THE PCG Q&A
The word “casual” is more often used as an insult than a description, but it doesn’t have to be. It can instead be a useful way of describing a genre of games that are just as likely to be your jam as any other—the kind of games anyone can pick up and play, whether they’re familiar with typical gamer conventions or not, perfect for short sessions as well as deep dives.
Casual games don’t have to be easy (endless mode in Plants vs. Zombies is no picnic), they just have to be easy to get into. Match-3 puzzle games like Bejeweled are casual, but so are Solitaire and Tetris, Mini Metro and Forager.
Our weekend question is: What’s your favorite ‘casual’ game? Here are our answers, plus a few from our forum.
James Davenport: Peggle, baby. My first go at Peggle was on one of the early iPods, actually, the kind with the scroll wheel. I’d get some rounds in at lunch during my old high school construction job, sweating my ass off in some pickup truck while getting paid under the table. After mastering the wheel, I took it to the PC. Peggle and Peggle Nights, perfected. A tiny ball soothsayer, this guy. I can still tell you where anything is gonna bounce. Drop something. Try me.
Steven Messner: I don’t think anything I play constitutes as a casual game—and I’m especially averse to most puzzle games that probably overlap with that description. It’s not for any real reason that they just don’t interest me and I don’t have a lot of moments where I’m looking for a quick entertainment fix that would be perfected suited with a round of Tetris or something. I think the closest thing I play that could be considered a casual game might be Teamfight Tactics, Riot Games’ autobattler. But even though that game is very passive and does have a fun puzzle-like air about it, it’s also hyper competitive and the entire time I’m playing I tend to have three Chrome tabs open that I’m jumping between as I figure out my team composition and strategy. Not exactly the same as kicking back and playing some Puzzle Bobble or whatever. But now I kinda feel like maybe there’s a casual-game-shaped hole in my life that I didn’t even realize was there.
Wes Fenlon: I’m not sure it’s actually fair to call Puyo Puyo Tetris a casual game when it can be aggressively competitive, but it’s the only game of this type I’ve spent much time with in the last few years. I love that it’s a very good Tetris game or Puyo Puyo game—which I first encountered as Dr. Robotnick’s Mean Bean Machine as a kid—but it’s much cooler as a combination of both. When competing, one player can be playing Tetris and the other can be playing Puyo Puyo, and the different combos they complete are calculated for difficulty and dish out the appropriate amount of “damage” (aka trash blocks) for the opponent. This is how vs. puzzle games have always worked, but I think it’s particularly cool that two players can be competing in different games at the same time. Puyo Puyo Tetris is packed with variants and modes for solo and multiplayer. A great puzzler for $20.
Dave James: It’s Peggle all day long. My favourite casual game and my favourite professional game reviewing experience ever. In the long, long ago, when I was but a young magazine staff writer, my games editor fired the Steam code my way for a quick filler review that just needed to get done.
I wasn’t expecting anything, but from the first sting of Ode to Joy I was hopelessly and forever in love. And it is still just an experience of pure joy, from start to finish, and one which had me genuinely squealing with delight in a packed Future office. Nowadays I’m more likely to be found shouting at bits of silicon and circuit boards.
Andy Chalk: Dynomite. It’s simple and silly: You’re a dinosaur with a slingshot firing coloured dino-eggs at other coloured dino-eggs, making matches of at least three in order to keep Mama Brontosaurus from stomping on you. PopCap published it way back when, and it never got the love that games like Bejeweled or Peggle did, but for some reason—I’m honestly not sure why—it’s the one that stuck with me. I still have it installed, and I still fire it up now and then.
Chuzzle is great too, btw.
Christopher Livingston: There are lots of great Jackbox Games, but I think I like Fibbage the best. It’s like half try to trick someone with a clever lie, and half try to make someone laugh with an obvious lie. I’m just as happy getting a thumbs-up for a ridiculously bad answer that cracks someone up as I am getting points for actually succeeding in a round. More games should have rewards for failing in an amusing way, I think.
Jody Macgregor: PopCap really were the kings of this genre, as all the mentions of Peggle make plain, but let’s not forget Bejeweled, Bookworm Adventures, Zuma, or my personal favorite, Plants vs. Zombies. Taking the tower defence genre and turning it casual is a great idea, and the balance between the extremely relaxed adventure mode, the slightly more hectic blasts of the minigames, and the ultimate chill of the zen garden meant there was always something to match your mood. Wrapping it up in a collection of PopCap’s typical whimsy, like Crazy Dave the shopkeeper and Laura Shigihara’s music, made it perfect.
Pifanjr: I had to think about this for a while, as I think most games I play don’t count as casual and the casual games I have tried I didn’t really care for. However, there is one casual game that I played for quite a while and which I can see myself returning to: Hex Frvr. I got pretty good at it too.
PCG Rachel: I’m a fan of Where’s Wally style games, so I love Hidden Folks. I’ve also been playing Hidden Through Time recently as my casual, chill-out game. I think Amanita Design’s games are also great for picking up and solving a puzzle or two at a time.
Oussebon: I have some Mahjong games, and my grey matter is now more FreeCell than brain cell. But my go-to casual ‘games are usually AAA games played in a casual (disposable) way.
e.g. Civilization. Civ 5 for me. Matches can be mammoth, but my favourite part is usually the early exploration – revealing a new and mysterious new world, tearing open goody huts like a kid on Christmas morning, finding that natural wonder as Isabella. But only for the first ~50 turns – i.e before the AI double-declares and the slicefest begins.
Rolling Civ maps is like giving yourself calorie-free kinder surprise.
Skyrim with Live Another Life is also a great candidate. Same deal. Roll a start, see where the winds take you. If you treat your toon as disposable, you can just enjoy the free roam with no hassles, no pressure, and no need to continue the game beyond that session.
jpishgar: Two candidates for favorite casual games to play in-between games are Agar.io and Town of Salem. They are super useful distractions after I’ve just finished a lengthy grand strategy campaign or a long stint in an open world RPG, and nice little diversions.
Agar.io is great for that drop-in/drop-out ultra-easy to pick up and put down when you’re at the end of a long, exhausting day and just want a few little shots of endorphin in the thinking meats before bed. A few well-placed attacks, a nice coasting time to gobble up little pellets until you’re of decent size, and a definitive end. It’s classic survival PvP boiled down to the most basic state. It’s what I play if I’m short on time but want a few minutes of pleasurably agonizing frustration and glee.
Town of Salem is a more deliberate effort for stretching the strategic and manipulation muscles, since it requires either deduction or deception depending on the random role you’re saddled with as townspeople trying to figure out who the bad guys are. I’ve taken immense joy to running out the clock in the role of Serial Killer, leaving murderer’s notes in full Zalgo text:
T̷̟͔̑̈́h̴̻̗̬̿̑̔ỉ̶͕̖̕̕ṣ̷̅̌ ̸̧͉̓͠ţ̸͔͘ȏ̵̳̼w̵͓͌̈́ṉ̵͠ ̷̰̿m̸̢͐̇͗u̷͍͓̇s̵̼̑̀t̴̺̟̾̏̀ ̸̻̙̦̿̾b̵̥̃̕ë̴̍͝ͅ ̴̛̯͖̈́̈p̷̲̋͆̕͜ú̶̻͍̑ͅr̷̢͉̪͗ĭ̵̡̘̘̀f̴͉͍̒̎̕į̸̺͂ͅę̵̞̮̃͝d̸̳̰͊,̵͓́͘ ̶̗̫̎a̵̝̜͜͠n̶̢̜̐͝d̶̤̔͆͌ ̵̘̮̅Ḯ̵̪ ̴̨͘a̵̜̅̀m̴̲̒ ̷̠̲̑̚ț̷͇̆ĥ̴̩e̶͙͊̇͊ ̸͓̳̇͌̒c̷̘̖͛̋ͅl̴͇̓́e̴̩̭̒̀̈͜ȁ̵̰̼̂̈n̶͎̖̦̓͂s̴̛͙͔ḭ̷̗̑̆͆n̸̙̗͈̄g̷̣̱̭̓̔̓.̴̯̹̍
Or ending up in the role of Witch and giving a run-through of the Hocus Pocus “I put a spell on you.” lines right before being burnt at the stake.
Ah say ento pi alpha mabi upendi! In comma coriyama! Ay, ay, aye, aye say bye-byyyyyye! Bye bye!
It’s just good solid fun and games last 15 minutes or so. The mechanics are wonky to learn, but once you’ve got them, it’s stupid fun.