Review – RollerCoaster Challenge

Thinkfun has been around for a long time and has made a name for itself as one of the major players in the educational design space in the process. The company is known for its modern-classic Rush Hour, but has brought many high quality puzzles to market including Circuit Maze, Solitaire Chess, Laser Maze, and Gordian’s Knot.

RollerCoaster Challenge is one of Thinkfun’s latest releases from its 2017 lineup and comes designed by Gravity Maze creator Oliver Morris. The game’s theme is quite unique to the puzzle world and represents the largest, most ambitious venture that Thinkfun has set out to create to date, coming loaded with dozens of plastic pieces, cards, and a base board.

The toy company didn’t embark on its usual development path to store shelves, but first presented RollerCoaster Challenge as a Kickstarter project. Over 470 backers would contribute $21,745 to the project, that would help them nab some exclusive extras, something Thinkfun has never tried out before. All-in-all an exclusive blue roller coaster car and 20 bonus puzzles, with the option to purchase an additional 20 building posts. Certainly a fun and creative way to generate buzz about an upcoming project, and a neat chance for puzzlers to make their copies stand out.

Before I get into the details and thoughts about the game, let’s first look at how the puzzle is played.

How To Roll That Coaster

The concept behind RollerCoaster Challenge is very simple, which is to get the roller coaster car from the starting point to the end. Players first start from a layout that is present on one of the 40 puzzle cards included in the game. Each card gives the starting and ending points, plus some additional turns located in the final track. Once those pieces have been built and placed on the board, players are ready to get solving.

To solve each puzzle, players are given a set of straight aways and curves that are indicated at the bottom of each puzzle card. The rest of the roller coaster track must be assembled using those pieces that players will have to build as well. Placing each curve on the board and connecting them with the given straight aways will have players ending in a final roller coaster track.

Solutions are easily checked by placing the red car at the starting position and letting it rumble on down the line. If the little fellow makes it all the down in one piece, consider yourself a success.

RollerCoaster Challenge loop.

RollerCoaster Challenge loop.

How It Plays

Players can just throw out the rule book, that’s how intuitive the game is. I have two daughters 10 and nine-years-old, I gave them both the game and told them to figure it out. Without my help they were playing it and had solved three puzzles within ten minutes. Each kid was pushing the other aside so they could be the one to teardown down the old track and construct new.

Checking solutions for puzzles in non-digital formats almost always stinks. Final answers are not always apparent, sometimes the solution checker mess up, and the list goes on and on. What I enjoy about this is that there isn’t even a need to check the solution, if the car goes where it’s supposed to, pat yourself on the back. That instant gratification and bringing fun to that aspect of the process really makes this puzzler shine.

The elements that Thinkfun has tapped into that makes RollerCoaster Challenge so fun are the desire to solve and the fascination to build. Both of these seem to be inherently linked somewhere deep inside people, and the game plays upon these in a very satisfying way.

Building the pieces that are used for the puzzle are in itself a fun activity, but then it reaches further as the track must also be assembled for the puzzle to be figured out. The integration of both problem solving and build is seamless and compelling.

As the tracks grow in size, it becomes a visual spectacle drawing in a crowd. Everyone from the surrounding areas comes in to sneak a peak, satisfy curiosities, and when they finally get hands on the game, ignite childhood whimsies. RollerCoaster Challenge is a fun experience from start to finish.

What makes this sort of thing possible are elements like the component and puzzle designs that Thinkfun has all-but perfected over the years.

RollerCoaster Challenge puzzle cards.

RollerCoaster Challenge puzzle cards.

Component Design

Thinkfun has always brought an unmatched component quality and design to its products and RollerCoaster Challenge not only keeps up that tradition, but builds upon it. This is the best quality of components and design that I’ve ever seen from Thinkfun or any other company for that matter.

The attention to detail that’s made on every one of the physical pieces is superb, as it works to accommodate players from all walks of life. Each curve has directional arrows and a different color depending on which way the track descends. Straight aways have had their lengths indicated by dots in the middle, the longer the track, the more dots will be on it.

Its base plate has been given reinforcements beneath that should keep the hard plastic from cracking as posts are push into their base holes, adding to the product’s longevity.

The game also comes with a friggin’ loop… how cool is that!

Puzzle cards take full advantage of the system Thinkfun pioneered with Rush Hour and has deftly implemented ever since. Puzzle on one side, solution on the other, with everything players need to know printed on it.

One small aspect that is graphically clunky is when it comes to the puzzle cards is the straights or curves run over each other. The design becomes a bit of a visual strain and lacks that same brilliantly intuitive design that the rest of the product brings to the table. I’d like to see another, clearer way of handling that aspect, but it doesn’t provide any confusion for players.

Overall, this is an amazingly put together package and one that’s going to withstand a lot of play and loving abuse. It certainly has withstood falling off our table many times and teething of an infant.

RollerCoaster Challenge.

RollerCoaster Challenge puzzle cards, graphical strain.

Puzzles

These challenges are not made for your average puzzler, they definitely fall into a younger age range. I’d say that six-year-olds are going to have a fun go of the easy puzzles, with the super hard puzzles topping at around early junior high school.

If adults are looking at this as a good source for some potential puzzles for themselves, it’s not going to live up to that expectation. I skipped over the easy and medium difficulty puzzles, diving straight into the hard ones. I went through those in no time at all and burned through the super hard ones pretty quickly as well. I’m pretty good at spatial puzzles, so I turned them over to my word puzzle loving wife and she came to the same results.

For kids in those age ranges though, it serves them very well. The overall puzzle system forces them into a new way of thinking, going from just plugging pieces in to see if they fit, to thinking how gravity can help figure out the solution.

It seems pretty straight forward that taller pieces are going to be closer to the beginning than the shorter pieces, but for younger children it’s a revelation. It’s learning while solving, the best way to do it.

One issue that I have with the puzzle design is that each of the curved pieces are presented on the card in the position that they are to be placed on the board. There’s no need for players to spin and turn the pieces to get them right, they just need to find the right spot. If the post piece is shown to have the blue curve on the bottom left corner, that is exactly how it will appear in the solution.

Originally I thought this might be some sort of tactic implemented in the easy puzzles to help players learn how to use the game. As I looked through all of the cards from easy to super hard, that detail never changed. I would’ve like it tweaked, where it would sometimes require players to have to rotate those pieces for the final solution.

I don’t believe that this minor change will up the difficulty by leaps and bounds, but I think it’s something that needs to be addressed in the future.

RollerCoaster Challenge online creator.

RollerCoaster Challenge online creator.

Thinkfun’s Digital Evolution

Thinkfun has always challenged players not to stop with the puzzles that are provided with its games, but to go on and make creations of their own. It’s a great sentiment to have and encourage, but in the past the company has fallen short with supporting players to do so. After all, how is anyone supposed to share these really cool puzzles they created with their puzzler friends? Pictures could be taken and emailed, but for puzzles like RollerCoaster Challenge, it becomes painful to recreate.

Players are going to be struggling to see if there are three or four posts that are holding that curve up. Then questioning how whether that’s a two or three dotted straight away. All of these issues puts a big roadblock up for everyone that wants to share.

Thinkfun has taken a huge digital jump forward, as it’s one of the first that the company has offered the ability to make and share cards online. The interface is easy to use and it walks creators through the process step-by-step. Challenges can be shared on Facebook and Twitter, but it can also be printed or saved as a pdf so it can travel physically or digitally anywhere.

This makes RollerCoaster Challenge a complete modern package, and in today’s digital environment these kinds of additions should be expected.

RollerCoaster Challenge straight away.

RollerCoaster Challenge straight away.

Summary

Thinkfun set out on a large and ambitious project, succeeding by all counts. RollerCoaster Challenge is an excellent game for the right age group, hitting its sweet spot at six to junior high school very well. It delivers undercover learning and cunningly has young players learn to think in new and different ways.

There’s absolutely no better physical design and implementation in the puzzle industry, coming with free online support and sharing. All these factors makes RollerCoaster Challenge without a doubt something that belongs on every kid’s puzzle shelf.

Rollercoaster Challenge is available through Thinkfun and many other sellers for a ticket price of $29.99.

Rollercoaster Challenge was reviewed using a free copy provided by Thinkfun.

About Bran McMillin

Bran McMillin is the founder and senior editor for the puzzle news site Puzzle Pile. From 2007 - 2010, he served as editor for the magazine Panopticon: Puzzles & Games. He is the inventor of the Itachi and Hairetsu puzzle forms and has created hundreds of puzzles. Disclosure: Bran is a member of the National Puzzlers' League.

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