PN Product Review: Countaloupe


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

Everyone knows the exquisite tension that comes with rolling the dice in any game.

You might be counting the places until you land your token on the last property in a much-desired set in Monopoly, the dice already bouncing across the board. You might be sitting with four matching dice on the table, watching the fifth one tumble and wobble, hoping for that elusive Yahtzee. You might be on the brink of destruction in Dungeons & Dragons and only a miraculous toss of your twenty-sided die stands between you and oblivion.

You’re completely beholden to fate, or chance, or maybe both. It’s a central part of gaming.

But what if you had a little more say in the matter? What if your cleverness AND your math skills meant you could turn a dice roll to your favor?

That’s one of the things that sets today’s game apart from the rest. So let’s roll them bones and test our skills against the latest offering from the fruit-fueled Bananagrams family of games.

Today, we’re reviewing Countaloupe.

countaloupe 1

In Countaloupe, two to four players each have a deck of slice cards, numbered from one to sixteen. Your goal is to roll the dice and discard slice cards from your deck.

How do you do that? By looking at the results of your die roll and using a little addition.

To discard a card, you need one or more of the dice to form the value of a given card. For instance, to discard the 1 slice card, you need a 1 on one of your dice.

To discard the 2 slice card, you need either a 2 on a die OR a 1 on one die and a 1 on another. As the numbers of the slice cards go higher, you can use either a single die result (up to six, of course) or a combination of dice to add up to the value of your slice card.

And if you’re sharp, you can eliminate more than one slice card in a turn.

countaloupe 2

Look at this roll. There’s a natural 3, so you can ditch the 3 slice card. But you also have a 1 and a 3, meaning you can ditch the 4 slice card. You have a natural 5, so the 5 slice card goes. Finally, you have a 1 and a 5, so the 6 slice card can be discarded. (The 7 slice card stays, because there’s no way to form a seven with the dice as rolled.)

That’s four cards in one roll!

And as the slice card values increase, so do the number of dice you can roll.

countaloupe 3

At first glance, it looks like this player is out of luck. Those dice don’t add up to 7.

But if you notice, there’s a “X4” on the card. That means you roll four dice for this card, not just three! If that fourth die is a 1, a 3, or a 6, then that 7 slice card can be discarded. (Again, math is a huge help here in spotting different possible ways to make 7.)

That continues for slice cards 12 through 16, which give you five dice to play with.

countaloupe 4

This is a lucky roll at such a high number. Not only can you make 13 to discard the 13 slice card — 1+3+4+5 — but you can make 14 AND 15 with the available dice, leaving only one card left in your deck before victory.

But your math skills aren’t the only way to affect the game. You’ve probably noticed that white die in each of the previous rolls. What is that for?

That’s the Chance Die, and it mixes up the circumstances of the table randomly.

  • If you roll SWEET, you can trade your deck for another player’s deck. This means you can just pick a deck where the player is ahead of you OR steal a deck where the dice in front of you will eliminate more cards.
  • If you roll SOUR, you must trade your deck with whichever player has the lowest number on top of their deck (meaning they have the most cards remaining to discard)
  • If you roll NOPE, you gain control of the Nope! Chip, which lets you either protect your deck of cards from a SWEET theft or play it on another player’s deck, preventing them from discarding any cards until they control the Nope! Chip in a future turn

countaloupe 5

Essentially, the Chance Die adds a little more spice to the game and offers another tool — the Nope! Chip — to allow for more strategic play.

There’s also the game mechanic called Taking a Risk, where you reroll the dice and try to discard more cards, but that comes with the penalty of regaining discarded cards if you fail.

So as you can see, a game that would otherwise suffer from a lot of the pitfalls of other dice games — where a series of bad rolls early can leave you just sitting at the table as others race ahead — still gives you other options, like Taking a Risk, playing the Nope! Chip, or hoping for a SWEET roll, putting the power back in your hands.

It’s also strange to find yourself rooting for low rolls after playing so many other games where high dice rolls were desirable. I couldn’t believe the disappointment I felt on that first roll after tossing 5-6-6. I would love a roll like that in D&D!

Factor in relatively brisk sessions (usually around the 10 minute mark) and an immensely charming mascot that is begging for a spinoff game all its own, and you’ve got a recipe for a really fun game of chance and strategy that all ages can enjoy. It actually makes addition exciting. How is that even possible?

(Your replay value may vary, of course, but when we started adding a wagering mechanic, betting on how many cards you could discard on a given roll, it added a nice injection of freshness after a ton of replays.)

[Countaloupe is available from Bananagrams and participating retailers at just $9.99!]


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PN Product Review: Wonderland Fluxx


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

Today, we’re reviewing the latest release from the fiendishly clever folks at Looney Labs: Wonderland Fluxx.

There’s only one way to properly start this review, so come down the rabbit hole with us, won’t you?

wonderland 3

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.

The game can turn against you or spin in your favor in an instant; that’s both the challenge and the fun of playing Fluxx.

wonderland 1

I’ve reviewed a number of games from the folks at Looney Labs, particularly when it comes to new editions of Fluxx. In fact, I have a set series of steps I take when looking over and playtesting a new deck.

First, I spread out all of the cards in front of me so I can admire the artwork. Every edition of Fluxx has its own style — from the photorealism of Astronomy Fluxx to the almost Cubist style of some of the Star Trek Fluxx games — and I like to take in the aesthetic choices all at once.

Next, I pore over the keeper and goal cards. These are the heart of every game, and exploring which aspects of a given world — science, pop culture, nature, etc. — are highlighted helps immerse me in that world, which is part of the fun of playing a themed Fluxx game.

Finally, I delve into the action and new rule cards. This allows me to see how the new setting/theme is incorporated into the gameplay itself. Whether it’s the clever renaming of a rule card (one I’ve seen before) to reflect the new setting, or a brand new rule that mentions something intrinsically memorable about the setting, this whets my appetite for actual playthroughs to test the game’s refreshed mechanics.

wonderland 6

Reviewing Wonderland Fluxx made these steps a delightful experience. The art is, as you might expect, wonderful, full of whimsy and charm, often incorporating Sir John Tenniel’s actual illustrations.

The hand-sketched style immediately gives the game the classic feel of the stories, putting players in the mindset of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings.

Some of the keeper cards also grant additional actions to the players who use them — like taking additional cards, resolving creeper cards that would prevent you from winning the game, canceling surprise cards played by other players, etc. — that make them more desirable and handy than Keepers in other editions of the game.

wonderland 2

They do so in thematically appropriate ways for the stories as well, like the “Drink Me” potion affecting gameplay or the vorpal sword dispatching the Jabberwocky creeper card. (Though I was surprised the Cheshire Cat keeper didn’t make something disappear.)

This pattern continues with the action and new rule cards as well, right down to how the rules are worded. Some cards evoke the demanding mercurial style of the Queen, while others are more playfully worded. As you might expect from a card introducing a rhyming rule, the text of the card is written in verse.

And naturally there’s a card that makes everyone get up from their seats and move around the table.

wonderland 4

[Hey, we’ve taken a crack at this riddle once or twice ourselves.]

These little touches are what keeps each new edition of Fluxx fresh and interesting. It’s not just a new deck with a new theme, it’s a genuinely different play experience from that offered by a different Fluxx deck.

Alice in Wonderland has been revisited and reworked in pop culture many times — from American McGee’s Alice and Jeff Noon’s Automated Alice to Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars series and Batman’s Mad Hatter — but by choosing to stick closely to the original, Wonderland Fluxx already feels timeless, a familiar denizen of the family game closet, plucked off the shelf over and over again to enjoy.

Kid-friendly enough to welcome players of all ages, yet tricky enough to keep regular playthroughs fun and engaging, Wonderland Fluxx is a terrific gateway game, sure to open a door to a whole new world of tabletop play and surprises.

[Wonderland Fluxx is now available from Looney Labs and certain retailers.]


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PuzzleNation First Look: The Case of the Golden Idol

Case of Golden Idol steam logo 616 x 353

Video games have taken puzzles in some fascinating directions. From Limbo and Little Nightmares to Portal and The Talos Principle, puzzling constantly adapts and evolves across many platforms.

One of the most intriguing developments is how modern video games combine logic/deduction puzzles with visual mystery stories for the player to unravel.

After seeing our writeup of Return of the Obra Dinn, the team at Color Gray Games reached out to us with a puzzly investigation demo to try out, intriguingly named The Case of the Golden Idol.

Naturally, we couldn’t resist an offer like that. To put the game through its paces, we recruited friend of the blog Laura — puzzler, gamer, cat (and Cats) enthusiast, and former Tabletop Tournament Champion — to accept the case and give us a comprehensive review.

So, without further ado, let’s turn things over to Laura for her thoughts on the demo of The Case of the Golden Idol.


In a cozy 18th-century inn, a crew of people whiles away the evening playing cards round a table. Upstairs, a man lies murdered in his room. Who was he? Why was he killed? Whodunit? And how?

These are the questions you’ll answer in the Steam demo for The Case of the Golden Idol, a pixel art detective game from two-person Latvian studio Color Gray Games. Cast in the role of crime-solver, your job is to investigate several cases and put the pieces together, a phrase that Color Gray Games takes quite literally.

The investigation element of Golden Idol — its “exploring” tab — will feel familiar to those who have played point-and-click adventures before. As you scrutinize each frame, you can click on points of interest to learn more information. As you do so, you’ll gather clues in the form of words — names, locations, objects, etc. — that populate the bottom of your screen, ready to be used in the game’s “thinking” tab.

There, you’ll drag-and-drop your collected words to match names with faces and reconstruct the events of the case in a fill-in-the-blank format.


Golden Idol’s demo offers four cases in total. The first is simple enough to be solved in a matter of minutes, and the second is only marginally more difficult. Taken together, they feel more like a tutorial than anything else, giving you a grasp of the mechanics without taxing your mind very heavily.

Thankfully, the latter two cases beef up the complexity. They offer deeper mysteries that the player can sink their teeth into, and it’s here where the demo truly shines. At its best, The Case of the Golden Idol’s demo plays like an engaging, interactive logic problem. These cases serve you a platter of multiple suspects, all with motives and means, as well as red herrings to potentially lead you astray.

There’s little room for getting truly stuck, though. In each environment, the “hotspots” for clues are easy to spot. The art, while not as eye-poppingly pretty as other pixel games, is never muddy or unclear, and in each case, I found the clues with no frustration. Still, the demo offers a toggle that shows all hotspots with a bright visual cue, a great option for visually impaired players, or someone who just needs a bit of help finding that last missing word.

Golden Idol’s drag-and-drop nature does leave itself vulnerable to brute-forcing, however, especially as your solving nears its end. Each area of its “thinking” tab, once entirely filled in, will tell you if you’re right or wrong, and there’s no punishment for an incorrect guess. So if you’ve correctly identified your key players, for example, but don’t know the culprit, you could easily test your suspects one by one until you found the right answer. None of these cases has so many moving pieces that this is unreasonable.


But doing this would sap the fun out of it, and if logic problems and murder mysteries are your cup of tea, Golden Idol is just that: a fun flex of your deductive skills, played solo or with a partner at your side to discuss theories with. Crack all of the demo’s cases and you’ll even see the threads (and the titular golden idol) connecting them.

How satisfying that overarching story will be, and how far Color Gray Games can go with their established mechanics, is yet to be determined. As a proof of concept, though, The Case of the Golden Idol’s demo certainly does enough to intrigue.

Ratings for The Case of the Golden Idol demo:

  • Enjoyability: 4/5Golden Idol isn’t for everyone, but if this is your niche, you’ll likely enjoy it. Its replayability is low, but such is the nature of mystery games.
  • How well puzzles are incorporated: 5/5 — The game is the puzzle; the puzzle is the game.
  • Graphics: 3.5/5 — Indie games have flooded with pixel art in recent years, and competition is fierce. I’ve seen art, particularly character art, that wowed more, but Golden Idol‘s lighting and colors still create a distinct atmosphere.
  • Gameplay: 4/5Golden Idol’s demo is mechanically accessible and easy to learn, and the loop of gathering & piecing together clues is satisfying, particularly in the more complex cases.


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PN Product Review: Zendo Expansion #2

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

Even the best designed games need a little sprucing up from time to time. This is especially true of logic/deduction games, where after a while, it can feel like you’ve seen every trick either the game or the other players can offer.

And there are very few game companies that consistently deliver great expansions. It’s a brutal tightrope to walk; you have to add to the established game in an interesting or fresh way, but without breaking the rules, introducing problems that players won’t know how to handle mechanically, or betraying in some manner the spirit of the original game.

For the team at Looney Labs, though, creating an expansion pack seems like another day at the office. We’ve reviewed expansion packs in the past for Fluxx (Fluxx Dice), Just Desserts (Just Coffee/Better with Bacon), and Star Trek Fluxx (the Bridge Expansion), and each one revitalizes the game and adds delightful new wrinkles without hampering any of the qualities that made the original game such a treat.

Today, we’re looking at a new expansion pack for one of the company’s most immersive and challenging puzzle games: Zendo.

In Zendo, the players pull pieces from a communal pile in order to build different structures, using pyramids, wedges, and blocks. One player, the moderator, chooses a secret rule for the players to uncover, and builds two structures. One of these structures follows the secret rule, and one does not, and both are marked as such.

Secret rules can be as simple as “must contain all three shapes” or “must contain exactly four pieces.” They can be as complex as “must contain more blue pieces than blocks” or “must contain at least one yellow piece pointing at a blue piece.” Some rules involve how pieces touch, or how they’re stacked, while others demand no touching or stacking whatsoever. The field is wide open at the start of the game.

Players then try to deduce the secret rule by building structures themselves, arranging pieces from the communal pile into various patterns and asking the moderator for more information.

So, how does Zendo Expansion #2 affect the original?

[Here are two sculptures: one that follows the secret rule and one that doesn’t. Can you figure out the secret rule? Is it about shapes? Colors? Placement? More?]

Zendo Expansion #2 is a ten-card deck of new secret rule cards that allow the moderator to create fresh challenges for the other players to unravel. The structures and arrangements may look the same, but players must reexamine what they think they know and observe to figure out the new secret rules.

Because, you see, the cards offer more than just the new rules. They demand greater cleverness from the moderator, in order to create designs that are fair for the players — not immediately obvious, but not impossible to discern either. It’s a difficult task for moderators.

And the challenge is even greater for players. After all, it’s not just about the shapes and how they interact, but all aspects of what the players see. Zendo Expansion #1 had cards where the rule involved the shape of the structure’s shadow. You could look at the pieces, the colors, how they’re placed, where they’re placed, how close, how far away, how many of each, and the shape of the shadow could NEVER occur to you.

[Here’s another sculpture that removes blue pieces as a possible
element in the secret rule. Have you figured it out yet?]

With one medium rule card and nine difficult rule cards (as opposed to the easy-to-difficult range of the first expansion pack), the game will only become more surprising and thoughtful from here.

These cards include rules about relationships between pieces, conditional rules (example: something that’s true of the sculpture if something else happens theoretically), and even rules regarding something that ISN’T happening in a particular sculpture. Players will have to wrack their brains and truly example both sculptures from every angle to puzzle out these new rules.

There are even decoy tags on certain cards, to make players think the card has more variables than there actually are! Diabolical!

Although I’m a moderator far more frequently than a player, I’m excited to try out both sides of these new rule cards. After all, with the base set and two expansions’ worth of cards, there’s no way I can remember ALL of the possible combinations available. I’m as likely to be outwitted and outpuzzled as the next player.

[One more chance. Here’s a much simplified version that DOESN’T
adhere to the secret rule. What can we learn from this one?]

And that’s the charm of Zendo. From a small gathering of pieces and rules, you can make practically any scenario you wish. Will the players figure it out first try, or will the moderator’s ability to reinvent their sculptures as needed be put to the ultimate test?

Zendo is at once the most collaborative and one of the most curiously devious puzzle-games in the Looney Labs catalog, and with this expansion pack, only the truly inventive and observant will thrive. What a treat.

[Zendo and the new Zendo Expansion #2 are available from Looney Labs, and the expansion pack is only $5!]

Oh, and if you figure out our secret rule for the post, we’ll send you a Zendo-themed prize!


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PN Product Review: Gemji

gemji main

There’s an ongoing quest for the perfect all-in-one game/puzzle kit.

Over the years, we’ve seen games and puzzles come and go that attempt to build an all-in-one play set that allows for new variations and still remains portable. The Dark Imp has their 6-in-1 Christmas cracker set, for instance. Knot Dice offers numerous games and puzzles to accompany their beautiful dice. Looney Labs has their Looney Pyramids, complete with an ever-growing online archive of new games developed by fans.

Those games are all terrific, but so far, the simplest remains a deck of cards. You can play an endless number of games with it, and it fits in your pocket.

But people keep trying, and some of those projects are worth checking out.

So when I stumbled across Gemji on Kickstarter, I was definitely intrigued.

gemji 4

It’s a magnetic tile set that promised all sorts of building and play options, and it really seemed to allow for much more than any magnetic set I’d seen before.

I finally received my Gemji set in the mail a while back, and I’ve been playing with it on and off for the last few weeks, testing out all sorts of ways to play with it.

And today, I’m going to share my thoughts with you and let you make up your own minds.

gemji car

The base Gemji collection includes 70 magnetic tiles (black on one side, white on the other), a folding base to build on, and two manuals.

It’s a building toy, a plaything, a puzzle set, and a game kit all in one. You can play magnetic versions of chess, Stratego, Battleship, Othello/Go, and many others. You can play tangram-style shape-making games (in 2-D and 3-D). You can make dice and play dice games. Dexterity games, stacking games, building games, strategy games… there are all sorts of options.


In addition to the numerous games and activities suggested in the two accompanying booklets — Play and Build, respectively — it’s infinitely adaptable, so you can’t help but start making your own games and puzzles out of it.

For instance, one of our first ideas was to build a small platform and play a Catch the Moon-style balance game with it.

gemji 1

We built a die to roll that would determine if you had to add one tile or two to the sculpture in the center of the platform.

gemji 2

And when the sculpture inevitably collapsed, it simply clicked and clacked together on the platform, rather than crashing to the floor in a cacophony like Jenga would.

gemji 3

That’s a big plus.

Play can be as elegant or as silly as you like. For one game, we made “dice” again, and laid out a field of tiles randomly across the table. Then we tossed our dice one at a time and saw how many tiles we could pick up Katamari Damacy-style. Naturally, the game became more complex — adding obstacles to avoid, adding or losing points depending on tiles picked up, lost, or recovered — and we’d quickly lost half an hour of lunchtime.

gemji dog

All in all, I think Gemji has built a solid foundation for puzzle gaming. It will be a treat to see how other players develop new games and innovative ways to use the tiles in puzzly ways.

[Gemji is not yet commercially available, but they’re hoping to be on sale in time for the holiday season. Check out their website for further details.]


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PN Product Review: Godzilla: Tokyo Clash

Today’s board game review was selected by the PuzzleNation readership through polls on social media!

Would you like more polls to determine reviews, pop culture recaps, and other blog content? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


Godzilla returned to theaters this year for the umpteenth time with Godzilla vs. Kong, and after 67 years of cinematic dominance, the King of the Monsters is still an incredibly popular figure in pop culture.

That being said, Godzilla’s board game resume isn’t nearly as impressive. In fact, it’s mostly the pits. Surprisingly, making a good board game about monsters fighting each other is harder than you’d think. (Only two come to mind — King of Tokyo and Smash City — and sadly, neither features cinema’s most iconic city-smashing monster.)

Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that this dilemma might’ve just been solved by a very unlikely source, a company more famous for their collectible figurines than their games: Funko.

In today’s blog post, we’re reviewing a Godzilla game that finally got it right, as we explore Godzilla: Tokyo Clash.


Not only do you have four famous film kaiju (aka monsters) to choose from — Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah, and Megalon — but the game board is different every time you play, thanks to the tile design that allows for numerous different arrangements.

Each of the monsters has a special ability unique to that monster, as well as a deck of action cards that are specifically designed for your monster. Whoever is playing as Godzilla will have different moves, tactics, and attacks than the person playing as Mothra, King Ghidorah, or Megalon, and this adds further replay value to the game.

Plus you randomly choose two ways that the city tries to fight back against the monsters, adding further variety to the wrinkles that color the game play on multiple playthroughs.

You have an energy bar, which is used to control how much you attack the vehicles, buildings, and other kaiju around you. So, in addition to planning for the moves other players make — as well as the moving vehicles on the game board — you also have to manage your attacks based on your available energy.

Smashing buildings and vehicles gives you energy, which you can use to attack the other monsters on the board. Successful attacks give you trophies, which count toward your overall Dominance point total. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game wins.

That’s right! Every player stays active for the whole game — unlike many other monster-fighting games, where players can be eliminated and then you just sit around and watch the rest of the game.

The art is gorgeous, evoking a vibrant style inspired by classic Godzilla movie posters (and don’t worry, the instructions are in English). The miniatures are marvelously detailed, and the game is loaded in references to the films. You don’t have to know them to play the game, but for diehard Godzilla fans like myself, it’s vindication after years of mediocre kaiju-themed games.

And the game is very reasonably priced, considering the quality of the miniatures, the game board tiles, and the overall art. This ticks a lot of boxes for both board game fans and Godzilla enthusiasts.

That being said, the game does have some downsides. The two-player version is far less engaging than the three- or four-player versions, because your tactics are so limited by just throwing vehicles back and forth at each other and smashing buildings. The strategic moves and planning are deeper and far more enjoyable with more targets, threats, and things to consider.


It might sound silly, but in this game about monsters smashing things, it’s simply more fun when there are other people smashing stuff too.

Also, I’m not a huge fan of the Dominance system, since it’s a little distracting  to have two sets of numbers to keep track of — the energy and the victory points — but I confess I can’t think of another mechanic that would still allow all of the players to keep playing.

All in all, I was very impressed by this game. It’s easy to pick up, fun to master, and offers a ton of variety for new and experienced players. Plus there’s a surprising amount of tactical puzzling involved, which elevates the game beyond a simple you-go-then-I-go mentality.

This game is a win.

[Godzilla: Tokyo Clash is available from Funko Games and other participating retailers.]


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