Puzzle and Dragons – Action Loop

Puzzle & Dragons is a Japanese mobile game developed by GungHo Online Entertainment.

This article focuses on the moment to moment action of the game itself, the micro-loop, but if you are interested in the larger strategic aspects and the monetization, then see Puzzle and Dragons – Macro Loop and Monetization.

Match Orbs

At the core Puzzle and Dragons is a match-3 game. You match up lines of 3 or more of similarly colored Orbs to make the disappear, much like Puzzle Quest, Candy Crush Saga or Bejeweled. What makes the game feel completely different is that when you choose an Orb to move, you can move it as far as you want. Thus, a good player can get multiple lines matched up every move.

Matched    Matched done

As you drag an Orb around the grid, existing Orbs get shifted to make space for it, allowing a high degree of control over the final outcome. To make sure there’s still an element skill and pre-planning, you have only a few seconds to move the Orb after you start dragging it around. Thus, you need to know exactly what you are doing before you start.

There are multiple ways to match tiles. Long lines and L-shapes are good, multiple lines (combos) are even better.

6-Line    Double line    Combo - 2

To deal damage

The color of the lines you match you allows your Monsters of that color to deal damage. If you match up a horizontal or vertical line of 3 Orbs they do the standard damage for that Monster at its current level. Longer lines and line combos give a damage bonus.

There’s a Rock-Paper-Scissors relationship between the colors:

  • Red does extra damage against Green, but less against Blue. Normal against anything else.
  • Green does extra damage against Blue, but less against Red. Normal against anything else.
  • Blue does extra damage against Red, but less against Green. Normal against anything else.
  • Yellow does extra damage against Purple. Normal against anything else.
  • Purple does extra damage against Yellow. Normal against anything else.

RockPaperScissors

And use skills

Most Monsters you will find in a players’ team has a Skill or two, which can be activated every few turns.

These range from special attacks, changing the color of Orbs on the grid, healing teammates, and more.

Some Monsters have Leader Skills. Each Team can have one Leader, whose Leader Skill (if it has one) will be active all the time. These are Skills that affect the rest of the Monsters in the group, like outgoing and incoming damage.

Monster Info

 

With a strategically constructed team

Different Dungeons require different Teams.

A predominantly blue Dungeon would require a Team with extra green Monsters, and perhaps some Skills that mitigate blue damage.

Some Dungeons are better suited for a Team of fast-attackers that can dispose of the enemy Monsters before they can damage you much, and others might require you to bring healers and high-HP Monsters.

This builds variety into the mid-loop of the game and encourages the player to keep a diverse set of Monsters on hand, rather than a single team that he sends into every Dungeon.

And help from your friends

When you have chosen to send your Team into a Dungeon, you get to choose one Monster from other people to add to your team. Some will be from people on your Friends List, others will be from random players.

If you choose a Monster from someone on your Friends list, both its normal skill and its Leadership Skill are used in the Dungeon. If you choose one from a random player you only get the normal Skill and not the Leadership Skill.

To kill Monsters

Each enemy Monster has a certain amount of HP. When that HP has been depleted the Monster is dead and may drop Coins or Monster Eggs. These are put in the Dungeon Escrow.

Before they kill you

The player also has HP that decreases as enemy Monsters attack you. Your HP is the sum of the HP of all the Monsters in your current Team. Most enemy Monsters don’t attack every turn. Some have powerful attacks they only do every umpteen turns, other have lighter attacks that they can do as fast as every turn.

When you start taking damage you may want to heal yourself. You can restore your HP by matching up the heart-shaped Orbs on the grid, or by using certain Monster Skills.

If your HP is reduced to zero, you die and fail the Dungeon unless you use a Magic Egg to continue.

So you can clear the Dungeon

Dungeons are split up into multiple Rooms. Most Dungeons are between 3 and 10 Rooms, though special Dungeons can be up to 100 Rooms.

To clear a room and advance to the next one you have to kill all the Monsters in your current room. Your HP and Skill turn counters carry over between Rooms, but not between Dungeons.

For each Room you clear, you can gather Coins and Monster Eggs into the Dungeon Escrow.

If you die or leave the Dungeon before clearing the last room, you lose everything in the Dungeon Escrow. It’s only after you defeat the final boss that the Coins are moved to your purse, and the Monster Eggs are hatched into random Monsters that go into your Monster Box.

If you die inside the Dungeon Magic Eggs to continue from where you died with full health. Magic Eggs are the game’s microtransaction currency. (See Macro-Loop)

With the difficulty spiking in the last room, the game has frequent “almost there” situations where you find it worth spending a Magic Egg to continue rather than lose all that good stuff you’ve collected so far. You already feel like you own that stuff, so loss aversion kicks in pretty hard.

And prepare for the next one

In addition to Coins and Monsters, a Dungeon gives you a Magic Egg the first time you clear it.

It also gives you XP which contributes to your Rank. Ranking up gives you important bonuses like increasing the Stamina you have (See Macro-Loop) the amount of Friends you can add and the maximum power of your Monster Teams.

Conclusion

The difference between match-3 games where you swap two adjacent Orbs and this one, where you drag an Orb as far as you want, is enormous. You constantly learn new patterns and combos to pull off and match Orbs you would have though impossible before. There are layers upon layers of interesting gameplay hidden in what seems at first a very trivial digression from the standard model.

While the strategic layer is interesting in it’s own right, it’s really here at the lowest level of the game that the magic happens. If you gave me only that game, I would be perfectly content for hours on end. The strategic game brilliantly reinforces it and forces you to make tactical decisions to deviate from your normal patterns, extending the lifetime of game considerably and giving you a slew of open-ended long-term goals to work with.

All in all it’s a brilliant game that suffers only for its expensive microtransaction currency. Fortunately you can play for a very long time before ever feeling that you need to pay money to progress. At least those of us who have some skills…


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