Crazy Quilt: Real Mental Benefits in a Restful Puzzle Game

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If you play our Crazy Quilt game, you may have already discovered that it's a gentle mental workout, in addition to a fun pastime. But if you haven't, or you'd like to know more, let me tell you about how it happened, its cognitive benefits, and the strategy to play it well.

How Crazy Quilt Came About

Crazy Quilt is an original Games4TV game, but there's nothing really new under the sun, and that's especially the case with games!

The Underlying Game Mechanism

Most casual games on computers work with common "game mechanisms." If you've sensed a kinship with Dotty, Herding Cats, Something Fishy and Swat, for example, you're onto the idea. They are different games -- Swat is even a different type of game -- but they use the same basic function for play: contigous areas of the same color are removed when you tap one of them. That function is the game mechanism, and this is how it works:

The pictures above show Dotty moves, progressing from left to right.In the first (left) picture, clicking on the two white squares makes them diappear, and the squares above them fall down, connecting four blue squares. In the next, clicking on those four blue squares makes them disappear, and the green squares above fall down and connect to make a group of green.Clicking on those makes them disappear, and the game continues until clear all the squares or run out of moves. Herding Cats, Swat, and the others work the same way.

Crazy Quilt uses a modification of that mechanism. All of the squares stay on the board, and instead of making them disappear when you click their group, they change color and bring touching squares of the same color into the group. The active square stays the same and is shown by an X, You choose the color, it changes to that new color, as do all of the contiguous squares that were already the same color as the X square. Here's how that works:

The "active" square is the one with the X. When we begin, it is purple and has no other purple squares touching it. But there are two red squares touching it, so when we change the active color to red, there is now a group of three red squares. Those squares touch some gold squares, so when we select gold, we now have a group of six gold squares. In the third image, we select white and now the gold group is white and the two white squares are also part of the contiguous group. If I were playing this game, I would probably select green as the next color. You continue until all of the squares on the board are one color.

Making the Basic Game

I made a prototype using the mechanism above and showed it to some of our members who have volunteered to be game testers. They played with it for several days and gave it a thumbs up. "Restful" and "peaceful" were words that kept coming up. One said, "I just put on the music, sit here and play, and it's almost like a trance."

That was nice, but it was just one game screen, not a full game. My testers started racking up some really good scores because, if they didn't have a good layout at the beginning, they'd just reload the game. There wasn't much of a spread in the scores on a single screen, either. A good player with an excellent starting layout might complete it in 15 moves, while someone who wasn't as good or didn't get as good a deal might score 25. A spread of 10 isn't enough for a leaderboard.

All Five Rounds, and What We Discovered!

So I added four more rounds, and I changed the location of the "active square." Now, it moved to another corner on each succeeding round, and on the last one, to the middle of the board.

The feedback from my testers was almost immediate. "Dudette! Do you realize what a mental workout this is?"

Actually, it's not a strenuous workout -- it still is a restful, peaceful game. But changing directions introduces novelty into the game, and makes you have to do a different strategy each round. As one of the early testers told me, "you actually can feel your mind turning around as the X moves to another corner and you have to work the opposite way!"

The Cognitive Benefits and Mental Exercise in Crazy Quilt

A Note About Crazy Quilt Colors

We initially just used colors for Crazy Quilt, but some of our color-blind members couldn't play, so we added a selection of designs.

In our new version of Crazy Quilt, you can just click the Theme button to cycle through the various selections to find one you like, and you can change themes whenever you want, even mid-game. The game also will remember your selection and will load it as the default the next time you play.

Different games and activities provide different benefits. While you can play Crazy Quilt just by clicking colors until the board is ultimately cleared, playing it well will involve observation and planning, and also focus during play so that you don't forget your strategy and make a bad move.

Novelty was an important addition, because it's an important thing in cognitive exercises. Novelty keeps your mind flexible and prevents it from getting stuck in a rut. It's one of the reasons that we recommend that you not just play one game that you love, but have a selection of favorites that you play so that you introduce your own novelty to the experience.

We added another little element ("a devilish one", according to one of our testers) that may fool you if you don't pay attention: the Match color. If the color of the board when the round is over (in other words, the color of the last selection) is the same as the Match color, the last selection doesn't get added to your score. Crazy Quilt scores like golf, in that the lower the number of moves, the better you've played.

Why "devilish?" My tester discovered that sometimes, when trying to get the last color to be the Match, she would run her score up several moves higher than if she hadn't thought about the Match! You'll want to pay attention, and possibly to reevaluate your strategy part-way through when the final moves are becoming more clear.

Sample Play with Strategies

Finding the play strategies that work for you is part of the fun of the game. But to get you started, let's walk through the opening moves for a couple of rounds in a game, so you can see how I would approach different types of layouts. The X marks the active square in all of the pictures.

Sometimes, you get a great layout. On this one (left picture), there's a long run of purple just waiting for the first click, and that will open up a lot of red for the second click. Green looks tempting for the third click, but I choose white instead because white followed by green on the fourth click gives me a contiguous line all across the board. Gold completes the line across the board and also top to bottom, after only 5 clicks.

This is a layout that yields a good score, and I finished with a 14. I didn't take the purple Match. Because of the location of the purples, I needed to get them before the last to make the minimum moves.

For the next round, the X is in the upper right corner, and the layout isn't as good. My active square is boxed in by a lot of single-color squares. I select white and then blue, to give me three blue across. Then I select red, then white, then red again, then white again. As you can see, after 6 clicks  I'm in nowhere near as good a position as I was after 5 clicks on round one, but I'm finally getting this unpromising layout opened up.

That white square surrounded by blue in the lower right corner lets me clear the board of all the other white pieces and pick up the white on the last move. So even with a poor layout to start with, I was able to finish it with an 18 (thanks to the Match not counting a move). I finished the complete game with an 85 -- not bad, but not great. But I just write the games, and we have a number of players who are better than I am at them. Maybe one of those will be you!

One of the cautions in play is that it's easy to "fall in love" with a color and try to save it, even when it hurts your score. Also, notice that in round 2, I selected white three times and red twice in my first six clicks to get the board to open up. Sometimes that's necessary, even though it might feel that you're somehow selecting it too often.

Don't get stuck with your strategy, and don't select your clicks based solely on how many blocks it gives you. What you want to do is to get your color block stretching across the board, and touching other color blocks that can open it up further. So keep evaluating and, if you see an opportunity open up, that might be your path to a better score.

The Crazy Quilt Leader Board and Challenge Games

If you're playing Crazy Quilt as an active Games4TV member, the game will automatically track your best score, and offer you the leader boards if your score is better than any you've posted today. When you're just learning, don't worry about your score compared to others. Just try to best your own, and remember that the random layouts mean there's always some luck factor involved.

Crazy Quilt is our Talk4TV Challenge Game for February 2015, and you're invited to play! You'll find a lot of people there who will be delighted to help you learn to master Crazy Quilt, our "restful game" with a twist. If you're a Games4TV member and you haven't activated your Talk4TV yet, do it! You can play in our Challenge Games, participate in our Trivia and Today's Word polls, make friends, ask questions ... and you can also post comments and questions here in Net4TV Guides.