Puzzle Brand Comparison — Vermont Christmas Company

This page is part of our Puzzle Brand Comparison. You can find the overview page here.

REVIEW DATE: 7/16/2016         PUZZLE TESTED: “Christmas Cuckoo Clock”, 2016

OUR RATING: 62 points, A Grade

CATEGORIES: holiday, fantasy, pets, painted landscapes, collage, birds

CUT: Semi-random, high variation          FINISH: glossy, not seamless

PIECE FIT:  normal                                    PIECE SIZE: normal

Vermont Christmas Company website             Jigsaw Junkie’s Vermont Christmas Company Coverage

SUMMARY: 

Vermont Christmas Company is a fairly young puzzle manufacturer located in the US. Their initial quality in 2013 was a little rocky, but they have improved a great deal so their current puzzle quality is very good. Their pieces are nearly as thick as Ravensburger, and the puzzle cut is a pleasing semi-random cut with a high variety of piece shapes. The image reproduction is very good and they are quickly expanding their puzzle line to include a large number of categories such as fantasy, still life, birds, pets, and landscapes. However, they really shine in their commissioned Christmas and Halloween puzzles. On the downside, the boxes have a flimsy and plain white bottom, the short sides of the box have no image or puzzle name, the artist’s name is hard to find on the box, and the box doesn’t carry the date of manufacture. On the puzzle itself, the glossy finish can create glare under strong overhead lights.

NOTE: I am reviewing the company based on a 2016 published edition of “Christmas Cuckoo Clock”, not the original edition in 2013, which had much inferior quality. See my discussion of the quality change under the “Thickness” category below.

1. BOX  —  5/10

How deluxe does the box looks and feel? Is it sturdy? Will it hold up over time?  How nicely does it arrange on the shelf?

The Vermont Christmas Company box is rectangular and a bit smaller than most German puzzles boxes, such as Ravensburger. The size is 10″x12″.

Front:

The front of the box is simple and focused on the puzzle image. The name of the puzzle is prominent, but the name of the artist is unfortunately not on the box other than small in a copyright notice on one side. The box top is sturdy and should hold up well over time. The design layout is pretty basic.

VCC-ChristmasClock-boxa

Side:

One immediate negative for me is that both short sides of the box are generic and don’t show the puzzle image or the name of the puzzle. So you would not be able to shelve this with the short side facing out, which is unfortunate. One short side has some brief info about the company presented in three languages.

The two long sides of the box have the puzzle image (small) and the name of the puzzle and dimensions. The artist is shown small in a copyright notice. There is no year of manufacture on the box, which I like to have as a collector.

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Back:

The back of the box is plain white and also considerably more flimsy than the top, which can lead to punctures or other problems during storage.

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Final Score for the Box Exterior:  

Overall, the box score got hit in several areas — a flimsy and plain white bottom, the missing artist name and manufacture date, and the inability to shelve the puzzle with the short side out.

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2.  INSIDE THE BOX:  9/10

How deluxe are the internal goodies (such as posters or brochures)?  When you remove the pieces is there puzzle dust, pieces stuck together, hanging chads, and places where the image has begun to separate from the backs?

The box came with the bag of puzzle pieces and a full-color flyer about Vermont Christmas Company

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Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of the puzzle bag before I opened it, but here’s the report. The bag is a disposable bag that you can’t reseal (like all companies but Pomegranate that I’ve tested so far). The pieces were completely separated, with no hanging chads or need to break pieces apart. There was no damage, image lift, or bent knobs.  There was very small amount of puzzle dust in the bag but not enough to deduct for it. The image below is a good look at how clean the pieces are out of the bag.

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This is a closer look at the flyer that was in the box.

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FINAL SCORE: 

The inside of the box fared better than the outside! Only one deduction for a single, generic add-in but also no bonus points for extras. This puzzle was not missing any pieces.

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3. PIECE THICKNESS:  9/10

How thick are the pieces compared to other brands? How does a piece feel in your hand? How easily are pieces damaged or bent during assembly and separation?

We use Ravensburger as our ‘benchmark brand’ for good quality thickness and density in puzzles. Vermont Christmas Company did pretty well in a head to head comparison, as you can see below. It’s slightly less thick, but not by much. The border edge is smooth while there’s a slight amount of fraying on the knob is extreme close-up. This wasn’t noticeable as I worked the puzzle.  So I’ve deducted only 1 point for being a little thinner than Ravensburger.

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FINAL SCORE:

Thickness is extremely important to me in puzzles because the tactile feel of assembling a puzzle is such a large part of the experience. I enjoyed handling this puzzle while assembling it, and the head-to-head comparison confirms my gut feeling. High marks for this category.

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VCC’s QUALITY CHANGE 2013 VS 2016

This might be a good time to mention that there has been quite a quality change in Vermont Christmas Company puzzles since 2013. When I reviewed “Christmas Christmas Cuckoo Clock”, I was favorably impressed with the quality. However, when I looked on Amazon the reviews of this puzzle were terrible, citing quality issues (very thin and easily damaged pieces). These reviews made me wonder if I’d lost my mind, because I thought the quality was good! But the bad reviews were all from the puzzle’s initial launch in 2013, which I think is the first year Vermont Christmas Company made puzzles.

As luck would have it, I had a copy of the original 2013 edition of this puzzle in my collection but had actually assembled the newer, 2016 edition I got from Puzzle Warehouse. So I was able to open the 2013 box and compare the two. There is, indeed, a VAST change in quality. The 2013 edition is extremely thin and also on very cheap cardboard. Check out the images below.

VCC-thickness_2013 VCC-thickness_2013b

Suffice it to say, Vermont Christmas Company would have scored very differently in our brand comparison back then. But kudos to them for listening to customer feedback and improving their quality so much!  This brand comparison review is based solely on the puzzle I fully reviewed, which is the current, 2016 quality. And now back to our regularly scheduled analysis….

 

4. PIECE SIZE AND SHAPE:  10/10

Are the pieces standard shapes? Special shapes? How much variety do they have? Are they large or small?

The piece cut on this puzzle is interesting. I would call it a “semi grid cut” or “semi random”. There is basically a horizontal and vertical row-column thing going on, but the edges of the pieces don’t square up, instead they overlap to give a bit of a random cut feel. The pieces have high variability in shape but are never super small, like in some random cut puzzles. Very few pieces are the standard “2 knob 2 hole” pieces common in a grid cut puzzle. As you assemble the puzzle, it’s always clear if a piece fits somewhere or not. I liked the cut a great deal. (Click on the picture below to see the cut in closer detail.)

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The piece size is slightly larger than Ravensburger. The size is neither too small nor way oversized.

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FINAL SCORE:

Vermont Christmas Company’s puzzle scored an even 10, with no deductions and no bonus points.

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5. PIECE FIT:  8/10

Do pieces interlock well? Can it be confusing if a piece fits or not?  Can you move groups of pieces together? Does it look snug when it’s done?

The piece interlock on this puzzle is what I would call average. I see people complain in reviews about pieces falling apart when you move small groups of assembled pieces, but in my experience most brands do that to a greater or lesser extent. Only a few very tight and heavily randomly cut brands like Springbok and Sunsout will hang together when you pick them up (without glue that is). That’s nearly impossible for a grid cut puzzle like Jumbo or Ravensburger, just by nature of the fact that the piece interlock is less convoluted and thus pieces are less ‘clingy’ with adjoining pieces. Taken to extremes though, a very loose puzzle falls apart when you accidentally nudge it with your arm or body while leaning over the table. That’s very annoying.

This Vermont Christmas Company puzzle hangs together well enough on the board and can withstand ‘nudging’, but you do have to use care when moving assembled pieces.

VCC-clock-CU (6)

Final Finish:

The visibility of the cut on the final puzzle is also about average. It’s certainly not as seamless and smooth as Jumbo, Ravensburger, or Schmidt Premium, which boast their seamless fit. However, the cut is not so strong that it obscures the image on the completed puzzle.

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It lays mostly flat with some edges slightly risen here and there even after smoothing with your hands.

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FINAL SCORE:

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6. IMAGE REPRODUCTION:  9/10

Are the colors bright and vivid? Is the image sharp or feel like a bad Xerox? How is the finish/texture on the pieces?. 

The image reproduction is quite good. The illustration is faithfully reproduced without any fuzziness or blurring. The colors are bright and natural without getting overblown or too hot.

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The dark purple sky in the gradated background is a true purple-blue and not too dark. The lighter areas of the sky avoid getting edged towards black by the printing process, which is important.

VCC-clock-CU (5)

The puzzle has a glossy finish. It feels good under your fingers but it does reflect light, so if you work under overhead lights at night, as I often do, you can get some glare. See the photo below. I didn’t find this particularly annoying during assemble, but be aware that glare happens.

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FINAL SCORE:

Full marks for this category with the exception of a point dinged for the glossy finish.

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7. IMAGE VARIETY:  12/10

Does the brand have a wide variety of fun images and good artists?

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Above: “Cat Bookshelf” 1000 pieces, “Dogs on a Bench” 1000 pieces, section of “Halloween Town” 1000 pieces. (click for a closer view)

One of the things I like about Vermont Christmas Company is their focus on holiday puzzles. I love Christmas puzzles, so it’s always nice to have more options there. They have introduced many new Christmas puzzles which are actually quite nice. In addition, VCC has put out a lot of Halloween puzzles, which are much harder to come by. So I’m excited about that! Some of their Halloween images are a bit too “kid’s coloring book” for my tastes, but there are several in their line I want to try this Halloween.

They’re a quite young puzzle company, only in operation a few years, and they’re expanding their puzzle variety quite a bit. They now carry some photographic collage puzzles (such as holiday-themed cupcakes), fantasy (like the ‘Cat Bookshelf’ above), dogs and cats, painted scenery, stll life, birds, and Americana in addition to continuing to expand their Christmas and Halloween puzzles. You can see an overview of their puzzle line here.

FINAL SCORE:

Vermont Christmas Company did surprisingly well in the ‘image variety’ category. They have a number of different puzzle categories they offer, and they’ve released quite a good number of puzzles given their young age. I gave them an extra bonus point for specializing in holiday puzzles and adding so many new Christmas and Halloween puzzles to the market. They also commission specific images for their puzzle line that no other company has, so they earned an extra point for that.

VCC-Form-Images

WHERE TO FIND:

This is a US based company, so Puzzle Warehouse has a good selection of Vermont Christmas Company puzzles.

SUMMARY: 62 points

Vermont Christmas Company is a fairly young puzzle manufacturer located in the US. Their initial quality in 2013 was a little rocky, but they have improved a great deal so their current puzzle quality is very good. Their pieces are nearly as thick as Ravensburger, and the puzzle cut is a pleasing semi-random cut with a high variety of piece shapes. The image reproduction is very good and they are quickly expanding their puzzle line to include a large number of categories such as fantasy, still life, birds, pets, and landscapes. However, they really shine in their commissioned Christmas and Halloween puzzles. On the downside, the boxes have a flimsy and plain white bottom, the short sides of the box have no image or puzzle name, the artist’s name is hard to find on the box, and the box doesn’t carry the date of manufacture. On the puzzle itself, the glossy finish can create glare under strong overhead lights.

YOU CAN DOWNLOAD OUR VERMONT CHRISTMAS COMPANY ASSESSMENT AS A PDF HERE

JJ