Ubongo!

Not to be confused with the tropical fruit drink that used to be advertised as one that they drink in the Congo, Ubongo! is actually a pentominoes-style puzzle game from Kosmos.



Shown here on Board's Eye View is the travel edition of the game but Ubongo! has been through more than a dozen iterations since it was first published in 2003. The game is designed by Grzegorz Rejchtman and each of the editions uses slightly different components and mechanics but all involve using polyomino shapes to complete a grid.


In this travel edition for 1–4, players each have identical sets of eight polyomino shapes. They draw puzzle cards from the 32 double-sided cards in the box (64 puzzles) and they compete over several rounds to be the first to complete a puzzle. Tho' this edition doesn't come with a timer, there's a strong up-against-the-clock element, especially when playing with 4 players: the first each round to complete a puzzle is suppose to count down from 20 or 30 (depending on the difficulty level) and they win and score the other players' cards as well as their own unless those players complete their puzzles before the countdown reaches zero.



If the thought of a countdown feels too tense and stressful, don't worry: Ubongo! is a game that readily lends itself to variants and house rules. The game incorporates solo versions where you'll try to complete as many puzzle cards as you can in a set amount of time or where you draw a set number of cards and see how quickly you can complete them. You can easily adapt one of these for two or more players.


Tho' the game is simple, thought has gone into its design. For all of the puzzle cards, it's possible to find a solution that does not use the straight three square tile (the yellow tile in this set). You can therefore upscale the difficulty of the game by removing that tile or use it as a way of handicapping an experienced player competing against a novice.


The ubiquity of Ubongo! is testament to its popularity and this small box real-time game deserves its place on your games shelf and in your holiday suitcase.


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