Ah Tetris. I remember journeys (and mum enforced mandatory post lunch rests around the swimming pool on holiday!), spent watching teeny tiny polyominos judder down my Gameboy screen. How quickly they stacked up and destroyed my hopes of victory! Well, my experiences can’t have been that traumatic as polyomino tile placement is one of my favourite board game mechanisms! And Ubongo by KOSMOS is all about those puzzly pieces!
If you haven’t played any of the series yet, Ubongo means “brains” in Swahili. And Ubongo original is where it all began. It has spawned many different versions since (Travel, To-Go (solo), Extreme, Junior and even 3D), but the big red box is the foundation of this puzzly plethora!
Piece It Together
So what are we trying to do and how are we trying to do it?
In Ubongo, the aim is to complexly fill the grids shown on the boards in front of you using a selection of polyomino tiles. No overhanging pieces or gaps are allowed in Ubongo! As such, it’s a puzzly race for 1-4 players to collect the most gems and win the game!
In the game, there are 36 boards and each one is double sided. On one side you need 3 tiles to fill the space and on the other you need 4. Each player takes one ( with the group deciding whether to play easy or hard) and their set of identical 12 polyomino tiles.
On each board there are 6 different sets of 3 or 4 polyominos to use within each grid. When the custom dice is rolled, the pieces everyone will use from their own sets that round are those next to the matching symbol.
There’s also a round tracker where blue and orange gems are stored and a bag of remaining coloured gems (blue, green, red and orange).
Once the timer is turned, the race is on to be the first player to fill the grid on their board. When they have done it, they get to shout “UBONGO” whilst the rest of the players carry on. Players have until the sands of time run out to try and fill theirs too! First player then gets to pick the first blue gem from the score tracker, second player gets the first orange gem. Everybody (including 1st and 2nd place players) who completed their grid in time then gets to pick a random coloured gem from the bag.
If your group decides to carry on with the same board, the dice gets rolled and everyone will be using that new set of polyominos to fill the same grid. Otherwise, everyone can pick a new board and try their luck on a different grid!
After 9 rounds, the game ends and it’s scoring time! Gems are points in Ubongo, and each colour has a different value.
Ubongo packs in a lot of simple, fun puzzliness into its red box full of good quality cards, boards, and acrylic gems. The puzzles themselves aren’t hard but the timer adds real pressure. Plus it is always satisfying to be the first to yell “UBONGO” and grab lots of jubby jewels! There’s a solo mode too which is based on how many puzzles you can solve in a set time.
Ubongo is a family game that players can learn in seconds and start playing almost as fast. If you’re good at visualising spaces and how pieces fit together then you are always going to boss it in Ubongo. But sometimes the disappearing sand in the timer can cause brain freeze in even the most spatially skilled players!
We play Ubongo in all its variants a lot at home as it’s a series that has really clicked with our 7 year old Mini-meeple. Its core mechanism has real developmental benefits, and to him it’s a “grown up” game that he can and does play very well. For us, this game is light, colourful, fun and fast. It’s UBONGO!!!!