Developer AT Games has been perfecting the puzzle-simulation hybrid for years. In the first Puzzle Craft, they combined addictive line-drawing match boards with an engaging city-building progression system. The 2014 follow-up, Another Case Solved, utilized similar gameplay in a noir-themed setting that favored puzzle variety over world construction. Their latest entry in the genre, Puzzle Craft 2, combines highlights from both predecessors to create the best puzzle-building experience yet.
Like the original, Puzzle Craft 2 tasks players with building a home for a displaced group of settlers. You begin with only a small plot of land big enough for a modest farm and a few other basic structures. You’ll need to gather resources from that farm in order to construct more buildings that can both house additional villagers and improve your resource-gathering abilities.
That resource gathering is the primary gameplay focus and where you’ll spend the bulk of your time in-game. The farm—and later, mine and ocean—is presented as a line-matching puzzle board full of resource tiles. Those tiles range from grains and grasses to birds and herd animals, all of which contribute valuable expansion materials to your growth efforts. Collecting grain gives you bread, birds give eggs, cattle give milk, etc. which are used to build new structures and hire extra workers. Those structures and workers, in turn, improve the puzzle board’s resources and your ability to collect them—by offering free moves or requiring fewer tiles for an item, for instance—creating a wonderfully cyclical system that consistently rewards your time and hard work.
While your matching abilities are always improving, new challenges are also introduced which prevent the game from becoming too easy. Rats begin appearing on the farm and will eat your grain or vegetables if you don’t get rid of them. Toxic gas and lava clog the mine and threaten to blow up or melt your valuable stones. A wide variety of hazards are introduced even early in the game, making the beginning a bit harder than its predecessor, but the challenge is evened out by the availability of lots of tile-removing tools and extra workers for hire.
Puzzle Craft 2 is, as a whole, pleasantly tougher than Puzzle Craft. Players who devoured the first entry will almost certainly embrace the changes made for the sequel which both lengthen and make more difficult your time with the game. The first of these big changes is an increase in the number and types of resource tiles in the game. Where the first game featured one type of each tile—grass, wheat, chickens, pigs, etc.—Puzzle Craft 2 utilizes various tile types for each category. Now, instead of just grass, there is meadow grass, reeds, heather, and more. Instead of just chickens, there are turkeys, pheasants, water fowl, etc.
Managing these tile types is a critical part of the game and adds an element of strategy to your puzzle attempts. Each category can only have one type active at a time—meaning you can only have chickens or turkeys appear on your puzzle board at once—and each tile has its own advantage. Turkeys require shorter chains to give bonus herd animal tiles, but chickens reward eggs faster. Depending on your goals at the time, you’ll want to change up which tiles you take into a board—and as the game progresses and you have dozens of tiles to choose from, the amount of options is massive.
This variety is a welcome expansion from the first game’s stock tiles, but Puzzle Craft 2 does make swapping tiles and knowing their advantages more difficult than necessary with poorly displayed info. Instead of just saying “You need 8 chickens to make 1 egg,” AT Games chose to put clever little quips on the tile description screen instead. These are cute the first time you read them, but useless thereafter and inevitably harder for players to get a grasp on.
The other big change from the first Puzzle Craft is the switch from building a single city to growing an entire kingdom made up of multiple cities. Once you build out a village to its desired size—the further you get in the game, the larger your villagers want their homes—you’ll pack up and move on to the next plot of land. You’ll leave behind all your resources and buildings and basically start anew, with only your gold, tools, workers, and level carried over. This means that if you had buildings which awarded free moves and extra items in the previous town, you’ll suddenly be playing puzzle boards without these bonuses in the next area.
On one hand, this lets you relive the joy of early expansion multiple times and earning those powerful bonuses again and again while instilling a much grander sense of progress. On the other, it can be frustrating and repetitive to lose all your hard work and have to redo what you’ve already done. The greatest benefit to this change is the lengthening of gameplay available: unlike Puzzle Craft where you could max our your village fairly easily, Puzzle Craft 2 is packed with content that could take weeks of dedicated—or months of casual—play to see it all.
There are a number of other changes that are almost all enhancements as well, from improved menu navigation (besides the aforementioned tile descriptors) to a switch to landscape alignment. We typically prefer playing one-handed puzzle games in portrait mode, but landscape has allowed the entire tools menu to be visible next to the puzzle board, which flows infinitely better than the original. The new ocean board utilizes similar line-drawing mechanics but with different enough goals—revolving around “discovering” islands and then navigating to them—that it provides welcome variety to the classic farm and mine areas. The addition of challenges, quests, and trophies provides even more to see, do, and attempt to complete. And all the while, the charm and beauty of the original Puzzle Craft remains, from its colorful graphics to its shaggy-haired citizens (who now wander your village as they go about their days).
Even an increased focus on free-to-play mechanics can’t hurt what is simply a better experience overall. Puzzle Craft 2 does utilize three currencies—gold, runes, and influence points—in building out your kingdom. Gold is utilized the most: you use it to pay workers on the farm, to build special items like decorations, to buy tools if you run out mid-puzzle, and to purchase resources outright if you don’t want to collect them. Runes are the premium currency and can be used to enhance your village or skip challenges: they can buy you extra workers, save your fields for the next attempt, and bypass requirements you don’t want to complete. Influence points are earned through certain accomplishments: they unlock special items and let you buy magical tools. There are completely optional video ads you can watch to earn extras of any of these currencies, but all three are fairly easy to come by and never feel out of reach for players who don’t wish to spend real money.
Besides a very occasional “special offer” pop-up (which appears more frequently in the beginning of the game) and a Facebook login prompt, Puzzle Craft 2 really feels like a premium experience otherwise. It’s certainly more dedicated to monetization than its predecessor—which was basically entirely free with absolutely no strings attached—but never shoves your face in it. Even its increased economic difficulty—with higher prices for everything from farming to buying resources—only serves to make the experience more engaging for veteran players who were drowning in diamonds by the end of the first game.
Ultimately, Puzzle Craft 2 is everything a sequel should be: it’s bigger, grander, and more engaging than its already-fantastic predecessor. It exists within very much the same world, aesthetics- and personality-wise, but adds so much content and variety that going back to the original no longer feels like an option. And trust us, we loved the original. But now we love Puzzle Craft 2, and we think it loves us, too.