Heading Back to School? 9 Games That Will Make You Smarter

Stacking by Phil HornshawFollow him on Twitter

If you want a game that’s going to force you to alter your perspective a little bit in its puzzle-solving, grab Stacking. The whole game takes place in a world populated by characters who are actually Russian Nesting dolls – those dolls that stack inside one another. To solve various puzzles, you’ll need to use your character, a super-tiny doll, to take over other dolls and get them to do things. That means finding dolls of the right sizes and with the right abilities in order to accomplish various tasks.

But while taking over other characters is key to many victories, Stacking also takes place in a charming little world of its own, and so just as often as you’ll be getting the right doll for the job to get accomplish something, you’ll be interacting with other characters, too. Puzzles in locales like a trans-Atlantic ship with an on-board Egypt exhibit and mini-zoo manage to be both complex and charming. But the best part about Stacking and is that it really will encourage you to get smarter, because many of its puzzles have not-so-obvious (but perfectly logical) solutions.

Quantum Conundrum by Phil HornshawFollow him on Twitter

A puzzler created by one of the brains behind the original Portal, Quantum Conundrum is all about changing the world to meet your needs. As you move through its puzzles, you’ll get abilities that change which dimension you’re in, and therefore the properties of the physical world around you – one dimension makes objects light and fluffy, another makes them super-heavy, and still another reverses gravity.

When Quantum Conundrum is at its best, you’ll be using all these dimensions in tandem, switching between them quickly to get yourself where you want to be. It’s not the most difficult or complex of puzzle games, but it’s a smart one that’ll have you thinking about getting things in non-traditional ways. It’s also very much non-violent and, tonally, geared toward kids, which makes it great for a slightly younger crowd.

Crusader Kings II by Ben RichardsonFollow him on Twitter

When describing Crusader Kings II in conversation, I often gushingly describe it as a “feudalism simulator,” which usually causes people to walk away in the hopes finding someone less weird to talk to. That being said, if you’re interested in learning about the history of Europe during the 11th-15th centuries, you could hardly do better. Real historical figures are lovingly recreated (replete with in-game Wikipedia links!).

The detailed game map shows how the world used to be divided into counties, dukedoms, kingdoms, and empires. Particularly instructive is the influence of personal relationships on gameplay; CK II is a game of keeping vassals happy, which mirrors the experience of Medieval lords and kings. If you want to wage war, you don’t just turn lumber and iron into soldiers — you levy troops from your vassals. If they hate you, they won’t send very many. If the troops die, you’ll have to wait until new ones come of age — and hope that some neighboring princeling doesn’t have designs on your land.

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