Good news for anyone dreaming of the Orient.

10 Talismans, new from NevoSoft, allows you to explore the mysteries of the Ancient East right from your desktop. Added bonus: At only $19.95, it’s also cheaper and easier than doing so via your next best alternative – a day-long transoceanic voyage.

The action takes place on a series of randomly-shaped grids divided into multiple squares, each of which contains a different icon. (In this case, featured objects include fans, bells, gongs and paper lanterns rather than gems or precious metal-encrusted skulls). Your goal here, though? Eliminating all yellow tiles contained on a given board, as opposed to coloring them in instead.

The chief way to do so: By swapping the position of any two tiles with a click of the mouse. Match three or more similarly-branded squares in a horizontal or vertical line, and they’ll be removed from the board. Bear in mind that tiles positioned above also come quickly tumbling down to fill any holes you’ve created. Naturally, this presents ample opportunity for nimble-minded players to engineer huge chain reactions and massive point-scoring combos.

But beware – strategy’s the name of the game. As, for that matter, is speed. Fail to eliminate tiles before a gunpowder barrel at the bottom of the screen ignites, and you’ll lose one of three available lives. When all are gone, hey… Fortune cookie say so too will be your chances of collecting the ten magical tokens referenced in the game’s title (awarded periodically throughout the adventure), known to bring bearers wisdom and good luck.

Not to worry, however. Glittering icons, which hide special power-ups, present plenty of chances for rapid advancement.

Activate flashing tiles, and the mystic dragon power contained within explodes outward, destroying entire sections of the playfield at a time. Invoke the strength of sparking squares, and electricity suddenly crackles between all tiles bearing the same marker, instantly removing them from the board. Force hammer-filled tiles to fall off the bottom of the grid, and, as desired, you can select and smash as many as five squares in one fell swoop to boot.

A faster, hipper spin on the standard tile-matching equation, the best discovery of all is that 10 Talismans doesn’t just play like a class act. It also looks the part.

Stunningly painted backdrops – think twilit gardens with flowers abloom and sunny beaches where cliff-mounted pagodas reach toward the clouds drifting lazily overhead – give the game tremendous appeal. Subtle animations add still further charm, making waves sparkle and crash against the surf and trees sway in the breeze.

Before starting each stage, or after pausing with a tap of the space bar, take a second to stop and admire the scenery. It’s a great way to unwind after a particularly mind-boggling encounter, or a hard day of work.

Impressive as well are nifty little special effects that make icons dance and wiggle when not in use or shatter into tiny pieces once eliminated, careening downward in a sudden shower of sparks. Even the windows within which menus appear are painstakingly filigreed and jewel-bedecked.

Available in two flavors – Classic (a scenario-based campaign mode tackled level-by-level) or Timeless (which eliminates the ticking clock… or should we say burning fuse?) – it’s an altogether A-grade production.

Of course, collecting talismans of dragons, tortoises and frogs isn’t the most exciting motivator, since there’s no overarching story attached. Even a few lines of text to tie everything together would’ve been welcome. Thankfully, the further you move into the game, the more interesting the action becomes, as addictive new play mechanics are constantly being introduced.

Watching the screen explode with motion and color following an especially clever move is one thing. (The game always acknowledges big combos with whiz-bang graphical feedback and hefty score multipliers). Having to deal with increasingly pesky obstacles like brown-hued tiles, which must be smashed twice, and locks that must be broken before the squares they cover can be shattered, another entirely.

Warning: Single-stage play sessions can stretch past the 20 minute mark. Nevertheless, from the catchy soundtrack – a synthesizer-heavy interpretation of classic Asian melodies – to its finely-balanced blend of head-scratching excitement, you’ll find the total package a most honorable amusement.