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Best Puzzle Games

Written by November 10, 2019

Puzzle games are fun, challenging, and easy to access, even if you only have a limited amount of time available. Our human brain is preprogrammed to seek out and enjoy puzzles. In our primitive hunter-gatherer days solving problems was how we survived. Puzzle games satisfy us in ways that other games do not reach.

A wide range of problems involving shapes, colors, numbers, words, science, and rules make a puzzle game. The aim may vary – you could be trying to beat your high score or to complete all the puzzles in the game. Some games have a narrative element – complete all the problems and save the day, princess or world.

Puzzle game rules are simple to understand because your focus is on how you solve the puzzle rather than on what are you supposed to be doing.

Top Six Reasons to Play Puzzle Games

  1. Puzzle games are fun to play.
  2. You get to exercise your brain cells.
  3. It depends on what game you choose, but you can learn while you play.
  4. They are inexpensive and often free.
  5. They are excellent time-fillers – short or long games.
  6. They are portable – easy to play on your phone.

Puzzle Types

Puzzle games involve solving problems, but there are many ways of posing a challenge for your brain. Some puzzle games may only contain one type of puzzle with increasing levels of difficulty where others may offer a range of different kinds of problems to solve.

The game may involve only one skill or a combination of problem-solving skills.

Traditional Puzzle Games

These are familiar games that have been played with cards and tiles for years before the computer. Puzzle games like solitaire (about 500 versions) or mahjong solitaire are easy to play on a PC or mobile. These are joined in the digital game space by word puzzles (word search, crosswords, spelling games, and trivia) and number games (sudoku, number arranging, fitting numbers into a grid, and math’s problems).

A selection of these quick games in a pack often gets labeled as “Brain Training.” A vast number are available for free and are satisfying for a sharp brain flexing break. They are excellent for improving vocabulary and numeracy. The digital version makes the games portable and space-saving, allowing play while traveling or waiting around.

Action or Arcade Puzzle Games

This type of puzzle uses a real-time process to put pressure on the player. The action takes place on a single screen, and you will need to manipulate objects either directly or indirectly.

Tetris is a falling block or tile-matching puzzle, and it is available in all manner of formats. This game is an example of an action-puzzle game. Other games like Tetris are Klax (where you line up colored blocks, these disappear, and you do it all over again) and Lumines (another block game where you arrange colored blocks in squares).

Another type of action-puzzle game that involves direct control over a character moving through space is Lode Runner. You need to collect gold while avoiding enemies. Why is this a puzzle game and not a straight action game? You must work out how to get all the gold and get to the exit and avoid the opposition and other hazards. This game needs strategic thinking and the ability to perform actions in sequences, as well as pattern recognition (exactly where is that guard going) and logical reasoning. This skill set is typical for those who solve problems.

Lemmings game gives you indirect control of the action. The object is to guide the swarm of lemmings to safety by choosing lemmings to have some unique skills (eight different skills) and thus altering the way the herd moves. Naturally, the lemmings blindly walk to their deaths at every available opportunity. You only have a limited amount of time to save the day, and it is a complex puzzle to resolve.

Hidden Object Puzzle Games

“Hunt the Thimble” is an old observation game that was popular in pre-television days when families had to make their entertainment. One person went alone into a room with a thimble and placed that thimble in the room. The other players are then invited in to hunt the thimble. The rules were simple, the thimble must be visible (no hiding it inside a box), and the player who spots it then gets to hide it next time.

This type of game can be called a hidden picture game. The game involves finding items in the picture. This simple game requires keen observation and pattern recognition skills. These games are inexpensive and often free.

There are many examples: Awakening (help princess Sophie to undo a spell by finding various items) and Antique Road Trip (looking for antiques on your travels).

Reveal the Picture Game

The whole object is to reveal the hidden picture square by square. The picture unfolds in different ways – the simplest being a straight click on the square. This type of game usually expects you to try and guess the image as soon as possible. Another method is to solve puzzles or answer questions to reveal the picture. Your reward is the picture.

This game is easy to make in either a free ap (PicTapr) or PowerPoint. They make an excellent and fun presentation or teaching aid.

Physics Game

We are talking about game physics here, but this type of puzzle game teaches science in a fun and exploratory way. Game physics is a simulation or copy of how the laws of physics work in the real world.

Inside a game, you can expect objects to fall under gravity, projectiles to follow an arc, and other real-world behavior – water flows downhill. For you to solve the puzzles, you must understand or learn how stuff works. Get into Gear is aimed at teaching kids how gears operate in a fun and exploratory way.

Physics puzzle games are for all ages, and they are ideally suited to mobiles and online flash games. There are many examples – The Incredible Machine (build strange machines to do simple tasks), The World of Goo (move balls of goo to a pipe – not as easy as it sounds), and Cut the Rope (yes, you have to cut the rope).

Tile Matching

This puzzle involves the manipulation of objects to make them disappear or remove them from the game. Tetris and other falling block type games fall into this category. More recent games like Bejeweled or Candy Crush saga follow on with the idea that was in Chain Shot! In 1985.

Hybrid Puzzle Action Games

All games have some puzzles, even if it is only working out where your line of fire is in a first-person shooter. There are some puzzle games where the problems combine with actions requiring speed, timing, and accuracy. You must act while also using deductive logic or pattern recognition. You can describe the game as a Puzzle-Platformer. Examples of this type include Braid and Portal.

Lateral Thinking Puzzles

Situational puzzles typically need a creative solution to solve. A typical poser would be something like you have a fox, a rabbit, and lettuce to carry across a river in a boat. The boat will only take two of these at any one time. How do you do it?

These challenges occur in video games. Typically, they present as a challenge that requires you to do two or more things simultaneously and are seemingly impossible. You must think creatively about your resources and what they can do. The joy of solving these puzzles is that moment of realization when your brain suddenly flashes the perfect and obvious solution.

Mechanical Puzzles

These puzzles are based on the manipulation of objects in space and sometimes time. Rubik’s cube, puzzle boxes, and other games you hold in your hand and manipulate are mechanical puzzles. In video games, these puzzles can be complicated and involve the construction of large machines or coordinating various actions as technology allows more intricate gameplay.

Word Puzzles

There are hundreds of them – Bananagrams, Boggle, Bonza, Dabble, Letterpress, Perquacky, Puzzlage, Quiddler, Ruzzle, Scrabble, and Upwords to list a few well-known ones. You can play alone or against other online players.

Word puzzles are excellent time fillers and are popular with all ages. Most originate from paper or board game versions of the same name.

Skills Needed for Problem Solving

Puzzle games need you to be able to solve problems. You either have these tools in your arsenal or are prepared to work on acquiring them. Problem-solving, like IQ, improves with more practice. A puzzle that has you stumped today will, after a few weeks of solving that sort of problem, will be something that you resolve with minimal effort.


You need to think logically to solve the puzzles in the game. Logic is a tool our brains use to work something out from the information available. Logic is a vast field of study and reaches its peak in mathematical equations. For solving puzzles in games and life, we use informal logic.

Informal logic is either deductive reasoning or inductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning is where we apply knowledge from one set of data to another. We do it unconsciously most of the time; you like chocolate, this cake has chocolate. Therefore you will like this cake (probably). See how it works?

Inductive reasoning is different. Inductive reasoning takes one small experience and applies it to all experiences of a similar nature. Say you eat a lemon once, and as a result, you decide all yellow food is sour? Inductive reasoning may get you the right answer quickly, or it may lead you down a dead end.

Your application of logic in playing a puzzle game will be unconscious, but your subconscious brain will keep a score of how successful you are. Your logic skills will improve because to be successful, you need to adopt the right logical strategy.

Pattern Recognition

We all know what pattern recognition is, even if we can’t explain it. Our smart brains soon learn to work out what objects are the same or similar and which do not fit together. We seek out patterns. This pattern recognition allows a toddler to see a dog and from that one dog as a mental model, be equipped to recognize all other dogs. Amazing isn’t it? Machine learning tools are only just getting to that level of sophistication now, but we have it as part of the standard human package.

Many puzzle games rely on our ability to create a pattern, identify an existing or underlying design or to predict the trend.

Pattern recognition is an essential life skill, not just useful for playing games. The most basic pattern recognition game that we start with is tic tac toe. Many famous (dare we say cult) games rely on simple pattern recognition. Games like Tetris and Candy Crush rely on our innate pattern recognition ability.

Pattern recognition is a skill that improves with practice, but only if you challenge yourself with more complex puzzles. Pattern recognition doesn’t just apply to objects but patterns of behavior as well as mathematics.

You can recognize patterns in four different forms – spatial (objects and their relationship to each other, especially in 3D), temporal (something happening over time, the swing of a pendulum, how long it takes a door to close), auditory (sound combinations – remember Close Encounters of the Third Kind?) and linguistic (speech patterns or phrases). Advanced puzzle games make use of these types of models and our ability to recognize them.

Sequence Solving

Sequence solving combines the use of logic and pattern recognition. Sequencing is the ability to put things in a useable order. The item can be words, objects or just your thoughts.

Sequencing can be a narrative – a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. A sequence can be scientific – if you put a fire beneath the water, water heats up, and steam rises. Or it could be the organizing of a specific set of tasks in a sequence – first, you put the heavy box on the button, then the door opens, and you walk through. Also, you might need to press the orange button and then the blue and then the green to defuse the bomb. That, too, is a sequence.

Dealing with Time Pressure

You may have unlimited time and as many attempts as you wish to solve the puzzle. In this case, you suffer no time pressure. Most puzzle games will introduce a time pressure element where you are facing a deadline or be limited in your attempts to solve the problem.

You may have to deal with objects in real-time – like the falling blocks in Tetris, or you need to escape a room before being locked inside. It doesn’t matter what form the time pressure takes – it makes you think while racing the deadline.

Positive Benefits of Playing Puzzle Games

When you choose to play a puzzle game, you are spending your time productively. The opportunity to play, even for a short period, relieves stress. When your brain focuses on doing some simple problem solving, your muscles relax and release some of that tension. By reducing your frustrations in this healthy way, your social skills improve as you are less likely to express your irritation in dealing with other people.

The type of game you choose allows you to improve your brain by acquiring new knowledge and skills and reinforcing the skills and knowledge you already have. When it comes to your mind, like any muscle in your body, you must keep it toned through regular exercise. But don’t feed it a monotonous diet, give it some variety, and you will gain the rewards.

Solving the puzzle game problems enhances your ability to reason as you need to arrange the parts of the problem in your mind, work out what the pattern and the solution is and then carry out your plan.

We can indulge in our competitive instinct. We can compete against ourselves to beat our personal best. We can play against each other for fun and friendly rivalry or to crush the opposition into the ground with our superior brain. Puzzle players can be as competitive as anyone playing a racing or shooter game.

By playing puzzle games, we improve our capacity for paying attention and retaining information. Puzzles involve all the thinking skills – reasoning, general knowledge, imagination, and logical thought.

Learning with puzzle games is effortless, our subconscious absorbs all those useful facts while we are playing.

Regular puzzle players perform better at work. Does that sound like a bold statement? Think about it; if you are making decisions and solving problems regularly, then you are always in that mind frame. You are a creative thinker (or can learn to be one), and that is the most prized asset in today’s workplace.

Puzzle Games and Intelligence

The big question is, are you drawn to puzzle games because you are smart, or do you get smarter by playing puzzle games? We used to think that IQ measured all intelligence. A high score meant you were a genius, a low rating, not so much. Now we know that one size does not fit everyone when it comes to intelligence; there are different flavors.

We now categorize intelligence into eight basic types:

  • Linguistic and Verbal

Those who are great with words and use them to express their thoughts.

  • Logical

The ones who reason things out and seeks explanations that make sense. It’s not all in the brain. They are also the ones who like to take things apart to work out what they do.

  • Spatial

This intelligence involves knowing that a square peg does not fit into a round hole and how to pack a box. If you have this, you are also good at details.

  • Body/Movement

We all know someone good with their hands or able to dance or throw a ball just where they want it.

  • Musical

Some people have a feeling for music; they can reproduce a tune just after hearing it. It’s not a superpower; it’s musical intelligence. It also shows excellent pattern recognition and sequencing.

  • Interpersonal

This intelligence lets you work out how to get along with other people. You understand how someone else’s mind might work, excellent if you like to play strategy games with human opponents.

  • Intrapersonal

If interpersonal is knowing other people, then intrapersonal is knowing yourself. This intelligence lets you pick the games that match your strengths and weaknesses. It’s also the intelligence that can result in you searching out games that challenge you. The games that help you improve your skills.

  • Naturalistic

This awareness of how the world works is called naturalistic intelligence. We all have it. We don’t notice it. It’s in the details, we know the sun rises in the east, water is wet, and the wind can push you over. This intelligence lets you use game physics to solve a puzzle.

We all have different strengths across all types of intelligence. We like puzzle games because they let us exercise our skills — all of them. A good puzzle game will involve more than one kind of thinking. The games give our brains what we crave – a variety of thought processes. The type of play we enjoy most is a good indicator of where our strengths lie.

History of Puzzle Games

We like puzzles and solving problems and have done so for a long time. The ability to play games on computers and mobiles have put hundreds of games at our fingertips.

The games existed long before the ability to play them on a screen. The first gaming consoles arrived in the late ‘70s. Many of those old games are still played today as they remain popular. But if you are interested in Puzzle games and wonder where they came from, here is a quick review of some of the classic games. If you’ve not heard of them before, then they are well worth a look.

The ‘70s – the decade that started video games


This game is strategic and mathematical. Before the advent of computers, this needed two players. The game is ancient and probably started in China. You face two piles of objects (used to be pebbles), and you pick objects from one heap in any turn. You select how many from one to three you take. The aim is to either avoid being stuck with the last object or being the person who gets the final piece, depending on the variation.

It sounds simple, but it is a game that has spawned lots of mathematical theories about the winning strategy. It is also one of the very first games to be played by a machine against human opponents.


This game is a board game, or you can play digitally. This classic code-breaking game evolved from another old game called bulls and cows. This game tests your logical reasoning.


Another classic pencil and paper game that has moved into the digital age. The hangman is a lovely visual representation of the time pressure to solve the puzzle. This game will improve your vocabulary but is primarily a code-breaking game.

Flag Capture

One of the early video games that evolved into Minesweeper. The principle is based on a playground game and requires two players. You can play the computer. It was a groundbreaking game in many ways – a 3D maze game, get the flag and get out. The game is a development from an earlier game – Wayout, which featured a set number of mazes. Capture the Flag generated a new maze randomly.

Heiankyo Alien

This game is the brainchild of a theoretical science group at Tokyo University in 1979. You have a limited time to dig holes for trapping Aliens. The game board is like Go but with tweaks to turn it into a cityscape. This game is significant as an early “trap-em” game. Many other puzzle games use this idea – collecting objects while running around a maze (lode runner) is the mirror image of running around a maze digging holes.

The ‘80s – the decade that improved on earlier games

Black Box

This ‘70s board game went digital in the ‘80s. It uses the movement of X-rays. This early example of a puzzle needing game physics to solve it. X-rays travel in straight lines if not deflected by atoms. If the X-ray passes next to an atom, then it makes a 90° turn, it stops when it hits an atom, and it reflects back in some situations. Simple physics that produces some head-scratching puzzles.

Konami’s LocoMotion and Pipe Mania

Locomotion is an arcade game. You build a train track ahead of your locomotive. It’s a puzzle game because it is a sliding tile game. You move the tiles containing the train track around using one empty grid space. You must keep that train running.

Pipe Mania updates this theme. In this game, you lay random pieces of pipe to channel a fluid. There are simple but strict rules, and you must work fast.


Rubik’s cube took the world by storm, and this is a digital version.


Soko-ban means warehouse keeper, and this game is the first box moving game. Its innovative game design repeats in my later games. This deceptively simple game is surprisingly challenging and fun, which is why it is still enjoyable.

Puzzle Panic

This game has the honor of being the first video game to use the word puzzle in the title. The panic comes from the need to avoid falling boulders from crushing you to death while you run around picking up diamonds. Many similar games followed.

Chain Shot!

You remove groups of same color tiles from a grid, this allows more to fall into the spaces. It is like Tetris. Both these games develop spatial awareness.

The ‘90s


A puzzle game that gives you the challenge of guiding a bunch of suicidal lemmings to safety.


This video game was the first to use a mouse to play a puzzle game.

2000 onwards

The rise of mobile phone technology allowed digital puzzle games to be in every pocket. There are now hundreds of puzzle games just a few clicks away – Candy Crush Saga and many more classic games.

The Future of Puzzle Games

Our human brains can’t get enough of puzzle games; this genre is one of the top-selling for mobile gaming and continues to be accessible on consoles and PCs. As soon as we develop new technologies – like VR headsets – someone invents a puzzle game that takes advantage of its unique properties to challenge us.

The technology of VR headsets and Move controllers will result in games that combine physical movement with creative thinking in novel ways.

The next type of puzzle game? Who knows what that will be? But it will be popular because we love problem-solving. If you are looking for a new challenge and have played your way through all the classic games, then you don’t need to worry, there are plenty more games for you to try.

Best Puzzle Game for VR Headsets: The Talos Principle

It is available on other platforms, but it is a fantastic game for VR headsets. You solve the puzzles with lasers and blocks. You are going to need to have good spatial awareness and lateral thinking. The problems become increasingly complex.

Best Puzzle Game for PS4: The Witness

This game is a maze puzzle. The puzzles are delightfully complex, and you will need to use pattern recognition and sequence solving skills extensively. Each problem solved unlocks another puzzle and gives it a subtle twist. This game is for dedicated problem solvers, and some of the problems may frustrate you for days – but think of that glow of achievement when, through the power of your brain, you solve the puzzle.

Best Puzzle Game for Xbox One: Inside and Limbo

These games come as a double pack for twice the enjoyment at a budget price.

These games are 2D platform games with simple black and white graphics. There are no instructions, and you will have to experiment to work out the solutions to the puzzles. The games rely on a good understanding of game physics. Inside builds on the game world of Limbo. It is not possible to accidentally solve any of the problems, so you will need all your creative thinking to progress through this fascinating dark game.

Best Puzzle Game for Android: All That Remains: Part 1

This hidden object and escape puzzle puts you in a bunker trying to get out. The clues to solve the problems are all there in front of you, but you will need to bring your thinking skills to the game. You can snap a picture of clues to act as a memory aid and the game looks and sounds good. Some of the puzzles are challenging but so satisfying when you solve them.

Best Puzzle Game for iOS: The Room

This game gives you puzzle boxes galore, lots of different ways to reach the solution, and delightfully presented with beautiful pictures. There is a lot of mechanical manipulation of game pieces. The puzzles are well constructed and sophisticated. You can expect about three hours of total gameplay. Unfortunately, once you’ve solved all the problems, you will be done with the game, but that the point of a puzzle game.

Best New Puzzle Game 2019: Manifold Garden

This game provides an Escher like world were the mind plays tricks with perspective and physics. You can manipulate gravity, and falling is a strange experience part Escher and part Inception. The puzzles are solved using game physics, but the presentation of world physics stretches in fantastic directions. The game displays stunning visuals that stretch to infinity.

Puddle – Playing with Fluid Dynamics

Many puzzle games play with fluid dynamics. This game has realistic properties for the different liquids. Your job is to move the fluid to your target by tilting the floor to maneuver the liquid past obstacles. To add to the entertainment, one of the fluids will explode if not handled delicately.

Other fluid games are Pipe Mania and The World of Goo.

Heavens Vault – Language Puzzles

The theme is archaeology in space. When you explore new worlds, you need to decode an ancient language. The whole game revolves around exploration and decoding hieroglyphics. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to be an archaeologist, this game will give you a little taste of the experience.

Baba is You – Make and Break the Rules

You don’t know the rules. You must work them out. Then you work out how to break them to meet your goals. You have tiles with words on them that you move around to create rules and there are 200 challenging levels. It is a single-player game for PC and Nintendo Switch.

Deru – a cooperative two-player game

This puzzle game needs two players to work together to solve the puzzles. As with many simple-looking games, it has some complex problems. It is a game that requires you not only to work together but to talk and communicate what it is you need to do.

You need physical skill as well as agile strategic thinking to succeed in this game with your partner.

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