Waypoint Weeklies: Best Mobile Games without Gacha/MTC

Most of us play mobile games, from attractive anime RPGs to Pokémon-themed fitness apps. But these games (and their predatory monetization, in the forms of time-saving microtransactions and addictive gacha pulls) are not the only part of the mobile gaming market.

So today, let’s discuss our favorite mobile games that avoid all of that. Interesting and artistic runners, card games, and puzzles; the best ports of PC and console classics; or the best games that are genuinely free. Even your favorite lost, old versions of games that have since made the move to the modern mobile monetization model.


I think Threes came out in…February 2015? and I’ve been playing it ever since. Super duper cheap, fun to play, still haven’t beaten it yet but that doesn’t really feel like the point. Great way to kill time.

Good Sudoku is aptly named. Technically has a one-time $5 “unlock the rest of this app” fee after the free download but honestly if you just consider it a $5 app it’s a great way to really dig into Sudoku if that sounds like a thing you’re into.


Ooh, I love a good Sudoku… so Good Sudoku sounds perfect, haha. Maybe I’ll borrow my mother-in-law’s iPad to give that one a go. On the same note, the Studio Goya-Cracking the Cryptic collaboration is fantastic if for variants like Miracle, Killer, Chess, and Sandwich sudoku. $5/each, and well worth it.

And for a great free recommendation, 0h h1 and 0h n0 are great versions of Takuzu and Kuromasu.

Quite fond of the Reigns series, as well. Reigns: Her Majesty is my favorite of the three I’ve played, but I am very interested to try Reigns: Beyond if it gets brought to another platform (it came out last November, so I am hoping it was on a one-year Apple Arcade exclusivity sort of deal and will come to Android/Steam soon). It’s written by Xalavier Nelson Jr., so I expect it’s… stellar. /badspacejoke


Monument Valley is a great, lightweight puzzle game with a beautiful aesthetic. wow, that was a 2014 release.

I also enjoyed Golf Peaks a lot. Fun little golf puzzle game. I did get stuck at a certain point late in the game, but enjoyed my time with it.

Solitairica is a neat solitaire roguelite that uses a similar system as a magic/hearthstone type card game. had a lot of fun with it at the time, but once you unlock the 3 extra classes theres less incentive to keep playing.


You mentioned golf which is a good time to plug Desert Golf too


Touch screens were built for turn based strategy and tactics. Off the top of my head, both Firaxis XCOM games, Final Fantasy Tactics, Civilization (Revolution and mainline), and Slay the Spire all work just as well on phones as they do on PC or console.


I’m still using my Apple Arcade free trial, highlights have been:
Dear Reader
Altos Odyssey
Mini Metro
Taiko Pop Cap
Monument Valley
Assemble with Care

Other mobile games I could suggest are 3+ years old:
FTL has a very good mobile port
Pathos is a great free Rogue
Heaven Will Be Mine makes me wish more VNs were on here
Solitairica as mentioned before

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Konami’s Pixel Puzzle Collection is the only phone game I need. I don’t play games on my phone very often but when I do playing a picross puzzle or two is perfect how much time I have.


Never tried Good Sudoku but another Zach Gage game (also a one time $5 unlock I think) that I put a lot of time into earlier this year is Really Bad Chess. I’m not a chess player, I have never really clicked with the game, but Really Bad Chess mixes things up in such a wild way, yet retained the fundamental rules, that I feel like I actually grew to appreciate chess more. Not to the point of actually playing vanilla chess, but in a low key “huh, neat” kinda way.

Because it still flares my RSI, these days I don’t play much else on mobile other than some tsumego apps. There is a decent port of the PC adaptation of Twilight Struggle, maybe iPad only? that game is still solid. I think it technically has in-app purchases but it’s just the promo “turn zero” mini expansion cards IIRC


Seconding Mini Metro and Threes!
Always wanted to get Good Sudoku, but it’s only on Apple for now :cry:

If you want some choice-y procedural narrative stuff some faves are: 80 Days, the Sorcery series, and Bury Me My Love(be warned, this one will mess you up)



its a game of snake except its a roguelike with the class, combination, and buying mechanics from autochess!

also its only 3$

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I use Apple Arcade, and lately I have been all about Tiny Crossword+. I found it when my free trial to the NYTimes crossword app ended. It’s a nice crossword game. And since it’s on Apple Arcade, no microtransactions. Since it’s a + game, it’s an older mobile game that’s been ported to Arcade, and you can see what used to be microtransactions. But they are just free cheats now.

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I had Apple Arcade for a while — Grindstone, What the Golf?, and Card of Darkness were probably my favorites from that run. Bleak Sword was also a very cool touch-only soulslike, which was not something I ever expected to be possible, much less feel good. And the mainstays, I love Monument Valley, and Desert Golfing. Florence is fantastic. Universal Paperclips filled me with existential dread. And though it’s now like three bucks a month to play, GeoGuessr, as a concept and as a developed product, is really, really cool.

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Ticket to Earth is a game that was on my personal top ten of all games in the year its first chapter was released. It mixes grindstone-esque “Draw a line of a color” mechanics with tactics, and a sci-fi heist narrative (that goes to some dark places) told with a striking comic book style. I’ve cooled on it some since, but I definitely think it’s worth a play.

The Room series are puzzlers where the puzzle is pretty tied in with their story. Loved these.

Steamworld: Heist is a really interesting 2d sidescrolling tactics game from the Steamworld series. I think it plays particularly well on mobile because of the skillshot mechanic that feels really good with touch.

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RetroArch. :wink:

OK, but more in the spirit of the question. Here’s some outstanding and mostly challenging puzzle games you can poke at on your pocket slab:

  • Puzzle of Jellies (aka Jelly no Puzzle): Jelly blocks of like color stick together, win a level by combining all the jellies of each color. (Somewhat colorblind-friendly: each color of jelly has a different “face” symbol.) Razor-sharp puzzle design that will frequently put you in that lovely paradoxical mindset of “this is obviously impossible but must be possible.” Highly recommended for Snakebird fans. Free demo with ads, one-time purchase for full ad-free game.
  • Speaking of which, Snakebird is on phones, as is the much easier Snakebird Primer. Direct the snake-like birds / bird-like snakes to eat all the fruit, grow long and escape through a portal. Cute and colorful, and every puzzle is a fascinating new challenge. Free demo, one-time purchase.
  • Any and all Draknek games: A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build has a cool lil monster pushing snowballs to build good snowmen and features at least one surprise. In Cosmic Express you build train tracks in cramped space stations so your monster can take all the weird aliens to their destinations. A Monster’s Expedition (an Apple Arcade exclusive on touchthings) has the monster pushing logs to build bridges, explore islands, and learn about humans. All but Monster’s Expedition are a one-time purchase.
  • Yankai’s Peak is a slick sokoban with pyramids on a triangle grid, which changes more than you might think. Features an odd rotational pushing mechanic and 7 sets of levels that add unique elements. Sadly I don’t believe it’s colorblind-accessible. From the same developer, Twinfold is like Threes but a roguelike. Each is a one-time purchase.
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One of my favorite mobile games was Ridiculous Fishing But it doesn’t seem to work properly on new versions of iOS.

I am also a big fan of mobile versions of board games. They are great for plane travel with my partner when we can pass the phone back and forth. Splendor and Galaxy Trucker have especially good mobile versions including some unique single player content. Potion Explosion, Tsuro, Onirim and Carcassonne also have very fun mobile versions.

Monument Valley 1&2 are also very good. I enjoyed Hitman Go for a while, neat little puzzle game


Before it got gobbled up by Asmodee, there was an iOS version of Carcassonne and my brother and I have been playing against each other for… years? at this point. Probably closer to a decade by now. The only transactions it had were the expansions that came for the board game itself as well. No clue if the Asmodee version is any good, we’ll be playing this version until Apple inevitably kills its compatibility.

Also on the train or sort of having transactions but not really is the Ace Attorney series as well as Ghost Trick. If you’ve never played Ghost Trick but you like the Phoenix Wright games I highly recommend it.

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I’m not so much spotlighting a game as a game developer. Tiny Touch Tales has put out several games I’ve played and enjoyed in the past. It’s sort of the same deal as Good Sudoku, in that you pay once to access the full features of the game, and for me it’s been pretty worth it every time. I’d rather throw down cash for a full game than deal with ads or gacha mechanics. Ones I can speak enjoyment on the most are:
Card Crawl - Solo card based dungeon crawler about traversing a dungeon and fighting monsters and getting coin.
Miracle Merchant - Solo card game about being a fun little alchemist mixing potions for people.
Enyo - Turn-based strategy game about getting to the bottom of a dungeon as a shield-wielding, hook-slinging goddess of war.

Echoing the sentiment that Monument Valley and Monument Valley 2 are very good games. Along the same vein The Almost Gone, a puzzle game about a ghost navigating a series of strange dioramas about her life, is also one I spent some time with and enjoyed quite a bit. Sword and Sworcery is a game where you play as The Scythian, a warrior who is seeking to accomplish great deeds and makes a misstep she must fix along the way. Florence is a game that explores the beginning, middle, and end of a relationship.

Less story based is Lyne, a game about lines. Well, it’s a game about connecting one point to another and not being able to double back. Sometimes, there are also little wheels you need to go though multiple times. All in all, a fun little puzzle game with plenty of levels to keep me entertained.

I’ve been having a lot of fun with mobile games recently, since the ones which keep me offline help me save data in the long run by keeping me off Discord on the bus…


Nobody has mentioned Hoplite that I can tell (I scrolled quick tho). Little roguelike essentially based on peg solitaire. Looks like it’s free to start now with a one-time purchase to unlock the whole game.

I’d second Monument Valley and Monument Valley 2. Both good, beautiful games. Also Downwell, a roguelike I have never come close to beating but still quite enjoy.


The Asmodee version of Carcassonne is good, it has all the expansions as buyable DLC and no other transactions as well. At the end of the day both versions are drawing from the same board game so there isn’t much difference to be found.

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