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Monday, April 11, 2011

Review: ClusterMaster (iPad)

Many people might not realise this, but games and mathematics go hand-in-hand. Understanding statistics, geometry and physics are all intimately involved in creating a balanced – and ultimately entertaining – game experience.

Alexey Pajintov knows his way around advanced mathematics, and came up with the OCD classic, Tetris. Erno Rubik is a professor of architecture – a discipline that requires extensive mathematical nous, and invented the Rubik’s Cube. Richard Garfield, the man behind Magic: The Gathering, is a mathematics professor.

And in the years to come, German mathematician Reiner Knizia, will be remembered as a genius like the others mentioned above. He’s not as well known as the others to the video game industry, as he’s been largely confined to the board game scene and is indeed at the forefront of the Eurogame genre.

This game knows it

But this is starting to change. There’s a great number of his games available on the iPad, including the hugely intelligent and addictive Samurai and Through the Desert, and now, in collaboration with independent developer, TribeFlame, Knizia has come up with a truly brilliant little puzzler, ClusterMaster.

The concept of the game is simple – there are three different colours of hex-shaped gems, and these are arrayed in ‘blocks’ of between two and four gems. You’ll need to place them around a grid, trying to link up gems of the same colour to make them disappear.

Real estate on the grid is fairly limited, though, so misplacing these blocks will fill the grid with obstacles to work around, and it’s all-to-easy to get the “no room to place blocks” message, which ends the game.


You'll start dreaming about red, green and blue hexes

Within that context, there are a couple of different gameplay modes to cater to fans of both time attack, and unlimited time-style puzzling, and the Game Center integration keeps track of high scores across all modes.

The desire to better your previous top score is strong – games are over fairly quickly, and when they do end, the game is balanced in such a way that you realise you can improve on what you did last time. Like Tetris can take years to master, understanding the geometrics of how the shapes work together can take years to master.

It’s also a good looking and sounding game – TribeFlame has done a good job in making ClusterMaster look like a game with solid production values. They’ve also integrated a number of achievements to unlock, and are offering a free trial available for people to dip their toes into. But really, for $1, you can’t go wrong with this game. It’s entertaining, well-balanced challenging and addictive – just like all good puzzlers are.



Review: ClusterMaster (iPad)
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