- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 29, 2008

A world-renowned board game designer is escorting players on a Brain Voyage (Eidos for DS, $19.99). Well, it actually is less of a voyage, but rather some repetitive trips to the local puzzle shop with a well-dressed, eccentric uncle.

Even though I never heard of Reiner Knizia, his resume as an award-winning expert on game design checks out. Strangely enough, however, none of his games was included in this collection.

In addition, Mr. Knizia’s in-game representation is not only not very flattering - he looks like a bigheaded entity that is a bit too arrogant - but he also has nothing to say about what any of the challenges do for the gray matter.

The player uses the stylus on the DS touch screen liberally as he first grabs a world map and moves to 16 cities around the globe to find five variations of puzzles in each.

In the games, a player tries to win a bronze, silver or gold medal and is awarded coins for his efforts. Coins then can be spent to buy new game locations and levels.

The challenges are often familiar fare and won’t impress the serious puzzle fan.

Take the case of the Mindsweeper/Battleship homage, Ice Cap, which is found in Greenland. It has the player break frozen blocks on a grid to unearth parts of equipment strings - nothing new here.

Or, Labyrinth, found in Knossos in Crete, is a hard-to-control maze game. It offers a miniature version of Mr. Knizia who follows the stylus through a web of corridors as the player guides him to the location of a relic.

Later levels of each game can get very difficult to the point that Mr. Knizia actually will throw some cash a player’s way (called perseverance coins) to keep him interested.

Players also can play a random assortment of puzzles (four, eight or 16 in a row) and share any of the unlocked games via Nintendo’s DS Download Play option.

Learning time: A few of the puzzles will help sharpen the noggin and even educate a bit. Especially grueling are the mathematical exercises found in London as a player balances the accounts of the Bank of England. He must place addition, subtraction, multiplication and division signs in an equation to either zero out or balance a problem.

Next, I liked the solitaire-style challenge Royal Flush, from Las Vegas, of course. No betting here as the player compiles poker hands made up of dealt cards he places in a layout grid. He scores on both vertical and horizontal levels for such collections as “three of a kind” or a “royal flush.” It mixes a bit of luck with decision-making and hones sequencing skills.

Age range:Only the most puzzle-starved tween and older casual gamer will temporarily embrace Brain Voyage. The average player has too many other great games to tackle.

Final advice:Brain Voyage won’t win any awards for its complexity or creativity. Suffice to report Nintendo’s casual brain-training titles still are the benchmark to beat.

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