I just paid $90 for a set of games that, purchased separately, would cost nearly $500.
Long-time readers know of my love, bordering on irrational, for the games of Everett Kaser. From his first great game, Sherlock, through to what I consider the apogee of the deduction game, Baker Street, Kaser’s games have kept me company for upwards of 15 years. There has always been one problem: his games didn’t run natively on Mac OS X.
All of Kaser’s games now run natively on OS X. You can see the complete collection on his web site and buy them for immediate download for $20 each (all of the games have free demos available for download). Or, you can mail, e-mail, or call the guy up and order a full CD of all 22 games for just $90. I rang the number up early one morning to order, and he picked up the phone. “Everett here.” I am not ashamed to say that I was giddy like a love-struck cheerleader. We chatted about the games, and about the process of porting to OS X — Brad Oliver of MacMAME fame did the heavy lifting of porting the KINT interpreter — and how his games had probably absorbed about a full 9 man-months of my time over the years.
Kaser gave me some caveats about the games. He’s new to OS X as a platform, and the games are in some sense not native: they’re written to target his own custom-designed virtual machine that he wrote to protect himself against changes in Windows APIs. So they are not truly Mac-like. Likewise, the CD just comes with the games zipped up; there’s no installer or the like. No matter. Normally this is the sort of polish issue that I’d take someone to task for, but in this case, I’ll just let it slide. To borrow a phrase, “With chicks like Shalimar, there’s just some stuff you gotta put up with.”
Why am I so obsessed with these games? And why should you get them? Because they are the best logic puzzles on the planet. To demonstrate, I’m going to walk you through the simplest version of his simplest deduction game, Sherlock.
I’m using the 3×3 grid to keep this article manageable, but Sherlock scales up to an 8×8 grid. This game took me about 90 seconds to solve, mostly because I had to pause to take screenshots. An 8×8 Sherlock game usually takes me about 20 minutes if I’m pushing. The other games in the series introduce more complex deduction types and other elements (such as paths and walls). But this should be enough to give you a taste.
First, let’s look at the field of play as the game starts:
The actual “game board” is the square inside the blue area. Arrayed around the outside are the clues you are given to solve the puzzle. This is a simple puzzle, so there are only three clues. Each square inside the game board contains small icons, which are possible answers or a single large icon, which is a chosen answer. You can have the games notify you immediately when you make a wrong deduction (with an infuriating audio cue), or you can have it silently allow you to blunder towards a dead end. In this puzzle, the top-center square already has a picture of the blonde woman (“Blondie”) selected. That answer has been given by the game as a handicap. You can adjust the handicap level to suit your taste.
Now, let’s look at a clue:
The arrow over the red house means that it is between the 3 and the yellow house. The order is unimportant: the 3 might be on the left, or it might be on the right. All you know is that the red house is between them. There is a status area which explains each clue as you hover the mouse over it. Clues sometimes have corollaries; for example, you can also deduce from this clue that the 3 is 2 columns away from the yellow house.
Since we know the red house must be between two other clues, we know it can’t be in the left or right columns. Therefore, it’s in the middle. Left-clicking on the red house in the middle column selects that answer, and removes it from the list of possibilities for the other columns.
This next clue tells us that the number “2″ has to be somewhere to the left of Baldy:
Therefore, Baldy can’t be in the leftmost column. We can right-click on his little picture there to make him go away:
A clue that I missed when solving this puzzle is that since according to the first clue, 3 had to be 2 columns away from the yellow house. Therefore, it couldn’t be in the center column, leaves 2 as the only possibility for the center column. But often you can arrive at deductions through different paths, and that’s what I did in this case.
Notice that there’s only one place left for Baldy to be, so we can left-click on him to choose him (you can have the game automatically fill in “last choices” like that for you, if you like).
The next clue means that Egyptian Guy (and no, I have no idea why I call him that) is in the same column as the yellow house and the number 1.
Given that the only 1 left is in the leftmost column, we can start filling in the answers quickly:
…and before you know it, we’ve solved the entire puzzle…
…and are treated to a little bit of victory music and some happy graphical flourishes.
It may not be obvious, from this little example, that these games are the most addictive games you may ever play. But, I assure you, they are. You can pick them up at any time, save the game at a moment’s notice if you have to stop, and return to them later. They will haunt your dreams and occupy your idle moments. There are free demos available for each and every one of the games, and the demos are full featured — just limited in the number of puzzles available — so you can find the one you like (if you were only going to buy one of them, I’d probably recommend Honeycomb Hotel, although Sudoku addicts might find Latin Squares or the slightly easier Greek Squares, instead).
It has been years in the making, but the Kaser games have finally arrived on OS X. And if you do not buy at least one of them, you are a fool.