You wouldn’t think that Pajaggle would get much attention at a place like PAX. You take a bunch of videogame and tabletop game aficionados, put them together in a convention center filled with videogames and tabletop games, and convince them to sit down and play with … a puzzle?
Not only did PAX-goers stop to play Pajaggle, I even had to wait around for my first turn at it — and each of the few times I passed by the tables were filled.
Pajaggle, however, is no ordinary puzzle.
The board and the pieces are made of a glossy laser-cut acrylic, and the shapes remind me of my old Spirograph doodles: flowers and gears and stars. They’re cut very precisely with very little wiggle room. Since many of the shapes are similar, it’s trickier than it may appear at first. So what’s so special about Pajaggle? Why is this something that my four-year-old could play with her 87-year-old great-grandma?
Or maybe more importantly, what is it that hooked me?
As I said before, Pajaggle really surprised me. I saw the tables lined with people playing with these colorful pieces and that intrigued me. At PAX, they had a stopwatch next to each board, and a whiteboard where you could write your best time—it was covered with names and times. I figured I’d sit down, try it out once, and then head to my next stop, but after one game I was hooked. I played it a few times, and then stopped to chat with Pajaggle Chairman Bill Witt.
Witt told me that one of the great things that he’s found about Pajaggle is that “anyone can play.” It’s something that little kids, teens, parents, grandparents can do, and I’ve confirmed this myself. Aside from my kids and their great-grandma, my wife and I are also hooked on it. We’ve played it with my wife’s aunt and uncle, and I showed it to a bunch of high-schoolers who had fun competing against each other.
As Witt said, there’s something inherently fun about plugging a piece into the correct socket. The Pajaggle pieces are nice and thick, and when they fit into place it’s a satisfying feeling. They also look pretty cool (especially when you have four colors going at once) and I hear there are a bunch of new colors that are coming out in time for the holidays. (My wife is particularly jealous that they’re just now coming out in orange.) There are some pieces that are nested inside other pieces, which is a nice touch.
On top of all that, though, they’ve come up with several ways to play with the boards to make them more competitive and, sometimes, chaotic. The basic game is just to time yourself and see how quickly you can do it — and of course if you have two boards you can compete head-to-head. But the fun comes in mixing them up: get two boards, dump all the pieces in one pile, and then race to see who completes their board first, using whichever pieces you want. That’s the game they called “Chaos.” For “Reverse Chaos,” give each person their pile of pieces, put the boards in the middle, and then race to get rid of all your pieces in any board available.
Witt said that it was particularly fun to go to events like PAX, because there were some hardcore gamers who were making up their own games or coming up with scoring variations — like awarding more points for using pieces that aren’t your board’s color.
Aside from just being fun to play, Pajaggle is also a pretty cool way to work on spatial reasoning—I’ll ask my daughters to try to figure out where a piece goes just by looking at it instead of just shoving it into each socket to see if it fits. Witt said that he’d even seen some people play blindfolded, which turns it into a very Zen-like experience because you tune everything else out. (I tried it with my eyes closed once, but gave up after about four pieces.)
So here’s what you get if you buy a Pajaggle set: The Pajaggle board (about 8.5″ x 11″) with 61 pieces, a throw, a small drawstring pouch for the pieces, a drawstring tote for the set, a sand timer, playbook and tote bag. You can get single-color sets, or 2-color sets where the board and pieces are contrasting colors. The throw is a nice addition: it’s slightly larger than the board, so you can flip the board over and dump all the pieces on it, and then gather up the corners to mix all the pieces together. Because they’re slick acrylic, they’re also easier to pick up off the throw than from a smooth table. (And, as my daughters discovered, the board also makes a nice bed for their stuffed animals, with the throw making a perfect blanket.) One other nice touch: each socket on the board has a small hole drilled through the back so you can push out any pieces that are a little stubborn. The one thing I wasn’t quite sure about is the rubber edging on the boards—they keep the board from sliding around on the table, but they have a tendency to come off the edge. The ones at PAX didn’t actually have them on and I’ve considered just removing them.
Pajaggle also makes a giant modular foam version which turns it into a team sport. I’ve seen some videos of it in action and it looks like a lot of fun, too.
So here’s the only significant downside, in my opinion: the price. Each Pajaggle set is $30, which by itself isn’t so bad but it’s a lot more fun when you have at least two sets. To play the four-player Chaos game I enjoyed at PAX would cost $120, which is much more than I’m prepared to spend without significant consideration. The boards are very durable and high-quality, and they’re made in the US, and not overseas. So I get why they cost so much, but it doesn’t mean I like it. I did end up buying two boards while I was at PAX from the friendly guys from Ancient Wonders — while they weren’t able to provide me with a copy for review, Witt convinced them to give me a (very) small discount.
Now that I’ve had a chance to play with Pajaggle in a couple different settings and with different people, I’m really glad I ended up getting the boards. It’s hard to explain the appeal with just words and pictures—it’s a very tactile experience, and although there’s an e-Pajaggle game on the website, it really doesn’t do the boards justice. You really just need to try it for yourself!
Update 5:30pm: Bill Witt has informed me of a few facts that I thought I’d add here. First, the rubber edging that I didn’t really like is a federal safety requirement—but as I said, if you don’t like it it’s easy to remove as well. They’re currently working on ways to reduce the price but laser-cutting isn’t cheap and acrylic has gone up. An injection-molded process is in development which should make them cheaper.
Also, they will be discontinuing the drawstring tote as part of the standard set. The tote is a nice touch but not irreplaceable, and they’ll still be available separately. Witt has also stated plans for a custom electronic timer to replace the sand timer.
All photos by Jonathan Liu.