So I mentioned before that Puzzle Craft was an alternative to Candy Crush Saga, but let me amend that - it is a great alternative. Basically everything is better about this game. Low frustration, no Facebook friend harassment, progression that feels meaningful instead of torturous grinding, and plenty of depth. In short, I love it. It saddens me greatly that even though the game received a "Best of 2012" from Apple, it still appears to only be getting a tiny fraction of the attention of Candy Crush Saga even though it is a better game in almost every possible way. I can only hope this love letter finds Ars Thenea Games well, and that they make enough money off this little piece of puzzling perfection to keep making awesome games.
If you've tasted this forbidden fruit and are now thirsty for more knowledge, read on for some basic tips on how to play.
Basic match mechanics
Puzzle Craft Matching is a rather liberal interpretation of Match 3. In addition to "straight line" adjacent matches, you can also make diagonal matches. In addition, you can change directions within a match as many times as you want. This is just one of many aspects of Puzzle Craft that make the game enjoyable. You won't often find yourself cursing a piece that is just out of reach, because within a move or two, you should be able to get at it if you prioritize.
One nuance of this style of matching is the concept of a "chokepoint". After you've played a couple rounds of Puzzle Craft, you'll soon find yourself connecting huge matches of 10+ tiles at a time. This is quite satisfying, but the real prize is to connect all the tiles of that type on the board at one time. That is the most efficient use of a turn, and in late game it is even sometimes borderline required to get the greatest benefits (chests, cows/apples, etc). A trick you can use to assess whether a board can be cleared all at once is to look for "chokepoints". Basically, every time you want to "double back" through a narrow area, you need an extra tile. If you only have a single tile at a chokepoint, you need to collect all tiles on one side of it, before proceeding to the other. If you have two tiles, you can collect some, move to the other side, and then make your way back. Mastering this nuance will make you much quicker at knowing when to start a big clear, and when to give it one more turn.
A Tale of Two Puzzles
The games basic matching puzzle manifests in two forms. First you will be tasked to gather food by Farming. This costs a nominal amount of gold which you accrue slowly over time (upgrades and other buildings increase the income rate later). On the farm, you'll collect different food-based commodities over the course of four seasons starting with Spring and ending with Winter. Each season somewhat changes both the tileset and ratio of tiles you are presented, and the difficulty generally increases as you get later in the seasons.
As you collect resources, there are two sub-mechanics: stacking and upgrades. "Stacks" result from collecting enough of a resource for it to be converted into a usable unit. Stacks of grass convert to hay, stacks of grain convert to bread, etc. These stacks become a "thing" that is put in your inventory for use outside the Farming puzzle. "Upgrades" result from chaining enough tiles of a given commodity together in order to create a "higher level" tile. Do this enough times, and you'll be able to chain the "upgraded" tiles together and start creating stacks of that upgraded commodity. The game offers you the option to employ "workers" who reduce the requirements for stacks and upgrades of just about every possible commodity. This is one of the many ways Puzzle Craft shines by offering progress rather than a tedious grind.
The second major puzzle minigame is Mining. In order to start the Mining minigame, you need to spend food that you've earned from Farming. Food that is easy to acquire (Bread, Chicken Flocks) will earn you less Mining turns than the higher end food stacks. Beyond the getting started step, for the most part this minigame shares a lot in common with Farming. The matching mechanic is the same, and you build stacks and upgrades for the basic mining commodities in the same way. There are some nuances, but they are easy to pick up along the way, and before long you'll be swinging a pickaxe like a pro.
Tools baby, tools
As you get a little way into the game, some pop ups offer you the option to use tools to clear tiles faster. I've heard that before, you'll think, especially if you've played enough Candy Crush Saga to encounter the "booster wallet trojan horse" mechanic. In fact this is not a scam, feel free to use the tools when they are offered to get an idea how to use them. You'll have plenty of opportunity to get more for free as the game progresses. Tools are one of the aspects that really make the game shine. You can form more advanced strategies where you use tools together, and you can also use tools in conjunction with your regular matching to get the most out of your limited turns. Many of the tools just feel fun to use - especially when you are purging an infestation of mice or wolves (which surely must be cousins with the damned bears of Triple Town).
If you build it...
...they will come. Tools that is, and plenty of them. Besides workers and tools, you can also spend your commodity stacks (or gold) to buy buildings for your little Puzzle Craft town. Each building will offer a small benefit in rule changes to either the Farming minigame, the Mining minigame, or both. A large majority of them also drop one or multiple tools, which you can collect for your future matching satisfaction. When you decide to build, Ars Thenea decided to allow you options on where to put your buildings, so before long you'll have a unique, humming little society that you created through your diligent matching. Even when you don't have time for a full round of matching, you can drop in to collect some tools, and see your workers milling about.
Play... This... Game...
Candy Crush Saga is a great game for a lot of reasons, but we all recognize it's downsides. We've all had those uncomfortable moments when we discovered King digging in our back pocket for our wallet, or the soul crushing moments of defeat when we unlock a new episode filled with an even more tedious "challenge" candy that defeats all coping strategies we've learned to this point. It's a game that you can love and hate at the same time, and I believe a lot of that hate comes from the F2P veneer that runs deep in its candy veins.
If you are addicted to crushing like so many, including myself, consider Puzzle Craft a welcome breath of fresh air to escape the dark side of the Saga. It's Free to Play, it has in app purchases, there are definite similiarities, but it is clear that the developers cared more about making a game that is fun to play, than wringing ever last misery-filled penny out of their customers. They actually even gave an in depth interview detailing the breakdown of their design decisions and the evolution of the game. Their cup overfloweth with benevolent indie goodness, and we should reward them for that with our patronage in the hopes that they can create more magic in the future.