I teach mathematics at a small private liberal arts university. I find that mathematics draws students from all over the social spectrum, from the quiet, quirky types to the loud, outgoing class clowns. In the latter category, I happen to know a student who turned 17 just before beginning at the university, and who is obsessed with Connect Four. My Ph.D. in mathematics apparently means nothing, as I can’t beat him even though I know it’s a “solved” game (there is an algorithm that guarantees victory for the first player). But when I saw Blue Orange was putting out Brix by Charles Chevallier and Thierry Denoual, my interest was immediately piqued thanks to that student. The game is ostensibly a cross between Tic-Tac-Toe and Connect Four – but surely it could rise above that legacy? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:
Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?
Components: This has to be the simplest game, component-wise, that I’ve ever seen. It is literally 22 copies of the same plastic brick. The bricks are nice and chunky rectangles consisting of two smaller squares stuck together, with every combination of blue and orange, X and O, appearing on the various faces. The box is an appropriate size and I was impressed to find that the plastic insert had a cardboard support under it (due to the bricks being so heavy). My only (unfounded) complaint is that I hate when box lids have see-through plastic windows, but that’s just personal preference – I don’t want people seeing my awful organization! The MSRP is pretty aggressive at $19.99, considering how big and chunky the pieces are. Nothing to complain about, and I love when components are simple and clean.
Accessibility: You know a game is simple when I can teach it to you right here. Players take turns placing and stacking blocks, making sure the area is no more than 8 units across the bottom. The goal depends on if you are playing beginner or expert, although it is always to make four in a row of your symbol or color. In beginner mode, either one player is Xs and one player is Os, or one player is orange and the other is blue (these game modes are equivalent). In the advanced mode, one player is the symbols, needing four Xs or four Os in row, and the other player is the colors, needing four blues or four oranges in a row. It’s quite a simple game and you’ll be playing in minutes – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to win.
Depth: This game is very much in the spirit of Connect Four, but with key differences. The first is that the connected blocks mean that you are always putting something on the board for the opponent as well as yourself. They also mean you can do stranger things, like “reach” two spaces away with a single block. The second is the freeform playing area, compared to the locked grid of Connect Four. But far away the most interesting difference is when playing the advanced mode, where one player controls the symbols while the other player controls the colors. This turns the game into a real brain-burner, and sets it apart from simply being a variant of known quantities. I view the beginner modes as ways to teach how the blocks work, and after that, I don’t see myself ever playing anything bu the advanced mode. It’s probably still a solvable puzzle, but one that will require some head-scratching to work out.
Theme: I like that Blue Orange went with blue and orange bricks.
Fun: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my games of Brix. I generally don’t play a lot of luckless abstracts, but I enjoy how Brix has the fun look and the toy factor to go with it. It looks cool as the wall builds and even has a tiny dexterity element (if you knock it over, you lose). It’s nowhere near the level of strategy or involvement as, say, Onitama, but this is a far better game for kids while still interesting for adults. I look forward to many more games of it being played around the math department offices, and hopefully someday with my two-year-old, who for now just likes to stack the bricks. And hopefully I won’t be playing as much Connect Four.
Brix is a simple, clean abstract game with a beautiful, fun look and interesting gameplay – not much to complain about here!
4 out of 5