The Best of All Possible Puzzle/Game Worlds?

[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.)

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.

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 Product Review: Tak

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.

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).

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.)

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.

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!