Sunday, January 28, 2007

Zillions of Games

Title: Zillions of Games
Author: Zillions Development Corp.
License: Commercial

This is the last and least traditional in my little three part series in compilation games. Zillions of Games is a game playing system. The rules for a game are encoded in .zrf file (Zillions Rule File, maybe?). The syntax is similar to lisp. The game engine reads in a .zrf rules file and plays the game.

Zillions of Games comes with 50 rules files, most of which contain several variants. The game engine is designed with two-player abstract strategy games in mind. The included rules files allow you to play chess, checkers, go, and many other games against the computer. However, the .zrf syntax is flexible enough to allow for puzzle games. Included with the game are some classics: peg solitaire, 8 queens, and knight tours.

These 50 included .zrf files are just the beginning of Zillions of Games. Fans have submitted, as of the today, 1353 more .zrf files covering all manner of games and puzzles. Here is the index. The range and scope of the games is impressive, and shows the simplicity yet power of the .zrf syntax and game engine.

Since most people concentrate, rightfully so, on the 2-player games, I want to list some of the interesting puzzle games which people have written for Zillions of Games. Obviously, I have not tried all of the 1353 submitted .zrf files. So, this is in no way a comprehensive list.

I hope this gives you some idea of the puzzle possibilities with Zillions of Games.

The majority of these puzzle .zrf files were written by Karl Scherer. I want to thank him for making Zillions of Games such a wonderful toy for us puzzle and logic fans.

What is bad about Zillions of Games? The graphics are weak, and the interface is clunky at times. Both are "who cares?" in my book. The there is no real quality control in the user submitted .zrf files. Some are buggy, and some are less interesting. I wish there was a rating system for submissions. The game does not record which puzzles you have completed. For some 2-player games, the heuristic used in the min-max search is weak. The computer backgammon player is truly awful. This does not effect the puzzle games.

I hope that any puzzle/logic fan who has avoided Zillions because they thought it was only for 2-player games will give it another look.

(*) In the interest of full disclosure: Adam Chalcraft is a friend. So, I might not be fully objective on this one.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Smart Games 2

Title: Smart Games - Challenge 2
Author: Smart Games, Inc
License: Commercial

Next up on my list of compilation games is Smart Games 2, a puzzle gaming classic which came out in 1998 (give or take). It is a diverse and original collection of 15 games, each with about 35 puzzles or levels. It is a mix of game types. There are some straight logic games. Then, there are word and trivial games. Plenty to keep you busy. Details for two of the more interesting games are given below.

You can play any puzzle from any of the games at any time, which I really like. Smart Games 2 records your progress. And, your progress is also converted it to an overall score for household bragging rights.

Smart Games 2 can still be purchased. It runs on a Windows XP computer, but I found the mouse movements a little jerky at times. Also, it maxes out the processor which makes this a poor choice for a laptop.


Simple enough: use the different pipe pieces on the left to connect the water spigot with the red valve to the each of the devices needing water. The requirements differ from level to level. On some levels, the goal is to use a few pipes as possible; on others, you have to use all of the pipes. Some levels contain leaky pipes which can be used but lower your score. There are several levels where you can beat their "best" score.

Say What

You have to place the sound bits in the correct order to form a famous saying or a sample from a well known song. Many of the songs are from classical music. This probably says more me than anything, but I found this game quite difficult, but at the same time fun. As an added twist, some the sound bits are backwards.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Heaven & Earth

Title: Heaven & Earth
Author: Buena Vista Software
License: Commercial/Abandoned

I recently played through several old compilation puzzle games and am going to start the year by reviewing them over the next couple of weeks. These compilation games contain a series of puzzle types with 20 or more puzzles in each category. The programs keep track of your progress. Completing all of the puzzles in every category is quite a challenge.

The first one is Heaven & Earth. It came out way back in 1991, but is still loads of fun to play. It runs just fine on today's Windows XP machine. The controls are little goofy. You use the mouse sometimes and keyboard at other times. You have to click to move on to the next puzzle. Just use your DOS zen thinking (or read the manual) to figure it out. Also, Heaven & Earth does not contain any sound (not quite true, but almost).

Heaven & Earth actually contains three subgames: pendulum, a card game, and the illusions . I am only going to review the illusions. I never enjoyed the other two subgames, and there is more than enough puzzle gaming goodness in the illusions to keep you going for a long time.

The illusions contains 12 different puzzle types, three of which are described below. Each puzzle type contains 40 puzzles, divided into four groups of ten. The puzzles get progressively more difficult, and when moving from one group of ten to the next, an addition twist is usually added. The on-line help fully describes the rules for each game.

Heaven & Earth can be downloaded for free from one of the programmers (the link above). I guess this is legal. The first time the game is run, you have to answer a question from the manual. I actually still have mine, but in case you lost yours, the answers are also available at this website.

Convex Concave

You have to combine the blue pieces together to form the green figure. The tricky part is in choosing the order in which to place the pieces. You have to get the 3-D shading correct. This requires that you overlap the pieces in the right order.


This is one of my favorites. The goal is simple enough, get the blue square to the circle. However, with an antimaze, you can move the blue square through walls, but not through free space. Sure it is just the duel of a regular maze, and should be just a easy, but our brains are hardwired with years of regular mazes to make these antimazes oddly difficult.

Fit Fall

Fit Fall is simple enough, fit the pieces in the grid. You can rotate and flip the pieces. A later variant increases the depth of the grid.