TheCodingMonkeys have made some amazing games. Carcassonne, Lost Cities, Chicken Cha Cha Cha: they were all exactly what you wanted them to be (and more). But when I heard about Rules!, I approached the game with a due amount of skepticism.

Why? Because this was their first original game. Everything before it had been a (truly fantastic) board game adaptation.

Could they do it? Could they think outside the box enough to create something just as damned near perfect without a pre-existing ruleset to hold their hands?

I’m pleased to report that the answer is a resounding yes.

rules1The object of Rules! is simple: just follow the rules as they’re given to you. You’ll clear a grid of 16 tiles by tapping on them in whatever order the rules dictate. The trick, though, is that new rules don’t replace old ones – they just take precedent.

Let me walk you through the first three stage as an example. In stage 1, you’ll be asked to clear the tiles in descending order. That means tapping on your 10’s before your 9’s before your 8’s… that sort of thing. Stage 2, however, tasks you to tap on green things. So you’ll clear away all of the green, then tap the remaining tiles in descending order. Stage 3 insists you clear away all of the odd numbers first, so it now goes odd>green>descending.

rules2If it sounds challenging, that’s because it is. And there are two things that make it even more so: you’ll need to memorize the rules (the game provides no reference to what’s past), and there’s a timer that’s always ticking down, putting you under pressure to remember what rule 5 was after you’ve just cleared away the whales from rule 6.

The more you play, though, the better you’ll get. And not just because “practice makes perfect.” At the center of all of this chaos is one very important constant: the rules will always be the same. That’s what makes them rules, after all. So once you’ve run through rules 1-10 a dozen or so times, you’ll have them memorized to the point of muscle memory. (For example, once I clear away the whales, I always know I need to tackle all of the other animals next – rule 6, rule 5.)

The game seems to take something of a breather every 10 stages (or so I assume, having yet to perform well enough to reach stage 20), with rule 11 being a screen-clearing rule that essentially becomes the new rule 1. It’s clever design like this that will help you to keep your sanity across the game’s promised 100 stages.

If you’re looking for complaints about Rules!, you’re not going to find any in this review. The lack of iPad support is a tad perplexing, and I think it might benefit from a random mode that jumbled up the rules order (for the seriously masochistic amongst us), but these are all just nitpicks. What’s presented here is a stylish, original, clever puzzle game that I’m having trouble putting down long enough to write this review.

Rules! is that sort of lightning in a bottle that only comes along every so often. I’d rank it right up there with Threes!, and not just because both games so gleefully abuse exclamation points.

So do us all a favor and follow rule #1: Go buy this game.