Saturday, September 30, 2006


Title: Clockwiser
Author: IshiSoft
License: Freeware

This week's game, Clockwiser, was created as an entry for Retro Remakes 2006 competition. As part of that competition, IshiSoft was required to put in an initial splash screen containing the logos of the of the various competition sponsors. You have to click through this screen every time you start the game. This is an annoying form of in game advertising, something to which I am very opposed. I have decided to review Clockwiser anyways in large part because IshiSoft did not have a choice about the ad. I would understand if readers with higher standards just skip this one and come back next week.

In Clockwiser, the goal of each level is to make the left half the screen the same as the right half. To do this, you select a rectangle and rotate all of the items on its boundary one space clockwise or counterclockwise. After each rotation, gravity takes over. The colored squares simply fall. Bombs fall and destroy any neighboring items when they hit the bottom. Gems fall and multiply upon hitting bottom.

There are some other special items. There are bricks which do not feel the effects of gravity. They are especially useful if you want to elevate other items. There are wooden blocks which cannot be moved, but can be destroyed with bombs or converted to gems. There are anti-gravity tiles which counter gravity in that column. Finally, what would a puzzle game be without teleporters?

Clockwiser comes with 133 levels including 100 from the original game. Be sure to download the corrected level 74. The pacing of the levels is very good. The first 10 introduce the various items and then gradually get harder. There are some good challenges in here, but none of the levels are insanely hard. A level editor is included. One bummer is that you have to solve the level sequentially.

Clockwiser has two nice interface features. Each level comes with a time limit, but you can turn off this limit in options menu (thank you!). Another nice feature is an undo button. If make a bonehead move, you can take it back. Both make the game better.

There is one odd aspect to the rules which took me a while to understand. When a clockwise rotation is made on the left, the brick and bomb move together. On the right, the brick would move first. After the rotation, the bomb would drop and blow up itself and the brick.

All in all, Clockwiser is a great puzzle game with simple rules and fun, tough puzzles. It has great graphics, audio, and interface. As far as I can tell, it is bug free. What more could you want? No ads!

If you want info on the other entries in Retro Remakes 2006 competition, Tim W has short reviews of all of the entries in his Indy Gamer Blog.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Logical Stones 2006

Title: Logical Stones 2006
Author: Face5 Team
License: Commercial

My first blog entry over a year ago was on Logical Stones. It is one of my favorite puzzle games ever. Since the freeware Logical Stones was released, Logical Stones 2004 and recently Logical Stones 2006 have come out as commercial games. This week I am going to review Logical Stones 2006.

Logical Stones 2006 is a platform puzzler. You control a little space ship. Your goal is to push, pull, fly, conveyor belt, whatever you have to do to get all of the stones to the "X" exit tiles. The stones are colored wire-framed cubes. When a cube reaches an "X" exit tile, it evaporates.

In Logical Stones 2006, there are 6 cube types, each with different properties. The basic blue cubes can only be pushed about one at a time with the ship. The red cubes be used to push one other cube. The green cubes can be flown around. The crystal cubes can only be pushed around like blue cubes, but they have the added restriction that they can only fall one space without breaking. These four stones made up the original Logical Stones game. Logical Stones 2004 added the yellow cube which can be pulled. Logical Stones 2006 adds the while cube which are very light and can be raised up if you get the ship underneath it. They also fall slower than you fly. So, you can push one off a ledge and fly under it.

There are several other items in the game. Lifts and switches allow you to move cubes about. There are teleporters and conveyor belts. Converters change cubes to another color. Factories create new cubes of a given color. These new cubes can be useful, but you have eliminate them also in order to complete the level.

The resulting puzzles are exquisite. Each level requires careful planning using one stone to block or fill in a gap for another. Logical Stones 2006 contains 100 levels. For the most part, the level design is very good and quite challenging. There are a couple of duds. This is not a game for the weak. If you are new to Logical Stones, I highly suggest you play the freeware original first before moving on to either the 2004 or 2006 version. I found the levels in the 2006 version slightly easier than the 2004 version, but there are still 6 levels which I have not completed.

I want to praise the level access model in Logical Stones 2006. The levels are arranged in a 10 by 10 grid. Initially, only the 4 levels at the center of the grid are available to be played. Once a level is completed, the neighboring levels in the grid become available for playing. This is a nice middle ground between having every level available and requiring them to be completed sequentially. And as you work your way out, the levels become harder.

There is not much bad to say about Logical Stones 2006. The new white stones do not add much to the game, but it is nice to have 100 new levels. My biggest complaint is that there is no level editor. I realize that they make money off the levels and level packs, but I think it is bad form that they did not include an editor. They owe it us paying customers. My only other complaint is that the game is expensive. It costs 19.99 euros which translated into 28.16 dollars on the day I bought it.

There is a forum for Logical Stones 2006. For spam reasons, you have to enter a username ("face5") and password ("forum"). Although, there are not many entries at this point. For the previous version, these forums have been quite active and useful for a hint or two.

One oddity is that the 16 levels in the demo are non contained in the full game. Be sure to play both.

Friday, September 15, 2006


Title: Reflexion
Author: Juho Pohjonen
License: Freeware

While randomly wandering the Internet, I found John Cletheroe's Puzzle Game Programs website which contains short reviews of about 140 puzzle, logic, and adventure games. Many of these games have also appeared in this blog. From reading his reviews, I sense that he is a kindred spirit to myself. For most games, we have similar opinions as to their merits. I suggest you give his site a read. One downside to John's site is that he lists the games in alphabetical order. So, it is hard to tell what is new.

On John's site, I found this week's gem. It is an older game which somehow I missed. Reflexion is a great puzzle game that is 99% logic and 1% careful clicking.

Each Reflexion level starts with a ball exiting the S tile. Your goal is to collect all of the gems by running the ball through them and make it to the exit (the E tile). You control the mirrors. By clicking on a mirror you change its orientation and thus the direction the ball will bounce when it hits that mirror. When the ball hits the a wall, it bounces back 180 degrees.

It sounds so simple. However, figuring out how to get the ball to certain parts of the map can be quite challenging at first. The thinking needed for Reflexion is novel, and I really enjoyed getting the hang of it.

Along the way additional items are added to complicate things. There are mirrors which you cannot flip. There are toggle tiles which control a door. You have to make sure the parity of the number of trips across these toggle tiles is correct. On some levels there movable tiles. Hit one with the ball and the tile will move one space. In the level in the screen shot, you have to move these tiles so the the cannon cannot hit your ball as you move to the right side to collect the gems. There are many more which keeps the game fresh.

There are 36 levels broken into three groups of 12. You have to finish all of the levels in each group to gain access to the next level. The interface is simple and intuitive. The graphics are sharp and not overdone. The sounds are good. Neither the graphics nor the audio gets in the way of the gameplay. My only complaint is that I wish there were more levels.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Simon Tatham's Portable Puzzle Collection

Title: Simon Tatham's Portable Puzzle Collection
Author: Simon Tatham
License: MIT License

Simon Tatham has programmed up a wonderful collection of 24 mini puzzle games. Each is a stand alone program which implements a different puzzle type. While not super polished, all 24 programs have simple interfaces and each provides a great way to kill a few minutes. Each program comes with a huge (virtually unlimited) number of puzzles.

Most are old stand-bys. These include Black Box, Bridges, Domino, Fifteen, Mastermind, Slitherlink, Mindsweeper, Nonogram, Peg solitaire, Sudoku, Same Game, Tents, and Planarity. Just because they are old stand-bys, doesn't mean they are not fun. I really like his version of Bridges. I have played it more than any of the others in the collection.

I want to highlight four of the programs which struck me in one way or another.


This is not really a new puzzle type, but I have never seen a computer version before. You have to partition up the grid into rectangles so that each contains one number, and this number must equal the size of the rectangle. The interface is simple, just click one corner and drag to the other corner to mark a rectangle.


The famous four color theorem says that any map with connected regions can be colored with four colors so that no neighboring regions have the same color. This game generates a random map and you have to color it. While there is a theorem that you can four color any map, as you find out in this game, there is no easy algorithm to do it.


You have to collect all of the gems without hitting a bomb. You can move your marker orthogonally or diagonal, but inertia keeps it going until it hits a wall, a circular stopping point, or sadly a bomb. You have to very carefully plan ahead.


You roll the cube or other polyhedron to collect all of the blue tiles. Each face of the cube can absorb one blue tile. You have to figure out how to roll the cube so that each face collects one blue tile. These puzzles can be quite hard.

A similar set of little puzzle games is mindgames.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Name: GNU Go
Author: Many good people
license: GNU Public License

Let me get this out of way, I am not a good Go player and thus not a good judge of the ability or strength of a Go player or program. That aside, GNU Go is a damn good program. At the 11th Computer Olympiad which was held recently in Turin, Italy, GNU Go finished first out of six in 19x19 competition and fourth out of eleven in the 9x9 category (results).

Go is a classic abstract strategy game. Players alternate placing stones on the intersections of a 19x19 grid. The objective is to control as much territory as possible by fencing off areas. If you surround a collection of your opponent's stones, they are captured and removed from the board. Play continues until both players pass. For a short game, a 9x9 board is often used.

There is a tradition in Go that except in tournaments, games should be evenly matched. This is done by giving the weaker player several "stones" at the beginning of the game. I find this tradition very honorable. It shows that Go players love a good game, and not just crushing a weaker opponent. Compare this to side games at a Backgammon tournaments where good players just want to take money from the weak.

Actually playing GNU Go on a PC requires you to download two programs: the GNU Go engine and a graphical front end. For the GNU Go engine, I used the compiled version from Teun Burger. The graphical front end I went with is Jago which requires that Java be installed. It is a little confusing. Once you install both, first start JagoClient and then click on "Play Go (GMP)" in the Action menu. In the resulting dialogue box, enter something like "c:\gnugo.exe --quiet --mode gmp --level 4" in the Go Protocol Server field. Fill in the other fields as you see fit and hit "play". That will get you going. The Jago interface is pretty straight-forward.

You can read about Go, its rules, and strategy at several sites. There is one aspect of Go which interests me, the endgame. The game ends when both players pass and the position is scored. There are many subtleties, disputes, and contradictions involved in this scoring. About 10 years ago, Berlekamp and Wolfe wrote Mathematical Go showing some of the problems which can occur. It was not written for Go players; it was written for mathematicians. But these theoretical problems sometime arise in real games causing real problems.

At this point, computer Go programs are not that strong compared against programs for other games such as Chess and Backgammon. Using a traditional min-max brute search techniques, it is unlikely that computer Go programs will ever challenge the best humans. However, my gut feel is that someone thinking outside the minmax box will create a much better class of Go programs. These programs will not only beat the best humans, but change the way the game is played much like how computer programs changed high level backgammon.