PuzzleNation Product Review: Chroma Cube

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

As longtime readers know, puzzle games centering around logic and deduction can come in many different forms, from cats milling around a living room to abstract shapes interacting in curious ways. They often have many moving parts and solving mechanics to keep in mind.

But other logic puzzles strip away flashy trappings and overly elaborate designs and take a minimalistic approach to puzzling. The subject of today’s product review, Chroma Cube, falls neatly into the latter category.

Chroma Cube boils a deduction puzzle down to its essentials, employing pleasing design that seems basic, but allows for great depth and challenge nonetheless. All you need to tackle Chroma Cube is a game board, twelve colored cubes, and your challenge cards.

The object of the puzzle is simple: complete each challenge card by placing all 12 cubes in the correct positions on the board.

Most of the challenge cards place some of the colored cubes for you to get your started. Once you’ve set up your board to match the starting pattern on the card, it’s up to you to use the clues provided to figure out how to place the remaining cubes.

The challenge cards ease the solver into the puzzle at first, relying mostly on clues about positioning on the board, referring to rows, columns, and neighboring cubes.

As you might expect, with each new challenge card, the puzzles increase in difficulty, and the clues grow more complex and inventive. Some refer to colors only by the first letters — leaving you to ponder whether it applies to Brown or Black, for instance) — while others offer contextual clues, like a rule that the cubes in each row should be in alphabetical order from the left to right.

A few even rely on knowledge outside the puzzle game itself, like knowing the colors in the Irish flag. These clues are rarer, but add a nice bit of crossword-style flavor to an otherwise Sudoku-like solving experience.

The team at Project Genius did an excellent job of keeping the clues fresh and interesting, constantly introducing new rules and wrinkles to the puzzles. By the time you’re encountering puzzles with no set cubes, or ones that require you to swap set cubes with newly placed cubes — a very clever twist on the idea of “set” pieces — you realize that no matter how many tricks you’ve figured out, the challenge cards have new ones waiting for you.

(Naturally, these are only some of the clue mechanics you’ll encounter. I don’t want to spoil some of the really inventive and challenging ones.)

Chroma Cube’s later challenge cards offer plenty of difficulty and cluing craftiness to keep established puzzlers coming back for more, but without alienating new solvers that have developed and honed their deductive talents by playing through the game’s earlier scenarios.

I was thoroughly impressed by how much the creative team at Project Genius got out of 12 colored cubes and a wooden board to place them on.

Not only that, but the game is beautiful, eye-catching in its presentation. The wooden pieces have a weight to them, and solving is a delightfully tactile experience. (The challenge cards can be tucked away in a slot within the board, making it a breeze to move around the house.

Heck, you could easily leave it on your coffee table as a puzzly conversation piece and it wouldn’t look out of place.

Chroma Cube is a wonderfully visual take on classic deduction-style solving, one that will keep you on your toes from the first challenge card to the last.

Chroma Cube, distributed by Project Genius, is available at Barnes & Noble and other participating retailers.


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The First Viral Handheld Puzzle Game?

It’s fair to say that PuzzleNation knows a little something about the world of mobile puzzling. Mobile apps are our bread and butter, after all, and whether you’re talking about our Daily POP Crosswords App or the Penny Dell Crosswords App, we are connoisseurs of puzzles that fit in your pocket.

Of course, puzzle apps are a relatively new addition to the genre. Mobile puzzles, like matchstick puzzles, have existed for centuries.

In fact, more than a hundred years ago, a mobile puzzle game went “viral” and became a cultural sensation. (And it has made a recent return to prominence thanks to the HBO drama Westworld.)

Today, let’s talk about Pigs in Clover.

Pigs in Clover is a ball-in-a-maze puzzle invented in 1899 by toymaker Charles Martin Crandall. Although puzzle historians aren’t sure if Pigs in Clover was the first ball-in-a-maze puzzle created, it was definitely the first to capture the imagination of consumers.

You’ve probably solved a ball-in-a-maze puzzle at some point in your life. From the flat disc and labyrinth-inspired models to spherical and more complicated three-dimensional versions, they’re a fun test of both dexterity and strategic thinking.

A quick Google image search turns up dozens of variations on the concept, including an iPhone case with two ball-in-a-maze puzzles built into it!

Pigs in Clover was a simpler design, involving only three rings and a center “pen” to herd the “pigs” into. But it’s one that was supposedly so popular upon launch in January of 1889, it impacted the actual operation of the U.S. government.

But how popular was “popular” in 1889?

Well, according to the Waverly Free Press, “The toy works are turning out eight thousand of ‘Pigs in Clover’ a day, and are twenty days behind with their orders.” According to some sources, over a million games were sold by late April 1889!

And one of those games found its way into the hands of William M. Evarts, senator from New York. Depending on the version of events you read, he purchased a copy of Pigs in Clover from either a street vendor or, curiously, an aggressive street fakir.

He then took it home and played with it for hours. At work the next day — and by work, I mean the Senate of the United States — another senator, George Graham Vest, borrowed it and went to the cloak room to try to solve the puzzle game.

Yes, a sitting U.S. senator went and hid in the coats to play this game. It’s sorta like hiding under all the coats at a Christmas party and playing Angry Birds, except in fancier clothing.

Oddly enough, Vest was soon joined in the cloak room by four other senators — Pugh, Eustis, Walthall, and Kenna — who were also interested in trying their hands at the popular game. Apparently, they were too impatient to share Evarts’ copy of the game, since a page was enlisted to go out and buy five more copies of Pigs in Clover for the distracted senators.

Once each had his own game in hand, they engaged in a pig-driving contest. It must’ve been harder than it looks, since it took Vest 30 minutes to herd all of his pigs into the pen.

Yup, at least half an hour of senate business was derailed by a few little metal balls in a cardboard maze. Amazing.

Naturally, the story got out, and a political cartoon in the New York World on March 17th commented on this peculiar delay in President Benjamin Harrison’s agenda, likening the political landscape to the game. With the White House as the pen and various lawmakers as the pigs, the cartoon asked, “Will Mr. Harrison be able to get all these hungry pigs in the official pen?”

It makes you wonder just how many man-hours were lost to Pigs in Clover! After all, a simple game — solved by many — can prove costly.

Remember the Google Doodle in 2010 that allowed you to play Pac-Man? It’s estimated it cost $120 million dollars, and nearly five million hours, in terms of productivity.

Sounds like President Harrison should count himself lucky it was just a half-dozen senators… as far as we know.

[Sources for this article: The Strong Museum of Play, Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop, Le Roy Historical Society, Antique Toy Collectors of America, Wikipedia, and A History of Video Games in 64 Objects.]


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Puzzle Fight? Them’s Fightin’ Words!

In this blog, I try to talk about puzzles in all their forms. We’ve explored everything from puzzle games and mechanical brain teasers to pencil-and-paper puzzles, from riddles and deduction puzzles to escape rooms and puzzle hunts. That covers a pretty impressive swath of puzzly varieties.

Naturally, I’ve spent some time talking about puzzle apps as well. Not only our own marvelous offerings — like Daily POP Crosswords and Penny Dell Crosswords App — but others as well that’ve piqued the interest of our in-house app reviewer, Sherri.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject, because there’s a curious subset of puzzle apps that I didn’t even know existed: puzzly fighting games.

[Image courtesy of Mario’s Hat.]

Now, your standard fighting game has a simple concept: two fighters go head-to-head in a match, and the first to drain his opponent’s life bar wins.

There are numerous famous fighting games across many video game systems. Franchises like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Soul Calibur, Tekken, Dead or Alive, Darkstalkers, and Marvel vs. Capcom have built devoted followings with eyecatching fighters, innovative attack combos, and ever-improving graphics.

But in a puzzle fighting game, the outcome of the fight does not depend on button-mashing skill, tricky combinations, or well-timed strikes… it depends on your puzzly talents.

[Image courtesy of YouTube.]

Take, for example, the standard bearer for the genre: Puzzle Fighter.

The layout probably looks familiar. The game combines the aesthetics of Tetris — blocks dropping into a contained play area and being rotated and placed by the player — with the gameplay of Bejeweled, Candy Crush, and other color-matching puzzle games.

You want to group pairs of blocks (or gems) together, because you can clear them from the play area by using “crash gems,” which wipe out any neighboring gems of that color. So, with proper planning, you can wipe out huge sections of your board.

As you clear gems from your play area, your fighter does battle with the opponent’s fighter, succeeding or struggling based on how well you’re doing with your puzzling. (You can play against other opponents online in multiplayer mode or against computer-controlled opponents on your own.)

[Image courtesy of Emu Paradise.]

Puzzle Fighter was followed by a sequel, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, a fun reference to the Street Fighter franchise, which also allows some of its characters to appear as sprites in this puzzly spinoff. There was also a short-lived WWE wrestling-related app  that was more like Tetris in its gameplay, but similar in execution to the Puzzle Fighter series.

It’s an intriguing idea, if only because other head-to-head puzzle games like Dr. Mario and Tetris Arena feel a touch less adversarial. In head-to-head Tetris, it’s simply who’s the better puzzler. In Dr. Mario, as you eradicate the little viruses with color-matching pills, you can also bury your opponent under pill pieces, which adds a form of interaction to the gameplay.

[Watch the player on the left engineer chain reactions that hinder the player on the right.]

In Puzzle Fighter, the game goes two steps further. Not only are you allowed to visualize how you’re winning or losing based on the character sprites fighting above the play area, but your successful use of crash gems will send additional gems into your opponent’s play area, with only a limited amount of time to neutralize them.

But an upcoming entry in the genre has added a curious wrinkle to the puzzly fighting experience: magic.

[Image courtesy of Kotaku.]

The World Next Door features characters actually running across a shared game board featuring all sorts of colored runes. Your goal is to swap and connect runes of the same color so that they form chains of runes that can be activated.

Each colored rune represents a different attack, which means that, like in Dr. Mario and Puzzle Fighter, a crafty puzzler can create chain reactions where wiping out one set of runes causes another set to connect, triggering another attack.

In The World Next Door, this can lead to devastating combination attacks.

Of course, since you’re sharing a game board with your opponent, there’s the additional elements of defense and sabotage. While you’re building your rune chains, you’re going to want to defend them from your opponent while also disrupting their own attempts to form chains. Defense can truly become a strong offense, if you choose to play that way.

[Here, you can see the result of a rune spell, the small black hole in the corner, waiting for a sprite to wander too close. Image courtesy of The World Next Door.]

This is probably the most direct iteration of puzzly fighting I’ve encountered thus far, since you’re still using puzzle skills to make your attacks, but you’re also interacting head-to-head with your opponent’s game board AND sprite, which really ratchets up both the tension level and the challenge factor.

I’m definitely interested in seeing how this relatively minor subset of puzzle games continues to evolve and grow. The World Next Door is an impressive step up in complexity and style, and with this sort of creativity and innovation at play, the sky is truly the limit.

And let me know if you’d like us to discuss more puzzle apps, puzzly video games, or other related topics on the blog in the future!


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PuzzleNation Product Review: IcoSoKu

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

Most puzzles — whether we’re talking about puzzle boxes, jigsaw puzzles, physical brain teasers, or mechanical puzzles — operate under a simple premise: the puzzle arrives in one configuration, and it’s up to you to solve it and put it into a different configuration.

With puzzle boxes, you’re opening them. With jigsaws, you’re assembling the pieces. With physical brain teasers and mechanical puzzles, you’re separating them, freeing a given piece, or accomplishing a particular task. But in each case, they’ve arrived that way. You have been pitted against the designer.

Project Genius‘s IcoSoKu is something different. IcoSoKu challenges you to create your own puzzle, and then solve it.

The setup is elegant in its simplicity. It’s a puzzle ball consisting of a twenty-sided icosahedron base, twelve numbered pegs, and twenty triangular tiles with different combinations of pips at the corners.

To start, remove all of the tiles and all of the pegs from the icosahedron. Place the numbered pegs wherever you wish on the puzzle ball.

Then, you must figure out how to arrange the triangular tiles on the puzzle ball.

This is tougher than it seems. Each triangular tile has a different combination of pips in its corners. Some corners have none, while others have one, two, or three pips. And each corner neighbors a different numbered peg. Each numbered peg is surrounded by five corners, and the pips on each corner, when added together, should total the number on the peg.

And with numbers ranging from 1 to 12, you have to be both clever and careful in your tile placement. That peg labeled “1” can only have a single pip neighboring it, meaning that the other four tiles surrounding that peg should have empty corners.

[Three different looks at the same solved puzzle ball.]

IcoSoKu combines the deduction of placement puzzles like Minesweeper or Blackout! with the mathematical puzzling of a magic square or a Sudoku puzzle. And by making the puzzle three-dimensional, it places a healthy demand on your puzzly faculties. You’re constantly tipping and turning the puzzle ball, because you can never see the whole puzzle at once, making it much harder to manage your tiles and maintain a good sense of just how many of those valuable little pips you’ve already used.

And as soon as you’ve placed the final tile and searched the puzzle ball all over, confirming a successful solution… all you want to do is strip away all of the tiles and pegs to test your wits again.

Assigning pegs randomly creates a completely different solving experience from bundling all the large numbers together on one side and all the small numbers together on the other side of the ball. Although you will begin to spot certain patterns and techniques that will come in handy as you solve each successive permutation of the puzzle, you’ll still find IcoSoKu to be an engaging and satisfying challenge.

Plus there are other ways you can enjoy the puzzle after cracking it yourself. I challenged a fellow puzzler to a timed IcoSoKu solve-off! First, I arranged the pegs and timed how long it took her to solve the puzzle ball I’d devised. Then, she arranged the pegs and timed how long it took me to unravel the puzzle ball she’d created. It added a fun touch of competition and uncertainty to the solving experience, one that my patient solo-solving didn’t capture.

But whether you’re tackling IcoSoKu yourself or with a puzzly rival, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here. It’s a DIY puzzle, masterfully put together and waiting for you to execute.

IcoSoKu is available from Project Genius and other participating retailers, appropriate for solvers 9 and up!


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PuzzleNation Product Review: ThinkFun’s Kaleidoscope Puzzle

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

Clear, or transparent, cards are a rarity in puzzles and games, but they offer a terrific gameplay mechanic: the ability to stack cards without obscuring information.

The clear cards in the storytelling game Gloom allow players to add and subtract points from various characters as the grim and whimsical stories unfold. The quick-play pattern-matching game On the Dot — which was part of last month’s Tabletop Tournament — challenges players to properly arrange four clear cards — each with randomly-placed colored dots — in order to match a given pattern before their opponents do.

Now, the creative minds at ThinkFun have put a wonderful, vibrant twist on the clear-card genre of puzzles and games with their latest release: Kaleidoscope Puzzle.

[Two of the six kaleidoscope tiles.]

In Kaleidoscope Puzzle, you have six octagonal tiles, each with its own pattern of tinted and clear quadrants. It’s up to the solver to arrange either two or three of the six tiles in order to recreate the patterns on the challenge cards.

First off, I want to say that this might be the most aesthetically pleasing puzzle I’ve ever solved. Just turning the kaleidoscope cards in my hands in front of a light is enjoyable, letting the snowflake-patterning on each card blur and come into focus anew as the cards line up, each time matching and mixing the various colored quadrants to create eye-catching effects. It’s brilliant in its simplicity, and unlike any color-based puzzle I’ve seen on the market today.

It almost feels like putting together a stained-glass window, particularly as the challenge cards progress and the patterns grow more elaborate.

[One possible combination of those two tiles.]

The Beginner challenge cards help to familiarize you with the gameplay. You quickly figure out placement and color combinations. As you transition into the Intermediate challenge cards, the patterns grow more elaborate, and honestly, more beautiful. It’s amazing the combinations you can conjure with just two of the six possible kaleidoscope tiles!

Halfway through the Intermediate challenge cards, they ratchet up both the possibilities and the difficulty, as you now have to create the patterns with three kaleidoscope tiles. Now you’re trying to cover all four quadrants with color patterns, and it becomes about maximizing what each tile offers.

But it’s in the Advanced challenge cards that the game really separates itself from On the Dot-style solving, because Kaleidoscope puzzle has the color-mixing element as well. Not only are you manipulating the kaleidoscope tiles to place the basic colors where you need them, but you also need to create green, orange, and purple patterns as well.

Toward the end of the Advanced challenge cards, you start to deal with eighths instead of quadrants, divvying up the field into increasingly more complicated designs, reminiscent of pie charts.

Sometimes, you might discover alternate ways to form the patterns, which is very satisfying indeed. It also speaks to how adaptable the six kaleidoscope tiles are, since you can arrange them in seemingly endless combinations.

By the time you reach the Expert challenge cards, you’ll be turning, flipping, and rearranging these tiles like crazy to form the intricate patterns on the cards. It’s an unexpectedly relaxing form of puzzling, a meditative mix of challenge and aesthetics.

[The same pattern coming to life under a desk lamp.]

I cannot say enough good things about this puzzle. Mixing the resource management of how to get the most out of each tile you choose with the striking visuals of the kaleidoscope tiles makes for a unique solving experience.

Puzzles that are as satisfying to look at after the solve as they are to solve in the first place… that’s a true rarity. What a treat.

[Kaleidoscope Puzzle is available from ThinkFun and participating retailers, starting at $9.99!]


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PuzzleNation 2017 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Category

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2017 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

We’re excited to be bringing you our biggest gift guide ever! There are so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you this year. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is broken down into categories for ease of searching. We have puzzle books, downloadable puzzles and puzzles by mail, jigsaw puzzles, puzzle games, board games, card games, dice games, and party games. We’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for any puzzler on your list!


This year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide is sponsored by the new Daily POP Crosswords app!

Daily POP Crosswords offers a different themed puzzle every single day, spanning everything from TV and film to sports and music!

Available for both Android and iOS users, you get terrific content from some of the world’s top constructors! And the download is free!


Puzzle Books

Pencil-and-paper puzzles are alive and well, and we’re happy to share some of our favorites with you.

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Maybe you’re looking for one kind of puzzle, like Colossal Grab-a-Pencil Book of Logic Problems ($10.50) or the Fill-In Value Pack ($8.95). Or perhaps you like some variety in your solving, and you’d prefer the Home for the Holidays Word Seek set ($32.95), complete with pencils, coffee, and snacks to keep you puzzling, or the Super Grab-a-Pencil Pocket Bible Gift Set 2-Pack ($12.50). Or you’d like to unwind with their Coloring Book 4-Pack ($14.95) and sip some coffee from a vibrant Word Nerd mug ($9.50). Either way, the folks at Penny Dell Puzzles have got you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter throughout the holiday season. Between 10% and 20% off all sorts of puzzle bundles and books!

And while we’re on the topic of puzzle books, some of the best constructors working today have released their own books for your perusal! And with New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some quality puzzlers within these pages!

–David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register ($7.48)

–Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords ($8.95)

–Erik Agard’s Food for Thought Crosswords ($7.48)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley and Francis Heaney’s Drunk Crosswords ($7.06)

–Cynthia Morris’s American Acrostics Volume 5: Puzzling Holidays and Celebrations and CynAcrostics Volume 3: You Don’t Say? ($9.95 each)

–Foggy Brume’s One-Word Word Searches ($7.50)

The Maze of Games: The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze by Mike Selinker and Gaby Weidling

The Maze of Games is one of the most diabolical puzzle books ever conceived. It allows the protagonists AND the reader to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of different puzzles in the hopes of conquering each of the labyrinths within the book.

The puzzle book has proven so diabolical that they’ve released The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze, a hint book designed to help solvers free Samuel and Colleen from the final labyrinth once and for all! ($9.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of The Maze of Games!]

The Maze series by Brad Hough

If you’re looking for a first-person maze-solving experience, The Maze is precisely your speed. Dropping the reader in the first room of a maze and describing the scene to you, it’s up to you to mentally put together the map as you progress from page to page (and room to room). With volumes of increasing difficulty and complexity available, you might never find your way out! ($8.49 and up)

[Click here to check out our full review of The Maze series!]


Downloadable Puzzles and Puzzles by Mail

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between by-mail offers, subscriptions, and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The Crosswords Club, edited by Patti Varol (puzzle bundles by mail, available in both regular and large print; $39.95 for 12 issues)

Puzzle Your Kids by Eric Berlin ($5/month, or puzzle sets available starting at $3.99; one free puzzle per week)

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles) ($20 for 1 year)

–Matt Gaffney’s Daily Crossword ($24 per year) and Weekly Crossword Contest ($26 per year)

–Andrew Ries’ Aries Xwords ($20 per year)

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($26 for 1 year)

–Joon Pahk’s Rows Garden puzzles ($20 for 1 year) and Variety puzzles ($15 for 1 year) OR get both for $30!

–Patrick Blindauer’s Broadway Puzzlefest ($20)

Crossword LA 2017 puzzle pack ($5)

–Bryant Park 2016 and 2017 tournament puzzle pack ($10)


Jigsaw Puzzles

Puzzometry

For a next-level jigsaw challenge, Puzzometry is tough to top. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available as Puzzometry ($16.50), Puzzometry Jr. ($12), and Puzzometry Squares ($16.50), you’ve got three distinct challenges appropriate for different ages!

[Check out the full review of Puzzometry by clicking here!]

 

Tavern Puzzles / Tucker-Jones House Inc.

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to remove twice as many pieces in a Collaborative Effort or free the triangle from Tridiculous, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($24)

Lightbox (Eric Clough)

A puzzle box unlike anything you’ve ever seen, Lightbox creates different patterns of shadow and light as you shift and arrange the various plastic plates that make up the box. As you twist and reset them, different electrical connections are made, and different plates light up. As gorgeous as it is challenging, Lightbox is a very eye-catching puzzle that always wows new solvers. ($85)

[Check out our full review of Lightbox by clicking here!]


Puzzle Games

//CODE: On the Brink, //CODE: Rover Control, and //CODE: Robot Repair (ThinkFun)

Learning to program is quickly becoming a valuable skill for people of all ages, so why not get your kids started early with games that teach them the basics of coding in fun, accessible ways. The //CODE series of games does precisely that, teaching sequencing with On the Brink, and then moving onto plotting with Rover Control and logical deduction with Robot Repair. These games mix education and puzzle solving to great effect. ($14.99 each)

[Click here to read our full review of the first //CODE series puzzle game, On the Brink!]

GIANT Word Winder (David L. Hoyt)

Created for schools, libraries, and other homes of learning, GIANT Word Winder challenges solvers to locate words within a large word seek-style grid. The end goal? To create a path from one end of the board to the other. A great team puzzling activity for younger solvers, it also comes in a math-fueled version. ($475)

Roller Coaster Challenge (ThinkFun)

Lots of puzzles are all about figuring out which piece goes where, but rarely does a puzzle game then reward you by sending a car racing down your completed puzzle. Roller Coaster Challenge incorporates the logic puzzles synonymous with ThinkFun into a fun, track-building set that will delight solvers of many ages. Who doesn’t want to design their own roller coaster? ($29.99)

[Click here for our full review of Roller Coaster Challenge!]

Color Cube Sudoku (ThinkFun)

For a new twist on Sudoku, look no further than Color Cube Sudoku. Simply place one cube on the tray, and then try to figure out how to place every other cube so that you don’t repeat a color in any row or column. It’s tougher than it looks! ($19.99)

[Click here to read our full review of Color Cube Sudoku!]

Zendo (Looney Labs)

Puzzle games are all about the rules, but what if you don’t know the rules? That’s where Zendo comes in. This puzzle game is all about figuring out a given rule by arranging Looney pyramids and other shapes into various designs, and seeing if those designs fit the mysterious rule. A game of deduction and trial-and-error, Zendo is a very different solving experience. ($40)

[Review coming soon!]

Pinbox 3000 (Cardboard Teck Instantute)

How about the chance to build your own game? Is that puzzle enough for you? Pinbox 3000 provides all the pieces you’ll need, plus valuable advice for brainstorming and creating your very own pinball game. It’s endlessly customizable, so you can make your Pinbox pinball game as simple or as complex as you like! ($49.95)


Board Games

Some of the puzzliest games on the market today are being made by top-flight board game companies, and we’ve got some marvelous games that will appeal to puzzlers of all ages!

Doctor Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted (Cheapass Games)

People have been trying to kill Doctor Lucky for over twenty years, but now, ghosts are getting in on the act! Doctor Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted is an expansion of Kill Doctor Lucky, so you’ll need the base game to play, but with a new gameboard to explore and new movement mechanics — since all the players are now ghosts — this adds all sorts of new possibilities to a terrific game. ($16)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

castellan1castellan3

Castellan (Steve Jackson Games)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Word-a-Melon, Big Letter Bananagrams, and Qwordie (Bananagrams)

Bananagrams are the uncrowned kings of word-forming tile games, and no matter what sort of speller and anagrammist you are, they’ve got a game for you.

If you like Bananagrams but just want bigger, easier-to-read tiles, then Big Letter Bananagrams has your name on it (or will, when you spell it with the 50% larger tiles). To add a touch of Memory-style strategy to your word-forming gameplay, Word-A-Melon would be right up your alley. And if you prefer a bit of word association with your word-building, then the strategy and quick-thinking of Qwordie is for you. ($19.99 each)

[Click here for our full review of all three games!]

The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games)

Bring the insane real-life rivalry of paleontologists Cope and Marsh to life in The Great Dinosaur Rush! As you collect fossils and discover your own unique dinosaur, you must also steal bones, sabotage other scientists, and more! Show off your cunning and creativity in this game that proves historical truth is weirder than fiction! ($50)

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Walk-By Scrabble BoardLexicographer’s Extended Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including the Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble for those with mega-syllabic ambitions ($29.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($149.95) — not to mention the mindboggling World’s Largest Scrabble Game for $12,000! — but few are as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]

Less (InventedFor)

A strategy game with the speed and simplicity of Checkers but the depth and replayability of Chess, Less is travel-friendlier than both, with a gameboard that breaks down into bar coasters. With new tiles forming the board every time you play, no two games are alike, and even the straightforward task of racing your opponent to the opposite corner becomes a worthwhile challenge. ($17)

[Click here to read our full review of Less!]

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Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Your goal is to avoid meeting another dragon or flying off the board. It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($23.00)

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Qwirkle (MindWare)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train DominoesQwirkle is a tile-placing game where you try to maximize your points while minimizing the help you give to your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump into! ($19.95)

Tak: A Beautiful Game (Cheapass Games)

Many new games build off of classic mechanics, but very few new games truly feel like they could have been played centuries ago. Tak definitely fits that mold, using simple wooden pieces to create a game that feels both fresh and ancient all at once. Inspired by the eponymous game in Patrick Rothfuss’s KingKiller Chronicles series, Tak is a wonderful two-player game that quickly grows addictive. ($55)

[Click here for our full review of Tak!]

Word Domination (Uproarious Games)

Can you steal treasure and amass territory using your spelling and anagram skills? You can in Word Domination, a mix of resource management and word forming that encourages you to steal from and outmaneuver your fellow players. For a James Bondian touch with your Bananagrams, give this one a shot. ($32.99)

[Click here for our full review of Word Domination!]


Card Games

Doctor Who Fluxx (Looney Labs)

Could anything be as chaotic as traveling through time and space with The Doctor in the TARDIS? How about a card game about The Doctor and his adventures where the rules change every turn? Doctor Who Fluxx combines the classic sci-fi franchise with one of gaming’s most flexible rule sets to create an ever-evolving gameplay experience. Fluxx has never been better. ($20)

[Click here for our full review of Doctor Who Fluxx! And be sure to check out other Looney Labs games, like Chemistry Fluxx, Math Fluxx, and Nanofictionary!]

Spaceteam (Timber and Bolt)

Can you repair your ship and get the engines up and running in five minutes before a black hole ends your space adventure forever? That’s the name of the game in Spaceteam, a cooperative, communication-based game where you have to accomplish various tasks with your fellow players while sharing tools. It’s delightful chaos, and the 5-minute timer really adds something to the game play. A definite favorite around here. ($24.99)

Deluxe Pairs (Hip Pocket Games)

Building on the legacy already established by the bar-friendly series of Pairs decks available, Deluxe Pairs offers a new artistic spin on the classic Pairs “Fruit Deck,” as well as a companion booklet with rules for numerous Pairs variants you can play with the deck! This isn’t just one card game, it’s dozens! ($17)

[Click here for our full review of Deluxe Pairs!]

Unspeakable Words (Playroom Entertainment)

Some word games might drive you mad, but only Unspeakable Words actually makes keeping your sanity part of the gameplay! As you spell different words, you have to make a die roll to see if spelling the word cost you a bit of your sanity. If you lose too much of it, you’ll start uttering unspeakable words, which can be worth more points… if your sanity can take it! A fun twist on Scrabble and other word-forming games. ($19.99; deluxe edition $24)

BRAWL (Cheapass Games)

Fighting games have been all the rage in the video game world for decades, but BRAWL lets you tackle the tactics and action of a fighting game right in your hand! Each character has a signature deck with their own moves, and with 60-second rounds and additional tournament rules, you get a lot of bang for your buck. ($8.50 per deck, two decks to play)

[Click here for our full review of BRAWL!]

Scrimish (Nexci)

Combine the card game War with elements of Chess and Memory, and you’ve got something approximating Scrimish, a card game that’s effortless to learn, but offers endless possibilities. Can you protect your crown card while hunting down your opponent’s? With cards for both defense and offense, there’s a lot packed into just 25 cards apiece! ($9.99)

[Check out our full product review of Scrimish by clicking here!]

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Timeline (Asmodee Games)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before or after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning) history! ($14.99 and up)

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The Oregon Trail (Pressman Toys)

The classic computer game comes to life as you and your fellow players team up to survive the perilous journey along The Oregon Trail. With art evoking old-school computer games, rampant threats and calamities to endure, and a long and challenging road to travel, will any of you will make it to Oregon? ($14.99)

[Check out our full product review of The Oregon Trail by clicking here!]

Better With Bacon and Just Coffee (Looney Labs)

These expansion packs for the sweet-serving card game Just Desserts add new faces and new desserts to keep the gameplay fresh and tasty! Whether you’re adding a bit of bite with the Better With Bacon set or pepping up your treats with the Just Coffee set, these expansions add new life (and calories) to an already terrific game. ($5 each)

[Click here to check out our full review of Just Desserts!]


Dice Games

Tenzi

All of us have rolled dice in games before, but can you roll what you need as fast as possible? That’s the challenge of Tenzi, a game that pits up to four players against each other in tests of speed and dexterity. Can you roll 10 6’s before everyone else? ($14.95)

Knot Dice (Black Oak Games)

Can you twist, turn, and spin these dice to complete beautiful, elaborate patterns inspired by Celtic knots? That’s the name of the game with Knot Dice, a dice game as challenging as it is gorgeous. With single-player and multi-player puzzles included, you’ll be tying yourself in knots for days! ($29.95)

[Click here to check out our full review!]


Party Games

Slapzi (Tenzi)

Slapzi will keep you on your toes. In this quick-reaction game, you’ve got to match your picture cards to the clue cards before your opponents. But with clues like “Not sold in a hardware store” or “Two of the same letter together,” this isn’t as easy as it appears! ($19.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of Slapzi!]

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Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze)

Are you the funniest, punniest one in your group of friends? Find out by playing Schmovie, the party game that pushes you to scribble down the best name for an imaginary movie created on the spot! Now redesigned in a sleeker box and playable by all ages, this is the movie game for everyone. ($19.95)

[Check out our full product review of the original version of Schmovie here!]


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in this year’s holiday puzzly gift guide!

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