Thursday, March 31, 2011

REVIEW: Bendomino

Designer: Thierry Denoual
Publisher: Blue Orange
Players: 2-4
Ages: 6+
Time: 10-20 minutes
Price: $15

Bendominoes are dominoes.... that bend!

You probably already figured out that much, but what does it mean? Isn't reinventing dominoes kind of like reinventing the wheel? Isn't a domino just fine the way it is?

Why, yes--yes it is. But Bendomino takes a familiar favorite and adds a twist. (I'm so sorry I just wrote that.)

Dominoes have been around for at least 3500 years, and have spawned countless games based on their simple design. They replicate the roll of two dice in a single rectangular playing piece, but with the addition of a null (blank) face. Most commonly, you play by matching the number of pips (valued 0 to 6) on a domino in your hand to one in play on the table. It's a simple construct that allows for many drawing, placement, and scoring variations.

Bendomino adds a unique new element by giving each domino a 90-degree bend. Thus, four dominoes placed end-to-end form not a single line, but a circle.

This adds a new aspect to the game by altering not only the placement possibilities, but the strategic play. A bendomino may be placed in such a way that the game layout is either open or closed. An open placement means that the next player can place a domino facing in either direction. A closed placement means that a player is limited to placing his domino only in one direction.

The result is a more tactical and potentially aggressive game, with each player making decisions that can thwart an opponent while leaving an opening for himself. The resulting domino layout (known as the "line of play") becomes a single snaking track with openings limited to one of two ends. You can't use spinners (doubles placed crosswise) to alter the direction of the layout and open up new lines. You have to rely on strategic placement of the curves to change the direction. It's even possible to close off one end of a board entirely, potentially shutting down an opponent so you can play out your hand at the other end.

The game come in large curved tin. (A little too large and a little too curved for my tastes, but it's nicely made.) The pieces are solid and heavy, with colored pips for faster identification. It's a sturdy, well-made game that will hold up to years of play.

The instructions contain a few drawing and scoring variants, but this is a fairly simple game to understand and play. It can be learned in about 30 seconds, but provides an interesting and fun new way to play dominoes. If you don't like dominoes, this isn't going to change your mind. But if you enjoy tile placement and are looking for an fresh variant on a familiar family game, then Bendomino is a great pick.


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