Another Chinese puzzle?

Tangram logo

Distributor: Thalion Price: £19.99

Simple puzzle games have a certain beauty in that while they are often easy to grasp, they can be so difficult to master, This is all very well of course, but their simplicity also makes it incredibly hard to say any more than a few words when reviewing - a cause for more reviewers' hair loss than cheap dye.

Tangram is one such game, designed by those masters of fiendish puzzles, the inscrutable Chinese. Apparently it is a national pastime of our Oriental friends, who have been playing it for over 4,000 years now - quite a recommendation!

The idea is to place seven grey geometric tiles on to a brown figure in the middle of the screen, covering it totally. Some of the figures depict animals, some buildings, people and other shapes that defy description - contortionists, maybe?

Your playing pieces are displayed on the right of the playing area, being picked up and moved using the mouse. Pressing the right mouse button turns the pieces a la Tetris, and a press of the left button places the piece on the board, hopefully in the right place.

You can choose from two difficulty levels from the pre-game menu, either Novice or Expert. Choosing novice mode gives you more time because the timer ticks away every two seconds and the levels are presented with a progressive difficulty.

Expert mode gives only one second every count and presents levels in no set order. A two player option is included on the menu which allows you to compete with a friend - or just show off when you get good at the game. In this mode each player plays separately, one after the other.

Playing the game is a cinch. The control method is very smooth and the first few figures are easy enough to get you off to a good start. After that, things begin to get difficult.

Just as you think you've cracked it, the pieces run out. You really start to wonder how on earth those shapes are going to fit. They will fit, of course, but not until you've done a lot of swearing and head scratching.

Points are awarded for completing puzzles in the time given. Any time left over is converted into bonus points, and these are marked separately on the right of the screen.

If you can't complete a puzzle in the allotted time, the bonus points you have earned so far act as extra seconds and these will start to count down to zero. Once these expire, all is not lost as there is the option of buying "continues" from your standard points - get the idea?

To prevent mental breakdown occurring from too much non-stop cerebral gymnastics, there is a very welcome pause facility. This allows a short break to ease weary brain cells, have a cup of coffee or just get on with the rest of your life. The game can be rather addictive.

Cheats beware however, as the playing area is obscured during this time, so puzzles can't be worked out without the timer ticking away. Bah!

If difficult puzzle games are your bag, you can't go wrong with this one. There are 200 levels supplied, so it is likely to take some beating - not to mention a lot of your time.

I've been playing it for quite a while now and still can't get past level 16. Mind you, I was never any good at knocking those shaped pegs through the holes as a kid, so maybe that accounts for something.

Tangram logo

THALION * £19.99 Mouse

Inscrutable games have been flooding out of the Orient, ever since piece-shuffling pastimes became popular. The 'slightly' successful Chess game and the vaguely popular Go spring to mind as proven games that have been converted into silicon time-and-time again. Centuries of playing though is proof positive of their pulling power. Tangram, the latest of these Chinese computer challenges, is almost unknown when compared to these other leisure legends. Does this mean though, that it does not quite have what it takes?

Tessellation row
The playing premise of Tangram is pure and simple. It provides a template on the game board, which you have to cover with seven geometric pieces - five triangles, a square and a parallelogram. These fit together in a myriad of patterns and therein lies the puzzle. It is up to you to find the right combination, within the time limit, that covers the template.

Each piece has to be picked up and put onto the template with the mouse. They can either be slapped straight down or placed on the board's 'desktop' and arranged there. Once picked up the piece can be spun to fit exactly in the slot, adding millions more permutations to the seven-shape formula.

The quicker each template is covered, the greater the score. Failure to find the correct combination before time elapses, costs player points for each successive try. The game itself can be played in two ways, as a novice where ach level is progressively tougher or as an expert where the template is randomly selected from the 200 that the game carries.

Tangram functions on a 'sucker' level. The templates, at first, appear instantly solvable, and pieces are shoved in with merry abandon, until it becomes obvious that the last remaining shape just won't fit. A mad session of reorganisation follows as every feasible - and some infeasible - combination is tried.

Under pressure?
Time is the trigger for Tangram. If it runs out and the level is unfinished then the score starts to suffer. This is supposed to provide the final sanction for you to struggle desperately to cover the template before the clock ticks off its final seconds.

Tangram's clock is discrete, often catching you by surprise when it runs out. It just does not figure in the game equation and is consequently ignored. Scores have been imposed on this basic formula and the mechanic of time is used to calculate it. Tangram's challenge does not lie in getting a high score though. Covering a tricky template is what has ensured its survival over the millennia, not points avarice. The imposition of a scoring mechanic is artificial and inhibits the game's natural charm.

Tangram will only fascinate those who enjoy tests of their mental dexterity. The game has no real point - apart from the satisfaction of finishing each template - and so requires a special element of bull-headed determination to see it through. Tangram has a faint aura of Oriental inscrutability and some may find a beauty there, most will just see it as a strangely pointless, shape-shifting slog.

Tangram's name literally means Chinese drawing. Tang is the 19th century name for ideas of Chinese origin, while Gram is Greek meaning something drawn or recorded. The seven basic pieces are created from one single square, which ensures the maximum number of forms can be created from the one basic shape. With millions of different combinations you have to find the exact one to match the template!

Tangram logo

Schon wieder ein neues Steinchenpuzzle? Richtig. Schon wieder eines aus der Asien-Abteilung, la "Shanghai" und "Ishido"? Auch richtig. Also nur ein weiterer Schnell-schuß aus dem überstrapazierten Tüftel-Genre? Falsch!

Auch wenn sich mittlerweile schon an die dreihunderttausend solcher Spielchen gegenseitig Konkurrenz machen, hat Thalion mit Tangram doch wenigstens einen Hauch von Eigenständigkeit bewiesen. Anstatt über einem weiteren "Shangido" - Klone zu brüten, haben sich die Programmierer lieber ihrer Schulzeit erinnert und was ihnen aus den ungeliebten Geometriestunden im Gedächtnis geblieben ist zu unterhaltsamer Gehirn-akrobatik versoftet...

Unter Zeitdruck müssen geometrische Figuren mit kleinen Drei- und Vierecken ausgefüllt werden; die linke Maustaste dient zum Aufnehmen und Ablegen, mit der rechten läßt man die einzelnen Bausteine rotieren.

Allein oder zu zweit kann man sich so durch 200 Level ackern, die im Anfängermodus schön der Reihe nach daherkommen, im Expterenmodus dagegen nach dem Zufallsprinzip ausgewählt werden. Wer besonders schnell fertig ist, kriegt dafür Bonuspunkte, die in Notfällen auch gegen zusätzliche Zeit eingetauscht werden können.

Tangram ist schnell erlernbar und auch nicht besonders schwierig zu meistern. Grafisch kommt das Logical schlicht aber zweckmäßig daher, soundtechnisch wird gar ein echter Hippel geboten - wenn die Musik auch etwas kurz ausgefallen ist. Negative fällt eigentlich nur die Rotier-Funktion auf; in der Hektik vertut man sich dabei schon relativ leicht.

Summa summarum: Kein bahnbrechendes Game, aber ein solides China-Puzzle. (mm)

Tangram logo

Tangram is an Amiga version of an ancient Chinese puzzle game of the same name, one which more traditionally involves wooden blocks and various 'frames'. The idea is to fill various patterns by placing your blocks in the frames (the shapes of which are always the same, through their numbers can change), so that all the frame is completely covered without overlapping.

It's a very simple concept, and has been converted for computer use without expanding upon it, except for the rather crap addition of a time limit for each of the 200 screens supplied.

Control is very easy - the pieces are moved around with the mouse, rotated with a mouse button, and placed with the other button - and the Amiga puts its spare processor time to good use with some pleasantly oriental-type tunes.

The question is, are these enough to justify buying the Amiga version instead of spending a few quid on a wooden-block original? And, let's be honest, it isn't. The Amiga is incredibly picky about having the block positioning pixel-perfect, but other than the gratuitous irritation it's a practically invisible - you don't gain by playing it on a computer at all.

With most board game conversions, you at least get a computer opponent, but that isn't applicable here and it makes buying the game in software form something of a waste of time and money.

It's not that Tangram is a bad game - the wooden original has a lot to be said for it - but this computer variant is utterly pointless.

Tangram logo

Many of the most addictive games have also been the simplest to pick up and play. Tetris, Arkanoid, Pipemania and Asteroids, to name but a few, have an elusive but addictive quality which keeps the player coming back for more in the hope of getting 'just that little bit further'.
Now, from Thalion, comes Tangram, a Chinese game that is over four thousand years old.

Each game has the player starting with an orange silhouette on the screen, and seven basic shapes to try and fill it with. There are five triangles of various sizes, one romboid and one square. The shapes will exactly fit the silhouette if fitted correctly.

By pressing the mouse button, each shape can be rotated prior to placing them on the board. There are 200 different shapes to fill and they range in difficulty from 'impossible to get wrong' to 'now way those shapes going to fit in there!'. There's also a timer option which increases the pressure without lessening the fun.

The game's graphics are functional and there's a choice of lively tunes to soothe your weary brow as you struggle with some of the more complex puzzles. All in all, a brain-straining puzzler which should provide hours of fun and frustration.