A race against the clock to build an escape ship!
Android & iOS
# of Players
Assembly is a solo puzzle game developed in-house by publisher Wren Games. Players in Assembly must assemble an unfinished spaceship using a few basic commands in order to escape before you perish from a deadly virus sweeping your station. The game ends when the spaceship is successfully assembled or you have run out of oxygen/time, this typically takes under five minutes.
Assembly is a puzzle game played through cards. Players are given very limited options for moves they can make. There are three basic card types in the game: red (deploy/lock), yellow (swap), and green/purple (rotate). There is also a wild card and two different flavors of the rotate cards. On each turn players will have three cards in their hand and may choose to either play any one of them or discard all three to play any command.
The goal of Assembly is to position modules (circular discs) on their matching blueprints and then lock them in place. When all 12 modules have been locked, the game is won. The specific space on the board at which a blueprint is located is called the bay. Using the deploy action draws a new module from the pile and places it on a random blueprint/bay. The lock option locks up to two bays at once, a locked module is essentially removed from the game. Swap simply allows you to swap two modules by moving them to the other’s blueprint. Rotations are where the puzzle aspect really comes into play as the cards rotate all unlocked modules by either one or two spaces in either direction.
Players are also given a role card each game which allow you to alter the rules in some way. One card allows you to play two cards in one turn, another allows you to deploy after locking, and so on.
Assembly is a race against time, the timer in the game is an oxygen counter. Each time you cycle through the small deck, the game comes closer to ending. As an unwanted surprise, the blueprints get randomly moved around when you reshuffle, which can thwart a well positioned board that you haven’t been able to lock yet. Should you cycle through the deck three full times, you have perished and the game immediately ends. Win or lose, you are given a score at the completion of your game based on the number of locked modules and cards remaining.
My first impression of Assembly was “man, this is confusing.” And, attempting to explain in words how to play IS quite confusing. However, once you start playing you will quickly realize it’s a very simple, clever puzzle. Draw new modules, rotate and swap them into position, lock them in place, and then try to repeat the process before time runs out. The spatial aspect is a very cool piece to the game, it is necessary not just to position things correctly, but positioning things in the same imperfect way so that you can rotate a few modules into place with one rotate card. The game smartly limits your action choices to make the decisions tense, and the ever-shrinking time bar on the side of the screen makes sure you know your time is limited.
Assembly hits a nice mark of being a light game with enough decisions to keep things interesting. There is a lot of luck in the game in how the modules get randomly placed and the blueprints get shuffled, but I never end a game feeling like I really got beaten up by bad draws. It’s a fine line to walk, but Assembly does it well. The game plays super quickly so it’s always tempting to jump back in after a failed escape attempt.
Barrier to Entry
Assembly has a full set of text rules in a PDF and a set up pop-up rule explanations which can be shown during a game. As mentioned earlier, the game is much more difficult to explain than it is to play. Assembly suffers from the lack of a true tutorial, as seeing cards played and given a clear explanation of the resulting action is the best way to learn this game, and that simply isn’t present in the app. The pop-ups are simply notes from the text rules overlaying the screen, it isn’t interactive enough to be terribly useful. As it stands, I was quite confused in my first few games, but since there are so few actions, I was able to pick up the rules quickly. Overall, it works, but there is certainly room for improvement in this area.
Look and Feel
Assembly has a clean, basic look. The game artwork seems nice enough, although much of it is difficult to see as it resides on the small modules and blueprint cards. The menus and pop-ups look a bit generic, but that doesn’t change the game experience.
The controls work fine. To play an action you select a card to have it appear in the active card area, then click it again to lock in that you are playing the card. It might be a bit of a confusing way to handle it, but it is really just a click-and-confirm system and after a game you will be used to the required clicks. The lack of an undo button comes into play occasionally, as I misread the board a bit and realize drawing a new module would have been better than locking just one, for example.
The physical game is a co-op supporting two players, while the app was made as a solo game, so there is no multiplayer of any sort. The two player version of the physical game has some cool, limited communication features that would have been fun to try in an online setting although there is no guarantee it would have carried over well into the digital space, a case we’ve seen before.
The app is solely a single player game. The game contains four difficulty levels ranging from Easy to Extreme. The details of each level are in the way the starting deck is setup, with the more difficult levels using more restricting setups. It is impressive, design-wise, how much of a difference these seemingly minor adjustments make in scaling the game difficulty.
Each game is given a score based on the number of locked modules, remaining cards, and unlocked modules in play. Scores are kept separately across each difficulty level. It is a bit disappointing not to see more detailed stat keeping, the game only tracks high scores. The game plays so quickly and hands out a score, that I’d love to see my win/loss record, average scoring, etc… being kept across the dozens of plays.
Reading the rules
Checking out the role card
Assembly features an in-app purchase in the form of five new roles which can be purchased for $1.49. Role cards each change the game in some way, so fans of the app will likely enjoy the added variety provided by these roles. The physical game has a larger expansion, Glitches, which change the game aside from just role cards, these expansion features are not available in the app at this time.
The Wrap Up
Assembly is a fun puzzle game that works due to its simplicity. The very limited number of options make the games tense and keep thing interesting. The app version has some flaws. It could do a better job of teaching the game, for starters. The overall look is certainly not bad by any means, but it is a bit generic in spots. The lack of detailed stat keeping is disappointing given the game does track scores, a more thorough history of my successes (okay, failures) would be fun to see.
However, overall, the app is a lot of fun if you want a really quick-playing puzzler. The act of moving all of the modules at once to get a few in their proper spots so you can lock them into place is an extremely satisfying move to make. The constant pressure of going up against the ever-dwindling oxygen supply as you try to escape does make for a game that is more tense than the lightness of the rules might suggest. Having to align things spatially gives this game a bit of a different feel from others in the genre, and helps Assembly stand out.