Sometimes you don’t need a theme pasted on to a game. Obviously a game needs to be solid, but some designers are definitely guilty of coming up with an idea then deciding to make it about space, cowboys or space cowboys. It’s something of a rarity that when an idea for a game is good enough for the developer to take a step back and say “that’s it”, but today’s review is definitely a case of one of those moments.
Blokus was actually one of the first abstracts I ever played. Released in 2000, it’s a very simple game with very few rules – between two and four players have a selection of Tetris-like pieces (made of between one and five squares) that need to be placed on a grid. Your pieces can only touch corner to corner; there can be no pieces of the same colour side-by-side. As other players start putting down their pieces, space on the board becomes more and more difficult to come by, so you may well be left with your larger tiles – and anything you can’t put on the grid at the end of the game will count against you. Whoever is left with the least amount of squares when no more pieces can be played is declared the winner. Simple.
Now, I know a few people who won’t touch abstract games with a bargepole – theme is that important to them. However, Blokus is good enough to stand up for itself, and the few anti-abstract people I’ve managed to convince to step up for a game have begrudgingly admitted that yes, they possibly maybe enjoyed having their brain burned a little bit. Not to say that it doesn’t have problems; for example, as a three-player this game sucks.
With four, it’s ideal – everyone has their own colour to play with. With two, it’s fine – but with two colours each, it can just take a while to complete a game. Three though? Crap. It feels really unbalanced. You can divide the fourth set of tiles between the three players, but even that doesn’t even the field. Aggressive play means that the grid gets covered quickly, but without that extra bunch of pieces you’ll still find it easy to find space, especially if larger tiles are all placed at the beginning of the game.
However, if you’ve got four people hanging around with twenty minutes to spare (because it really doesn’t take that long), Blokus is a good little game to play. Not the most exciting game on the shelf, but it sits in the category of ‘ideal filler’. With a good group of people it’s actually quite entertaining, but you need the right alignment of the planets for that to happen. Reading back, I think I’ve been a bit harsh on Blokus as I really quite like it. It’s worth getting it off the shelf, but it’s marmite to many. Give it a shot though – you may be surprised.
Blokus was designed by Bernard Tavitian in 2000 and is produced by Green Board Games in the UK (and Mattel in the USA). While it’s ostensibly for two to four players, it’s definitely best with four – try Blokus Duo (also known as Travel Blokus) if there’s only two of you! For an alternate take, there’s also the triangle-based Blokus Trigon. There’s also Blokus 3D, but don’t be fooled – it’s a rebranding of Rumis and not really a Blokus game at all. Finally, if you’re one of those iPhone users, I urge you to check out the version on the App Store – it’s an excellent adaptation. Any comments? Give me a shout – firstname.lastname@example.org – or put a comment down here!