My older son loves boats. So what do you do, being a father and puzzle inventor? You create a Smart Game with boats. The boats became lifeboats as the concept developed, and as you can imagine, during a rescue mission it's difficult to stay in charge of the situation because everybody wants to be rescued first. Titanic seemed an appropriate name for this logic puzzle game.
THE RIGHT MIX OF GAME RULES
Hitting on the theme of this game was quite easy, but finding a game concept that worked was not. Sharks, buoys and lifebuoys came and went again but they didn't make the game playable. Over the course of more than 6 months I tried all kinds of different things, playing test challenges at night in front of the TV. Things didn’t completely click until I added this simple game rule: lifeboats that are full should remain anchored to the spot (because you can't save anyone else with a boat that has no more seats free).
Then the game concept worked. At the beginning of the game there are a lot of people in the water, making it difficult for you to maneuver the boats. But once you have picked up a few people and have more space, your movement is restricted by the boats which are full. This makes Titanic a constantly changing maze of people and boats. The solution looks like a dance of boats at sea, which brings to mind the infamous sentence, ‘And while the Titanic was sinking, the band kept playing. I could not have made this game if someone like Saskia hadn't helped me by using a computer to generate the challenges. Some of the solutions were even more beautiful than the ones I had come up with during the concept phase. It always fascinates me to see that something as stupid as a computer program can create something stunning with the right input.
WAVY DESIGN CHOICES
During testing, I noticed that you often have to start over. It follows that it should be easy to find the right starting position for the people and boats. Initially, I wanted the surface to be transparent blue plastic with the challenge card under it. But the problem with this was that you would also see the starting positions while playing.
By making the sea out of separate waves of different heights, the game board works like window blinds. When you look directly down on the game board from above, you can see the challenge card underneath the game board. When you lean back a little when playing, the challenge card disappears and you will only see the waves. The fact that I do a lot of thinking in my bedroom, which has wooden window blinds, may have had something to do with the fact I came up with this solution. Maybe the game would have looked different if we’d had curtains – a nice example of lateral thinking.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
In 2012 it will be 100 years since the Titanic sank, so the timing of this game could have been better – it was released in 2009. But if you like really challenging games, this one is for you. The difficulty of the first 3 levels is comparable to other Smart Games, but the MASTER level is really hard. To be honest, there are a few challenges that I’ve never managed to solve myself. But as I said earlier, I am not the most persistent puzzle solver, so maybe you can?
Titanic has something in common with my favorite ThinkFun puzzle “Lunar Lockout”: the fact that you need to think before you act and that you have to move carefully so that you don’t make any mistakes. That’s why I like this logic game a lot, although the game play is more difficult than other puzzles with sequential movements. But with puzzles like Anti-Virus or Rush Hour I am easily tempted to just start moving the pieces randomly, hoping to get lucky. Such a strategy would not be very effective in this game. Of course, my son liked the game too, although he was still too young to solve most of the challenges. But by the time the game was ready to go on sale, his interest had already shifted to dinosaurs and rockets.
update April 2012: There is now an App of Titanic with 108 completely new challenges to play on iOS (iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch). There is also a free version available for iOS with 21 challenges or you can play the game online on SmartGamesLive.com.
update June 2014: New levels (Iceberg) are added to both versions of the App. The paid version has now 204 challenges and the free version 42.
example of a solution of Titanic with 3 people and 2 boats
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