Free (or Nearly Free) Brain Games for Your Phone or Tablet
Snag these new and classic mobile games, all of which are free (or close to it). Photo: kupicoo/Getty Images
Not only are games an entertaining way to pass the time, but the popular “Puzzle” category at your favourite app store can also help keep your brain active. In doing so, studies have shown these digital diversions can help improve memory and sharpen problem-solving skills. In much the same way as physical activity promotes muscle strength, playing puzzle games exercises your grey matter.
And talk about popular: While Wordle is a website opposed to an app, it was the most popular trending search of 2022, according to Google.
If you’re looking for something new to download and play, the following five suggestions are available for both iOS (iPhone, iPad) and Android phones and tablets.
Picture Cross Color (Free)
If you’ve never played a “Picross” game before — also referred to as “Nonograms” — these logic puzzles are a blast.
You’re presented with a blank grid, but along the margins are clues as to which blocks are a certain colour. Through deduction and process of elimination, you’ll figure out how many blocks need to be “painted” with your fingertip.
If correct, you’ll solve the puzzle and be rewarded with a picture. Complete several pictures to unlock a much bigger canvas, with an animated scene.
A “World Tour” mode features popular destinations to virtually visit from around the planet.
Picture Cross Color is free to play, but with the option to unlock extra content or remove advertisements.
Inspired by M.C. Escher drawings, hocus. is a minimalist game that has you navigate a cube through a series of optical illusions to complete the puzzle.
Your goal is to move the red square towards the red hole by rotating the shape with your finger — but which way is up?!
There are 120 main handcrafted levels to tackle. And should you want more, you can try your skill with the “Endless” mode or download others created by other players of the game. Or, why not try the level builder yourself to design and share your own puzzles?
This independent game enjoys soothing music and sounds, and as a bonus there are no ads.
Really Bad Chess (Free)
Fans of classic games — with a twist — should tap through Zach Gage’s Really Bad Chess, a fresh take on the beloved centuries old game of wits.
What makes this version unique is randomized pieces, such as eight knights, four bishops and three pawns. And yes, your opponent will have something completely different, too.
Designed for beginners and pros alike, this new approach to an old game lets you play against the game’s artificial intelligence (AI) or your friends online — including daily and weekly challenges.
There’s also a version of the game for those who subscribe to Apple Arcade, a $5.99 per month subscription service that gives you more than 250 games to play — and none of them contain ads or in-app purchases.
Garden Tails (Free)
Fans of “Match-3” puzzlers (like Candy Crush Saga) can play a game that adds a fantasy gardening theme and collectable component to the core mechanic.
And you don’t need a green thumb to fall for this game’s charming premise, graphics and gameplay.
You’ll swap adjacent flowers and other items to eliminate them from the board, while “power-ups” like birds and butterflies can help break branches (freeing your trapped flowers), uncovering vegetables and digging up soil to clear the level.
You’ll earn points for your actions, which can be used to plant new foods (like corn and tomatoes), add fancy flower beds and introduce creatures to roam your spaces. There’s cute dialog between the animals, too.
Once you complete a garden, you unlock a new one.
Puzzle Page (Free)
If you like games like crossword puzzles, word searches, Sudoku, jigsaw puzzles, Codeword, and the above-mentioned Picture Cross, one freebie called Puzzle Page has it all in one place.
As the name suggests, Puzzle Page is not unlike a page of games in a newspaper, with a variety of puzzles to play that day. And, you get a fresh batch the following day. But at any time, go back in the in-game calendar and play a previous day’s collection. You can even filter by puzzle type.
Along with several number, word and picture games, there are daily challenges, unlockable “achievement” trophies and rewards.
A version of this story was published on January 6, 2023