PuzzleNation Product Review: Roller Coaster Challenge

ThinkFun’s products are all about learning through experimentation. Whether you’re making music note-by-note with Compose Yourself, mastering the basics of programming in Robot Turtles, or tackling complete-the-path puzzles with marbles, lasers, robots, or electronic circuits, kids and adults alike get the chance to put their puzzly chops to the test.

Roller Coaster Challenge is the largest, most ambitious ThinkFun puzzle game to date, featuring several dozen pieces and challenge cards galore to test your ability to bend momentum and gravity to your will as you complete unfinished roller coaster tracks!

[With multiple track lengths, posts for building support pylons, 90-degree turns to navigate, and even a loop you can construct, you’ve got all the ingredients you need for a roller coaster worthy of the name.]

The concept is fairly simple. You have challenge cards that offer a starting layout. You’re given the beginning and ending points of the track, and some pieces in between. You are also told which pieces you’ll need to use to bridge the gaps and finish the track. Now it’s up to you to place them correctly and then test your creation with the little red roller coaster car.

Not only is the building plate bigger than those in any previous ThinkFun puzzle game, but the sky is the limit as you build onwards and upwards in order to solve your challenge card and give your little roller coaster car the ride of its life!

The challenge cards serve as the perfect introduction to solving the game’s puzzles, teaching the solver how to identify pieces by length, how to avoid missteps, and even how to get the most out of the available pieces.

But the challenge cards are just the beginning. Roller Coaster Challenge encourages you to develop your own roller coaster layouts, and even share them with the company!

After battling my way through numerous challenge cards of all difficulties — ranked from easy to super hard — I began indulging my creative side by constructing my own layout.

Naturally I had to go above and beyond, trying to weave two tracks together so one would use the loop, and the other would rocket the roller coaster car through the loop and over a gap before reuniting with the track itself.

[OSHA would shut down my roller coaster so fast…]

In terms of scale, creativity, and sheer visual panache, Roller Coaster Challenge is the most ambitious and impressive ThinkFun puzzle game to date. The DIY encouragement built into the solving experience really adds something extra to the enjoyable (and sometimes challenging) layouts provided by the game’s designers.

Roller Coaster Challenge was the result of ThinkFun’s first venture into crowdfunding, and when it came time to go big or go home, they went big, and solvers reap the benefits with this dynamic, fun product.

Roller Coaster Challenge is available through ThinkFun and other vendors for the very affordable price of $29.99.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: ThinkFun’s Laser Maze Jr.

Whether you’re unraveling locks and ropes in Houdini, bending gravity to your will in Gravity Maze, making music note-by-note with Compose Yourself, or mastering the basics of programming in Robot Turtles, playing with the puzzle games by ThinkFun always encourages you to learn while you solve.

Today, we see if Laser Maze Jr. matches the high standard set by those other puzzly products.

Now, for those of you familiar with the original Laser Maze, you might be expecting a simplified version, akin to the Jr. versions of Rush Hour or other puzzle games where the difficulty lessens but the game remains the same. Worry not. Laser Maze Jr. is actually a heavy redesign that keeps the best aspects of the original and tailors itself to players as young as 6, both in gameplay and in safety.

Perhaps the biggest change from the original is the board itself.

Not only is the laser fixed in place, but the board is surrounded by red plastic barriers that both protect young eyes and highlight where the beam is projecting at any given time. You would have to seriously tamper with the game to endanger your eyes with this layout; with the original, there was a greater (though still quite slim) chance that unmonitored gameplay could lead to an accident.

The laser also has a switch instead of a button to press, so if you choose, you can leave the laser on and see the beam’s path change as you add elements to the game board. As a learning tool, this is a super-helpful feature for younger minds. (The original encouraged more of a wait-and-see approach to placing the elements.)

The final change to the board’s layout involves the cards that provide the specifics of each puzzle. Instead of small cards that tell you which elements are fixed and which you add in order to solve the puzzle and light up the targets, the new cards actually slide into place beneath the board, showing you where to place the set pieces. Again, ease of setup and play is a main consideration.

The game pieces also got retooled. Instead of the gateway piece that players had to direct the laser beam through en route to the targets, Laser Maze Jr. has large rocks that block the laser’s path. This is a simple, effective way of providing obstacles for younger solvers to overcome.

The three light-up targets have been replaced with two light-up rockets. While this does eliminate some of the most complex puzzles from the original game, that’s forgivable, given that this is intended for younger solvers.

I was slightly disappointed with the laser, though. It’s less powerful than the previous one (either that or the rockets don’t light up as brightly as the original targets), and to be honest, part of the appeal of the puzzle is seeing your targets light up when you’re done!

[Taken at night with most of the lights off. Unless you’re willing to play in near-darkness — and use the night feature on your camera — the end result won’t be as bright.]

The 40 puzzles (2 on each challenge card) range from easy to super-hard, and solving them in order is a great way to slowly introduce new players to the game. Although “super-hard” is clearly a ranking for kids, not adults, the challenge of placing the beam splitter properly and avoiding the rocks is still a lot of fun for an older solver.

(Be careful when getting started, though; one of the explanatory graphics in the instructions is wrong. ThinkFun is aware of the error, and they’ll be correcting it on their next printing.)

In the end, I was pretty impressed with Laser Maze Jr. and the many changes made to tailor it to younger solvers, both in terms of safety and gameplay. While the laser is a little underwhelming, it doesn’t impact the gameplay too much, and the same solid foundation of logic and experimentation that drove the fun of the original is alive and well here.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Compose Yourself

Compose Yourself, ThinkFun’s latest offering, is unlike any product I’ve ever reviewed before, and that’s part of what makes it special. It is a single unending puzzle and a million different smaller puzzles all at once. It is literally as simple or as complex as you choose to make it.

You’re given sixty transparent cards (two copies each of thirty distinct note patterns). Each card features four different codes: one for the notes as they appear, one for the notes rotated 90 degrees, one for the notes backward, and one for the notes backward AND rotated 90 degrees. This allows for a staggering number of choices for a budding composer.

As you play around with placing the transparent cards in various order, you can log into the ThinkFun website and use the code provided to access a digital composing program.

[A picture of my first composition in progress…]

Input the codes from your layout of transparent cards in groups of four — as many as you wish! — and then click play. You can hear your new composition played on marimba, performed by an orchestra, or in both modes simultaneously!

Now, I confess, I am not a musically inclined person, but after fifteen minutes or so playing around with random cards — placing, flipping, reversing, and rotating them — I finally clicked play, and I was surprised by the results. (I’d unintentionally created a tune that felt perfect for the background of a Legend of Zelda game. *laughs*)

It feels like your work comes to life at your fingertips. And all you can think about is how to improve it, how to make the most of it, and how new cards will change it.

Each card represents part of a puzzle, and you may have no idea what the finished product will be, but that doesn’t make the process any less satisfying. This is old-school free-form creativity, like dipping your hands into a bucket of LEGOs, pulling out some pieces, and seeing what you can create.

ThinkFun has challenged us in the past with puzzlers like Houdini and Gravity Maze, and they’ve offered younger solvers the chance to learn coding in Robot Turtles and optics in Laser Maze, all while enjoying an experience that feels like play because it IS play.

But they’ve truly outdone themselves with Compose Yourself; it’s a learning experience, a creative experience, and a puzzly experience all at once. What a treat.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

PuzzleNation Product Review: Rush Hour Shift and All Queens Chess

ThinkFun has always specialized in games that educate as you play, from the optics and angles of Laser Maze and the chain problem-solving of Gravity Maze to the coding-for-kids gameplay of Robot Turtles and the mental agility challenges of their Brain Fitness line of puzzles-for-one.

Two of their newest products bring the best of those puzzles-for-one brain fitness games into the realm of head-to-head competitive solving for two players aged 8 to adult. And while All Queens Chess and Rush Hour Shift focus on two different styles of puzzle-solving, they both highlight the pluses of two-player puzzle games in their own unique ways.

Rush Hour Shift

There have been numerous variations on Rush Hour in the past, all of which center around the same tile-shifting mechanic: moving a series of cars around the board in the proper order to allow your car to escape the traffic jam.

Rush Hour Shift adds a new wrinkle to the puzzle by pitting two players head-to-head in a race to escape the traffic jam. But not only can players shift a personal car (known as the hero car) and the many cars in the way, they can also shift entire sections of the board in order to maximize their efforts to escape or thwart those of their opponent.

[Sometimes, you end up literally head-to-head.]

Your moves are dictated by the cards you draw from a small deck of options. You can either move a certain number of spaces, slide a vehicle as far as it will go before hitting an obstacle, or shift one side of the board or the other in order to create openings for yourself and further obstacles for your opponent. So not only are you solving an ever-evolving maze for your own car, but you’re trying to make your opponent’s maze more challenging.

My one caveat when it comes to Rush Hour Shift is that the game is incredibly dependent on which cards you draw. Between shifting the grid and moving both your hero car and all of the other cars, you have lots of options.

But if your opponent is drawing high-number cards and you’re not, there’s only so much you can do to slow them down or maneuver yourself in the hopes of staying in the game. A few good cards in a row can form a nearly insurmountable advantage.

That being said, Rush Hour Shift is a clever spin on a familiar formula, and a terrific way of introducing kids to the tile-shifting style of puzzle solving.

All Queens Chess

Many of the best games have extremely simple rule sets that still allow for major replayability and inherently complex gameplay, and All Queens Chess absolutely fits that bill.

You’ve got a 5×5 playing field, six queens each, and you’re trying to place four of your queens in a row Connect Four-style while preventing your opponent from doing the same. Each queen moves according to standard chess rules, except there’s no capturing of your opponent’s pieces. This puzzle game is all about placement and strategy.

And when you consider that the game pieces occupy nearly half of the playing area, it’s remarkable that there’s so much maneuverability and tactical potential in such a confined space.

Moreover, my expectation that, after a few games, the inability to capture and remove pieces from the board would prove tedious or frustrating was completely misproven. Six pieces is enough to strike a strong balance of offense (trying to place four in a row) and defense (preventing my opponent from doing so). I never felt locked into a few token moves.

This is a rare open-the-box-and-go puzzle game, and it’s an absolute treat.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

PuzzleNation Product Review: Puzzometry

In the past, I’ve reviewed a few products — Robot Turtles and The Maze of Games, for example — that were crowdfunded before reaching the open market, but today’s product is the first where I’ve completely observed the process from campaign launch to holding the product in my hands.

Today’s product review is Puzzometry, a jigsaw-style piece-placement puzzle with a serious challenge factor.

You’ve got 14 puzzle pieces to place into the frame pictured below, and there’s only one way to place every piece and complete the puzzle. Can you find it?

Created by Jim Fox, Puzzometry had a bit of a rocky road to realization. The initial Kickstarter campaign failed to meet its lofty goals, but Fox, who had remained totally honest and forthright with his backers from day one, reached out to his supporters and presented two possible options: either relaunch on Kickstarter with a lower funding goal or immediately shift all of his efforts to an e-commerce site.

In a close vote, the backers opted for another Kickstarter campaign, which was funded within an hour of launching! In fact, the second campaign was ten times more successful than the original campaign!

Puzzometry comes in three flavors:

  • Puzzometry, which has 14 pieces to fit into the frame
  • Puzzometry Jr., which is smaller and has only 7 pieces to fit into a smaller frame
  • Puzzometry Squares, which also has 14 pieces, but eschews the octagonal shape of many Puzzometry pieces for right angles and more Tetris-like shapes to fit into the frame

[A sampling of Puzzometry’s signature puzzle pieces.]

There’s only one solution that allows you to place every piece in the frame, and the difficulty is a credit to the game’s impressive design. The pieces are all interesting, interlocking in unexpected ways and challenging even savvy jigsaw solvers.

At this point, I’ve only solved Puzzometry Jr. and Puzzometry (I haven’t picked up a copy of Squares yet), and found them both to be great fun. Puzzometry Jr. will be an easy task for older solvers, but it’s a perfect fit for younger puzzlers to introduce them to puzzles beyond the jigsaw format.

Plus, Fox includes instructions for a two-player game called Puzzometry Keepout, which is similar to Blokus. Each player chooses pieces, as if they’re drafting players for a dodgeball team. Then, once all the pieces are allocated, the players take turns placing pieces in the frame. You take turns until someone can’t fit one of their remaining pieces into the frame.

All three versions of Puzzometry are now available on the Puzzometry website, so check them out. They’d make a fine addition to any puzzler’s library.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

PuzzleNation 2014 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Category

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2014 Holiday Gift Guide!

We’re overjoyed to have 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 apps, puzzle books, downloadable puzzles and puzzles by mail, jigsaw puzzles, puzzle games, board games, card games, and party games. We’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for any puzzler on your list!


Puzzle Apps

Naturally, you’ll forgive us for starting off with a link for some familiar puzzle apps!

Click these links for all the details on the Penny Dell Crossword App for iOS devices, Classic Word Search for Android and Kindle Fire, our Sudoku App and more!


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!

Whether it’s their Sudoku Spectacular, the Only Yesterday Word Seek looking back across the decades, the Crossword Extravaganza collecting some of the best puzzles around, or their Home for the Holidays Signature Puzzle gift bundles — with an all Word Seek collection (pictured above), an all Crossword, an all Fill-In, and many more options — Penny/Dell has you covered.

And right now, they’re offering 15% off their Selected Puzzles and Dell Collector’s Series books with the offer code “SNOW15”!

And for more specialized puzzle books, some high-level constructors have books of their own for your perusal! With New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some puzzlers within these pages!

–Ian Livengood’s Sit & Solve® Sports Crosswords

–Rich Norris’s A-to-Z Crosswords

–Doug Peterson’s Easy ABC Crosswords

–Jeff Chen’s puzzles for Bridge enthusiasts

–Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Sit & Solve® Marching Bands

–Patrick Blindauer’s Quick-As-A-Wink Crosswords and Wide-Screen Crosswords

The Maze of Games by Mike Selinker

And we simply have to mention one of the most innovative puzzle books released this year, the interactive puzzle novel The Maze of Games! Allowing the reader to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of puzzles, this is a one-of-a-kind solving experience. ($49.95 in hardcover, $20 in ebook format)

[Click here to check out our full review!]

Tic Tac Tome by Willy Yonkers

And if you’re looking for a one-on-one solving experience, pit your mind against the Tic Tac Tome and see if you can beat the book at Tic Tac Toe. ($11)

[Click here to read our full book review!]


Downloadable Puzzles and Puzzles by Mail

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

The Uptown Puzzle Club (puzzle bundles by mail)

The Crosswords Club (puzzle bundles by mail)

Patrick Blindauer PuzzleFests (puzzle bundles by email)

David Steinberg’s Chromatics (color-themed puzzles)

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles)

–Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest


Jigsaw Puzzles

These are beautiful puzzles with a sense of history, designed to be assembled or unraveled by patient hands and hungry minds!

Baffledazzle

Baffledazzle offers absolutely gorgeous jigsaw puzzles-with-a-twist, allowing the solver to learn about different cultures and uncover deeper mysteries as you place each piece. Whether you’re rediscovering ancient board games with Cirkusu, exploring the animal kingdom with Ozuzu, or running in circles with Code Breakers, you’ll find that these high-quality puzzles are more than meets the eye. (Prices range from $25 to $125)

Tavern Puzzles

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to free your heart from the tangled pieces of Heart’s Desire or remove the ring from the Iron Maiden, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($22)


Puzzle Games

These one- and two-player puzzle games are perfect to train your brain and keep you guessing!

Gravity Maze, Robot Turtles, and Laser Maze (ThinkFun)

ThinkFun meshes learning and gameplay with three logic games ready to challenge kids and adults alike. Whether it’s the marble-dropping path-building of Gravity Maze ($24.99), the basics of programming brought to you by turtles and towers in Robot Turtles ($29.99), or the study of optics and mirrors with an actual laser in Laser Maze ($26.95), young minds and older minds will soon be in fighting trim for puzzling!

[Check out our full product reviews of Gravity Maze by clicking here, Robot Turtles by clicking here, and Laser Maze by clicking here!]

Rudenko’s Disk and Collide-O-Cube (Brainwright)

Brainwright has a few color-based puzzles to brighten your holidays! Whether it’s the pattern-matching Collide-O-Cube ($19.99), which adds a touch of randomness by incorporating magnets into their blocks, or the more challenging post-sliding and strategy-demanding Rudenko’s Disk ($9.99), these are great gateway puzzles to bring young solvers to the table.

[Check out the full reviews of Rudenko’s Disk and Collide-o-Cube by clicking here!]

Pink Hijinks (Looney Labs)

Part of Looney Labs’ multi-colored Pyramids series, Pink Hijinks is a quick-to-play strategy game for two players! Roll the dice, make your move, and try to race your opponent to the finish in this easily transported game of tactics! ($12)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Word Winder (David L. Hoyt)

Word Winder (also available in app, puzzle book, and GIANT versions!) is a game of finding chains of hidden words in an ever-changeable grid! Put your strategy and spelling skills to the test! ($19.95)


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!

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!]

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. ($29.99)

Walk-By Scrabble Board, Lexicographer’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 ($39.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($199.95) — 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!]

Bananagrams Wild Tiles (Bananagrams)

The board game that requires no board, Bananagrams Wild Tiles is the latest variation on the beloved tile game, and with the introduction of new Wild Tiles that can stand in for any letter, Bananagrams is only getting faster to play and more accessible to solvers of all ages! ($14.99)

[Check out our full review of Bananagrams Wild Tiles by clicking here!]

Qwirkle (MindWare)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train Dominoes, Qwirkle is all about placing your tiles to maximize points and minimize helping your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump right into! ($34.99)

Fluxx: The Board Game (Looney Labs)

Take a board game, and make the cards, goals, and board changeable, and you’ve got Fluxx: The Board Game. It’s the ultimate think-on-your-feet experience, and like nothing you’ve played before. ($30)

[Check out our full product review here!]


Card Games

These card games add a bit of friendly competition to some splendid strategizing for puzzlers of all sorts!

Pairs (Hip Pocket Games)

A simple card game with a lot of strategy behind it, Pairs is about NOT scoring points and avoiding pairing your cards at all costs. With numerous variant games available (depending on which deck you buy), Pairs is a perfect group card game you can pick up quickly. ($9.95)

The Stars Are Right (Steve Jackson Games)

Build an army of followers and change the stars themselves in The Stars Are Right, a thoroughly enjoyable card game where the goal is summoning an elder god and destroying the world. As you do. ($27.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Holiday Fluxx, Loonacy, and Chrononauts (Looney Labs)

The folks at Looney Labs are all about games where the rules can change in an instant. They’ve broadened their library of Fluxx card decks with a marvelous Holiday version ($15.99), as well as a fast-play Memory game they call Loonacy ($14.99)! Plus, you can always try to alter time itself in Chrononauts! ($20)

[Check out our full product reviews of Holiday Fluxx here, Loonacy here, and Chrononauts here!]

Get Lucky (Cheapass Games)

Everyone wants to kill Dr. Lucky, but as his name suggests, that’s no easy task. Get Lucky challenges you and your friends to a strategy game to see who will be the first to beat the odds and take down Dr. Lucky! (And there’s a secret puzzle lurking within this game that no one has solved yet!) Will you be the first to solve the puzzle OR kill Dr. Lucky? ($16.95)

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)


Party Games

Some puzzles are best enjoyed in groups, so here are a few fun options for party puzzling!

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! ($29.95)

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

ROFL! (Cryptozoic)

Challenge your friends to decode famous movie lines, catchphrases, and song lyrics in Cryptozoic’s game ROFL!!, created by Dork Tower‘s John Kovalic! Put your texting and abbreviation skills to the test in this laugh-out-loud party treat! ($35)

[Check out our full product review here!]


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in our holiday gift guide!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! And remember to check out our Facebook Giveaway for the chance to win a free puzzle app download!