Rune Trails, the latest title from Argentinian developer Quadion Technologies (NineGaps and WordWeaver), is a simple to play, but near-impossible to master pipe-building style puzzle game which involves equal parts skill and luck.

The game plays out in a similar fashion to your standard pipe-building style game, but with a few interesting twists. Runes (tiles) will appear on the board and you must create chains of 5 or more pieces in order to eliminate them from the board. Adjacent pieces must form a contiguous shape in order for them to count toward the chain. On each turn you can only move one piece and then three more runes will randomly appear on the board. A piece can only be moved to another location if it has a clear path of movement. Play continues in this manner until the board completely fills with pieces and you can no longer make a move, ending the game.

To shake things up, there is one exception to the 5+ chain rule as well as some special runes. You do not need to have a 5+ rune chain for it to disappear if you are able to form a shape which both starts and ends at any of the game board’s edges. There are currently 3 special runes consisting of: A silver ball, which when used, will keep new runes from appearing for the next 3 turns. A purple ball, which doubles the score of the chain which is removed, and finally a green ball which triples the score of the removed chain.

Like we said at the beginning, this game really involves equal parts skill and luck and the single move per turn limitation is what makes the game so challenging. You really need to try to plan out several moves ahead if you want to be successful. You can do this (to a point) by keeping an eye on the the preview box in the top right-hand corner of the screen which shows you what the next three runes to drop will be. Although, most likely those plans will be quickly dashed when the game spits out some random rune right in the middle of your nearly completed chain, or one appears which blocks the open path for your chain’s final piece.

On the flip side, for every time random chance deals you a hard blow, it will shine on you as well. You will see plenty of times when some random piece will appear, completing your chain for you, clearing up some valuable board real estate and giving you a bit of breathing room. It is a great feeling when you are on the verge of losing and the piece you need comes dropping in, saving you like a Governor’s pardon.

The games’ graphics look crisp and have a similar feel to the game Wordweaver, which Quadion had a hand in developing as well. They do a nice job at creating a unique branding/theme for the game. We did find the game’s soundtrack to be a bit sleep inducing, but you can start up some music on your iPod before entering the game if you’d rather listen to your own tunes. For those of you big into OpenFeint, there are currently 15 OpenFeint Achievements as well as 730 gamer points which can be earned.

We felt like the game lacked variety, and really wish there were more than one game mode. As it currently stands, you can take as much time as you’d like between moves and can pick up and put down the game at any time, and resume right where you left off. This is fine for the casual player, but sometimes you just want to feel the pressure of having to make moves quickly. So ideally we would like to see another game mode option which speeds up the game a bit forcing you to make moves more quickly, possibly making stupid mistakes in your haste. Fortunately the developer has informed us there will be some big updates coming in the next release, including a new Quick Play mode as well as more special runes and achievements. This Quick Play mode will add a time limit to each move. So you have X seconds to make the move before new pieces appear on the board. After each move, the timer resets. As you progress on the game, the time for each move shortens. Or in other words…just the thing we were looking for!

Rune Trails is simple to pick up and somewhat addicting, often taunting us for just “one more try”. It would be a nice choice for people who enjoy casual puzzle games, especially fans of the pipe-building genre. The exciting updates on the horizon will definitely keep us playing for a while.

Gameplay Video