Puzzles games fall in this sort of gray area of the board gaming hobby despite the fact that a lot of games can be boiled down to a sequence of puzzles. Maybe puzzley is a better word for this sort of thing? Yet things like jigsaw, crossword, word jumbles, and Rubik’s cubes are all considered puzzles in the most traditional sense of the word.
There is a very small crowd of games that seem to cross the threshold and utilize standard game mechanics in a true puzzle format or vice versa. Here are 5 puzzle games that reside on the board game geek database, but whether they are a “board game” or not, is up for debate.
Journal 29 & Journal 29 Revelation
- Players: 1+
- Time: 120 Minutes
- Designer: D. Chassapakis
- Publisher: Rain Projects Software Developers LTD.
- Difficulty: Medium
Journal 29 is a pure puzzle game for adults, teens, and even very clever kids that features 60+ puzzles. It uses an online answer & key system in which players will go to a respective webpage for each puzzle and enter their answers. If their answer is incorrect, they will need to revisit the puzzle page and find another solution. If the answer is correct, they will receive a key.
These keys that are received are sometimes used in future puzzles however, there is typically no linear progression to the puzzles and you can solve them out of order or even skip over a puzzle if you can’t figure it out. There is also a forum where you can get tips on specific puzzles and even get walked through to the solution if you would like.
The puzzles range from simple to complex and overall the books have a medium difficulty. From my experience, Journal 29: Revelation (the second book in the series) is more difficult than the first book so we would recommend starting with the first book to get a hang of the way the puzzle maker thinks. Even though these are books, they still felt like a good fit for a list of the best puzzle board games.
Wish You Were Here & Blowback
- Players: 1-5
- Time: 180-720 Minutes
- Designer: Logan Giannini
- Publisher: The Enigma Emporium
- Difficulty: Very Hard
Wish You Were Here & Blowback (Wish You Were Here: Part II) are 2 sets of postcard puzzle games that give you nothing but a few postcards with encrypted messages and the envelope they are delivered in. It is up to you to link everything together through internet research, problem solving, and teamwork. If you’re looking for a great puzzle card game, this will definitely fit the bill.
This game is incredibly difficult, the lack of instructions can have you spinning your wheels quite a bit, but it is so satisfying when you manage to solve even one of the postcards, let alone the whole thing. All in all, these tiny little cards will give you hours of contemplation and tease your brain as much as any game out there.
We could classify this as a one of the best puzzle board games if you’re looking for a real challenge, despite the puzzle card format rather than a board.
The Crusoe Crew (Puzzle Game for Kids)
- Players: 1-4
- Time: 45 Minutes
- Designer: Shuky
- Publisher: Van Ryder Games
- Difficulty: Easy
While most of the games on this list are adult puzzle games, meant for ages 12+ or 14+, Crusoe Crew is a rare puzzle game designed for children and families. The Crusoe Crew is a unique game that puts 4 players cooperatively in charge of solving puzzles, exploring, and finding items in a role-playing graphic novel adventure.
What makes this game so interesting is that each player will have a different book that goes through the same story, but because of certain physical or mental abilities of the characters, they see the world from a slightly different perspective.
For example, there is a very strong character who can break through vulnerable items, there is a character that can talk to animals, there is a character that has exceptionally good puzzle solving skills, and there is a character that is very agile and can reach places other characters can’t.
This game really puts an emphasis on teamwork and communication. Failure to work together and communicate will result in players missing important items or exploration paths. That and the ability to buy upgrades in between each mission is going to really make your family or children want to keep playing.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
- Players: 1-8
- Time: 60 Minutes
- Designer: Raymond Edwards, Suzanne Goldberg, Gary Grady
- Publisher: Space Cowboys
- Difficulty: Hard
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This is a series of pencil and paper deduction and puzzle games that require you to choose in-game locations to visit and individuals to question all throughout London. You jot down some notes of whatever new and novel information you have found, and eventually (and only when you are ready) take a crack at solving the case, answering a series of questions and comparing your answers to the great Sherlock.
What makes this game so enjoyable is just how immersive it is. You will feel like an old gumshoe wandering the streets of London with a magnifying glass and a silly hat.
Also, this is the type of game that you can put as much or as little as you want into it. If you really want to try to beat Sherlock, you’ll need to solve the cases fast, by visiting just a few places, getting the gist of it all, and hoping it’s enough. Or you could instead decide you just want to spend hours finding out everything about the case, including minor and mostly unrelated details. That’s your choice. Either way, you are in for a great time.
- Players: 1-6
- Time: 60 Minutes
- Designer: Alice Carroll, Thomas Cauët, Cyril Demaegd
- Publisher: ADC Blackfire Entertainment, Asmodee
- Difficulty: Hard
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Unlock! is a series of games that we briefly covered before. It earned top honors in our Escape Room Board Games piece, but it is well worth a mention here as it is one of the best puzzle games also.
Escape rooms have become a huge sensation both in terms of real-life experiences and in the gaming world. Unlock! is the best of the best in terms of an analog alternative to getting a group of people together and heading to your local escape room business.
What Unlock! does that the other games just don’t do, is capture the true essence of an escape room with very little convolution. You have 60 minutes to get through the puzzles laid out in front of you. They give you enough different paths to go down so that it doesn’t feel entirely linear, but it keeps you grounded with logical use of their clever card system.
They use a custom mobile app, but it isn’t some massively novel component that is confusing to understand. It is really just an input interface for puzzle codes that you have solved throughout the game.
In some ways I actually prefer sitting in for an intimate night with an Unlocked! game versus going to a real life escape room and here’s why:
- I can play Unlock! by myself or with 1 other person. Most escape rooms require 3+ to even schedule a time.
- Escape rooms are usually $25+ per person and you likely can get two Unlock! games for that price.
- A real-life escape room, once time is up, you are essentially kicked out as failures. In Unlock! you won’t get a good score if you take a long time, but you CAN take as long as you want to actually finish and you can even pause in the middle, if you want.
- Lastly, the money spent on Unlock! games is a gift that keeps on giving, literally. You don’t have to destroy any components while playing, so you can gift it to a friend after you’ve played it.
Unlock! is a great series of escape rooms you can do at home, but make sure you check out the rest of the best escape room board games, too.
What About Puzzle Video Games?
I know this is a board game blog, but for those who like to dip their toes into the digital world, there are a couple of puzzle video games that I would highly recommend:
- The Witness
- Talos Principle
Final Thoughts about Puzzle Board Games for Adults, Teens, and Kids
Puzzles will always find their ways into our lives whether by actively including them via games or just living everyday life. For those that need more than what your daily life already offers, definitely check out the puzzle board games and puzzle card games we’ve featured on this list.
Let us know if there are any great puzzle games that we missed, or if you’ve played any of the ones on this list and let us know what you thought of them.