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!]


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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!

PDP Tabletop Tournament: Round 1

The spirit of puzzly competition is alive and well. Not only are we still basking in the afterglow of the ACPT, but the third round of the World Puzzle Federation Puzzle Grand Prix is this weekend! AND registration for this year’s Indie 500 Crossword Tournament is now open!

But that’s not all!

The crew at Penny Dell Puzzles put together a Tabletop Tournament in honor of the upcoming International Tabletop Day on Saturday, April 28.

It’s a 16-person four-week tournament with different games to play every week, and round 1 kicked off this week. (This is actually the third year of the tournament, but this year has more competitors than ever before! Plus, both the 2016 and 2017 winners are competing again this year.)

One of the things I liked about the layout of the tournament is that there are no one-on-one match-ups until the final. Instead of a single-elimination tournament, competitors were slotted into groups of four. Each group of four would play two games, and the two winners (one from each game) would come from each foursome and move on to the next round.

The two games for Round 1? On the Dot and Bananagrams.

Bananagrams is a tile game where, much like Scrabble, players pull letter tiles and try to form small crossword-like grids. But in Bananagrams, you can anagram and rearrange the grid as needed, instead of being locked into using the words you’ve already played. Each player starts with a certain number of tiles, and each time you’ve used all your tiles, you say “Peel!” and each player grabs a new tile. This continues until the tile pile is depleted. Then the first player to complete their grid and say “Bananas!” is the winner, moving on to round 2.

On the Dot is a pattern-matching game. Each player has four clear cards with randomly-placed colored dots on them, and it’s up to the player to arrange all four cards so that the colored dots showing match a given pattern. The first player to match three patterns would move on to the next round.

This two-winner-per-group arrangement is nice, because it offers people with different puzzle/game skills multiple chances to move on, instead of a one-and-done scenario. The two games also allow two different quartets to compete at the same time; as one group plays Bananagrams, the other plays On the Dot. Since we only had our lunch hour to complete round 1 (and 16 competitors crammed into the conference room), time was of the essence.

My group was first to compete in Bananagrams, and as the sole representative for PuzzleNation in the tournament, I was determined to make a strong showing for the brand.

Things started off smoothly. We had 21 tiles to start with, and I quickly formed a strong anchor word with DONKEY. But before long, my puzzly competitors proved their own skills were formidable, as cries of “Peel!” began to ring out, and the tile pile quickly diminished.

Honestly, I don’t think I said “Peel” once. I was always close to completing my grid, but never fast enough. But I seized my chance once the tile pile was empty. I only had a few letters left, and some quick anagramming had me confident. I called “Bananas!” and the judges came over to check my grid.

But alas, I’d made an error. I had originally played the word MAKO in part of the grid, then stole the M and A to form other words, intending to come back and fix that part later. But in my overzealousness, I left KO in the grid, which is not a word, so I was disqualified. Curses!

The player to my left was only about a half-second behind me, and she made no clumsy errors. Her grid was clean, and she was declared the first winner from our group to move on.

I would have to try my luck at On the Dot if I hoped to salvage the day.

We switched games with the other competing foursome at the table, and distributed the clear cards for the next contest: On the Dot.

Although I was disappointed with my performance in Bananagrams, I remained confident going into On the Dot, since I’m fairly strong in pattern-matching and similar forms of puzzling.

The first pattern to match was revealed, and we were off!

On the Dot really consists of two skills: being able to place the cards so the dots are in the right places AND hiding the dots and colors you don’t need. That second part can be more difficult than simply matching the pattern, honestly. If you need a yellow dot in a certain spot and nothing near it, it’s not good enough to have a yellow dot in that spot and a purple one right beside it.

I quickly cracked the first pattern, earning 1 point (and a few groans from the other competitors in my quartet).

I was able to follow that with two more victories, earning three points and a clean sweep. I was officially bound for Round 2. Huzzah!

Several other competitors that day turned in similarly dominating performances in On the Dot, while other rounds were hotly contested and came down to the wire.

The rounds of Bananagrams were a little bit slower, but still interesting. I wasn’t the only competitor who was snake-bit by improper words in Bananagrams that day. NAT disqualified one competitor, while NI disqualified another. (At least, according to the online Scrabble Dictionary we were using as our source. No matter what those knights say.)

One of the games ended in a deadlock, as neither player remaining could complete their grid. Another ended in so contentious a fashion that a tiebreaker game was needed to determine a winner!

Fortunately, the judges were prepared for this possibility, and a quick round of Slapzi was used to settle any such ties/issues.

Slapzi is a quick-reaction game where each player is dealt five double-sided cards. Each card has a unique image on each side — everything from dogs and fire hydrants to ladybugs and lawnmowers. Then a description card is played — “has two syllables” or “made of wood,” for instance — and the first person to play one of their cards that matches the description drops that card from their hand. The first person to empty their hand wins.

Between the three games, eight competitors moved on to round 2 (including last year’s champ), one step closer to a grand prize of a Game Night Gift Pack, complete with snacks!

But that’s not all. The winner would also get a crown and scepter to carry around, in order to better lord their victory over their vanquished foes!

With a prize pack and a shot at becoming Tabletop Tournament Royalty on the line, things just got a lot more interesting.

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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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!

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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Demystifying Role-Playing Games

When you hear the words “role-playing game,” what comes to mind? A bunch of nerds in a basement, hunched around a table debating weird and esoteric rules? Practitioners of the black arts, thumbing their noses at God and all that is natural? Or nothing at all?

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Some TV shows, like Community and Freaks & Geeks, have displayed role-playing games in a positive light, but for the most part, role-playing games in general, and Dungeons & Dragons in particular, have gotten a bad rap over the last few decades, maligned as (at best) a game for lonely friendless types and (at worst) a tool to corrupt children.

(This might sound ridiculous to many of you, but folks like Pat Robertson continue to talk about role-playing games as if they’re synonymous with demon worship.)

But in reality, role-playing games are simply a way for a group to tell one collaborative story.

roleplaying-kinda-like-that

There are two major elements to this storytelling. The first is managed by a single person who oversees that particular game or gaming session. In Dungeons & Dragons, this person is called the Dungeon Master, or DM; in other games, this person is the Game Master, the Storyteller, or bears some other title tied to the game or setting. For the sake of simplicity, from this point on, I’ll refer to this person as the DM.

So, the DM manages the setting and sets up the adventure. In this role, the DM will describe what the player characters (or PCs) see and explain the results of their actions. The DM also plays any characters the players interact with. (These are known as NPCs, or non-player characters.) Essentially, the DM creates the sandbox in which the other players play.

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Which brings us to the second element in role-playing storytelling: the players. Each player assumes a role, a character, and plays that character for the length of the session, or the game, if there are multiple sessions. (Some games last months or years, so these characters evolve and grow; players often become quite attached to their characters.)

The PCs navigate the world created by the DM, but their actions and decisions shape the narrative. No matter how prepared a DM is or how carefully he or she has plotted out a given scene or adventure, the PCs determine much of what happens. They might follow the breadcrumbs exactly as the DM laid them out, or they might head off in an unexpected direction, forcing the DM to think on the fly in order to continue the adventure.

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That’s what makes role-playing games so amazing: you never quite know what you’re going to get. The PCs usually don’t know what the DM has in store, and no DM can predict with perfect clarity what the PCs will do. You’re all crafting a story together and none of you knows what exactly will happen or how it all ends.

For instance, I run a role-playing game for several friends that is set in the universe of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and my PCs routinely come up with solutions to problems and puzzles that I didn’t expect, but that nonetheless would work. They constantly keep me on my toes as a DM, and it’s one of my favorite aspects of the game.

Oftentimes, major events and key moments are determined by dice rolls, adding an element of chance to the story. (In some games, players have replaced dice rolls with a Jenga-style block tower, and they must remove pieces from it to achieve certain goals. That adds a marvelous sense of real-world tension to the narrative tension already present!)

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And while I’ve talked quite a bit about the game aspect, some of you might be wondering where the puzzly aspect comes in.

Some of the best, most satisfying puzzle-solving experiences of my life have come from role-playing games.

These puzzles can be as simple as figuring out how to open a locked door or as complicated as unraveling a villain’s dastardly plot for world domination. It can be a poem to be parsed and understood or a trap to be escaped.

There are riddles of goblins and sphinxes, or the three questions of trolls, or even the brain teasers and logic problems concocted by devious fey hoping to snare me with clever wordplay. I’ve encountered all sorts of puzzles in role-playing games, and some of them were fiendish indeed.

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One time, during a LARP session (Live-Action Role-Playing, meaning you actually act out the adventure and storytelling), I thought I’d unraveled the meaning of a certain bit of scripture (regarding a key that would allow me to escape the room) and acquired a sword as my prize, only to realize much much later that the key I’d spent the entire session searching for was the sword itself, which unlocked the door and released me.

And designing puzzles for my players to unravel is often as much fun as solving the puzzles myself. Especially when they’re tailored to specific storytelling universes or particular player characters.

(Trust me, it doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with a Jedi or a paladin; riddles stop pretty much everybody in their tracks.)

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Whether it’s Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder, Legend of the Five Rings or Star Wars, GURPS or Ninja Burger, there’s a role-playing game out there for everyone, if you’re just willing to look.


This post was meant as a brief overview of role-playing games as a whole. If you’d like me to get more in depth on the subject, or if you have specific questions about role-playing games, please let me know! I’d be happy to revisit this topic in the future.

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It’s Follow-Up Friday: TableTop Day 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 return to the subject of puzzly holidays!

Saturday, April 11 is the third annual 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 tomorrow, 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!

[A few of the games we’ll be partaking in today.]

I’ll be posting pics on social media throughout the day, and there will be a full recap in Tuesday’s blog post!

Not only that, but we’ve added two new collections to our library of puzzles for in-app purchase for the Penny Dell Crosswords App! The April 2015 Deluxe Set has 35 puzzles to challenge you, and Collection 5 has a whopping 150 puzzles to choose from! Just in time for TableTop Day!

 

Will you be participating in tomorrow’s festivities, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let me know! I’d love to hear about your plans!

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!

Where do you puzzle and play?

When furnishing your home, there’s a lot to consider: budget, dimensions, layout, colors, fabrics, styles. But did you know that there’s furniture out there specifically for the discerning puzzler or board game fan?

Oh yes, I’m talking about primo set-ups to maximize your gaming and puzzling fun.

It’s not hard to find stylish tables with checkerboards or backgammon designs built into the table, and they start at pretty affordable prices.

But there’s a growing market for high-end gaming tables that not only look great, but utilize drawers for holding game components, sunken play areas to keep dice from escaping mid-roll, and detachable covers so you can use the table like any other surface when you’re not playing.

Check out some of these gorgeous pieces:

The popularity of gaming-specific tables is partially due to the success of Wil Wheaton’s webseries TableTop, which is centered around a table designed specifically for gaming:

But there are tables out there personalized for particular games. For instance, this table is optimized for Axis & Allies, a military land acquisition game set in World War II:

And feast your eyes on this absolutely stunning Risk table I stumbled across online:

Of course, an ingenious player can turn any table into a terrific gaming space. One Dungeons & Dragons dungeon master linked his laptop up to a projector, and displays maps on a regular kitchen table for his players to use. It’s brilliant!

Now, I wanted to see some puzzle-specific tables here as well, and there are plenty for jigsaw enthusiasts. Heck, you should do yourself a favor and Google Image Search the phrase “puzzle furniture,” because it’s a super-entertaining way to pass a few minutes.

But when it comes to crossword solving, nothing seems to beat a comfy armchair or the breakfast table with a touch of puzzly flare…

Unless you’re this guy, that is.

Now THAT is puzzle-solving with style.

I cannot in good conscience, however, wrap up a post about puzzle and gaming furniture without giving a nod to our friends over at Hammacher Schlemmer, who turned a classic table game into a home entertainment experience with the World’s Largest Scrabble Game.

That’s furniture AND a game in one! (And all for the low, low price of $12,000.)

Do you have a favorite place at home for puzzling or playing games? Let me know! Or send us a picture and share your puzzle nook with the world!

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!