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Characteristics of Good Puzzle Games

What Prompted this Article?

After playing a new puzzle game on one of the casual game portals that I particularly enjoyed, I tried to figure out why I played some games repeatedly and some only a few times and then never returned to them.

That triggered a mad dash to play all the puzzle games I enjoyed playing and try to figure out what were the common characteristics. I included only card, word, and puzzle games. After about four hours of play, I boiled it down to the following items.


1. Game must have re-playability.

2. It must be engaging enough that you lose track of time and what else is happening around you for at least brief periods when you are playing it.

3. It must include some capability to do strategic planning, to plan ahead and modify the outcome. Pure chance games lose their luster rapidly, no matter how pretty they are.

4. There must be a time factor, either as a countdown clock or as a reward for faster play. That being said, the time must be adjustable for different skill, play mode, or ability levels.

5. Increase in skills through repetition should result in achieving higher scores, reaching higher levels and solving more difficult puzzles. Which means it should not be solvable all the way through on the first try, but improving skill, not chance, should result in increased success.

6. You must have some success on the first try. This means it must be easy enough at first for everyone to achieve at least the first several screens at the easiest setting.

7. If it has levels, it should have variability between levels to add interest. Just making it faster or increasing numbers is NOT enough. This may include changed playing fields, addition of new hazards, changed rules of play and new graphic types.

8. If chance locks out the possibility of solution, there should be something - a bonus gained previously or some item of value that can break through the lock-out at least sometimes. Otherwise it becomes boring if you always fail at a particular level or pattern. The use of a "bomb" is an example of such an item of value. But these objects should not be too available or else it will become boring if you always can have something to use to win the game. You need to fail occasionally.

9. There should be a large variety of different piece arrangements that occur at random when you start the game. The same setup should not always appear. One of the factors that make a game of cards so appealing is that basically no two layouts or hands are the same.

How can these Characteristics be used?

I hope to apply these characteristics to any future 7-128 Software puzzle game I design. They might also be of use to other designers as a guideline to make their games more appealing to people like me, and I LOVE to play all sorts of puzzle, word and card games.

I know these are not the only characteristics that defines a good puzzle game, but it is a start. If anyone can add to these, please Email me, and I'd love to discuss what other characteristics make a good game.

Eleanor Robinson
Chief Operating Officer (and game developer)
7-128 Software


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