2048 starts easy; gets hard. Here's how to make it easy again
The Threes-like puzzle game sucks you in by making it seem easy to hit the magic number. Turns out, though, that it actually is easy -- if you understand the game's logic.
Nick StattFormer Staff Reporter / News
Nick Statt was a staff reporter for CNET News covering Microsoft, gaming, and technology you sometimes wear. He previously wrote for ReadWrite, was a news associate at the social-news app Flipboard, and his work has appeared in Popular Science and Newsweek. When not complaining about Bay Area bagel quality, he can be found spending a questionable amount of time contemplating his relationship with video games.
Like the popular iOS and Android puzzler Threes from which it borrows its core concept, 2048 is a game as much about numbers as it is about space.
You have a limited number of free squares, and each move introduces another tile into the mix. But combine like numbers into their sum and you've opened up the board for the new tile and simultaneously progressed a little further toward your goal of making a magic 2048 one, a feat accomplished by combining two 128's into a 256 and two 256's into a 512 and so on.
The HTML5 game, which can be played in a mobile or desktop browser for free, took off earlier this month when 19-year-old Italian programmer Gabriele Cirulli published it on GitHub, playable on a standalone site for mobile and desktop. He claims it's borrowed from the iOS app 1024, yet that game itself is a self-described free version of Asher Vollmer's Threes, so all three exist in a similar family of addictive, math-based puzzlers.
But where 2048 differs substantially from Threes, an admittedly far more difficult game with a steeper learning curve, is in its addictive conceit. 2048 is difficult -- and you don't realize that until you first progress far into the game; whereas Threes will aggressively remind you that you must keep the board from clutter. In fact, I've gone one game in Threes earning as much as 10,000 points to my next where I earn in the low triple-digits, moving too quickly and mindlessly to realize I'd made fatal mistakes so early on.
It's that antithetical challenge curve of 2048 that keeps you coming back. For one, it's actually difficult to lose for the first few minutes of play unless you have absolutely zero strategy. Not only does that let you progress far into the game very early on -- a 512 tile can be unlocked in under a minute if you move fast enough -- but it instills in you, like the infamous Flappy Bird, a notion that this game can't be that hard. Yet, get far enough and everything seems to fall apart before your eyes, possibly with an elusive 1024 tile onboard that makes you kick yourself and start again.
So how exactly does one succeed at 2048? It's fairly easy in fact to reach the end the same day you pick up the game. It takes simple strategy, a knowledge of when to alter that strategy, and, unlike Threes, requires almost no luck whatsoever.
Build into a corner
The first step with all these Candy Crush-meets-Sudoku number games is to understand that the corner is your best friend. For me, it's the upper left. It's just how I play, and any of the corners will do. That strategy lets you build toward a singular tile without moving it around and disrupting your ability to merge it with other large tiles when the time comes.
The key, however, is to understand that this limits your movements. In my case, that means I should only be swiping to the direction of my corner -- that is, left and upward -- to merge tiles. Never pull in the opposite direction of your largest tile -- meaning down for an upper left or right tile and up for lower left or right tile -- unless you absolutely have to. In most cases, that's never needed.
This strategy hits a snag early on though when you discover that using two directions exclusively reaches gridlock pretty fast.