers try to roll specific patterns in order to complete tasks. As the robbers roll to steal from the vault (or each other), to interfere with the cops, or to escape, the cops are trying to complete rolls in order to fuel up, arrive at the crime scene, engage the robbers, and arrest them.

Both sides roll their dice at the same time, making for an incredibly chaotic and fun play experience that simulates the kind of stress you might be under if you were really robbing a bank and trying to get out before the cops arrived. Between robbers filling their coffers (and forcing the cops to reroll their dice) while the cops confiscate some of the stolen loot while trying to arrest the bad guys, it’s a very competitive and adrenaline-inducing sequence of events.

In this scenario, the cops have two out of the four doughnut symbols up (meaning they’re halfway to completing the first task en route to arresting the robbers). But they also have two dye-packs up, and two more dye-packs would allow them to remove several Vault Tiles from the robber’s stacks, meaning the robbers would have less loot. Would you choose to keep rolling for doughnuts or to hamper the robbers with dye-packs?

On the robber side, they have three targets, meaning they’re one away from stealing a Vault Tile from another player and adding to their loot. But they also have a green hostage symbol up, which they can put aside in order to make the cops immediately reroll all of their dice. Would you choose to go for the steal or to disrupt the cops’ efforts?

In addition to all that interplay, some of the vault tiles also trigger actions that can hamper your gameplay. A handcuffs symbol, for instance, means you have to roll your dice with your wrists together until the end of the turn (as if you’re handcuffed). These little roleplay-centric details add a playful edge to the game, injecting a bit of silliness into gameplay that could otherwise turn somewhat cutthroat.

One several rounds have elapsed, the players (both cops and robbers) total up the value of the loot in their getaway cars, and the player with the highest total wins. Oh, and those Diamond Heist tiles? They’re worth $40,000 apiece!

[With Vault Tiles ranging in value from 0 to $20,000, a diamond tile could be a real game-changer for your loot total at the end of the game.]

Vault Assault is less about long-term strategy and more about being able to make good decisions in the heat of the moment. If you’re able to put your puzzly mind to work making the most of the dice rolls in front of you — both to increase your profits and hamper your opponents, whether you’re a cop or a robber at the time — then you’ll probably come out ahead.

Of course, that’s more of a one-on-one mindset. And with three-player and four-player/team rules to allow for different combinations of players, you can implement some wider strategic gameplay. In three-player games (1 cop and 2 robbers), have one robber focus on hampering the cops while the other raids the vault (and then switching, so both robbers can cash in). In four-player/team games (two cops, two robbers), one cop can focus on recovering stolen goods while the other works on arresting players. There’s plenty of fun to be had with the format.

Can you cash in, hold the cops at bay, and make your escape, or will the cops nab you and all your ill-gotten goods before you make it out the door? And in the end, will you make a better cop or a robber?

[Vault Assault, published by Inside Up Games, is available through their website, as well as certain online retailers.]


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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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PuzzleNation Product Review: Deblockle

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

Chess, checkers, backgammon, Go, Othello… all of the classic board games rely upon the idea that both players know how the pieces can and will move from round to round. That way, they can strategize, they can prepare defenses, they can circumnavigate your attempts to flummox them. To outmaneuver someone, you have to know how they can maneuver.

But what if your opponent could potentially move in five different ways? How would that alter your strategy? How would that alter your gameplay?

Beware, fellow puzzlers… one-on-one board gaming just got a little more complicated with Deblockle.

Masterminded by the team at Project Genius, Deblockle pits two players head to head to see who can remove their four blocks from the board first.

That’s right, there aren’t sixteen pieces to keep track of, like in chess, or twelve, like in checkers. There are just four blocks for you, and four blocks for your opponent.

But here’s where things get tricky. Each turn, you have two moves. The first move is to roll one of your blocks into an adjacent space (either vertically or horizontally).

The second move is to place your block according to whichever symbol that landed face-up because of that roll.

There are six symbols, each with a corresponding action:

  • Stop: your turn is over, there is no second move
  • Cross: move your block one space either horizontally or vertically
  • X: move your block one space diagonally
  • Hoops: move your block three spaces (vertically or horizontally) in any combination, including backtracking over a space you just occupied
  • Slider: move your block either vertically or horizontally until you reach the end of the row or column, or until you’re stopped by another block

With each of those second moves, you’re not rolling the block to reveal a new symbol; you’re picking it up and placing it into its new position.

And yes, there are six symbols, and I only listed five above. That’s because the sixth symbol, the star, can only be revealed if you’re rolling onto one of the star spaces on the board. By rolling the block star-side-up onto a star space, you remove the block from play.

That’s the only time you can roll your block star-side-up, and the only time you’re allowed to occupy a star space with your block.

There are only two star spaces on the board, and you can only remove your blocks from the game if you utilize the star space opposite you.

And that’s when things get really tricky. Because it’s entirely likely that your opponent’s blocks will prevent you from rolling onto the symbol you wanted. So you’re puzzling out how exactly to roll and move your blocks so you’ll end up adjacent to the star space with the star symbol waiting to be rolled face-up, and also playing defense to impede your opponent’s efforts to navigate and manipulate the board to their own advantage.

It’s a lot to keep track of, and it makes for an immensely engrossing, engaging puzzle duel for two players. You’ve got the resource management of Risk, the piece placement mechanics of chess, and the defensive gameplay of Stratego and other strategy games.

And since the blocks are placed in their starting positions by your opponent — after rolling them randomly to see which symbol is face-up to start — every game of Deblockle is different. Opening gambits — like those you can learn in chess — are useless, because you won’t know how you can move your blocks initially until your opponent places them.

There is a wonderfully fresh challenge factor to Deblockle that many other head-to-head board games lack. While playing the game over and over will allow you to develop techniques and skills for how to better move your blocks, there are no shortcuts to becoming a better player through sheer repetition, because each opening setup is different.

Project Genius has managed to stuff a massive amount of gameplay, strategy, and style into those four little blocks, and they’ve got a real winner on their hands here.

[Deblockle is available from Project Genius and other participating retailers, for players starting at 8 and up!]


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