PuzzleNation Product Review: Lunar Landing

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

ThinkFun has emerged as the premiere vendor of logic puzzles for solvers of all ages. Whether they’re challenging you with marbles, lasers, or electronic circuits, their complete-the-path games offer lots of puzzly fun.

Their latest offering, Lunar Landing, seems at first to fall into the same pattern, but as you learn the rules and begin tackling the challenge cards included, you quickly realize there’s more than meets the eye at play.

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In Lunar Landing, your goal is to pilot the red shuttle to an emergency entry port in the center of the landing grid. Sounds easy enough, right? But the twist is how you get there.

Scattered across the landing field are helper bots which help your shuttle move around the landing field. The shuttle can only move toward one of the helper bots in the same row or column. The shuttle must move from helper bot to helper bot until it reaches the emergency entry port.

Because Lunar Landing is set in space, the shuttle can’t just stop wherever it chooses. Once the shuttle is set on a path toward a helper bot, it continues along that path until it reaches that bot. This means you can pass right over the emergency entry port unless there’s a helper bot in the correct position to stop the shuttle on that red square.

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This movement mechanism is the engine behind each of the 40 challenge cards in the deck. Progressing in increasing difficulty from beginner to intermediate to advanced to expert, the challenge cards provide you with the starting layouts for each landing grid. You place the shuttle and helper bots as instructed, and then try to puzzle out how to complete the task at hand.

The early scenarios are all about moving the shuttle from place to place. In later challenges, you’ll have to move the helper bots as well, positioning them to form a path that’ll bounce your shuttle to the center of the grid.

The helper bots move in the same way as the shuttle — toward another helper bot along a row or column — and as the scenarios evolve, you’ll rely on moving the helper bots more and more.

It’s a bit like a sliding-tile puzzle, since you can only move the shuttle along certain paths, as determined by the locations of the helper bots. Many of the challenge cards can only be conquered by setting up a chain reaction, which gives Lunar Landing the feeling of a one-person chess game: You’re trying to see several moves ahead, looking for the perfect sequence of moves that will let you achieve victory.

Taking a simple scientific concept — objects in motion tend to stay in motion — and building a logic game around it is very clever, and it makes for a solving experience that feels new and challenging. Since each piece can potentially move, depending on the challenge card layout, there are more variables at play here than in previous ThinkFun logic puzzles.

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The helper bots are modeled on classic robot designs from the 1940s and 1950s, and that adds to the game’s charm, as if the vivid Technicolor visions that predated the Space Race have finally been realized.

The landing grid doubles as storage for the challenge cards and game pieces, making for an easily transported puzzle game that can be enjoyed anywhere at the drop of a hat.

Lunar Landing continues the fine tradition of ThinkFun puzzle games, keeping even experienced puzzlers on their toes with inventive gameplay and outside-the-box thinking. What a treat.

Lunar Landing is available from ThinkFun through Amazon and other online retailers. Click here to check out other ThinkFun product reviews!


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Knot Dice

Celtic knot designs are both gorgeous and intricate, allowing for elaborate unbroken paths to be formed within circles, crosses, and other shapes. Game designer Matthew O’Malley found inspiration in those wonderfully interwoven images, and the result is the subject of today’s review.

In the puzzle game Knot Dice, you have eighteen identical six-sided dice featuring a different pattern on each face of the die. In order to form a completed design — in either one dimension or three dimensions — a solver uses the patterns on each face to form unbroken paths.

[The six faces of a Knot die. Top row: end-cap, chain, branch;
Bottom row: sharp corner, rounded corner, crossing.]

There are rulebooks included for both single-player puzzles and multi-player games.

The puzzles center around completing designs by moving dice, sliding them, or rotating them, depending on the puzzle, and many of the puzzles begin with starting patterns provided by the game designer. These puzzles are simple and quite elegant, making wonderful use of the various patterns on each die.

The games are a bit more inventive, many of them centered around Celtic history and mythology. Whether you’re collaborating with other players to build elaborate knotworks, racing to complete different knots, or capturing your opponent’s token, there are numerous clever and creative ways to employ the patterned dice to their fullest potential. (Both the game and puzzle booklets contain a 4×4 game board and a page on which to track your scores.)

But the best part about this puzzle game? The dice. They’re beautiful, and the rich green shading makes the intricate patterns pop, drawing the eye immediately. (I must admit, I’m probably biased design-wise, as I have a set of roleplaying dice with the exact same color patterns.)

The game took almost a year to deliver to Kickstarter backers, and much of that time was spent making sure that the mass-produced dice for the game met the high standards of O’Malley’s early designs. He wanted the dice to be vivid, polished, and usable for the numerous puzzles and games that had been devised for the set. That rigorous attention to detail and demand for perfection has paid off in truly eye-catching fashion.

Knot Dice puts a new twist on traditional dice games, and the fluid gameplay and design will appeal to both puzzlers and game fans alike. This game was definitely worth the wait.

[Knot Dice is a Black Oak Games product and available online here!]


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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!