I recently came across a relatively new iPhone/iPad app called Trainyard that is a work of art. Well, perhaps not literally a work of art, although the interface is not bad on the eyes — it’s a puzzle game with an excellent design and execution to match.
The basic goal is very simple: get the trains from the outlets to their proper stations. In the beginning, it’s as easy as drawing a line from Point A to Point B, as long as you can match the correct colors. But as you play, it becomes more and more complex. First, you learn how to create branching tracks which switch automatically. Then you learn how to combine trains to mix their colors, or re-paint them with special stations. You’ll get splitters that break apart secondary colors into their primary components. And finally you have outlets that will release multiple trains (often in more than one color) and stations that will receive multiple trains. Do all that in the limited amount of space (and without running into rocks).
The first two sets of levels are so simple that even your young children could play, and learn about mixing colors and branching tracks. But the difficulty level ramps up steadily, and by the end you’ll be running trains around in circles trying to get everything to line up. The tutorials (which can be skipped) are helpfully broken down into short bits and introduced just as they’re needed, so you can get started on the game and learn as you go. In fact, one of the best parts of the game is the way the learning curve is set — it just builds and builds.
And the later puzzles are so deviously designed that it’ll take a lot of trial and error (and logic) to figure them out. What’s great, though, is that there are multiple solutions for most of them—it’s not a fixed, one-answer puzzle, but there’s a lot of flexibility. However, the most elegant solution is one that requires the least amount of track.
You can also upload your solutions from within the app, and then browse solutions on the Trainyard website. While this does mean you can “cheat” and skip levels that you’re stuck on, it’s also a lot of fun to see what other people have posted and to see how your own solution could be improved.
The graphics and sound effects are just right. If you like puzzle games, this is definitely one to try. If you don’t want to buy the full app (currently on sale for $0.99), then grab the free Trainyard Express. The free version has 60 puzzles (compared to the 150 in the paid version) but there’s no overlap. So really, you should get both.