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A Beginner’s Guide to Threes, the Numbers Game You Won’t Be Able to Stop Playing

Alyssa Bereznak
National Correspondent, Technology
February 18, 2014

This weekend, I discovered the new iOS game called Threes and fell down a deep, dark, black hole. Forget Flappy Bird: Forty hours and over 100 games later, I can say with confidence that this is your new addiction.

The $2 puzzle game was released earlier this month by Asher Vollmer, Greg Wohlwend and Jimmy Hinson. It’s so simple, yet difficult, it’ll make you go insane. Your goal: Combine the numbers in a 16-card grid to make larger numbers. You may only combine 1’s and 2’s to make 3. But for numbers 3 and up, every match may be combined to create a larger sum. The larger the number, the more points you get.

Seems easy enough, right? But when you swipe one direction, the entire board moves that way, and with it comes a new tile. If the board fills up with tiles and you can no longer combine any of them, the game is over. This creates a problem that reminds me of that famous chocolate conveyer belt scene in I Love Lucy: Every time you eliminate a tile with a combination, a new one pops up. You know what type of tile is coming at you, based on a preview at the top, but that doesn’t mean you know where to put it. Pretty soon you’re panicking to make room for them all, and your grid gets all stuffed up, just like Lucille Ball’s mouth.

Though it is similar to the addictive game Candy Crush Saga, Threes sets itself apart in design and strategy. Rather than establishing a cast of characters who trek through a Gobstopper-strewn terrain, each tile is assigned its own weird face and greeting. If the tiles match, the faces interact with one another on the board — a sophisticated hint that you may combine them if you so desire. 

In games like Candy Crush, where chaos on the board or a bad draw can ruin a perfectly good turn and luck always trumps strategy, Threes actually lets you tackle a board with a few great tactics.

Here’s a quick run-through of how to play.

First, download the app here. It’s worth the $2, I swear. When you open the app, it’ll immediately bring you into its own tutorial. If you ever need to revisit it, you can always tap the tutorial icon in the upper-right corner of the screen.

Each tile has a color that signifies what it can do on the board. 1’s are blue, 2’s are pink, and all other tiles are white (with cute yellow faces at the bottoms of their cards). Above the board, you can see the color of the tile that will appear on the board after your next move. 

You can swipe one of four directions: up, down, right or left. In this case, I will eliminate the most tiles by swiping left. This is the result:

(Notice that most of the 3 cards have little “o” faces because they are pumped to be near one another.)

In this case, I will swipe up, because I want to combine the 3’s to start building a larger number.

It goes on and on like that until you fill up the board. When you’re out of moves, the game will tally your score. Just to get a perspective of the value of each tile, here’s a look at my highest score.

Whenever you get a new tile (in this case, 192), you’ll be introduced to a new character, and confetti will appear on the screen. My current pride and joy is “ThreeJay,” who is into music, I guess.

And that’s about it!  Below are a few helpful tips, courtesy of game designer Ryan Clark, on how to play:

1. Never fill up your board without a plan. You should always maintain a path to create a larger number (3 → 6 → 12 → 24 → 48 → 96). In other words, every move in which you do not eliminate a tile should be strategic.

2. Keep tiles with large numbers in the corners. Once you have two of the same large number on your grid, you want to be able to combine them immediately. You can ensure this happens by keeping them away from the action in the middle of the board. This prevents them from getting blocked off by smaller numbers.

3. Always give yourself elbow room. In general, you should always try to make sure there’s as much space as possible on the board. But most importantly, you need to be able to always swipe in all four directions. Once that flexibility is eliminated, your board is likely to get clogged up. Clark calls this the four degrees of freedom. 

If you want to read more, visit his blog here. In the meantime, I’ve got numbers to swipe. 

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