Introducing Uptown

It sounds almost bizarre: Enzo and Fred are heading uptown for a night on the town when suddenly, out of nowhere, a game box appears! They open it and hear a voice say: "Your mission is to create a unified group tonight. It is as easy as 1-2-3; minding your ABC's, and melding into familiar territory." They're also told that upon failure, others in distant cities and countries would get this mission. These others, apparently, are gamers like us. And holding Blockers! in your hands means that the mission is yours.

As it turns out, this premise is merely a matter of quirky humour - the game of Blockers! has more in common with Blokus or Sudoku than it does with a sci-fi story about the Roaring 20s. Despite appearances, the theme is just a thin disguise for a somewhat abstract tile-laying game. But it's a good game! And you're here to read more about the game, learn how it works, and see what it looks like.

So welcome to another one of Ender's comprehensive pictorial overviews, in which I give you an overview of a game, and teach you how it works at the same time. To use a term that another BGG user suggested would describe my reviews: a rev-u-torial (review + tutorial)! Please join me as I don my tux, hop in my limo, and let's go uptown!

The Box

The box is a similar size to most of the games in the Kosmos two player line, although perhaps slightly deeper, and it features artwork that will return on the game components:

The back cover introduces us to the theme and mechanics of the game:

If you read the text carefully, you'll find references to the publishers FunagainGames and FRED Distribution. Actually the synopsis introducing the game is rather creative and clever in how it combines the game mechanics, theme, and publishers into a plausible narrative. At the same time it conveys the essentials about the game: Uptown is a tile-laying game for 2-5 players, lasting around half an hour, and the aim is to place your tiles on the board in as few groups as possible.

A special note should be made of the beautifully designed box insert, that stores the game components in an organized fashion:

So what's inside? We find the following components:
● 1 game board
● 140 tiles (28 in each of 5 colours)
● 5 tile racks
● 1 rule sheet

Let's check out the components a little more closely!

Components: The Rule Book

The rules of Uptown are very straight forward - in fact they fit on a single sheet of paper:

Do you speak German? Not to worry, there's a rule sheet in German included as well.

The reverse side of the rules sheet contains a description of the small adjustments to the rules used when playing Uptown with only two players:

At any rate, learning the game is a breeze, and you can teach it in merely a couple of minutes.

Components: Game Board

The game board will remind you of a Sudoku board:

It's essentially a 9x9 grid, divided into 3x3 blocks. Notice the letters on the side, the numbers on the top, and the icons on the squares. Since the game tiles have either a letter, number, or icon on them, the numbers, letters and icons on the board indicate where tiles can be placed:
● a letter tile can be placed anywhere on the row corresponding to that letter
● a number tile can be placed anywhere in the column corresponding to that number
● a picture tile can be placed anywhere in the 3x3 block corresponding to that picture
Told you this was easy! So this means that each tile will have 9 places that it can be placed. To put it differently, each place on the board will have three eligible tiles that can be placed there: either the corresponding letter, number, or picture.

Components: Tile Racks

This game doesn't just have tiles, but it also has tile racks, one for each player.

Very nice indeed! The tile racks look great and work well!

Components: Tiles

Yes I know that by now you're itching to see the tiles. I figured I'd leave the best part for last! The tiles come in five colours, one for each player. And if you're colour blind? Not to worry, the publishers have kindly included symbols to help you distinguish the different colours:

Each unpunched tile sheet includes lots of extra blank tiles, so if you lose a tile or two, there's no need to panic:

Each player gets 28 tiles in their colour, made up of nine letter tiles, nine number tiles, and nine picture tiles:

Notice how most of the picture tiles match the artwork on the front cover:

Perhaps the math major among us will be saying: "ahh, but three times nine makes only 27 - what's the 28th tile?" Yes, indeed, what is the 28th tile? Well each player also gets a tile with a $ symbol:

This represents a wild-card tile, which can be placed anywhere on the board.

So now let's learn how to play!

Game-play: Set-up

The board is placed in the middle of the table. Each player gets all the tiles of one colour and a tile rack, shuffles the tiles face down, and draws five.

That's it! You're ready to go uptown!

Game-play: How to Win

Let's first explain how to win the game, so that you know what you're aiming to do! The goal is to place your tiles and connect them together into one large group, or as few groups as possible. A group consists of adjacent tiles, connected horizontally or vertically (diagonal placement doesn't count). The winner is the player with the fewest groups at the end of the game. Ties are resolved by awarding the win to the player who has captured the least tiles (we'll explain capturing later).

Consider this example, from the end of a game:

Scoring would be as follows:
1 group: Red
2 groups: Green
3 groups: Blue
5 groups: Orange

So in this game, Red would be the winner. Actually the above picture is from a two player game, where each player controls two colours. The player controlling Red and Orange did well with his Red tiles, limiting them to one group, but was quickly in trouble with his Orange tiles, and the four separate groups pictured below was bad news for Orange!

Game-play: Flow of Play

In turns, you each place a tile on the board, then take one of your face-down tiles. Simple huh? So what are the rules for placement?

Placing tiles

Tiles can be placed on any space on the board that corresponds to that tile:

● a letter tile can be placed in any of the nine spaces in the corresponding letter row
● a number tile can be placed in any of the nine spaces in the corresponding number column
● a picture tile can be placed in any of the nine spaces in the corresponding symbol spaces
● a wild card tile ($) can be placed in any space on the board

In the example below, note how each tile is placed so that it corresponds to its appropriate row, column, or symbol.

Capturing tiles

But now we throw in a small twist: when placing a tile, you can capture your opponent's tile by replacing his tile with your tile! Sneaky! There's only one condition: you can't capture an opponent's tile if doing so would split one of his groups into more than one group. Remember, the aim of the game is to have as few groups as possible, so being able to place tiles that would capture an opponent's piece and divide his group, would make capturing too powerful. The following reference illustrates captures that are legitimate:

The tiles with red crosses may not be captured, because they would divide a group into two.

Game end

The game ends when all players have drawn their last tile. At this point each player gets one more turn, which means that you will end up with four unplayed tiles on your rack.

Two player variant

A two player game plays the same as the game for three to five players, but each player uses two tile colours and two tile racks. Colours are kept separate, and a player may not capture one of his own tiles. The winner is determined by adding together the number of groups for each players two colours. The two player game works well, and for many people it is one of the most fun ways to play the game.

Game-play: Strategy

Is the game easy to play? For sure - just like Blokus is easy to learn and play. But just as with Blokus, as you play you'll find yourself discovering some basic strategies that bring it to a deeper level. Should you want to take the game to another level, you can consult a two page document created by the designer Kory Heath about Uptown strategies:
Learn about The Center Strategy, The Edge Strategy, The Two Group Strategy, The Hyper-Aggressive Strategy, and try new styles of play to keep the game fresh and fun!

What do I think?

Don't buy Uptown for the theme or for dazzling artwork. But there are plenty of other good reasons why you might consider getting this abstract game:
● appeals to non-gamers, especially those who enjoy puzzle type challenges
● quick game-play (30 minutes)
● simple rules and very easy to learn
● scales quite well from 2 to 5 players
● tile-draw gives enough randomness to offer good replay value, yet allowing enough possibilities for strategic choices
● decent quality game components and box
The board is reminiscent of Sudoku, but the actual game play is more like Blokus, but it's different enough to make the decisions feel quite different.

What do others think?

Don't just take my word for it! Here are some comments from those that are particularly enthused about Uptown:
"A very pleasant surprise. It's a pure abstract, but it's a very enjoyable one at that. On a similar level to Blokus. The rules are very easy to get across to people, and the game play seems to move at a very brisk pace. Each turn you get a very juicy decision and your turns come around nice and fast." - Sheamus Parkes
"Thoroughly absorbing tile laying game based on Suduko board. A perfect 'spouse' game to sit alongside the likes of Lost Cities." - Jonathan Badger
"Wow. I was shocked at how great this was. The definition of elegant." - Chris Comeaux
"Basic play is very simple, but the strategy level is potentially very high. Seems easy at the start but sneaks up on you in the cunning category quickly. Quick enough game that won't get bogged down, deep enough to have plenty of "furrowed brow" moments." - Everett Hathaway
"Simple rules, but so much is going on!!! Amazingly good abstract filler!" - Hiroshi Ishikawa
"Uptown has simple rules which make a neat game with deeper strategies than are first obvious. One of my favorites." - Jacob Davenport
"Best multi-player abstract game from Essen 07. Very addictive!" - Nienke Sterrenburg


Is Uptown for you? As always, that will depend on your personal taste. I hope that this pictorial overview has helped you learn how the game works, and for a quick multi-player abstract game with a broad appeal and good mix of luck and strategy, you'll be quite pleased with Uptown!

The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews:
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Bryan Maxwell
United States
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Nice review! I believe it was you who originally sent me a geekmail about this game (and Kamisado.)

I ordered Uptown from FunAgain last week ($7 on clearance.) I am, at this very moment, waiting for UPS truck to deliver Uptown and Lost Cities (it's the Scandanavian language edition, but for $8 who cares?)
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