Saturday, July 20, 2013

Strategy Guide: Stickets

Lately I've been not only playing Stickets a lot, but also thinking about it as an example of a very well designed game.
Just a few days ago, Raf Peeters was kind enough to share with me some insight about how puzzles which are enjoyable in physical form don't necessarily work as well when ported to a touch screen device. For example, a put-together puzzle like Roadblock becomes harder to play on iPhone because rotating the pieces, which is a natural motion when playing the physical version, becomes cumbersome and requires multiple taps.

Stickets doesn't have the above problem, because it was born as a digital game. It avoids the difficulty of rotating the pieces, simply by not allowing to rotate them. Everything becomes more natural that way.

The Press Kit on the developer's website lists some points about the philosophy of the game, which I quote:
  • Less is more.
  • Reason like a child.
  • Stickets is about rhythms and patterns.
While I haven't yet figured out the "Reason like a child" part, after playing the game for some time the reference about rhythms and patterns becomes obvious. Stickets is a game that, by its very nature, rhythmically alternates moments of low tension (the board is almost empty) with moments of high tension (the board is filling up). Instinctively, one would like the board to remain empty most of the time, but this just isn't possible: you can't make matches in an empty board. To be able to remove pieces from the board, you have to let it fill up. Conversely, the board cannot remain full most of the time because, quite simply, you'd run out of options and lose.

Another important thing about the design of this game is that just 8 moves are enough to fill the board. This, coupled with the random serving of new pieces, means every few moves the board layout necessarily changes almost completely, offering different challenges every time.

But that's enough abstract talk; you're here for the strategy guide, aren't you?
Getting a good score in Stickets isn't too hard if you follow some simple rules. Here's what I came up with during my games.
  1. Follow these rules religiously. A single hurried move can be fatal.
  2. Never put yourself in a situation where you need a specific piece to progress. You will probably lose before getting that piece.
  3. You may do a move that doesn't strictly follow these rules only if the pieces that you already have at the bottom of the screen will allow you to undo the damage done.
  4. Your goal is not to complete 3-tile matches. Your goal is to avoid getting stuck. 3-tile matches are only the mean to that goal, and will come naturally as the board fills up. Never make a move only because it allows you to complete a 3-tile match.
  5. Each piece you put on the board has three tiles. They are all equally important. Always make sure that all three of them end in an appropriate position. If they don't, do a different move.
  6. On average, you must remove a 3-tile match every time you place a piece on the board. This means that on average, every time you put down a piece you should match the color of two neighboring tiles. That's an average and won't always be possible, so aim to match at least three neighboring tiles every time you can.
  7. Avoid checkerboard patterns like the plague. It takes too long to remove them.
  8. Avoid enclosing small areas that can't be filled by a piece. This includes the hole that's left after removing an I-shaped match, so prefer L-shaped matches.
  9. When you make a match, don't remove it immediately. It could be extended with the following moves. This doesn't give you more points, but it allows you to remove more tiles from the board with much less effort.
  10. You can drag a piece around the board and put it back at the bottom of the screen without making a move. Use this to double check the effects of a move before committing it.

I think that's about it. These rules do work, as the score of 900 in the picture above demonstrates. Now it's up to you to efficiently apply them in the game.

©2013 Nicola Salmoria. Unauthorized use and/or duplication without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicola Salmoria and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.