The 2017 New York Toy Fair, Part 2!

On Tuesday, I gave you a general rundown of what it was like exploring the massive spread of puzzles and games on display at this year’s New York Toy Fair.

In today’s post, I’d like to highlight some of the puzzles and games that most impressed me. I think many of these will also appeal to many of my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers as well.

So let’s dive right in!


One of the prime spots in the Launchpad area for first-time attendees was given to the team at Steamforged Games Ltd., who have brought the video game franchise Dark Souls into the board-game realm.

Between one and four players can test their mettle against various creatures, battling to capture their souls and use them to make your character stronger and more capable. The impressive array of miniatures, player cards, and tokens makes for an interactive experience that should satisfy both video game fans and board gamers alike.

For a more traditional family-friendly puzzle game, the crew at Befuddled Games has you covered with Kerfuddle and Tree Top Hop, both of which are suitable for solvers of any age group.

Kerfuddle combines a touch of Boggle with the ever-changing gameplay of Fluxx. Roll the dice and use them to form words, but be careful — the “Shake It Up” cards can make your word forming much more challenging.

Tree Top Hop is a great intro game for young players, as they move around the tree top, spelling words on their cards and racing to the treasure at the center of the board. By combining word-building and strategy, this is a terrific gateway game for new players.

Along the same lines as Kerfuddle is Twizmo! Words, except instead of dice, you have a Rubik’s Cube-style Twisty puzzle providing you with the letters you’ll use to build your word list. Designed by the same team who brought us Tak•tak, Twizmo! Words is a strong quick-play game for any Boggle fans in your household.

Snippets takes the list-building idea in another direction. Instead of random letters, you’re given a three-letter snippet of a word, and it’s up to you to come up with as many words containing that snippet as possible. So, if you’ve got TRA, you can write down EXTRA, TRAIN, STRAP, and so on.

And to close out this collection of word-forming games, we have Letter Tycoon, which adds a monetizing mechanic that really spices up the gameplay. Here, not only are you making money by forming words, but you can patent letters so that when other players use them, you cash in as well. It’s a really clever take on the word-building genre of games.

We now move on from combining letters to combining jigsaw pieces. The puzzles from Palmetto Puzzle Works all center around tessellations — shapes that repeat and interlock in many different ways.

Whether you’re trying to fit the pieces into a given space or you’re connecting them freestyle, these well-made wooden puzzles bring an M.C. Escher touch to the world of jigsaw-style solving.

Beasts of Balance, on the other hand, has players using game pieces in a different way, as solvers stack the animal shapes and try to keep their ever-growing tower of creatures and artifacts from toppling over. The game has a tablet interaction feature that enhances both the gameplay and the storytelling aspect of the game, making the most of new school and old school puzzling.

But if you’re looking to do some puzzly building in a different way, Maze by Seedling is a solid choice. Here, you can map out and design your own marble maze, and then tackle your own creation with a fully-functioning labyrinth board, complete with marbles, walls, and holes to avoid.

And while we’re on the subject of do-it-yourself puzzling, the crew behind Pinbox 3000 have designed a build-your-own pinball game system that allows for infinite customization. They give you everything you need to build a functioning game, and then leave the theme, bells, and whistles totally up to you.

I wrote about this one back when it was a Kickstarter project, and it was cool to see the brand continuing to thrive and grow.

Another gaming classic with a modern twist is Tatsu, which combines Asian-inspired mythology with backgammon-style gameplay. Designed by the same creative team as the tile-placement game Hive, Tatsu is a clever, elegant game all about strategy and guile. It’s easy to learn and tough to master, and I suspect it will do quite well.

If you’re looking to combine strategy with rapid-fire gameplay, Tenzi is for you. In Tenzi, you’re given ten dice, and you have to keep rolling them until all ten match. It’s like Speed Yahtzee! But with dozens of additional variant games at your disposal, from stacking to scoring to rule-shifting games, this dice game has legs and is easy to tote around to play anywhere.

If you’re looking to take your card games anywhere, the team at Narrows Hill have a great solution for you. The Card Caddy is not only a protective case for any deck of cards, but it opens up into a perfect card-dealing and sorting setup for ease of play.

We also got an early glimpse of a forthcoming addition to the Fluxx family of card games. Since Fluxx is celebrating 21 years on the market this year, the crew at Looney Labs is celebrating with Drinking Fluxx, a spirits-soaked version of their famous chaotic rule-shifting card game.

You can mix and match the various ingredients to try to create a winning formula (and perhaps a sideline as a bartender for your fellow players). Just make sure you call a cab after playing.

Whereas Tenzi and Fluxx are quite portable, Banana Bandits from CMON Games requires some space, since you have an entire 3-D building to set up as your game board. As you and your fellow players try to prove yourselves as worthy successors to the boss of the Banana Bandits, you’ll climb and explore the building, collect coins, and tangle with opponents, all on an impressively realized game space.

Will you be top banana, or is it time for you to split?

And the last game I’ll be discussing today is Doctor Who: Time of the Daleks, an elaborate galaxy-spanning game where you play as one of six Doctors traveling across time and space in order to complete missions, save the innocent, thwart your enemies, and generally wreak timey-wimey havoc.

Between the terrific miniatures and the expansive options available for players, this was one of the highlights of Toy Fair for me, and I can’t wait to see how they incorporate additional Doctors into the game later down the line.

Obviously this is just a small sample of all the fantastic, eye-catching puzzles and games that graced New York Toy Fair this year. But nonetheless, it’s an impressive group, covering so many different aspects of the puzzle and game world, and constantly blazing new trails in terms of creativity and innovation.

I have no doubt you’ll be seeing more about some of these projects as 2017 rolls onward.

[You can check out our full gallery of photos from New York Toy Fair on Facebook by clicking here!]


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Apps you can play in a snap!

Last week, I did a rundown of board games and card games you can play in under 15 minutes. Games that were travel-friendly were also highlighted, since they tend to be quick-to-play and easy-to-learn.

But when it comes to quick-play games that are travel-friendly, you can’t get much easier or more accessible than the puzzle and game apps on your phone! Whether you’re stuck in traffic, trapped at the dentist’s office, or hiding in the bathroom during a family gathering, these are always ready to play!

Naturally, we have to start with the Penny Dell Crossword App! Not only do you have smart navigation to move you to partially filled-in entries and dozens upon dozens of the best crosswords around, but there’s the free daily puzzle for all app users! Plus, it’s available for both Android and iOS users!

For the dice game fans in the readership, Farkle is a quick-play version of Yahtzee. You roll six dice, looking for three of a kind, three pairs, and other key combinations in order to earn points. It’s an easy game to pick up whenever you wish, making it ideal for players on the move.

If you’re a word seek or word search enthusiast, Wordbrain might be right up your alley. This Boggle-style game is all about finding words spelled out in grids. As the grids get bigger, more words are hidden inside, and the difficulty level increases. But when it comes to quick-play games, the early rounds of Wordbrain are tough to match for sheer speed.

[The Boggle variant Ruzzle was also mentioned by several PuzzleNationers.]

7 Little Words is a clued puzzle where you assemble the answers from two- and three-letter chunks in the grid below. It’s a clever variation on crosswords, and it can be surprisingly challenging to cobble together the correct words when you stare at odd letter combinations like NHO or OOV.

For a quick-play resource management game, there’s Mini Metro. It’s up to you to construct and maintain a subway line for commuters. The more you can deliver between stations efficiently, the better. It’s a bright, colorful, engaging way to test your puzzly skills.

[Other puzzly building games include Triple Town, where you combining matching items in threes to build up a neighborhood into a town, and City2048, which applies the same tile-matching as the number game 2048, but in order to build a city.]

Bejeweled Blitz also got several recommendations from members of the PuzzleNation readership. It offers the same pattern-matching that made Bejeweled and Candy Crush such big hits, but does so with only sixty seconds of gameplay. So if you’re looking for some match-3-style gaming without a big time commitment, this might be the puzzle app for you.

Finally, we’ve got Really Bad Chess, a puzzly take on the classic game. The main difference? You don’t know what pieces you’re going to end up with until you start a match. It completely upends most of the strategy that goes along with traditional chess, which makes it endlessly replayable.

Honorable mentions go to QuizUp (a Trivial Pursuit-style trivia game) and Joon Pahk’s Guess My Word, as well as all the board game adaptations like Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Splendor, that experienced players could play quickly, but don’t necessarily fit the bill.

Are there any favorite quick-play apps of yours that I missed? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!


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Mira Modi + dice = safer passwords for all!

Every time you sign up for a new website, email address, or social media account, you’re reminded of one of the most curious aspects of modern life for an Internet user: the increasing complexity of passwords.

Whether you’re being graded on the relative strength (or weakness) of your password based on its length or being required to include uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, punctuation marks, or other symbols along the way, passwords are getting more and more complicated in the name of Internet safety.

This modern form of cryptography often leads to one of three results:

  • you use the same password over and over for everything (not safe)
  • you have to write down different passwords to every site in order to keep them all straight (also not safe)
  • you opt for a password-management service to handle them for you (a bit unwieldy)

Well, as it turns out, an 11-year-old girl named Mira Modi might have the answers to all your password needs.

Mira started a company called DiceWARE to create passwords that are both secure and easy to remember!

From her website:

The DiceWARE method creates strong passwords that are easy to remember but extremely difficult for hackers to crack. Passwords contain random words from the dictionary, such as: alger klm curry blond puck horse.

For the very affordable price of $2, Mira will create a six-word password just for you, send it to you by mail, and then encourage you to customize it however you see fit — capitalized letters, number replacement, etc. — so even she won’t know your password when you’re done.

How does it work?

You roll a die 5 times and write down each number. Then you look up the resulting five-digit number in the DiceWARE dictionary, which contains a numbered list of short words.

So, essentially, the same randomness that can make Yahtzee a delight or a challenge will decide each of your six words. It’s ingeniously simple and designed to dissuade the usual hacking tricks.

Kudos to Mira for creating an affordable and immensely clever way to make our websurfing safer! This is puzzly thinking at its finest!


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Roll with it!

When it comes to games, there’s probably no component more common or familiar than the six-sided die. From craps to Yahtzee, backgammon to Monopoly, everyone has played a game where the dice controlled your destiny.

And there are several games where the dice are integral to the puzzly gameplay.

The most obvious example is Boggle and its numerous variants. Boggle is played with a 4×4 grid of dice with letters on them, shaken up in order to randomize the letters shown. Players have a limited amount of time to spell out as many words as possible, moving from one letter to an adjacent one.

Testing both your vocabulary and anagramming skills, Boggle is great fun and a terrific challenge, depending on the letters you get. (It can also depend on which edition of the game you purchase, since some have different available letters in order to facilitate gameplay.)

Along that line, I actually received a great puzzly dice game as my Secret Santa gift in the office this year. (How did they know I like puzzles and games!?)

It’s called Campbell’s Alphabet Dice Game, and it’s a marvelous mix of Boggle, Yahtzee, and anagramming games, challenging the players to conjure words from the letters they roll.

The packaging is clever, and the game is designed with all sorts of puzzly references to cooking. With higher-valued letters and a low-stress game mechanic — if you’re stumped, everyone rerolls their letters instead of making one player suffer with crummy letters — it’s a nice addition to my puzzle game treasure chest.

And when it comes to letter-dice games, we have to talk about one of my all-time favorites, Scattergories.

In Scattergories, you roll a giant 20-sided die with numerous letters on it, determining what letter everyone will be using that round. Then players are required to come up with one word for each category that starts with that letter.

The puzzly aspect comes not only from coming up with appropriate words to fit each category, but trying to figure out which words your fellow players WOULDN’T come up with themselves, since answers duplicated by one or more players are worth zero points.

It can be a real challenge to not only come up with ten answers on the fly, but to then try to get into the heads of your opponents and guess what words THEY’D write. More than once, I’ve psyched myself out by assuming one answer was too easy and changing it, only to discover a friend had done the exact same thing. *laughs*

Of course, I would be be remiss if I didn’t mention Dungeons & Dragons, a dice game that goes far beyond the average board game-playing experience.

When it comes to conquering puzzles, some of the best puzzle-solving experiences of my life have been in sessions of Dungeons & Dragons with friends.

Whether it was unraveling a curious mechanical puzzle in order to unlock a door, solving a devious riddle to avert some horrible outcome, or devising a clever way to combine the tools at hand to overcome an unexpected obstacle, my puzzle skills often served me well, allowing me to match wits with dark wizards and perilous foes.

This weekend marked the 40th Anniversary of the birth of the world’s most famous roleplaying game, and it’s hard to deny the incredible legacy sparked by those curiously-shaped dice.

Dice games come in all shapes and sizes — as do the dice themselves! — but they add a marvelous wrinkle of randomness and challenge to the puzzle-game community.

What are your favorite puzzly dice games? Did I miss any major ones? Let me know in the comments!

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