A couple year ago, I was exposed to Puzzlejuice, one of the most unusual puzzle games I’ve ever experienced. In theory, it’s pretty complicated – it’s a mix of a word find and Tetris – but it stops being intimidating as you ease into the mechanics.
The designer of Puzzlejuice, Asher Vollmer, just came out with Threes!, a new game that he designed and put together with illustrator Greg Wohlwend and musician Jimmy Hinson. In the same vein as Juice, Threes! is a game that can look a bit intimidating to start, but eventually becomes somewhat of a second nature.
The game is played on a 4X4 grid, where you combine tiles of the same number to make a bigger one. “1” and “2” tiles can be combined to form a “3”, but from there, they must be matched with identical tiles in order to get “6”, “12”, “24”, etc.
Every time you swipe in a different direction, a new tile is added. The game ends when there aren’t any more moves, so you have to be strategic about the space you open up and where new 1’s and 2’s land. Combining them is the key to making space, since they form the building blocks of every other tile.
Each tile has their own drawn and voices personality, which gives the game a unique vibe. It’s pretty clear that each action is indicative of the character’s willing to experience personal growth, or seek their “other half”; as we all go through life, shifting identities and absorbing the qualities of other people, we seek to both raise the worth of ourselves and society around us. Threes! is a superb commentary on identity politics, social collectivism and is a post-modern narrative rarely seen on the mobile platform.
… nah, I’m just fucking with you. It’s heads and shoulders above most mobile titles these days, though.
My favourite video game of all time is Tetris. I like it because the game has endless playability and enables you to evolve your play through advanced concepts, such as the T-spin and the back-to-back Tetris setup. You don’t start out playing like this, but you realize what’s efficient and what setups offer the greatest amount of versatility with the worst possible ingredients.
Like how you can maneuver a Tetris board to mitigate even the worst back-to-back “Z” or “S” drop, you can design a Threes! board to take advantage of knowing which cards are coming next. During the release version, you could only know whether a red, blue or number card was coming; it was quickly patched in to add a “+” when something greater than a three was to appear.
Late in the game, when the board is full, these “+” cards make for an interesting risk management situation; you have to give yourself “outs”, which can clear (preferably) multiple spots and enable some space to maneuver.
It’s these sub-systems of thought that make Threes! one of my favourite mobile games: you form good habits and notice patterns that lead to success. As it stands, I tend to keep successively big numbers beside each other, so I can form a kind of cascade that clears space quickly. Others have told me that keeping your “primary” card in a corner works well, but I’ve yet to test this theory.
Every once in a while I try something counter-intuitive, and if it produces benefit, I keep it. While lots of games reward an adaptive play style, Threes! is one of the simplest concepts that makes it work.
Threes! takes advantage of its quick-to-play nature by making it easy to tweet out a score with a screenshot of your end board. This is an evolution of Puzzlejuice, which allowed the same thing, but without the photographic proof. I’m happy when games allow for sharing that isn’t obnoxious, like when Threes! omits things like App Store links or “buy me now!” taglines.
By treating the user (and their Twitter feed) with respect, I feel the game will win points with tired mobile gamers who are sick of being pestered to rate the app after every launch or update. In the same vein, once you’ve bought Threes!, it’s yours: there’s no micro-transactions, advantages gained by sharing or ugly notifications.
In short, my enjoyment comes not only from how well the game is presented, but the rest of the package as well. Threes! feels less like something that’s hoping to hit the Candy Crush/Flappy Bird lottery and more like a project designed, from start to finish, to be solid. It’s happy that you’ve bought and played it, and is cool with you taking a break. It’s fine with being that game you pull out on the subway for ten minutes.
Because sometimes that’s all games are, and that shouldn’t stop them from being made well.
Threes! is available on Google Play and the iOS store. You can probably find a lot of clones of it that are playable in browsers, but I urge you that the character and design of the original far supersedes the others.