30 Years of ‘Minesweeper’ (Sudoku with Explosions)

On October 8, 1990, Microsoft put the brakes on global productivity by launching Minesweeper as part of the Microsoft Entertainment Pack for Windows. It was aimed at those using Windows 3.0. Over the past 30 years, Minesweeper has delighted millions of people with its simple yet deep strategy gameplay. Here’s why people love it.

The secret? Strategic and addictive gameplay

Minesweeper is a logic puzzle game set in a grid-based minefield. The goal is to clear (reveal) every square on the grid without accidentally clicking on a mine – and to do it as quickly as possible. When you reveal squares, clues appear as numbers that represent the number of mines located in the eight adjacent squares surrounding them.

Along the way, you can mark where you think the mines are located with a flag with a simple right click of your mouse. Be careful though! If you click even one mine by accident, the game is over.

Even if you hit a mine, it’s hard to give up once you figure out the basic digital strategy of the game. Minesweeper makes you feel smart, but the thrill of danger is palpable. It’s a bit like Sudoku with explosions. So you try again and if you are successful you might want to reduce your score by a few seconds.

You are now in the addictive grip of the minesweeper.

The origins of the minesweeper

Microsoft’s minesweeper was originally called Mine and was created by Microsoft employees Robert Donner and Curt Johnson. Donner based his game on Johnson’s previous OS / 2 game, and the two were originally only distributed among friends.

Shortly after the development of Windows 3.0, Microsoft Product Manager, Bruce Ryan, decided to put together a set of games it would encourage personal computer users to buy Windows. Ryan appealed to Microsoft employees, and Robert Donner submitted Mine. After some minor changes to the graphics, the renowned Minesweeper was born.

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As we mentioned above, Minesweeper made its commercial debut in 1990 as part of the Microsoft Entertainment Pack for Windows. Back then, Windows 3.0 was not quite 5 months old. The pack included six games (Cruel, Golf, Minesweeper, Pegged, Taipei, Tetris, TicTactics) and the IdleWild screensaver.

The Microsoft Entertainment Pack for Windows box, circa 1990.

The minesweeper became the most popular in Microsoft offices (and in a collection that included Tetris, that’s quite a feat). In 1994, The Washington Post reported that Bill Gates was once so addicted to minesweeper, he removed it from his computer, then snuck into a coworker’s office to play it.

This popularity could explain why Microsoft decided to include the minesweeper with Windows 3.1 during its expedition in 1992 (expelling the Suddenly difficult reversal, In the process).

Once Minesweeper became a pack-in game for Windows, millions of people around the world played it and it became a household name. And it got even bigger than that! Microsoft included Minesweeper with every version of Windows from 1992 to 2009 (Windows 3.1 through Windows 7). It is therefore possible that hundreds of millions of people have played minesweeper over the past three decades.

It’s deeper than it looks

Anyone who’s even played Minesweeper knows that getting into solitaire isn’t that easy. This is because, despite its simple appearance, it is a very deep strategy game, so much so that people play it competitively in tournaments around the world.

Almost anyone with a basic knowledge of minesweeping strategy can clear a tough field, with enough time (and a little luck). The main competitive challenge in Minesweeper is to clear a difficult minefield in as little time as possible.

In the quest for the ultimate minesweeper score (a low time on a difficult minefield), diehard players have identified sets of models which, once memorized, can dramatically reduce your time.

Advanced players have also identified techniques, such as the 1.5 click, which allow players to reveal mines faster. Some even completely forgo the use of flags to save time when filling a field.

If you are just a casual minesweeper enthusiast, don’t let these advanced techniques deter you from playing the game at a leisurely pace, you can still have fun taking your time.

Minesweeper Trivia

Here are some fun facts and tips about this popular game:

AT cheat in Windows 3.x version, type “xyzzy”, press Shift + Enter, and then press Enter again. A small dot will appear in the corner of the screen which turns black each time you hover your mouse over a square with a mine.
The Italian version of Windows 2000 included a version of Minesweeper called Prato Fiorito (“Field of flowers”). He was presenting flowers instead of mines due to pressure from an organization called The international campaign to ban Winmine.
The Windows Vista version of Minesweeper included the possibility to use flowers instead of mines in some areas, with the default set to flowers in others.
According to Guinness Book of World Records, the fastest combined time to complete all three challenges in Minesweeper is 38.65 seconds, set by Kamil Murański of Poland in 2014.

How to play minesweeper today

Starting with Windows 8, Minesweeper (and Solitaire) became optional apps available in the Microsoft Store. The game is still available on Windows 10, but it’s now riddled with distracting in-game ads. However, it does include Xbox Live login features and a notable “Adventure” variation, set in a series of caves with gold, monsters and arrows.

RELATED: What happened to solitaire and minesweeper in Windows 8 and 10?

If you prefer to play a classic free version of Minesweeper, there is several available online. A popular version among competitive players is Minesweeper X. It includes both the classic Windows 3.x look and new skins that change the look of the game. It can also keep detailed stats and export them to a spreadsheet if you are a serious gamer.

If you want to try the original Windows 3.x version of Minesweeper, you can run an emulated version directly in your browser, thanks to the Internet Archive. We also host an ad-free web version of Minesweeper (and Solitary, also).

Whichever version you play, you are sure to get hooked once you understand the basics. Happy birthday, minesweeper!

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