Thing that roll: Rolling Block puzzles

IMG_0006.PNGAs argued in my previous post, maze puzzles get more interesting when the actual maze is concealed. A really nice concealment of a maze puzzle are rolling block puzzles. In such puzzles a block (larger than 1x1x1, typically 1x1x2) is rolled around a grid of squares. What is so special about that, you might ask? Well, the effect is a multi-state maze, which can result in really nice puzzles.


The idea for rolling block puzzles seems to originate with Richard Tucker’s puzzle from 1998, shown here to the right. Take a 1x1x2 block, place it standing upright on the tile marked ‘Start’ and then roll the block until it stand upright on the tile ‘Goal’. The crucial point is that you’ll have to reach the goal standing upright. The goal is of course just one move away from the start when lying down, but that doesn’t count. This is the typical feeling of moving through a multi-state maze: so near and yet so far (it will take you at least 39 rolls the reach the goal in upright position).

This puzzle lead to a small craze among puzzle designers around 2000, with very many new variations being developed. Robert Abbott’s summary gives a nice survey of the designs proposed. By the way, Robert Abbott is the one who brought the principle of multi-state mazes to great heights, and you will be hearing more about him here soon.

IMG_0001.PNGIn 2007, apparently independently, Damien Clarke from (mind the heavy flash on that site!) had the same idea as Richard Tucker, and made it into a rolling block flash game on the internet, called Bloxorz (don’t confuse this flash game with the iPhone tilt-maze puzzle BloXoR (iTunes Link), which I’ll discuss in a later post). This flash game was ported to the iPhone as Action Blox (iTunes Link) shown here to the right. Besides a gorgeous visual implementation, Clarke also added some extras, like tiles that can only be passed with the block on its side, switches that are activated by rolling the block over it and result in extra tiles being available for rolling over, and teleport tiles that, when landed upon, will send the block to another part of the board.

James Hui (Dr. Watson) from (formerly produced an iPhone version of rolling block puzzles already in the days before the app store. Soon after the app store opened, an official version became available as CubicMan Deluxe (and the free version CubicMan Lite, both links redirect to iTunes). This version is shown in the picture in the upper right corner of this post. CubicMan took over all of the ideas introduced by Clarke, though the actual puzzles are newly designed. In personal communication James Hui acknowledges that he made his game based on Clarke’s ideas—he wasn’t even aware of the earlier developments!

It is really unfortunate that these developers didn’t even try a simple google search (what about ‘rolling block puzzle’?), because they would have found many fabulous puzzle designs. The actual mazes in Action Blox and in CubicMan are simply not interesting enough to really make a good puzzle. The developer of CubicMan promised to introduce level packs in upcoming versions, so maybe things will get more interesting in the future.

Before somebody forgets, let me finish with the most crucial links for anyone interested in rolling block puzzles:

[Update 16 January 2009] I just noticed the app Dropipe, which seems to be a complete ripoff of Action Blox, including aspects of the art work. Incredible! Not even a name is mentioned. This is probably the most extreme case of unwarranted copying that I have seen until now in the app store.

IMG_0001[Update 12 March 2009] For a funny looking, though somewhat slow, incarnation of the rolling block principle, check out Diamond Islands (and the Lite version Diamond Islands FREE. A screenshot is shown here to the left. The few levels I tried were extremely simplistic, so if you are reading this blog that means you probably well let this app pass. The only substantial addition are the numerous crystals on your way that you have to pick up. Somewhat like adding intermediate goals to the puzzle. That is a recurrent trick to make puzzles look more complicated.

[Update 20 March 2009] It’s starting to get on my nerves, but this seems to become one of the main purposes of this blog to track all these games that simply copy another game. DemarcStar is the next Bloxorz-clone in the app store. Cute graphics, but really nothing new. I didn’t check the level design, but I have no great hopes. Please people: start thinking again instead of copying others! There are so many great possible variations on the rolling block principle. Why does nobody try to be innovative?

[Update 31 March 2009] Time Box: fine basic implementation of the same idea: a 2x1x1 block rolling on a grid. No free level choice, but a random level can be accessed for a given a difficulty setting. No isometric view, no panning, but an overview option to see the whole level at once. This level overview can become a bit small for the larger levels. Did I tell this version is free? Only complaint: no new conceptual idea, just more of the same as above. [Update on update] I have spent some more time with Time Box and the harder levels are actually really nice. They are hard enough to evoke a good maze feeling in that you tend to get lost in some corner and keep running in circles until you finally find the right exit. Give it a try, it’s worth it! But use the option “random game” and choose the highest difficulty. The artwork is at times a bit difficult to manage.

[Update 2 April 2009] Wow, another one: Nintaii. This clone was apparently originally released in October 2008 for the Blackberry. On the iPhone it is only 1/10th of the price though…

[Update 22 June 2009] Next Bloxorz clone, with interesting looking levels though! Tuzzle.


One Response to “Thing that roll: Rolling Block puzzles”

  1. Leif Stenlund Says:

    I hope there is going to be a rolling block game on the ipod that uses Tuckers original idea. Allthou Bloxorz was nice, I got a little annoyed about falling over the edges.

    Great blog, BTW

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