Tag Archives: Match-3

Match-3 Subgenres

The term “Match-3 game” gets tossed around a lot.  When you hear it, you usually think of tile-swapping puzzle games, but I’ve seen it  used to refer to a lot of other kinds of puzzle games. You could argue that they’re all basically the same genre, but I feel that’s a bit reductive. If first-person shooters and third-person shooters are considered separate subgenres, so too should these types of Match-3 games. For now, I’ll hit the three most popular subgenres:


Tile Swapping


Examples: Bejeweled, Candy Crush Saga, Cookie Jam, Candy Blast Mania

These games are characterized by selecting two adjacent tiles and swapping their positions. If three or more tiles of the same color are lined up orthogonally, then a match is created and the matched tiles are removed. If not, the tiles are immediately reverted to their previous positions. However, this is not always the case. Panel de Pon allows for tiles to be swapped without requiring a match, and the popular Puzzle & Dragons lets players touch a tile and slide it  across  the screen freely, functionally allowing for many swaps in a single swipe of a finger.


Tile Tracing


Examples: Dungeon Raid, Puzzle Craft, Candy Swipe, Paint Monsters, Fruit Splash Mania

Tile-tracing games are well-suited for touch devices. Tiles may touch in sets of three or more, but will not be removed without player action. To remove matching tiles in this genre, players must trace an uninterrupted line across tiles of the same color. Diagonals are usually accepted. Identifying matches in tile-tracing games is usually easier than in tile-swapping games, and setting up large future combos is emphasized.


Bubble Matching


Examples: Puzzle Bubble/Bust-A-Move, Bubble Witch Saga, Panda Pop, Bubble Mania

I hesitate to use the term “bubble” in a name meant to describe genre mechanics, but these games uniformly use bubbles, and I want these subgenre names to be intuitive.

Bubble-matching games have a large field of bubbles in the upper part of the screen, and a player-controlled bubble launcher at the bottom. Gravity plays a large role in this genre; bubbles will stick to the ceiling and to other bubbles. A bubble that is not being held up by another will fall and be scored. They may touch in sets of three or more, but will not be removed without player action. The player may launch bubbles upward at different angles in order to bounce them off the side of the screen to reach bubbles they may not otherwise be able to reach.

A unique feature to bubble matching games is that a player may misjudge an angle and launch a bubble to an unintended place, and this is an intended part of the challenge. A major aspect of bubble-matching level design is to create opportunities for large drops, areas where a player may knock out the support for a large block of bubbles and clear a large area of the screen at once. More than any of the other genres, bubble-matching games benefit from tall scrolling levels that a player cannot see all at once.


Other Games

These are games that meet the “Match three similar tiles” criteria that people don’t usually refer to as “Match-3”. These include Dr. Mario, Zuma, and Money Idol Exchanger. I’ll figure out names for these and cover them in more detail at a future point in time, but I just wanted to bring these up now to illustrate that the term is very broad, and tile-matching games are more diverse than people give them credit for.

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Posted by on August 25, 2014 in Puzzle Design


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Randomness in Puzzle Design

After reading my last post, a friend of mine (who hadn’t really considered that puzzle levels could be designed) asked me if the tile colors of puzzle levels were designed as well. The answer is that it really depends.

Your typical “swap” tile matching game generates tiles completely randomly upon initial setup (except for things like not having matches before the player’s even had a chance to take a turn). This has a few advantages. A player who just experienced a loss knows that it’s random, and maybe their next initial setup will be more favorable. This is especially important for the free to play market, where retaining players is the arguably the single most important element to success. That feeling that “Maybe I’ll have better luck next time” makes them much more likely to click on the Retry button.

That’s not to say that they don’t sometimes have fixed pieces. This happens, and when it does, there’s always a reason for it. For example, let’s have a look at level 22 of Cookie Jam:



The level objective is to clear all of the wafer tiles. They’re functionally equivalent to the jellies from Candy Crush. There are also those donut obstacles. They can be swapped, but they can’t be matched. The only way to get rid of them is to make a match next to them. These donuts cover up 30 of the map’s 50 waffle spaces. 12 of these donut-covered waffle spaces are also chocolate waffle spaces, which act like Candy Crush’s double jellies.  The player needs to match 62 cookies on these spaces, but the donuts are blocking 42 of these necessary matches.

The cookies are generated randomly, but look at the right side of each of these maps. Every time this level is generated, there are two tiles that can be swapped that will match five cookies of the same color. This gives players an optimistic start to the level, since matching five cookies feels good, and also generates a rainbow cake that will eliminate all cookies of any color it is matched with.

The actual benefit of the rainbow cake this early in the game is marginal at best. When it’s created, it’s going to be sitting in the bottom right corner, with a donut on its left. The only color the player can use it to eliminate is whatever color happens to be right on top of it. Is the rainbow cake useless, then?

No! Far from it. In this level, its purpose isn’t to be used. Its purpose is to be created. When the player sees that 5-cookie match, they go for it because they want that rainbow cake, but its real purpose is to clear away three of the donuts and give the player a foothold in the lower right.

When the level begins, the easiest place to make matches is along the top edge of the donut structure. Because of the voids in the level, though, vertical matches are difficult. The left side is practically impossible to match, since it’s not only a map edge, but also constrained by the donuts. Same situation in the right, except for that five-cookie match. Once that happens, the right side is much like the top edge of the donut structure: In practical terms, you can really only match parallel with it, but you do have another row (for the top edge) or column (on the right edge) to swap tiles with.

You might wonder why they don’t just have the donuts on the right removed at the start in the first place. My feeling is that because this is a bit of an intimidating level to start, throwing in a free rainbow cake encourages the user. It also gives them an additional edge they can work with, while preserving the level’s pleasant symmetry. People love symmetry. It also serves as a nice reward for players who hold off on using the rainbow cake, since they can use it near the end of the level to collect difficult wafer spaces.

So, there you have it. An example of a Match-3 level where tile placement is fixed. It’s a different color each time, but mechanically-speaking, it’s always the same, and it serves a very clear purpose.

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Posted by on August 9, 2014 in Game Thoughts


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The Infamous Level 65

The last time I talked about the modern Match-3 game, I said there was a lot more than just a shift to move limits. The biggest identifier of the modern Match-3 is that it has level design. I’d like to demonstrate that by breaking down level 65 of Candy Crush Saga. When Candy Crush Saga first launched, it had 65 levels. Level 65 was notoriously difficult, and it’s been altered to make it easier. I’d like to go over what made it so difficult, and how it was changed.


This post is going to be a long one, so bear with me.

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Posted by on August 9, 2014 in Game Thoughts, Puzzle Design


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Modern Match-3


I was playing Candy Crush on my phone on Saturday, and a friend asked what I was playing. I said it was Candy Crush, and I forget how the rest of the talk went, but they called it a Bejeweled clone, and that stuck with me. It reminded me of when people used to refer to first-person shooters as Doom clones, and how for a while, League of Legends was called a DotA clone.

Match-3 games have come a long way since Bejeweled, but why are they still compared to Bejeweled specifically? The first thing that comes to mind is that for many people, Bejeweled was the first Match-3 that stuck with them. They haven’t really played Match-3 games since, and when they look at a modern one, they think back to Bejeweled. Of course, modern Match-3 games are vastly different beasts, although people don’t quite realize it yet.

Bejeweled 2 (My baseline for this discussion) is based around making matches until you reach a target score, then you’re presented with a new level (keeping your special gems) and a new target score. This target score keeps rising (and so would your points per match). However, if you end up in a situation where no more matches are possible, the game  ends. The longer you play in a level, the more likely, you’ll end up in a losing situation, so over time, you need to make more and more of your matches into higher-scoring ones and combos to get more points out of the time you have in a level.

Most modern Match-3 games still have a score, but you no longer lose if you run out of possible matches. The board is just reshuffled. The loss condition is different: You’re given a certain number of moves to reach your goals (the old target score is now just a formality or omitted entirely). If you run out of moves, you lose. Why is that?


You have limited moves instead of playing until you’re stuck for a few big reasons: The first is that the player has a clearer idea of how close they are to losing. Match-3 play is about identifying possible matches, and a fair amount of a player’s time is spent looking around for the possible matches they can make. They will clearly overlook some, and they know this, so if they make a match, they won’t know for sure that the end is coming. They might know it’s near, or it might catch them completely by surprise. “What? The game is over?” Giving the player a limited number of moves more clearly communicates to them the resources they have remaining and gives them a stronger feeling of control over the outcome.

The moves system also gives the designer more control. Many new Match-3 games involve objectives other than scoring as high as they can. I’ll go into more detail on this in a future post, but the general idea is that Match-3 levels can vary widely in difficulty. A designer can create a level, do some testing, and conclude “This level takes, on average, 50 moves to beat.” They can give the players 50 moves, and then the player has an exciting experience where they’re running out of time, but victory is just within their grasp, and they make it with their final move. Or they might lose with just one move left to make (and consider spending money on buying just one more move so they can beat the level).

This is just one way that modern Match-3 games are characterized. I’ll talk about this more later.

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Posted by on August 7, 2014 in Game Thoughts, Puzzle Design


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