Five Threes tips to have you matching like an expert

As I mentioned on the iMore Show this week, I'm thrilled that Threes won Apple's Best Game of the Year. It's been one of my favorite idle-hands games throughout 2014, and I'm very glad to see it get time in the spotlight — hopefully this will once and for all cement its place above 2048 (a less-charming Threes clone that overtook the original in popularity due to its free download).

Threes is a delightful little puzzler that requires little knowledge to begin, but lots of skill to master. The base game asks you to match 1s and 2s together; when you start making higher numbers — each represented by adorable little chibi-faces on the bottom of the tiles — you'll want to mash those together to create even bigger integers. All this takes place on a four-by-four grid, with a long looping tune by Jimmy Hinson that I guarantee will get stuck in your head.

It's easy enough to rack your way up to 48, 96, or even 192 as a beginner, but if you want to unveil some of Three's larger, quirkier numerical characters, you'll want to play with a few strategies in mind. So, in honor of Three's ascension to Game of the Year, Here are my favorite five tips for getting the most out of the little puzzler.

1. Focus on matching your 1s and 2s first

Statistically, 1s and 2s are going to come up a lot over the course of your Threes game. As such, plan your board around matching those two together. The last thing you want is a board with all your 1s crowded in the top row and your 2s along the bottom — it's one of the quickest ways to Game Over.

2. Preview swipes are your buddy

As long as you don't lift up after swiping, you can preview matches and directional moves by dragging in one direction and then dragging to the tiles back to their original position before lifting your finger. This is incredibly helpful for seeing how many tiles you can match in one go; after all, the more tiles you match, the more spaces you'll have available for new tiles on the board.

3. Check out what's coming up next

Above your game grid, Threes provides a handy "Next" preview that displays what tile will appear after you swipe. This can help you plan your moves — if a 1 is coming, you can position it to line up with a 2 — and keep you from rushing too quickly into things. The preview pane displays one of four tiles: a blue tile (1), red tile (2), white tile (3), or triple numerical tile (one of the three displayed tiles will appear).

You should also note that new tiles will appear from the direction of your previous swipe — so if you swipe up, expect a new tile to appear from the bottom of the board.

4. The corner strategy will get you far (but don't be afraid to deviate)

Almost a year later, the corner strategy is still my go-to plan for a game of Threes. It's pretty much what the name says: Build your board in such a way that your biggest number lives in a corner on the board. It does limit your movement, but it tends to stack up numbers in a way that makes for quick combos and big scores. I prefer top left, though I know others like working from bottom right.

When you get down to the wire and only have one or two moves left, though, don't be afraid to move that giant number out of the corner — if it means prolonging your play time and potentially getting out of a game-ending hole, it's worth it.

5. Turn on Boost mode to try and get the super-numbers

Once you've been playing for awhile, you can use Threes's Boost mode to really try and rack up the points. Turning on "Start With Boost" from the Game Options menu will let you begin new games with a high-numbered tile already on the board, thereby building up your score more quickly. The tile pops up randomly on the board, making it a little harder to work into the corner, but it's still doable if you want to work that strategy.