PDP Tabletop Tournament: Round 2

Last week, 15 intrepid members of the Penny/Dell Puzzles crew (as well as yours truly, your friendly neighborhood PuzzleNation blogger) embarked on the first stage of a four-week journey: The PDP Tabletop Tournament.

After fast and furious rounds of the anagram-fueled tile game Bananagrams and the pattern-matching card game On the Dot, the field was pared down from 16 enthusiastic puzzlers to 8 worthy contenders who triumphantly emerged, ready and willing to tackle whatever challenges awaited them in round 2.

Let’s find out what happened, shall we?

Round 2 kicked off in similar fashion to Round 1, as the 8 competitors were split into 4-person groups. Each group of four would play two games. Two winners — one from each game — would come from each foursome and move on to the next round.

The two games for Round 2? Qwirkle and Timeline.

Qwirkle is a tile game that mixes the gameplay of Mexican Train Dominoes with the Uno mechanic of matching colors or matching symbols. There are 6 different shapes and 6 different colors, and players score points by playing tiles from their hand on a communal gameplay area (similar to Scrabble or dominoes). Neighboring tiles can be the same color (a green square next to a green star) or the same shape (a red diamond next to a purple diamond). But you can’t repeat any tiles within a row (meaning that if a blue diamond is in a row of diamonds, you can’t play another blue diamond in that row).

You earn bonus points by completing Qwirkles — six-tile runs that either have 6 different symbols all of the same color or 6 different colored tiles with the same symbol. In our tournament, the player with the highest point total after 20 minutes would move on to Round 3.

Timeline is a card game where every card depicts a different moment in history, and the players are trying to place cards from their hand into a historically correct timeline. Players take turns adding cards to the timeline, placing them before or after previously played cards. You don’t have to know the exact year the event on a given card took place; you simply have to figure out when it happened in relation to the other events that have already been played.

You play your card, and then flip it over to reveal the actual year the event occurred. If you’re correct, the card stays, and you have one fewer card in your hand. If you’re wrong, the card is removed from the timeline and you draw a new card. The first player to place every card in their hand wins. (And moves on to Round 3.)

My group settled in for a game of Qwirkle while the other foursome set their sights on Timeline. (I didn’t name any players in Round 1 because that would’ve been 16 names for you to keep track of, but I’ll name players this time so you can follow along.)

Group 1 consisted of me, Nikki, Rick, and Sue; Group 2 consisted of Jen (last year’s champion), Jenn, Gordon, and Robin.

Qwirkle was an interesting choice for the second round, because it offered players less control than the games in Round 1. On the Dot has everyone using the same cards to match the pattern, so it comes down to speed and skill. Bananagrams has a random tile selection, but since you can change the grid at any time to accommodate new letter tiles, you have a lot of control in how you place things.

But with Qwirkle, you only have 6 tiles at a time to place, and you’re dealing with one communal play area. So you’re limited in what you can play by the tiles already on the board; if there are no diamonds on the board to match, for instance, you can’t play a diamond tile unless there’s another symbol on the board that’s the same color as your diamond tile.

Plus, you can’t just play a lot of tiles, if you have several that match, because you don’t want to leave openings for your opponents. If you add three different colored star tiles to the two already on the board, great, you’ve got 5 points. But you’ve left the board open for someone to play the sixth-colored star tile and score a Qwirkle, which means bonus points.

So you have to play both offensively and defensively at the same time.

And my opponents were all solid players, so I knew I had my work cut out for me. At our annual International Tabletop Day event, Sue usually plays Qwirkle, so I knew she knew the game well. And Nikki and Rick are both smart, tenacious players. (In Round 1, Rick nearly won On the Dot, and the Bananagrams game that followed was so close that we needed a tie-breaker game of Slapzi to determine the winner.)

Everyone was playing cautiously, trying to prevent others from landing those precious Qwirkle bonus points. (Although I think I was the only one who was actively sabotaging Qwirkles where possible, because hey, that’s part of the game, right?)

At the end of our twenty-minute session, everyone had played well. We all finished within ten points of each other. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be for your PN-blogging pal, as I was knocked out of the tournament here, alongside Qwirkle-savvy Sue.

But who was moving on? We didn’t know yet. You see, Nikki and Rick had tied at 60 points apiece, so a tie-breaker was needed. Yes, once again, Rick would be playing Slapzi.

Since I was busy with my group, I didn’t see any of the highlights from Group 2’s session of Timeline. All I knew was that Jenn was going through to the next round.

We switched games, and Group 2 started their Qwirkle game while we settled our tie with a round of Slapzi.

Both Nikki and Rick were quick on the draw — though there were a few questionable plays like this one:

In the end, Nikki bested Rick and moved on to Round 3.

The four of us then settled in for our game of Timeline. There was still a chance for me to salvage the day and continue onward to Round 3 in the proud name of PuzzleNation.

[My Timeline hand. Lots of Viking knowledge needed…]

Success in Timeline depends on two factors: how well you know the events in your hand, and which events get played on the timeline before your turn. For instance, you might have several events that you suspect took place in the 1800s, but you’re not sure when. If there are several cards with dates from the 1800s already in play, you could have a very hard time placing yours. But if the timeline features events from much earlier (like the taming of fire or the creation of the moon) or much later (like the creation of CDs or the launching of the space shuttle Discovery), then you’ll be able to place at least one of your cards with relative ease.

Naturally, the game gets tougher as the timeline fills out, and the gaps between cards get smaller.

The first few turns went well for everyone. I think it was our third go-around before someone incorrectly placed a card. Rick and I jumped ahead with some lucky guesses (I mean, skillful application of vast historical knowledge), and soon, we were each down to three of our original seven cards.

Unfortunately, I botched two cards in a row — including stupidly placing the Appeal of 18th June AFTER the events of World War II — and Rick calmly swooped in, placing his final card — the invention of basketball — in the correct gap in the timeline.

No tie-breakers for Rick this time; he was moving on to Round 3.

We wrapped up our game in time to settle in and watch the conclusion of Group 2’s Qwirkle match, which was a bit higher-scoring than ours. (There were definitely more Qwirkles scored in their game.)

In the end, a surprise upset occurred, and last year’s champion Jen was knocked out of the running by Gordon, who joined Nikki, Rick, and Jenn as the contenders in Round 3. So no matter who wins this year, we’re guaranteed a new champion. Unexpected!

So, alas, I shan’t be competing in either the semi-final or final round of this year’s tournament. But then again, that does free me up to take pictures, observe, add my own unique brand of obnoxious color commentary, and document the event in full for your reading pleasure.

Next week, the remaining four players will try their hand at a game unlike any they’ve encountered in the tournament thus far. Next week, it’ll be about strategy, cunning, bluffing, cutting deals, and a fair bit of trickery, as Nikki, Rick, Gordon, and Jenn play Sheriff of Nottingham.

The two players who score the most points will move on to the finals, which will be held at our annual International Tabletop Day event in the last week of April!

And, of course, a crown, scepter, and Game Night Gift Pack await the eventual champion.

To be continued…

[You can check in on the next round of the tournament live on Tuesday on our Instagram account!]


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Tabletop Day 2017: PuzzleNation Style!

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Saturday, April 29, is the fifth annual International Tabletop Day! Whether you play board games, role-playing games, card games, dice games, puzzles, or logic games, this is the holiday for you, family, and friends to come together and play games

Although the actual holiday is tomorrow — making today Tabletop Day Eve — we celebrated early! The PuzzleNation Crew got together with our friends from Penny Dell Puzzles for a few hours of Tabletop Day fun on Tuesday! Games were played, snacks were consumed, and fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers were introduced to some terrific games.

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[The spread of games available for the event. Can you name them all?]

As usual, the event started with people picking out their favorites and introducing new players to the game. Tsuro, a path-laying tile game where each player maneuvers a flying dragon across the board, was immediately snatched up by our first group of players.

While one table was occupied with Tsuro, I introduced several players to the quick-play pattern-matching card game Loonacy, which always lives up to its name. The fast-paced play and constantly changing images to match make for a fun intro game or a palate cleanser between longer-play games.

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More hands of Loonacy followed as the Tsuro players moved on to the runaway Kickstarter sensation Exploding Kittens. The players bravely tried to avert and avoid the catastrophes induced by various adorable, oblivious. combustible cats.

But, as you can see from the photo above, everything game-related immediately came to a halt when Tabletop Day Cake arrived!

Shout-out to fellow puzzler Jen Cunningham for delivering a delicious dice-shaped treat fit for experienced tabletoppers and board game newbies alike!

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After a much-appreciated cake break, we switched to dice games as several players filled their hands with colorful cubes and played Tenzi.

There’s something very enjoyable about hearing players shaking big handfuls of dice and preparing to roll them all at once. It’s like a drumroll. Great stuff.

As some players returned to work, others filtered in, and we opted to close out our Tabletop Day celebration with a bit of Apples to Apples.

It was a silly, mellow way to wrap up a terrific session of gaming. Another marvelous Tabletop Day success!

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[Naturally, people waited with baited breath to see who won our raffle AND this terrific Bananagrams tote bag full of games and goodies!]

So, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, how are you celebrating International Tabletop Day tomorrow? Let us know in the comment section! We’d love to hear from you! And remember to check out Tuesday’s post for ideas on how to participate in a Tabletop Day event near you!


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International Tabletop Day is almost here!

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Saturday, April 29 is International Tabletop Day, a day that has been set aside for family and friends to get together and 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!

Although the actual holiday is Saturday, we’re celebrating early around here! The PuzzleNation Crew is getting together with our friends from Penny/Dell Puzzles for a few hours of Tabletop Day fun this afternoon!

Games will be played, snacks will be consumed, and fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers will be introduced to some terrific games.

(Sadly, a lot of personal favorites will have to be excluded — Forbidden Island, The Oregon Trail card game, choice offerings from Cheapass Games and other great companies — because they take more than 30 minutes to play. It IS a work day, after all.)

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[The Nashville Public Library has an Eventbrite page up for their Tabletop Day Event.]

And as for the day itself, there’s a plethora of events to enjoy! Check out the official International Tabletop Day Facebook page for information, as well as your local library, community center, and friendly local game shops! There are sure to be events, game demos, get-togethers, parties, and more if you just go looking for them!

Heck, the crew at The Loft Game Lounge in Ottawa is even hosting a Tabletop Day Prom!

Oops, gotta go. It’s almost time for our Tabletop Day celebration. Let us know how you’re celebrating in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you!


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The Best of All Possible Puzzle/Game Worlds?

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[A sampling of the wide variety of modern puzzles and games. Fluxx cards, Bananagrams tiles, a wooden puzzle box, Pairs cards, David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register, Timeline cards, last month’s edition of The Crosswords Club, Puzzometry pieces, Cards Against Humanity cards, multi-sided roleplaying dice.]

This is the most exciting time in history to be a puzzler or board game enthusiast.

Think about it. If you want to play a game or solve a puzzle, you don’t have to go any farther than your pocket, since a plethora of puzzly goodness awaits you on your smartphone.

Puzzle apps are our bread and butter here at PuzzleNation, so this might feel like a cheap plug, but honestly, it boggles my mind how much more accessible puzzles and games are now than they were even five years ago.

And the app revolution is only one part of the story.

I was reading a book the other day, as I am wont to do on the long train rides to and from PuzzleNation HQ. Titled The Revenge of Analog, it was all about the cultural response to digital media, highlighting the resurgence of vinyl records, film, and other tangible alternatives to electronic formats.

In the chapter “The Revenge of Board Games,” the author discussed the social aspect of tabletop gaming, and how sitting down with people and playing a game is a far different, more rewarding experience than online gaming and other social media-based interactions. (A fine point to consider, what with International TableTop Day a little more than a week away.)

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While I do think that’s partially true, I also think that downplays the ingenuity of the puzzle/game community. I think we’re the best of both worlds.

I mentioned in my Tak review last week that puzzles are being created today that could not have been five or ten or twenty years ago. The advent of 3-D printing and laser cutters for homes and small businesses has brought design, construction, and promotion literally to the doorstep of entrepreneurial puzzlers.

Just last week I received a new edition of Puzzometry in the mail, a perk for supporting a team for a school robotics competition. This laser-cut plastic jigsaw will keep me guessing for hours (if its puzzly siblings are anything to go by), and it was designed and manufactured by a single individual.

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Old and new styles are meshing as never before. Many puzzle constructors are partially or fully supporting themselves via email puzzle subscriptions and direct sales to the customer. Events like the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games are organized and advertised mostly online.

Crowdfunding has leveled the playing field for many companies and designers in both puzzles and games, allowing more products than ever before to enter the market. (According to Kickstarter, tabletop game projects raised $52 million dollars in 2013, and that number has surely gone up in the meantime.)

You’ve got a proper board game renaissance as classic games and styles of play are meshing with new technology, and games from across the world are shared on YouTube, at Friendly Local Game Shops, or even in puzzle cafes like Toronto’s Snakes and Lattes or New York City’s The Uncommons.

Whether you’re a pen-and-paper solver or a Penny Dell Crossword App devotee, a fan of classics like Chutes and Ladders or a proud tabletopper experimenting with the newest games, this is an amazing time to be a puzzler or board gamer.

So keep playing. Keep puzzling. And share that with others.


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PuzzleNation Looks Back at 2016!

The year is quickly coming to a close, and as I look back on an eventful year in the world of puzzles and games, I’m unbelievably proud of the contributions both PuzzleNation Blog and PuzzleNation made to the puzzle community as a whole.

Over the last year, we explored board games and card games, strategy games and trivia games, dice games and tile games, do-it-yourself puzzlers and pen-and-paper classics. We met designers, constructors, authors, artists who work in LEGOs and dominos, and creative types of all kinds.

We unraveled math puzzles and used statistics to play Hangman and Guess Who smarter. We accepted the challenge of diabolical puzzles, optical illusions, Internet memes, and more.

We delved into puzzle history with posts about Bletchley Park, puzzle graffiti from ancient Greece, Viking board games, and modern mysteries like the Kryptos Sculpture and the Voynich Manuscript. We separated fact from fiction when it comes to puzzles and brain health, avoiding highfalutin promises and sticking to solid science.

We spread the word about numerous worthwhile Kickstarters and Indiegogo campaigns, watching as the puzzle/game renaissance continued to amaze and surprise us with innovative new ways to play and solve. We shared amazing projects and worthy causes like Humble Bundles and puzzle/game donation programs for schools that allowed puzzle lovers to help others.

We celebrated International TableTop Day, built a puzzle fort in honor of International Puzzle Day, attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games, and dove deep into puzzle events like the Indie 500, the UK Sudoku Championship, the 2016 UK Puzzle Championship, and Lollapuzzoola. We even celebrated a puzzly wedding proposal, and we were happy to share so many remarkable puzzly landmark moments with you.

It’s been both a pleasure and a privilege to explore the world of puzzles and games with you, my fellow puzzle lovers and PuzzleNationers. We marked four years of PuzzleNation Blog this year, I’m approaching my 650th blog post, and I’m more excited to write for you now than I was when I started.

And honestly, that’s just the blog. PuzzleNation’s good fortune, hard work, and accomplishments in 2016 went well beyond that.

In April, we launched Penny Dell Crosswords Jumbo 3 for iOS users, and in May, we followed that with Penny Dell Crosswords Jumbo for Android. In November, we launched our new Penny Dell Sudoku app on both Android and iOS.

But the standout showpiece of our puzzle app library remains the Penny Dell Crossword App. Every month, we release puzzle sets like our Dell Collection sets or the themed Deluxe sets for both Android and iOS users, and I’m proud to say that every single puzzle represents our high standards of quality puzzle content for solvers and PuzzleNationers.

We even revamped our ongoing Crossword Clue Challenge to feature a clue from each day’s Free Daily Puzzle in the Crossword app, all to ensure that more puzzle lovers than ever have access to the best mobile crossword app on the market today.

And your response has been fantastic! The blog is closing in on 2000 followers, and with our audience on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms continuing to grow, the enthusiasm of the PuzzleNation readership is both humbling and very encouraging.

2016 was our most ambitious, most exciting, and most creatively fulfilling year to date, and the coming year promises to be even brighter.

Thank you for your support, your interest, and your feedback, PuzzleNationers. Have a marvelous New Year. We’ll see you in 2017!


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Interactive Puzzling is Murder on a Work Day!

[Image courtesy of Carriageway.com.]

It all started with a board game at lunchtime.

TableTop Day is a popular annual event here at PuzzleNation, and several of my fellow puzzlers enjoyed it so much that they wanted it every week. Well, we couldn’t swing that — deadlines and all — so we play games every Wednesday during lunch.

During a particularly spirited round of 10 Minutes to Kill — a game where every player controls a hitman trying to take out three targets without being identified by the other players or the police — the subject of murder mysteries came up, and I let slip that I’d helped write and run several murder mystery dinners in the past.

[Image courtesy of Vancouver Presents.com.]

So, naturally, the idea of running a murder mystery at work became a recurring topic of discussion.

As a huge fan of interactive storytelling — be it tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, improv theater, LARPing, or other group activities — the idea appealed to me.

Of course, I had one huge hurdle to overcome: the work day.

You see, murder mystery dinners thrive on the theatricality of the event. Attendees can overhear arguments, catch snippets of banter and exposition as they walk around, and engage characters in conversation to learn more. The more you interact with the story, the better chance you have of solving the mystery, but even passive players will get the big picture.

But in a normal workday, I can’t stage big elaborate sequences, like a failed marriage proposal or someone tossing wine in another’s face. I’d have to find another way to deliver information, mysteries, and drama.

Thankfully, as a puzzler, I’m accustomed to writing clues. Cluing is simply delivering information in unexpected ways. Whether it’s through deceptive wordplay, puns, or connections with other entries, crosswords and logic problems are excellent training for being creative and stealthy while presenting important information.

So, I mapped out the murder and the characters I’d need to pull it off, and cast those characters from a group of fellow puzzlers. At the same time, I gauged interest from other coworkers to see who’d be interested in trying to crack the case, and began devising ways to weave them into the narrative. (This was more intimate than writing your usual murder mystery dinner for random attendees, since the latter is more about creating scenes than tailoring it to specific people and circumstances.)

[Can’t have a murder mystery without an animal for someone to pet fiendishly.
In this case, my trusty armadillo in a cowboy hat, Armando.]

My goal was to get everyone prepped to play on Monday, and then actually run the mystery on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the murder having occurred overnight.

Which led to another big hurdle. I couldn’t exactly stage an elaborate murder scene in a way that was unobtrusive to the workday, so I’d have to describe the scene to the players and let them ask questions about it.

But how do I leave clues for the players that are readily identifiable as clues and not just the ephemera of a working office? After all, any good murder investigation needs some convenient clues to uncover that will help unravel the mystery.

I opted to mark any clue (which were most often color pictures of actual items, like a stashed wallet or a threatening letter) with the symbol below, to remove any doubt that this item was involved someway in the murder mystery:

Okay, that takes care of the clues. But what about the actual interaction, where players ask questions of characters and gain the valuable knowledge needed to solve the crime?

Sure, a lot of that can be done through group emails and instant messenger programs, encouraging the investigators to share what they’ve learned, so there wouldn’t be random gaggles of investigators creating a distraction as they ponder the latest clue found or deduction made.

As a storyteller, whether you’re running an RPG or a murder mystery, you not only need to know the details of your story backwards and forwards, but you need to anticipate what questions the audience will ask.

And no matter how prepared you are, I assure you, the players will ALWAYS find a way to monkey-wrench your plans, whether they approach the problem from an unexpected direction or they ask for information you hadn’t prepared in advance. There had to be a simple way to reflect this in the actual gameplay.

To deal with this, I borrowed an idea from Lollapuzzoola and created Holmes Tickets, which were catch-all requests for deeper insight or information than had been provided. Basically, anything that would require outside intervention or skills beyond that of the casual investigator could be revealed by spending a Holmes Ticket.

Dusting for fingerprints, getting ahold of a coroner’s report, uncovering information on a missing check…all of these and more were results of investigators cashing in their Holmes Tickets at various points in the investigation.

So, how did the actual murder mystery go? Well, I’d love to tell you, but it’s not finished yet! The work day proved more intrusive than expected — damn those pesky deadlines and responsibilities! — so we’re rolling into a third day of passive gameplay.

By hook or by crook, the story will be wrapped up today, and I’ll be able to fill you in more on the actual story, clues, and progression of each investigation. For now, I’ll just let you know that there are currently three bodies to account for (our killer has been busy since Monday night), and a host of theories, but no firm accusations yet.

We shall see if justice is served or if our crafty killer gets away.


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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!