Board Games: A Good Reason to Gather

Are board games the cure for what ails ya?

According to Quartz writer Annaliese Griffin, they just might be.

She suggests that board games provide a “temporary respite from the problems of 21st-century life.”

By bringing people together — something often lacking from today’s increasingly isolated lifestyles where people interact more through social media than face-to-face engagement — board games become a community builder, a catalyst for socialization.

From the article:

A good board game builds in enough chance so that any reasonably skilled player can win. Even in chess, famously associated with warfare and military strategy, the emphasis is not on who ultimately wins, but on the ingenuity that players display in the process.

In all of these ways, board games release players — however temporarily — from the maxim that life is divided into clear, consistent categories of winners and losers, and that there is a moral logic as to who falls into which category. As film and media studies professor Mary Flanagan tells The Atlantic, board games prompt us to reflect on “turn-taking and rules and fairness.”

[Image courtesy of Catan Shop.]

What’s interesting to me about the article is that she mentions Euro-style games like Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne — which are two of the industry leaders, no doubt — but still games that pit players against each other.

What’s interesting to me about an article that’s meant to be about how board games can make you “a nicer person with better relationships” is that the author focuses exclusively on competitive games. I am a huge fan of a smaller subsection of board games — cooperative games — which invite the players to team up against the game itself. You collaborate, strategize, and work together to overcome challenges, succeeding or failing as a group.

In cooperative games, the glow of your successes are heightened because you get to share them with your teammates. And the failures don’t sting as much for the same reason.

[Image courtesy of Analog Games.]

Co-op games like SpaceTeam, Castle Panic!, Forbidden Island, The Oregon Trail card game, and Pandemic — not to mention many roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons — reinforce the positive, social qualities of all board games. I highly recommend checking them out.

And with the rise of board game cafes like The Uncommons in New York and Snakes and Lattes in Toronto, plus play areas at conventions like Gen Con and events at your Friendly Local Game Shop, there are more opportunities than ever to engage in some dice rolling camaraderie.

You can even make it a regular thing. Every Wednesday, we play a game at lunch time, and it quickly became one of the highlights of the week. (This week, we celebrated winning Forbidden Desert on our Instagram account! I always intend to post something every Game Wednesday, but I often forget because I’m so focused on playing the game.)

Take the time out to enjoy puzzles and games. You won’t regret it.


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Apps you can play in a snap!

stopwatch

Last week, I did a rundown of board games and card games you can play in under 15 minutes. Games that were travel-friendly were also highlighted, since they tend to be quick-to-play and easy-to-learn.

But when it comes to quick-play games that are travel-friendly, you can’t get much easier or more accessible than the puzzle and game apps on your phone! Whether you’re stuck in traffic, trapped at the dentist’s office, or hiding in the bathroom during a family gathering, these are always ready to play!

android_zpsc9tsleav

Naturally, we have to start with the Penny Dell Crossword App! Not only do you have smart navigation to move you to partially filled-in entries and dozens upon dozens of the best crosswords around, but there’s the free daily puzzle for all app users! Plus, it’s available for both Android and iOS users!

farkle

For the dice game fans in the readership, Farkle is a quick-play version of Yahtzee. You roll six dice, looking for three of a kind, three pairs, and other key combinations in order to earn points. It’s an easy game to pick up whenever you wish, making it ideal for players on the move.

wordbrain

If you’re a word seek or word search enthusiast, Wordbrain might be right up your alley. This Boggle-style game is all about finding words spelled out in grids. As the grids get bigger, more words are hidden inside, and the difficulty level increases. But when it comes to quick-play games, the early rounds of Wordbrain are tough to match for sheer speed.

[The Boggle variant Ruzzle was also mentioned by several PuzzleNationers.]

7littlewords

7 Little Words is a clued puzzle where you assemble the answers from two- and three-letter chunks in the grid below. It’s a clever variation on crosswords, and it can be surprisingly challenging to cobble together the correct words when you stare at odd letter combinations like NHO or OOV.

minimetro

For a quick-play resource management game, there’s Mini Metro. It’s up to you to construct and maintain a subway line for commuters. The more you can deliver between stations efficiently, the better. It’s a bright, colorful, engaging way to test your puzzly skills.

[Other puzzly building games include Triple Town, where you combining matching items in threes to build up a neighborhood into a town, and City2048, which applies the same tile-matching as the number game 2048, but in order to build a city.]

bejeweled_007

Bejeweled Blitz also got several recommendations from members of the PuzzleNation readership. It offers the same pattern-matching that made Bejeweled and Candy Crush such big hits, but does so with only sixty seconds of gameplay. So if you’re looking for some match-3-style gaming without a big time commitment, this might be the puzzle app for you.

reallybadchess

Finally, we’ve got Really Bad Chess, a puzzly take on the classic game. The main difference? You don’t know what pieces you’re going to end up with until you start a match. It completely upends most of the strategy that goes along with traditional chess, which makes it endlessly replayable.

Honorable mentions go to QuizUp (a Trivial Pursuit-style trivia game) and Joon Pahk’s Guess My Word, as well as all the board game adaptations like Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Splendor, that experienced players could play quickly, but don’t necessarily fit the bill.

Are there any favorite quick-play apps of yours that I missed? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!


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100 Games to Know!

PAX East is one of several conventions under the PAX brand, all of which are dedicated to gaming. Created by the folks behind the popular webcomic Penny Arcade, PAX East has become a premier destination for video games, board game creators, and gaming enthusiasts from all walks of life.

One of the panels this year featured prolific puzzler and game creator Mike Selinker, author of The Maze of Games and creator of numerous popular board games and card games, including Unspeakable Words, Pathfinder, and many others.

He hosted a panel entitled 100 Games You Absolutely, Positively Must Know How to Play, and over the course of the hour-long event he ran down 100 board games, card games, and video games that he considers to be essential knowledge for every game fan and game designer.

He stressed that this was not a list of the 100 best, the 100 most important, or the 100 most fun games, and that virtually every person’s opinion would vary.

And then he laid out a fantastic list of games in many styles and formats:

  • Tabletop RPGs (Dungeons & Dragons, Fiasco)
  • Electronic RPGs (The Legend of Zelda, The Secret of Monkey Island)
  • Deduction Games (Clue, Mafia)
  • Tile Games (Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Settlers of Catan)
  • Tabletop puzzle games (Scrabble, Boggle)
  • Electronic puzzle games (Myst, Bejeweled, Portal, You Don’t Know Jack)
  • Platformers (Super Mario Bros. 3, Katamari Damacy, Limbo, Braid)
  • Simulators (Madden NFL, Starcraft, FarmVille, Minecraft)
  • Traditional card games (Fluxx, Gloom, Uno)
  • Deck-construction games (Magic: The Gathering)
  • Electronic action games (Mario Kart 64, Halo, Plants vs. Zombies)
  • Rhythm games (Dance Dance Revolution, Rock Band)
  • Strategy board games (Ticket to Ride, Pandemic)
  • Tabletop war games (Stratego, Axis & Allies)
  • Open world video games (Grand Theft Auto, World of Warcraft)
  • Creative tabletop games (Cards Against Humanity)

Several favorites of mine made the cut — like Mafia, a brilliantly simple murder mystery card game requiring nothing more than a deck of cards — and he had excellent reasons for including every game and excluding others.

Although plenty of worthy games didn’t get mentioned, I can’t come up with any game styles that Selinker missed, nor can I come up with any particular games that were egregiously excluded. I love Qwirkle, Timeline, and Castellan, for instance, but I feel like each of those gaming styles were well represented.

[He was careful to cover his bases.]

Can you think of any that the keen eye of Selinker missed, my fellow puzzlers? Let me know!

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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Games Across the World edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to revisit International Games Day!

The American Library Association has been promoting community through gaming for years with International Games Day, and last Saturday, November 15, was the latest edition of this marvelous holiday.

Libraries across the world opened their doors to puzzle fans, board game devotees, card players, gamers, and especially families, inviting them to socialize and share culture through a common medium: games!

I’ve been meandering through photo archives, checking out all the great events and fun ways people have gotten into the IGD spirit.

Check out this giant-sized Settlers of Catan board, created by one intrepid dad so more kids could get in on the fun!

Each year, game and puzzle companies donate to libraries, giving both needy libraries and newbie game players the chance to try out some terrific games. This year was no exception, as Ravensburger, USAopoly Games, Steve Jackson Games, and Looney Labs all donated games to various libraries in support of this terrific holiday.

[Two tweets from a grateful librarian after some awesome donations to their upcoming IGD event.]

But, of all the anecdotes I’ve encountered, my favorite concerns an event hosted at last year’s International Games Day: the Global Gossip Game.

You know the game Telephone, right? Where you whisper a message in your friend’s ear, and they whisper what they heard to another person, and so on and so on, and eventually, you see how the original message has changed from the beginning?

Imagine that, but touching all 7 continents.

From the ALA.org site:

The game began in Geelong, Australia, as “Play is training for the unexpected” (from a paper by biologists Spinka, Newberry and Bekoff).

It then traveled through Antarctica, Asia, Africa and Europe, then branched twice in the Americas. The three endings on the day were:

“I love the world” in Washington, DC;
“Zombie” in Winlock, Wash.; and
“Clouds travel around the world” in Talkeetna, Ark.

In all, the GGG had 840 participants and ran for 29 hours straight, through 74 libraries in 18 international jurisdictions and 6 languages. The longest branch traveled 114,609 kilometers (71,230 miles), and the total distance traveled was 151,927 kilometers (94,423 miles).

Now THAT is some international community building.

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Are you game for this?

[GameHaus Cafe in Glendale, California.]

A few months ago, I wrote about the increasing popularity of bar trivia nights, as well as the growing trend of puzzly sister events like Puzzled Pint‘s bar puzzles.

As it turns out, coffee shops and cafes are also getting in on the action by putting their own spin on the perfect marriage of game-and-drink: the board game cafe.

[The Haunted Game Cafe in Fort Collins, Colorado]

Friend of the blog Peter Kanter pointed me toward a New York Times Sunday edition article covering a board game cafe with an impressive pedigree.

The Uncommons, billed as Manhattan’s first and only board game cafe, awaits puzzle and board game fans at 230 Thompson Street in New York City. Located at the former site of the Village Chess Shop, a New York gaming institution in its own right, The Uncommons charges a mere $5 fee to try out any of the games adorning the shop’s many shelves.

Everything from Mouse Trap to Settlers of Catan can be found there, including two favorites of mine that were apparently new to the author of the NYT article. (In an otherwise positive and enlightening article, she refers to Tsuro, a wonderful path-laying tile game, as “a complicated-looking setup,” and Qwirkle, a color-and-shape-matching game mixing elements of Uno and Mexican Train dominoes, as “abstract.”)

But The Uncommons is hardly the only board game cafe making a name for itself.

[Snakes and Lattes in Toronto, Ontario, Canada]

In addition to the cafes pictured in this post, the Spielbound Board Game Cafe in Omaha, Nebraska — which, much like The Uncommons, was partially crowdfunded by Kickstarter donations — is building a strong reputation as a Midwest bastion of family-friendly board game goodness.

Not only are board game cafes a terrific way to socialize with fellow puzzlers and board game aficionados, but you can try out a game before investing in your own copy. AND you can inject some revenue into a local business. It’s win-win-win.

Is there a board game cafe near you, fellow puzzlers? I’ve heard great things from a friend about one in the Winston-Salem area of North Carolina, and I’d love to hear more about the spots near you!

Seeing board games moving beyond the hobby shops and out into the social arenas of towns and cities is terrific, bringing us all one step closer to global puzzle-game domination.

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Tile style puzzling!

Tile puzzles and tile games have been with us for centuries, but I daresay they’ve never been as prominent in our game/puzzle culture as they are these days.

Let’s start with the basics: dominoes.

Chinese Dominoes, which are slightly longer than the regular ones pictured above (not to mention black with white pips), can be traced back to writings of the Song Dynasty, nearly a thousand years ago. Dominoes as we know them first appeared in Italy during the 1800s, and some historians theorize they were brought to Europe from China by traveling missionaries.

The most common form of playing dominoes — building long trains or layouts and trying to empty your hand of tiles before your opponent does — also forms the core gameplay of other tile-based games, like the colorful Qwirkle, a game that combines dominoes and Uno by encouraging you to create runs of the same shape or color.

A tile game with similarly murky origins is Mahjong, the Chinese tile game that plays more like a card game than a domino game. (Mahjong is commonly compared to Rummy for that very reason.)

Mahjong has been around for centuries, but there are several different origin stories for the game, one tracing back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), another to the days of Confucius (500 BC). The gameplay itself is about matching tiles (called melds) to build winning hands.

Rummikub, another tile game (but with numbers instead of characters on the tiles) also resembles card games in its gameplay, and anyone who has played Texas Rummy or Go Fish will instantly recognize the gameplay of building runs (1, 2, 3, 4 of the same color, for instance) and sets (three 1s of different colors, for instance).

All of these games employ pattern matching and chain thinking skills that are right in the puzzler’s wheelhouse, but some more modern tile games and puzzles challenge solvers in different ways.

The game Carcassonne is a world-building game wherein players add tiles to an ever-growing landscape, connecting roads and cities while placing followers on the map in order to gain points. Here, the tiles form just one part of a grander strategic puzzle, one encouraging deeper plotting and planning than some other tile games.

The Settlers of Catan also involves tile placement, but as more of a game starter, not as an integral part of the gameplay. Both Fluxx: The Board Game and The Stars Are Right employ tile shifting as a terrific puzzly wrinkle to their gameplay.

Our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles have a puzzle combining crosswords and tiles, Brick by Brick, which encourages the solver to place the “bricks” on the grid and fill in the answers.

And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the most popular electronic tile game in modern memory, Tetris.

Tetris — which turns 30 this year! — requires quick thinking, good spatial recognition, and an ability to plan ahead (especially for those elusive four-block pieces that can eliminate four rows at once!). There are plenty of puzzles that employ similar tiles — Blokus, tangrams, and pentominoes come to mind — but none that have engendered the loyalty of Tetris.

Last but not least, there are the sliding-tile puzzles. These puzzles take all the challenge of tile placement games like Dominoes and add a further complication: the tiles are locked into a frame, so you can only move one tile at a time.

Frequently called the Fifteen Puzzle because the goal is to shift all 15 numbered tiles until they read out in ascending order, sliding-tile puzzles are chain solving at its best. Whether you’re building a pattern or forming a picture (or even helping a car escape a traffic jam, as in ThinkFun’s Rush Hour sliding-tile game), you’re participating in a long history of tile-based puzzling that has spanned the centuries.

Heck, even the Rubik’s Cube is really a sliding-tile game played along six sides at once!

[Be sure to tune in on Thursday, when I explore tile-based word games like Scrabble!]

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