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Game Preview: Monolyth, or Build Better Blocks

W. Eric Martin
United States
Apex
North Carolina
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I rarely get to preview a game and announce it at the same time, but a copy of Monolyth from Phil Walker-Harding and CMON landed on my doorstep with no advance notice and I got it to the table today, so here we go:
Quote:
Every player builds their own block of stones in Monolyth, using 3D polyominoes to create patches of particular colors, complete levels, and a structure that matches a pattern.

Board Game: Monolyth

To set up, choose a structure card at random, then place it on the main board, along with the appropriate structure tokens, level tokens, and prophecy tokens based on the number of players. Place the crystal marker next to the main board, then draw twelve random polyominoes from the box and place them in a circle around the main board. The polyominoes come in five colors, and all 1x1 blocks in those colors are placed to the side.

On a turn, move the crystal 1-4 spaces clockwise, then take the polyomino in that space and add it to your 4x4 player board, with nothing placed outside that grid and no part of the polyomino hanging over an empty space; alternatively, you can remove this polyomino from the game and take a 1x1 block of the same color, then add that to your player board. In either case, draw a random polyomino from the box and place it where the crystal started this turn.

Instead of moving the crystal, you can choose a prophecy token from the main board and add it to a side of your player board. Each player board has four different colors around the four edges, e.g., blue, orange, black, and teal.

Board Game: Monolyth
Halfway through the game

When you fill all the spaces of a level on your player board, take the largest level token from the main board. If your construction fits the guidelines of the structure card, then you claim the highest available structure token.

Keep taking turns until someone has completed their 3D monolith, which is 4x4x3 in a 3-4 player game and 4x4x4 in a 1-2 player game, after which you finish the round. If a prophecy has been fulfilled, e.g., if you placed a 12 on the orange side of your player board and you have at least 12 orange blocks on that edge of your player board, then you score points equal to that prophecy token.

Sum the points of your structure token, level tokens, and valid prophecy tokens to see who has the highest score and wins.
Okay, that's a straightforward summary of the rules. For the solo game, when you take a block, you discard one of the prophecy tokens, and the game ends when you've completed your 4x4x4 monolith or no prophecy tokens remain on the main board. You score level tokens from low to high instead of high to low.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Nearly finished...

I've played only once with two players, so take these comments with that detail in mind. The Patchwork-style piece-taking is familiar in Monolyth, albeit with the wrinkle of you being able to take a prophecy token to delay taking a piece. In our game, we mostly took prophecy tokens only after we had locked in a color count on a side, as with my 14 teal faces in the middle image above, but I can imagine that practice changing once you play a couple of times and get a feel for how easy or hard it is to make something happen.

The structure in our game was an obelisk, with the center four spaces being at least three blocks high and the other spaces exactly one or two blocks high. I tried to make it happen, but blew that goal once it became possible to complete a level. In a two-player game, the structure is worth 10/8 points depending on whether you're first or second, whereas the levels score 10-3 points, so I wasn't going to stress about the structure if I could keep plonking down levels.

I placed a white block flat on the first level to complete that, then somehow overlooked that I was supposed to be placing dark blue on that side and just kept going with white. Whoops.

The design has nice push/pull mechanisms running through it. When building your own structure, for example, if you place an orange block in a corner, then the orange is visible on both faces of that corner. Thus, maximizing the value of one color reduces the potential value of the adjacent ones.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Those bags are getting recycled

The three ways to score — structure, level, prophecy — tend to pull you in different directions, with you giving up one of those areas to work on the other two. Sometimes you'll get the ideal block for all three, but if your opponent is paying attention, that should not happen.

You are supposed to draw a random polyomino from the box top, but even when looking straight ahead, out of the corner of my eye I could see the colors of the polyominoes in the supply, so we had to place stuff in front of the box to make it impossible to grab a particular color. Gotta ward off that "I'm not cheating, but I still feel like I'm cheating" sensation.
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