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Blokus

Designer: Bernard Tavitian
Publisher: Alary Games
Players: 2-4
Time: 20 minutes
Reviewer: Greg Aleknevicus

I'm not a fan of reviews that describe exactly how to play the game. I find them long-winded, rather boring and I generally avoid reading them. However, with Blokus it's practically impossible to describe the game without recreating the rules, they're that simple. Each player has a set of 21 plastic tiles rather similar to the pieces in Tetris. At the start of the game each player places a piece on their corner of the board. Each subsequent turn you place any one of your tiles on the board so that it touches any of your own pieces at a corner only. (You cannot place tiles such that two of your own pieces share a common edge.) Note the emphasis—there is no restriction against placing tiles next to any of your opponents' tiles. The object is to place as many of your tiles as possible.

That's it and so you might immediately think this is in the family of connection games such as Hex or Twixt. Since the tiles also are also rather reminiscent of the pieces in Cathedral you might be excused for thinking that Blokus simply rehashes old ideas but you'd be wrong in this assessment . The thing that really makes it unique is the restriction on placing your tiles. Since they must touch at the corners only, you do not create solid barriers as you do in conventional connection games. Rather you have a very "porous" wall that opponents can (often easily) move through. It's this very simple innovation that makes Blokus unique and worthwhile.

When playing, the first thing that new players will attempt to do is carve out a section of the board for themselves. It will not take long to realize that this is usually futile, it's simply far too easy for an opponent to maneuver around and get into your "rear". First initial moves Further, you'll find that there are often very few tiles you can fit into "your" area—your own tiles are far more restrictive to you than are your opponents' tiles. Therefore it's usually the better move to expand into new areas rather than trying to block an opponent. This does not mean that blocking does not occur but it happens more often when two players "gang up" on a third. If these two players are placing tiles in a very compact manner they can completely block a section of the board. This means that it's crucial to place tiles so that you have access to as many sections of the board as possible. Where the game gets really tricky is when you are presented with several such situations at once, fighting different players on different sections of the board.

This also presents the biggest problem with Blokus and that's the fact that it's multi-player and suffers from many of the same problems that all multi-player abstracts do—if several players "attack" a single opponent, then there's very little effective response possible. You will do poorly if all your opponents move into "your" region of the board. The reason this can be such a problem in Blokus is that such attacks are often incidental. In the mid-game most of your moves will have both offensive and defensive components—you'll try to place tiles that increase your subsequent placements as well as limiting your opponents'. However, it's sometimes easy to make a move that you think is fairly innocuous but completely blocks one player from half the board. There can be a real sense that you're being picked on even though your opponents are merely thinking of their own situation. Of course, this is a game and so such moves must be accepted but there is a feeling of brutality when you're mathematically eliminated only six or seven moves in. Fortunately, the quick playing time lessens the sting of this but you really need to accept that such things may happen and approach the game light-heartedly. If this is difficult, I'd recommend only playing Blokus as a two-player game where this "bug" becomes a "feature".

Graphically, the game is very pleasing. The board is silver coloured and the translucent tiles are bright and vivid. I quite often played Blokus in public places and it was common for people passing by to stop and comment. The tiles fit nicely on the board and are fairly secure as there's a raised grid that keeps them in place.

Blokus is one of those rare games that has a rather addicting quality, very often there's a desire to play "just once more". There's something about a really clever play that blocks your opponents while opening up lots of future moves that is very satisfying. In fact, that really sums up Blokus—very satisfying.

- Greg Aleknevicus

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