Blokus is a colourful, abstract game for two to four players. It is a family game, one that's very suitable for children of school age, seven years or older. Players place geometrically shaped tiles on a board, filling in the gaps and aiming to be the first to play all of their tiles.
The game of Blokus, from Mattel, centres around a large grid. Players sit each at a corner, with an array of coloured, shaped tiles. These pieces may be visible to the other players or not, depending on local house rules. Play starts by selecting one shape to fit into their starting corner.
In turn, players select one of their tiles. This piece must touch the corner of a similarly coloured tile, but may not be placed so that edges of the player’s shapes are touching each other. With each turn, player’s pieces expand in a diagonal fashion out from the corners of the board. After approximately four turns these shapes start to meet in the middle of the board.
With each move, gaps develop around each tile. With careful thought and planning, other players can select their pieces to interlock around each other. This means that with time each colour grows across the board and through each other’s piece.
Players need to see what shape will fit best in developing patterns and ensure that they can continue to let their colour grow. As the board fills, competition for space becomes more intense. Play ends when no other tiles can be played by any player or when every player has placed all of their pieces. If a player places all of their tiles they will score 15 points and if the final piece placed is the single 1x1 square, the a bonus of five is also added. Players with un-placed tiles, lose points according to the number of squares remaining.
Thoughts on Blokus
Blokus is a well-made, carefully considered game. It comes in an over-sized box, although smaller Blokus variants are also available. The plastic board is of good quality and has a robust feel to it. Each player’s piece is made of coloured plastic with small grooves separating each square. They fit perfectly into the ridges on the board, ensuring a secure fit. There is no danger of the pieces being dislodged if the game is knocked.
The tiles themselves are clear and have a pleasing feel about them. They are manufactured from tough plastic and even after years of gameplay still look as good as new. The pieces for a series of “Tetris-like” shapes call polyominoes. These mathematical shapes are created by placing a series of squares together to make more complex shapes. Many games and solitaire-style puzzles use these shapes to create interlocking challenges.
Blokus is said to play for two to four players. If two are playing then each gamer will control two colours, and expand from opposite corners of the board. With three players the fourth set of shapes do need to be played. This should be as a “dummy hand” where players take turns in selecting the tile. If the fourth colour is not used at all then there is less competition for space and less challenge of are control. For this reason Blokus is best with two or four players.
A four-player game of Blokus will be completed in 20-25 minutes. Gameplay usually falls into three phases. During the first four turns in the opening phase, players expand from their corner. There is no interaction or any limitation of what tiles might be used. However, careful choice during this phase will influence the latter parts of the game. Players might choose to place an awkward, five-sided pentomino shape just to get rid of it. They may then find out that this piece would have been ideal in other phases. Another approach is to expand as rapidly as possible. The more corners available after this phase will mean more options for play later.
The second phase starts when player tiles approach each other. This usually commences after turn four and it is now that Blokus gets interesting. Careful selection of tiles mean a player can wrap their pieces around others and wriggle their way into new territory. It is important to optimise space on the grid and leave very few gaps between tiles. By using shapes wisely players can cut off and limit other’s tile-laying opportunities.
There are many different options of play during this phase. There is little need for over-analysis. Options for play often fall into two groups; there may be one clear move for a specific piece, or the player may be faced with a large variety of tile choices.
The final phase might be considered the “mopping up”. This tends to start at turn 14. The expansion of the tiles has created spaces where only one or two players can legally place their shapes. If there is competition it is often wise to grab these opportunities. This part of Blokus is all about putting remaining tiles into the spaces available. Players need to consider how to use their last few shapes to crawl through gaps. Playing the final piece as a single square will give a great sense of satisfaction and a degree of smugness.
The final board in Blokus has an eye-catching appeal. The interaction of player pieces with inter-locking colours has a very pleasing quality about it. At the end of the game it is clear how the eventual winning coloured tiles have dominated areas and expanded across the board.
Playing a short game of Blokus will often lead to a second. This can allow a change of tack in the light of analysis of the previous game. However, players need to be of a certain mind-set to enjoy playing Blokus multiple times in one setting. While the interaction of the shapes on the grid will vary between games, the overall strategy is always very similar; expand towards the middle, wrap around others, fill in the gaps. This does mean that most games can feel similar even though they play out differently each time.
The scoring system of penalties for un-played tiles can mean that some players will have negative points. This is a little frustrating as there is no other mechanism of rewarding good play. Perhaps, for younger children, points could be awarded for every tile placed.
Blokus is a clever abstract game. In playing Blokus you can easily see why it is the recipient of a numerous awards. It really should be considered for two or four players only. It is a quick game, and is very simple to explain and play for new gamers. Younger children (age seven or older) will certainly be able to enjoy Blokus and could easily grasp the tile-placing decisions.
For these reasons Blokus is a good, solid, family challenge that brings colour and strategy without needing too much deep thought in its playing.