July 29, 2005

Five addictive open source games

Author: Dmitri Popov

You can use open source software to make yourself more productive, but the open source community has also produced some impressive game titles, such as Freeciv, Vega Strike, and Flight Simulator. I've found some lesser-known yet excellent and quite addictive games for you to try. All of these games have low system requirements and run on multiple platforms, including Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X.


BOXit is a simple Java-based puzzle game, where you have to remove tiles with the same color or value by dragging tiles one over another. The trick is that you can only remove tiles that are on the same row or column. The goal of the game is to remove as many tiles as possible. The game stops when you have no more moves left. The fewer tiles left on the board, the higher the score you get. Ideally, you will have only one tile left, but that's not as easy as it sounds, and achieving the goal requires some logical thinking. Depending on your skills, a game can take 10 minutes to half an hour, which makes it a perfect game for a lunch break or train commute.


StroQ is another "simple" puzzle game, where you have to draw a single continuous line -- the stroke -- from one square to another. When you run the puzzle by pressing the F5 key, white and black squares along this line will flip over (white become black, and black become white). The puzzle is solved when all the tiles in each row have the same color.

StroQ features a wide collection of puzzles (some are really tough to solve), and you can download a new puzzle every day using the Puzzle of the Day command.


If you want to play Scrabble on your computer, look no further than Java-based JDuplicate. Scrabble is a multi-player game, and JDuplicate allows you to connect to a JDuplicate server to play with other users and even chat with them. You can connect to the official server, which is provided as the default with the JDuplicate client, or you can set up your own server and play Scrabble on a local network. JDuplicate supports English, Russian, and French, and you can easily add other languages.

Because of copyright restrictions, JDuplicate comes with only one English word list. However, you can easily add other word lists, provided you run your own JDuplicate server. Simply save the word list in plain text format with the .LST extension and place it in the data > dictionaries folder.

JDuplicate lets you play Scrabble and Duplicate, which is especially popular in France. In Duplicate, all players have the same hand and play every turn. The best scoring move from all players is applied on the board, and each player is awarded the number of points that his move would have scored.


If you like fast-paced tactical battle games, try netPanzer. This multi-player game allows you to join one of the available servers, or set up your own. The main objective is to occupy outposts and destroy enemy tanks. Although your strategy for each game will vary, you can start by occupying outposts. Since the occupied outposts can act as production facilities, you can use them to produce tanks.

Each tank has its own key characteristics: hit points, attack power, attack range, speed, and reload time. Using this information you can form tank armies, destroy enemy tanks, and occupy more outposts. The game also includes power-ups, which look like rotating lightning signs. If you can acquire a power-up, you get a bonus, such as additional tanks, the ability to view enemy tanks on the map, or increased speed for your own tanks.

Playing netPanzer with others can be fun, but what if you don't have an Internet connection, or you want to play against the computer? In that case, you can launch netPanzer's own server and activate bots with the command
netpanzer -d & netpanzer -b localhost & netpanzer -b localhost & netpanzer.
This will start the server, two bots, and the netPanzer application. In the main menu, choose multi-player. Then type localhost in the server IP address field, and press Next. Now you can play a game offline against two bots.


As the name implies, jRisk is a Java-based computer version of the well-known turn-based strategy board game Risk, so if you've ever played conventional Risk, you already know the basics. However, jRisk adds a couple of additional tweaks to the original game. Notably, the application allows you to play three different types of games: Domination, Capital, and Secret Mission. Unlike conventional Risk, jRisk offers six map views; besides the familiar Continents view, you have Ownership, Border Threat, Card Ownership, Troop Strength, and Connected Empire. These views help you keep tabs on your empire, detect threats, and manage your troops more effectively.

jRisk features a visually appealing interface as well as a selection of different maps, which add another dimension to the game. If you are connected to the Net, you can join an existing jRisk game or you can start your own server. Starting the server is as easy as pressing the Start Server button, and other players can then join the server on port 4444. When you're not online, you can play jRisk against artificial intelligence players.

Dmitri Popov is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Russian, British, and Danish computer magazines.

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