I really enjoy puzzle games where you can spend more time looking and thinking than actually manipulating pieces on the board. Tangrams are an old school example, as is the popular traffic management puzzle Rush Hour and all its variants. Jigsaw puzzles are also manipulation puzzles, though that’s all about finding the right piece, not a more strategic planning of piece movement order. In all cases, good gamers can plan a half-dozen or more moves ahead, and certainly anyone who is good at games has to be able to anticipate future events, whether it’s an opponent across the table bidding trump in bridge or not drawing any cards to improve their poker hand. Perhaps the most famous games that require an extraordinary ability to anticipate future moves are Go and Chess.
Into this world of physical puzzles comes the really slick 3D box sliding game Relics of Rajavihara. I was lucky enough to be sent a prototype for this preview so please keep that in mind when you look at the photos. Designer Joe Slack is planning on launching his Kickstarter campaign for Relics in July 2020 and I’ll definitely update this to include a link when the campaign’s live. Because it turns out that Relics of Rajavihara is a very cool, entertaining and meditative puzzle game that’s worthy of a spot on your shelf.
Where’d the name come from? Rajavihara is a famous (and beautiful) temple at Angkor in Cambodia made famous by the 2001 Angelina Jolie “Tomb Raider” movie. The goal of this solo game is to complete five floors of increasingly difficult puzzles. You can push crates around and climb up and down stacked crates to attain the goal on each level. The first floor gets you started with ten puzzles, the first of which really primes you for the type of puzzle solutions you’ll be seeking. Let’s have a look at floor 1-1:
You can see that there’s a setup card that includes where crates go and how high each stack should be to start. The green meeple is you, and you can forward, backwards, left and right, as can crates you push. Except a crate that is blocked by a wall or another crate cannot be moved in that particular direction. You can only change levels 1 crate, so you can’t just run up to the two-crate stack, clamber to the top and grab the green jewel on the 3-stack!
Take a minute and look at that picture with those rules in mind. What are you going to do? How are you going to move crates around to be able to create a 1->2->3 set of crate piles so you can successfully get the gem and achieve the goal for 1-1?
Perhaps rotating the entire puzzle board 90-degrees will make it clearer. Hmm… maybe you can slide one of the single crates all the way to the left and climb on it:
You can push crates that are on other crates, of course; if they move to another that’s the same height, they just slide neatly along. If you push too far and they fall off, the fall down. If someone or something’s already in that space, it’ll be destroyed (important for later levels!). I won’t finish the solution for this first puzzle, but I bet you can see that it’s just a single move to be able to climb up and grab that shiny green gem!
Speaking of dropping a crate on someone, consider this puzzle, where we have four stacks of two crates and our nemesis on the board. No jewel this time, we need to drop a crate on them to achieve our goal. But how can you do that?
In this case you need to know that if you push a tall stack of crates then the one at your level moves and the others drop down without changing their position. In other words, push the lower crate on a 2 pile and you’ll end up with two squares occupied by a single crate each. Got it? 🙂
Each time you complete a floor the game gets more complicated. Moving from the first floor to the second adds boulders, as detailed in this reference card:
Crates, as we know, can be pushed in any direction (except diagonally), but these new boulders? They’re immovable objects. Which makes puzzle 2-1 a bit of a thinker to figure out:
You can see that the gem is trapped in a circle of tall piles of boulders and crates. Remember, you can’t change heights up or down more than a single level, so if you just walk up to the 2-stacks, you’ll be stuck and unable to reach the top. I initially thought “ah, so I can push two crates at the same time and solve this pretty easily:
Unfortunately that’s not an option, it’s an illegal move. You can’t move a crate if another crate is behind it, remember? Ooops.
Finding the solution for this level took a bit more time to puzzle out, but as with all of these sort of games, it’s a very cerebral task. In fact, I found that I would solve a level in my head, then verify I had the correct solution by manipulating the components, rather than just move things around seeking inspiration.
So that’s Relics of Rajavihara. The prototype I was sent has five floors of ten puzzles each, plus a mystery envelope labelled “X” which I suspect is some bonus puzzles to solve. I haven’t opened them because, like a legacy game, I want to earn the right to move to the next level. And you will be pulled into Rajavihara and spend countless hours working on solutions, then going back to see if there is one optimal solution for each puzzle. Even puzzle 1-1 has more than one solution, Joe assures me!
This is definitely one to keep an eye on and I’m looking forward to getting a copy of the final game to add to my own puzzle and game library. At this point you can’t join the Kickstarter campaign, but you can join the mailing list to learn more about the game when it’s launched. Just go here: Sign up for Relics of Rajavihara Announcements.
Disclosure: I was sent a prototype copy of Relics of Rajavihara in return for this writeup. Which is a pretty sweet deal, you have to admit!