Tomorrow Is Free RPG Day!

Whenever I write about roleplaying games or Dungeons & Dragons in the blog — which isn’t all that often, given that it’s a niche activity, even in puzzle and gaming circles — I’m always encouraged by the fact that each post seems to inspire one or two people to reach out and ask for more details.

How does it work, exactly? How do you play a game with no game board? Does it have to be dungeons? Does it have to be dragons? How do I get started?

And there’s no better time to get started than right now, because tomorrow, October 16th, is Free RPG Day.

[Image courtesy of Lewis Brown.]

The concept behind Free RPG Day is simple. All over the world (but mostly in the United States), local game shops, hobby shops, and other outlets team up with RPG publishers to distribute new, fresh, and most importantly, free material for all sorts of different roleplaying games, systems, and settings.

Not only can you receive a wealth of new ideas and playing options in one fell swoop, but it serves as a terrific way to meet fellow roleplayers and build a community of game enthusiasts.

You can click this helpful link to find local spots near you that are participating in Free RPG Day, and I would highly recommend searching online for local game shops, game cafes, and even community centers like your local public library to see who is participating.

These shops will often be running demonstrations of games, tutorials on how to play, hosting raffles and contests, and offering terrific sale prices to encourage you to find the game that fits you best.

Every year, dozens of companies get involved, not only to encourage the growth of the game world, but to promote their own products. And what better way is there to get people hooked than with free exclusive materials begging them to try out this brand new world of play?

If you’re a Facebook or Twitter user, Free RPG Day has accounts on both platforms, and there are hashtags you can search to get more details on participating companies AND locations.

The world of roleplaying games is so much deeper than just the medieval hack-and-slash that is depicted on TV. Sure, there are swords to wield, monsters to fight, zombies to elude, but there are also gorgeous, peaceful games.

For instance, there’s Green Ronin Publishing’s Blue Rose AGE, set in a wild forest as full of spirits and beauty as it is potential danger. For Free RPG Day, they’re releasing a quickstart version of the game to give you a chance to sample its unique charm and play style.

The folks at 9th Level Games are publishing a collection of different indie RPGs, offering you a sampler of all sorts of play styles and settings all in one place.

[Image courtesy of GameZEnter.]

Other companies are offering sci-fi and steampunk and colorful animal adventurers, everything from Japanese anime-inspired adventure to Lovecraft-inspired World War II intrigue.

Here’s hoping you venture out this weekend and find something great. Roleplaying games offer a unique form of puzzling, gaming, and storytelling, and this could mark the start of something exciting and new. Roll the dice. Give it a shot.

And if you have any questions about roleplaying games in general or specific games and settings in particular, please let us know! We’d be happy to point you in the right direction.


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The Boswords Themeless League Returns Soon (Plus Some Puzzle Activism!)

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The Boswords summer crossword tournament has been a highlight of the puzzly calendar for years now, but during the pandemic, they also made a splash with their Fall and Spring Themeless Leagues.

And registration is now open for the Boswords 2021 Fall Themeless League!

If you’re unfamiliar, the Fall Themeless League is a clever weekly spin on traditional crossword tournament-style solving. Instead of cracking through a number of puzzles in a single day (or two), the Fall Themeless League consists of one themeless crossword each week, scored based on your accuracy and how fast you complete the grid.

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Each week’s puzzle only has one grid, but there are three sets of clues, each representing a different difficulty level for solvers. Smooth is the least challenging, Choppy is the middle ground, and Stormy is the most challenging. (When solvers register to participate, they’ll choose the difficulty level that suits them best.)

Sign up, and you get two months of puzzly fun running through October and November!

Plus, they’ve already announced a dynamite lineup of constructors for this season’s puzzles. Here’s the full list: Evan Birnholz, Kameron Austin Collins, Mollie Cowger, Debbie Ellerin, Leslie Rogers, Quiara Vasquez, Byron Walden, Nam Jin Yoon, and the team of Angela Olson Halsted and Doug Peterson.

There’s a terrific mix of established names and up-and-coming constructors there, and I expect the season to be a terrific exploration of the best of themeless crosswords.

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The project is once again being spearheaded by the dynamic duo of John Lieb and Andrew Kingsley, and Brad Wilber will be the puzzle editor.

It’s only $30 to enter as an individual participant ($40 for Pairs), but there’s also a student/discount level for participants who may find the $30 price tag too steep. (There are also puzzle packets from the previous Themeless Leagues available for $10 apiece.)

The Boswords Seasonal Themeless League events have not only opened my eyes to the creativity and skill required for themeless crosswords, but they’ve become some of my favorite parts of the puzzly calendar.

Be sure to click this link for more information, sample puzzles, instructional videos, and more.

And you can check out our thoughts on both the 2020 Fall Themeless League and the 2021 Spring Themeless League for more info as well!


Puzzling and charitable acts often intersect. This is true of the Boswords team with their wonderful discounted option for participants, as well as their donation to Boston-based charities from the proceeds of their summer tournament

And while we’re discussing the intersection of puzzling and doing good, it’s worth mentioning that there are numerous examples of crossword projects working hand-in-hand with social activism for the greater good.

Queer Qrosswords, Women of Letters, and the charity puzzle packets organized by our friends at Lone Shark Games are only a few examples. All of them provide puzzle bundles for you to enjoy if you show them that you’ve donated to worthwhile charities and other helpful groups and causes.

But there’s another one you might not have heard about: These Puzzles Fund Abortion.

This puzzle packet, originally created to raise funds for the Baltimore Abortion Fund, contains the work of over a dozen constructors, and serves as a marvelous incentive to donate to abortion funds all over the country.

Please click this link hosted by Just Gridding for more information. It’s a terrific way to do some good.


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The Boswords Crossword Tournament Returns This Weekend!

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Yes, fellow puzzlers, it’s tournament time again!

This Sunday, July 25th, from 1 PM to 6 PM Eastern, the Boswords Crossword Tournament returns! The fifth edition of this event will be contested online for the second year in a row, so it’s the perfect opportunity to test your puzzly skills.

If you haven’t signed up yet, registration closes tomorrow at 5 PM Eastern.

With two divisions to choose from — Individual and Pairs — puzzlers of all ages and experience levels are welcome to enjoy some challenging and clever crosswords in a day of puzzly fun and camaraderie.

Tournament organizers Andrew Kingsley and John Lieb (along with talented puzzle editor Brad Wilber) have gathered a diabolical Ocean’s Eleven-style crew of terrific constructors for this year’s puzzles. The five themed puzzles in regular competition (as well as the championship themeless final) will be constructed by Malaika Handa, Andrew Kingsley, Chandi Deitmer, Wyna Liu, Hoang-Kim Vu, Rob Gonsalves, and Jennifer Lim!

Boswords is asking for $25 for adults, $35 for pairs, and $5 for students to (virtually) attend and compete, which is a real bargain! (Also, for anyone with financial difficulties, there is a discounted rate available.)

If you want to solve the puzzles at your leisure and outside of the competitive setting, it’ll only cost you $10 for the puzzle packet, which you’ll receive Monday by email.

To check out the full details of this year’s event, click here! (And for our rundown of last year’s tournament puzzles, click here!)

Will you be attending the Boswords tournament, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you.


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Two Crossword Anniversaries This Week!

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Crossword history isn’t exactly a field of study that dates back to ancient times — I mean, we only celebrated the centennial of the crossword back in 2013 — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a huge amount of historical crossword material out there to be commemorated.

In fact, this week marks two fairly meaningful crossword anniversaries, one to be celebrated today, the other tomorrow.

The first crossword anniversary to observe is the 150th birthday of Arthur Wynne.

[Image courtesy of express.co.uk.]

In 1913, Arthur Wynne created the first modern crossword puzzle — which he called a Word-Cross puzzle — and over a hundred years later, we are still enjoying the ever-increasing variety of puzzles and clues spawned by that “fun”-filled grid.

Wynne was born on June 22, 1871 in Liverpool, England, but moved to the states in the early 1890s, spending time in Pittsburgh and New York City before creating his Word-Cross puzzle for the New York Sunday World.

Of course, the crossword as we know it — with its square grid and the black-and-white square patterning — are due not to Mr. Wynne, but to his former associate, future first New York Times crossword editor Margaret Farrar.

But, speaking of figures who helped elevate crosswords to greater prominence, that brings us to our second anniversary.

Tomorrow marks the 15th anniversary of the release of the influential crossword documentary Wordplay.

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Wordplay introduced several famous names in crossword tournament circles, like Ellen Ripstein, Trip Payne, Tyler Hinman, Jon Delfin, and Al Sanders, as well as highlighting many celebrity crossword solvers like Jon Stewart, Ken Burns, Bill Clinton, and more. The documentary also chronicled the 2005 edition of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, bringing national attention to the tournament (and inspiring a Simpsons episode about crosswords).

Wordplay sparked a 40% increase in attendance the year after it aired, and the growing interest in the yearly event caused the tournament to actually change locations to a larger venue in New York City for 7 years!

(It has since returned to the Stamford Marriott, its traditional setting, despite actually topping the biggest NYC attendance in 2019, and again virtually in 2021.)

But the impact Wordplay had on the tournament itself, and interest in crosswords in general, cannot be overstated.

And this week, we celebrate both crossword anniversaries, one marking the genesis of crosswords, and the other marking how far crosswords had come, and how much farther they could go in the future.

It’s a pretty cool confluence of dates, to be sure.


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It’s International Tabletop Day!

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It’s International Tabletop Day!

Whether you play board games, role-playing games, card games, dice games, puzzles, or logic games, this is the holiday for you, family, and friends to come together and enjoy games.

So, to celebrate, we’ve got a grab-bag of different ideas for you today. Want to learn more about games through video playthroughs? We’ve got you covered. Want to solve a Mix and Match puzzle all about games? We’ve got you covered. Want to play something similar to Monopoly that’s not Monopoly? We’ve got you covered.

Please enjoy this somewhat chaotic sampling of board game-themed goodness in honor of Tabletop Day!


monopoly

Monopoly is the most famous board game in history. We really can’t discuss the topic of board games without mentioning Monopoly.

But Monopoly has its issues. It takes a long time to play, and if you fall behind, it’s incredibly difficult to catch up. Plus, if you get eliminated, it’s not fun to watch other people keep going.

So what do you do if you like some of the game mechanics in Monopoly but not the total package? Easy! Use our handy-dandy guide to find other games that do part (or ALL) of Monopoly better than Monopoly!

Maybe you enjoy buying property and building it up with enhancements and making money with it. That’s great. You should check out Lords of Vegas.

It’s a casino-building game set in the early days of Las Vegas. It’s got play money, dice, all sorts of strategy, plus a gambling mechanic where you can make up for monetary shortfalls. It’s a brilliant game and so so much fun.

Maybe it’s collecting valuable cards, negotiating and trading with other players that you enjoy most about Monopoly. Terrific! You should try Sheriff of Nottingham.

In Sheriff of Nottingham, players collect cards with different goods to take to market — apples, chickens, bread, and cheese — as well as cards of contraband items (like spices, mead, and weapons). Each turn, one player is the Sheriff, trying to stop the other players from sneaking contraband into the market. So you can bluff, or bribe, or try to sneak goods past the Sheriff, or just play it straight with regular goods.

The game allows for trading, cutting deals, being sneaky, and bonuses for being the person with the most of certain goods (apples, for instance) at the market. It’s so much fun, and allows for lots of fun interaction throughout the game, since nobody is ever eliminated.

Do you like completing colored sets of items? Outmaneuvering other players? Claiming valuable property that other players want? Pretty much everything involved in Monopoly is also part of Ticket to Ride.

In Ticket to Ride, players collect cards and play train cards on a map in order to complete different train routes to earn points. Not only can you score by completing those routes under your banner, but you gain bonus points if you can connect distant locations through your railways.

It covers a lot of the strategy and craftiness that made Monopoly famous, but in a sleeker, quicker package.

Oh, and if you want a totally off-the-walls Monopoly-inspired game, there’s always The Doom That Came to Atlantic City.

In this game, you crush houses to claim properties, play Chants (instead of Chance) cards, and basically try to be the best doomsday cultist at the table, summoning your monstrous god to end the world before the other players can.

It’s delightfully tongue-in-cheek, great fun, and a hilarious inversion of a lot of classic Monopoly tropes. I highly recommend it.


Oh, were you looking for some great video content? We’ve got you covered!

If you’re looking for great recommendations and playthroughs of games that your family will love — like Sushi Go, Codenames, Tak, or Takenoko — Girls’ Game Shelf is one of my favorite YouTube channels. The hosts (Kiki and AnnaMaria) are brilliant and insightful, the players are hilarious, and the game choices are topnotch.

It’s been a few months since they’ve uploaded, but there’s a load of terrific content already waiting for you there. Check out Girls’ Game Shelf!

And for slightly less-family friendly — but still fantastic — fare, No Rolls Barred‘s game playthroughs are uproariously funny. Whether they’re bickering over Telestrations, betraying and misleading each other in epic-length games of Blood on the Clocktower, or simply pitching insane products with Snake Oil, their videos are incredibly entertaining.

Plus the channel has top ten lists of games by genre or play-style, skits, and glimpses of game history. They recently passed 50,000 subscribers on YouTube, and their content keeps getting better. Check them out!


Yes, it’s a puzzle on International Tabletop Day. Hey, we’re PuzzleNation, we’ve got to include some puzzly fun, don’t we?

Today, we’ve got a Mix and Match puzzle for you. Can you anagram these phrases into the names of characters from famous board games, and then match them up with their board game?


How are you celebrating International Tabletop Day? Let us know in the comment section below! We’d love to hear from you.

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International Tabletop Day Is Next Week!

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Over the last 18 months or so, an uncountable number of events had to be cancelled or postponed due to safety restrictions. Everyone knows someone whose wedding or graduation or vacation was affected by the pandemic. Major holidays were disrupted.

As more people across the country are fully vaccinated and things start to open up, people are naturally starting to plan get-togethers with those they haven’t seen and share communal experiences denied to them over the last year.

For puzzle and game fans, the same is true, as folks all over are gearing up for this year’s International Tabletop Day.

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As long-time readers of the blog know, International Tabletop Day is one of the highlights of the puzzle/game calendar, especially around here. We usually celebrate with an open game session with tons of games to try, snacks and game-themed treats, and more.

There was some controversy back in 2019 regarding when to actually celebrate Tabletop Day. It had been celebrated at the end of April for years, but then the official creators “moved” the date to June 1st, so there is a little bit of debate regarding when to celebrate this year’s game-fueled event.

But whether you’re celebrating on May 29th or June 1st (or any other date that suits you), we’ve got plenty of suggestions for how to enjoy the day, no matter what your circumstances!


In Person

If you’re gathering a small group of like-minded vaccinated chums for Tabletop Day fun, there’s plenty you can do:

  • Host a short game tournament and crown the winner King/Queen/Non-Binary Ruler of Tabletop Day
  • Have people dress up as favorite games or game characters
  • Have secret game-related rules for people to follow, like not being allowed to say certain words or trying to accomplish certain tasks (stealing a candlestick, referencing Clue, for instance)
  • Create specialized Bingo cards with games or rules or inside jokes to cross off as they happen, and have some small prize for people who get Bingo
  • Refresh with old classics OR break out something new from your stash that you’ve been desperate to play for months

[Image from Stranger Things courtesy of The Verge.]

At Home

If you’re trying to keep things mellow but still enjoy the day, here are some suggestions for the game fans in your household:

  • Play a communal storytelling game where the story goes around to each player and you have to build on what other players have said before. You can even add a twist to it with cards to play that add story elements, settings, and other weird obstacles to incorporate into the story at a moment’s notice.
  • Use Candyland as a guide, but each of the different colored spaces represents cards to draw or tasks to complete or other neat personalized challenges or prizes!
  • Try to kitbash together two games and make up new rules on the spot, and play your new hybrid game to see how it works! You’d be surprised how a few new twists can bring new life to old classics that have grown a little stale
  • In the same vein, make up your own game by playing 1000 Blank White Cards! (The link suggests everyone submit 5 cards, but I prefer that everyone submit as many cards as they can think of!)

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[Image courtesy of No Rolls Barred.]

Virtual

Maybe you’re still hesitant to gather together to celebrate. No problem! There are some terrific virtual options for you, no matter how you connect online with friends and family:

  • Writing games where you need to compare answers (like Scattergories or Hive Mind) are perfect for this sort of interaction, because all you need is some paper and something to write with!
  • Trivia Night! There are tons of ways to do this, either by having someone write the trivia, or use pre-set trivia games or websites, or even log into an app like Kahoot and have everyone virtually compete in the same online quizzes.
  • Play a social deduction game like Mafia or Werewolf by having one person run the game and assign players their rolls! This requires some coordination (and a willingness by players to shut their eyes and adhere to the rules), but it can be great fun if you pull it off!
  • Sign up for virtual board game spaces like Board Game Arena to communally play virtual versions of your favorites. (Also, there are tons of online versions of games as varied as Telestrations, Wits & Wagers, Uno, Secret Hitler, and many many more if you’re willing to search for them! All you need is one person to share their screen and run the game for you, and you’re in!)

horse race puzzle

One game that quickly became a favorite in our virtual office game group is Dobbins or Bobbins, a DIY parlor game that is huge fun.

Essentially, you pick a topic — the usual one is racehorse names — and have everyone who is playing submit 5 fake racehorse names each ahead of game time. Then you find 5 real racehorse names, and you create 5 lists.

Each list has a fake name from each of the players, plus one of the real names. (The person running the game can also submit a fake name if you want to spice things up a bit.)

Then everyone gathers (in person or online), and you read one of the lists. The goal is for every player to pick the real racehorse name. You get three points for guessing the real racehorse, but you also get a point for every player who picks your fake racehorse name! (Also, you can play with the rule that, if no one guesses the real horse, the person running the game gets three points, making them the antagonist.)

So even if you don’t find the real racehorse, you can clean up on points if you trick the other players into picking your horse!

After five rounds, the player with the most points wins.

And you don’t have to limit the game to racehorses. Our group has played Dobbins or Bobbins with board game names, Christmas movie titles, professional wrestler names, and more!

(Yes, you do need one person to host/organize this one, but it’s great fun to watch everyone play. Also, tricking them with a fake name is very satisfying.)


Will you be celebrating International Tabletop Day, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.

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