May 30, 2011
I have to admit, I have no idea who Reiner Knizia is. Even after I ran a search on his name through Wikipedia, I came up blank; I’ve never heard of or played any of his games. In a way, that’s good, because it means I enter into this review without any preconceived notions. On the other hand, I hope his other games are much better than Cluster Master, because this one is kind of a dud.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Cluster Master isn’t a bad game, but it’s not a great game, either. The main goal is to rack up a huge score by matching colored tiles on a hexagonal playing field. So far, it’s not exactly blazing any trails. Where the game starts getting a little different is in the placement of the tiles.
The tiles are arranged in patterns that can make placing them a big challenge. The idea is to match up 3 or more in a “cluster” to make them disappear. However, the game never really explains how this mechanic works. As a result, you end up placing tiles in clusters of 4, 5, 6 and more, and they never disappear. As you run out of room, your frustration grows. Why aren’t these tiles disappearing?
It turns out, some tiles have gems in the shape of hearts, clovers and water drops on them. You have to watch for the tiles that sparkle so you know where to place them. This allows you to set up some big combos, as the tiles won’t disappear until you place the correct gem.
Further separating Cluster Master from similar games is the addition of “coins” that you can use to unlock certain powers in the game, like extra time, tiles, etc. Depending on the mode you’re playing, these powers come in very handy, as running out of time and space ends the game. My favorite mode has been “Stress” mode. You’re short on time and have to work fast to get as many points and time as possible.
Aside from the unusual gem matching game mechanic, which I’m coming to appreciate the more I play the game, there’s a slight graphical problem. The game was either designed for a screen that is slightly wider, or shorter, than mine. As a result, it looks slightly stretched, or squeezed, depending on your view. It’s a minor issue, but it’s a bit sloppy if the developers knew about the problem and left it in.
Another problem I encountered was slightly unresponsive controls that made it difficult to drag tiles correctly. This is a problem when time is tight and you have to repeat the same movement before getting it right.
Cluster Master may not be the most innovative game on the Market, but the additional strategy required does help it stand out from the crowd of similar, “match 3” style games that are so ubiquitous. It’s a solid puzzle game, and the additional modes should offer enough variations on the game to keep it fresh for when you’re in the mood to play something a little different from the standard mode.