I buy an awful lot of toys under the guise of sharing them with my niece and nephew. The truth is, of course, that I'd get them even if I weren't an uncle. In particular, I love modular puzzle games that make you think in strange ways—and I'm especially fond of the award winning Gravity Maze.
This clever game comes with 60 challenge cards that range in difficulty from simple to devious, and the goal for each level is simple: get the ball bearing from point A to point B, using only the tools allowed.
All you have to work with is gravity, inertia and a set of colored towers that you set around the board in different configurations.
Each of the towers has a different set of gimmicks that guide the ball. There are ramps that drop the ball a level, there are curves that change the direction of travel by 90 degrees, and sometimes there's just a horizontal piece that lets the ball move forward.
The kinetic play reminds me of a digital game called The Incredible Machine, where the goal was to create a series of Rube Goldberg devices that perform a simple task (e.g., "put the ball into the box" or "start a mixer" or "turn on a fan").
In this classic Goldberg drawing, the Self-Operating Napkin is pure convoluted genius!
I've always been fascinated with Goldberg's art. Long ago, I designed an iOS game called Skabooki with my game designer friend, Jason Siadek. The game is similar to Gravity Maze in that it also uses block towers and gravity to get an object from point A to point B. In the case of Skabooki, it was an animated Voodoo doll that you moved around the playing field.
They're both examples of puzzle games that have very few types of moving parts but seemingly infinite game-play possibilities.
For Gravity Maze, though, there are only 10 different types of puzzle pieces. The player goes through the levels one by one by referring to a deck of puzzle cards and following the layout schematics.
In this case, the player had to start with the green, yellow and red target towers as permanent structures.
A list of the different colored towers is then given to the player. They can be oriented anywhere to get the job done. If you ever run into a problem with a level, you can always cheat by looking at the solution on the back of the Challenge Card—but we would never do that!
When the player thinks they've set up the towers correctly, he drops the ball bearing into the "starting tower" and the ball goes through the maze.
If the ball stops somewhere or falls onto the grey grid squares, the player can fine tune their towers and try again.
When the ball makes it into the red target tower, a very satisfying "clunk" is heard and the level is completed. Because the levels ramp up nicely and teach you new techniques as you go, the game-play is fair and you won't want to stop playing.
The pieces are durable and everything snaps together very nicely but what I love most is that I can play solo or with a friend.
After playing so much of Gravity Maze it's clear to me that my neice and nephew would absolutely love this game.
But they aren't getting my copy.