PuzzleNation Product Review: Smart10

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

If you’re familiar with trivia games, then you know there’s one answer per question, one crack at a pie wedge or a Linkee letter or a few steps forward or an answer point or whatever.

The subject of today’s post turns that convention on its head with a clever tweak: there are up to ten possible answers to each question, so you get more than one chance to earn points with your trivia knowledge.

Yup, you get multiple opportunities to “smarten” up with Smart10, the latest trivia game from the crew at Bananagrams.

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[Here you can see the Smartbox playing case, as well as the trivia question, the answer markers, and the score markers along the edge of the Smartbox.]

The concept is fairly straightforward. Once the trivia cards are loaded into the Smartbox, you pass it around, allowing each player/team the chance to answer the question and pull one of the answer markers. If they’re correct, they keep the answer marker in front of them. Then, pass the Smartbox to the next player.

The round ends when all the markers are pulled or players agree that there are no more correct answers to the question. Once the round is over, you add a point for each answer marker to the total indicated by your scoring wheel on the Smartbox. Then reset all the answer markers, pull the question card out, and put it at the bottom of the deck, and you’re ready for a new round.

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Now, if you’ve never played this game before, you might be confused by how the round ends, since I mentioned two possibilities — all the markers being pulled or the players agreeing that there are no more correct answers. That’s because there are different kinds of trivia questions you’ll encounter while playing Smart10. There are six categories, each represented by a different colored circle that surrounds a given trivia question.

Some of them are true/false style, where you only want to pull the answer markers for the true answers. Others offer ten variations on a theme — like listing a piece of music and asking for the composer — which means the Smartbox gets passed around until all 10 variations have been answered.

This variety of question styles — covering everything from history and math to pop culture and language — keeps the game from becoming bogged down or repetitive. (The fact that every card is two-sided, meaning you have LOADS of questions to try, also helps in this respect.)

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[Here you can see the checkmarks for the true/false type of question.]

Plus, the entire game is self-contained. You’ve got questions, answers, and score-keeping all built into one portable device. There are no decks of questions or game boards and pieces to tote around. That makes the game both travel-friendly and perfect for tossing around at a party without a lot of set-up time wasted.

The questions balance nicely between moderate difficulty and greater difficulty, so there’s little chance of the game feeling too easy or exclusionary in its challenge level. Pretty much the whole family can get in on the trivia goodness. And since you can play with up to 8 players (or teams), no one needs to feel left out of the fun.

All in all, Smart10 makes for a enjoyable and satisfying trivia experience that still feels mellow enough for casual get-togethers.

[Smart10 is published by Bananagrams and available from local and online retailers, plus it’s part of this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!]


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Jetpack Joyride

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[Image courtesy of Board Game Geek.]

There are many games where the goal is to get from Point A to Point B. But rarely are those games as simple to learn, as engaging to master, or as satisfying to puzzle out as Jetpack Joyride.

Mobile gamers may recognize that name from the popular app making the rounds a few years ago. While the basic concept remains the same for the board game version, the puzzly way you go about achieving victory is completely different. (And, dare I say, an improvement upon the original.)

So strap on a stolen jetpack and join us for today’s product review, as we explore the tabletop version of Jetpack Joyride.

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Anyone who has played Tetris is familiar with game pieces like these. These are called pentominoes, because they’re made up of 5 squares, as opposed to Tetris-style tetrominoes, which are made up of 4 squares. And they’re the heart of the puzzly challenge offered by Jetpack Joyride.

Most games that involve pentominoes are all about filling a grid or making various shapes. Jetpack Joyride takes them in a completely new direction, as they form the path that Barry takes as he tries to escape the lab with jetpack in tow.

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It’s a fresh and challenging reinvention that makes the game very replayable, because as you grow more effective at selecting your pieces and navigating the play area, the arms race between players to grab the shapes they need grows more intense.

All players are pulling from the same collective pool of pentominoes at once, so piece selection has to be both quick and effective.

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By placing each piece on your board, you maneuver Barry past obstacles, help him collect coins, and guide him toward the exit, hopefully fulfilling a few mission objectives along the way.

Yes, in addition to avoiding rockets and laser fences whilst collecting coins, you also have to keep in mind the missions that are available for every player to complete as they play.

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These can range from collecting all of the coins in a sector to having Barry’s path glide along the ceiling for 10 squares. The missions are worth a different number of stars based on their difficulty.

And why would a player bother with collecting coins or amassing stars? Well, those are worth points once each round ends. (The round ends when one of the players escapes the lab OR when everyone runs out of pentominoes.)

The purpose of the point system is two-fold: not only do they count toward your total score at the end of the game, but they also determine which power-ups you get for rounds 2 and 3.

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You see, in order to balance out the game play, the player who scored the fewest points gets to pick their power-up first. So although the person with the highest point total is in the lead, they actually pick their power-up last, allowing for players behind in points to catch up and outmaneuver their opponents with more advantageous or powerful bonus tech.

It’s a simple mechanic, but an elegant one. Even if you’re a skilled player, it’s hard to run away with a victory in Jetpack Joyride, because there are ample opportunities for other players to pull off some impressive comebacks and upset victories.

And all this only covers the traditional multiplayer version of the game. There are add-ons for vehicles in the deluxe version (complete with special missions and power-ups), as well as a solo-play format that is more like a traditional puzzle to be solved.

These additional modes of play take an already stellar multiplayer experience to even greater heights. This is clearly a game where a great deal of thought and attention has been paid to every aspect of the gameplay. Nothing feels overpowered or unfair, and the balance of luck, skill, and speed makes for exciting gameplay.

Players of any age can get into the puzzly fun quickly, and the variety of missions, play areas, and different bells and whistles ensure that Jetpack Joyride never runs out of challenges or surprises.

Jetpack Joyride is published by Lucky Duck Games and available at select retailers (including Amazon).


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PN Video Game Review: Untitled Goose Game

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[Image courtesy of USG.]

A game review? We know, it’s been a long time. Yes, we often discuss the puzzly aspects of video games both new and old, but it’s rare that we review them.

Thankfully, friend of the blog Jennifer Cunningham — puzzler, artist, musicologist, and former Tabletop Tournament Champion — offered to step up and review a puzzle game as clever as it is subversive, one that’s already made quite an impression across social media.

So, without further ado, let’s turn things over to Jen for her take on Untitled Goose Game.


On September 23rd, 2019, a new video game release took the Internet by storm.

Untitled Goose Game, an independent stealth and puzzle game from House House, has a straightforward description: It’s a lovely morning in the village, and you are a horrible goose.

That’s it. That’s the tagline. And yet it has already won the hearts (and memes) of many.

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[Image courtesy of Polygon.]

Yes, players take on the role of a rogue goose, being mischievous and causing mayhem in a quiet English village. The objective of the game is to complete a series of tasks to advance to the next area of the town. Players are given very simple abilities as the goose: you can waddle and run, you can grab and pick up items with your beak, you can honk, you can duck (pun not intended), and you can flap your wings.

With these skills, players must determine how to complete their “To Do List” tasks, while avoiding being thwarted or chased away by the village’s (perhaps justifiably) irate citizens. Such tasks include “get into the garden,” “break the broom,” and “be awarded a flower.”

Unlike many video games, there are no hints given to players such as flashing or highlighted items, arrows, dialog, etc., so players must experiment and problem-solve in order to accomplish the vaguely-described tasks.

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[Image courtesy of Goose Game.]

Since there is no life system and no time limits, players are free to explore the world and see what sticks. Sneaking around, hiding objects, and sometimes deliberately calling attention to your goose-self are required to succeed. It is completely up to the player to figure out how to approach each endeavor. Additionally, players will discover some hidden tasks as they experiment and try to solve each task’s unique puzzle.

Untitled Goose Game is fun, farcical, and highly entertaining. It will make you think, laugh, and almost wish you were a rebellious goose yourself. But a word of warning: it is a relatively quick game. Players can easily win the entire game in just a few hours.

While there are bonus tasks that open up after winning, there isn’t must incentive to replay the game over and over unless you’re determined to beat your own personal timed record. We can only hope that the developers come up with a sequel or expanded gameplay in the future.

Untitled Goose Game is available for digital purchase in the Nintendo Switch Store and for PC/Mac at Epic Games.

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[Image courtesy of EuroGame.net.]

Ratings for Untitled Goose Game:

  • Enjoyability: 4/5 — This game provides a high level of entertainment despite the limited world. You truly feel as one with the goose. The varying difficulty of tasks is well balanced to allow players of all puzzle-solving abilities to accomplish the game’s objectives.
  • Puzzle incorporation: 4/5 — Completing tasks requires the player to determine how to use your basic goose skills to achieve them with no clear directive on how to accomplish them. Prepare for a lot of trial-and-error. It is truly a problem-solving puzzle game.
  • Graphics: 3/5 — Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This is an indie game so the graphics are not on par with most PC/Switch video games or franchises. The graphics are somewhat flat, similar to paper cutouts. But at the same time, that is part of the game’s charm (much like its non-title title) and detail is certainly not lacking. The colors are muted but calming, the world is crisp and clean, and movement is smooth.
  • Gameplay: 4/5 — The drive to sow a little chaos lives within all of us, and this game lets us play out that devious urge in perhaps the most innocent way while challenging players with puzzly goodness. If you’re going to cause trouble, might as well be a cute goose just doing its goose thing. The satisfaction that comes with completing a task is extremely gratifying, as is the sandbox-esque freedom of being able to cause mayhem for no honkin’ reason at all.

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PuzzleNation Product Review: Domino Maze

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

What is it about dominoes that makes watching them fall such a satisfying experience? Is it the meticulous prep work required for a domino display? The balance and hand-eye coordination required to place each one? The danger of upsetting the whole thing before all the pieces are in place? The potential energy harnessed and ready to be unleashed as soon as the last domino is set up?

Whatever it is, it makes for one heck of a conclusion to a logic puzzle.

The creative minds at ThinkFun have conjured up a delightful twist on their traditional complete-the-path brand of logic puzzles, incorporating not just gravity, but the click-clack cacophony of a chain reaction in a new challenge for younger puzzlers and more experienced ones alike.

In today’s product review, we’re taking a look at Domino Maze.

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[One Challenge Card’s preset pieces in place. Note the three gates, each already balanced to topple over when the domino path crosses through.]

Domino Maze builds on the usual domino-stacking skills and tricks — splitting the path, making sharp turns, redirecting kinetic energy — by adding sequential gates that your domino path must pass through in order to complete each challenge.

The gates are numbered one through three, indicating the order in which you must hit your targets. (The gates are carefully balanced, so when a domino hits the target, the weight on top flips over, raising the numbered flap high AND knocking over the next domino in your chain.)

Similar to other ThinkFun games, the puzzle includes Challenge Cards, which increase in difficulty as you work your way through the deck. Beginner and Intermediate Challenges give way later to Advanced and Expert puzzles that will have you wracking your brain to employ the required number of dominoes, build your path, and hit the gates in precise order.

Note: Be aware that you need a completely flat surface for this game. The grooves will hold the domino, but the slightest mistake could send them tumbling. That’s particularly true when the staircases are involved. There’s no need to add a level of frustration beyond the natural challenge of the game by fighting gravity AND the designers’ puzzles.

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The Beginner-level cards are your introduction to the puzzle, taking you through the motions of how to place the dominoes, utilizing the numerous grooves in both the base and the elevated platform. As you proceed, the game adds new wrinkles to the game, like using the two pivot pieces (allowing you to change direction in a single move), splitting your path with the diagonal grooves.

That elevated platform is an especially devious and clever addition, since it not only requires more dominoes (to traverse one or both of the staircases that connects the platform to the base), but requires multi-dimensional thinking, like starting your path underneath the platform versus atop the platform. In this manner of solving, Domino Maze echoes other top-down logic puzzles in the ThinkFun library like Gravity Maze and Roller Coaster Challenge.

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[Two different angles of the same Challenge Card, mid-solve.]

You also slowly develop a sense of what I call “domino math,” the ability to look at the number of dominoes you have to work with, and immediately limit your choices and potential solutions based on what you know. For instance, three dominoes in a straightaway can cover half the board, but it costs three dominoes to make a 90-degree turn in one square, so you begin to recognize where resources MUST go vs. where they COULD go.

That’s a huge benefit down the line, when your dominoes (through splits and other maneuvers) must maximize their usefulness. It seems daunting when you look at a Challenge Card and see that you have to place 18 dominoes, but honestly, that’s less intimidating than looking at a card with gates scattered all over, and seeing you only have seven or eight dominoes to work with.

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But whether you’re a younger puzzler just getting started with logics, an experienced puzzler who likes the idea of combining a little hand-eye coordination with your solving, or a domino enthusiast looking for a new challenge, you’re bound to find the ever-escalating gameplay of Domino Maze to be a treat. (And just imagine the challenging pathways you could construct with two sets. Or a Rube Goldberg device made of ThinkFun puzzles.)

Watching those dominoes fall and those gates flip with the push of a single fingertip is a very fun and satisfying way to confirm that your puzzling skills are up to snuff. Plus there’s the sound, and the tactile sense of accomplishment with a path well-deduced and well-built.

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Very few puzzles offer that kind of fanfare for a proper solve, and the logical foundation behind cause-and-effect is rarely as enjoyable as it is in Domino Maze.

Domino Maze is available from ThinkFun and other participating retailers.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Mystic Market

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

If you’re familiar with ThinkFun and their challenging and clever logic puzzle games, you know that most of them are one-player endeavors designed to pit the player against the game itself, playing repeatedly with increasing levels of complexity added as the Challenge Cards toss new twists and turns your way.

It is a formula that has worked well for them in the past, and yet, it’s one that they’ve completely put aside with their newest offering, Mystic Market.

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Rather than focusing on deduction in some form — through completing tasks, paths, or circuits — Mystic Market requires players to react to both their opponents’ actions and the ever-shifting demands of the game moment-by-moment in order to achieve victory. You see, players at the Mystic Market are competing to earn the most money. But how do you do that?

By buying and selling magical ingredients, as well as the potions you can make from those magical ingredients, of course.

To start, players receive four ingredient cards and five one-point coins. They then take turns interacting with the communal Ingredient Market and Potion Market, where they can buy, sell, or swap ingredients, as well as craft or play potions.

Each potion you craft and play not only brings in a profit, but it also allows you to take actions that affect the game (even when it’s not your turn).

But here’s where things get much trickier. The cost of ingredients (when purchasing them) and the value of ingredients (when selling them) changes throughout the game.

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Say hello to the Value Track. This inclined plane contains samples of all six ingredients in the game, representing their current value on the market from least expensive to most expensive. (The numbers represent the value of ingredients when sold as a set, while the dots indicate the cost of ingredients.)

The value of ingredients can be altered in two ways: by player actions or by random supply shifts.

When a player sells ingredients — either as single cards or complete sets — they move the colored vial representing that ingredient to the top of the Value Track, lowering its current value (because there’s now more of that ingredient on the market, so the price comes down). The other vials shift as a result of this action, and any vials that were previously cheaper increase in value due to relative rarity in the market.

This mechanic not only brings an element of randomness to the game (because prices aren’t static, as they are in many other games), but it also introduces a deeper level of strategy and opportunism to the gameplay as well.

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Because you can purposely affect the market, either inflating or deflating the value of ingredients through your purchasing and sales, you can create new chances for investment or spoil the attempted investments of your fellow players if you see them stockpiling certain ingredients.

You also have to keep a close eye on the Value Track, because you want to spend as little as possible when buying, and then strike while the iron is hot and sell when your ingredients are worth more.

There are a plethora of resource management games out there, with tons of mechanics for buying, selling, and swapping resources between players or with some sort of market or bank, but I can’t think of another game that simulates an ever-changing spectrum of prices and values for those resources as simply or as elegantly as Mystic Market does.

So, really, you have to play two games in one. You’re not just an alchemist working to create magical potions from otherworldly ingredients like phoenix feathers or mermaid tears; you’re also a savvy entrepreneur looking to corner the market on the ingredients you need and make a tidy profit from your investments.

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It’s certainly a lot to manage, and it took a handful of playthroughs before I really felt like I had a good handle on balancing all of the game’s elements. But with each successive round of play, I understood and enjoyed the experience more than the previous game. Because as you get better at taking advantage of the Value Track, so do your opponents. Each game becomes the magical equivalent of an arms race as you try to build your fortunes and make the most of a dwindling supply of resources.

This isn’t the sort of game I’d expect from ThinkFun — competitive gameplay isn’t really their style — but that only made Mystic Market a delightfully surprising treat that still ably represents their core values: teaching through play. This time around, they manage to make business, investments, and the stock market all integral parts of a terrific gaming experience.

[Mystic Market is available from ThinkFun and other participating retailers.]


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Star Trek Chrono-Trek

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[Image courtesy of Trekcore.]

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

Some of the most important moments in the Star Trek franchise center around altering the past through time travel. Choosing to save Edith Keeler in the original series, the Enterprise-C sacrificing itself to bring peace to the Klingons and the Federation in Star Trek: The Next Generation, or Sisko preventing a Tribble bomb from killing Kirk in Deep Space Nine… iconic scenes both humorous and galaxy-changing involved rending the fabric of time and space. (Heck, the new film franchise was based entirely on changing the timeline from what we knew previously!)

So when I heard that Looney Labs updated their time-jumping strategy card game Chrononauts to include elements from the Star Trek universe, it seemed like a perfect fit. How did they do? Find out today as we review the new Star Trek Chrono-Trek card game.

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[A sample of each of the 11 different types of cards in the game.]

Much like its inspiration Chrononauts, Chrono-Trek is all about the cards. You’ve got assignment cards, ID cards, timeline cards that make up the playing space, artifact cards, cards that change history (and others that change it back), as well as cards that can help or hinder your fellow time travelers.

At the beginning of the game, the timeline cards are laid out in a 4×9 grid that represents the historical timeline from the Star Trek shows and films. Each player then draws an ID card representing a Star Trek character. Each character has certain victory conditions — some combination of events that must be preserved or changed in the timeline and artifacts to be acquired during play — that must be met for you to win the game. The ID cards are ranked by difficulty, indicating how complex the victory conditions are.

As for the other cards available to the player, they allow you to manipulate time, find artifacts, or manipulate the cards in your opponents’ hands. (For Fluxx players, some of these Action cards will seem very similar, as will the artifact cards, which are played just like keepers in Fluxx.)

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[A small glimpse of the timeline.]

The history-changing aspect is the puzzliest part of the game, as you determine what moments to change (and which to protect from your opponents) in order for your timeline to come to pass. But you must be careful, because you also need to ensure that you don’t accidentally end the game by allowing the anomaly from the series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation — the Anti-Time Devron Anomaly — from preventing life on Earth. (In nearly every scenario, that’s a game over for all players. Pretty daunting, to say the least!)

And although bending time to your will and winning is certainly fun, watching the effect ripple down through the cards after making a bold history-altering move is arguably the best part of the game.

It will take one or two playthroughs — with easier ID cards only — to get used to the game mechanics, but after that, it’s a quick and easy deep-dive into the more complex victory conditions and a much more immersive and challenging play experience. (The game can go a bit too rapidly if you’re only using two players, so I’d recommend playing with four or more players to get the most out of the game.)

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[A comparison of a one-pip (easy) ID card and a four-pip (complex) ID card. Kirk simply requires you to protect one moment, invert another, and collect an artifact. Meanwhile, Evil Spock requires you to find the Fracture card, manipulate two events just to place the Fracture, and still maintain another moment AND acquire an artifact. That’s a much taller order.]

The designers did an impressive job figuring out which moments from the 50 years of Star Trek history to include in the timeline, which characters to offer as ID cards, and so on. For a Star Trek enthusiast, there are great references and little callbacks galore to favorite moments from the series. Not only that, but the game ups the ante from the original Chrononauts formula, keeping all of the best aspects of that game while making this one feel unique.

I posed the question in the intro asking how Looney Labs did marrying Star Trek and Chrononauts. The answer? They boldly went where no Star Trek card game had gone before, and created one heck of a fun adventure.

[Star Trek Chrono-Trek is available from Looney Labs and other participating retailers.]


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