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.


Puzzle Pod Junior

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From the creators of puzzles such as Puzzle Pod Cryptex (previously reviewed) and Vino Vault, comes a new puzzle for all gift lovers out there. Puzzle Pod Junior offers a fun and interesting way of getting your loved ones a thoughtful gift with an adventure attached to it.

For someone who's not very creative when it comes to gifts, the Puzzle Pod Junior is the perfect way to overcome that. Offering money or a gift card is a nice way of giving the other person an option to get what they wanted without running the risk of disappoint them. What better way to do that than enclosing the money or a gift card with the Puzzle Pod Junior?

The puzzle is pretty small compared to the original. It measures about 10.5 x 9.5 cm (4.13" x 3.74"). While the original was used for small objects, this one is specifically used for money or gift cards: basically, anything that fits inside the small compartment (8.3 x 10.2 x 0.2 cm or 3.27" x 4.02" x 0.08"). The puzzle unlocks by rotating the three discs so that the three key letters are aligned with the arrow at the top of the puzzle. When that happens the back of the puzzle slides off as a drawer, showcasing its contents to the deserving enigma solver.

(Click to Enlarge) - Courtesy of puzzle-pod.com
The idea of this puzzle is similar to the original Puzzle Pod, in that you set a keyword that unlocks the puzzle and its contents for the person you're giving the gift. The key is any three-letter word you can think of, but it's not limited to three letter words. You can use three words and set the key to the first letter of each word, or the first three letters of a bigger word, or assign letters to numbers from an equation. You see, there's a myriad of options, only limited by your creativity.

When you have your keyword ready you can then set the provided stickers accordingly to the puzzle and lock it. All you need now is to give some clues to the recipient of the gift and see them struggle to solve the cryptic puzzle.

The only drawback from this puzzle is that, unlike its predecessor, there's no easy way to reset it. It can only be used once, since the stickers are very hard to pull off once they're on the puzzle. While it's true that the puzzle only serves one purpose for the person who's giving the gift, it could be recycled, as the gift recipient could've use it again to offer something to another person. One could use the same clues or new ones for the same keyword, though.

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Closing Comments:

While in practice it can only be used once, the Puzzle Pod Junior is perfect for offering money or a gift card, instead of just being another dull or a banal present. The puzzle provides the gift giver and recipient a way of engaging in a creative and fun adventure of puzzle deciphering, which would be something difficult to accomplish otherwise.

Availability: You can find the Puzzle Pod Junior in the following links:



Links:

Video Demonstration - Courtesy of puzzle-pod.com


Ghost Hunters

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Do you believe in ghosts? You better, because SmartGames' latest logic game is haunted, and your task is to hunt every single one until you're ghost-free.  Are you brave enough to move forward? Keep on reading...

Made with the same high quality and effort SmartGames puts in all their products, Ghost Hunters promises a scary but fun ghost-hunting adventure. Presented in their new packaging, which is more practical and travel-friendly, the game shines with personality. The artwork is cartoonish, light-hearted, and the pieces have this translucent effect that enhances the visual effect the flashlights have on the ghosts. It's really well thought-out to the tiniest detail.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 8

The game is pretty simple to understand. There are 30 challenge cards, each with a challenge on both sides, which makes a total of 60 different challenges with four levels of difficulty. The higher the number on a challenge card the harder will be to solve it. There are only six pieces that fill the entire game board (4x4 grid), but the difficulty of this game is not filling the board with the pieces, it's how you do it by following a small set of rules: each piece contains at least one flashlight painted on one side, meaning you can only use that side for the solution; you can successfully capture all ghosts in a given challenge by strategically placing the pieces so that the transparent circles of the light beams cover every ghost; if there's any ghost left covered by the blue part of a puzzle piece or the flashlight design itself, you're doing it wrong.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 33

As usually, the game starts with some challenges that are very easy to solve, to get you acquainted with the game's rules. This means that most pieces' outlines in the starter challenges will be visible, telling you the shape and position of the pieces. Later challenges will only reveal colored flashlights but not the outline of the pieces. Some will only show the flashlights but not their actual color, just position and orientation. But the most challenging ones will only show the actual position of the ghosts. You will have to figure out the rest all by yourself. These are the ones that will put your solving skills to the test, and also your patience.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 55


Closing Comments:

Essentially a packing puzzle with some elements of pattern recognition, this game however, is much more than the sum of its parts. It's a journey of discovery, with many satisfying moments, especially when you finally catch the last ghost of any given challenge. It's quite a fun experience, whether you're a 6 year-old kid or a young at heart 106 year-old chap. It's highly recommended for the whole family.

Availability: You can find the Ghost Hunters game at Amazon or many puzzle stores around the world. Check out other fun games by SmartGames as well. They have many different games that will delight any puzzle enthusiast.


Tetrahedron In Cage

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If you've been following my blog posts for a while, you probably know that Vinco is among my favorite puzzle designers. His puzzles are made with the best quality wood materials and the finish work he applies to all his puzzles is top notch. If there was ever a reason to visit the Czech Republic, Vinco is certainly a very good one.

Tetrahedron in Cage is Vinco's take on a classic design by Stewart Coffin, the Ball Room. This is a very interesting design made with two contrasting wood types, one for the outer frame and the other for the actual pieces. It measures 10 x 6 cm (4" x 2.4").

In the original design you had four pieces made with spheres glued together in different arrangements. The idea was to build a pyramid with those pieces so that it could fit inside a square box. In this version, however, Vinco takes it one step further and makes the puzzle with only three pieces (or is it backwards?). But that's not all...Instead of having a box where you can freely touch the pieces, Vinco made a cage with the pieces already inside, and with little room to wiggle.

Vinco rates this as a difficulty level 4/5, and I completely agree. It's a little challenging to solve. You can separate the solving process into two steps: first you have to figure out how to build a pyramid out of those three different pieces. When you do, you have to actually build the pyramid with the very limited space inside the cage, since you can't take the pieces out. The openings in the sides are all you got to work with. Also, the pyramid won't fit with its base on the bottom, so you also have to work out the actual orientation, and that's maybe the most difficult part of the puzzle.




Closing Comments:

Tetrahedron in Cage is a very clever design by Vinco that shouldn't be missed. I like how it requires a different way of thinking and it messes with your spatial awareness. Definitely recommended for anyone who likes a challenge.

Availability: Tetrahedron in Cage can be purchased at Brilliant Puzzles for just $16.95 USD. Many other designs from Vinco are available.


Parking Puzzler

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At first sight, this interesting puzzle game looks like an alternate version of the classic Rush Hour game. A closer inspection, though, shows a completely different concept, and a great one at that. This is the Parking Puzzler, one of Raf Peeters latest designs, made with the quality that SmartGames has accustomed us for many years now. Is it worth your time and money? In short: Absolutely! But keep reading to find out why...

The Parking Puzzler comes packaged with SmartGames' newest box design, which to me are much more practical and environment-friendly. The smaller size box means you can easily take it with you on your travels and make the journey a little more fun. I really like the style of the game, with the clear pieces adding a touch of class and sophistication to the sleek design. The cars are the perfect size and are glued to the pieces, so even a small child can play with it (the box says 6 to adult, so keep that in mind).

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 5
This game works like a traditional packing puzzle, so if you're familiar with those you're already halfway there to understand the mechanics of it. There are six pieces (two straight ones and four L-shaped ones), each of them having one or two cars attached to them. Actually, only one of the pieces has two cars attached to it. The game board is comprised of a 4x4 grid, with 12 of the 16 spaces used for "parking" the cars. A horizontal line is used as a drive way or an access lane to the parking lot, so no cars can occupy those spaces when you're solving any of the provided 60 challenges.

So how does the game work? Simple: just choose any of the 60 challenges, which are divided into four different difficulty levels, and place the six pieces in a way that it completely matches the positions and colors seen in that particular challenge. All cars have to be in the vertical orientation, so the pieces can only be placed in two directions instead of the usual four.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 23
As you progress through the difficulty levels, the hints in the challenges also become more ambiguous. Grey cars will show only their position on the parking lot, but not the actual color. You'll have to figure that out for yourself. Black squares mean you can't have any cars on that particular space. Also, many of the later challenges only show part of the game board, so you have to work out which part it is, since it doesn't show the entire grid. There's only one possible solution for each challenge, so only when you have matched exactly what is shown in the challenge will you have solved it.

The later challenges are quite tough to solve, mainly because they don't show the entire grid. You think you're doing great and you worked out where the pieces should be, only to find out later that the pieces can't be placed on that space, so you have to shift your thinking and start again. It's a really difficult game and that will satisfy and reward anyone looking for a challenge.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 41
Closing Comments:

This game was a pleasant surprise, from the moment I unpacked it, to the moment when I finally solved a particular difficult challenge that was bugging me for a while. Everything about it was cleverly designed to make your brain think in different ways and challenge you to your absolute best. This is a must-have and a perfect gift for anyone who likes a good packing puzzle.

Availabilty: Amazon is your best bet if you want to find the Parking Puzzler or any other by SmartGames.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 51


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