Game #27: 2048 (2014)

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 01.16.42creator: Gabriele Cirulli
language: this game transcends language
length: you can easily waste hours
completed on: 19 March 2014

2048 is the latest time-wasting fad spreading like wildfire across social media. Only a couple of months ago people were talking about Flappy Bird, but they seem to have moved on now. It’s a simple premise: press the arrows to “tilt” the board and shift all the numbers in a certain direction. Combine two of the same number to double it, and the goal is 2048 (although thanks to a persistent guy that I follow on Tumblr, I know that 4096 and probably 8192 are possible if you keep going). Every turn there’s either a 2 or a 4 piece added to the board.

I saw an interesting article about it which claimed that the reason why it’s so addictive is diminishing returns – that is, it’s very easy to get low numbers, but to reach the next number in the sequence you have to have two of one number, which means that the next number in the sequence is always twice the effort of the one before it. A lot of progress early on to hook you and very little progress later. This sounds about right to me, although I think the simplicity of the game is also one of its strengths. It’s one of those easy-to-learn, hard-to-master games.

I think I played it for about three days before beating it (the screenshot above is one of the few that I didn’t just steal off Google Images, incidentally). At first I played in a very random fashion, but it turns out that doesn’t get you anywhere, and the most common strategy is to bunch the tiles into a corner or row, which allows you to make chains and means that you can move around the other tiles in certain directions without moving the highest-valued tile. Almost inevitably, you end up with the situation where you have to move the high value tile, so you just have to hope it’s not replaced by a 2, and that you can move it straight back to the previous position.

It’s also an interesting game, as because it was released open-source, copycat games sprung up very quickly, such as one based around the annoying meme “doge” with the shiba-inu dog picture, or one with phonetic symbols like schwa and engma, or one where the target is explicitly 4096, just to torture players, or one where it’s 4, just to be nice.

It’s also good to play on smartphones, as I found to mixed emotions while I was on my break at work. So I can waste as much time at work on my breaks as I can at home, then?

But despite all that, the game doesn’t hold water for me personally. I beat it once, and have no real intention of doing so again. Sure, if a new variant comes out again I might try that, but for now I’m fine. I have better things I could be wasting my time on.

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