In today’s product review, we look at a puzzle game with a simple premise: get your spheres from the top level of the grid to the bottom before your opponent does. All that stands between you and victory? Four levels of sliding walls and a wily opponent.
Today, we tackle the multi-layered challenge of Strata Sphere.
Strata Sphere is a puzzle game for two players that challenges you to outthink and outmaneuver your opponent in order to get your four spheres through the grid first. Imagine the gravity-fueled fun of Ker-Plunk with the chain-reaction planning of chess, and you’ve got something approximating Strata Sphere.
This game is all about tactics and adaptation. First, you and your opponent take turns placing the twelve sliders into the grid. There are four levels to the grid, each level accommodating three sliders.
As you can see, some of the sliders have holes in different places, and others have no holes at all. Placement of these sliders is only part one of the game, but it’s a crucial one.
Once all twelve sliders are in place, the players choose their color spheres (red or black), and take turns placing them into the columns atop the grid, one sphere per column.
[As you can see, some of the spheres have already dropped to level 2,
thanks to the placement of holes in several of the sliders in level 1.]
Now the real strategy begins, because with each turn, a player may select any slider and pull it out of the grid one notch. (Each slider has three notches, allowing it to interact with three different columns.) As the game progresses, players can also push sliders in one notch.
Whether the slider moves out of the way of a sphere or moves a hole into place so a sphere may drop through, each move has the potential to drop a sphere a level (or two!) closer to freedom.
After one or two games, we actually ended up putting the game on a lazy susan, so we could rotate it, observe the grid more easily, and gain better access to all the sliders.
This form of three-dimensional puzzle-solving is a real challenge, because you’re not just dealing with your opponent’s next move, you’re dealing with all the setup (slider placement, sphere placement) that preceded it. Here’s where your ability to adapt comes into play, because all that strategy can go completely out the window at a moment’s notice.
Tension ratchets up quickly as you and your opponent maneuver back and forth, manipulating the sliders and helping gravity guide your spheres through the grid and toward the open tray below. The first player to free all four of their spheres wins.
Strata Sphere is a puzzle game that’s easily explained to younger players, but one that offers a great deal of complexity for older players as well, taxing your tactical abilities, spatial awareness, and your ability to seize unexpected opportunities when they arise.
Being forced to take turns makes long-term planning more difficult, and the four levels of gameplay will push your visualization skills to the max. (Planning out moves on a chess board is one thing, the multi-tiered slider system of Strata Sphere is quite another.)
The gameplay is engaging, the design is simple and elegant, and I daresay there’s no more satisfying sound than the click of a well-earned sphere hitting the tray, freed. What a treat.
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