Saturday, August 02, 2008


Serpentiles is an absolutely wonderful single-player puzzle game which has both physical and mental characteristics of Block Play.

I have played with a lot of connecting tile games (there enough to fill a large book), but never found one as addictive as this one. The aspects of good block play are surely a major factor.

The tiles here are square or the size and shape of two squares together (like a domino or an Ankerstein #15 stone). Each tile shows a section of one of two different path colors, or an intersection between them. The objective is to connect two intersections with a path of each color.

I am reminded of sections of model train track or slot car track, or perhaps XTS trains. The connections between the two paths would correspond logically to two different connector systems of track.

But it might make more sense to consider the paths to represent transit routes and the intersections the transfer points where a rider starting on one route and ending on the other would change vehicles. Many urban transit systems have schematic route charts with a graphic style similar to this game.

The tiles provide a very complete set of geometric configurations for one and two-square pieces, omitting rotations but including mirror image reversals. I have seen other games and puzzles where mirror images are not included and which 'handedness' is included seems to be random, and that has bothered me.

Crossings of one path over the other, or over itself, are not included. They are not needed for variety or for a sense of completeness. In fact, they would probably expand the options enough that they could be provided in special expansion sets if this game finds the success it deserves.

The deck of challenge cards shows the tiles to use, similar to the image at right. It helps to duplicate that layout to be absolutely sure one has the correct tiles. The back shows the solution, as in the title image above.

Forty different challenges are provided at four different skill levels. There are sixteen additional challenges downloadable as printable card images, beginning at the second package level, and going one level beyond (frustratingly, the pages with the card fronts and backs are arranged in the same order so you can't simply turn the sheet over and print the backs or they will end up mismatched to the fronts).

My images do not duplicate any of the 40 or 16, so you will have 57 total.

The easiest challenges are simple but still interesting, and are primarily for learning and refreshing ones skills. The most difficult will provide a lot of interest, but are not unpleasantly tricky or irritatingly frustrating. At every level I found some solutions quickly, but took much longer with others.

Most solutions provide an "aha! moment, and generally look simpler than one was expecting. That is a good characteristic for this kind of puzzle, and seems to be due first to the two separate color paths - each is a simple shape compared to the overall pattern - and second to having all path segments on the tiles in play being part of the solution. Similar games usually have a clutter of random lines belong to unused path colors.

ThinkFun, once known as Binary Arts, has been best known for its Rush Hour series of position-puzzle games. Early games came with decks challenge cards, similar to Serpentiles, but for a while the company went to providing a shabby little fold-up sheet with the challenges and solutions which greatly decreased the visual and tactile pleasure of play. I am glad to see cards back.

The tiles provided may be plastic, not stone or wood, but arranging them and rearranging them is a great tactile experience, and physically and mentally, I think Serpentiles qualifies as ...

Good Block Play.

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