With its cloth bag full of brightly coloured building blocks, Helvetiq's K3 may look like a children's toy but it is in fact a cleverly designed abstract strategy game.
The game is played using satisfyingly chunky wooden hex-shaped blocks. You start by drawing nine blocks from a bag of coloured blocks and laying these out in a connected row. This will be the base on which players will all be building. The only limitation within set up is that the nine blocks must include at least four different colours of the five in the bag.
Now players take turns drawing blocks out of the bag. The number drawn varies according to the number of players: it's 17 in a two player game, 12 in a three-player game and 9 with four players. In addition, players take a set number of white and natural wood blocks. Blocks assembled, players each then build their own pyramids, with the length of the base row varied according to the number of players. Each row is one less than the row below, so, for example, a pyramid in a three-player game would have rows 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. You're not stacking your blocks at random. You are, in effect, programming your actions in the competitive phase of the game because when all the players have built their pyramids they'll be taking turns to remove a block to play it to the central tableau (that initial row of nine blocks).
Blocks can only be placed where they straddle at least one block of the matching colour. You want to try to avoid building on two blocks of the same colour because, tho' a legal move, that will incur a penalty - allowing the next player to take one of your blocks and add it to the side of their pyramid, thus adding to the blocks available for them to use. Natural wood blocks are 'wild' in that they can represent any colour. White blocks can be played to pass. If at any point you cannot place out one of the blocks accessible to you then you are eliminated from the game. You win when you are the last player left.
Tho' K3 has intuitively simple rules that make it easy to learn, it delivers a surprisingly challenging strategy game that's very different from most other games that use a planning and programming mechanic. It works well at all three player counts and it's even playable as a fairly easy cooperative variant where players are trying to ensure that they can collectively complete the 9-base pyramid without anyone being eliminated. And tho' the competitive game involves player elimination, that only occurs in the latter part of the game so there's little risk of an eliminated player having to wait more than a couple of minutes for the rest of the game to finish.