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Blockus

Appearances can be deceiving

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Sometimes a game appears deceptively easy to play. Only in the midst of such a game does one realize that it is, in fact, not. That's when you're in trouble if you have not been taking it seriously. In effect, you're screwed. Blokus is just such a game.

The game's inventor, Bernard Tavitian-a painter, musician and engineer-was looking for a frame for his painting of an orchestra using geometric figures as the subjects. Deciding to make his own, he chose a geometrical design similar to his painting. The original solution was a complex set of rules he set for himself using pentaminoes-shapes made up of five squares. He reworked the frame for his painting with the rules that no two pieces of the same color would ever touch. For his rules he adopted the principles of a mathematical theorem-the four color theorem.

The four color theorem originated in 1852 when Francis Guthrie noticed that he could use only four colors to colorize a map of the counties of England. The trick, he noticed, was to have every county not be adjacent to another county of the same color. By 1922 it had finally been proven that the four color theorem proved true for maps with at most 25 regions.

Bernard, working with this theorem, realized he had the basics for a deceptively easy game, one that would prove extremely challenging. Since then, he has invented more than 30 games and has won many awards.

The rules are simple. The goal is to place as many of your 21 pieces on the board first. Each piece is a unique shape made up of connected squares. Four players take a turn placing a piece on the board originating from their corner. As play progresses, two pieces of the same color must be in contact through their corners. Two pieces of the same color cannot be in contact on their sides, and when no plays are left on the board, the winner is the one with the least amount of pieces left unplaced.

Sounds simple, right? In the early portions of the game it can be. But strategy is very important in the early phases. Think of Tetris meets Chess. The first strategy you should know is to take territory early in the game. Work your pieces towards your opponents, blocking them from moving into your territory. The second stage of advice is to use your biggest pieces first. As space gets cramped later in the game you won't find spaces on the board to fit them in.

Blokus can be fun, frustrating and drive people insane. It's no wonder that it has received a Mensa Select award. What we have noticed playing it at home is that because the rules are so simple (requiring no reading, math or vocabulary), children grasp the concept quickly. They "get it" so well that it is humbling when an 8-year-old beats you at your best game. This game is an equalizer across age differences and skills. It's hard to predict who will win when four people sit down to play. You can play with two players each taking two colors, or in teams of four as well. There is also Blokus Duo, designed with two colors specifically for just two opponents.

Perhaps most fun is playing online at www.blokus.com against their "robot." It's a great way to practice and get ready for those challenges from the under 10 crowd.

We bought our copy of Blokus from Book & Game on Main Street, downtown Boise.

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