10 Tips to Beat Match-3 Games Without Spending Money

Project Makeover Screenshot
Screenshot from Project Makeover

The first match-3 game I remember was Sweet Tooth on Pogo.com way back in the early 2000s. Since then, we saw the Candy Crush explosion, and now games like Gardenscapes, Lily’s Garden, Matchington Mansion, Project Makeover, and hundreds like them, have millions of downloads.

It’s no secret that these games are addictive, and it can be frustrating to hit a level that feels like you just can’t get past it. So how do you, as the pros say, “Git gud noob” at these match-3 puzzles? Let’s take a look.

Each puzzle generally has an objective, to clear a certain number of colored pieces or collect objects. Along with that, they also have a limited number of moves. At a basic level, your main goal is to collect/clear as many pieces in a move as you can. Here are 10 tips for beating match-3 games without spending money or burning your up-front power-ups.

  1. Look at your objective and the playing field. Super simple right? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve blitzed through a puzzle and failed, only to realize I didn’t need to clear all these objects to win. Be sure you’re not wasting your moves on things you don’t need. And also be sure you’re not missing an objective, like say collecting 20 of a specific color in addition to clearing objects.

    Also, take a look at how the puzzle is set up. Is it laid out to be completed a certain way? Do you need to blitz to the bottom or work both sides at the same time? Do you need to focus on clearing one section first? Do you need to focus on utilizing a mechanic? Considering these will help you not waste moves. Like a good boss fight, it may take a couple of failures to realize what you need to do.
  2. Plan ahead. The goal of each level is to clear all the spaces to you can in as few moves as possible. Look for moves that will cause chain reactions to occur. If you clear this chunk of stars, it will cause these to fall and match and clear more squares – go for it!
  3. Don’t Listen to the game’s suggestion. If you’re idle for more than a few seconds, these games tend to blink a match for you. Don’t fall for it. See if there’s a more productive match somewhere else before you give in. Often, these will tend to point out power-ups, but ask yourself this:
  4. Do you really need that Power-Up? Power-Ups are fun to get and make you feel powerful. However, if you can create a horizontal rocket, but have no use for it, why create it? Did a bomb or color wheel appear? Take a second to consider its usefulness. Can you get more pieces cleared without them? If so, ignore them.

    This also goes for power-ups you can use at the start of your levels. Don’t burn them too early, and weigh whether or not they are that useful in this particular puzzle. There is often an element of luck, which, to me, makes early power-ups fairly useless. You can’t control where they are placed. I almost never use them when I play these types of games.
  5. Hold Power-Ups for Opportune Moments. When a power-up appears in your puzzle, it can be exhilarating to blast pieces off the field. However, will tapping that bomb immediately give you the best bang for your buck? See if you can wiggle it down to a good spot in a move or two. Color wheels (the power that lets you clear a color you cross it with) tend to be more useful in puzzles with lots of pieces. If you get one early in a puzzle clogged with objective items, wait until you can clear a portion of those to use it.
  6. Use Power-Ups to Clear Out Stale Pieces. If you’re short on productive matches, see if you can create a power-up like a color-wheel, bomb, or straight rocket. Use one of these to clear out pieces, and see if you can get some new ones to play with for useful matches. When you clear out sections, there’s also a chance that new pieces falling in will create matches in a chain reaction.
  7. Double Up Power-Ups. One of the easiest ways to save moves is to use as many powerups in a turn as possible. This can be with either combining them or setting off a chain reaction.
  8. Count on it. Have a few different matches or a color wheel ready to go? Count the number of spaces you can expect to clear and take that route.
  9. Don’t rush or get too caught up “In the Zone.” It’s super easy to get on a roll in one section of a puzzle, but take a second between each move to look at the field. Is there a power-up you can make? Did better moves appear on the other side? Weigh your options before you use any valuable moves.
  10. Patience and luck. There is often an element of luck to these puzzles. A puzzle that has given you grief all day may suddenly be cleared with half the moves. Using the above tips can help pull luck on your side.

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