|First issue||September/October 1977|
PSC Publications (1987–90)
Bits & Pieces (1991–95)
Kappa Publishing (1996–)
It was originally published by Playboy (debuting with the September/October 1977 issue), then in 1987 was acquired by PSC Limited Partnership for three years and then was briefly out of business in 1990 and 1991 after the PSC owners filed for bankruptcy. The magazine was bought and brought back to life in 1991 by the mail-order company "Bits & Pieces" based in Manhattan. Kappa Publishing Group acquired it in 1996 and moved the Games office to Kappa's headquarters in Pennsylvania. The magazine is published ten times a year (monthly, except for January and June).
Throughout its publishing history, Games has differentiated itself from other puzzle magazines by its creative covers that are themselves puzzles, color sections containing feature articles and games, and a large variety of puzzle types, with wit and humor used throughout. Each issue contains a feature article and puzzles in its introductory color section, "Pencilwise", board and video game reviews in its closing color section, and "Wild Cards".
All puzzles in the magazine are ranked by difficulty: a one-star puzzle is an "Easy Hike"; two stars is an "Uphill Climb"; three stars means "Proceed at Your Own Risk". Some puzzles are ranked as a "Mixed Bag" denoted by one filled and one unfilled star, meaning that some may find the puzzle very easy while others will be challenged, that the puzzle may have a range of difficulty with it, or that (like many logic puzzles) it may easily be solved by exhaustive trial and error but requires thinking to solve in a deductive way.
Each issue typically has a three to six page article about gaming and hobbies as a broad subject.
Common puzzles in the color sections (including the magazine cover) include:
- Eyeball Benders which require identification of common objects based on photos taken from odd angles.
- Identification of objects in picture collages of items that share a common theme.
- Photo-mysteries which require the reader to use photos and text to solve a mystery.
- Call Our Bluff, where several small anecdotes of historical fact are mixed in with made-up stories of the same style, and the reader is challenged to determine the fake stories from the real ones. The April 2000 issue had a "Call Our Bluff" article in which, as an April Fool's Day joke, the anecdotes were all true (in spite of the fact that many of them were very hard to believe).
- Picture Tic-Tac-Toe which requires the reader to determine a common theme for each row, column, and diagonal of a 3×3 matrix of pictures.
- Trivia quizzes with both text and pictures as clues.
- Identification of cities or countries from either postcards (with identifying words stripped from each one) or from sections of road maps. (These have also commonly been used for contests in the magazine.)
Recent issues have included a multipart puzzle over several pages, where the solution of each sub-puzzle is used to complete the overall puzzle. Recent versions of these have been based on traveling to various locations in the world, though this aspect is only used for the theme of each sub-puzzle.
Pencilwise is a newsprint pencil puzzle section which forms the core of the magazine and contains common puzzle varieties such as:
- crosswords (1, 2, and 3 star difficulty levels)
- cryptic crosswords
- word searches
- a "Double-Crostic" acrostic, which uses the answers to clues to assemble a quotation
- math and logic puzzles
- unique puzzle types such as crossword variations
- visual logic puzzles like "Paint by Numbers" and "Battleships"
- cartoon rebuses
- variety of other wordplay and visual puzzles
The last puzzle in each "Pencilwise" section is always "The World's Most Ornery Crossword," a large standard crossword puzzle which has two sets of clues spanning three pages. One set, which is revealed by folding one page in half to hide the second page, consists of "Hard" clues (three stars), while the clues under this fold are "Easy" (one star); the answers to both sets of clues are the same.
Recent years have seen two pages of "Kid Stuff" puzzles aimed at pre-teen children, as well as a collection of assorted puzzles under the title "Motley Stew."
Another feature of "Pencilwise" in recent years has been a "Puzzlecraft" column, authored by Mike Selinker and Thomas Snyder, that describes how readers can make their own puzzles, placed alongside puzzles created by the described techniques.
Wild Cards is the final section which typically contains one or two pages of puzzle miscellany, such as word games, trivia, or chess problems.
The December issue each year includes a compilation of new and noteworthy games in its Games 100 list, similar to the German Spiel des Jahres, and usually includes a contest based on this list. More recent years have also included a separate Electronic Games 100, focusing on video games for both computer, console, and portable systems. Notable game titles also introduced into a Games Hall of Fame, updated each year along with the Games 100 list.
Most issues used to feature a puzzle-solving contest, often with cash prizes, though this was no longer a regular feature of the magazine by 2010. In the past, the magazine also ran an occasional hidden contest, in which part of the challenge was to find the concealed puzzle with instructions on how to enter (e.g. "You have found the hidden contest. To enter, send us a chain of paper clips."). Until November 2002, readers were also challenged to find the fake advertisement among the legitimate ones (the last one was for the Red Card, a credit card used to pay off credit cards).
Readers who write in with mistakes (in a section called "Laundry") or alternate solutions to puzzles (in the "Eureka" section) are often rewarded with a Games T-shirt. Readers may otherwise obtain a Games T-shirt by being a runner-up in a Games contest.
As part of the "Games 100", there is usually a contest to identify selected games featured in that list based on small pictures of the board or playing pieces from the game in a photo montage.
Earlier in its publishing history, the Letters page would also include an "Envelope of the Month", typically a highly decorated envelope or postcard sent in by a reader in response to a contest or general correspondence with the magazine. The winner of this would receive a Games T-shirt. This feature was phased out when the magazine changed publishers and publication schedules.
Games has had two rather large contest series in the past that have since been discontinued. The first contest was a scavenger hunt that ran in yearly installments; items in the hunt were usually not rare but difficult to determine what exactly was needed (requiring some puzzle solving or research) or hard to acquire. Winners were determined based on the most objects collected and fitting the requirements. A second long-running contest was "Calculatrivia", where a long equation, of approximately 40 variables, was given, and each variable was associated with a clue that resulted in some numerical value. The clues were usually straightforward to interpret, but the required information would take considerable research effort to identify. When all variables were accounted for, the equation was to be worked out, and the final value mailed into Games along with a list of the individual values.
Games Publications also publishes Games World of Puzzles (ISSN 1074-4355) on a bimonthly basis. This magazine is similar to an extended "Pencilwise" section of Games. Until recently, it also contained a contest in every issue, most often a variety crossword or trivia quiz. (As of the July 2009 issue, the contests have been discontinued, but no explanation has been given.)
Bygone sister publications of Games include The Four-Star Puzzler (1981–1983), Games Special Edition (late 1980s-1990), Games Premium Puzzles (early 1990s), and Pencilwise Extra (also early 1990s). Children's magazines put out by Games were Games Junior (1987–1990) and Zigzag (mid-1990s). Games has also published a number of books containing "best-of" puzzle collections.
The current editorial team includes Wayne Schmittberger and Jennifer Orehowsky, with help from Kappa Publishing editors Karen Powell.
Graphic designers include Kevin Boone.
- Dougherty, Philip H. (January 9, 1987). "ADVERTISING; Acquisitions and Shifts At PSC Publications". New York Times.
- Hovey, Susan (July 1, 1992). "Second time around". Folio: The Magazine for Magazine Management.