Capsule Review: Cardinal Chains

(A note on versions - the paid version available on PC and mobile has five hundred puzzles. The free browser-based demo has the first hundred levels.)

A simple puzzle game in which you must paint each numbered grid square in contiguous paths that can’t cross each other or move from a higher number to a lower one. Some grids are filled with a single number and have a single starting point, meaning you simply have to find the path that touches each square once; others have multiple starting points and ranges of numbers from one to nine, meaning you must find a way to draw several paths that touch each square in the right order.

The complexity peaks early and most puzzles are variations on a handful of quickly-established themes. That means that once you get the hang of it, Cardinal Chains won’t really stretch your brain any further and becomes more meditative than challenging. The tight design constraints mean there are strategies and rules of thumb that help narrow down possible solutions - you’re likely to quickly learn to spot dead ends that must be a path endpoint, for example. Because you can paint partial paths and easily revise them, it’s quick and easy to adjust your approach on the fly, so once you’ve narrowed things down you can experiment and refine until you find the answer. As a result, even the most intimidating grids can generally be solved within a couple of minutes.

The bite-sized puzzles and simple touch controls make this game well-suited for mobile. Five hundred puzzles is more than you will ever need, especially since you’re unlikely to dwell on any individual puzzle long enough for it to make a lasting impression or damage its replayability. It’s a good value if you’re looking for something interruptible to do on your phone now and then.

I Stopped Playing When: I got through a couple hundred puzzles and then slowed down, though I haven’t trailed off completely and I expect to eventually solve all five hundred puzzles. It’s still a fine way to kill a minute or two on my phone, but since it’s not teaching me anything new anymore I’m not engaged beyond that.

Docprof's Rating:

Three Stars: Good. I liked the game enough to finish it (or just play it a bunch, for games that don't end). I recommend it to most genre fans.

You can get it or learn more here.