Grindstone and games that balance luck and skill

I just enjoy seeing what will happen.

Here's an embarrassing confession: when I was a student, I got too far into Bejeweled Blitz. Facebook was new, everyone was on it, and this was the perfect "one more round" game to endlessly procrastinate with. It was a habit that worried me enough to make me become more conscious of my screen time, but now and then a strategy or puzzle game will hit exactly the same notes for me. Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes. Into the Breach. Slay the Spire. Grindstone. Each of them offer me the same satisfaction of surprise chain reactions and the equal possibility for winning and losing.

Some people are saying about Grindstone that any puzzle based on a simple gameplay idea, in this case colour matching, stretched over several hundred levels, ought to get, well, grindy at some point. I've never played any of the games I've just mentioned with finishing them in mind, or getting somewhere. I just enjoy seeing what will happen, as if I have little to do with it. All these games have something beyond the perfect amount of challenge that's supposed to be conducive to flow - it's the sheer variety of gameplay options that stumps me. By mixing and matching just a handful of obstacles and some well-crafted gadgets, developer Capy made sure that I have a myriad of ways to solve each level in Grindstone. What's not to love about flexible game design like that?

Of course elements will start to repeat, but I'm constantly in awe of how different a level feels when it uses, let's say, both moving enemies and moving bridges, instead of just one of the two. Add to this that through its many levels, Grindstone gives you enough time to figure out how each obstacle works before it raises the difficulty by using it in a different way, and I'm just constantly looking forward to what's next.

There are absolutely levels that can get in the bin and that I wouldn't replay if you paid me (lever puzzles! Yuck!), but trial-and-error magically even makes those levels bearable. At first it doesn't seem like I'll get anywhere, and with a heavy sigh I decide that it's time to stop. Roughly half an hour later I'll be at it again, and this time it works - was it luck? It can't be all luck, because the more you play, the more you'll get used to the pattern by which the game drops its creeps. Other times, that tiny bit of luck is what turns things around when things seem impossible after many a turn. I don't want my games to be all about skill, because I enjoy being surprised, and I really think Grindstone gets the balance between systematic gameplay and luck just right. This also applies to a card battler like Slay the Spire - while you have some control over your deck, I don't think of the game as any less dependent on the occasional stroke of luck, and that's just what kept me going. Grindstone even allows me to push my luck and make things more difficult for myself if I so choose - am I going to make one more attempt to snag that treasure chest or should I just leave? If things don't work out, I'm OK with that, too. Grindstone makes loss bearable since that loss stays confined to a single stage instead of an entire run.

It all seems worth it for this great lap of honour: seeing the potential for a huge chain of creeps, getting into position and then slicing through them, a giant grindstone plonking down at the end of it all for your reward. That's the good stuff! It's a simple pleasure, sure, but as the saying goes, a lot of effort goes into making something seem effortless.

(Work on this article was paused about halfway in, in order to play Grindstone.)

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About the author

Malindy Hetfeld

Malindy Hetfeld

Contributor

Malindy is a freelance writer whose equally torrid love affairs with literature, Japan and Guybrush Threepwood have led to her covering video games.

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