Review: Rules07 Aug 2014 0
I have an extremely strong bias toward following rules. When Eric Westervelt punched me in the stomach at my locker after school one seventh-grade afternoon, I took it and just turned around because fighting was against the rules (also, I'd have lost). I'm not claiming that drive is universal in anything like the extreme form I had it at the time, but Coding Monkeys seem to think a less severe case is widespread, because Rules taps that compulsion like a speed-crazed Vermont sugarmaker when the sap starts flowing.
In hindsight, an analogy involving beer and some famously hard-drinking group might have been more relatable. Anyway, if the idea of a game about following rules doesn't immediately grab you, try this: Coding Monkeys. Carcassonne. Lost Cities. Yeah, those Coding Monkeys. Purveyors of absolutely brilliant tabletop adaptations since before there was a Pocket Tactics to sing their praises.
Now they're offering a finely-crafted game in the ever-popular "toilet" genre of brief, highly replayable, easily-grasped games which have appeal even to those who wouldn't list games as a hobby if you paid them. Like the best examples of the genre, there is some emergent complexity and strategies which aren't immediately obvious, but, at its heart, it's Simon. A very well-executed Simon, with quite satisfying feedback, and the usual attention to detail that accompanies the Coding Monkeys' more complex outings.
The setup is simple--tap whichever of the sixteen tiles the rule says to tap. When you tap all of the tiles the current rule tells you to, the game reverts to an earlier rule. The quicker and more accurately you do this, the more time you'll have next round. The rules are well-chosen, in that you'll never get a rule which doesn't apply to any of the visible tiles, and there are never tiles left over after you complete all the rules. After ten rounds, you get a little breather and the rules reset, so the memory task doesn't just keep getting harder until you fail at it. Instead, the rules become more interesting, sometimes not even uniquely determining which tiles to tap, and there are a wider variety of tiles.
There are some pretty neat psychological studies about which tasks interfere with which others, the idea being that interference indicates that the tasks draw on a common resource. My performance at Rules shows that remembering a list must use some of the same mental resources as searching out tiles and tapping them, because, at the beginning, I felt like an absolute moron. I couldn't remember more than three rules. You can consciously deploy some mnemonic strategies to do a good deal better, but it's startling how hard that is if you don't.
Rules' greatest virtue is its simplicity, something that may also limit its replay value. It taps skills which aren't so overlearned by gamers, which means that it will pose a challenge for you and your non-gaming significant other alike. It's polished, simple, engaging, quick, and a little bit intriguing. Those aren't all of my favorite virtues in a game, but they position Rules nicely for a place in a lot of people's lives. If that subtly indoctrinates people into respect for authority, I've been playing long enough to see that as a good thing.
I never did find out what Eric did after that. What kind of weird situation must that be, to punch a nerd in the stomach only to have him turn away and not say anything? Must have been strangely anticlimactic.
Rules was played on an iPhone 5S for this review.