Release Date: 2023Players: 1-2
Designer: Brandon McCoolLength: 15-30 minutes
Artist: Jason BolesAge: 10+
Publisher: Envy Born GamesComplexity: 1.5 / 5
Plastic (by weight): 10%Air (by volume): 25%

The system was slowing down. It was becoming noticeable. Booting up, opening applications and opening files was taking a lot longer. Even the memory swap was clearly not as fast as it used to be. The reason was simple: the file blocks were all over the place. The solution was just as simple: it was time to Defrag by Brandon McCool from Envy Born Games.

Defrag Nostalgia

Yes, here is a throwback to the 80s. Think of spinning hard discs and the burden of regularly defragging your drive to improve the overall performance of your Windows 95 system. OK. Many of you probably have no idea what I’m talking about, given the prevalence of SSD and the lightning speed of storage these days. Windows 10 and 11 are the new norm.

Even so, files are still stored in blocks, which can end up being sprinkled across the far corners of your storage medium, The difference is that getting to these blocks is now a lot faster. So having to re-arrange blocks into sequential order is no longer a thing. Yet, that’s exactly what Defrag is emulating. So maybe as a child of the 80s, I’ll have a distinctive advantage over you younger whipper snappers when playing this solo or two-player game.

As soon as I looked at the box, I knew what I was going to be faced with – and I wasn’t disappointed. There are plenty of pixelated icons inside crude windows with dark blue title bars on a dull turquoise desktop background. The graphic style is perfect and really suits the game. Just by looking at the cards’ illustrations, I could hear in my head my hard drive whirring noisily as it was defragging.

So if you grew up during the days of Windows 3.1 and beyond (or before), like me, you will feel right at home. If you have a more recent release date, then Defrag will probably feel very retro and hopefully a little cool to you.

a nine-by-nine grid of square cards, with the middle card missing
Defrag’s art style is very Windows 3.1

Solo Defragging

Either way, the game is for people who love clever puzzles designed around 18 cards. Defrag is a solo game at heart. There are ways to play it with two people, but you’ll need the extra deck of cards and having tried it myself, it doesn’t feel quite as satisfying to me. As the Kickstarter page itself says “Defrag shines as a solo game” and I couldn’t agree more. As you might know, I’m not really much of a solo gamer, but Defrag became rather addictive quite quickly for me.

However, you have to work your way through the rulebook first. It’s not a particularly long one, but it feels it could be organized a bit better. There are some things mentioned at the end, that I think would have been better earlier on in the rules. Yet, it’s not a chore and things will start to click once you start playing. I did refer back to the booklet a few times during my first game, but after that, I could play without any help.

Your goal is to play cards to manipulate eight cards in a 3-by-3 grid so that you end up with a stack of them to score points. Now you wonder why there are only eight cards in the grid that has room for nine. Well, there is always one space and that’s where you place your card. Later on in the game, you can potentially end with only seven cards out, but usually it’s eight.

You always have to choose from two cards, with every card being double-sided. That effectively gives you four options. Most cards allow you to move another card in the same row or column in a certain direction, hopefully stacking on top of it, which represents you defragging that file.

Simple Mind Bending Puzzle

It’s all pretty simple, yet making the right decision can be a tough choice, especially as the game progresses. You play through the draw deck four times, scoring for a different file type each time. So while you have your pick to start with, you have to make sure you get the right file type defragged in the last round. A bit of planning ahead will go a long way. Try and get the cards into a good position for the next round, if you can. Future you will definitely thank you.

That slowly increasing level of difficulty as you play is really clever. You start Defrag feeling like you’re the master of your hard drive. Everything goes in your favour. You end the first round having made a huge impact on the speed of your computer. Yet, by the fourth round, you’re really starting to wish that you could just bring up a piece of software to do the work for you. Saying that, it never becomes so difficult that you feel overwhelmed. There is always something you can do, even if it won’t score you a lot.

I love the simplicity of the rules that lead to such a clever puzzle, all from 18 cards. Defrag really appeals to the visual puzzler in me. Trying to move cards into the right position is something I really enjoy. It is similar to placing tiles in the perfect place, just a tad more challenging.

some of cards from Defrag and the dry-erase marker and scoreboard
maybe not a high-score table, but the dry-erase marker and scoreboard are a nice touch

Defrag Complete

As a product, Defrag really shines. It comes with a dry-erase marker and board to record your score. The card stock is of good thickness and quality. The art style is really fitting. Everything fits into a small box, with relatively little air in it.

The only niggle I have is that there are no cut-outs for your fingers on the lid. So opening the game box is a bit tricky. I worry that I’ll tear the box as I try to prize the lid off. It’s a little detail that I think is quite important. It would elevate the experience for me that little bit more.

At the same time, there is a lot in the box. If you ever get bored with the base game, there is a whole campaign book you can play through. It starts quite simple, but the later scenarios get more and more crazy. They’re well worth a try if you’re after a new challenge.

So, overall, Defrag is a really fun game. It’s the sort of game that I’m likely to have with me and play while out and about. It does take up a fair bit of space, but it’s not too bad. So while Defrag probably won’t fit on a bus or train table, it’ll be fine in a coffee shop or at a picnic table.

As someone who doesn’t play solo games much, Defrag is a really pleasant surprise and that is high praise indeed. If you fancy an 80s-themed 18-card game, then definitely give it a go and maybe have an 8-bit soundtrack playing in your headphones while you play.

Useful Links


Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.
  • I was sent a free review copy of this game by the publisher.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

This review uses these sounds from freesound:
“hard disk drive IBM (1999)” by user “viertelnachvier” ( licensed under CCBYNC 4.0

8-Bit March by Twin Musicom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.



These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this review:

Leave a Reply

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