Turtle Tactics

The product development of Turtle Tactics  (for SmartGames) 

Raf Peeters, January 2023

Turtle Tactics is the first magnetic travel game for SmartGames I designed specifically for a tin box.


For many years I wanted to make a game around the story of the tortoise and the hare.  I always like it when a SmartGames is not only a puzzle game but also tells a story, like for example in Three Little Piggies or Little Red Riding Hood. I played in my head a long time with this theme, but the end result has little to do with that story, except that it also includes a hare. But instead of one tortoise there are five different ones. And the object of the game is not a race either.

This game is a sequential movement puzzle, similar to simple sliding puzzles. The downside of a classic sliding puzzle (like Fifteen Puzzle) is that tiles are fixed inside the game board. That’s handy because you can’t loose any parts, but this makes it impossible to make multiple challenges from easy to difficult, because you can’t easily control the starting position of each puzzle piece.

In Turtle Tactics you also slide the animals from square to square (adjacent, so not diagonal). But there is another important difference with a standard sliding puzzle: you often have more than I empty square. Simple challenge for example include only two tortoises, so seven squares remain empty. To avoid having too many options when you play, I added 4 white fences. Animals can’t go over these fences. This is true for the tortoises, but also for the hare. The only thing the hare can do that the tortoises can’t, is jump (over tortoises). Again only horizontal or vertical and only when there is an empty space AND no fences in between.

The game mechanics are inspired by some very old metal puzzle games, where you have to move some pieces to the left and others to the right. The problem with all those puzzles is that they all can be solved with the same strategy. You often need a lot of moves, but they are so obvious that the gameplay becomes a tedious job. If you ever played Towers of Hanoi, you know what I mean. Because of some similarities in the game mechanics, I was afraid that this would also be the case for this game. But play testing proved that there is much more variation in this game and that you regularly need to shift your strategy to find a solution.

The starting position of all animals is given in the challenge booklet. The end position is given by the colors of the plants. So the red turtle needs to go to the red paprika, the orange hare to the orange carrots, etc.

The number of moves can be quite high, but this never becomes a very difficult game, because it’s intended for kids of 5 and up. Adults can have some fun with it too. Don’t try to skip all easy challenges if you do, because specific tricks how to solve things need to be learned in the easier challenges.

This new collection of tin boxes is a nice addition to the magnetic travel game booklets SmartGames already sells. It will be used for similar games, except that in this box format, we are no longer limited to flat puzzle pieces.  So the idea is that all future games in this collection will be more 3D. One of my colleagues (Rein) also made a nice addition to this collection, named Pole Position.

The biggest discusion we had, was again not about the game play or looks, but about the product name. Most people who are not native English speakers are less familiar with the word “tortoise”. In most parts of the world they use the word “turtle”. BTW  in biology, all tortoises are also turtles (except people in the UK think they are not).  This game will become available in Spring 2023 on time for the holiday season.

Example of  an easy challenge and solution of Turtle Tactics that can be solved in 28 steps. The orange arrow has a double line when the hare makes a jump.

new SmartGames 2023


1) Choose a challenge. Place the tortoises, fences and hare as indicated. Sometimes you don't need all puzzle pieces for a challenge. 

2) Move the tortoises and hare to their end position: 

- The end position of each animal is indicated by plants that have the same color as the animal. 

- The tortoises and hare can slide (horizontally or vertically) to an empty adjacent square, unless a fence blocks this movement. 

- Only 1 animal is allowed in each square of the game grid at any time! 

- The hare can also jump over a turtle (horizontally or vertically) to an empty square. The tortoises can never jump! 

- The hare can't jump over the fences. He can only jump over tortoises! 

- You are not allowed to move the fences. 

3) You have found the solution when all animals have reached their end position. The solution with the fewest moves is shown at the end of the challenge booklet. Other solutions are often possible. The minimum number of moves is also indicated next to the challenge number. 

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