by Lee Valentine
Published by Sekkoïa (licensed to Educational
Insights in the U.S.)
Designed by Bernard Tavitian
Blokus (pronounced "Block Us") is a tile-laying
strategy board game designed to really test a player's spatial relations
skills. The game is played on a grid, with the goal being to fit as many
of your own shaped tiles onto the grid as possible while blocking
your opponents' attempts to play their own pieces.
Blokus is published by a company called Sekkoïa, which
licenses publishing rights to other companies such as Educational
Insights in the United States. Blokus was designed by French
mathematician and scientist Bernard Tavitian.
Each player is given 21 distinct polyominos to play with. A domino is an
example of a polyomino (dominos are made up of exactly two joined
squares). For readers familiar with the video game Tetris, that
game uses tetrominos - polyominos made up of four square sub-units. The
polyominos in Blokus are all shapes made up of groupings of
congruent squares, where each square is connected to at least one other
square on the piece by an edge, rather than merely on a corner. Using 21
shapes in Blokus allows for all the possible polyomino shapes
that can be made from one to five sub-squares that are legally
constructable based on the above specifications.
There are four colors of pieces in Blokus: blue, yellow, red, and
green. In Blokus, each player is assigned a starting square and
set of 21 distinct polyominos of a specific color. Other than color,
each set of pieces is identical. A player's starting square is on a
designated corner of a 20 unit by 20 unit grid. The first piece played
by each player must cover his designated corner of the board. Each piece
played must fit entirely on the grid without overlapping any part of
another previously played piece. Each of your pieces after the first
must have at least one square of the new piece diagonally adjacent to a
square on one of your previously played pieces. However, no square of
any newly played piece can be orthogonally adjacent to any square on any
of your previously played pieces. There is no restriction about how your
pieces can be played relative to the pieces of other players, provided
that your pieces don't overlap theirs.
Players take turns in color order (blue, yellow, red, and green) playing
one piece at a time. Players continue playing in this fashion, skipping
over any player who can no longer legally play. When all players can no
longer play, the game is scored.
Players start with a score of zero, and at the end of the game they lose
one point for every sub-square on each of their pieces that they were
unable to play. So, for example, if you were unable to play your domino
(the two square piece) then you would lose two points. If a player plays
all of his pieces, then he gets a 15 point bonus (instead of scoring zero).
If a player plays all of his pieces and uses his monomino (his piece
made up of just a single square) as his last play, then he gets another
five points, making his round score 20 total points. Blokus is an
oddity, in that it's one of the few games where the winner and the
losers alike often have a negative score, but this is merely a result of
the fact that you almost always have fewer pieces unplayed than played,
so the counting is quicker by penalizing players for unplayed pieces
than by counting played pieces.
The more, the merrier
While Blokus really shines in four player play, it is playable
with two to four players.
In three player mode, the game is played normally, except that the green
pieces are owned by nobody. Players instead take turns playing a green
piece whenever green is owed a turn. So, the turn order is blue, yellow,
red, green (played by blue), blue, yellow, red, green (played by
In two player play, one player takes blue and red, and the other player
takes yellow and green. Each player plays a piece of the appropriate
color in the normal blue, yellow, red, and green turn order. When the
game is over, each player computes the score for each of his colors
separately and then sums up the scores of the two colors he was playing.
Blokus can even be played with four players in teams of two, with
each player taking one color and adding his score at the end of the game
to his partner's score to determine a team score. In all modes of play
except the two player mode of play, it is possible for an inexperienced
neighboring opponent to get so carried away with thwarting your moves
that he ends up hurting both you and himself. I found this particularly
true with the three player mode of play when I tried it, making me like
three player Blokus substantially less than playing with two or
Sekkoïa manufactures another version of Blokus just for two
players called Travel Blokus or Blokus Duo. Blokus
Duo comes with only two colors of pieces, orange and violet. Unlike
the two player version of the classic Blokus game, in Blokus
Duo each player plays just one color, and plays on a 14 x 14
grid. Unlike classic Blokus, the starting squares for
Blokus Duo are not the corners, but spaces five units in from
the corner: one player must cover grid position (5,5) on his first move
and the other player must cover grid position (10,10) on his first move.
The game's rules are otherwise identical to Blokus. I mention
Blokus Duo's rules here, because it is entirely possible for
two players to mark off a corner of a classic Blokus board and to
play using the Blokus Duo rules. Blokus Duo is a very
fast-paced game, and is worth experimenting with on a classic board.
Blokus is a well packaged and well manufactured game. In many
of the tile-laying games that I have played, the tiles
annoyingly shift constantly, which would ruin a game like Blokus.
Sekkoïa has found a really ideal solution to this problem. It is
very common for a domino to have a slight groove in between each square
on one of its faces. Polyominos in Blokus have such a groove on
each side of each sub-square on both their faces. The grid itself is
made up of recessed squares with raised gridlines. The gridlines fit
inside the grooves on the polyominos so that they are reasonably secure
after you let them go. The tongue-and-groove fit of the pieces is just
shallow enough, however, that it's easy to pick up the pieces during
cleanup or if you need to reorient a piece that slipped out of your
fingers a bit too early.
The polyomino pieces are colored transparent plastic which are
attractive and sturdy. The board is made of a sturdy plastic which will
survive heavy play. Being plastic, the game is a lot more friendly to
kids and adult gamers alike who are eating or drinking while playing. A
spilled cola might ruin your copy of Fury of Dracula, but will probably
just require a damp sponge to repair your copy of Blokus.
I also liked the storage materials Sekkoïa included. Each color has
its own triangular storage tray, which means that when you cleanup, you
are immediately ready to play the next time you open the box. The four
triangular trays fit together flush in the box, on top of the board, and
this keeps the pieces from moving around much during transport. That
said, Blokus is a game that likes to be stored flat, and the
contents might slip out if you tried to store the box sideways. As with
your other games, consider using some plastic bags if you feel the need
to store Blokus on its side or if you transport it around a lot.
The rulebook itself is full color and is written in pretty clear
language, although it does not address whether a player can
"pass" if he can't figure out a play to make, and whether, if
he passes, if he can resume play later when he figures out a legal move.
As a result of this omission, some players can suffer analysis
paralysis, exhausting every possible square on the board before
declaring that they have no further moves they can make, and that can
cause the game to stall occasionally.
Blokus is one of the best selling games of the last ten years.
It has broken into mainstream toy and game stores. It's the perfect
gateway game - the rules are simple enough to teach a casual gamer, but
the strategy is deep enough for alpha gamer geeks around the world. It
can be an easy game for players to fall victim to "analysis
paralysis", so be forewarned.
According to its publisher Sekkoïa, Blokus has been
nominated for more than 25 distinct toy and game awards to date. That
alone should tell you how good the game is, at least as a four player
game. I found Blokus was also great as a two player game. As a
three player game, however, it was merely good. But I did like the fact
that the game scaled well all the way from two to four players. Most
games in my collection that tend to be great for four players are lousy
for two, and vice versa.
This is a game that just about every gamer with a family should have in
his collection. The pieces are a choking hazard for tiny tots, but for
older children, this is a great way to build up their spatial relations
skills while playing a really great game.
If you would like to try Blokus before you buy it, Sekkoïa
has created an online
version of Blokus that you can play for free. They also
recently licensed rights to create a version of Blokus that you
can play solo against your computer, called Blokus World Tour, which costs $19.99,
but which has a one hour free trial period. See my full review of Blokus World
Tour for more information.
Overall: A (for fans of abstract games, B+ otherwise)
Time to Learn: 5 minutes or less
Retailer Salability: B+ (Blokus is a hot seller worldwide, but is readily available
in the mass market which may result in sales problems in some hobby channels
if there is stiff competition from a big box store like Target nearby)