PuzzleNation Product Review: Shadows in the Forest

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

Strategy games come in all shapes and sizes, so if you want to stand out these days, you have to bring something special or unique to the table. And with Halloween fast approaching, a strategy game with some spooky mechanics would really hit the spot.

ThinkFun’s latest strategy game, Shadows in the Forest, fits the bill nicely, delivering one bright idea with a twist: it’s played in the dark.

Designed for 2-7 players, ages 8 and up, Shadows in the Forest is essentially an elaborate round of Hide and Seek.

One player is the Seeker, a lantern-wielding explorer who is wandering the woods searching for Shadowlings, peculiar creatures that lurk in the shadows and are vulnerable to light. The other players are the Shadowlings, working together to stay out of the light and thwart the Seeker.

So how do you play?

First, you set up the board, assembling and placing the physical obstacles — trees, stumps, rocks, etc. — that will create shadows for the Shadowlings to hide in.

Then, place the lantern on one of the red stones in the pathway on the board. Turn on the lantern and shut off the lights. (You’ll want it as dark as possible to really immerse everyone in the game and make the most of both the lantern and the glow-in-the-dark die that comes with the game.)

Now the Seeker has to shut their eyes as the other players place the Shadowlings in the shadows created by the lantern.

Once the Seeker opens their eyes, the game begins.

The Seeker uses the die to determine how many spaces the lantern moves. Any Shadowlings revealed by the lantern during the Seeker’s turn are frozen in place, and the Seeker takes their masks. Those unmasked Shadowlings are unable to move until they are unfrozen by other Shadowlings.

Once the Seeker’s turn is done, the Seeker closes their eyes, and the Shadowlings move. Unlike the Seeker (whose lantern has to stick to the path), the Shadowlings can be moved anywhere on the board. They don’t need to stick to the path or adhere to a die roll to determine how far they can travel.

The only rule for them? They cannot move anywhere the light touches. They must stick to the shadows. (There’s no jumping, climbing, or otherwise bypassing the light. The Shadowling’s movement can curve or turn, but must be an unbroken line along the board.)

[This Shadowling is caught in the light, and therefore frozen.]

The goal of the Seeker is to freeze all of the Shadowlings and take their masks. The goal of the Shadowlings (who play as a team) is to gather every Shadowling on the board in the same shadowy place.

It’s an intriguing hook for a game, but unfortunately, the instruction manual is vague and not terribly intuitive. It does a poor job of explaining both how the Shadowlings move and how they unfreeze Shadowlings touched by the light.

In each of our test games, we had to resort to house rules and clarifications in order to play the game. For instance, even while hiding, we decided the Shadowlings should face outward (away from the obstacle), so their masks would shine brighter if the light revealed them. Additionally, we made Shadowling players trace their intended path along the board with their finger first, in order to reveal if they touched the light of the lantern at any point.

As for the freezing/unfreezing rules, we decided that any Shadowling that lost its mask couldn’t move, even if the lantern’s movements plunge them back into the dark. Only when another Shadowling touched them in the dark could the mask be returned and the Shadowling unfrozen. (This may very well be the intended way to play, but the instructions are unclear, so it’s hard to tell.)

Once we’d established these ground rules, the game really came together.

[Can you see both Shadowlings?]

It becomes a battle of strategy. The Seeker tries to reveal and freeze the Shadowlings in place while searching for others, while the Shadowlings must outmaneuver the lantern, stay in the shadows, rescue their pals, and mass in one place.

It’s amazing how a simple movement of the lantern piece can not only bisect the board and pin down the Shadowlings, but alter the shadows on the board in unexpected ways.

The obstacles are easy to assemble and disassemble, and the battery-operated lantern (batteries included!) throws off a surprising amount of light for its size. The Shadowlings are adorable, each with their own little look and personality, and yet, easily vanishing into the darkness. This game has style to burn.

Although adults can play the game, we found that games either ended very quickly (if the Seeker rolls poorly or the Shadowlings were massed on the far side of the board from the lantern) or lasted a very long time (similar to chess games where the pieces on both sides are depleted and players simply chase each other around the board endlessly).

But when playing with younger solvers, the Shadowling team play and the convention of playing in the dark made for a unique gaming experience — particularly if an adult is the Seeker, and one adult joins the Shadowling team of younger players. Seeing the kids conspire against the adult to lurk in the shadows is a delight.

In the end, Shadows in the Forest is a fantastic idea for a game that, while not executed to perfection, still makes for a fun time.

ThinkFun’s Shadows in the Forest is currently available at Target, Amazon, and participating retailers, for $24.99.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Hacker

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

All of the puzzles and games produced by ThinkFun have one thing in common: learning through play. Whether you’re solving logic problems with lasers, creating unique patterns with color wheels, or deducing the culprit of a feline crime, you’re learning valuable skills through puzzling.

Several ThinkFun games are designed with computer coding in mind, as the gameplay mimics some of the rudimentary concepts of preparing and entering commands, then seeing how those commands can interact with an environment.

If you’re familiar with Robot Turtles, or any of their puzzle games from the //Code series, like On the Brink, you’ve already experienced this for yourself or seen someone else putting newfound puzzly skills to the test.

But Hacker offers a new twist on this concept.

[The various game pieces: agents, data files, exit points, commands to move the agent and rotate parts of the playing grid, and others, including the virus, alarm, and locks.]

As ThinkFun’s newest logic game, Hacker goes above and beyond those introductory coding games, challenging players to add their own coding to an established scenario in order to complete a specific task.

Then the players have to locate vulnerabilities and correct them before they can move on to the next challenge.

But by working your way through the various difficulty levels — Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, and Expert — the game introduces new elements and challenges to the player gradually, allowing younger solvers to develop their skills and learn new tricks as they work out increasingly complex scenarios.

Let’s look at one Intermediate-level challenge to give you a better idea of how the game works.

The first part of each challenge is the coding. Each challenge card presents you with the initial layout of the grid, as well as which commands are hard-coded into the scenario (listed on the Platform line), and the openings for you to code movements for your agent (shaded in on the Red Agent line).

In this scenario, the agent must retrieve a single data file and deliver it to the exit point.

[The commands I “coded” in order to complete the scenario.]

You will use the arrow tiles to indicate where you want the agent to move. The rotation tiles are hard-programmed at certain times, so you can’t move them; you have to plot your path and code your agent to take advantage of those rotation commands.

[A full scenario ready to go. Clockwise from the upper left, we have the Challenge Booklet, the playing grid, the coding Control Panel, and the Solutions Booklet.]

As the scenarios grow more complex, those hard-coded rotation tiles will offer greater challenges, forcing you to become more creative and more tactical in your programming.

In addition to handling the rotation tiles, you must pick up the data file and reach the exit point while avoiding any contact with the virus.

[Here, the command as coded plays out. The agent moves left and acquires the data file, then moves down. The platform rotates twice, and then it’s a straight shot right to the exit point.]

And by using the special answer flipbook — which separates each challenge into three different pages for Code It, Hack It, and Fix It, so you can look at each individually without spoiling the rest of the solve — we can confirm our coding is correct.

The second part of the challenge is an element I haven’t seen in any previous ThinkFun release: hacking.

In this stage, you’re trying to debug your coding by seeking out vulnerabilities in the code that would allow the agent to encounter a virus. You’re essentially troubleshooting yourself!

To do so, you have to play the role of a malicious hacker hell-bent on corrupting your coding and delivering the agent directly into the hands of the virus.

This part of the game is more like a traditional sliding-tile puzzle, as you try to manipulate the tiles already in place to engineer a different outcome. In this case, I’ve moved the platform command forward and the down movement command over, altering the agent’s path.

As you can see here, by “hacking” our code, we picked up the data file and delivered it right to the virus, corrupting the entire program. Although our original program avoided the virus entirely, it isn’t safeguarded against hacking. Yet.

That brings us to the third part of the challenge, fixing, which allows you to correct the flaws you identified in the second part.

You can do so by placing an alarm on an open tile, which prevents the agent from encountering the virus; but you must do so without interfering with the successful completion of the original coding’s goal. In more difficult scenarios, you can also fix your coding by using a link token to link certain commands together, so a hacker has to move them as a whole, rather than as individual commands.

So in order to have a successful fix, you should be able to play through the original coding and succeed, but the hacked coding should be thwarted by the changes you’ve made.

[Below the blue agent and the blue exit point, you have the primary tools used in the Fixing phase of gameplay: the transaction link and the alarm.]

It’s an effective metaphor for the amount of review and beta-testing that goes into actual coding, since tiny mistakes can have dire consequences. By requiring younger players to review the same data in three different ways, you’re subconsciously encouraging diligence and care in one’s programming.

It’s a simple lesson, but an important one, and the gameplay promotes it without feeling preachy or heavy-handed. Instead, you’re almost partners-in-crime with the game as you develop new tricks to outwit each scenario.

Hacker is one of ThinkFun’s most complex and immerse logic games yet, one that never forgets to be great fun and an engaging, multilayered puzzly challenge, even as it educates. Other ThinkFun games might look flashier at first glance, but I think they’ve truly outdone themselves this time around.

Hacker is available from ThinkFun and participating retailers, starting at $24.99.


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A Relaxing Game Night!

The world can be a very stressful place. We live under a constant deluge of news and information, and it’s so easy to get overwhelmed by it all. And while games can be a wonderful escape, you need the right games to restore your spirits and put you in a good mood.

As much fun as co-op games like Forbidden Island, The Oregon Trail Card Game, and Castle Panic! can be, they can also be a little stressful. And if you’re looking to relax, or to chill out after a long week, those might not be the games for you.

So today, I thought we could turn our attention to games that are as tranquil as they are tactical, in the hopes of helping my fellow PuzzleNationers enjoy a calm gameplay experience.


When I asked fellow game enthusiasts for games that are mellow and relaxing, the first one that always comes to mind is Tsuro.

In Tsuro, up to 8 players adopt the role of flying dragons soaring through the sky. Each player chooses from the tiles in their hands in order to build paths on the board, representing their paths through the sky. Naturally, these paths will eventually intersect, and you need to be careful to avoid colliding with another dragon or following a path right off the edge of the board. (Both of those scenarios cause you to lose.)

Despite the potential for competition, most Tsuro games are peaceful affairs as everyone enjoys watching their dragon token loop and swirl across various intersecting paths, hoping to be the last dragon standing on the board. It’s a beautiful, simple game that only takes about twenty minutes to play, and it’s the perfect palate cleanser after a more stressful round of some other game.

[Image courtesy of Starlit Citadel.]

Tokaido is another game about movement, but in a very different vein. Players in this game are all travelers, journeying across Japan’s famed East Sea Road from Kyoto to Edo. Whereas most travel-based games are about reaching a destination first, Tokaido is about reaching a destination with the widest array of meaningful experiences.

Along the way, your character can meet new people, enjoy new cuisines, collect souvenirs, visit hot springs, and visit scenic locales. You add experience points for these events (and acquire achievement cards) to represent your traveler partaking of these experiences.

This elegant game bypasses traditional competition entirely, building a unique game mechanic out of living your best life.

[Image courtesy of Board Game Quest.]

Sagrada is another wonderfully visual game about individual accomplishment. In this game, each player is building a stained glass window using different colored dice. No dice of the same color can neighbor each other, so you need to be strategic about how you place the dice you roll.

Each window is different, and has certain rules for maximizing points. (A certain pane can only be a certain color, or a certain die value, etc.) The players can boost their scores by selecting cards that reward them with points if they create certain patterns within their stained glass window.

Except for competing for the best point total at the end, there’s virtually no interaction between players. You’re all simply working simultaneously on the best window, which is a gameplay style that breeds camaraderie more than competitiveness. It’s genuinely encouraging to see fellow players make good choices in dice placement to create the most beautiful, elegant window patterns.

[Image courtesy of Starlit Citadel.]

For a change of pace, let’s look at a game that’s more about interaction with other players. Dixit is a gorgeous card game where each player is given a handful of cards, each depicting a different, unique, evocative piece of art.

Player 1 will choose a card from their hand and say a word or phrase to the other players that has some connection to that card. It could reference color, or part of the imagery. It could be a joke, or an idiom, or a song lyric. The goal is to be vague, but not too vague. The other players will then each select a card from their hand that could also be described by Player 1’s statement, and the cards are all shuffled face down so no one can see who submitted what card.

The cards are then all placed face up, and each player (except Player 1) votes on which piece of art they think Player 1 chose. Player 1 gets points if some (but not ALL) players chose his card. (If every player chooses it, the clue was too easy, and Player 1 gets no points.) And any other player’s card that earns votes also earns that player points.

This sort of associative gameplay really encourages your imagination and teaches you about how the other players think. There’s no other game quite like it on the market today, and it makes for an intriguing, low-key gaming experience.

Finally, let’s close out today’s post with a classic tile game that mixes Uno-style color- and pattern-matching with Mexican Train Dominoes-style gameplay. Qwirkle is a bit more competitive than the other games on today’s list, but it’s still a game more about collaborating than outdoing your opponents.

By placing different tiles onto a shared play area — either by matching colors or matching symbols — players earn points. If you complete a Qwirkle — a pattern of all six colors for a given shape or all six shapes in the same color — you earn bonus points.

The lighthearted gameplay style lends itself to friendly competition rather than the cutthroat mien evoked by games like Monopoly. Qwirkle’s not about grinding the other players down, it’s about adding to a colorful world in interesting, inventive new ways.


Hopefully these suggestions will make your game nights a little more mellow. And if you’re looking for puzzlier ideas for a tranquil game night, check out our reviews for ThinkFun’s Kaleidoscope Puzzle and Looney Labs’ Zendo, both of which might scratch your puzzly itch in a relaxing fashion.

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PuzzleNation Product Review: ThinkFun’s Kaleidoscope Puzzle

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

Clear, or transparent, cards are a rarity in puzzles and games, but they offer a terrific gameplay mechanic: the ability to stack cards without obscuring information.

The clear cards in the storytelling game Gloom allow players to add and subtract points from various characters as the grim and whimsical stories unfold. The quick-play pattern-matching game On the Dot — which was part of last month’s Tabletop Tournament — challenges players to properly arrange four clear cards — each with randomly-placed colored dots — in order to match a given pattern before their opponents do.

Now, the creative minds at ThinkFun have put a wonderful, vibrant twist on the clear-card genre of puzzles and games with their latest release: Kaleidoscope Puzzle.

[Two of the six kaleidoscope tiles.]

In Kaleidoscope Puzzle, you have six octagonal tiles, each with its own pattern of tinted and clear quadrants. It’s up to the solver to arrange either two or three of the six tiles in order to recreate the patterns on the challenge cards.

First off, I want to say that this might be the most aesthetically pleasing puzzle I’ve ever solved. Just turning the kaleidoscope cards in my hands in front of a light is enjoyable, letting the snowflake-patterning on each card blur and come into focus anew as the cards line up, each time matching and mixing the various colored quadrants to create eye-catching effects. It’s brilliant in its simplicity, and unlike any color-based puzzle I’ve seen on the market today.

It almost feels like putting together a stained-glass window, particularly as the challenge cards progress and the patterns grow more elaborate.

[One possible combination of those two tiles.]

The Beginner challenge cards help to familiarize you with the gameplay. You quickly figure out placement and color combinations. As you transition into the Intermediate challenge cards, the patterns grow more elaborate, and honestly, more beautiful. It’s amazing the combinations you can conjure with just two of the six possible kaleidoscope tiles!

Halfway through the Intermediate challenge cards, they ratchet up both the possibilities and the difficulty, as you now have to create the patterns with three kaleidoscope tiles. Now you’re trying to cover all four quadrants with color patterns, and it becomes about maximizing what each tile offers.

But it’s in the Advanced challenge cards that the game really separates itself from On the Dot-style solving, because Kaleidoscope puzzle has the color-mixing element as well. Not only are you manipulating the kaleidoscope tiles to place the basic colors where you need them, but you also need to create green, orange, and purple patterns as well.

Toward the end of the Advanced challenge cards, you start to deal with eighths instead of quadrants, divvying up the field into increasingly more complicated designs, reminiscent of pie charts.

Sometimes, you might discover alternate ways to form the patterns, which is very satisfying indeed. It also speaks to how adaptable the six kaleidoscope tiles are, since you can arrange them in seemingly endless combinations.

By the time you reach the Expert challenge cards, you’ll be turning, flipping, and rearranging these tiles like crazy to form the intricate patterns on the cards. It’s an unexpectedly relaxing form of puzzling, a meditative mix of challenge and aesthetics.

[The same pattern coming to life under a desk lamp.]

I cannot say enough good things about this puzzle. Mixing the resource management of how to get the most out of each tile you choose with the striking visuals of the kaleidoscope tiles makes for a unique solving experience.

Puzzles that are as satisfying to look at after the solve as they are to solve in the first place… that’s a true rarity. What a treat.

[Kaleidoscope Puzzle is available from ThinkFun and participating retailers, starting at $9.99!]


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PuzzleNation Product Review: ThinkFun’s Cat Crimes

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

ThinkFun is a company that excels at creating logical deduction puzzles for solvers of all ages. Whether it’s moving robots toward a rocket ship in Lunar Landing, completing electrical circuits in Circuit Maze, or placing mirrors to reflect a laser’s beam in Laser Maze Jr., these clever puzzly challenges introduce classic puzzle concepts to younger solvers in engaging, unique ways.

But with their latest release, they’ve taken a step back from more high-concept, high-tech puzzles and embraced a more traditional logic puzzle format.

In Cat Crimes, you’re given a series of clues, and it’s up to you to place the six cat characters around the living room in order to determine which one has been up to some destructive mischief.

For instance, a given challenge card will list the crime in the upper right corner — a flowerpot that’s been knocked over, for instance — and the clues listed beneath will tell you which cats are your suspects, along with hints for where to place them in the living room.

The living room is covered with little bits of visual evidence — scratches on the floor, paw prints, mouse toys, etc. — that can be used to help you figure out where each of the cats were sitting when the crime was committed.

The beginner-level mysteries start out simple, with the clues mostly focused on the placement of the cats (across from a sock or next to some catnip, for instance). As the mysteries cards grow more complex — moving from beginner and intermediate levels of difficulty to advanced and, finally, expert — more options emerge. A cat could be in one of two places, or is only referenced with regards to another cat it’s sitting next to or across from.

Higher-level challenge cards will also refer to qualities of the cat suspects themselves. Some wear bows or have bells on their collars, while others are referenced by eye color. Solvers need to keep increasingly greater amounts of information in their head in order to place all of the cats in their proper positions and solve the crime.

I repeatedly found myself discussing possibilities out loud as I solved. “Well, if Sassy is between two of these cats, it can only be Mr. Mittens and Ginger, and Ginger can’t be in front of a scratch mark, so…”

With only six possible crimes and six possible suspects, you’d think that repeated play would lead to player burnout or quickly exhausting the possible permutations, but that’s not the case here at all. As you ascend through the deck of challenge cards, the ThinkFun team throw new twists and cluing styles at you, keeping you on your toes. A lot of creativity and hard work went into the cluing here, and it shows.

[Image courtesy of Logic Puzzles.org.]

It’s not only an absolutely adorable way to bring logic puzzle solving to a new audience, it’s also a refreshing change of pace for solvers accustomed to traditional logic puzzles (complete with those tables where all of the possible permutations are listed, and you can simply cross off the incorrect ones as you go). Cat Crimes requires you to keep more of that information in mind as you determine where each cat goes.

With up to six feline suspects to place per crime and 40 different crimes to solve, Cat Crimes will keep your deductive skills sharp, even as the easier challenge cards introduce younger solvers and logic newbies alike to a different style of puzzle-solving. Cat Crimes is not just one of the cutest puzzle games I’ve played in a long time, it’s the perfect gateway puzzle to strip away some of the intimidation factor of logic problems.

[Cat Crimes is available from ThinkFun and other select retailers for $12.99!]


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PuzzleNation 2017 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Category

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2017 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

We’re excited to be bringing you our biggest gift guide ever! There are so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you this year. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

This guide is broken down into categories for ease of searching. We have puzzle books, downloadable puzzles and puzzles by mail, jigsaw puzzles, puzzle games, board games, card games, dice games, and party games. We’re sure you’ll find the perfect gift for any puzzler on your list!


This year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide is sponsored by the new Daily POP Crosswords app!

Daily POP Crosswords offers a different themed puzzle every single day, spanning everything from TV and film to sports and music!

Available for both Android and iOS users, you get terrific content from some of the world’s top constructors! And the download is free!


Puzzle Books

Pencil-and-paper puzzles are alive and well, and we’re happy to share some of our favorites with you.

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Maybe you’re looking for one kind of puzzle, like Colossal Grab-a-Pencil Book of Logic Problems ($10.50) or the Fill-In Value Pack ($8.95). Or perhaps you like some variety in your solving, and you’d prefer the Home for the Holidays Word Seek set ($32.95), complete with pencils, coffee, and snacks to keep you puzzling, or the Super Grab-a-Pencil Pocket Bible Gift Set 2-Pack ($12.50). Or you’d like to unwind with their Coloring Book 4-Pack ($14.95) and sip some coffee from a vibrant Word Nerd mug ($9.50). Either way, the folks at Penny Dell Puzzles have got you covered.

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter throughout the holiday season. Between 10% and 20% off all sorts of puzzle bundles and books!

And while we’re on the topic of puzzle books, some of the best constructors working today have released their own books for your perusal! And with New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some quality puzzlers within these pages!

–David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register ($7.48)

–Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords ($8.95)

–Erik Agard’s Food for Thought Crosswords ($7.48)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley and Francis Heaney’s Drunk Crosswords ($7.06)

–Cynthia Morris’s American Acrostics Volume 5: Puzzling Holidays and Celebrations and CynAcrostics Volume 3: You Don’t Say? ($9.95 each)

–Foggy Brume’s One-Word Word Searches ($7.50)

The Maze of Games: The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze by Mike Selinker and Gaby Weidling

The Maze of Games is one of the most diabolical puzzle books ever conceived. It allows the protagonists AND the reader to choose their own path through various labyrinths and challenge themselves to dozens of different puzzles in the hopes of conquering each of the labyrinths within the book.

The puzzle book has proven so diabolical that they’ve released The Theseus Guide to the Final Maze, a hint book designed to help solvers free Samuel and Colleen from the final labyrinth once and for all! ($9.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of The Maze of Games!]

The Maze series by Brad Hough

If you’re looking for a first-person maze-solving experience, The Maze is precisely your speed. Dropping the reader in the first room of a maze and describing the scene to you, it’s up to you to mentally put together the map as you progress from page to page (and room to room). With volumes of increasing difficulty and complexity available, you might never find your way out! ($8.49 and up)

[Click here to check out our full review of The Maze series!]


Downloadable Puzzles and Puzzles by Mail

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between by-mail offers, subscriptions, and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The Crosswords Club, edited by Patti Varol (puzzle bundles by mail, available in both regular and large print; $39.95 for 12 issues)

Puzzle Your Kids by Eric Berlin ($5/month, or puzzle sets available starting at $3.99; one free puzzle per week)

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles) ($20 for 1 year)

–Matt Gaffney’s Daily Crossword ($24 per year) and Weekly Crossword Contest ($26 per year)

–Andrew Ries’ Aries Xwords ($20 per year)

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($26 for 1 year)

–Joon Pahk’s Rows Garden puzzles ($20 for 1 year) and Variety puzzles ($15 for 1 year) OR get both for $30!

–Patrick Blindauer’s Broadway Puzzlefest ($20)

Crossword LA 2017 puzzle pack ($5)

–Bryant Park 2016 and 2017 tournament puzzle pack ($10)


Jigsaw Puzzles

Puzzometry

For a next-level jigsaw challenge, Puzzometry is tough to top. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available as Puzzometry ($16.50), Puzzometry Jr. ($12), and Puzzometry Squares ($16.50), you’ve got three distinct challenges appropriate for different ages!

[Check out the full review of Puzzometry by clicking here!]

 

Tavern Puzzles / Tucker-Jones House Inc.

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to remove twice as many pieces in a Collaborative Effort or free the triangle from Tridiculous, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($24)

Lightbox (Eric Clough)

A puzzle box unlike anything you’ve ever seen, Lightbox creates different patterns of shadow and light as you shift and arrange the various plastic plates that make up the box. As you twist and reset them, different electrical connections are made, and different plates light up. As gorgeous as it is challenging, Lightbox is a very eye-catching puzzle that always wows new solvers. ($85)

[Check out our full review of Lightbox by clicking here!]


Puzzle Games

//CODE: On the Brink, //CODE: Rover Control, and //CODE: Robot Repair (ThinkFun)

Learning to program is quickly becoming a valuable skill for people of all ages, so why not get your kids started early with games that teach them the basics of coding in fun, accessible ways. The //CODE series of games does precisely that, teaching sequencing with On the Brink, and then moving onto plotting with Rover Control and logical deduction with Robot Repair. These games mix education and puzzle solving to great effect. ($14.99 each)

[Click here to read our full review of the first //CODE series puzzle game, On the Brink!]

GIANT Word Winder (David L. Hoyt)

Created for schools, libraries, and other homes of learning, GIANT Word Winder challenges solvers to locate words within a large word seek-style grid. The end goal? To create a path from one end of the board to the other. A great team puzzling activity for younger solvers, it also comes in a math-fueled version. ($475)

Roller Coaster Challenge (ThinkFun)

Lots of puzzles are all about figuring out which piece goes where, but rarely does a puzzle game then reward you by sending a car racing down your completed puzzle. Roller Coaster Challenge incorporates the logic puzzles synonymous with ThinkFun into a fun, track-building set that will delight solvers of many ages. Who doesn’t want to design their own roller coaster? ($29.99)

[Click here for our full review of Roller Coaster Challenge!]

Color Cube Sudoku (ThinkFun)

For a new twist on Sudoku, look no further than Color Cube Sudoku. Simply place one cube on the tray, and then try to figure out how to place every other cube so that you don’t repeat a color in any row or column. It’s tougher than it looks! ($19.99)

[Click here to read our full review of Color Cube Sudoku!]

Zendo (Looney Labs)

Puzzle games are all about the rules, but what if you don’t know the rules? That’s where Zendo comes in. This puzzle game is all about figuring out a given rule by arranging Looney pyramids and other shapes into various designs, and seeing if those designs fit the mysterious rule. A game of deduction and trial-and-error, Zendo is a very different solving experience. ($40)

[Review coming soon!]

Pinbox 3000 (Cardboard Teck Instantute)

How about the chance to build your own game? Is that puzzle enough for you? Pinbox 3000 provides all the pieces you’ll need, plus valuable advice for brainstorming and creating your very own pinball game. It’s endlessly customizable, so you can make your Pinbox pinball game as simple or as complex as you like! ($49.95)


Board Games

Some of the puzzliest games on the market today are being made by top-flight board game companies, and we’ve got some marvelous games that will appeal to puzzlers of all ages!

Doctor Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted (Cheapass Games)

People have been trying to kill Doctor Lucky for over twenty years, but now, ghosts are getting in on the act! Doctor Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted is an expansion of Kill Doctor Lucky, so you’ll need the base game to play, but with a new gameboard to explore and new movement mechanics — since all the players are now ghosts — this adds all sorts of new possibilities to a terrific game. ($16)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

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Castellan (Steve Jackson Games)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Word-a-Melon, Big Letter Bananagrams, and Qwordie (Bananagrams)

Bananagrams are the uncrowned kings of word-forming tile games, and no matter what sort of speller and anagrammist you are, they’ve got a game for you.

If you like Bananagrams but just want bigger, easier-to-read tiles, then Big Letter Bananagrams has your name on it (or will, when you spell it with the 50% larger tiles). To add a touch of Memory-style strategy to your word-forming gameplay, Word-A-Melon would be right up your alley. And if you prefer a bit of word association with your word-building, then the strategy and quick-thinking of Qwordie is for you. ($19.99 each)

[Click here for our full review of all three games!]

The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games)

Bring the insane real-life rivalry of paleontologists Cope and Marsh to life in The Great Dinosaur Rush! As you collect fossils and discover your own unique dinosaur, you must also steal bones, sabotage other scientists, and more! Show off your cunning and creativity in this game that proves historical truth is weirder than fiction! ($50)

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Walk-By Scrabble BoardLexicographer’s Extended Scrabble, and Drawing Room Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer)

Hammacher Schlemmer has several Scrabble variants available, including the Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble for those with mega-syllabic ambitions ($29.95) and Drawing Room Scrabble for those with swankier taste ($149.95) — not to mention the mindboggling World’s Largest Scrabble Game for $12,000! — but few are as clever or as convenient as the Walk-By Scrabble Board! Designed as a family game for people on the go, it’s a perfect way to bring back Board Game Night for busy families! ($29.95)

[Check out our full product review of the Walk-By Scrabble Board here!]

Less (InventedFor)

A strategy game with the speed and simplicity of Checkers but the depth and replayability of Chess, Less is travel-friendlier than both, with a gameboard that breaks down into bar coasters. With new tiles forming the board every time you play, no two games are alike, and even the straightforward task of racing your opponent to the opposite corner becomes a worthwhile challenge. ($17)

[Click here to read our full review of Less!]

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Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Your goal is to avoid meeting another dragon or flying off the board. It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($23.00)

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Qwirkle (MindWare)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train DominoesQwirkle is a tile-placing game where you try to maximize your points while minimizing the help you give to your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump into! ($19.95)

Tak: A Beautiful Game (Cheapass Games)

Many new games build off of classic mechanics, but very few new games truly feel like they could have been played centuries ago. Tak definitely fits that mold, using simple wooden pieces to create a game that feels both fresh and ancient all at once. Inspired by the eponymous game in Patrick Rothfuss’s KingKiller Chronicles series, Tak is a wonderful two-player game that quickly grows addictive. ($55)

[Click here for our full review of Tak!]

Word Domination (Uproarious Games)

Can you steal treasure and amass territory using your spelling and anagram skills? You can in Word Domination, a mix of resource management and word forming that encourages you to steal from and outmaneuver your fellow players. For a James Bondian touch with your Bananagrams, give this one a shot. ($32.99)

[Click here for our full review of Word Domination!]


Card Games

Doctor Who Fluxx (Looney Labs)

Could anything be as chaotic as traveling through time and space with The Doctor in the TARDIS? How about a card game about The Doctor and his adventures where the rules change every turn? Doctor Who Fluxx combines the classic sci-fi franchise with one of gaming’s most flexible rule sets to create an ever-evolving gameplay experience. Fluxx has never been better. ($20)

[Click here for our full review of Doctor Who Fluxx! And be sure to check out other Looney Labs games, like Chemistry Fluxx, Math Fluxx, and Nanofictionary!]

Spaceteam (Timber and Bolt)

Can you repair your ship and get the engines up and running in five minutes before a black hole ends your space adventure forever? That’s the name of the game in Spaceteam, a cooperative, communication-based game where you have to accomplish various tasks with your fellow players while sharing tools. It’s delightful chaos, and the 5-minute timer really adds something to the game play. A definite favorite around here. ($24.99)

Deluxe Pairs (Hip Pocket Games)

Building on the legacy already established by the bar-friendly series of Pairs decks available, Deluxe Pairs offers a new artistic spin on the classic Pairs “Fruit Deck,” as well as a companion booklet with rules for numerous Pairs variants you can play with the deck! This isn’t just one card game, it’s dozens! ($17)

[Click here for our full review of Deluxe Pairs!]

Unspeakable Words (Playroom Entertainment)

Some word games might drive you mad, but only Unspeakable Words actually makes keeping your sanity part of the gameplay! As you spell different words, you have to make a die roll to see if spelling the word cost you a bit of your sanity. If you lose too much of it, you’ll start uttering unspeakable words, which can be worth more points… if your sanity can take it! A fun twist on Scrabble and other word-forming games. ($19.99; deluxe edition $24)

BRAWL (Cheapass Games)

Fighting games have been all the rage in the video game world for decades, but BRAWL lets you tackle the tactics and action of a fighting game right in your hand! Each character has a signature deck with their own moves, and with 60-second rounds and additional tournament rules, you get a lot of bang for your buck. ($8.50 per deck, two decks to play)

[Click here for our full review of BRAWL!]

Scrimish (Nexci)

Combine the card game War with elements of Chess and Memory, and you’ve got something approximating Scrimish, a card game that’s effortless to learn, but offers endless possibilities. Can you protect your crown card while hunting down your opponent’s? With cards for both defense and offense, there’s a lot packed into just 25 cards apiece! ($9.99)

[Check out our full product review of Scrimish by clicking here!]

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Timeline (Asmodee Games)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before or after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning) history! ($14.99 and up)

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The Oregon Trail (Pressman Toys)

The classic computer game comes to life as you and your fellow players team up to survive the perilous journey along The Oregon Trail. With art evoking old-school computer games, rampant threats and calamities to endure, and a long and challenging road to travel, will any of you will make it to Oregon? ($14.99)

[Check out our full product review of The Oregon Trail by clicking here!]

Better With Bacon and Just Coffee (Looney Labs)

These expansion packs for the sweet-serving card game Just Desserts add new faces and new desserts to keep the gameplay fresh and tasty! Whether you’re adding a bit of bite with the Better With Bacon set or pepping up your treats with the Just Coffee set, these expansions add new life (and calories) to an already terrific game. ($5 each)

[Click here to check out our full review of Just Desserts!]


Dice Games

Tenzi

All of us have rolled dice in games before, but can you roll what you need as fast as possible? That’s the challenge of Tenzi, a game that pits up to four players against each other in tests of speed and dexterity. Can you roll 10 6’s before everyone else? ($14.95)

Knot Dice (Black Oak Games)

Can you twist, turn, and spin these dice to complete beautiful, elaborate patterns inspired by Celtic knots? That’s the name of the game with Knot Dice, a dice game as challenging as it is gorgeous. With single-player and multi-player puzzles included, you’ll be tying yourself in knots for days! ($29.95)

[Click here to check out our full review!]


Party Games

Slapzi (Tenzi)

Slapzi will keep you on your toes. In this quick-reaction game, you’ve got to match your picture cards to the clue cards before your opponents. But with clues like “Not sold in a hardware store” or “Two of the same letter together,” this isn’t as easy as it appears! ($19.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of Slapzi!]

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Schmovie (Galactic Sneeze)

Are you the funniest, punniest one in your group of friends? Find out by playing Schmovie, the party game that pushes you to scribble down the best name for an imaginary movie created on the spot! Now redesigned in a sleeker box and playable by all ages, this is the movie game for everyone. ($19.95)

[Check out our full product review of the original version of Schmovie here!]


Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in this year’s holiday puzzly gift guide!

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