IQ Focus

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The IQ series by SmartGames is one of their best brands and probably the most diversified in the logic games scene. If you like puzzles, chances are that at least one of the 10+ IQ games available right now is for you. The newest member in the family is the IQ Focus, designed by Raf Peeters. A packing puzzle game for 1 player, which is surely the hardest one yet in the series. This one is only for the bravest puzzlers out there.

What, at first, looks like your average packing puzzle with several polyominoes sizes, is soon discovered to be a much more interesting and complex game. The game is comprised of ten dissimilar polyominoes, each one with a different color combination. You'd think that fitting all the pieces inside the game board would be sufficient, but there's actually a very different concept at play here. The goal is to fit all the pieces inside (of course)...but the trick is to do so in such a way that the nine central squares shall match the same color configuration shown in the challenge. This will be pretty effortless in the first challenges, but wait 'till you get to the "Wizard" ones...

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 17

This is one of those games where it's very easy to understand, but a pain to solve - in a good way, if you like a challenge. The first challenges even show you the first few pieces of the solution, so you just have to place a couple of the remaining pieces. The real challenge, however, starts when you won't have nothing but the central color configuration to guide you.

As you can imagine, only the central squares matter for the solution, so any colors outside of it won't be important. You can place a piece anywhere on the board as long as the squares in the middle match the challenge. All pieces must be used in order to have the correct and only solution.

The game box is cleverly designed with a lid that shows a transparent window the size of the central area while it blurs the rest of the game board. In order to guide you as you try to solve a particular challenge, you can close the lid and compare what is shown through the window with what you see in the challenge. There are 120 challenges divided in five levels of difficulty. If you want a challenge, go straight to the Wizard level.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 65

Closing Comments:

IQ Focus is a puzzler's dream when it comes to finding a challenge that really tests your solving skills. I wouldn't recommend it to a beginner, because frustration would kick in rather soon and you wouldn't enjoy it. You could do fine with the first challenges, but those practically solve themselves, since you can see most of the solution anyway. It's one of the best in the IQ series, in my opinion.

Availability: There are lots of places where you can find the IQ Focus or any other by SmartGames. Amazon usually carries most of their catalog.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 114


Für Elise

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I've always been a passionate of music, besides puzzles, of course. And when there's a puzzle that combines these two passions, I got to have it. As you can see from past reviews, music has been present for a while in my blog: Cast Harmonyπano and The Orchestra Pit. So, you can see how excited I was when I saw Siebenstein-Spiele's latest design, Für Elise. The puzzle was designed by Jürgen Reiche.

A clear homage to Beethoven and his classic composition Für Elise, the puzzle will certainly inspire anyone who attempts to solve it... Or should I say, "play it". Made to look like a music sheet, the small frame only measures 9.7cm (3.8"). There are four identical pieces in the shape of musical notes, each with a different color, and the goal is to have them all fit inside the frame so that they won't overlap. It looks simple with just four pieces, but it's not as straightforward as you might think.

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I love packing puzzles. I must have over a hundred of them, and with each one, there's always something different to experience. It doesn't matter if you solve one or a hundred. A packing puzzle can always baffle you and put your skills to the test. Each one requires a different approach, since you're working with very different pieces. However, some of them might have some things in common...

The puzzle has a subtle feature that a distracted puzzler might overlook. Each piece has a couple of markings in one of the sides, while the opposite side is flat and smooth. What this tells you is that you can only use the side that's marked to solve the puzzle, which will limit by half the possible orientations.

This is not an overly difficult puzzle, but it had me thinking for a while. Rated by the manufacturer as a level 5/7 and PuzzleMaster as a level 7/10, this is very much so an average difficulty. Since you're working with a squared frame and four identical pieces, the logic says you're looking for a symmetrical solution, where the pieces will be displayed in a somewhat organized fashion and not haphazardly. Siebenstein-Spiele usually doesn't provide a solution with their puzzles, so you're pretty much on your own. If you really are desperate to find a solution, you can see one (and probably the only one) below.



Closing Comments:

Für Elise by Siebenstein-Spiele is a beautiful and lovely puzzle, with an elegant solution that only a music-themed one could provide. It's an accessible puzzle for all ages and skills, and will be a perfect gift for a music (and puzzle) lover.

Availability: You can get a copy of Für Elise at PuzzleMaster for just $20.99 CAD. There are other interesting puzzles from Siebenstein-Spiele available.


Jump'IN

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Here's a type of puzzle that I like, which we don't see much in logic games: sequential movement. Making its way to SmartGames by the hand of Raf Peeters, Jump'IN is a cute game of sequential movement that is quite deceiving in its difficulty. Be prepared to be challenged in a way that not many logic games can do.

Presented in a small package, perfectly portable, Jump'IN features only eight pieces, three of them stationary and five movable. The pieces are quite small, so it's not recommended for children under the age of seven. The game board features a 5x5 grid and comes with a booklet with 60 challenges, divided in five increasing difficulties. There's much here for anyone, expert or not.


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The game can be a little confusing to understand at first, since there are some rules you have to understand before starting, but once they're learned, it becomes rather fun to play.

The main goal here is to have all the rabbits inside the brown holes. Since this is a sequential movement puzzle, there will always be an ideal solution with a minimum number of moves (identified in each challenge). Naturally, on your first try, you won't probably solve a challenge with the ideal number of moves, but once you know the final position for each piece it's easier to find a strategy and improve your solutions. It's also a way to improve your solving skills for the more difficult challenges that await you at the end of the booklet.


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The only stationary pieces in the game are the mushrooms. Once you put them on the board you can't move them for the remainder of that challenge. As for the rabbits and the foxes, each has a different kind of movement. The foxes move by sliding them back and forth on the board, whether it's vertically or horizontally, depending on the piece's orientation. The rabbits, as expected, move by jumping around over obstacles found on the board, either foxes, mushrooms or even other rabbits. They always have to jump over a piece and never over an empty space, and always land on another empty space. To better understand this, a minimum move has to be at least two spaces, never an adjacent one. Also, a rabbit inside a hole may not be indicative of its final position, as they can move around anytime if it's necessary.

I found this game to be quite challenging, but still fun whether you're playing at a low or a high level. Because the solution involves a sequential series of moves, you have to be thinking in advance, or there will be times when you're just moving around in trial and error. This can be avoided by simply using a strategy similar to chess, where you're always a few moves ahead. It can be very rewarding to solve a difficult challenge by using logic instead of just trying to see where some particular move leads you.


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Closing Comments:

I really liked SmartGames' new puzzle game. It makes you think in a different way and that's pretty good. The concept being so different from what's usually on offer by SmartGames also makes it a worthy addition to your collection.

Availability: You can find the Jump'IN game in your usual puzzle stores, like Amazon. Other games by SmartGames are also worth considering.


Temple Connection

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If you love Japanese culture or Asian architecture in general, SmartGames' new puzzle game is the right choice to occupy your free time for a while. Designed by Raf Peeters, this stunning game successfully captures the fascinating world of temples in its many shapes and forms. Do you dare enter this realm?

I really like the presentation in the Temple Connection. The design has this emphasis on contrast between the gray concrete and the red wood, and I think it works really well. There aren't many pieces to work with and that's the beauty of the game as well. With a minimalist design, you only need to concentrate on what's important. The main goal of the game is to connect the temples with roads and bridges. Sounds simple, but don't underestimate it just yet. Wait until you attempt one of the hardest challenges...

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 9

The rules, as always, are very easy to understand, which means that anybody, puzzler or not, can jump right in, regardless of experience.

Three different temples comprise the main game, with seven other different pieces that represent stretches of roads and bridges that can be connected on both ends. To easily identify the temples, you just need to notice the number of rooftops they have (1, 2 or 3).

Each temple has two doors, but not all doors are used at the same time, which means that some doors might not have a road connecting to them. This greatly affects the difficulty of the game, since you won't know beforehand which doors are used and which ones are unused.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 42

As you set up a challenge, notice the orientation of the temples and their doors, and also which doors are on the ground floor and which ones on the second floor. A black or white arrow will indicate which floor you should see, respectively.

With a total of 80 challenges spread across five different difficulty levels, there's something for everyone here. Because there's only one solution per challenge, it's easy (figuratively speaking) to know when a puzzle should be solved. You don't need to use all the pieces to solve a particular challenge, but there should be a continuous path connecting each temple. Roads can pass underneath bridges, which creates a beautiful effect when solved.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 76

Closing Comments:

What's not to like in the new Temple Connection puzzle game? Lots of challenges to solve and a gorgeous design made with high quality materials. It's what we've come to expect with SmartGames, and this one is no exception. Perfect for those looking for a challenge or simply to enrich your puzzle game's collection.

Availability: The Temple Connection can be found at Amazon. Look for other designs by SmartGames, also worth playing.


Butterflies

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Ever since I started my puzzle collection, slide puzzles were among my favorites. Any puzzle that has a sliding mechanism to solve fascinates me. Be it wood, plastic, metal or glass, the material is not important. Size doesn't matter either, as anything from a 3x3 grid onward will interest me the all the same.

Design and execution is what I value most in a slide puzzle. The actual concept and how that idea was translated to the final product is what in the end will captivate my attention. After all, a puzzle is eye-candy, too. This and more is why Butterflies by Raf Peeters is among my top 5 favorite SmartGames ever.

Simplicity wins over complex and overthought concepts this time. How a mere 3x3 slide puzzle could have this effect on me is hard to explain in words, but I'll do my best. If not to justify my love and enthusiasm for this puzzle, at least I'll try to convince you on why you should add this puzzle to your collection.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 6

Let's start by packaging and design.

SmartGames have introduced recently their latest packaging, which not only reduces materials and size, but is also very practical for on the go puzzling. The puzzle itself is bigger than your traditional pocket-sized slide puzzles (15cm or 5.9"), but in this case it actually works best, because you need a bigger puzzle to appreciate the artwork.

Each of the eight tiles is decorated on one side with a unique configuration of different butterflies and half butterflies (we'll go into that in a moment). The other side is empty, because you won't need artwork on all eight tiles at the same time on many of the included 48 challenges. The actual sliding of the tiles, which is the most important part in a sliding puzzle, is smooth and without any blocking or jamming.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 28

How does it work?

In essence, Butterflies is not that different from the classic numbers sliding puzzle. The main goal, however, is a little different. Instead of trying to put the tiles in a specific order, the Butterflies puzzle works with edge-matching. It's not as straightforward as ordering numbers, because you need to study the tiles and work out where each one belongs. I'd say that it's a tad more difficult than a numbers puzzle, but if you can solve those you'll be fine with this one as well - It just takes some time to adjust how you think about this logic.

Each tile will have at least half a butterfly. After you set up a desired challenge from the booklet, the goal is work out how to put all the butterflies in their complete and symmetrical shape, just by sliding the tiles. Only sliding movements are permitted. Also, you can't leave half butterflies next to the boarders - That would be mean...

Another interesting aspect of this puzzle is that all 48 challenges can be solved in 32 moves or less. Can you do it for all of them?

Here's a tip for when you run out of challenges:

1- place some tiles on the board like you were setting up any of the other challenges, but make sure to leave only complete butterflies. Remember, you're setting up the final stage as if the puzzle were already complete.
2- now place any remaining tiles on their empty side so that the board is filled.
3- take a photo of the complete pattern.
4- Finally, mix all the tiles so that they appear to be all scrambled and take another photo.

Do this a dozen times or more and you'll have several new puzzles to solve!

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 38

Closing Comments:

If you haven't worked it out by now, I absolutely loved the Butterflies puzzle. It's such an enjoyable little puzzle, and very hard to put it down once you start. I'm a sucker for sliding puzzles, and the design and concept of the Butterflies has it all in its favor. I'd love to see other grid sizes with the same design, maybe a 4x4 and a 5x5 - bigger sizes would start to feel overwhelming.

I highly recommend this one if you have an interest for sliding puzzles.

Availability: You can find the Butterflies puzzle at Amazon.com and many others from SmartGames.


Penguins Pool Party

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With Summer fast approaching, nothing better than a cool breeze from the Antarctic with the company of a few penguins for a Pool Party. "Organized" by Raf Peeters and "hosted" by SmartGames, Pool Party is a fun packing puzzle game for all kids aged 6 and up.

For anyone that likes packing puzzles, Penguins Pool Party is a simple but fun little game with just four pieces and four tokens. Don't underestimate it though, because the most difficult challenges will make you think hard and use your solving skills to the max.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 19

The design is, as always, flawless. A beautiful presentation with high quality materials combine to deliver a great game that's accessible even to someone who's not used to play puzzle games on a regular basis. Each piece consists of four slanted hexagonal ice blocks joined at different angles to provide four non-identical shapes. These pieces will then have to be placed in the game board with the penguin tokens taking the other four empty spaces left on the board. Since the more difficult challenges use less penguins than the easier ones, some empty places will remain on the board.

Solving the first challenges is quite easy: just choose any of the provided 60 puzzles in the booklet and place the penguins as shown. The goal is to place the four pieces around the penguins without covering them. Seems easy, but the unusual shapes of the blocks will certainly confuse you. To make matters worse in later challenges, less penguins means empty spaces, but as you're solving a challenge you won't know which spaces are supposed to be empty, you just know how many. It's this uncertainty, however, that makes the game so interesting and fun to solve. As usually, there's only one solution per challenge, so if you can place all pieces around the penguins you'll know you've solved it.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 40

Closing Comments:

A perfect puzzle to take with you on your summer vacation, Penguins Pool Party is another great example of what makes SmartGames' games so appealing. The themes are well chosen and presented to a high and careful attention to detail that makes each game very unique and have its own personality.  Can't recommend it enough.

Availability: You can find the Penguins Pool Party at Amazon or any other major puzzle store. For more SmartGames check out their extensive catalog.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 58


Dinosaurs - Mystic Islands

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Just when you thought Dinosaurs were extinct, Raf Peeters manages to go back in time and capture a few of them to be featured in one of SmartGames' latest puzzle games. Can you save the green dinosaurs from the bad red carnivores? The fate of ancient Earth is in your hands.

Dinosaurs - Mystic Islands is a rather interesting take on the traditional packing puzzle with some edge-matching elements. The game is beautifully presented in the new SmartGames' packaging, much more practical to use and to take with you on your travels. Six identically-sized pieces fill up the entirety of the game board, which is also nicely decorated with tiny islands and palm trees.

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As usually, the game already comes with a plethora of different challenges for you to solve (80), divided in four difficulties. The game rules are simple and easy to understand. The main goal is to solve any given challenge by matching the shapes on that challenge with the six game pieces. For that, you have to keep in mind the following rules:

  • The red, carnivorous, dinosaurs cannot be in the same islands of the herbivorous ones
  • You can leave empty islands or dinosaurs of the same species sharing one
  • The pieces can be place either horizontally or vertically
  • The pieces should match the edges of the game board
As you can see, the game is very simple to understand, leaving you with more time to actually enjoy it. The challenges have only one solution each, so you'll know when you finally solve it. I found this game to be mostly easy except for a few of the later challenges, where the difficulty really spikes a bit and you have to really apply your problem solving skills. Two pairs of pieces are identical, but they're not ambiguous, since they're represented by a different colored dinosaur.

(Click to Enlarge) - Level 59
Closing Comments:

Dinosaurs - Mystic Islands was a joy to play from start to finish. The concept seems clever and fresh, as if this wasn't something we already expected from SmartGames. Overall, a really nice puzzle game, with just the right amount of challenge. But, we all like a good challenge, am I right?

Availability: You can find the Dinosaurs - Mystic Islands on Amazon or any other major puzzle store. Check out other cool puzzles by SmartGames.

(Click to Enlarge) - Level 61


Deducktion

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Deducktion, another clever design by Raf Peeters and produced by SmartGames, is a logic game where you can play with numbers in a fun way, and it's also very educational for the young and growing minds. If you like mathematical puzzles and games, keep reading to find out how it works.

The game is nicely presented in a notebook style with clasp. Inside you'll find two sets of booklets with 48 challenges on the left, divided by four difficulty levels -- could've been more, but it's enough to get you busy for a while -- and a magnetic board with 12 duck magnets on the right. The ducks are grouped in three families, each color representing one family comprised of a mother duck and its corresponding ducklings. There's a 3x4 grid which shall be filled entirely by the 12 ducks, although there are some rules to take into account before you start:

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 6

- When starting a challenge pay attention to the numbers and colors on the squares.
- There can be an isolated number without a specific color, or just a color, or even both (more common on the starting challenges). These squares can indicate that a specific duck with that number should be placed on that same square, but may not indicate its color, or the opposite, where you are given the color but not the actual number - You have to figure out for yourself. If there's a square with a color and a number, no "deducktion" is necessary - it's that specific duck.
- Each duck family must be placed on the board in a chain. This chain may not be straight, but the numbers do have to be adjacent (for example, you can't have duck #4 next to #2 and so on). The chain needs to have the correct number sequence (horizontally or vertically).

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 29

The logic behind this game reminds of Sudoku, because you have to use strategic planning and deductive reasoning skills. Since I love Sudoku so much, it's easy to understand why I also enjoyed Deducktion. The subtle but creative way that the designer found to have bigger and smaller duck families allows you to find the correct logic in every challenge to solve them (green family has only three ducks; red family has four and yellow family has five ducks). You'll have just the necessary information to solve all 48 challenges.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 42
Closing Comments:

Deducktion is one of the most educational games you can find in the SmartGames catalog. It's a great tool to exercise your brain, whether it's for a growing 6 year-old or a 66+ year-old that needs to keep their brain as sharp as possible. If you know anyone that can't have enough Sudoku puzzles, this is a great gift for them.

Availability: Amazon is your best bet to find the Deducktion game or any other by SmartGames.


No Way

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No Way is an interesting packing puzzle produced by Brilliant Puzzles, and it's actually a 2-in-1, as you have two challenges to solve, both of them quite difficult.

This is a well made puzzle built from hardwood, quite strong and resistible. Five pieces, all different, comprise this unusual packing puzzle. Its dimensions are moderate for this kind of puzzle, measuring about 11.5 x 13 cm (4.52" x 5.12"). It's a double-sided tray, meaning twice the fun.

Jean Claude Constantin has a version of this puzzle called Fact, which is what four of the five pieces represent: F A C T. The original version was presented at the 20th IPP by Luc de Smet. The two puzzles are similar, but the original is only one challenge. Which one you should get would depend on what you want from a puzzle, looks or challenge.

(Click to Enlarge) - Second Challenge
There are two main objectives in this puzzle. The first is an odd-shaped tray where all the pieces should fit exactly inside the boarders of the puzzle without any wiggle room. This is a bit difficult, but an experienced puzzler can solve it pretty quickly. The second challenge, however, is much mode demanding and requires a bit of outside-the-box thinking. The reason for this is that the second tray has uneven dimensions compared to the pieces, so there's a very specific way to pack the pieces in a way  that they all fit inside with very little room to spare.

Since I already knew Constantin's version, this one was solved in no time, but if you're unfamiliar with the concept, I reckon it could be rather challenging to solve. There's the extra challenge with the odd-shaped tray, which is a bonus - that one actually took a while to solve - so not everything was spoiled.



Closing Comments:

No Way is a great puzzle for anyone looking for a challenge...or two. It's a cheap, but good quality puzzle, so it's a no-brainer.

Availability: No Way is out of stock as of the writing of this review. You can check out Brilliant Puzzles website regularly or ask for restock dates.


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