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October 14, 2019
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Threes! - Puzzle Elegance

by Stanislav Costiuc on 01/16/19 09:03:00 am   Expert Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


The following is a Design-specific excerpt from my Threes! YouTube video, which I thought would be the section of most interest for discussion on this site. If you want to listen more about Context, Aesthetics, Cohesion and Emotions feel free to watch the full video.


"--Threes on one hand has a pretty straightforward goal - swipe and combine numbers to get a bigger number, until there’s no free space left. However, there’s one thing that makes it trickier - at first you need to combine 1s and 2s to make 3s, - you can’t combine 1s together and you can’t combine 2s together, and after that you need to merge tiles of the same value.

The positives of this is that it adds a lot of strategic depth to your actions as you need to make sure you don’t overwhelm yourself with 1s and 2s. The negative side is that this mechanic raises the barrier of entry, which can be considered a very important factor in a casual mobile game. 

Now, the tutorial for Threes is pretty good, and visually 1s and 2s are distinct from everything else, however psychologically it takes some adjustment to keep switching between 1+2 and 3+3, 6+6, 12+12 etc. But once you do get into this, it’s pretty straightforward from there.

The new tiles always appear from the side you’re swiping from, and each swipe moves all pieces just one square. This allows you to create better plans, and also thanks to this mechanic you can actually sometimes get out of your mistakes or unlucky placements and fix everything with smart movements.

It is also worthy of note that it is shown what the next tile is going to be, though with bigger numbers it’s usually a random choice between 2 or 3 possible pieces. Still, this allows you to try and create a strategy as you move forward.

What really helps with said strategy is that the pieces are not fully random. Threes has a renewable bucket of 12 pieces, which always has 4 1s, 4 2s, and 4 white tiles, and it puts everything randomly within that bucket. Even if players don’t fully understand the bucket mechanic, they still subconsciously get to feel a more or less steady rhythm of tile appearance that helps. An important consequence of the bucket mechanic is that being overwhelmed with the same type of tile is much less likely.

There’s one thing in Threes that I’m not sure if it actually exists or not… however, it’s hard not to feel that the game tries to calculate what types of pieces you’d need in the future and where. You see, even though the order of the pieces is random, and the free line they appear on is random as well, after playing Threes for so many hours I’ve noticed that a lot of times I get pieces that I would need soon and that more often than not they appear in locations that would be beneficial to me if I make the correct moves. Sadly, I couldn’t find any confirmation whether or not this is true. Maybe I just project my thoughts and needs onto the randomness, but I still think that this is a potential possibility.

Anyway, Threes is a small, but incredibly well-designed puzzle game. It’s got a clear goal, nice and simple mechanics alongside strategic depth, and the long-term desire to get to the number 6144. Interesting fact, by the way, combining two 6144s didn’t lead to an end-game animation in the original release, it was something that got added about a month after. At any rate, Threes is an exemplary puzzle game, and has got a lot of elements that its clones can learn from.--"

Thank you all for reading. A special thank you goes to my Patreon supporters. If you'd like, feel free to support my campaign at

Farlands has a Discord server focused on gathering people interesting in talking about games and game design. Feel free to join!


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