You may remember when I became obsessed with Lumines some months ago. Chime is a kindred to that, full of colorful blocks and hypnotic electronic loops. As I hinted at in my comic, Chime is somewhat more addictive. It’s a more purified dose that stimulates those parts of the brain that are driven to struggle against entropy. Some people wanted to know how the game works before they buy it. So to save you from putting your $5 in peril, here is the deal…
If you ever played carpentry in Puzzle Pirates, then the basic motions will feel familiar to you.
The game is played with eleven possible pieces. Six of them (shown in blue) are symmetric. The other five (red) have left / right variants. The game will hand you pieces at random, and your goal is to place them on the board to form rectangles of 3×3 or larger. The game is timed (I always play nine minute games, although three minute and six minute modes are also available.)
Here is one of the trailers for the game, which gives a nice run-down of how it works:
But I want to talk a bit about the strategy behind these rules:
As soon as you cram some pieces together that form a proper rectangle at least three blocks in width and height, the rectangle begins to color itself in. While this is happening you can continue to add bits around it, and it will expand to make the largest possible rectangle. Eventually it gets colored in all the way and becomes frozen.
There’s a vertical beat line passing over the board, and when it touches a frozen rectangle it removes it from play, opening up that area for more pieces.
But the board underneath the rectangle will now be colored in. Your goal is to color in the entire board. Time is added to the clock when you fill in fresh territory this way. Making more rectangles on an already colored area will not reward you with more time.
Here is where things get crazy. You’ve got this score multiplier that goes up as you make rectangles. The more you make, the higher your multiplier goes. But note the leftover trash that remains after a rectangle has been cleared:
Those fragments are bad. Every time the beat line passes over some fragments they will decay. If you just leave them there, eventually they will be destroyed. If this happens, all fragments are removed from the board and you lose your multiplier. Aw.
Note that if you’re not careful you’ll have fragments hanging on either side of a rectangle. You need to clean up those fragments by incorporating them into another rectangle, which may in turn leave more fragments. In trying to clean up the mess you could just end up spreading it around. Eventually you’ve got too many single bits floating around the board and it becomes impossible to keep up with them all.
These fragments will be scattered around the areas of the board you’ve already covered. Cleaning them up without making things worse means building carefully, deliberately, and usually means wasting time making new rectangles on already-covered areas of the board.
And here is where the strategy comes into it. You can just focus on claiming new territory and ignore the fragments, which means you’ll be losing your multiplier every minute or so. Or you can focus on building clean shapes that don’t create trash, which means you’ll be running up your score while running out the clock. Do you go for coverage and extend your game, or go for points and make every second count?
The multiplier caps at x35, which is a pretty big bonus. Keeping that alive can rack up amazing points, but dooms your game in the long run. In testing, I was never able to get ahead, time-wise. If I slap down pieces as fast as possible and just go for raw territory coverage, I can’t do better than simply holding the clock at bay.
The more of the board you cover, the harder it is to grab more. You can grab your first 25% of the board in the first minute of play, but getting the last 15% (which will likely be in scattered parcels around the board) may take half the game. If you manage to clear the entire board, you get 100,000 points (which is a nice modest bonus) and the board is wiped clean. This is great if you can reach this point, since you’ll be able to grab territory quickly on a clean board.
If you look at the global leaderboards you can see what strategies people are using:
I’ve never had a game where I could score on the leaderboards like this. I usually find scoreboards to be depressing. You’ll have the game of your life, achieve a personal record, and then you see that you’re ranked #12,462 in the world and the guy at the top has some ludicrous number of points, far above anything you would have guessed was even possible. Looking at leaderboards has always been a way to turn victory into defeat and elation into despair. So I do my best to ignore them.
So I’m as surprised as anyone to find myself doing this well. I hold the #1 spot for one song and the #2 spot for a couple of others. But note the coverage numbers in the previous screenshot. The top player nearly cleared the board three times. The number three player was just short of five. Number four cleared the board an amazing five and a half times. Yet I didn’t even clear it once. I played the game fastidiously, keeping the board clean and ignoring coverage. I worked the multiplier up to the maximum and retained it until the end of the game. The other players obviously ignored the multiplier and went for raw coverage. We’re playing with radically different approaches, and it’s not clear that one is definitively superior to the other.
There are six different boards in the game. Each one has it’s own board shape, color scheme, music, and selection of pieces. See, even though there are eleven pieces, each board only offers a subset of that. So each board requires very different play if you’re trying to keep things tidy. No good leaving a nice spot for an L-shape if this board doesn’t have any. Each board is basically it’s own game mode, so you won’t have the Lumines problem of having to endure the occasional unpleasant loop. Pick a song you like, and play that song.
I think the game is exquisite. Perhaps it’s worth a fiver to you to see if you feel the same.
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