"Minesweeper" in Windows 3.11.

On Oct. 8, 1990, Microsoft put a dent in global productivity when it released Minesweeper as part of the Microsoft Entertainment Pack for Windows. It was aimed at those who used Windows 3.0. For the last 30 years, Minesweeper has thrilled millions with its simple, but deep, strategic gameplay. Here’s why people love it.

The Secret? Strategic, Addictive Gameplay

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

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

Even if you hit a mine, it’s hard to give up once you grasp the basic numerical 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 succeed, you might want to shave some seconds off your score.

You’re now in Minesweeper’s addictive grasp.

The Origins of 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 earlier OS/2 game, and both were originally only distributed among friends.

The failed "Minesweeper" game on Windows 3.11.

Shortly after the development of Windows 3.0, Microsoft product manager, Bruce Ryan, decided to put together a package of games that would encourage people with home PCs to purchase Windows. Ryan put out a call among Microsoft employees, and Robert Donner submitted Mine. After some minor changes to the graphics, the renamed Minesweeper was born.

RELATED: Windows 3.0 Is 30 Years Old: Here's What Made It Special

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

The Microsoft Entertainment Pack for Windows box, circa 1990.

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

The Microsoft Entertainment Pack 1 "[Games]" menu in Windows 3.11.

That popularity might be why Microsoft decided to include Minesweeper with Windows 3.1 when it shipped in 1992 (kicking out the brutally difficult Reversi, in the process).

Once Minesweeper became a pack-in game for Windows, millions of people worldwide played it, and it became a household name. And it got even bigger than that! Microsoft included Minesweeper with every version of Windows from 1992-2009 (Windows 3.1 through Windows 7). So, it’s possible that hundreds of millions of people have played Minesweeper over the last three decades.

It’s Deeper Than It Looks

Anyone who’s even casually fiddled with Minesweeper knows it’s not as easy to get into as Solitaire. That’s because, despite its simple appearance, it’s a very deep strategy game—so much so that people play it competitively in tournaments all over the world.

Almost anyone with a basic grasp of Minesweeper strategy can clear a difficult field, given enough time (and a little bit of luck). The main competitive challenge of Minesweeper is clearing a difficult minefield in as little time as possible.

"Minesweeper" in Expert mode on Windows 95.

In the quest for the ultimate Minesweeper score (a low time on a difficult minefield), hard-core players have identified sets of patterns that, when memorized, can cut down your times significantly.

Advanced players have also identified techniques, such as the 1.5 click, that allow players to reveal mines more quickly. Some even completely forego the use of flags to save time while completing a field.

If you’re just a casual Minesweeper fan, though, don’t let those advanced techniques discourage you from playing the game at a leisurely pace—you can still have fun by taking your time.

Minesweeper Trivia

Below are a few fun facts and tips about this popular game:

  • To cheat in the 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 that turns black whenever 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”). It featured 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 option to use flowers instead of mines in some regions, with the game defaulting to flowers in others.
  • According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the fastest combined time for completing all three difficulties in Minesweeper is 38.65 seconds, set by Kamil Murański of Poland in 2014.

How to Play Minesweeper Today

Adventure mode in "Minesweeper" for Windows 8 and Windows 10.

Starting with Windows 8, Minesweeper (and Solitaire) became optional applications 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 includes Xbox Live tie-in 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 are several available online. One popular version among competitive players is Minesweeper X. It includes both the classic Windows 3.x look and new skins that change the appearance of the game. It can also keep detailed statistics and export them into a spreadsheet if you’re a serious player.

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. There’s also an ad-free web-based version of Minesweeper (and Solitaire, too).

Whichever version you play, you’re sure to get hooked once you understand the basics. Happy Birthday, Minesweeper!

Profile Photo for Benj Edwards Benj Edwards
Benj Edwards is a former Associate Editor for How-To Geek. Now, he is an AI and Machine Learning Reporter for Ars Technica. For over 15 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
Read Full Bio »