Single-player puzzle games from Smart Games are designed to challenge kids and adults alike. We recently played with three different puzzle games from their current range, Dinosaurs: Mystic Islands, Asteroid Escape, and IQ Stars, and thoroughly enjoyed each one.
Dinosaurs: Mystic Islands (Age 6+)
This is one of the largest puzzle games in the Smart Games range and has big, chunky pieces, which make it ideal for younger players. The idea behind Dinosaurs: Mystic Islands is simple, place the pieces into the grid so that each island is complete and no island contains both green and red dinosaurs.
- One Game Board
- Six Puzzle Pieces
- One Rules/Challenge Booklet
How to play
Open the challenge booklet and choose one of the 80 challenges. The difficulty of these challenges ranges from Starter to Junior, Expert, and finally Master. Starter Puzzles start you off easily by showing you the orientation of each piece along with the location of three dinosaurs. These puzzles then get progressively harder, reducing the number of dinosaurs shown, then reducing how many pieces show their orientation until you are left with only the map of the islands.
Once you have selected a puzzle, simply place all six pieces onto your game board so that the map of the islands matches the image in the challenge booklet and no island contains both green and red dinosaurs. Once you think you’ve done it, you can compare your puzzle board to the solution at the back of the book and check you were correct.
Dinosaurs: Mystic Islands is a fun little challenge, although we felt it was aimed at a much younger audience than the other two puzzle games we played. Even the hardest levels were solvable in only a few minutes by both adults and my eight-year-old, and it didn’t take us long to work through most of the challenge booklet. Despite that, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick this up for any little dinosaur fan because it is utterly adorable, and those big chunky pieces I mentioned earlier make it great for little hands.
My biggest criticism of this game has to be the packaging. It is the only one of the three not to come with a lid to make it self-containing, meaning that it has to be kept in the original box, even when being taken out and about. The box is a little larger than it needs to be as well and comes with an unnecessary plastic insert that could easily have been removed if the game had a lid.
Approximate Cost: $20
Positives: Cute, colorful, easy to master, great for young kids
Negatives: Not travel-friendly, unnecessary plastic packaging
Asteroid Escape (Age 8+)
Asteroid Escape is one Smart Games’ mid-sized puzzle games and is broadly similar to the popular Rush Hour, which I reviewed last year. The aim of the game is to slide tiles around the grid until the spaceship can slide off the board.
- One Game Board with Lid
- 7 Asteroid Tiles
- 1 Spaceship Tile
- One Rule/Challenge Booklet
How to Play
Open the challenge booklet and choose one of the 60 challenges. As with Dinosaurs: Mystic Islands, the difficulty of these challenges ranges from Starter to Junior, Expert to Master, but Asteroid Escape goes one further with a Wizard level. Each challenge is numbered and also tells you the shortest number of moves it can be completed in. This starts with six moves for the first challenge and climbs to an incredible 109 moves for the hardest Wizard level challenge. All the challenges look similar in the book and simply show you where to place the eight tiles at the beginning, then it’s down to you.
Once the challenge has been set up, you slide the tiles around the board and attempt to free the spaceship. The ship’s wings extend out over the edge of its tile so it cannot fly over nearby asteroids only beside them, and some of the asteroids also overhang their tiles limiting where they can be placed. Once you are able to slide the ship out through the gap at the bottom of the board, you have won the challenge.
Although Asteroid Escape looks very similar to Rush Hour at first glance, there are enough differences to make it an entirely new (and harder) game. This is mostly because of the overhanging tiles, something unique to this game which makes solving the challenges that much harder thanks to limiting the movements of many pieces.
One of my criticisms of Asteroid Escape is that the tiles are very flat and don’t “click into place” when you slide them into a new spot. This lack of depth means they are easily knocked out of position if you catch one with your hand when playing and it also makes the game feel of a slightly lower quality than the other two puzzle games we played. The packaging is also rather wasteful as well. Although this game doesn’t have the unnecessary plastics of Dinosaurs: Mystic Islands, the box is at least a third bigger than it needs to be and that space is filled with nothing except air which means it is using up extra cardboard for no reason.
One thing I do like about Asteroid Escape is that the board comes with a lid. All the pieces and the rules/challenge booklet fit inside when the lid is placed on, which means the whole thing can be packed away into a 6x6x1.5″ solid box that is easy to store and transport. The lid is a good fit and doesn’t slip off easily, but it would have been nice to see a couple of clips on the sides just to add that extra level of security when carrying it out and about. My son also commented that he wished he could remove the spaceship from its tile to play with, and while I can see that this would add an extra dimension of play to the game, I could also see the piece getting lost very easily indeed so the ship being stuck down might be a blessing in disguise!
Approximate Cost: $25
Positives: Easily stored and transported, easy to play, has a great learning curve of challenge difficulty
Negatives: Feels cheaper than the other two puzzle games, excessive and unnecessary packaging, fewer challenges than the others
IQ Stars (Age 6+)
IQ Stars is the latest addition to the Smart Games IQ Pocket Games range of puzzle games. Players have to place each of the seven shaped pieces onto the board in order to solve the challenges.
- 1 Game Board/Carry Case
- 7 Pieces
- 1 Rules/Challenge Booklet
How to Play
Open the challenge booklet and choose one of the 120 challenges. As with the previous puzzle games, the difficulty of these challenges starts at from Starter and climbs to Junior, Expert, Master, and finally Wizard level. Each challenge is numbered and shows you where to position your opening pieces. These opening pieces must remain in place and you must position your other tiles around them to make everything fit. Every IQ Stars piece is a different shape and is made up of three or four connected stars.
The first challenges are very simple because there will only be two pieces left to place making it very easy to figure out where to put them. However, by the Master levels, you will only be shown the position of one piece leaving it up to you to slot in everything else. The Wizard levels take this a step further by only showing the location of only one star from the pieces, meaning that even the opening pieces could be position in multiple ways. We have had IQ Stars for several weeks now and I am still yet to solve one of these Wizard level challenges!
Once you have placed every piece on the board with the opening tiles in the correct place, you have won.
This was my favorite of the three puzzle games we tried out, and it has been the most popular with our friends and family too. Any time it is left out somewhere, I come back to find people playing it. In fact, one evening when we had friends over we left it on the coffee table while we went upstairs to put our son to bed. By the time we came back down they had solved several challenges and were ordering their own copy from Amazon on their phone!
This is the rare game where I can find almost nothing to criticize. The pieces are well made and nicely chunky, the board is designed as a carry case with a hinged lid and the challenge booklet fits inside along with all the pieces, and at only 3.5×5.5×0.75″ it’s tiny enough to fit inside even my smallest bag making it perfect to take out traveling. The packaging is great too because IQ Stars comes packed in a small cardboard box just large enough to contain the game, so there’s no superfluous packaging or wasteful plastic either. Finally, with 120 challenges, IQ Stars has almost as many puzzles for you to solve as the other two puzzle games combined, not bad for the smallest and cheapest of the three!
Approximate Cost: $10
Positives: Large number of puzzles, easily stored and transported, no wasteful packaging
Negatives: Small pieces so best kept away from small children
Smart Games Puzzle Games: Final Verdict
If I could only buy one of the three Smart Games puzzle games we tried out, there would be absolutely no question about which would I would choose. IQ Stars wins hands down every time, and this is why. It is the cheapest, contains the most puzzles by far, is the most portable for easy transportation, is the smallest making it easy to store and carry around with you, and has the most environmentally-friendly packaging. There’s simply no comparison.
All that being said, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up any of these three games. Dinosaurs: Mystic Islands is perfect for younger children thanks to its bright colors and chunky pieces, while Asteroid Escape is great for older space lovers and has theming that will hopefully encourage kids (especially boys) away from their screens for a while. All three are well-built, well-designed, well-priced, and a whole lot of fun. I know these puzzle games will be on my go-to list of birthday present ideas for a long time to come and I can’t wait to try out more from Smart Games in the future.
GeekMom received this item for review purposes.