I think I have an idea on how to make a billion dollars if I could just figure out a way to bottle up and sell to the masses a particular memory I have. All through my preteen years, my dad knew that when he came in with the evening mail and dropped the latest issue of Highlights: The Magazine or Boys Life on the kitchen counter, I would light up with delight. Poring through those magazines kept me busy for hours: playing games, reading stories, doing puzzles and laughing at the comics.
Is that even a thing anymore? Do kids still wait with anticipation for a subscription based delivery of fun to arrive on their door steps? Because those were all magical memories for me.
Maybe it is still a thing. If you follow me on Twitter, you will occasionally see tongue-in-cheek posts with me and my little grand babies. They just love playing with with Poppa’s games. They cannot wait for me to get back home from work, so we can open up the closet and pick out a game to play. Sure, most of the time, we are playing with rules they make up as they geaux along. But, there is a joy in watching those little ones discovery all the bits and bobbles in the cardboard boxes.
So color me very intrigued when the folks at The Dark Imp offered to send us a review copy of something called the “BuzzleBox”. The name alone sent me scurrying to their website, and lo and behold, it appeared to be something akin to the “ship the fun to you” containers that I fondly remembered as a child. A few weeks later, Issue Number Two arrived on our doorstep.
The Dark Imp is the brainchild of Ellie Dix and Peter Hawtin, two educational experts who know that board games can help families get quality time together and provide the “right balance, aid communication, and promote family engagement.”
Of course, the best laid plans of reviewers geaux awry when a worldwide pandemic hits, but I finally had a visit from the little ones last week and broke out our copy. And full dislcosure — seeing my little ones faces as we opened up each section of the box was well worth the wait and probably predisposed me to good feelings about this review. So, yes, if my biases are showing, blame my grandkids overly large smiles, not me.
So what exactly is “BuzzleBox”? Picture in your mind’s eye (or just scroll down a few paragraphs) a cardboard box with a ton of content in it geared for the family gamer set. If one were so inclined, one could purchase their own copy directly from The Dark Imp at their website.
Don’t be fooled by the outside of the box. The Dark Imp are environmentally conscious, and use plain, recycled cardboard for the delivery package. Don’t waste time. Open that sucker up and get to the juicy center. Inside, you will find what a very well thought out production.
I’m going to stop right here for a second. I cannot tell a lie. I’m trying to make this review sound like the kids were excited about opening all of this stuff up, and sure, they were. But, truth be told, even as an adult, opening up the box was a treat. There’s a welcome card, brightly colored and the packing underneath was just bursting with interesting anticipation. Then, just below the card, a small tin box game nested in confetti, and below that, a seemingly limitless (but not really) amount of puzzles, cards, and a nice sized boxed game. (Mine even came with a discount card for the next game in the series.)
Each of the games were well packed and presented with well done rule sets, beautiful box covers, and lots and lots of artwork and brightly colored pieces. Clearly, the folks at The Dark Imp love board games and want that first experience with school or family gamers to be memorable.
If I have one or two picayune quibbles — the nesting confetti got all over the place! And while the two girls had a fun time putting stickers on all of the pieces, wow, were there a lot of stickers! Of course, maybe that is part of the fun of it — most kids just love stickers so it was an added component of the fun in the game.
Unlike most of our reviews, this will have to be split up a bit. Plus, part of the fun of the BuzzleBox is in discovering what’s inside, right? You really do not want me to spoil everything.
Here’s a quick list of the games and puzzles you get, right from the publisher’s website:
- Doughnut Dash: An original Dark Imp game for 2-4 players
- Top Cake: An original Dark Imp tin game for 2-4 players
- A series of puzzles to challenge your brain
- Three Game Cards: Games you can play with playing cards, dominoes and dice.
- Sleuth Box: An original Dark Imp game… on a coaster.
The first two are the ones that most gamers will be checking out, while the rest of the components are sort of the extra things that you find in any subscription, like the puzzles and jokes in the back of any youth magazine.
Let’s start, like any good Cajun would before a Mardi Gras run, with some doughnuts.
No not that kind. Wait, let me run to Meche’s before I finish the review. I’ll be right back. Do you need anything while I am there?
Mmmm. I’m back.
Doughnut Dash is an interesting little gateway-entry-to-programming game. Players control two doughnut thieves on a four by four “doughnut factory” grid covered completely by different types of those sugary goodness treats. They will take turns placing down ONE card that tells the two thieves which direction to go on the board (the choices are limited to the cardinal directions). Everyone reveals, and then in player order, everyone moves the thieves around the board.
Depending on what other players do, players may bounce into walls, pick up doughnuts, steal them from other players, zap around the factory, or do nothing depending on the outcome. Even more fun, though, are the “sugar rush” cards which give players special powers. (The Dark Imp — to no surprise — includes a great rule set in the box AND tons of help on the website, like this helpful how to play video. Really, the BuzzleBox is the complete package in terms of marketing, production and support. Kudos.) As in real life, not all doughnuts are created equally, and players will definitely be competing to get the highest scoring ones.
The game is simple enough that elementary schools can easily play, and even younger can have fun working with an adult to pick the doughnuts and play the cards, especially if you scale down the rule set. All in all, Doughnut Dash is a well-executed educational-but-still-fun game that is perfect for family gamers.
Top Cake is a tin sized game that includes a deck of specially made cards. (Just like the rest of the BuzzleBox, the game can be purchased separately from their website.) Top cake is for two to four players, and comes with colorful cards for each player. The object is to score points than the other players by outbidding each player for cakes. The players will reveal cake cards (and later a “cake topper’) for an open market. Players will play two cards (one face up, one face down) out of their hand (each one with a different bidding amount) to purchase cards from the market.
Once the bids are placed, the cards are all shown and the bids are processed, including any special action cards. (Duplicate cards are removed). Whoever bid the highest combined bid using their colored cards gets the cake in the market, but players can throw wrenches into the works, like the “Reverse” cards that turn the bidding order from highest to lowest instead. Players will try to win as many “cake layers” as they can before the game finishes, and a hand dandy reference card shows you how each cake scores points. Generally, the taller cakes will score more points, but there are ways to add bonus points.
This is another easy to teach game that adult gamers may not find very challenging to play on a weekly game night, but will work really well for middle and upper elementary school families. It teaches a little set collection, some math skills, and the fun bidding / auction mechanic used in so many good modern board games.
There are plenty of other one off puzzles, game cards, one of The Dark Imp’s coaster puzzles — yes, literally a word / symbol puzzle on a drink coaster — plus, an overarching theme and puzzle to deduce.
BUT IS IT ANY FUN?
The idea of getting a host of games and activities and puzzles on a regular basis all tied to a common theme and with top notch production is very appealing to me. But, of course, the game play has to match the components, and in this case, I think BuzzleBox delivers on what it is promising.
Compared to the oh-so-boring educational games I played in our TaG program back in elementary school, the games in the BuzzleBox have modern mechanics, bright beautiful graphics, excellent production and an obvious care in packaging to heighten the excitement and enjoyability.
Many of you are not fooled and realize the scope of these games. No, I am not saying that this is the kind of package of games that will generate any excitement at your regular weekly game group. If your group is anything like mine, they want a lot more in terms of complexity to their puzzle / strategy games, and a lot of player interaction, story building, and experience in their light tapas style party games, filler games and gateway games.
But for family gamers, teachers, or anyone that regularly plays with the younger set, BuzzleBox is a well designed package of fun games that will also sneak in a little bit of education in the play. We had a blast opening up the packages, trying out some of the puzzles, and playing the two main games in this box. Needless to say, two little girls in my house were occupied for many hours breaking BuzzleBox out. That, my friends, is a win in my book.
And just a for an hour or two, I was back in that little house on Poinciana Avenue, with my brothers and sisters in the kitchen by the back door to the garage, waiting for my dad to bring in the mail. I wonder if Boys Life’s new summer issue will be there? Hey! There’s Dad’s car turning in the driveway….
Thanks again to The Dark Imp for providing a review copy of BuzzleBox #2.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
— BJ @boardgamegumbo