Saturday, November 26, 2005


Name: Stackomania
Author: Megalactic Enterprises
License: Freeware

This week, I am writing about an odd little two-person strategy game. I realize that Stackomania will not appeal to everyone. In fact, it may only appeal to mathematicians and similarly aligned individuals.

Stackomania is played with a deck of 100 cards, numbered 1 to 100. To win you need to form a increasing series of 10 cards before your opponent does so. Each player starts with 10 randomly selected cards which are then ordered at random. Similar to gin rummy, each turn consists of choosing either the known last discard of your opponent or the unknown top card from the deck, replacing one of the cards in your hand (but not permuting them), and discarding the replaced card.

The strategy in Stackomania is quite interesting. First you mentally pick an increasing subsequence which will hopefully form the basis for your eventual winning hand. In the example in the screen shot, I would choose 19-35-53-69. Then you start filling in the gaps. Here is the eventual winning solution. As you can see, only 19 and 53 actually survived.

Next comes the question of how to fill in the gaps. With a two-wide gap, it is easy to decide which card to replace: leave the bigger gap. For example, with -20-98-99-40- in your hand and a 25 play, replace the 98 and leave a 15 wide gap instead of the 5 wide gap if you replaced the 99. With a three-wide gap, things get interesting. Based on a simulation, if the card to play is between 20% and 80% of the overall width, place it in the middle. For example with -20-97-99-98-40- in your hand and a 24 to 36 to play, replace the 99. With wider gaps, it gets even more complicated. For an extra edge, you can keep track of which cards have played.

Another thing to keep your eye out for are two-way configurations like -10-30-20-40-. This is a good thing. With a 11 to 19, you can replace the 30; with a 31 to 39, you can replace the 20. Either way you complete the 10 to 40 sequence.

There is a fair bit of luck involved, but with a little practice, you can beat the computer more often than it beats you. I win about 65% of the time. Some of this is just from the fact that the human player always goes first. This brings me to my one complaint. I think the second player should get one last move after the first player completes their stack. If they complete their stack, the game is declared a draw.

After you master the basic game, there are several options to try. Stackem: 20 long stack instead of 10. Backem: stacks in decreasing order are also a win. Placeme: you see your initial cards one at a time and place them in your stack (I don't like this option). Switchem: you get to switch two cards in your stack after the initial cards are dealt. Smackem: allows you switch two cards in your opponents stack. Takem: allows you take a card from your opponent's stack at some point in the game. These options add some depth to the game.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Name: Paradoxion
Author: VSBgames
License: commercial

It is not that often that I run across a game with an original idea. Here is one with some interesting puzzle mechanics. The goal of each Paradoxion level is to eliminate all the items on the board. When items of the same type form an appropriate configuration, they explode, disappear, and push neighboring items one space. These pushed items can then form a new exploding configuration. This can set off a long chain reaction which clears the board or at least a significant portion of it. There is a supply of items on the right which you get to place on the board to get things going.

The round orbs will go off if enough of them form a row. Diamonds explode if they form a two-by-two or larger rectangle. There are several other items: blastoids, paradoxes, shifters, teleports, and disintegrators. Each has simple rules for how it explodes, eliminates items, and pushes other ones around.

This results in some interesting puzzles. Solving a level requires careful planning and keeping track of the motion of the items as they get pushed about by the explosions.

Paradoxion comes with 90 levels. They slowly introduce the various game items. The first 30 levels are tutorial in nature. After that the levels quickly get quite difficult. I enjoyed the challenge of the difficult levels, but I wish there had been some middle difficulty levels. One interesting feature is that many levels are symmetric. Symmetry significantly reduces the difficulty of a level.

Each level comes with a hint. I would suggest you turn these off. They often give away too much. You can use them when you get suck. If you really get suck, solutions to each level are available online. You can play any level at anytime, and the game keeps track of which levels you have completed. One minor flaw in the game is that the "next level" feature does not skip over completed levels.

A level editor is included. Some user made levels are available. Another minor flaw is that progress on user made levels is not recorded.

Paradoxion has high production qualities. There are no major bugs or rough edges. The artwork and audio are professionally done. This is just what you expect from a commercial game. But at $25, it is a little pricey.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Bod Blob

Name: Bod Blob
Author: Buziol Games
License: Freeware
Website: not working

Bod Blob is a great platform puzzler. Behind its attractive facade lies one very demanding puzzle game. You control Bod, at least that it is what I think his name is. He is the cute little green guy with big eyes. Old bod can push blocks around, light dynamite, and throw the occasional switch. In order to complete a level, you must
  • destroy all the gray blocks,
  • collect all the stars, and
  • move every yellow block to a sparkling location.
To destroy a gray block, you can either push a block over an edge into the water or blow it up with dynamite. You have be careful to not blow yourself up, get hit with a red bullet, or fall into the water. This all sounds simple enough, but the levels are quite challenging.

While this is a wonderful game, I do have some minor complaints. Some of the levels require careful timing and quick fingers. Also, you have to complete each level before moving on to the next. I got stuck on a couple and found it a little aggravating. And, I wish they had included a level editor. Don't let any of this for keeping you from playing this game. Oh, one last thing, the blocks sometimes hide the placement of ladders.

All of the instructions and menus are in Polish A nice change for all us English-only folks. Here is a site to translate a word or two into English.

The url given in the instructions for Buziol Games ( does not seem to be working these days. You can get the game from a number of other sources: Caiman Free Games, Acid-Play, or PC Gaming.

Let me give you a couple of hints. You do not have to destroy the blue blocks in order to complete a level. With dynamite, you can blow up some other items such as the switch. Lastly, by hitting the switch twice quickly, you can release only one block.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Kiki the Nano Bot

Title: Kiki the Nano Bot
Author: Thorsten Kohnhorst
License: GNU Public License

Kiki the Nano Bot is one wonderfully tough puzzle game. This is a true 3-dimensional game which really twisted my thinking at times. You control Kiki as you move through a 3D world which kind of looks like an empty holodeck. You can move, jump, shoot, and push objects. When a pushed object has nothing below it, it falls. Here is the tricky bit, the direction of gravity depends on the current orientation of Kiki. This results in some fascinating puzzles and really stretches your mind.

In each level, you have to activate the exit (the faint yellow cube at the top of the screen shot) and then get to the exit. Activating the exit, if not initially activated, usually entails shooting some switches or getting power to the exit. You have to figure how to gain access to the switches and exit. This entails pushing items around, keeping careful track of when things will fall and in what direct they will fall.

There are only 23 levels. The first 10 or so introduce you to the game and various objects. Even some of these introductory levels are tough. This is a very spatially disconcerting game with a fairly steep learning curve. It is easy to get all turned around. The remainding levels are hard. For several of them, I had to take a break and come back the next day with a fresh mind. But, none of the levels are unfairly hard. It is just that I was not used to thinking in 3 dimensions.

Just as I was getting comfortable moving in Kiki's world, the game ended. This would be an amazing game with 100 levels. I sense that there is more depth to the game than is explored in the 23 levels. There is no formal editor, but the levels are stored in a Python file Looking at the file with a text editor, the syntax becomes clear to any Python programmer. Hopefully, someone someday will produce a bunch of levels for us.

One hint: there is help for each level. Hit ESC and move down to Help in the menu. A screen with one or more pages of level specific information will come up. I do not consider looking at this cheating.

Kiki the Nano Bot was developed as a contest entry for the uDevGame Game Programming Contest 2002 sponsored by iDevGames. Sadly, all the results on their web site seem to be missing, but Kiki did win "Best Overall Game". Another contest is currently in the works. This a Mac contest, but hopefully, many of the good games will get ported to the PC.

Finally, last Summer there was another game programming contest sponsored by The Game Creators. This one was for puzzle games only. Some of the better games from this contest are starting to show up various places. A list of the contest entries is in their July 2005 newsletter. The contest results are in the August 2005 issue. All of these game are a little rough around the edges, but several show some original puzzle gaming ideas.