All Zachtronics games are free for public schools and school-like non-profit organizations.
Before we get to the specifics, one important note. Chances are if you’re an educator who has found this page, it’s because someone said there were free games here. Free things are understandably compelling in the underfunded world of education; however, in this case we want to be sure you understand that these games are probably not the kind of thing you can sit a student in front of without some amount of introduction and scaffolding from a real human being. This isn’t to say you need to have beaten the games (most of our players don’t), but you should at least understand how to play them yourself before introducing them to students.
There are no demos for our games, so your options for evaluation are to either buy a game on Steam and play it on your own computer, or to apply for a license guessing which games would be most appropriate and learn them afterward. Either way, feel free to ask for as many licenses as you need and as many games as you could use. Our aim is to provide as much value to our target institutions as possible.
To get access, please send an email to email@example.com from your organizational email address with the following information:
Like most things in life, there are rules:
I’d like to take this opportunity to admit that, although we think our games can successfully be used as educational experiences for children, we are not children ourselves and do not design games for children. All of our games with ratings have been T-rated by the ESRB and include the occasional swear word and references to violence, sex, alcohol, and drugs (usually in text and not depicted visually, with some exceptions detailed below). Generally speaking, we have no interest in glamorizing or focusing on this content— it’s just that we try to make games about life, and in life these topics come up. I happen to think that this makes our games even more appropriate for children, as they reflect the real views of real adults and are less pandering than other games made for children. Nevertheless, some people may object, so we have attempted to describe this content on a per-game basis below.
SUMMARY: Opus Magnum is an engineering puzzle game about building elaborate alchemical machines that transmute primitive reagents into vital remedies, precious gemstones, deadly weapons, and more. It takes place in an original fantasy world with cunning alchemists, powerful families, and plenty of intrigue. Machines are constructed from mechanical components and then “programmed” with a simple symbol-based system that controls how the machines manipulate and reconfigure the imaginary molecules of alchemical compounds.
CONTENT: Opus Magnum takes place in a fantasy world and contains a few indirect references to violence, sex, and alcohol. It also depicts alchemy, which is essentially made-up chemistry and may offend science teachers.
SUMMARY: Infinifactory is a 3D, first-person engineering puzzle game about building factories for aliens who have abducted the player from their home on Earth. Players can place conveyors, welders, networks of sensors and actuators, and a bunch of other parts to take block-based inputs and turn them into more complex block-based outputs. Like all of our games, it reinforces iterative problem solving and the design feedback loop, but it’s the only one that looks like Minecraft and that’s probably good for engaging with kids.
CONTENT: We have a special “Infinifactory for Schools” version that only runs on Windows but strips out everything that could be considered offensive in the game. You can also request the standard version of Infinifactory, but it is probably one of our less kid-friendly games, as the story is told entirely through voice recordings attached to the spacesuits of people who died while building factories for the aliens who abducted them.
SUMMARY: EXAPUNKS is a programming puzzle game about writing computer viruses in a cyberpunk reimagining of 1997. Players will learn to program using the included printable “hacking zine” TRASH WORLD NEWS and hack a variety of simulated networks including banks, universities, factories, TV stations, highway signs, and game consoles.
CONTENT: EXAPUNKS contains occasional swear words in text (with an in-game option to censor them) and frequent references to hacking the planet, breaking the law, and sticking it to the man.
SUMMARY: SHENZHEN I/O is a programming puzzle game about building and programming embedded systems in the real-life, modern-day city of Shenzhen, China. Using the included printable set of datasheets and application notes, players will build circuit boards using microcontrollers and other integrated circuits and then program them using the game’s custom-designed and easy-to-learn variant of assembly programming. As an engineer at a scrappy Chinese electronics factory, each puzzle is a different product for the player to build, with a story told by the people who design, build, and sell the products of our modern world.
CONTENT: SHENZHEN I/O contains minor references to drugs and alcohol and a little bit of swearing. It takes place in China and includes Chinese characters and situations. Students may acquire an increased sense of the ridiculousness of modern capitalist society.
SUMMARY: Last Call BBS is a collection of retro-styled puzzles, including two solitaire variants, one logic puzzle, a block-matching game, a model kit simulator, and three Zachtronics-style open-ended puzzle games. The standard version of Last Call BBS unlocks these games slowly through the use of a simulated BBS and framing story, but there is also an "educational" version of the game that removes everything except for the logic puzzle and two of the Zachtronics-style puzzles (20th Century Food Court and ChipWizard™ Professional) and unlocks them from the start.
CONTENT: One of the included puzzle games, X’BPGH: The Forbidden Path, has players design "flesh sculptures" and watch cutscenes that may be disturbing. The simulated BBS and framing story both include references to software piracy. These elements have all been removed from the educational version of Last Call BBS. Although most of the puzzles in 20th Century Food Court are about creating food, some have players manufacturing cigarettes (mistaken for food by the in-game characters) and mixing alcoholic drinks. This game is included in the educational version.
DIFFICULTY: 1/5 to 4/5
SUMMARY: MOLEK-SYNTEZ is a symbolic programming game about constructing real-life organic molecules using a futuristic molecular synthesis device called, appropriately enough, the MOLEK-SYNTEZ. It's a lot like Opus Magnum but with chemistry instead of alchemy and a darker, more minimal presentation.
CONTENT: All of the molecules in MOLEK-SYNTEZ are real. Perhaps unfortunately, they're also all drugs— some legal, some not. Although it doesn't glamorize (or in any way depict) the use of drugs, it also doesn't moralize against them. There is also occasional swearing.
SUMMARY: TIS-100 is a programming puzzle game about writing assembly code to repair an old computer from your recently deceased uncle that may or may not be haunted. It includes a printable manual that teaches players how to program and introduces concepts like assembly code, registers, and parallel programming. This is the first of our three “assembly programming games” and was sold as “the assembly programming game you never asked for.”
CONTENT: The story in TIS-100 is very minimal and is limited to notes from the last person who tried to figure out how to fix the computer. It’s a little spooky, but probably doesn’t contain anything that would offend most people.
SUMMARY: Eliza is a visual novel about an AI counseling program, the people who develop it, and the people who use it. For those unfamiliar with visual novels, they are essentially linear stories presented in an interactive format with character art, voiceover acting, and music. We primarily make games about technology, and although this game is not a puzzle game (unlike everything else on this page) it's still a story about technology, and depicts contemporary attitudes and perspectives toward software development and mental health.
CONTENT: The Nintendo Switch version of Eliza was previously rated T (for teens) because of some profanity and references to alcohol and sexuality, until it was discovered that it contains the word "fuck" a few times, which automatically bumps you up to an M rating. This is a “mature” story in that it’s about living in the world around us that actually exists, so we still believe that it's appropriate for teens.
SUMMARY: SpaceChem is a visual programming game about chemistry and space monsters. It's our oldest commercial game, and although it has a dedicated fanbase it's actually quite difficult to learn and is visually outdated, so I usually recommend against using it. People have asked for it, though, so I wanted to make it clear that yes, it's technically available as part of this program.
CONTENT: The SpaceChem story includes a small amount of spooky violence on account of the space monsters, like someone's head exploding. It's all told through text, however, so if someone were to come across that scene, at least they'd be reading!