La Boca (2013) review
Tetris is probably one of the most popular and well-known video games ever (baring Skyrim). It's a simple logic puzzle against the clock which has hooked many of us with it’s simple addiction. Luckily this formula has transferred into the board game medium very easily. Blokus is one game that uses this entrapment mechanism. Ubongo is another very popular one. But I grew up with Skirrid, a game that I didn’t learn to play until I read the rules, once every year, for ten or so years (until I understood them). Placing these tetromino pieces down so they connect and give out maximum scores. And like Skirrid, this game has been out of print for a while as well. But it is coming back to store shelves very soon from french publishers Super Meeple & Tiki Editions.
La Boca (no, I’m not going to talk about the buildings that inspired the title) goes one better than these 2 to 4 player titles, by offering 6 players the pleasure of moving cubes around to create patterns. Ok, that doesn't sound as much like Tetris. But for me, it's the same visual logical puzzle using cubic shapes and going against a timer. Another thing that this game offers which is different to many others is the fact that it is semi Co-operative but mainly competitive.
The object of the game is one each round, 2 random players to arrange these cubic cubes into a pattern. And in the quickest time possible. The quicker the time, the more points both these players will win. That sounds simple yes? The only problem comes from the fact that these two players will be constructing two patterns with the same cubes. As both players will be sat at opposite sides of the game board. Which just by chance happens to be the box insert. A very nice touch. There are two levels of difficulty in the game and these come in the form of cards. These cards depict the patterns that the players are trying to make. Once a card is chosen at random, it is quickly slotted into the box insert, cleverly stood on one end. So one player can see the front of the card and the other player sees the back. These patterns coincide with the structure that both players will need to build. Here communication is essential.
Both players are trying to build the same structure but from two different perspectives. And these perspectives both must match. By chance, each block is a different colour, so you have a good visual clue to what goes where. It’s just arranging it so it coincides with the other players plan. Due to the fact that neither player can see the backside of this piece of architecture, they will be communicating which colours they see and don't see. As well as pointing out structural points of interest. Against the clock, this banter will be hot and rapid. Tempers may rise and frustration make kick in when things do not go to your plan. But in the end, once you and your temporary partner are satisfied, the clock stops and the relief drains from your body. The other players who are not currently participating will then inspect your plan and construction to verify whether you have arrived at your goal. If doing so correctly, you gain and number of points depending on which time band you have completed your quest.
Once all players have partnered up at least once with every other player in the game, the conclusion unfolds. This is where you total up your score from the tokens you received to see who is the La Boca champion. And that's the game.
It's simple in concept and elegant in its execution. The system for choosing who plays against who is a very simple one involving tokens. And this guarantees that nobody misses a turn. As in a clockwise order, you will take a token that you have randomly in front of you to reveal which player you're playing. The graphic design on these tokens is a bit lackluster and I presume they are abstract images of window and shutters. And they kind of do their job because players are going to be moving around. Switching chairs as the main board will rest in one place. Therefore the tokens will be left lying around and sometimes players will confuse their tokens with another players as they sit in their space while the other is playing. An upgrade of individual sacks for each player with tokens placed inside may prove better but we shall see what the reprint will do.
I like Tetris and some of the other board game variants around, another thing that makes this stand out not only in complexity is the challenge of thinking in three dimensions. These cubic shapes can be rotated and rolled in more than one way. Some can lay behind others, hiding them from view for one of the two players. Shapes that you normally would stand up in one fashion may be played in a way that you would not recognise the form. Partially covering one shape with another. Giving you different ways to interpret the structure you need to create. Is the pink cube on top of the grey cube or is it stood up behind the great cube?
And it's this semi co-operative aspect which is really interesting. As you want to get the quickest time which will generate more points for yourself. But every time you play you will have an opponent play with you. And if they play badly or slowly, this will affect not only their score, but your own. So motivating less capable players is a fun challenge. And creating a language that you and all the other players understand when it comes to your turn, or maybe a unique language for each individual player is a nice way to show off your management skills. And at the same time, this pairing of every other player balances the game to a point. Everyone will get to play with the novice and everyone will get to play with the expert. Then the winner becomes the one who is the calmest cucumber in every situation. Although the novice player will be a novice player in each game and accumulate a not so great score.
I love playing this game and I would love to say that it is going down every time I have played it, but that is not the case. Sometimes you may be sitting on the sidelines waiting for your token to be drawn or your turn, and this can be tedious for some players. Unless you are involved at all times by spectating and verifying the active players to make sure they are not cheating, you may find this game boring. And a few games I have played have gone this direction. Waiting players have gone off and had their own conversations, forgetting they are involved in a game, not only slowing the game down by having to call them back to the table but also breaking up their conversation. This is a real drag for a game that feels like a TV game show and should be a TV game show, or at least an aspect of it. With the right capacity of people, this game is a stellar idea.
Technical score 9.5/10
Great production values that use the box not only to store the component but also to play the game upon. A super specialised insert that holds everything in place. Good quality tokens and cards as well as nice chunky wooden blocks that seemed indestructible. Simple to read and digest page of rules. Unfortunately a little heartless graphic design in places.
My BGG score 8/10
This is a game that I want to play and love more, but cannot due to not finding other like-minded players. Playing three players is quick and leaves me wanting more whereas playing 6 players is exciting but long-winded when you are not involved.
Combined Score 8.75/10
And now it's over to you...