Game Review: Clean Up Your Hard Drive with “Defrag”

defrag puzzle card game - boxEvery file, picture, video, and document on your computer’s hard drive is composed of a chain of tiny blocks of data, spread across the storage device. Over time, these chains get interwoven with other file chains, making the file storage a spaghetti-like mess. Delete a file and its blocks then become available for the next file created. Over time, hard disks become a chaotic mess! That’s why as early as Windows 95, PC users were encouraged to run “defragment” utilities to reorder the blocks and speed up disk access. It was a slow, complex, and tedious task best left to run overnight, but when it worked, it did speed things up.

Today, we’re lucky because most of our storage is memory-based, not hard drive-based, and Solid-State Drives (SSD) don’t need to be defragged. But what about in the old days and for people still using physical hard drives? Really, how hard was it for a defrag utility to move everything around, tens of thousands of blocks of data, for an optimal disk layout? Pretty dang hard, actually!

Enter the fun, pocket-size puzzle game Defrag, designed by Brandon McCool and published by Envy Born Games. You’ll travel back to the glory days of 1995 and Windows 95, when there were four basic types of files, Notepad, Paint, Graph, and System. Your mission: move data blocks (cards) around to consolidate each file type, round by round. There are some special actions you can take that can help, but fundamentally this is a tile placement and movement game.


The game fits into a box that’s about the size of a 3.5″ floppy drive (well, maybe a bit thicker, but it’s still pretty small) and consists of rules, advanced scenarios, 18 double-sided cards, a scorecard, and a dry-erase marker:

defrag puzzle card game - all components

You can see that the box includes a molded insert that keeps everything neat and organized, something I greatly appreciate in any size game! There’s lots of wry color text and information included, with amusing commentary like “Has the Internet fad already fizzled?” and “You’ve been waiting 15 minutes for a lousy JPEG to load”, reminders of how far our tech has come since the first Mac and Windows systems were released!

The initial setup has you placing out eight cards in the following layout:

defrag puzzle card game - initial grid setup

The 3×3 grid (minus the center card) is the “disk”, the two cards at the bottom are our hand, the card on the right is in the “recycle bin” and the stack of cards on the left is the draw deck. A standard game runs for four rounds, each focused on a particular type of file you’re trying to consolidate or “defrag”: Notepad, Paint, Graph, and System. Each card has 8 orientations, 4 on each side. Initial placement requires that they be oriented so that the game’s name is readable in the center, but cards in the grid can then be rotated if the placed card matches the adjacent symbols on the card you want to rotate.

This will all make more sense with a closer view of the cards:

defrag puzzle card game - close up two cards

Clockwise, the left card has 1 Notepad, 2 Paint, 1 Graph, and 3 System icons on the edges, while the right card has 3 Notepads, 2 Graph, 1 Graph, and 2 Paint. The larger box in the center shows the two possible actions that a card adjacent to this card can do if placed. The left card offers a shift up or recycle, while the right card (which would need to be rotated so that “DEFRAG” is along the top) offers a shift down or recycle. The smaller box below it shows the action on the obverse side (and the tiny, partially greyed-out icons on the corners show the icons that are on the other side of the card).

I’ve oriented the two cards to show how the Paint icons line up here: As long as both icons are the same, the number of icons doesn’t matter, and the adjacent card (but not the card played) can be rotated as desired. Why might you do that? Because perhaps you’ve already defragged for Notepad and the 3 Notepad icons along the top are worthless. Rotate it to be 2 Paint or 2 Graph and you might just get two more points.

The goal of defragmenting is to get all the blocks of a file in a row, and the Defrag version of that is to have them all piled atop each other in one stack. You can see that happening in the below image:

defrag puzzle card game - shift

In this instance, I’ve played the card in the lower center. Since it matches the icon on the left, I could rotate the lower left card, but it already has 3 Graph at the top, so it’s good. The card on its right then utilizes the shift up action (in the center), allowing me to consolidate the 3 Notepad and 2 Notepad cards.


A few turns later, I place the card on the top left. Since it matches the adjacent card that allows me to rotate it from 1 System to 2 System, setting up for a future round:

defrag puzzle card game - new card placed on an edge

The down shift arrow action applies to any one card that’s in the same row or column, even if it’s far away on the grid. I utilize that to shift down a card that’s three spaces away (just out of the above photo). A turn is playing one of the two cards in your hand, including any one rotation, then taking any one action as specified on the played card, followed by picking up a new card from the draw deck to get back to two cards in your hand.

A round ends when you’ve played out all cards in your draw pile and hand. You then score for a specific filetype. For me, the end of round one looks like this:

defrag puzzle card game - end round one

You can see quite a pile of System cards. In fact, it’s a total of 12 System icons on the top edge of the card pile. As long as there are no other cards in the tableau with the same icon at the top, you score those points, shuffle the defragged pile into the new draw pile, then move to the next round.

If you have more than one card in your tableau with the designated icon along its top edge, you score zero points for that file type. Since you get to choose what order you defrag the four types, you can hopefully stumble along if you run out of turns in a round. Problematically, though, if you fail, you won’t be able to use any cards for your new draw deck, which torpedoes the rest of your game. <insert sad trombone sound here>

As with many puzzle games, you need to be planning ahead in Defrag to earn a high score. Notice I’m doing just that in the above photo, with a small pile of Graph cards being assembled on the left, even though I’m scoring Notepad this round.

Scoring is entered on the scoreboard, as shown:

defrag puzzle card game - scoring Notepad

Add the recycled bin card to all cards scored, shuffle them, pull one out to trim the deck, then deal two for your new hand. After the initial setup, the recycle bin is not replenished. Time for another round of playing cards, rotating adjacent cards that have matching icons, and shift specific icons into piles with actions to maximize your score.

There are some special icons and actions I haven’t yet mentioned: On the top right of the above photo, notice the tiny green tree icon. That’s a “File Tree” that allows you to have two discontiguous stacks count as one large stack as long as that file tree icon is at the top of one of the stacks. This can be a lifesaver if you find you otherwise can’t move one of the cards enough to join the rest of a pile. There is also a file folder icon that serves as a wild card, as shown in an earlier photo.

For actions, in addition to the shift up, shift down, shift left, shift right, and related, there are also Network, which lets you move a card from anywhere in the grid to a position in the same row or column as the played card, Recycle, which essentially allows you to swap a card in your hand with the one in the recycle bin, and Save, which lets you remove a card and play it later as if your hand just expanded to three cards instead of two.

Ready for a more challenging game? The Scenario Manual includes quite a few different challenges, including some that are cooperative or competitive (yes, Defrag can also be a two-player game).


As the game progresses, it’s a smart strategy to start building up your next pile even as you primarily focus on maximizing the number of file icons in the main pile. In my Graph counting phase, you can see I’ve started to build System cards too:

defrag puzzle card game - counting graph icons

Things were going well, though my System count was a bit low, but relatively few System cards scored left me with an abbreviated subsequent round. In other words, I had very few options to create a meaningful pile of defragmented Paint icons. Here’s my final grid:

defrag puzzle card game - end game

That’s 7 Paint, or a total score of 12 + 7 + 15 + 8 or 42. Is that good? As with many solitaire games, Defrag has a table so you can assess your score versus what the designer thinks is poor, mediocre, okay, and good:

defrag puzzle card game - assessment of final score 42

42 = “I took C++ in high school. I got a C+”. Harumph.

In the world of solo gaming, these types of tables are beloved by some and ignored by others. I’m in the latter category, preferring to best my previous score rather than try to attain the designer’s specified achievement level. There’s a lot of randomness to the game, of course, based entirely on what cards appear in the beginning, in what orientation, and in what order cards appear in your hand. Defrag is a surprisingly thinky game nonetheless. I often spent a few minutes contemplating all possible moves before placing a card into the tableau and taking the resulting actions.

For a budget puzzle game with a fun theme that can easily fit into your pocket, computer bag, or backpack, Defrag might just be a great addition to your collection (or one to slip into your desk at work). I’m a fan and am ready to shuffle and play another game to beat that score!

Defrag, 1-2 players, 20 minutes, ages 12+. Designed by Brandon McCool with Artwork by Jason Boles & Aaron Wood. Published by Envy Born Games and Roxy Games. $14.99.

Disclosure: Envy Born Games sent me a copy of Defrag for the purposes of this candid review. Thanks!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

dave taylor vertigo film swirl backgroundPlanet Dave is run by Dave Taylor, who has been writing about film, cars, games, and his lifestyle for many years. He's based in Boulder, Colorado and assures readers he's only occasionally falling into a gravity well or temporal distortion field.

Planet Dave via Email!

Read my latest missive in your mailbox, it's what all the cool kids are doing!