Example of a STARTER solution of Snow Problem in 5 moves
Typically, I update my website with new information in January, just before the unveiling of new games at toy shows like the Nuremberg Toy Fair. However, Snow Problem is a special case since I developed it not in 2023 but in 2021. Originally it was designed for SmartGames, but they opted not to publish it (yet). They expressed concerns that a snowmen theme was too childish for this complex puzzle game. The intended age is 8+, so it’s definitely not a very easy one.
One challenge with shelved projects is the difficulty of reviving them. Fortunately Smart acquired The Happy Puzzle Company (THPC), a UK based company in 2022. And they were much more enthusiastic to publish this game under their brand. The original working title was “Snowmen on a roll”, but they changed it to “Snow Problem”. Consequently, the outcome is essentially a SmartGame presented in different packaging, featuring 80 challenges across five difficulty levels, all crafted with the quality synonymous with SmartGames.
KEEP ON MOVING
Sequential movement puzzles have always been my favorite type of single player games. For a while, I had wanted to create a game where puzzle piece movement could only be halted by other pieces, a game mechanic frequently used in mobile games, because it works well with swiping. The first time I remember seeing a puzzle like this was more then 20 years ago when I played Lunar Lockout by Thinkfun (they later renamed it to Lunar Landing). I loved the fact that only a few pieces and rules resulted in very complex challenges. And also that you really need to think before you act. Other puzzles often lead to trial and error, but with this type of concept this strategy doesn’t work. What I also liked is that the puzzle pieces have a double function. Often they block your movement, but on the other hand you also need them to end your movement. To make any progress, pieces need to “help” each other. I did explore the same idea a long time ago too in “Cannibal Monsters”. Unfortunately that game is no longer in production.
But there were also a few things I didn’t like. In Lunar Lockout the objective is always the same: the red astronaut needs reach the center of the game board. And although the theme (zero gravity) was well chosen, the look disrupted the idea of continuous movement, because the protruding pins on the game board made that physically impossible. So I aimed to address both issues in Snow Problem.
ROLLING, ROLLING, ROLLING….
The theme centers around “building snowmen”. When you make snow balls in real life, you can imagine that they will keep rolling unless obstructed by something else. For this reason the wavy game board doesn’t really have a border. Because balls are only stopped by other balls or the trees, but never by the border. Only the large and medium balls can roll, while the head with hat and carrot cannot. In reality, the balls aren't rolled; instead, they are moved directly to their next position (rolling would take too much time). The notion of rolling balls is only there to support the game rules. The final goal of the game is to build complete snowmen. In order to do that, you have to move the balls close to the head, so that you can stack them. The medium ball can only be stacked on top of an adjacent large ball. The head can only be stacked on top of an adjacent stack of a large and medium ball. This gives much more variation then Lunar Lockout, because you have to deduct your end goal. But because the head can’t roll, a finalized snowman can only be on any of the 4 adjacent places of its starting position. However, things get more complicated when you have to make 2 or 3 snowmen. In those challenges it’s not clear which large or medium balls belong to which head. This all results in challenges that become a lot harder, although I only use a 4x5 grid. The hardest challenge now has 44 steps (compared to about max 15 steps for Lunar Lockout that had a 5x5 grid).
The 3 threes are made of TPR (a soft-touch rubbery plastic). They can’t be moved during a solution and have only a blocking function. A significant portion of the development phase focussed on creating the best possible snowmen parts. Each snowman has a hat that is also made of TPR. The eyes are not printed, but are the bottom part of the hat visible through holes in the head. Each snowman head has a different color of scarf, to easily identify them in the solution.
SNOW PROBLEM. IT’S NO PROBLEM... OR IS IT?
The biggest design challenge posed the large and medium snow balls. They needed to look like balls to explain the game rule of continuous movement, but should at the same time allow for stable stacking. Initially we solved this by incorporating small magnets in the middle ball (and metal in the bottom ball and head). But at the very last minute we had to change this, because safety regulations prohibited the use of magnets in small balls like this (although the game is intended for age 8 and up). The final solution involved a groove in the bottom ball and head, and a ridge on the middle ball. Although not yet reflected in the pictures, these alterations don't significantly impact the visual appeal. The bottom ball now contains a sizable metal piece, ensuring stability in stacked snowmen.
Currently, the game is exclusively available from The Happy Puzzle Company and produced in limited quantities. So if you are interested, don’t wait too long. Maybe this might be a one-time opportunity. But I hope that enough customers prove everybody wrong and that a snowmen theme also appeals to teens and adults. Because I consider this game one of the best I ever made together with my colleague Leighton. For me it’s on the same level as Jump’In (which is also a game that people said would not sell because it looked too childish). And if you want to get into Christmas mood, which theme is more suitable than “building snowmen”? It reminds me to my favorite comics: Calvin & Hobbes. Although in that world it would probably not end well for the snowmen ;-)
GAME RULES SNOW PROBLEM
1) Choose a challenge. Place snowmen parts and tree(s) if needed, as indicated on the game board.
2) The object of the game is to stack the balls and build snowmen. In easy challenges you only need to build one complete snowman. In advanced challenges you need to build two or three snowmen. Each snowman should be made of three parts: a large ball at the bottom, a medium ball in the middle and a head with hat on top.
RULES FOR MOVING THE PARTS:
A) The large and medium balls move horizontally and vertically over the game board. These movements can only be stopped when an obstacle lies in the path of the ball (otherwise they would just keep rolling!). This obstacle can be another snowman part or a tree. A ball cannot be moved into a position if there is not an obstacle blocking further movement along the same path.
B) Once the movement of a ball is stopped, you can decide to move it in another direction or to move another puzzle piece.
C) The border of the game board does NOT stop the movement of the balls. Snowballs are not allowed to roll off the game board. A movement to a side of the game board where there is no obstacle is not allowed.
D) Trees are stationary and cannot be moved.
E) The head can never be moved like the large and medium ball to an empty place on the game board, because the cannot makes a rolling movement impossible. The head can only be stacked (see next rule).
F) When different snowmen parts are horizontally or vertically adjacent on the game board, they can sometimes be stacked:
• A medium snowball can be stacked on top of an adjacent large ball. A medium snowball cannot be stacked on top of other another medium snowball.
• The head can only be placed on top of an adjacent large + medium snowball stack. It cannot be stacked on a medium snowball that is not already stacked on a large snowball itself!
• Large snowballs can never be stacked.
G) Once snowballs are stacked, you are not allowed to move or to unstack them.
3 When all snowmen parts are used to make complete snowmen, you have solved the challenge! The shortest solution is shown at the end of the challenge booklet. Multiple solutions are sometimes possible, but the minimum number of moves needed is indicated next to the challenge number.
• Plan before you start building snowmen! Heads cannot move except to complete a snowman. Therefore the end position of a snowman will always be 1 of the 4 adjacent places of the start position of the head.
• In case you get stuck, it’s best to start all over.
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