Five Little Things, Episode 1: Triple Town
(Note: This was originally posted on Flippfly.com)
In this series, I satisfy my urge to categorize and make lists, by breaking down various videogame related topics into five little nuggets of easily digestible wisdom.
If you haven't tried Triple Town from SpryFox yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out (free to play on mobile and Facebook.) It could be described as a "match 3 puzzle game," but that would do it a great disservice, as it has considerably more depth than most in that genre, and a theme that sets it apart.
The basic concept is simple: You play in a randomly-generated field, where each turn you place 3 or more items in a grid next to each other, which combine to become a more valuable item, which can then be combined in another set of 3 for an even more valuable item. 3 grass become a bush, 3 bushes become a tree, 3 trees become a house, etc. Each turn, you're given a random new item to place in the grid, and the goal is to get the highest possible score before the board fills up.
For a game with such simplicity, it's surprisingly addictive. It's so hard to put down, that I thought it was worth exploring exactly why. So without further ado, I present:
Five Reasons Triple Town Is Like Crack For Your Prefrontal Cortex.
One: Shiny things, sparkling often
Games often forget to reward players for their gameplay feats often enough. Not Triple Town. Every match you make is a reward - a little rush of endorphins as the bushes combine into a tree, the satisfying little reward sound plays, and the score ticks up another few hundred points. It seems trivial, and it's routine once you get into the game, but don't take this rewarding for granted, it's like candy for your brain!
Two: Easy to play, hard to master
Triple Town distinguishes itself from many popular F2P games of today by actually offering some depth and challenge.
What's brilliant about it though, is that this challenge scales naturally and perfectly as the player's skill increases. Achieving valuable items requires planning because of the nature of the game and its limited space - the more valuable the item, the more planning is required, and so each time you figure out how to make a new type of structure, the next level presents itself at just one level deeper. In this sense, the game achieves a self-balancing difficulty level, which is rarely pulled off well in games.
Three: A perfect level of randomness
This game could have been built with no randomness. The designer could have just given the player the least-valuable item for each turn, and it would have been a game of pure planning. But the chance of getting a more valuable item has a certain draw to it that's hard to describe. When you're planning a pattern out and you know there's a chance you could get a bush or a tree instead of a grass, this makes it feel just a bit more exciting to try and account for that possibility. And when you have just a few spaces left and you need one of these higher value items to succeed, it makes the end game much more exciting.
In addition, the bears serve as a sort of wildcard greifer - they move around in random patterns, but still exhibit consistency: They always move from the space you put them initially, and so there is an element of strategy. Additionally, when you trap three of them together, they form a church in the space of the youngest bear. This adds a gameplay element where the player must keep track of their movement, which adds another form of brainpower for the player to utilize. This helps keep the game from becoming boring or exhausting, which would both kill the appeal.
Lastly, there are the Ninja bears. They can only be destroyed by imperial robots, which can only be gained through random chance, or by purchasing them with virtual currency. These almost feel out of place in the game's overall design, to be honest - but their randomness nonetheless adds to the intrigue and excitement, in the same way that Mario Kart messes with your mind with the possibility that someone behind you might pickup a red shell.
Four: A constant sense of exploration
Since each additional tier of item is increasingly hard to achieve, and the randomness of the game tends to foil your best laid plans, it's actually fairly challenging to discover all of the possible items in the game. Until you do, there's always a pull to keep exploring and trying for those more valuable combinations. It's more than just the high score as well - it's about figuring out what happens if you combine three cathedrals, or three castles, just for the sense of achievement and discovery.
Five: A constant goal
Lastly - Triple Town is very good at giving the player a constant high-level score goal, which is of course achieved through smaller player-created goals within the board. You think your 40,000 point city was great? Try for 100k! And by the way, here's a sparkly little progress bar to show you how you're doing!
Putting it all together
These elements are all good on their own - but when you combine them into one package, you have a game that's very accessible, yet optimally challenging at any skill level ( how many games can you say this about?! ) and combined into a package that always presents you with a simple goal and constantly rewards your progress along the way. These excellent traits should not be ignored by game designers who want to make highly compelling games that players can't put down!
The monetization strategy on the other hand, can die in a fire.
A subject for another day :)
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