Are you good at recognizing patterns? If so, then Grid Stones is a game you definitely want to check out.
The game is really one of those simple ideas which works well, and makes you wonder why no one has thought of it before.
The game is played on a simple squared-grid. For two-players the grid is a 4X4 area, growing to 5X5 for three and four players, and to 6X6 for five or more players.
As a pure abstract game the ability to scale up from just two players to up to seven is a definite plus, although the larger the number the more randomized the game is going to become (more on that in a moment).
In terms of game play, players draw from a common source of glass beads. On their turn they either add a bead to a square within the grid, or they remove a bead already in play. In terms of mechanics that's it, with the caveat in a two-player game you can't remove a stone just placed, or replace a stone just taken.
So what are players trying to accomplish as they add and subtract beads from the board?
That's where the genius of the game comes in, and the aforementioned pattern recognition aspect of the game.
Grid Stones comes with a deck of small cards. On each card is a pattern of beads on a 3X3 grid. At the start of a game a player is dealt five cards. Throughout the game they work to match an area of the playing surface to the pattern on the cards they were dealt. The first one to complete all five patterns wins.
There are two opportunities per turn to match a pattern. The first comes at the start of your turn. There will be occasions where your opponent inadvertently creates a winning pattern for you, and you can announce that at the start of your turn.
Then after adding, or removing a stone, you can again announce you have a match.
Since the pattern can be anywhere on the board, there is a need to see what your cards require from different angles, so pattern recognition is a huge asset.
It would help here if the game came with some sort of holder for the player's cards, rather than having to keep the under-sized cards in-hand, making it difficult to see all the patterns you are seeking.
In the two-player version there is some sense of control of what you are trying to accomplish. You can be working toward a pattern that can draw you nearer to a couple of your cards, and then react off what the opponent does.
As you add players, the grid does grow larger to allow for some additional bead placement options – remember even on the 6X6 board you are still looking to match a 3X3 pattern.
However, as you add players there is an increasingly long time between moves too. That means a player has a more difficult time actually impacting what he is trying to do. More often than not, in multi-player games, the opponents may set up winning patterns for others.
Of course the more stones in play, the harder it is to match a card too, since cards will have a number of blank (empty) spaces as part of the required pattern.
Grid Stones is the creation of Canadian designer Tim W.K. Brown, and is produced by the Montreal-based Danawares, and is an entertaining game, although at times luck seems more at play than strategy.
This review initially appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper May 27, 2009.