So Frankly...

So Frankly...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mass Market Moment – Blokus

Blokus is a family of games that started in the hobby gaming world and crossed over to the mass market, assisted by the purchase of publication rights by Mattel. The game won many awards, including a Mensa Select award. (Don’t tell the kids, but it also won a Teacher’s Choice award in 2004.) It them spawned several additional versions: Blokus Duo (aka Blokus for 2 and Travel Blokus), Blokus Trigon, and Blokus 3D (aka Rumis). With a simple set up rules and colorful pieces, it draws in potential players, appeals to children, and makes the whole series a set of excellent abstracts.

Photo by Tom Rosen
The original game Blokus is a four player game in which players alternate placing one of their geometric shapes on a board, covering as much as the board as they can by game end. The shapes are made of squares starting with one square and continuing up to every shape which can be built with five squares. The catch is that one player’s pieces can only touch at the corners, which makes it difficult to fence an area off from opponents. At the end of the game, players receive a negative point for every square (not piece!) that is not put in play. Positive points are received for using all of your pieces and for using the one-square piece last. Highest score wins. Stepping back from the board after the game is done shows a pretty mosaic that leaves observers saying, “That looks cool!”
Blokus 3D, originally known as Rumis, also won several awards. The objects are now three dimensional, as might be guessed. The scoring is different, with each player scoring positive points for the number of cubes visible from directly above the board. Negative points are earned for cubes left over as before. Since this is the one game in the series I haven’t played (though we do own it), I can’t say much more.

The two player rules for Blokus have each player using two of the four colors, as if there were two teams of two colors. A better approach is taken by the next game in the line to be published, Blokus Duo, which originally was named Travel Blokus. It is also sold exclusively at Target as Blokus to Go, which allows the pieces to actually snap in place for play in a moving vehicle. Regardless of the name, the difference between Blokus and Blokus Duo is merely the number of players and the start location. Duo is strictly a two-player game. This is my favorite form of the game. The board is smaller and makes for a very tight game.

Blokus does not play well with three players. Play starts from the corners, which means one player has an opponent on both sides; the others have opponents on one side only. The player in the middle is squeezed, and will nearly always do poorly. Blokus Trigon attempts to address this. The board and pieces are made of triangles rather than squares, which results in some strange shapes. The overall board shape is hexagonal, which allows three players to evenly space themselves out. There is equality with four players too, but the game tries to be a little too much. I, for one, have trouble visualizing what I want to do.

I can hear some of you thinking, “I need to buy THREE games, Blokus Duo for two, Blokus Trigon for three, and Blokus for four?!” No. Unless you really want to travel with it Blokus Duo isn’t needed. Many people play two player Blokus by using one color per player, and using a third color to fence of the board, reducing it to the size of Blokus Duo (14x14). Similarly, Blokus Trigon can be played with two colors and the two outer rings of spaces marked off on three sides. As for playing with three players, I would still play Blokus. Blokus Trigon is just too oddly shaped, and while it might be a more even game, it isn’t any more fun. Just buy and play the original Blokus with the strongest player in the squeezed position, or rotate through that position in several games of match play. Since the game plays in roughly 20-30 minutes, that’s a possibility. Therefore, while all of the variations are good, the original Blokus is the purchase to make.
Good Casual Gaming! Kid Friendly!

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