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Genre: Puzzle & Trivia
Min OS X: 10.3    RAM: 256 MB

January 21, 2008 | Michael Yanovich

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OK, boys and girls. Galder around… I mean, gather around and listen up. Today, we’re going to take a galder… I mean, a gander… at a new puzzle game galled… I mean, called… Galder. Whew!

For those of you who play a lot of puzzle games, a quick glance at any screenshot from this title and it won’t look particularly revolutionary. And it’s not. Well, unless you consider the word “revolution” to mean what you can do with the rings of gemstones, in which case it’s a perfectly fitting term. But we’ll get to that. But it does offer a unique twist on an established puzzle genre, and it’s well worth checking out for that alone.

If you don’t want to read past the third paragraph of this review, here’s the game in short. You basically try to rack up as many points as you can by clearing out swaths of connected gems of the same color. What makes this title somewhat unique, however, is your ability to alter many different aspects of the board at any given time, allowing you to strategize in such a way as to maximize your potential points on any given turn. That flexibility, coupled with unlimited undos and zero time pressure, make this a game of focused strategy, not quick reflexes like so many other titles in the genre. The tortoise will outscore the hare in this game every time.

So what do I mean by altering the board? It’s one of those answers that is so much easier to illustrate by showing someone the game as opposed to writing about it, but since I don’t want everyone coming over my house for a hands-on demo, I’ll stick to the written word approach.

First off, bring up a screenshot and check out the game board. It’s a series of concentric circles, each with an array of colored gemstones. In the first move of the game, you’re limited to one simple manipulation: you can rotate the individual rings. Line them up so you get as many of the same colors strung together, one ring at a time, and a single mouse click can take out anywhere from two to twenty or more connected stones of the same color.

Simple enough so far. But now that some empty space has been created on the board (new stones do not appear to fill in the gaps), you’re left with many more options. You can still rotate individual rings, but now you can also condense any empty space on a given ring, so instead of having a stone or two, empty space, more stones, more empty space, etc… you can collapse a ring to have all the stones lined up together with all the empty space condensed into one area of the ring. With me so far?

You can also drop individual stones from outer rings into any empty spaces “below” them on any inner rings. Like checkers, this is a unidirectional move. You can bring gems down into the rings, but you can’t send them back up to the outer rings once they’ve been moved down.

And that’s basically the game. What’s hard to understand until you’ve played a round or two is how much flexibility those simple operations give you. There’s a nearly limitless amount – ok, that’s an exaggeration, but there’s a lot – of micro managing you can force on the board to put as many key pieces into important places as possible in order to boost your score.

And here’s where the effort pays off. Scoring works like this. The number of points you earn in a turn is determined by counting the number of pieces you removed that turn, and squaring them. Think about that for a second. The game’s built-in tutorial expresses it very well. Remove two pieces, you get four points. A third piece doesn’t get you two more points, it earns five for a total of nine points. So every single piece you add on makes a significant impact on the score.

To interrupt with an ancient parable, legend had it that the King of Persia was so impressed with the game of chess, he offered its inventor a reward. The inventor asked for a single grain of rice for the first square on the chess board, doubled to two grains for the second square, doubled again (four grains) for the third square, and so on, doubling for each square on the board. The king agreed. If you do the math, the end result over an 8x8 chessboard is a number that is twenty digits long. (Note – it’s a nice story, but it’s almost certainly false. The math works, but the event never happened. ‘Nuff said.)


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