Effective player guidance in logic puzzles

  • Alice Lynch

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Pen & paper puzzle games are an extremely popular pastime, often enjoyed by demographics normally not considered to be ‘gamers’. They are increasingly used as ‘serious games’ and there has been extensive research into computationally generating and efficiently solving them. However, there have been few academic studies that have focused on the players themselves. Presenting an appropriate level of challenge to a player is essential for both player enjoyment and engagement. Providing appropriate assistance is an essential mechanic for making a game accessible to a variety of players. In this thesis, we investigate how players solve Progressive Pen & Paper Puzzle Games (PPPPs) and how to provide meaningful assistance that allows players to recover from being stuck, while not reducing the challenge to trivial levels. This thesis begins with a qualitative in-person study of Sudoku solving. This study demonstrates that, in contrast to all existing assumptions used to model players, players were unsystematic, idiosyncratic and error-prone. We then designed an entirely new approach to providing assistance in PPPPs, which guides players towards easier deductions rather than, as current systems do, completing the next cell for them. We implemented a novel hint system using our design, with the assessment of the challenge being done using Minimal Unsatisfiable Sets (MUSs). We conducted four studies, using two different PPPPs, that evaluated the efficacy of the novel hint system compared to the current hint approach. The studies demonstrated that our novel hint system was as helpful as the existing system while also improving the player experience and feeling less like cheating. Players also chose to use our novel hint system significantly more often. We have provided a new approach to providing assistance to PPPP players and demonstrated that players prefer it over existing approaches.
Date of Award12 Jun 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorIan Philip Gent (Supervisor), Christopher Anthony Jefferson (Supervisor), Robert Catharine May (Supervisor) & Uta Hinrichs (Supervisor)


  • Constraint programming
  • HCI
  • Game design

Access Status

  • Full text open

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