If you're a matching game aficionado, you're probably familiar with Dungeon Raid [$1.99] and Triple Town [Free]. The first turned a pretty basic match-3 formula into a full-on roguelike, and the second layered matching into an ever-more complex system of tiered upgrades. If, like me, you lost hours to them both, think carefully before downloading Puzzle Craft [Free]. It takes some of the best parts of each of them and mashes them up into a horrifying chimera that's nearly impossible to put down.

At first glance, the game looks more than a bit like some sort of social farm-building sim, but it's not. It's more of an economy simulator that runs on the power of tile matching. You're responsible for your little town from both the top level, choosing what to build and where to build it, and the very bottom rung, harvesting the grain and mining the stone to keep things running.

Both parts of the game feed each other. First you match your way through the farm, earning wood to build tools and food for your miners. Then you match in the mine, earning stone and metal. You take all your materials and build additions that bring you money, experience, new tools and more options. Then it's back into the fields to feed your hungry citizens.

You can also hire workers, once you build the cottages and houses they inhabit. The workers make your matching more effective. Where normally it might take ten grain to make one loaf of bread, a few workers can bring that down to five. The second-tier workers help in another way—they make it easier to make better items in your mine and fields.

This is where things start to look like Triple Town. When you match, say, ten grain, you earn your bread and a carrot appears on the field. Match enough carrots and an apple arrives. Get through a string of apples, and eventually you'll earn bonus coins. And all of this takes place in the same 6 by 6 grid you begin with. The workers and buildings make all this possible. With them, it takes less produce to make the upgrades, and the better items start popping up on the field without prompting. Your town grows and the game gets better and better.

So why the need for so much efficiency? Because time, my friend, is not on your side. Each time you head out into the fields you pay your farmers for one season's harvesting. Twelve turns later, you're done. And when you delve into the mines you need to bring food for the miners—only enough for ten turns to start. You can increase these limits, but they keep pace with the difficulty of your goals. The further you get, the more complicated your fields become as well. Not only are you dealing with three or four tiers of two different materials, but obstacles like rats, wolves and poisonous gas begin to fill the board.

Managing your economy is always fun, but it's rarely a challenge. You might pick a bad build order, or spend yourself into a corner, but you're never going to be all that pressed to perform. Even if things get as bleak as they can, you can pay coins to buy materials from the market or cash to buy more coins. This only comes up if you're impatient or bankrupt, though—the IAP is so far beyond optional that it's downright forgettable.

Since the challenge never gets all that serious and your village can't really set itself apart from anyone else's, Puzzle Craft can feel a bit hollow. It also suffers from a few issues, some big and some small. A progress-devouring bug is lurking out there, for one. It's also far too easy to lose bonus items from your village by brushing your town hall or fields, something that can be devastating if that bonus happened to be your next batch of workers. And if I never have to hear that ten-second loop of music that's played in the village, it will be too soon.

As a compulsion machine, though, you can't do much better. It's incredibly hard to stop playing Puzzle Craft—I've played through several seasons while writing this. There's always something to do, end every action feeds into every goal. Materials are constantly being earned toward the next big purchase, there are always tools to prepare for the next run, and each improvement you make just makes the game that much more complex and compelling.

I'm not sure I needed a game in my life with the same hooks used by both Dungeon Raid and Triple Town—each of those alone ate hours and hours of my life. Now that I have it, though, there's no giving Puzzle Craft up. There are better games I could be playing, but there aren't many as constantly satisfying. There's a reward around every corner, and getting there is the fun part—how do you say no to that?

TouchArcade Rating

StarStarStarStarNone
  • http://twitter.com/nrathaus Noam Rathaus

    Top notch tile matching games, it is more smart than others, with some pretty decent "story" and progress. Though it is harder at the beginning than at the end, as at the beginning you need to match much more to get valuables, while at the end, most of it is free moves :}

    Enjoy!

  • ducksFANjason

    Soooo glad to hear the IAP mechanic is negligible. Bought this at release based off some forum members' impressions but haven't had time to start it yet. I must confess I was slightly worried about some IAP mentions, but glad to hear some good news on that front!

  • Jussi Lepistö

    A word of warning: the game corrupted my save as I had almost completed the game, and I've heard this happen to others. I'm really hoping a patch can rescue my save; no way I'm going to restart a game with such a big focus on grinding.

    That being said, before my save was destroyed, I was completely hooked on the game. One of the best, if not the best, match-3 game I have ever played.

    • gjesse

      I lost my save too :(

      • nonstickron

        me too

    • http://www.vitaltitles.com/ Nick

      I JUST freaking had this happen to me.

      Read the review and thought, hey I need to load this game up and play it again. I only lost a few hours of work, but what the hell? Nissan, you. YOU ruined my game! It's your fault. This review was like a magnet held over my hard drive. My hard drive of happiness.

    • http://entrepreneurialblog.com Niclas Johansson

      Happened to me too, now awaiting the update that'll hopefully restore my data. And yeah, this is a brilliant game.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.beeman Stephen Beeman

    "It's also far too easy to lose bonus items from your village by brushing your town hall or fields..."

    Are you absolutely sure that you lose bonus workers if you touch the field or hall? I know for a fact that coins, resources and tools are collected for you when that happens, so if it doesn't do that for workers as well, it's probably a bug. That's how I collect all the bonuses: I tap every exclamation point, then just tap the field or mine to rake everything in automagically.

    • John Stanley

      This is correct, everything is automatically collected when you tap on the mine, hall or field.  When you've built every building picking everything up manually would be a nightmare!

    • NoahDavid

      Ditto. All the tools are added to my
      Inventory when I click on my Farm.

  • John Sadowski

    I dunno, I tried to get into this game... I loved Dungeon Raid and this game looked to be really deep and visually appealing. But, every puzzle round feels like you have left stuff behind, which just seems to breed annoyance. Also you are kind of effectively punished for making long chains, as this makes new elements drop that have to be built up before they can be collected, so they are just in the way for a while.. Unless you use a tool, which isn't particularly fun. It's a well made game, just missing that vital FUN factor (maybe I just can't get excited about carrots and tomatoes.)

  • ArsThanea

    @Nissa: Thank you for your review. Happy to read you like the game. The only notice: bonuses which you can collect manualy in the village are automaticaly collected when you open any popup or go to any other section of the game. Thank you.

  • https://me.yahoo.com/rekzkarz#a0df5 REkzkaRZ

    @ John Sadowski -- I agree, and I'm holding off on buying the game b/c of a lack of interest in farming games / city building games.

    I don't have an issue with it b/c it's $1, which is a *great* price point.The 'hook' for me was the reviewer said "Dungeon Raid" multiple times, which so far is among my fav games -- and while I'm not a fan of the 'match 3' games per se, Dungeon Raid uses the 'match 3' mechanic to battle it out & strive to survive.  (Highly recommend DR as an all-around *great* 5 star game, btw.)

    Any DEVS reading this, please remember -- not everyone sees the "go to a shop & 
    make your purchase" mechanic as fun or even "RPG-like".  (Dungeon Raid has the shop mechanic -- but without the shop!  How awesome!)

  • pheh

    Finished this game up yesterday.  It is a decent twist on the genre, but it doesn't have the lasting power of Dungeon Raid, Swords & Poker, or Triple Town.  The game is sorely lacking any element of consequence and can be powered through with relative ease. 

    Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy playing.  The production value is very high and there is enough content to the builder aspect of the game to keep the typical gamer going for at least a week.

    But, when all is said and done I think most will be left with a stale, 'now what?' taste in their mouths.

    • brando

      Your right, but I think the developers are working on an update to add new content. I hope it's soon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000220619054 Mate Szabo

    This game is Awesome! Really love it!

  • I_CAN_MAKE_BAGELS

    Amazing. Most fun iPhone game I've played.

Puzzle Craft Reviewed by Nissa Campbell on . Rating: 4