Welcome to Board Games With OB, a somewhat profane, possibly semi-regular feature where OregonBeast gets a board game he likes and briefly explains how to play it and hopes you would be interested in playing it, too. Because board games are fucking awesome.
I kind of get a personal kick each time a particular board game gets a similar reaction out of people. A game where, no matter what, those unfamiliar with board games will draw an identical conclusion.
For me, no game has done that better than Blokus. Initial reaction, on seeing a blank plastic board with a bunch of blank polygonal shapes, the odds are about as close to even as you can get that this person will say, “Whoa, this looks like Tetris!”
While the visual similarity to Tetris is there, Blokus has a totally alternative goal. A goal that will force you think. And a goal that, ultimately, in order to best fulfill for yourself will require you to fuck over everyone else.
Not bad for a bunch of polygons (or, to be accurate, polyomionoes. Or, math folks, if I'm wrong on that, feel free to correct me). Let’s play some Blokus.
Players: 2 to 4
Gametime: 20 to 30 minutes
Designer: Bernard Tavitan (France)
Key Mechanics: Area Enclosure, Tile Placement
Story: None. Yay, purely abstract game!
What do you do?: The goal of Blokus is simple: Get as much of your pieces on the board as possible. I said “much” instead of “many” for a good reason.
The Blokus board is a blank 20X20 grid, which results in a play area of 400 squares. Each player has a colored set of the 21 possible free polyominoes of five squares or less: 12 pentominoes, 5 tetrominoes, two trominoes, one domino and one monomino.
No matter whether two to four players are playing, the four colors of the game (red, blue, green and yellow) will be played. In a four-player game, each player has their own color. In a two-player game, each player has two colors. In a three-player game, each player has their own color and placing a piece of the four color is alternated between each player on subsequent turns.
The rules of placing each polyomino is simple. Each color starts in a different corner of the board. Placing a color must simply follow three rules:
- Each piece can only touch corners, as opposed to sides, of a piece of a same color.
- Each new piece placed must be in contact with at least one corner of a piece of the same color.
- Touching the sides of a piece of a different color is legal.
Sounds simple, sure. But, like many good strategy games, Blokus starts out simple and gets more and more mind-racking as the game goes on. It’s inevitable you’ll find yourself with a large piece still needing to get crammed onto a rapidly-filling board near the end of the game, as you look all over the place, spinning the piece in your fingers, trying to find some way, just some way, it will fit. And if you don’t find it, then fuck this piece, fuck that piece up there, fuck that piece in the corner, and fuck those two pieces in particular.
How to taste sweet, sweet victory: The goal is simple: Get as much of you color on the board as possible. Once all the players have determined there is nowhere else to fit a piece of their color, their leftover pieces are counted to determine the score, with low scores. So that means that a leftover petrinomino (five grid spaces) that wasn’t place will count as negative five points, while a leftover monomio (one grid space) Is negative one point. Placing all the blocks is +15 points, with an extra five points if the monomino is the last piece placed. Ether play a single, or multiple game. Best (highest positive) score wins, whether it’s just one game or a series of three, five, 999, etc. In fact, it’s playing a series of games where the positive/negative scoring system really comes into play.
So, what makes this game awesome?
- Spatial thinking is the shit, IMHO. Being able to picture a spot in a crowded landscape to fit a large piece can be a make-or-break situation to victory. Blokus is definitely a game that rewards right-brain thinking.
- The game is an totally even playing field. The players have identical pieces and start from a neutral (corner) location. Everything from the start is the result of strategy.
- The pieces are plastic with bold colors. This means a game that gets its appeal from pure color dynamic as opposed to material tactile enjoyment that comes with the gamer experience of wood being better than plastic.
- Gameplay can be as mean or nice as you want. You can either focus entirely on getting as much of your color on the board as you want, or play in a way that prevents others from getting their pieces on the board.
- Availability. Blokus has become popular enough that in 2009 the rights to the game was sold to Mattel. This means it’s available at virtually every game store and big box retailer around — even Walmart, which normally doesn’t go past Monopoly and Apples to Apples for game choices.
Watch it played: Here’s a detailed explanation of how to play Blocks (of course with a Tetris reference). Thanks to YouTube user Nam Ngo.
Previous Board Games With OB: [Takenoko] [Snake Oil] [Tsuro] [Dixit] [The Resistance] [Hey, That's My Fish!] [Ticket To Ride] [Survive: Escape From Atlantis] [Castle Panic] [Small World] [Qwirkle] [Elder Sign] [Carcassonne] [Jaipur] [Tokaido]
Images via BoardGameGeek