Boardgame designer Reiner Knizia has been active in pushing his games into the app space, with at least ten adaptations of existing physical games already available for iOS. He’s also moving into the puzzle-app space, with his latest release the $0.99 app Lines of Gold
, one I found strangely addictive even with a heavy element of randomness.
In Lines of Gold, the player has a board of 12 spaces connected in multiple lines of three that run horizontally and diagonally and must place tiles one at a time to try to create patterns where all three tiles match in at least one attribute across those lines. Tiles appear one at a time from the stack, so there’s little advance planning. Each tile has three attributes: color (copper, silver, gold); image (coin, bar/trapezoid, or wine glass); and number of images (1-4). A line with three of a kind earns points or extra tiles in the stack to extend the game; a line of three identical tiles earns a bonus round with entirely random results of more points or tiles.
However, any line of three tiles without any pattern costs the player two ways. There’s the loss of a tile from the stack, and there’s the loss of “pressure.” Every successful pattern moves up two gauges, one for scoring multipliers, another for “pressure” that in turn makes the scoring multipliers gauge move faster. A line without a pattern drops the pressure gauge back to zero – even if the same tile play produced a pattern on another line.
Once placed, a tile can’t be moved for any reason, and the limited number of spaces means you will often be forced to place a tile that will prevent you from creating a pattern on one or more lines. You get new spaces on the board once you fill the bottom two lines plus the left and right spaces on the line above that, at which point the board drops the bottom line and adds an empty line at the top.
At some point – I still haven’t figured out when exactly – a storage area opens up so that the player can store one (and eventually up to three) tiles from the stack, which makes the game play a good bit less random. In the first stage, you’re at the mercy of whatever tile comes up next, so other than understanding what tiles are more or less common (e.g., the copper tile with a single coin is the most common), there’s not a ton you can do to plan ahead. With two tiles available at any moment, you can sketch out a little more of a strategy – but at that point there are more tile types in play, so the game isn’t easier, just more of a thinking game than a quick-move puzzle game.
I certainly got my 99 cents’ worth by playing it four or five times over the weekend – a full game lasts 10-15 minutes once you get the hang of it, and I had one of about 20 minutes that put me (temporarily, I’m sure) on the global leaderboard – but overall I’d rate it behind the other Knizia puzzle app I’ve tried, ClusterMaster, which is free to download but offers a 99-cent in-app upgrade to get more options within the game. ClusterMaster involves placing pieces of up to three colors on a hexagonal board of hexagonal spaces where you need to organize colored hexes adjacent to each other to make them disappear from the board. The “stress” game only lasts about 90 seconds, and there’s a lot more advance planning involved because of the limited number of shapes you might see and the balance between going for a large bonus (where you blow up a bunch of hexes at once through multiple patterns) and ensuring you don’t run out of room.
* My quick reaction to the Derek Lowe trade is posted now.