Free Introductory Mac Strategy Games?

Ever since my Mom got her new Macbook, she’s been a total flash game addict. Word games, match-the-gem games, silly “get the ball in the bucket” games – the whole gamut.
momsmacShe’s a gamer, but a gamer that’s never been exposed to games beyond these simple mindless toys. Granted, some of them are sort of interesting and fun, but there’s a whole world that she’s never seen.
Now me? I’m into Starcraft, and Civilization, and Eve, and all these epic immersive things. But for someone who has never played the basics, these are completely daunting and will more likely scare her off than intrigue her.
So where do you find the middle ground?
I’m looking for basic, introductory games for the Mac that are free (or really close to free), that should have a basic plot line (even if it’s trivial), and some way of advancing through the game.
We tried FreeCiv, but that’s targeted at people who already grok Civilization, so that’s not going to work. Something simpler than that, along the lines of Master of Orion (the original), Spaceward Ho, etc etc. At some point she tried the original SimCity but that almost ate her brain, and she deleted it. However, this same woman is one of the best players I’ve ever seen at… believe it or not… Crystal Quest. Granted, that’s also a mindless “keep shooting” game, but it takes some serious chops for the upper levels.
So, dear readers, what would you suggest? It can be flash based, or downloadable, needs to run on the Mac, and should have a very basic level of introduction, particularly to turn based gameplay where there’s regular advancement. The first one I’ve come across that comes even remotely close is TradeWinds, a trading game set in Arabia. Very simple gameplay, entertaining, and has a plotline of sorts.
Any others?
(Note – I’ve had reports of people having problems posting comments to the blog. If you have a problem, please send mail to me ( ) and I’ll look into it!)

A Way to Kill Some Time – Fantastic Contraption

I don’t recommend going over to unless you have a couple hours you’d care to dispose of.

It’s a puzzle game of sorts, where you can build simple machines consisting of wheels and sticks, then set the machine in motion to accomplish a task. Once the machine starts going, there’s no touching it until it either completes the given task, or you restart.

The game is ‘physics based’, meaning objects behave as you’d expect them to. Balls roll, blocks tumble, and a small vehicle rolling off the edge of a cliff… plummets.

The site also allows you to upload completed machines for each task, and going through other peoples’ solutions to the problem. Some are absolutely fascinating and intricate, involving dozens upon dozens of components.

Thanks (or raspberries, not sure which yet) to blk for pointing this one out to me.

Ikariam – Civilization goes Web!

Everyone who has had anything to do with computer gaming has probably heard of Civilization, the genre originated by Sid Meier and so successfully built (some would say exploited by) Microprose. There have been many branches of the Civilization pedigree, and I even reviewed one (FreeCiv) a while back.
Recently I tripped over another incarnation that has taken the Civilization concept into the ‘web 2.0’ world. Through a combination of Javascript, extremely well done graphics, and some basic gaming smarts, the folks at GameForge have come up with Ikariam, a pretty interesting little game.

Continue reading “Ikariam – Civilization goes Web!”

It’s GROW time again!

Y’all have become complacent. Too much free time! Well, enough of that. Time to get back out there and help the little blob people! This time one of them has gotten sick, and it’s up to you to heal ’em!
This is a ‘nano’ version of Grow, while the author works on a new game. It’s got all the trappings of the original grow games – the cutesy music, the little blob people, and the plot twists. Only 6 items to choose from, shouldn’t take long to figure out (bout 15 minutes for me)
Click on over to Eyezmaze to check it out!

Darwinia Mini-Review

I haven’t been doing much reviewing lately, but I thought I’d point a couple of the folks who keep whining about the lack of Linux games to the fine work at Introversion Software.

I just completed the demo for Darwinia, a sort of ‘Populous meets TRON’ game.

Darwinia is very much a ‘god game’ in that you are ‘above’ the life forms you’re interacting with, but, like Populous, you can’t directly control them. You can influence them in several ways (“All citizens, you feel an urge to move sort of in that direction!”), but can’t give the “you guys, move there and build a building, you guys, there and shoot them” sort of detail that’s common in things like Starcraft.

From Introversion’s page:

The world of Darwinia is a virtual themepark, running entirely inside a computer network and populated by a sentient evolving life form called the Darwinians. Unfortunately Darwinia has been overrun by a computer virus which has multiplied out of control. Your task is to destroy the Viral Infection and save the Darwinians from extinction.

The plotline does sound somewhat trite, and there’s certainly an 80’s-esque flair to the entire game. It’s modelled very heavily on TRON in imagery and concept (a model that Introversion seems to use a lot), so the rendered playing feels very much like one of those graphics demos you oo’ed and ah’ed at the first time you saw an SGI machine (well I did, anyway). If you make sure you’re not being overly critical and immediately jump up with “Gosh, Doom3 blows this away!”, you might find yourself enjoying yourself.

First of all, it’s a Linux-enabled, full GL, full sound, network enabled, multiplatform game. There’s no ‘hack’ or backsupport or Wine-fiddling here, the game has native Mac, Windows, and Linux builds. Installation was a matter of downloading the demo and running the installation script. On my machine, running Ubuntu, it installed and ran without a hitch, in full screen high resolution, and some phenomenal refresh rate (I noticed -zero- lag in any of either the cut scenes or actual gameplay, when I had several hundred characters moving on the screen).

Introversion has made it ‘de rigeur’ to have full Linux ports of all their games, and they have several that are top notch. I’ll be taking a look at others shortly. But if you’re into god-games, and have a Mac, Windows, or Linux PC, and don’t mind a new twist on the game with a good story line and comfortable game play, this is a game you should definitely check out.

Teeny wonderful games

I recently got pointed at an ongoing contest on Java Unlimited whereby folks are encouraged to write a game that compiles into less than 4k. The size is calculated based on the JAR file resulting from the build, and must include all graphics, sounds, and logic.
I recommend folks looking for some light entertainment go over and look through the various contest results (hint: sort the entrants by ‘DL’ (downloads), and look for the ones that have been downloaded the most – that usually indicates a good game).
The one that has me totally hooked is Miners4k (home page here). The feel of the game is similar to Lemmings and definitely has the “I’ll keep clicking for the next half hour and watch little guys moving” feel to it.
Other ones I recommend:
Pipe Extreme – Fly the pipe!
Cubis – A simple Cubis implementation
fuzetsu – Hard to explain, just try it.
As always, all these games run via webstart, so will work under windows, mac, and linux.

Review: Bang! Howdy

A long time ago on a laptop far far away, I chanced across a new game called Puzzle Pirates. It was from a new outfit on the block calling themselves Three Rings. It looked fun, and even better, ran on Mac, Linux, and Windows without problems due to the wonderous portability of Java. I was impressed then, but stopped playing after a year or so and moved on.
Now ThreeRings has done it again with a new game called Bang! Howdy. Lets take a look…

Continue reading “Review: Bang! Howdy”

Space Worms!

Spaceworms is a nice simple flash game, but fair warning! It will really suck you in.
The idea is you’re trying to out-maneuver the spaceworms. Use the arrow keys to move your ‘dot’. The worms are faster and more maneuverable than you, but have slightly slower reaction time. Use the edges of the screen to your advantage.
Avoid getting caught for 10 seconds, you go up a level, and get another Worm chasing you.
I got up to 7 worms chasing me, and almost wore out my arrow keys.
Thanks to Screenhead for the link.

Review: Jake2

This is somewhat of a departure for me. I’ve been doing some work for my client that involves WebStart, a system that lets you deploy Java applications from a webserver without installing any local tools (aside from Webstart itself, natch). “A perfect avenue for games!”
So digging around, I started looking for games I could run via webstart (which, by the way, runs perfectly under Linux). I found Jake2.
Jake2 is a pure-java implementation of the Quake2 engine, from Id Software. If you have any interest in first person shooters, or haven’t been under a rock the last 7 years, you’ve heard of Quake. I had pulled Jake2 a while ago as a standalone app, and it was ‘okay’, but a bit bumpy. Since I still had my Q2 maps locally, I was able to just click on the Jake2 Webstart button on Bytonics webpage, say “Here are my maps” and I was off and running.
The game plays perfectly, with a high frame rate on my laptop, and seems to handle many of the issues of running “a full screen app in a window” quite well (the mouse motion does NOT move the ‘pointer’ off the window, and you suddenly stop moving, easy prey for the nasties lurking about).
I also was able to download a couple third party game maps, and install them into the baseq2 directory, and run around a bit. Only one caused Jake2 to crash out, and that could easily have been because of a bad map. The Id supplied maps were fine.
Next on the list will be to try using the networking code, and playing multiplayer. Moohahah.

Planarity – the game!

This is a hyper-simple game, but is great for a couple hours of killed time. It’s called “Planarity” and is available at A couple other folks on LJ and elsewhere have posted about it, but the nutshell is you’re given an ever increasing number of vertices on a polygon, interconnected randomly. Your job is to move the vertices so none of the connecting lines overlap.
It’s not unlike those earth-games human pretzel knot games.
I just finished Level 4, at 3:08 for a time.
Enjoy 🙂

Review: Tactics Arena

Game: Tactics Arena
Language: Flash
Category: Board / Tactics
Tested on: Debian Linux + Firefox
Rating: 5 out of 5
Offered by: Tao Games (link)

Back in the good ole’ days, a couple bright lights came up with a new computer board game that was a variant of Chess. The game was called Archon and became a huge success not only due to its novelty, but also because of it’s excellent gameplay and presentation. Many folks have fond memories of playing this game for hours on end on Apple and Commodore computers.

While stumbling around looking for tonights entertainment, I found Tactics Arena. This is a Flash based game that comes in as one of the most polished and well done games I’ve seen seen in a while.

The game consists of playing pieces on a board. The pieces can move, attack, and turn, and when and what they can do depends on their piece type and when they last moved. For instance, a Cleric can cast a healing spell on all your pieces, but can’t move again for 4 turns after that. Assassins can attack everything within reach of their space, but can’t move for 2 turns afterwards. Sorceresses have a nice area-effect fireball that can be delivered at a distance, etc etc.

The gameplay is very well balanced. It becomes immediately apparent that the key to winning is understanding the full capabilities of your pieces, including their strengths and their weaknesses. An assassin does enormous damage at close range, but has very little defense. A knight can do enormous damage, but doesn’t move too fast. You get the idea.

There’s not a lot of ‘plot’ or anything. Basically the gameserver environment consists of ‘lobbies’ where folks can gather together and challenge each other to games. Players are ranked on a points system similar to Chess (a basic player starts out with 750 points). This just a layer to make the whole system more competitive. Don’t let it fool you though. The game is a great head to head, “Lets go play Tactics” with a friend game. The in-game chat is great for snarky commentary (‘I knew you were going to do that.’), but doesn’t get in the way of the game play.

The chat room(s) are about what you’d expect on an online ‘head to head’ gaming room with a distinct fantasy bent. A lot of 3l337 yammering, but don’t let that fool you. Find a set of players, pick up a table, and go play.

If you like playing chess, and like playing fantasy-oriented tactical games, then this is one you should definately take a look at.

Review: Rocket Mania

Game: Rocket Mania
Language: Java
Category: Puzzle / Action
Tested on: Debian Linux + Firefox
Rating: 5 out of 5
Offered by: Popcap Games (link)

Sometimes there are games you just can’t get enough of. Ones that you’ll play for hours until every muscle cramps into place, and you find yourself staggering, quasimodo like, to bed at 2am, your hand and body permanently stuck in that crouched mouse-clutching state

With that sort of intro, how can you not be intrigued?

Rocket Mania, from Popcap games, assaulted my sense of relaxation time about a year ago. I had downloaded and actually paid for a version on my PC (under Windows, alas), and since then have moved on to a total Linux desktop experience. While going through some more games to review, I remembered this particular game, and decided to run it up again

The Java version isn’t as immersive as the Windows version. Some of the voice tracks are missing, and some animation is changed, but the gameplay and just plain Funness is still there.

The goal of the game is to connect up matches to rockets. The premise is you’re a fireworks expert in ancient China, putting on a show for the crowd. The more rockets you launch at a time, the happier the crowd is (Oo! ah!), and they throw you money. The money can be used (if you pick it up) to upgrade your rockets. Better rockets mean more points, and more spectacular shows.

To accomplish this, you use the mouse to select small squares to rotate. The squares are bits of fuse in various patterns. Make a route connecting a match to a rocket, and fwoosh! Off it goes! If you make a path that connects up more than one rocket to a match, they all launch at once, and the crowd gives you kudos (more oohing and ahhing, more money).

Simple, eh? Well, it gets more complicated. Each round you need to launch more and more rockets before daybreak (I suppose the crowd gets jaded, and demands better shows). I’ve played this game for almost 2 hours straight, getting into the range of needing to launch 35+ rockets per round, and that’s quite a challenge. In addition to the time limit, the game starts throwing in ‘dead ends’ – bits of fuse that are just caps and just end the line. They also include bombs that can wreck your fuse arrangement when you launch. On the plus side, you also start getting little clocks that ‘freeze’ the time so you can catch up if you fall behind.

This is one of the top notch games available, particularly in Java / Flash form. Try it at least once, and if you like it, keep going, but give it a shot. I’d also recommend having the sound on, just to hear the FWOOSH of the rockets as they go off, and the happy hoots and whistles of the crowd when you get off a flight of 5, 6, 8 rockets a shot.

The long game time, even challenge, and simple approach make this one a lot of fun to play for a long time at a stretch. Check the clock often, and don’t start it up on days where you have deadlines looming.