Staff Picks: Forget Flappy Bird, you want to play Threes

Staff Picks: Forget Flappy Bird, you want to play Threes

How to get obsessed with one tiny little number-crunching game

We love iOS apps, but there's a lot of junk and cruft out there. Our Staff Picks column separates the great from the mediocre, offering our expert advice on the best apps, games, tools, and programs in the iOS App Store.

It takes a lot to hook me on an iOS game. I stare at screens for a good portion of my work day, and social networks and the occasional TV program are just about the only thing I can make leisure time for. But for the last few days, I have been obsessed with one tiny little number-crunching game: Threes.

Math-averse folks, don't let the name and number-filled gameplay scare you off: Threes is much more about spatial awareness than it is complicated mathematics, and even if (like me) you despise Sudoku, you'll love this game. Its basic premise boils down to adding ones and twos together to make 3s, then combining those 3s with other 3s to make 6s; 6s to make 12s; 12s to make 24s; and so on.

The mechanics for doing this are clever and unique: The number tiles live on a 4x4 grid, and every time you slide that grid, a new tile appears. The 1s and 2s are color-coded blue and red, respectively, while all subsequent pairings evolve into little monster tiles with varying faces, names, and (if you enable sound) personalities. When you combine two tiles to make one, a new tile appears, but you gain an extra space on the board (from the previous tile's absence). It reminds me a bit of W.E.L.D.E.R., a word search-style game we loved last year, but with a numerical twist and Letterpress-style design.

The gameplay is delightful, the graphics simple and just this side of twee, the music charming, and the sound effects hilarious. The tiny tiles react in surprise when first combined, then in an amusingly snarky manner if you leave them idle for too long. Though their lack of limbs prevents them from being as expressive as, say, Holochess characters, it's still a bit of a shock the first time you hear one of them shout out "BORED!" or "C'mon, moooove."

This is about as annoying as the game gets in terms of time-management: You're encouraged to swipe at your own pace, whether that's with immediate gut-instinct or three-minute-long option-weighing. The financial investment is straightforward, too: The game costs just $2 upfront, and there are no upgrades and no hidden in-app purchases--just lots of mind-bendingly devious gameplay.

It's remarkably easy to start playing Threes, but mastering it is a skill in and of itself. For the obsessive, there are already tips, tricks, and mathematical strategy guides. The beauty of the game, though, is in how scalable it is: Whether you're a beginner matching Trins (3s) and Thumberts (6s) or an expert trying to figure out how to get another ThreeJay (192) to match up with your Captain Triad (384), the gameplay is just as much of a thrill.

In short: Everyone should pick up this gem of a game. It's enthralling in the best way, and its state-saving means that you can tailor your play to your iOS gaming lifestyle, whether that's in fits and spurts while in line or diving in for multiple games at your desk. Really, perhaps the only disappointing thing about Threes is you'll eventually have to put it down.

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