Zach Gage's Pocket-Run Pool

Zach Gage is one of my favourite game designers currently working. Calling him just a game designer feels reductive; his own chosen title of “conceptual artist” is closer to the mark. But while he's not creating a clock that plays a Super Mario Bros. speedrun at a clip of one frame per second for 25 years or a screensaver that pulls questions appended with “asking for a friend” from Twitter to bemusing/wistful effect, he's making some of the funnest, stickiest mobile games out there.

Gage specializes in taking well-worn casual game mainstays (word puzzles, chess, solitaire) and twisting them in small, clever ways. Often these are simple mechanical tweaks; Really Bad Chess gives players one king and 15 other random pieces to duke it out with, while Sage Solitaire elegantly splits the difference between classic Klondike and poker. His latest game Pocket-Run Pool is his version of an arcade-style billiards game, with rotating pocket multipliers and three lives (i.e. scratches) to clear the table. As with all of Gage's work, Pocket-Run Pool is dirt-simple at first glance. But continued play will reveals a game of surprising depth; the constrained rack (10 balls instead of the usual 15) and the novel scoring system both give a new strategic angle to the kind of game I'd kill hours on in the bad old days of Windows 98. Ever since I bought it, I have found myself chaining game after game after game, and before I know it, 45 minutes have passed. That's about as good an endorsement you can give a mobile game.