BLOKUS (Sekkoia, 2-4 players, 20-30 minutes; about $30)
Abstracts? I don’t review no stinkin’ abstracts! Why not? Let me count the ways:
1) Most of them are 2-player, with the more skilled player winning almost all the time.
2) They are intensely serious – planning ahead by several moves doesn’t encourage lively banter or laughter.
3) The time required to develop mastery – I’d rather be a generalist on lighter fare.
4) I find few of them fun to play.
On the other hand, there are abstracts that I thoroughly enjoy – Backgammon, Blokus-PressefotoMaze (by Kalivas, Fall 1987 GA REPORT) and Wykersham among 2-player fare; Quandary (Summer 1997 GA REPORT), Morisi (Spring 2001 GA REPORT) and 5ive Straight among the multi-player variety. In fact, many of the European gaming fare we have grown partial to are merely thinly themed abstracts – like Samurai and Through the Desert (both featured in the Winter 1999 GA REPORT).
At first glance Blokus (pronounced BLOW-COO – it’s French, silly) appears to be a 4 player version of Skirrid, Kenner’s 1979 2-player abstract. In Skirrid players alternately placed translucent shaped tiles on a grid, trying to score points by covering the higher numbers on the board. Not so in Blokus, as you’re trying to rid yourself of the brightly colored translucent shapes onto a 20×20 grid.
Players start the game with the same 21 tiles, each having a unique shape and 1-5 squares in their color. First placement is from your corner of the board with players adding tiles in clockwise order. All subsequent tiles must be placed so that they touch diagonally to those previously placed. You can touch opponent’s tiles orthogonally but cannot touch your own tiles except at their corners.
Initial play is fast as everyone tries to rid themselves of the larger, more awkwardly shaped tiles that are damn near impossible to place once the board gets congested. Players tend to sprawl towards the center of the board, staking out territory for future play. About halfway through the game, Blokus gets tense, as you try to anticipate your opponents attempts to do likewise or to block you. Knowing when to play offensively and when to block your opponents will often be the key to victory.
Play continues until all players are stuck (can’t place their remaining tiles onto the grid). Final score is the number of squares on the tiles you couldn’t place on the board. LOW SCORE WINS. Usually the winning score will be a single digit number with last place being in the 20’s.
The Blokus board becomes very colorful as it fills. The grid is thoughtfully ridged so pieces don’t shift as play progresses. Play Blokus in a public place and you are likely to see spectators gawking at it’s beauty.
Blokus was one of 12 games nominated for the 2002 German Game of the Year Award. Blokus plays best with 4 players but can accommodate 3 by having each player alternate placing tiles for the neutral color. With 2 players, each takes two colors and starts from opposite corners. An excellent on-line version can be found, naturally, at www.blokus.com – play against the computer robot is relatively challenging with very good AI programming.
What makes Blokus that rare multi-player abstract is that it flows quickly – an entire game takes 20-30 minutes. The women I have observed playing made it into a very social game, making helpful suggestions about possible moves to each other. The men were more territorial and nasty in their defensive play. The fact that most casual gamers find Blokus non-threatening ensures that your set will receive considerable play. Highly recommended. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Steve Kurzban
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Fall 2002 GA Report Articles