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Subject: Konexi: A Marriage of Dexterity and Wordplay rss

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Grant Fikes
United States
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A long time ago, back before I considered myself a board game geek, since I thought I had no hope whatsoever of playing board games with real people, I saw a game at the local bookstore called Konexi. My decision to get the game a week or so ago was not an easy one due to the fact that the game only had 9 ratings on BoardGameGeek at the time, and was aided by Amazon reviews as well as opinions on this site. Now that I've played it, I hope to make the decision of whether to buy this game slightly easier for you, the reader, than it was for me.

The components of the game are as follows:
* A pencil. I already have tons of pencils, but this one has the Konexi logo on it, so it's special. Oooooh.
* A score pad. It's not a strictly necessary component in a game with as simple a scoring system as this one, but it's a convenient thing to have in the box. (If you want to see a game where a pre-printed score pad is a more essential component, try Zatre or even Triple Yahtzee.)
* A special six-sided die whose sides are labeled 2, 4, 5, 8, 10, and Any Letter.
* A plastic “mover token” whose shape is best described as a cowbell without a clapper, or as a trapezoidal prism with the bottom side gone. The Konexi logo is on the two slanted sides.
* 26 plastic pieces sculpted in the shapes of letters of the English alphabet. The letters have plugs and sockets which can be used to interlock the letters with each other. These are my favorite part of the game, as they are absolutely unique and irreplaceable. The die, for example, could be replaced with any six-sided die (if you remember to associate a roll of 1 with 8, a roll of 3 with 10, and a roll of 6 with Any Letter), and the "mover token" could be replaced by absolutely any trinket, but if you replace the uniquely-shaped Konexi letters with Scrabble tiles, the very essence of the gameplay is destroyed. I absolutely adore these pieces.
* Instructions. They are very short, easy to read, and for the most part they explain the game well, but they have problems. For some strange reason, the instructions say the game is for 2 through 6 players, even though the box says it's only for 2 through 4 players, and the aforementioned score pad only has room for 4 players. I also have a few other qualms about the instructions, but I'll get into them below when I discuss the actual rules of the game.

Here is an image by BGG user Keegrepus of the game pieces, because words cannot do them justice:

The object of Konexi is to be the first player to get to 20 points. To start the game, the players arrange all 26 letters in a circle in any order and place the mover token between any two letters. The player whose birthday is next gets the first turn (unless you're like me and forgot that detail, and simply roll the die to determine the start player), and then play goes around the table.

On your turn, you roll the die and move the Konexi token clockwise the number of spaces (meaning the spaces between pairs of adjacent letters) indicated, or anywhere you want if you roll Any Letter, and choose one of the two letters on either side to use to build a tower. You may only use one hand when doing so, only one letter may touch the playing surface at any one time, and every letter must be notched to a previous letter and not merely be resting on the tower (except, of course, for the first letter, which has no previous letters to connect to and forms the base of the tower). Now that I think about it, the rules don't specify that the yellow surfaces of the letters must all exist on planes perpendicular to the playing surface (since one could technically obey the above placement rules otherwise), even though the illustrations in the rules and on the box make it clear that this was the designers' intent. Is this a flaw in the instructions, or am I just being anal? (I'm genuinely curious about this.)

After successfully placing a letter on the tower, a player may score points if he or she can spell a word using that letter and other letters in the tower. All of the letters in your word must be notched together. You may only score one word per turn; you score one point per letter in the word. Here, I get to my biggest issue with the printed rules, which I quote verbatim:

"Words must be standard English words (no proper names or foreign words)." Good so far.
"When you make a word, it must include the letter you are placing on the tower during this turn." Also good.
"Words can be any number of letters." Does this mean one-letter words are allowed? This kind of trips me up, because I'm not used to one-letter words being permissible in word games, especially since any single letter of the alphabet (such as q) appears as a noun in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. (Actually, that wouldn't be a bad way to handicap a game between players of differing skill levels; the weaker player can take one-letter words, ensuring that at least one point is scored every time a letter is successfully added, but the stronger player has a minimum word length of 2 or 3.)
"You may only score one word per turn." I like this rule; it's very precise and plain to understand. It speeds up the game, too, because you only need to find one word, which is a plus. You merely need to find the longest word possible.
"Every letter in your word must be notched to at least one other letter in the word, but the letters don't need to be in order." This is my biggest complaint about the enclosed instructions; it's clear from the examples on the box that the game's intention is for all of the letters to form a single connected unit via the notches, but the rules only say that each letter has to connect to another letter. This means you can score the word WORD if the W and R are connected to each other, and the O and the D are connected to each other, even if the four letters don't form one single unit. You cannot spell ROD under either interpretation of the rules, however, because the R isn't connected to any other letters in the word ROD. This rule as printed in the booklet is so absolutely inelegant that I absolutely refuse to believe the authors didn't mean for the letters to all form a single unit. Future editions of Konexi absolutely need to rephrase this rule for clarity.

Okay, so my ranting aside, here's a recap of the structure of a turn: roll the die, move the mover token, choose a letter, place the letter, and if possible make a word with the letter and score points for it. Players take turns in this fashion until one of the following happens:

1) Somebody scores the prerequisite number of points to win the game. The game is over.
2) All 26 letters are used, which as far as I can tell has happened only twice in the documented history of BoardGameGeek:

In this case, the players arrange all 26 letters in a circle and place the mover token between two of them, just as they did at the start of the game, and begin a new round of play, starting with the next player in natural turn order.
3) The tower of letters collapses. The player who caused the tower to collapse loses 3 points (scores cannot go below 0, however); the letters and mover token are then set up in a circle and a new round of play begins just as above.

At least one person on BoardGameGeek expressed concern that a game of Konexi could be never-ending if players don't get the right letters to spell words, and keep toppling the tower without getting any words on the board. Additionally, if one-letter words aren't allowed, I can't help but fear that one player in a two-player game could keep the game going on forever by purposefully toppling the tower (even if it's just a single letter) every chance he gets. As such, I've played both of my games such that when someone topples the tower, all of the other players gain 3 points each, and the target score is set at 30 points instead of 20. This method of scoring would, I believe, assuage any concerns of the game not ending without making the rules any less comprehensible.

Another idea I had, in case players are concerned about not getting the right letters for spelling words, is to arrange the circle of letters such that no two of the twelve most common letters (ETAOIN SHRDLU) touch one another, since the rules explicitly say you can put the letters "in any order you want", and not that you have to put them in a completely random order. This creates the largest possible number of spots for the mover token to be where it will be next to at least one of these letters, maximizing the chances that they can be used early. This should be something the players choose to do, though, and not an official rule in future editions of Konexi.

In spite of the criticisms above, I enjoy this game, and want to play it again sometime. The sculpted letters are absolutely fun to look at and to touch, even when the game isn't actually being played, and the game is a unique combination of dexterity and wordplay that absolutely no other game ever made offers. There's some kind of addictive quality to this game that makes me want to see how many letters can be added to the tower before it topples, even if someone has already scored the points required to win, just because adding letters to the tower is so thrilling. While I do believe that some changes are warranted if a second edition of Konexi is ever made (clarify the rules about forming words, refine the penalty for toppling the tower), the gameplay components are not among the things needing to be changed, and thus I find Konexi to be a worthwhile purchase.

(edited to fix mistakes that proofreading missed. Seriously, "foruming" words? What the heck?)
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