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TUAW Review: Reiner Knizia's Monumental turns puzzle apps upside down


The basic gist of Reiner Knizia's Monumental [$1.99] is that it's a thinking man's Tetris. This isn't to say that Tetris is a game for dummies – it's not – it's just that the never-ending rain of blocks means it's part puzzle, part twitch-fest. In Monumental, on the other hand, blocks fall constantly, but they do so at a rate you define. You still want to form complete lines and make them disappear, something old Tetris hands will feel right at home doing, but now you're placing each block carefully instead of in a frentic rush.

The game is the brainchild of prolific board game designer Reiner Knizia, and you can feel the math Knizia is known for (he has a PhD in mathematics, after all) in his games poking its head. Read on to find out if a slow-paced but tense puzzle game is worth your time.



The Game and The App

Most times in this series of game app reviews, we spend a bit of time discussing how the original board or card game is played and then move into the differences between the physical and digital versions. In this case, since Monumental is digital-only, we'll just discuss how the game works and how the app is implemented all at once. That's kind of important, since the in-app description is all of two sparsely-worded pages long and doesn't really explain the game. You can see those pages here and here.

Basically, the game is a falling puzzle. Pieces fall from the top into the center of a 6x4 grid (or, better put, between two 3x4 grids. From this center line, you can flick a piece into any of the eight rows, four on either side. When you put a piece into the row, it hangs there until all six spaces on the bottom row fill up and that row scores (or doesn't, if you didn't place the right pieces there). Once the bottom row scores, then everything drops down one level. This can trigger chain reactions if the rows above the bottom are already filled up.

The trick is that once a piece moves down the center tube, it cannot move back up. So, while most games with falling bricks force you to build from the bottom up, the best way to play Monumental is to work on all four rows at once, planning how to get each piece into the right row. It's a very difficult balance and requires a lot of forethought.

What are you planning for? You want to get similar stones together. The similarities can be in the images on the bricks, the background colors, or the number of images on the bricks. Get three stones together that all share at least one feature (or an identical pair in the group of three), and you score some points (how many? see below). The game goes until you either run out of time (in action mode) or the bottom two rows fail to score at the same time (in challenge mode).

Even with the best planning, though, sometimes the wrong pieces end up in the wrong places. To deal with these little beasties, you are randomly (as far as we can tell) given some dynamite sticks to use. These pieces are hard to come by, but they can be drug onto an already-played piece to destroy it, either in the falling column or placed in one of the rows. See the broken bricks in the pictures? They can only be scored if they are in a row with all bricks of the same color, and so are a prime target for dynamite.



Speaking of being unsure how things happen in Monumental, let's talk about scoring. Somehow, the number of points each set of three stones is worth is dependent on how many of the factors in the game – shapes, colors, and numbers – match. Also, if the two sides share some features, there seem to be bonus points. While we don't know exactly how the scores are calculated, getting more of the same items into the same rows is a good idea. We were also briefly confused by the way the game gets harder. Evey now and then, a new feature – a new color, shape or number, up to four – is introduced, signaled by a ball-shaped identifier that briefly takes over the screen. It took us a few games to figure out what was going on here.

The game's graphics and sound are well done. The graphics, in particular, make everything is easy to see, just how a puzzle app like this should be. We haven't gotten good enough to see if there are ever more than four images on a brick, but with four the entire thing is filled up. Maybe, if you are a real expert, then the number of images on a brick gets so high that the graphics are crowded and hard to read. Also, the sound can be ignored if you have better things to listen to. Each time you start up the game, you're asked whether you want to hear the game music or your own from iTunes. Yay!

What's especially friendly is that when you tap to get "More Reiner Knizia Games," you're taken to a list of all of Dr. Knizia's games, not just the ones by developer Conlan Rios (designer of Monumental and a game we reviewed a while back called Knights of Charlemagne and other apps). This seems just incredibly nice to us, and even though Monumental can get pretty fiendish pretty fast, gives us good vibes and makes us more likely to recommend giving the game a shot for two bucks.

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