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Subject: Travel Blokus after 10 plays rss

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Chris Ferejohn
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In my continuing series of "games I've played 10 times", written with the self-indulgent assumption that people are going to want to read yet another review of a game that everyone already knows about, here is my after 10 play review of Travel Blokus. I enjoyed Tom Vassel's recent "question and answer" style review of Brass, so:

How do you pronounce Blokus anyway?
Good question. I've always said "blow-kus" because usually when you've got vowel-consonant-vowel like that in English you use the long vowel sound. Others have said, quite rightly, that the game involves blocks and therefore is probably meant to be pronounced "block-us." Now, if I weren't incredibly lazy the designer or manufacturer has probably clarified this, but hey, what do I look like, some kind of guy who isn't incredibly lazy?

How did you end up getting this game?
Well my wife and I played regular Blokus over at a friend's house. We enjoyed it, and my wife particularly thought it was cool. I'm always looking for games she's actually willing to play, so I picked up the 2 player version.

What were your first thoughts on opening the game?
Well, I can tell you my wife's first thoughts were something like "Purple and orange? Why on earth would they make the tiles purple and orange?"

And? Why would they?
Beats the heck out of me. Kind of a kick in the shorts for those "I'm always blue" people. It does mean that the blocks don't conflict with the block colors of original Blokus, so I guess you could play "Blokus Overlord" or something like that with 6 players...

So, how about the rules?
In brief: you're taking turns laying down 2-dimensional blocks that are made up of 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 square tiles, much like Tetris pieces. When you lay down a block, it must touch one of your existing blocks, but only by the corner (or multiple corners). You continue doing this until neither player can place any more. Whoever has the fewest total tiles left is the winner.

What's the strategy? Or do I mean tactics?
You know, that distinction is a bit fuzzy to me, but I guess most would consider this game primarily tactical. Its a game of area control where you are trying to leave yourself open spaces to play into while denying the same to your opponent. Generally this is accomplished by playing your pieces up against theirs such that they have fewer corners to play off of.

How long does it take to play?
10-15 minutes.

What's cool about this game?
Its a perfect information luckless abstract strategy game that is very unintimidating. The shiny, candy-like pieces, the extremely simple rules, and the fact that it kind of looks like tetris is usually enough to compel anyone who has the slightest inclination towards gaming to play. Compare this to other perfect information luckless abstract strategy games like Go, Chess, and the GIPF series, which are often quite intimidating to new players.

Also, it travels well, as you can deduce from the name.

What's not cool about this game?
Other than the colors of the pieces? Well, 10 plays isn't nearly enough for my pea-brain to have reached this point, but like any perfect information luckless abstract strategy game, it can most likely be "solved," allowing the first player to at least always force a draw. However, the same is true of chess, but the permutations are so vast that only the very top level players are in any danger of this becoming a real issue.

How many permutations does Blokus have as compared to chess?
Geez. I don't know. Don't you have a statistician on speed dial?

To whom would you recommend this game?
Anyone who enjoys abstracts, certainly. Also for people who are trying to get their husband/wife/child/neighbor/dog to play games with them but find they are intimidated by all the bits and dice. I guess that makes it a gateway game, but probably more of a gateway to things like Go or Ingenious than things like Carcassone or Puerto Rico.

To whom would you not recommend this game?
If the excitement of drawing cards or rolling dice is a big part of why you game, probably not the game for you. If you need a theme in your game so it feels like there is a "point", probably not the game for you. However, given its very short play time even people who might not generally care for abstract strategy games would probably enjoy an occasional game on a lark.

If you hate LSU, you may need to repaint the tiles.

See you in 90 plays.
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Russ Williams
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cferejohn wrote:
the self-indulgent assumption that people are going to want to read yet another review of a game that everyone already knows about


And yet here I am wasting my time reading it.

Quote:
How do you pronounce Blokus anyway?
Now, if I weren't incredibly lazy the designer or manufacturer has probably clarified this, but hey, what do I look like, some kind of guy who isn't incredibly lazy?

There's a thread somewhere that quotes an email from the company about it. But I'm incredibly lazy too. When I lived in the US I said "block-us" (with "us" as in "push"), now I say "blow-koos" (with "oo" as in "food") since that's how the vowels are pronounced in most languages, which have fairly rational consistent spelling unlike English (e.g. Spanish, Polish, Esperanto). But according to the thread, French is more like "block-u" or something.

Quote:
What were your first thoughts on opening the game?
Well, I can tell you my wife's first thoughts were something like "Purple and orange?

That's what my GF thought too. I on the other hand like the colors.

Quote:
What's the strategy? Or do I mean tactics?
You know, that distinction is a bit fuzzy to me, but I guess most would consider this game primarily tactical. Its a game of area control where you are trying to leave yourself open spaces to play into while denying the same to your opponent. Generally this is accomplished by playing your pieces up against theirs such that they have fewer corners to play off of.

Definitely it has a lot of tactics, but it is also strategic I would say. Each turn you must decide where the biggest move on the board is. Don't just tactically react to the local situation, playing follow the leader with your opponent. Often the best response is to ignore their move and play elsewhere. There is usually a strategic balance between trying to reduce their options (mainly by trying to block them out of an area) and maximize your own options (mainly by trying to spread yourself as widely as possible).

Quote:
What's cool about this game?
Its a perfect information luckless abstract strategy game that is very unintimidating.


Yep, it's incredibly easy to explain to newbies and quick to play and visually appealing. Probably a good gateway game.

Quote:
What's not cool about this game?
Other than the colors of the pieces? Well, 10 plays isn't nearly enough for my pea-brain to have reached this point, but like any perfect information luckless abstract strategy game, it can most likely be "solved," allowing the first player to at least always force a draw.


Technical quibbles:

Combinatorial games are indeed "solvable" in theory (in the sense that mathematically optimal play exists), but in practice the solution is computationally intractable for many "good interesting" games. Look at Go, for instance.

Games with chance are also "solvable" in a mathematical sense (that optimal strategies exist to maximize your expected winnings, or to maximize your probability of winning), but that doesn't stop them from being played and enjoyed by sub-perfect humans either.

Also "solved" does not imply first player advantage. It simply implies that ONE of the players has a guaranteed win (for true classic combinatorial games where no draws are possible), or that there is a possibility (for generalized combinatorial games) that a draw/tie can be forced. There exist plenty of games where the second player can win with optimal play. (Simple example: Nim with 2 equal stacks.)
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Martin Lindegaard
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Nice review!

Did anyone in any of your 10 games achieve the ultimate victory by laying all tiles finishing with the single tile piece???
 
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Russ Williams
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Golo wrote:
Did anyone in any of your 10 games achieve the ultimate victory by laying all tiles finishing with the single tile piece???

It seems much harder in Travel Blokus. I've played Travel Blokus 77 times now and I'm not sure if I've ever actually seen this happen. I've seen it happen plenty of times in regular Blokus (not that it's a common occurence there either).
 
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Chris Marling
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As a game that is handy to take on a trip (due its small size, not the weak packaging) this is a great little game, but for me it doesn't get picked off the shelf much when it's at home. I live with my partner,so look for two-player games, but we pretty much go for Ingenious every time over Blokus Duo when we're home. I've given it a solid 7 though.
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