Tetris has a lot to answer for. Sorting those shapes and keeping them tidy to allow for the Pavlovian flash of colour and sound that signifies a line disappearing is still one of the greatest joys of video games. Though board game Blokus works almost in completely the opposite way – seeing the game board fill up and become increasingly busy with no hope of clearing space – the colourful, block-based shapes will no doubt put Tetris in the minds of players almost immediately.
Blokus is an absolute classic abstract strategy game for four players and I say that very deliberately, as it doesn’t quite work unless you have a quartet of participants involved. Since its initial release in the year 2000 – yep, it’s now 22 years old – its been a mainstay in the board games sector, with lots of variations and editions having been released over the years.
What we’re looking at today is one of those editions: Travel Blokus, a shrunken down version of the full game. Previous smaller versions of Blokus have reduced the size of the playfield and adapted the game for two players only, whereas the current Travel Blokus actually utilises the same 20×20 playfield as the standard edition – but with much smaller squares and pieces.
The gameplay in Blokus is ridiculously simple: players start with a full set of 21 pieces – all shapes using one to five square patterns. Each turn, players will place one of their pieces on the playfield, making sure that it touches one of their previous pieces – but only corner-to-corner contact is permitted (obviously, the rules for placing the very first piece are slightly different: it has to be placed in one of the four corners of the board). Players continue doing this until they can no longer place any more pieces using the corner-to-corner contact rule; once all players are unable to place any more pieces, the player with the least amount of total squares left on all their remaining, unplaced pieces wins.
This results in a fast paced, deeply involving game of cat and mouse in which players try and block each other while still leaving room for themselves to continue, all the while having to try and rid themselves of their larger pieces so as to not miss out on victory at the game’s end. It’s a tactile and visually pleasing game too, with its well made plastic pieces and sturdy game board.
The Travel version is a little too ambitious for its own good, however. It’s just too small and all players bar those with tiny digits will end up knocking pieces out of place, especially when heading towards the latter stages of the game, due to the size of the board and components. It’s near enough unavoidable and can be disastrous, as it’ll knock so many other pieces out of place that it can be hard to get everything back where it was.
I’m not sure if the copy I own is faulty in some way, but the plastic hinge on the lid also seems flimsy and not secure in the slightest – meaning that taking the game out on an adventure is near enough impossible without the fear of losing pieces from the thin storage compartments inside the board.
So while Blokus itself is a game that everyone of any age or skill level can both enjoy and excel at with little experience, unfortunately the Travel version does fall short and reach a little too high. Had it been just a bit bigger, some of the issues could have been avoided – unfortunately, the hinge also feels cheaply made too; the plastic pieces and board themselves are fine in terms of their construction though, despite the far too small size.
If you really want to play Blokus on the move, the full size version isn’t prohibitively huge and I’d suggest taking that along on your adventures instead. It is much more practical and easy to manipulate during play, though of course if your space is restricted, it won’t be of much use. Perhaps it’s just the case that Blokus isn’t suited to portable play in any case: there’s too many tiny pieces and the loss of just one would upset the perfect balance of the game tremendously, so it’s not worth the risk.
Though I’m not disappointed with the game itself at all – hey, it’s still Blokus – I can’t recommend the Travel Blokus edition, sadly.
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