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I received a free review copy from the Finnish distributor.
The game: Triominos Tribalance by Michael Sohre, published by Goliath in 2013. Originally published as Tri-Ba-Lance by Theta Games in 1995.
Elevator pitch: A balancing challenge: try to get the best pieces on the best locations on a wobbly board without unbalancing the board.
What’s in the box? There’s a triangular plastic board (hence the Triominos branding; this has nothing else to do with Triominos) and a stand for it. When set free, the board will be on balance on a hemisphere on its bottom.
Each player gets a set of triangular pieces of various sizes. The pieces are numbered 1–5 and the sizes match: the 5 pieces is five times bigger than the 1 piece.
The components are all plastic and not wood as in the original Theta version. They look nice, though, and do their job quite well, and I’m sure the new version is both cheaper and more readily available because of the plastic bits.
What do you do in the game? Players take turns placing their pieces on the board. A move is legal, if the board balances after the piece is played without touching the table. It’s fine if the board tips touch the table while the board finds the new balance, but once it’s balanced, the tips of the board should not touch the table. If the move fails, the player simply takes their piece back and loses their turn.
The pieces are played in marked recesses on the board. Each spot has a point value from 1 to 5, and the closer the recess is to the tips of the board, the higher the value. In the end, the pieces are scored by multiplying the piece value with the value of the recess it is placed in.
The game ends when somebody places their last piece. Then the other players may finish the game by placing rest of their pieces, but the rules become stricter: touching the table even temporary means the move fails and the player in question drops out of the game.
In the end, pieces on board are scored and pieces that weren’t played score negative. The player with the most points wins.
Lucky or skillful? No luck involved, it’s all skill. You need to be able to read the balance of the board and figure out how much load the board can take. It’s somewhat random how the board will wobble, so this is not quite as deterministic as some luckless abstracts are.
Abstract or thematic? Pure abstract, no sign of theme.
Solitaire or interactive? This is not a mean game, but of course you’re constantly reacting to the moves your opponent makes and trying to benefit from their mistakes.
Players: 2–3. In the three-player game it’s best if you sit after the weaker player.
Who can play? Age recommendation is 6+. While the rules are simple, balancing the board may be a bit difficult for children. An adult will probably always win, but children can play against each other without problems. Key requirement is knowing enough math to be able to count the scores in the end.
Length: 10–15 minutes. There aren’t that many pieces or options.
What’s to like: The game looks splendid; balancing the board is fun; the scoring is logical.
What’s not to like: The game feels always the same; it’s very much a game of avoiding mistakes.
My verdict: Triominos Tribalance is static. The game is always the same: you want to get the big pieces as near as the tips as possible. How well you can manage that is, I feel, less about your skill and more about the mistakes your opponent makes.
I can’t really see anyone being really enthusiastic about this game, at least for a long time. It just doesn’t have the legs for it. However, as a good-looking coffee table game this is great: the game looks really good, is quite unlike most other games and intrigues onlookers. If you play just occasionally, the game doesn’t get boring.
So, it’s nice to see this old game brought back to life as a mass-market edition, even though the Triominos branding seems quite pointless. I’m sure many people will enjoy this at least for a while.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Triominos Tribalance gets Indifferent from me.
Mikko's Quick Reviews | Originally published in Mikko's Gameblog
Naming: I have to agree on the strange naming: There's other games almost called exactly the same.
Lack of strategic content online: I wish there were more content for this game online (see naming issue above that doesn't make google searches any easier). I think it's a bit underrated. In as much you can say that all chess games look the same (there's white and black pieces all over), I think you can easily conclude the same about Triominos.
Best beginner strategy: When beginners play, the easiest road to victory is to cash in on the mistakes of the player before you. If you see that his weight 5 piece on the corner just barely didn't make it, you may be sure to place the 4 in that exact spot or move the 5 one slot closer. (maybe comparable to your opponent losing a high value piece in chess).
So, for uninitiated and beginners the game looks great(+) and unique(+) and all a bit the same (-).
I haven't played enough of it to know much more, but my best guess it that you can write books on best strategy and the best place to put heavy pieces and at what time during the game and so forth.
Unfortunately, I don't think we'll ever have tournaments for this game where games get analysed properly so I have to (reluctantly) agree with the review above.
Potential: This has so much potential though. (maybe one day, just to see if possible I should try and write my strategy guide for this. It's a shame that I've played it a few times and I cannot even tell you what's the maximum score you can get with your first move. Shows you how much I know about strategy for this).
Construction: One bad side note: I play this on a smooth glass table and the semicircle on the bottom of the triangle (to allow tipping of the triangle) isn't uniform! WTH!? So different corners react slightly differently :-((( A 4 on one corner may make it touch the table but on another corner it wont!:-((. This is a huge burden for anyone trying to make it less of a guessing game and more about strategy.
How I think it should work: Ideally you should be able to play this even online inside a simple physics calculator/simulator. The physics for this is 100% predictable and calculatable. The skill for us mortal humans will be in quickly assessing the current board without actually calculating the weight distribution (time limit?). I'm not interested whatsoever if my fat fingers pushed the corner down to the table at all. I'm assuming that if you're serious about being good at this, that that will never be an issue.
To me this game does not need pick-up-sticks skills but rather chess-type skills.