Study of Dan Cook’s Triple Town

Usage: Click the image below to play Triple Copy. Click on the board to place a piece, and place three pieces of the same type next to each other to construct a piece of the next level. Rinse and repeat until you get a black orb. Let me know when you’re done and what you thought!


I made a game! Or more accurately, I made a copy of some of the mechanics in Dan Cook‘s Triple Town. The game is so fascinating that I had to study it in more detail. While I know that this could be a bit of an issue – Cook rightly brought action against 6waves for Yeti Town – I’d try to make it clear that my case is different because of the form and the purpose. First, it’s not for sale and I’m not making any money from it. It’s simply an exercise in understanding the mechanics that Cook has included in Triple Town. Second, it’s incomplete – it’s not a replacement for the original game and I hope that if anyone does play it, they’re compelled to try out Triple town to see what else Cook has included.

If it is such shaky ground, why bother copying it at all?

Copying is a great technique for learning about something. There are details that you’d miss when you just try to look at the original – quirks of the production that give you a better insight into why something was made in the first place. It also puts you in a better position to think about what other directions an idea could take – tweaking a color here, a number there or introducing a slightly different mechanic. If you do enough copying you can start to understand the mindset that creates stuff like the original, and start to explore ideas that are similar to  – but distinct from – the work of the the originator.

Why copy Triple Town?

So that’s why I like to copy stuff in general – but in the case of Triple Town it was necessary because Cook’s work is so unique. Triple Town has a fantastically simple rule-set that still creates a huge amount of depth. The three-grasses-to-make-a-bush, three-bushes-to-make-a-tree mechanic goes an incredibly long way. The occasional bonus piece like the wildcard crystal or other powerups add a little randomness and ga glimmer of hope to otherwise hopeless scenarios. The thin layer of narrative on the top isn’t necessary to understand the game but it definitely makes it more enjoyable, and the rendering of the bears turns them into an object of frustration and dread far beyond their actual impact in the game. This is a common theme running through all of Cook’s games – while other people are definitely making excellent games as entire packages, I think that he’s probably the best new mechanic designer working at the moment.

So what did you  learn?

The first thing is probably the most obvious, particularly to anyone who has played any successful mobile games over the last couple of years: Keep the core experience simple, and make sure it’s fun. This approach is not only cheaper to produce games with but ultimately more entertaining.

The second is that the level of polish on the experience matters a lot to people’s sense of quality, particularly non-gamers. For a long time I had plain, colored squares as the set pieces and while it was still Cook’s entertaining mechanic, it was much harder for anyone else to come in and enjoy the outcome of it. While the current appearance I’ve got on Triple Copy is still really abstract, people respond to it a lot better now.

Third, the scale of the world you play within matters a lot. The real Triple Town is played on a maximum of a 6×6 board and my initial reason to make a copy was to understand what it would be like playing with a lot more room. It’s definitely interesting – the greater amount of room leaves more room to make mistakes and understand what does and does not work about certain strategies. The feedback between trying something out and seeing its success or failure becomes tighter and renders the system more learnable.

I was fascinated to realize that more learnable doesn’t always mean more fun, though;  it was the first time I had seen such a clear example of ‘flow’ – the concept that there’s an optimum level for difficulty and progress to keep people engaged in a game. The increased size of the board reduces the difficulty and lays some of the meta-mechanics bare in a way that takes a lot longer without such a wide open test-bed.

The popular success of so many games will pivot on a single hook – and some of those hooks can be ugly when you get close to them. The ‘appointment mechanic’ is really just exploiting a player’s compulsion to finish what they started, irrespective of the time it takes. It’s often intensified with the threat to shame players by parading their unfinished or ruined efforts in front of their friends. The ‘collection mechanic’ feeds off the same compulsion by highlighting just how much better a set of things would look if someone were to just go to the effort of completing the collection. While Triple Town has recently included these mechanics, they’re by no means central to the game – the core is fun and everything else sort of piles goodness up on top of that already satisfying base.

 Where to from here?

Here are a few directions I’d be interested in exploring further:

  • A competitive multiplayer mode that borrows aspects of Othello to leapfrog off of your opponent’s established base.
  • A (slightly) deeper aspect of resource management that could be incorporated.
    • Ever since my friends and I discovered the no-bases mode for Command & Conquer multiplayer back in 1996, I was struck by the similarity it had to a game of chess , albeit a synchronous, real-time version.
  • To introduce scenarios where the ratios of pieces to choose from varied and the state of existing pieces were slightly more unstable, so things could spontaneously deteriorate or erupt.
There’s just so much to do with such a great base, I’m really looking forward to messing around with it more!

What do you want to do with Triple Town? Does this copy bring up any ideas? Let me know!


One thought on “Study of Dan Cook’s Triple Town”

  1. I’ve also done a similar study around the game mechanisms of Triple Town by adding objectives and a few other things. You can take a look at it at my website:

    There isn’t a tutorial and the UI is all placeholder stuff, but the core concept is explored. Try it out and give some feedback with your thoughts.

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