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Game Review: Simon Tatham's Portable Puzzle Collection

Date/Time Permalink: 09/15/09 10:58:37 am
Category: Linux Gaming

some of the puzzles from the collection

While I'm usually happy blasting away demons in a FPS or pushing a necromancer with skeleton escorts to conquer yet another level-grinding dungeon, sometimes I just want to get back to the basics.

Casual puzzle games are the unsung champions of the modern game scene. The blockbuster titles get all the attention, and yet it's the simple solitaires and brain-teasers that are in every PC's menu, on every mobile phone, and bookmarked in every web browser. These games have the advantage of being portable, simple to learn, fast to start and shut-down, and providing stimulation for your little gray cells in between more pressing tasks.

So this is Simon Tatham's Portable Puzzle Collection, which I just discovered as a Zenwalk package on the kids' system, and liked so much that I went to get my own copy. My Slackware compiled the tarball without a single hiccup. After inserting the games into my Fluxbox's menu file, I've been only too happy to become addicted to fiddling with them. Here's a review of all 27 of them, without too much butter:

Black Box
I've never understood Black Box in any of its incarnations, and don't understand it here. Mysteries make Ogg nervous.

Bridges
Just puzzling enough to keep you busy for a minute. Each two circles can be connected by drawing one or two lines.

Cube
Now this is unique! Roll the cube around, try to get a colored square on each side. Also has other shapes, but I have no idea where to begin with the icosahedron.

Dominosa
Infuriatingly harder than it looks. Not for the impulsive player!

Fifteen
You've seen it before.

Filling
A "just right" challenge of space management. Plus it looks like a crossword puzzle.

Flip
Lights-Out on a flat plane, also a standard.

Galaxies
"Divide the grid into rotationally symmetric regions -" whoa, any game that has big words like that in the description is too confusing for Pooh.

Guess
Can you guess? It's Mastermind again, the first game that every code-cracker got as a kid.

Inertia
Close to being an action game, this interesting little puzzler hooks you in with being easy at first, but almost confounding when it comes to sweeping up that last seemingly inaccessible diamond.

Light Up
A unique puzzle of placing lamps to illuminate a grid.

Loopy
I understand this one, and have yet to solve even the simplest board. I am reduced to staring at a new board for a few seconds, hitting 'solve', and then staring at it some more going, "How does it do that?"

Map
Ever since I heard of the four-color map theorem, I always said it would make a cool little game. Now it is one!

Mines
Minesweeper again. No surprises.

Net
The network game that you've also seen many times, although it's not as old as other examples; I only remember first seeing these a few years ago. One of my favorites.

Netslide
So here's a twist on the network game; you can't spin the elements, you can only shift them in wrap-around columns and rows. Way to make a previously undemanding game 100 times harder!

Pattern
Merely looking at this colossal beast is enough to scare me off. It looks impenetrable.

Pegs
The jumping-peg game you've been playing since you were a kid and your parents bought you the wooden version they were selling at that restaurant you went to on summer vacation.

Rectangles
Another unique puzzler. Math and geometry geeks will love it.

Same Game
The same SameGame game, like any same game you can name. But not lame!

Sixteen
Some smart aleck took the 'fifteen' puzzle, added a tile, and made it like a combination lock where you rotate columns and rows to solve it. Find him and spank him.

Slant
Almost too hard to grasp, but I kind of got the hang of it after awhile. Probably the only puzzle game in existence where the solution is to draw a maze. Huh.

Solo
Soduko... or is it Sudoku? Or Sodoku? Or S[ou]d[ou]k[ou]? So I'm all in favor of changing this game's name to 'Solo'. But anyway it's the fill-the-number-in-the-grid puzzle that came out of nowhere a few years back and has now taken over the puzzle-book aisle.

Tents
Very, very unique. It's like something Martin Gardner would have thought of when he was in Boy Scouts.

Twiddle
Kinda difficult take on the numbers-grid puzzle, where you rotate four squares at a time.

Unequal
I've tried this a few times, and maybe I was tired from the other puzzles, but Latin squares are difficult enough to figure out by themselves without following extra constrained rules.

Untangle
Cute little spacial reasoning puzzle. I've only seen it once before as a Flash game.

Now, the games themselves are just the beginning. Because, you see, each game has different levels and layouts that you can choose, as well as a 'custom' feature where you get to set your own parameters! This adds tons of replay value, as you get to see what Mastermind would be like with eight rows and only two colors of peg, or what Peg Solitaire would be like with random-blob shaped boards, or whether Soduku will drive you insane with a jigsaw layout.

All in all, lots of bang for a tiny investment of time. I've known Nintendo DS cartridges that couldn't say as much.

Update In my Fedora system as of 2012, the package can be found under the name of "puzzles-9023".

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