The Best IAP-Free Match-3 iPhone Games

A little while back, I started a list of match-three games without any pay-to-win IAP. I didn’t have much success finding games, so I stopped updating it. But in the recent months, I’ve come across some new ones. So I’m starting this list up again, but this time I’ll list only games I think are notable because they do something interesting. I’ll also give a little info on each, what I like and don’t like about them I’m also going to try and include a gameplay video for each. If you’d like more information about them or want to recommend some games to be added to this list, just say so in the comments section.

Hero Emblems – My absolute favorite match-3 RPG is Heatpot’s Hero Emblems. As I said in my 2015 GOTY post, I started off hating it, but soon grew to love it for its depth and difficulty level. It’s the type of game that makes you learn from your mistakes, which sometimes means replaying a dungeon if it doesn’t go well. The game has since gotten updates that make it more mobile-friendly, like a casual mode and quick saves. Sadly, it still doesn’t have an endless arena, so once you complete the (quite lengthy) story mode, there isn’t much left to do.

Muertitos – Hyperbeard’s Muertitos is already over a year old, but I didn’t discover it until it went on sale a few months back. It’s since become one of my go-to games when I need a match-3 fix. It’s all endless, so it can potentially last you forever. It also has a very unique setup that I haven’t seen in other games. You have a 4×4 grid with different monsters coming in from the borders. You’re shown which monster is up next and you have to decide which row or column to place it in. There is quite a bit of luck involved, but that goes for pretty much all match-3s.

Birzzle Pandora – This is another one I found a few years ago when it was on sale and I’ve since put in countless hours on trains into it. It has several different gameplay modes, but my favorite is Ice Break, which has you dropping one bird at a time to match with others of the same color in order to break them out of the ice. It’s a fast-paced game, but highly addictive. I’ll post some gameplay video of this as well.

Color Magnet by The One Pixel

Swap Sword by Alec Thomson is a match-3 roguelike in which your character is on the board and part of the action. It makes for some really interesting mechanics. I definitely recommend checking it out.

Super Glyph Quest – There’s a long story mode, with an endless arena that’s unlocked later in the game, which I really like. The main thing that keeps me from playing this game more is that it’s a bit slow, having to watch all the animations between moves. I like my match-3s a bit snappier. But there’s a lot of depth to the battle system, especially when you unlock all your abilities. There have also been quite a few content updates, including a Christmas quest and a Monument Valley tie-in. So there’s a lot to keep you busy.

Pawn’d – Not perfect, but I’m having a lot of fun with it. The pieces are chess pieces and there are several different game modes to keep things varied. My main complaint is that the queen, rooks and bishops can only move one square at a time, instead of moving along an entire row. But there’s still enough variety with all the pieces to keep me coming back for more.

You Must Build a Boat – I stopped playing this after I completed the story mode, mainly because there are no high score leaderboards. But I’ve been coming back every day now for the new daily challenges that are added. They’re usually pretty challenging, so it’s renewed my interest in the game. If there were leaderboards, I would spend a lot more time on it.

Swapperoo – This is a clever match-three game by Fallen Tree Games that has a little twist in that the main tiles are shaped as arrows and you can only swap them with the tile in the direction the arrow is facing. I’m enjoying the game right now, but my main gripe is that it’s too easy to cheat the system. There are high score leaderboards for each level, but the setup is random each time you play. That means you can keep restarting a level until you get the setup you want. With an endless high-score chaser, this wouldn’t bother me so much. But since these are short levels with specific goals, I think a hand-crafted board for each would have made sense. Still, it’s a unique game worth checking out.
**Update: The game now has an endless mode!

Rings. – This is a match-three where you have a tic-tac-toe board and you place rings of different colors on the board. You match them to clear them and get multipliers for matching several at a time or in quick succession. Surprisingly deep high-score chaser.

Flipped Out: The Power Puff Girls – Its currently a bit buggy, but I’ve been having a lot of fun with this Cartoon Network game. It’s two games in one — match-3 and fighting action. You flip your phone to switch between modes. And what’s nice is that the game is pretty hard to fail at but still difficult to master.

Dungeon Raid – I’ve only recently started playing this. It’s a deep RPG with various unlock-able characters to fit different play styles. I’m still finding my ideal play style. It’s an old game that doesn’t look very pretty, but the depth is holding my interest.

Threes – Might not really be a match-3 so much as a match-2? But a great game that requires a lot of strategy to get truly high scores. I’m still learning!

Stencilsmith – This is also not really a match-3, but it’s an endless RPG high score chaser similar to Threes! It’s not easy, but once you get into the zone, it’s a really satisfying challenge. There are no IAPs, no ads and no currencies of any sort. It’s pure like Threes, where your score improves through skill (and a little luck) and not by grinding or buying your way ahead. There’s also a pixel editor that let’s you change the appearance of the tiles!

Zombie Match Defense – The endless mode is where this really shines for me. You do need to play through the “story” mode and earn all the upgrades to truly compete in the endless mode, though. So there’s a bit of a grind. Also, it doesn’t have a portrait mode, sadly.

Sara and Death – This game is free to download and play the first half, then you can buy the second half for $2.99 if you like it. Other than that, there are no IAPs. It’s a match-4 with the swiping mechanics of Threes, but so far I’ve seen puzzles with specific goals. I’m not sure if there’s an endless mode at any point. The difficulty ramps up pretty quickly, but this just means you need to really think through your moves. It’s quick enough to start over if you mess up, so it feels very user-friendly. I’m really enjoying it so far.

Clockwork Clara – Like Sara and Death, but four endless modes instead. There might be the occasional ads, but otherwise it’s free. Video to come!


Honorable Mentions:

Water Heroes: A Game for Change by Insignio Labs is level-based but offers a bit of a twist compared to other match-threes. You need to collect water droplets, but you create water by combining two hydrogen with one oxygen. Later on, fire, ice and other mechanics are added in, so it gets quite tricky. There’s also a big variety in the objectives of each level, to keep it from getting stale. There are no ads or IAPs, and, perhaps best of all, 50% of the game’s revenue is being donated to the ClearWater Project. So you get a great game and are doing a good deed!

These next few are IAP-free, so I wanted to include them in this list, but they haven’t been able to hold my attention for one reason or another.

Chain Quest – A bit lukewarm on this. It has some great things going for it, but it doesn’t have a portrait mode and it’s a bit too sluggish to really grab my attention. There are also some other aspects that bother me, especially with the UI. I’m going to keep an eye on it and see what the updates bring, though.

The Long Siege – This was interesting for one pay-through. I’m not a fan of how the scores are compiled, though. The leaderboards are based on your score for an entire game, which could go on for days. This means if you play one day while you’re tired and mess up, your entire score will suffer for the several days you’re investing into a single game. This kept me from playing more than the one game.

Twofold Inc. – I just couldn’t enjoy this one no matter how much I wanted to. It felt like too much luck was involved. Some love it, some hate it. Try it if you’re curious!

ASYNC Corp. – Not completely in love with it, but it’s an interesting twist on the genre.

Chesster – I personally don’t enjoy Chesster in its current state, but I like the idea behind it:

Piyo Blocks – A little too flashy for me. It bothers my eyes. But it’s 100% free without ads or IAPs and has three different modes to play.

More coming as I play them!

Haven’t played these yet:

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Forgotten Forest: Afterlife
Kitten Sanctuary
Piyo Blocks 2
Vampire Ventures
Puzzle Quest 2 (The IAPs turned me off from buying it, even though I hear great things about it.)

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