PuzzleNation Product Review: Deblockle

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

Chess, checkers, backgammon, Go, Othello… all of the classic board games rely upon the idea that both players know how the pieces can and will move from round to round. That way, they can strategize, they can prepare defenses, they can circumnavigate your attempts to flummox them. To outmaneuver someone, you have to know how they can maneuver.

But what if your opponent could potentially move in five different ways? How would that alter your strategy? How would that alter your gameplay?

Beware, fellow puzzlers… one-on-one board gaming just got a little more complicated with Deblockle.

Masterminded by the team at Project Genius, Deblockle pits two players head to head to see who can remove their four blocks from the board first.

That’s right, there aren’t sixteen pieces to keep track of, like in chess, or twelve, like in checkers. There are just four blocks for you, and four blocks for your opponent.

But here’s where things get tricky. Each turn, you have two moves. The first move is to roll one of your blocks into an adjacent space (either vertically or horizontally).

The second move is to place your block according to whichever symbol that landed face-up because of that roll.

There are six symbols, each with a corresponding action:

  • Stop: your turn is over, there is no second move
  • Cross: move your block one space either horizontally or vertically
  • X: move your block one space diagonally
  • Hoops: move your block three spaces (vertically or horizontally) in any combination, including backtracking over a space you just occupied
  • Slider: move your block either vertically or horizontally until you reach the end of the row or column, or until you’re stopped by another block

With each of those second moves, you’re not rolling the block to reveal a new symbol; you’re picking it up and placing it into its new position.

And yes, there are six symbols, and I only listed five above. That’s because the sixth symbol, the star, can only be revealed if you’re rolling onto one of the star spaces on the board. By rolling the block star-side-up onto a star space, you remove the block from play.

That’s the only time you can roll your block star-side-up, and the only time you’re allowed to occupy a star space with your block.

There are only two star spaces on the board, and you can only remove your blocks from the game if you utilize the star space opposite you.

And that’s when things get really tricky. Because it’s entirely likely that your opponent’s blocks will prevent you from rolling onto the symbol you wanted. So you’re puzzling out how exactly to roll and move your blocks so you’ll end up adjacent to the star space with the star symbol waiting to be rolled face-up, and also playing defense to impede your opponent’s efforts to navigate and manipulate the board to their own advantage.

It’s a lot to keep track of, and it makes for an immensely engrossing, engaging puzzle duel for two players. You’ve got the resource management of Risk, the piece placement mechanics of chess, and the defensive gameplay of Stratego and other strategy games.

And since the blocks are placed in their starting positions by your opponent — after rolling them randomly to see which symbol is face-up to start — every game of Deblockle is different. Opening gambits — like those you can learn in chess — are useless, because you won’t know how you can move your blocks initially until your opponent places them.

There is a wonderfully fresh challenge factor to Deblockle that many other head-to-head board games lack. While playing the game over and over will allow you to develop techniques and skills for how to better move your blocks, there are no shortcuts to becoming a better player through sheer repetition, because each opening setup is different.

Project Genius has managed to stuff a massive amount of gameplay, strategy, and style into those four little blocks, and they’ve got a real winner on their hands here.

[Deblockle is available from Project Genius and other participating retailers, for players starting at 8 and up!]


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5 Questions with Christina Aimerito of Girls’ Game Shelf!

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And I’m excited to welcome Christina Aimerito as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Christina pulls double duty as both the creator and host of Girls’ Game Shelf, a YouTube series all about board games and card games. As the host, Christina introduces the game and explains the rules before she and a rotating panel of female players put the game to the test.

It’s the perfect one-two punch to learn about new games and classics alike, as you get the one-on-one how-to at the start, followed by a strong sense of what the actual gameplay looks and feels like. Couple that with insights from the other players, and you’ve got a recipe for a terrific show that highlights the best of both games and communal play.

Christina was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions for Christina Aimerito

1. How did you get started with games?

I played games when I was younger, but the normal fare: Taboo, Scattergories, Stratego, MasterMind, and other classics. I’ve always had a fondness for games. But I started playing more modern games a little later in life. My husband wanted to get me into it, so he introduced me to Dominion, which was a pretty wise choice. I’ve always liked collecting things and had never played a deck-building game before. So yeah, that got me hooked and opened the door to the world of board games.

2. What, in your estimation, makes for a great gaming experience? What separates a good two-player game from a good group game?

I enjoy games the most when there’s a good mix of strategy and conversation. A good two-player game and a group game still require those elements for me since I play games to interact with people.

The difference for me in two-player vs. large group games is more of a personal one. When I play a 2-player game, it’s usually to play with folks who are competitive and like strategy games. But in the group I play with, we have a pretty big variety of gamers. Some of them enjoy RPGs, some like heavy strategy, and often we have a newcomer to the table.

[Image courtesy of Geek and Sundry.]

The unifying element I’ve found is a game that forces people to interact with others during their turn. Games that lead people into analysis paralysis aren’t ever as exciting, and when there’s a group game we like to keep the energy up. Social deduction games, or games like Cosmic Encounter or Sheriff of Nottingham, are great because they involve everyone around the table.

3. You have a film background and a theater background. How do those aspects of your experience contribute to the process of making GGS, either in terms of production or in terms of being an on-camera personality?

Those aspects absolutely help me behind the scenes. In fact my background in film and theatre are what led me to create the series. I wanted to create a show so that I could get back in that creator headspace. I’m happy when I make things. Choosing a show about board games was a no-brainer because it was marrying the two things I loved most.

While my experience helped me off-camera in terms of producing, editing, and crafting the episodes, it surprisingly didn’t help me one bit in front of the camera. Playing a character is VERY different than being yourself. It was a terrifying experience for me at first. The whole first season I think I was just learning how to be comfortable with being myself instead of “getting it right.”

4. What’s next for Girls’ Game Shelf?

Well, we just started a podcast, so that’s the new baby right now. If that goes well, I’m very eager to start working on an RPG series with the girls. Whatever the case, Girls’ Game Shelf will certainly continue to make the original series, and hopefully down the line we’ll have the means to release more than one episode per month.

5. If you could give the readers, writers, aspiring YouTubers/podcasters, and game fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

For me, the first and most important thing is to be a good listener. Putting your voice out there takes guts, but listening takes discipline. It separates the good content from the stuff that feels heavy handed or forced. Truly listen to your peers, people you agree with, and people you disagree with in regards to the content you’re creating. This is part of doing your due diligence, but it’s also part of being a strong voice and a good host. I am constantly working on this for myself. Luckily, playing board games is usually a good training ground for it.

And secondly, be completely yourself. THAT is what people want to see. And if you’re trying to be anything but that, it will be so obvious. If you’re going to be podcasting or YouTubing, and feel anxious about this, then I highly recommend recording yourself in a few private episodes, just so you can gain that comfort before you share your voice with the world.


A huge thank you to Christina for her time. Be sure to check out Girls’ Game Shelf on YouTube, and to keep up on all things GGS on Twitter. To support this terrific show, you can check out the GGS Patreon page, which is loaded with bonus content, raffles, and more!

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PuzzleNation Product Review: Tak

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Puzzles and games are constantly advancing and innovating, incorporating new technologies, new production techniques, and a lengthy legacy to build upon. In this blog alone, we’ve looked at 3-D printed puzzles, logic games that involve actual lasers, and puzzles that were brought to life thanks to internet crowdfunding; none of these were possible fifteen or twenty years ago.

But today’s game is something different. It’s a brand new game that feels like a classic from centuries past, a board game that feels timeless.

Today, we’re reviewing Tak by James Ernest and Patrick Rothfuss.

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You may recognize Rothfuss’s name from his Kingkiller Chronicles novels, including The Wise Man’s Fear, where he first referenced the tavern game Tak. Now, game designer James Ernest has helped him bring the game to life.

Tak has a very simple concept: two players each attempt to build a road connecting opposite sides of the game board. The first player to successfully complete their road wins.

To do so, you place game pieces called stones, one at a time, on various spaces on the board. The stones can either be played flat (meaning they’re part of your road) or standing on edge (meaning they’re a wall, blocking any road’s passage through that space).

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It’s an easily grasped mechanic that allows for a great deal of gameplay flexibility. Since flat stones can be stacked, you can seize control of part of a road by placing your flat stone atop your opponent’s. Then again, your opponent could play his capstone, flatten one of your walls, and instantly make it part of his road.

The game can be played on boards as small as 3×3 and as large as 8×8, allowing for greater difficulty and strategic opportunities. And considering that you can move stacks of pieces (as long as your flat stone tops the stack), that opens the field even more for tactical moves to grant you control of more road.

With so many moves and countermoves available to the player, no two games of Tak feel alike, and even the puzzliest player will no doubt find themselves surprised by a cunning opponent. (And the game encourages this, since your very first move will be to place one of your opponent’s pieces on the board. Each player does this before continuing forward using only their own pieces.)

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This balanced system ensures that players stay engaged until the very last move, making for an elegant play experience that feels earned, win or lose.

The full title of the game is actually Tak: A Beautiful Game, and it’s hard to disagree. The simple, yet distinct game pieces grant an earthy, homegrown feel to the game, and the gorgeous art (both in the companion book and the Selas 3×3 game board, pictured above) only enhance the experience.

Rothfuss and Ernest have really outdone themselves with this one. Tak feels at home in the 21st century as it would in the 18th. That’s something both rare and special.

The core version of Tak is available through Cheapass Games, and you can find other boards and variations at The Tinker’s Packs.


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Kickstarter Round-up!

International TableTop Day is this Saturday, a day where we celebrate getting together with family and friends to play games! Board games, card games, role-playing games, puzzles…anything that involves gathering in person and having fun around a table fits the bill!

But we simply can’t wait until Saturday — plus the office is closed that day — so we’re hosting our PuzzleNation’s TableTop Day event in-house TODAY! And I figured what better day could there be for a round-up of puzzly crowdfunding campaigns marking some of the newest and most intriguing projects in the puzzle-game industry today!

I’ve covered various campaigns for board games, card games, and puzzle projects across the Kickstarter and Indiegogo crowdfunding platforms over the years, and today I’d like to share three more that could use your attention.

The first is the strategy game Tak.

Tak is a collaboration between game designer James Ernest, head honcho of Cheapass Games and Hip Pocket Games, and author Patrick Rothfuss, creator of the Kingkiller Chronicle series, to bring to life a game featured in Rothfuss’s novel The Wise Man’s Fear.

The premise sounds simple: build a road of pieces connecting opposite sides of the board. By using some pieces as parts of your road and others as walls to block your opponent, this mix of chess, Stratego, and Go is all about strategy. Plus, the game is adaptable, playable on square boards as small as 3×3 and as large as 8×8.

This is a new pub game that feels like a timeless classic, and it looks perfect for puzzlers of all ages.

Now let’s move from the pub to outer space with another Kickstarter campaign, Avoid the Void.

This is a different sort of strategy game, since it’s all about outlasting your opponents, not completing a task first. In Avoid the Void, whole sectors of space are being replaced with black holes, and everyone is scrambling to gather resources and elude these hungry death traps.

You’ve got an ever-changing gameboard, intriguing alien races (including one resembling a piece of cake), and all the reason in the world to deceive, outmaneuver, and betray your fellow players, just so you can stay in the universe a little while longer.

This is a game designed for replayability, allowing you to indulge in all of the diabolical selfishness of games like Monopoly, but without the huge time commitment. After all, the universe is collapsing and there’s no time to waste!

And speaking of replayability, the makers of this last Kickstarter campaign are known for puzzle games with high replay factor. Let’s talk about Pyramid Arcade from Looney Labs.

We normally talk about Looney Labs card games like Fluxx or Loonacy, but their original product line revolved around the Looney Pyramids system: various games you can play with their signature colored pyramids.

Now, they’re launching Pyramid Arcade, covering TWENTY-TWO different games and encompassing 90 pyramids of various colors. It’s their largest release ever, and with all the variants and mini-games they’ve created for these game pieces over the years, this promises to be a game set with endless possibilities.

Pattern-matching games, chess- and Tic-Tac-Toe-inspired games, bluffing games, strategy games, and even a tower-building game…Pyramid Arcade literally has something for everyone.


These are three intriguing and very worthy projects, and I hope you contribute to one or more of them. As someone who has become a regular donor to various Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns, I am proud to have funded some marvelous new ideas and watched them take shape over the months that followed.

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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!

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!