Grindstone is a game about managing my own greed. Hitting the objective required to beat each level in the Apple Arcade-exclusive puzzle isn’t the most challenging part; it’s knowing when to quit while I’m ahead. My covetous urge to snatch up all the secondary objectives and extra materials has led me to die penniless at the end of a level more than once, and usually it’s all in pursuit of some glittering gems.
Puzzle games, especially on mobile devices, don’t often master the push and pull balance of risk versus reward, but Grindstone always rewards my extra efforts. Capy Games’ unique take on color-matching games sends my burly viking Jorj up an icy mountain, into levels packed full of monsters. With Jorj, my task is to slice through as many monsters of the same color as possible in one turn, moving vertically, horizontally and diagonally through the grid to make the biggest combos. Ten or more in a row and I earn a grindstone, which, when added to the chain, lets me switch to a different-colored monster, extending my combo.
The animation in Grindstone is uniquely cheery and charming, including Jorg’s path of rampage, which renders all the monsters into fuchsia piles of blood with little squares of monster on top.
The premise seems simple, but these docile monsters begin to turn angry the longer I linger on a level. If I end a turn next to an angry monster, it hits Jorj for one of his three measly hit points. The enraged monsters – easy to spot since they’re puffed up and comically furious – slowly pile on after I end every turn, and soon it’s much more challenging to complete a long chain of a single color without ending in a threatened space.
And this is where my greed comes in. Levels in Grindstone don’t end after a set number of turns; they end when you barrel out the exit door at the top of the screen. So I can dawdle as long as I like, smashing open crates, killing bigger monsters that require a chained attack, and collecting additional loot. That is, until the board becomes awash in enraged monsters and I have to flee.
Jorj’s health doesn’t regenerate between levels, which means balancing my choices – and my need to tick every objective and the game’s additional challenges – with my limited health and the growing angry mob of creeps.
But some of the rewards are worth the risk, as I drag back blueprints to the Howling Wolf Inn at the bottom of the mountain, where a toothy armsman and a sphinx cat in an eyepatch fashion the plans into enhancements I can use during each level. Most are single-use gadgets (some recharge at the end of the level, some need to be recharged back at the inn with materials) that won’t overpower Jorj, but add enough oomph that I can call upon them in my hour of need.
Grindstone has a sprawling 150 levels at launch, though I’ve already found myself replaying some to perfect my strategy.
My biggest complaint is one other commuters will appreciate: Grindstone prioritizes its own audio over other things on my device, meaning I can’t listen to Spotify or a podcast while I play. Grindstone is a wonderfully effective time waster, requiring brains without overwhelming me with rules or gotchas. My worst enemy is never one of the well-drawn creatures on the screen, but is instead my own desire for just a little bit more.
Grindstone is now available on Apple Arcade. The game was reviewed using a personal Apple Arcade account. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.