Lowell Kempf(Gnomekin)United States
Back in 2008, some friends of mine introduced me to Uptown.
You probably are already familiar with the game but here’s the quick description. The board is a nine by nine grid of nine by nine grids, just like Sudoku board. It’s broken down into rows (numbers) and columns (letters) and each sub-grid has its own symbol. Each player has a set of tiles, one of each number, letter and symbol, plus a wild tile that can go anywhere.
You have a hand of five but tiles have to be placed so they match the icon on them. Your goal is to make as few groups of tiles as possible. You can capture other players’ tiles but you couldn’t break up another player’s group and the tie breaker is whoever has captured the fewest pieces.
It’s themed around the roaring ‘20s but, honestly, the theme is so thin that even Lost Cities beats it out for integrating theme and mechanics. I don’t even think the rules make a pretense of you trying to set up chains of night clubs or something.
That said, taken as a light abstract, Uptown hit all the right spots for me. It was easy to teach and quick to play but offered some depth of play. The game played two to five but the box was smaller than Lost Cities. All that made it an easy game to get to any table and I got some decent play out of my copy.
Recently, I learned that it had been rethemed as Blockers, stripping away the teeny, tiny amount of theme that it had. Since I already had a copy of Uptown, I didn’t think anything of it.
However, even more recently, it got added to BSW so I ended up taking a look at anyway.
I don’t spend as much time on BSW as I used to but I still end up there regularly. It’s a good way to get a game fix when my schedule is busy. Since Blockers is a simple enough game to play, the interface was super-easy to figure out and I was able to get a few games in.
And in the process, I learned that Blockers had one simple but meaningful rule change.
Before, captured tiles were simply the tie-breaker, albeit one that often came up. In the revised rules, captured tiles are now penalty points. And that makes a real difference and actually adds some depth to the game.
With the Uptown rules, limiting your number of groups was the name and capturing bordered on being a penalty-free action, particularly if you knew an opponent needed the captured tile to extend a group. In effect, you meant that they would get penalized with no harm to yourself. Sure, captured tiles were a tie breaker but if the delta meant there was a chance of the other guy losing a point, it was a no-brainer.
Now that capturing a tile does come with an automatic penalty, you do have to think about it. It’s still often a move worth making but it’s not an auto-move. As for people placing blocking tiles with the hopes that you would capture it and remove a one-tile group, well, people do that with either set of rules.
In general, it’s nice to see a game I enjoyed still getting exposure and it’s always fun to see how a little tweak can make a meaningful difference.