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Top 5 Puzzle Games

Puzzle Games Feature Image
Puzzle Games Feature Image

In this feature, some of the Zatu bloggers are having a look at games that need you to think ahead about how to fit your pieces in. Games where you aim to complete a puzzle by placing pieces through the game, aiming to complete the puzzle for the highest scores, and of course victory! These are the joys of puzzles games.

One of my absolute favourite mechanisms is the puzzle, the more brain burner-y the better! I love the feeling you get when everything goes your way. You get the perfect last piece to the puzzle. The excitement when you know you are only a dice throw, a tile draw, a card draft from the perfect ending. I don't think I mind too much if lady luck isn't on my side and I don't manage it. I enjoy the journey of filling up a grid and making a pretty stained glass window, planet, town etc. 

I've assembled my merry band of bloggers who present and explain their number one puzzle game!

Sagrada - Hannah Blacknell

I absolutely love this game, it makes me so happy. Tired after a long day at work? Sagrada will help you unwind. Managed to complete Netflix and getting bored? Sagrada will fill the void. Plays 1-4 (more with expansion) in 30-45 mins. 

Sagrada is a game where you are trying to fill a stained glass window with different colour dice. It's a little sudoku-esque in that you cannot have two of the same colour or number adjacent to one another. The aims of the game change each game as these objective cards are drawn at the start. This adds a lot more replayability than I was expecting, and coupled with the fact that you get to choose from two drawn cards displaying a choice of four starting grids all of varying difficulty. I don't think I'll ever get bored as each game feels different. 

During a round, the active player drafts a selection of dice (2 times player count +1) blindly from a black canvas bag, and throws them. They get to select one and place it in their window abiding by colour or number restrictions for that spot. Then player 2 selects one, then for the second draft you go from last to first. So the last player gets to choose two together. The first player gets to pick from the last two that nobody wanted.

This continues over ten rounds, and scoring at the end is based on how many times you have achieved any of the objectives drawn for that game. Any empty spaces at the end cost you a point. 

It's a bit of a brain burner. there is an element of luck because you fling dice, but it doesn't feel random. Some of this is probably down to the three tool cards you draw which allow rule bending providing you're prepared to pay for the privilege that is!

Azul - Jonny Foster

When it comes to puzzle-y abstract board games, Azul is the cream-of-the-crop, the cat’s pyjamas;  the King of the Hill. This 2017 game has already cemented itself as a cult classic and for a very good reason: Azul is fantastic! 

From the vibrant colours to the surprisingly weighty plastic pieces. Everything about Azul stands out when you set it up on the table. But this is far more than just a flashy production; behind the shiny, colourful veneer of Azul’s pieces sits a devilishly clever puzzle game. 

Each round, players take turns drafting brightly coloured tiles from a limited selection in front of them until the display has been emptied and scoring can commence. Though the scoring isn’t exactly straightforward, it won’t be long before the pieces start to fit together in your friends’ minds like a beautiful, ornate puzzle. By this point, Azul will have sunk it’s vivid hooks into your brain, and heaven forbid if you didn’t set aside time for a second game. 

Thankfully, Azul fits into that “30-45 minute” window that’s incredibly moreish; just long enough to feel satisfying but not so long that it takes up an entire evening. That’s not to say that it isn’t competitive, however, as emotions can overflow when your sibling takes the perfect piece before you could get your hands on it. 

There’s definitely room for hate-drafting to rear its divisive head, here, and while I found that this only increased the strategic depth - and simultaneously deepened my love for Azul. It might not fit a Euro-centric group that avoids direct competition. My only real complaint is that it lacks a dedicated solo mode, but variants can be found online if you’re ever in a pinch!

Planet - Gavin Hudson

Puzzle type games fit well with the people I play games with as they are often work well at different player counts. This gives us flexibility to crack them out whether there are two, three or four of us. A game I love to get off the shelf because it is easy to teach, quick to play and pleasingly tactile is Planet.

Planet is something you can get anyone to play as they are always intrigued by the titular 3D spheres. During the game players take turns to draft magnetic landscape tiles which they fix onto their planet. Over 12 turns they are looking to build networks of different habitats to attract the most animals to thrive on their planet.

Starting in the third round, animal cards become available. To win them players need to create the best environment for that creature. Each animal requires a unique configuration of different terrains on your globe e.g. the largest expanse of water next to a sand terrain or the biggest mountain region not bordering a polar region.

What I like about Planet is the planning forward to ensure you have the optimal configuration of environments at the right time to get the cards (you can see all the upcoming cards). Working in 3D is also a challenge. There’s always a funny moment where someone is trying to keep their fingers on all their polar regions to count them. Then there’s the fact that, like most Blue Orange games, it can be played with young people too either competitively or just for the fun of making a world.

Planet ticks many of the boxes I look for in a lighter game: quick, check; easy to teach/learn, check; quirky gimmick that is more than just a gimmick, check. It’s established itself as one of my go to games to kick off a game night or if there isn’t time for something more in-depth. And I just love holding and building the little planet!

NMBR 9 - Tom Harrod

NMBR 9 is the quintessential ‘puzzle-y placement’ abstract game. It’s a 15-20 minute spacial challenge which, on the box, looks simple. And true, it’s got a thirty-second rules teach. People will nod; they’ll give you the thumbs up straight away. “I’ve got this,” they’ll say. “Sounds easy enough.” Oh, but naivety can be a cruel mistress…

This game consists of blocky tiles that represent silhouettes of numbers 0-9. Each turn, reveal a card from the deck with a number on it. Everyone receives that number’s tile, and they place it into their arrangement. Tiles have to touch at least one previously placed tile, if placed on the same level. Eh? That’s right. If possible, you can – and you should – start to place numbers (NMBRS?) on top of other tiles. Providing, that is, no parts of the tile overhang, and that they cover parts of at least two tiles beneath it.

Why? After 20 tiles, it’s game over. You add up your score by working out what ‘level’ each number sits. Think of the base as the level zero, the ground floor. Numbers here score zero. The ‘first floor’ numbers, meanwhile, score their face-value. Numbers on the second floor score double their value. Numbers on the third floor score triple their value. And so on…

I don’t think I’ve ever played a tile-placement game quite so curse-laden as NMBR 9. Please note: I mean that as the highest compliment! You’ll go into NMBR 9 thinking it’s elementary. Three tiles later, and you’ll find yourself massaging your temples. How the blazes can you rotate that ‘9’ so it’s not wasted on the ground floor?

The beauty is that these tiles are not the classic polyomino shapes from Tetris or the Bärenparks of this world. They look like they should fit together, but they always seem to be one square too cumbersome. NMBR 9 provides fantastic vexation – the best kind of oxymoron – which translates into a wonderful puzzle.

Blue Lagoon - Jim Cohen

Not one to stick to the conventional, something a touch different for my selection here. Blue Lagoon, still abstract, still puzzle-y but not the usual bedfellows to my fellow bloggers' picks. 

Blue Lagoon is a brilliant abstract strategy game, that is available for under 20 pounds and for me, is a must have in any collection. It scratches many itches, plays quickly, and offers multiple scoring opportunities in a point salad style that I really enjoy.

Ultimately, this is a puzzle placement game at its heart with added area control/majority and set collection. You are playing as a group of settlers looking to first explore and then settle in new uncharted lands. You are placing villager tiles down on a map full of islands and the interconnecting seas, either on the land or seas between them. The first tile can go anywhere you like, but you must start on the sea. The only subsequent rule is you must place your tile connecting to another existing one.

On certain island spaces, there are treasures and resources to be collected. These score you points in a simple set collection style at the end of each stage. You also have village huts that you can place on any land tile which stay on the board at the mid point. Whereas, your villagers are removed. In the second stage, you can now place a village as before. Now also, starting from any location of an existing hut you placed in the first round.

The game is brilliant in a three. There is just enough battling for land to hit the sweet spot without it getting too cluttered.  In a two, you can score easily and usually avoid the other player making for a simple more solitaire game. In a four, it can be a little frustrating not being able to go where you like if you don’t get there first (ala Ticket to Ride), but still enjoyable in more of a land grab game. Although, BGG suggest four players is the best player count. I would suggest it just depends how much of a challenge you want.

There are a few puzzle games that we shortlisted but didn't make the top 5, the likes of Tiny Towns, Patchwork for example. Let us know of your favourites that you think should be in this list!

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