Konkan Coast Pirate Solutions: My Favorite Game of 2023 So Far

| 4 min read
#games #computer-games #puzzle-games

I have an affection for digital games that feel like you could pull them out of the computer, set them in front of you, and fiddle with. Konkan Coast Pirate Solutions, released on March 3, fits exactly the bill. It’s a clever, straightforward puzzler with a delightful mind-stretching progression, a well-written story, and side challenges that tend towards being brain burners.

Gif of Konkan Coast Gameplay

(I'm not receiving any compensation to promote this game, I just think it's a great game.)

It’s Simple Enough to Explain the Rules in a Few Sentences

Everything, for me, seems to follow from this idea. There are only a few components and I could describe them here (in fact, I suspect you have a pretty good sense of the game just from the GIF):

  1. There are two types of ships: pirate, and merchant ships
  2. Pirates need to get back to their cove and merchants need to deliver their goods and leave
  3. The ships will move in a straight line unless otherwise directed
  4. There are three types of commands you can give ships, turn right, turn left, and stop.
  5. A ship will receive a command when it moves into the space. It will pick up the command given, and if it’s holding one, put the one it’s holding down.
  6. The simulation will continue progressing, one step at a time, until success, failure, or getting stuck.

There are other nuances here. But it’s straightforward. Unlikely the two genres I would most closely associate this game with (Sokoban and Automation), the rules are simple enough to explain that you could reasonably set one up in physical form and orchestrate it yourself.

Konkan Coast feels similar to two popular puzzle gaming genres, Sokoban, and automation style games. Sokoban is a style of game where you push boxes around in a constrained space to solve the puzzle or get out of the room. The challenge lies in the fact that there are a restricted number of movements you can make without accidentally blocking yourself in. Sokoban style games often interest me early on, but they get too challenging very quickly, and getting trapped in similar movements because you’ve accidentally blocked yourself can get quite stressful (for me anyway).

Konkan Coast feels similar to Sokoban because the board is finite, and there are only a few moves you can make on any level. You have to figure out what the correct location for each of the tiles is.

However, it also shares some DNA with automation style games. Automation games, like Factorio or SpaceChem or Human Resource Machine, are simplified and abstracted visual coding systems where you put machines together and build them into complex orchestrations to solve the problem. Unlike Sokoban style games, they are expansive and expressive. Since I started programming full-time, automation style games have been less interesting to me.

Konkan Coast feels similar to automation because you are giving discrete commands which you must sequence appropriately to solve the puzzle. When you are done, you get to press play and see how your machine works, from a distance.

DALL-E Rendering of a color pencil sketch of a boat pushing a box on a grid DALL-E Rendering of a color pencil sketch of a boat pushing a box on a grid

For me, it contains the best of both worlds. It has the lovely command elements of automation style games, but it has the bounded context of Sokoban style games. It’s great being able to lay down a few tiles, press play and just watch what plays out.

And the components of the game also tend towards the physical as well. You can easily pause the current execution or step forward and backward through it, like a detective scrubbing through the footage trying to catch the right moment to change your understanding of the game.

Story and Game Feel

The story feels competent and well-placed to help keep the game moving forward and give some fun background. It pokes enough fun at the concept (they’re pirates making an automation tool!) without being over the top. And the story fits with the theme, the game is about using a tool to chart the course on the sea most effectively. It’s easy to imagine a bunch of pirates sitting over a table, moving around tiny wooden ships to plan their latest attack.

I did this one, incase you couldn't tell. A black and white sketch of a portable tape player play button being pressed

This leads to a game feel that’s absolutely off the charts. The game uses the metaphor of a tape recorder to reinforce its tactility. It also makes the process of stepping through the game easy to understand (with rewind and fast forward). On top of that, there’s a wonderful feature where after you beat the level it will automatically rewind itself back to the start to show you what pieces you’ve set. The visual marker of a rewind is a clever way to show that you’re done. And more importantly, the rewind gives you a chance to see what moves you made that actually got you to your success in the first place! Often when I play puzzle games like this, I’ll spend so much time guessing and checking, that winning comes as a surprise. The rewind gives me a chance to see and understand what I did right.

It’s a Fun Game

If you like logic puzzles but don’t want to burn your brain, I would strongly recommend Konkan Coast. The only critique I have, which I would give to almost every game I play, is that this feels like a game that would work really well on an iPad, and I wish I could play it there too.

Check it out!