|Age range||5 +|
|Setup time||< 1 minute|
|Playing time||20 - 30 minutes|
|Skill(s) required||Strategic thought|
Blokus is an abstract strategy board game for two to four players, invented by Bernard Tavitian and first released in 2000 by Sekkoïa, a French company. It has won several awards, including the Mensa Select award and the 2004 Teacher's Choice Award. Tavitian, an engineer and artist, was inspired to create the game while trying to find an appropriate frame for a painting of an orchestra made up of geometric figures.
The game is played on a square board divided into 20 rows and 20 columns, for a total of 400 squares. There are a total of 84 game tiles, organized into 21 shapes in each of four colors: blue, yellow, red, and green. The 21 shapes are based on free polyominoes of from one to five squares (one monomino, one domino, two trominoes/triominoes, five tetrominoes, and 12 pentominoes).
The standard rules of play for all variations of the game are as follows:
- Order of play is based on colour, with blue going first, followed by yellow, red, and green.
- The first piece played of each color is placed in one of the board's four corners. Each new piece played must be placed so that it touches at least one piece of the same colour, with only corner-to-corner contact allowed—edges cannot touch.
- When a player cannot place a piece, he or she passes, and play continues as normal. The game ends when no one can place a piece.
When a game ends, the score is based on the number of squares in each player's unplayed pieces; a player loses one point for each square (e.g. a tetromino is worth -4 points). If a player played all of his or her pieces, he or she gets a bonus score of +20 points if the last piece played was a monomino, +15 points otherwise.
The novice typically tries to seal off an area for themselves to reduce the area the opponents can access. But since pieces only are connected via their corners, another player can easily pass through. It is therefore difficult to cut off other people from accessing 'your' area. Instead, the successful tactic is to try to expand into as many areas on the board as possible. In other words, game strategy is dominated by offense rather than defense. Blocking is possible to an extent by cutting off an opponent's access to the corners of their pieces using yours in strategic ways.
Things that one must keep in mind during play:
- Smaller tiles are very useful during the later stages of the game: the smaller a piece is, the better it is at occupying the holes in the tiles of other colors, and thus opening up new areas of the board for expansion.
- It is usually advisable to use up the 5-square tiles early on in the game, because they are difficult to place once the board fills up and because they have the greatest impact on one's final score.
- Typically, games begin with players moving quickly toward the board's centre (the most useful pieces for this are Z5, W5, F5, L5, N5, T5, X5, and V5). It is important to make sure that one establish as many usable corners as possible.
- The basic decision when placing pieces next to an opponent's pieces is whether to "hang" (blocking one of their corners, but thus leaving your own corner exposed to retaliation), "kiss" (exactly meeting at their corners: this provides guaranteed passage for yourself but also for your opponent) or "short" (falling a little short of the cell you wish to move to on the next turn; this only works if your opponent is blocked from the cell because he already has placed a piece adjacent to the cell).
- Establishing "eyes" (small hemmed-in spaces of one, two or three cells) is also important, because other players cannot move into them without wasting valuable small tiles.
- "Jagged" spaces with lots of corners are more defensible (because one can easily turn them into eyes) than rectangular spaces, which allow opponents to hug the walls with impunity and lay down larger pieces.
- One must be careful about deployment of pieces that have long sides and few corners, especially the 4- and 5-tile bars. The long bars are often the best way to reach across the board and to block off an opponent, but they can also actually help one's opponent if placed thoughtlessly, since the player who puts them down risks blocking himself off because of their lack of corners. They can even give safe passage to one's opponent, who can simply lay a 5-bar down next to a 5-bar.
- As with chess or checkers, "tempo" is crucial: if you can be one step ahead of your opponent, then you will usually win. Trying to do this in four-player games is difficult because one must fight a battle on many fronts, but in two-player variants it becomes the central focus of the game.
- Often it is sufficient to establish a threat to block off your opponent without immediately making good on it; it is best to let them walk into the trap if they wish, & instead make moves elsewhere on the board in more vulnerable areas needing attention.
In two-player games, each player takes two colors, usually starting in opposite corners. This allows further strategy, as a player can sacrifice one of their colors in order to strengthen the position of their other color in order to try and play all the pieces of that colour and win the bonus score.
It is also possible to play with three players; in this case each player in turn makes moves with the fourth colour. This is not a perfect solution to three-way games, however, because the player diagonally opposite the fourth (multiplayer) colour has an advantage. (A better solution is the Trigon version of the game--see below.)
Expansions and spinoffs
Sekkoïa and its distributors manufacture three additional versions of the game.
Blokus Duo/Travel Blokus
Blokus Duo is for two players only, and uses a smaller (14×14) board; the piece colors are (purple and orange). The two starting squares are placed, not in the corners (as in the original Blokus game) but nearer to the centre. This makes a crucial difference in the flavour of the game, because players' pieces may (and usually do) touch after the first move. Even more than with the original game, Blokus Duo is an offence-centred game; it is also a much purer strategy game than the four-player game, since one is not in danger of getting ganged up on by three other players (as sometimes happens with the four-player version).
Blokus Trigon uses pieces made up of triangles rather than squares, and is played on a hexagonal board, a version optimized for three players but can be played with 2,3,or 4 players.
Blokus Giant is a larger version, with the game board being about 2 ft (1 m) square.
Funkitron developed a PC casual game version of Blokus called Blokus World Tour. Released in December 2007, World Tour was faithful to the board game version of Blokus while adding 16 playable characters, music and sound effects, and multiple game modes including a tour mode, quick play, and Blokus Challenges.
There is also an online version of Blokus at Blokus Online, where visitors may play with opponents all over the world, with three game mode types, Blokus Original, Blokus Trigon (2 players, four colours only), and Blokus Duo. (Only in "Competition" can a player earn points; there is also a "Training" room that is just for training.)
According to Sekkoïa, the correct pronunciation of "Blokus" is with a "soft o" (as in "block"), reflecting the fact that blocking is part of the game's strategy.