Table-top Tetris

The idea of Tetris as a physical board game is not a new idea. (I have a small collection of them.) While visiting Kotaku tonight, I found an intriguing post about two new Tetris board games showcased at the Toy Fair 2011 in New York City.

First I’ll mention Tetris Link, a stand-up version of Tetris for up to four players. The gameplay here is not about breaking lines. You get one color, (and presumably all the shapes), and you try and connect up your pieces while preventing your opponents from doing the same. I’m not exactly blown away by the originality here, although I suppose none of the other Tetris board games have been all that ground breaking either, but at least this could have had a hint of strategy in it, if they hadn’t introduced a die that you use to determine which piece you get to drop. I mean, sure, I’d buy it just for the die with Tetris shapes on it, but do I want to play a game with that mechanic in it? Not really. Fortunately, I’m sure it won’t be too hard to make up some slightly more thought-provoking rules about when you get to drop what pieces.

Tetris Link won’t be hitting stores until sometime later this year, and it sounds like it’ll be exclusive to B&N before it hits shelves everywhere. I don’t know if I’ll even remember to look for it at B&N, so it could be quite a while before I get this one. Also, I pilfered the photo above from Tetris Link’s facebook page, where it looks like they had some giant Tetris pieces to play with, as illustrated by these Tetris booth babes. (There were a lot more photos like that one on Facebook. Shameless, or fun? You decide.) You can also register to win a copy from the Facebook page (at least for the next day or two).

This is the one I feel is a MUST HAVE (although, lets be honest here, I’m obviously a collector, and I’ll be getting them both). The game, which may or may not be called simply “Tetris the Card Game“, is apparently getting made by Fundex, the same folks who made five billion versions of Phase 10. Apologies for the bad video still, but I simply wasn’t able to find out much of anything about this game! I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy, and the video says they’re available now!!! Chances are that it’ll be in Target (based on the Phase 10 connection) and all over the place, but I’ll be damned if I can find it anywhere online tonight. When I get access to some actual product information, I’ll have to post it here (as well as at boardgamegeek, which is still unaware this product exists). This is appealing to me for a lot of reasons, but mainly because it looks kind of like a multiplayer puzzle mode for Tetris.

In my scouring the internet for the above card game, I eventually remembered to try the official Tetris site, where I’d forgotten they do occasionally post some pretty interesting Tetris related news items. Some quick links to things I missed in the last year or so since I’d been on there:

Visit the Kotaku post for videos of both of the new board/card games in action.

New header and Chesstris.com tagline

Today marks the re-launch of Chesstris.com. I had a bit of a revelation in the car the other day, and realized that both the video games I’ve designed and actually completed are hybrid video games mashed-up with board games. This is a mixture that I wholeheartedly endorse and enjoy, and it’s one that I realized that the name “Chesstris” could also be imagined to embody. Anyway, it’s what I will now endeavor to spend more time examining here.

Chesstris, where board games and video games collide.

To kick off this new era for the site, I thought I’d start with a review of one of the most worthy board games I’ve seen converted to a video game for the iPhone, Carcassonne.

Sure, the Carcassonne app, for iOS has only been around since the beginning of June, but we’ve actually been playing Carcassonne the board game for years in my house. Literally, I’ve been playing Carcassonne longer than I’ve known my wife Florence, which, while it hasn’t actually been that long, feels like pretty much forever. (Not in a bad way, I swear!) I have a bunch of the expansions, and I keep them all together in the special edition wooden box that came with Carcassonne, The City. (The City is actually a stand-alone game, with pieces that are incompatible with the original game. This is the number one reason it is relegated to the closet while we keep the standard game and all its compatible expansions in the living room with the “often played” games.) Anyway, I bought Carcassonne for the iPhone as soon as I heard it was out, and straight away convinced Florence and our friend Angela to play a game with me on the iPad.

Right away I was pretty impressed about how the game didn’t look pixel doubled on the iPad in 2X mode. I was also impressed by what I didn’t experience — frustration with the UI. The User Experience on Carcassonne is pretty darn close to perfect. When you sit down to start listing out the features of this great app, you actually start to get a little overwhelmed with how great it is. It’s no wonder it took a year to make, really. (Incidentally, if you’re a fan of the game, that podcast is well worth a listen, especially if you’re an iOS developer.)
1) They implemented pretty much every kind of multiplayer possible. Pass-and-play on the same device, multi-device on Wifi or bluetooth local networks, internet play with no time limit, and internet play with 60 seconds per turn. There is an invitation system for playing against friends who also have the app, or you can play against random opponents.
2) They built in 6 or 8 different kinds of AI (I forget which), for playing local games on the device.
3) You have a persistent ELO stored, both on your device for local/solo games, and another two — one on the server against friends, and another for playing against those random opponents. Keep in mind, AFAIK, there was no concept of ELO for Carcassonne before this app. (Not to say it didn’t exist, but I didn’t know about it.)
4) Push notifications let you know when it’s your turn to play. This has since become a feature requirement if I make a turn-based iPhone app in the future.
5) This feature, while it may not sound like much, is one of those little details that makes a game feel incredibly highly polished. They could easily have left this out, but I feel certain this was one of those features that someone really felt they had to get in there, and it really adds a lot, in my opinion: On the screen that lists your in-progress games, there is a thumbnail representing the shape of the tiles for that game. This basically “personalizes” each game, and makes the list of games you’re playing feel that much more unique.
6) Can’t forget, there is an entirely new game mode invented for the iPhone app that allows you to play solo against the game, while simultaneously giving you a score at the end that you can compare to everyone else’s score for that particular solo game. (There is one unique set of tiles released each week, or you can play a random set.)

I’m sure there are more features I’m forgetting, but it’s worth mentioning that the game play screen itself is just an amazing piece of touch-based software engineering. It’s got all the standard pinch-and-zoom stuff, and for all the information it’s cramming onto the screen, doesn’t feel cluttered or busy at all.

With no limit that I’ve seen on the number of games you can play, we’ve got about six friends and every permutation of games going. I have a game with Florence and Angela, along with a game with just Angela, and one with just Florence. Then there’s a game with Florence and Angela and Mike, along with a game with just Mike, and of course a game with Mike, Angela, and me, and Mike, Florence and me. You get the idea. I’ll spare you my spelling-out how this scales to include Nate, Roo and Sebastian.

Overall, I have gotten so much more than $5 worth of pleasure out of this app that it’s not even funny. I play Carcassonne on my iPhone as much as, and sometimes more than, I use the Mail app (which I do daily, btw). Carcassonne is not really a hybrid board game / video game, but it’s such a great conversion of one to the other that it’s definitely worth reviewing here. We really enjoy it a lot, and hope you do too!