The video game Tetris is arguably one of the most popular video games of all time. First created in 1984 the game took the world by storm which lead to many different versions of the video game being released throughout the years. What might surprise some people though is how much impact Tetris had on the board game world. So far there has been nine different Tetris board games created. A while ago we looked at Tetris Link. Today we are looking at one of the two Tetris board games released in 1989 which was made by Milton Bradley. For some reason in the same year that Tetris was released for the Game Boy there were two different Tetris board games released. While the 1989 Tetris board game takes some liberties with the source material, it is a solid enjoyable board game.
How to Play Tetris
Each player sets up their own gameboard. All of the blocks are placed into the small Tetris box. The youngest player yells out “Go” and the game begins.
Playing the Game
In the Tetris board game all of the players play at the same time. All of the players grab one block at a time from the box. Once a player has taken a block out of the box a player cannot put the block back into the box. Players can do one of two things with the block they grabbed:
- Add the block to their own board
- Give the block to another player
Once a player has placed or given away their block, they draw another block from the box.
When placing blocks onto your own gameboard each block has to either touch the bottom of the gameboard or at least one other block.
Each block has to cover full squares (not partial squares) on the board and cannot overlap another block or go off the grid. All blocks have to be placed color side up. When placing blocks you don’t have to follow the rules of normal Tetris as you can fill in open spaces that are below other blocks. Once a block has been placed it cannot be moved.
If a player doesn’t like the block they drew they can give the block to another player. To give the block to another player the block is placed on the top of their board. When a block is added to another player’s board that player must place that block next unless they already have a block in their hand. Only one block can be placed on an opponent’s board at a time.
End of Game
The game ends when one of the players has played a block to their board that touches the line at the top of the board. When this occurs all of the players must stop immediately. Each player counts up how many squares on their board are not covered by a block. The player with the least spaces not covered by a block wins the game.
My Thoughts on Tetris
I wouldn’t consider the Tetris board game to be a great board game but I have to say that it is probably one of the better board games based on a video game. Being one of the better video game board games is not saying a lot since most board games based on video games aren’t very good. I think the reason that so many board games based on video games aren’t successful is the fact that it is really hard to simulate the action of a video game inside a board game. Too many of these games try to simulate the video game in its’ entirety instead of taking some mechanics from the video game and supplementing them with things that actually work well in board games. By trying to re-create the full video game, most video game inspired board games end up being quite dull or just feel broken.
I think the reason that the Tetris board game works is that it doesn’t worry about totally replicating the video game. I can’t even imagine how a board game could fully recreate the Tetris video game. From the speed element to removing matched blocks, if a game wanted to truly recreate the video game I think it would struggle. It would end up with a lot of mechanics that either don’t work together or aren’t enjoyable. The 1989 Tetris board game is selective in what elements it takes from the video game which allows it to create its’ own experience.
If I had to classify the Tetris board game I would probably say that it is a spatial puzzle speed game. Basically the premise of the game is to try and fill in as many spaces on your gameboard as you can as quickly as possible. This differs from the Tetris video game where you try to clear out as many blocks as possible. In the board game players grab blocks from the box and have to place them onto their own gameboard or give them to one of the other players. When placing blocks players don’t drop them from the top of the board like in normal Tetris. Players can place them anywhere on the board as long as they touch another block or the bottom row, and they don’t overlap another block. This allows players to make moves in the board game that they never could make in the video game.
When placing blocks in the Tetris board game the key is to place pieces in a way that you can still fill in every empty space. The best strategy seems to be to slowly build upwards as you fill in as many gaps as possible. By filling in the gaps it prevents blocks from being played that block off some of the spaces. This gameplay kind of feels like a spatial puzzle as you try to figure out the best place for each block. Some people are going to be really good at figuring out where to place blocks while I can see others struggling.
One unique mechanic in the Tetris board game is the fact that you can really mess with the other players. If you ever draw a block that you don’t want to play to your own board you can always pass it on to another player. This player is then forced to add the piece to their own gameboard. This mechanic is important to the game for a couple reasons. Without this mechanic I think it would be really easy to play blocks in a way where you leave no empty spaces on your gameboard. With this mechanic you can really mess with the other players. If a player gives you a piece that doesn’t fit neatly anywhere on your board, you will be forced into having some empty spaces on your gameboard. I also think this mechanic is important since it gives you a way to get rid of blocks that you don’t want to use.
While I am usually not a big fan of mechanics that allow you to mess with other players, I actually like this mechanic in Tetris. The main reason I like the mechanic is that I think the game would have been kind of dull without it. If this mechanic wasn’t included in the game, Tetris would basically be a solitary experience where each player did their own thing until someone finished. By letting players give pieces to one another, the game adds some player interaction to a game that would basically have had none without it. In addition it also makes the game more interesting since a player can give you a piece that really messes with your strategy. This forces you to change your strategy on the fly which makes the game more exciting in my opinion.
The last mechanic that brings the game together is the fact that the Tetris board game is a speed game. I am usually a fan of speed mechanics and I have to say that the Tetris board game needed it. I can imagine the game being quite boring if it was turned based. If players took turns drawing a block and then placing it, players would be forced to sit and wait for the other players to place their blocks. Taking turns would also make it even easier to fill in all of the empty spaces on the gameboard since you wouldn’t be rushed into making a quick decision. I really think the speed element brings the game together as it forces players to make quick decisions. Most people’s complaints with speed mechanics is that they lead to a chaotic environment but I really didn’t feel any chaos while playing Tetris.
While on the topic of speed I have to bring up how truly quick the Tetris board game is. The game takes minutes to explain to new players as there are so few mechanics to the game. Once the game begins you can expect it to end pretty quickly as well. I would expect most games to only take around five minutes. I could see a group finish five games in under 30 minutes. With how short the game is I actually think you should probably play a series of games and declare a winner based on who won the most games or had the least total empty spaces between all of the games. What I like about the Tetris board game is that it gets right to the point and doesn’t really waste much time on unnecessary mechanics.
So far I have been pretty complimentary of the Tetris board game since the game is better than I expected it would be. The game is far from perfect though. While I had a lot more fun with the game than I was expecting, I will admit that it is not a game that I would play for long stretches of time. I could see playing four or five quick games for 20-30 minutes but I see the game getting a little repetitive at that point. The Tetris board is just one of those games that you play for a little while and then put away for another day.
Another issue with Tetris is the fact that it just feels a little too easy. Maybe it is just that I am good at these type of games but it is not that hard to fill in most if not all of the spaces outside of the top row. In one of the games I filled in every space except some of the spaces in the top row because it is impossible to fill in all of the spots in the top row of the board. While players can mess with you by giving you blocks that don’t really work for you, you can still easily fill in most of the spots. I just think the game would have been more enjoyable if it was a little more difficult.
While on the topic of giving blocks to the other players, the game really needs a house rule limiting how many pieces you can give to each player. While you are going to lose if you give away every piece you draw, there isn’t anything preventing you from giving away every piece that doesn’t work perfectly for you. The only thing stopping you from constantly giving away pieces is the fact that each player can only have one block in waiting at a time. I don’t know how exactly you would implement it but I think there should have been some limit on how many blocks that you can give to other players. This might make the game a little more challenging while also preventing players from constantly messing with one another.
I also had a small issue with how blocks are drawn in the game. The game never makes it entirely clear if players should be grabbing pieces randomly or if they allowed to look for a piece that they want. The only rule is that once you remove the piece from the box you can’t put it back in. I don’t know if it really matters if there is a rule or not because even if you don’t look at the pieces it is pretty easy to tell what type of block you have just by touching it. If a player wanted to they could just feel for a piece that works for their gameboard.
While I wouldn’t consider them to be a problem, I would say the components for the Tetris board game are pretty average. I give the game quite a bit of credit for recreating the feel of the board game. The artwork is nice and reminiscent of the video game which includes the box looking like a larger version of the box for the video game. The component quality is solid even though all of the pieces are only made of moderately thick cardboard. They serve their purpose but are probably susceptible to creases and other damage from extended use.
The biggest complaint that I have with the components is with the box that you place all of the pieces into. The problem with the box is that it is way too small. After placing all of the blocks into the box they are close to falling out before you start playing the game. Then when the players grab for pieces they almost always knock some pieces out of the box. With four players grabbing for pieces at the same time, players’ hands regularly get in each others way. I tried to correct this by putting the pieces into the bottom of the box. This works better but the bottom of the box is too large allowing players to see what piece they are picking up before they grab it. I really wish the game could have just included a larger box that would accommodate all of the pieces while giving all four players enough room.
So I mentioned at the beginning of the post that in the past we looked at Tetris Link. Being both Tetris board games it makes sense to compare the two games. When looking at the two games though I don’t know if either game is clearly better. The thing is that outside of using the main Tetris mechanics the two games actually play quite a bit differently. As I have pointed out the Tetris board game is a speed game where players try to fill up their boards as quickly as possible. Tetris Link is more of a strategic game. All of the players share the same board and try to connect blocks of the same color while avoiding blocking any empty spaces. As far as what game is better it depends on what you are looking for. If you prefer the speed element I would probably recommend the 1989 Tetris board game. If you want a more strategic game though I would recommend Tetris Link.
Should You Buy Tetris?
The 1989 Tetris board game is an interesting board game. While most board games based on video games are usually not very good, I was actually surprised by the Tetris board game. I think the reason that Tetris works is that instead of trying to recreate the entire experience it focuses on the mechanics that it can recreate in a board game. Tetris is a fun little spatial puzzle speed game where you try to fill in as many of the spaces as you can. The game is really simple and fast. Tetris is not a game that you want to play for long stretches of time though. The game is also a little on the easy side and could use some small house rules to tweak some of the issues with the game.
If you never really cared for the video game or don’t think the idea of a spatial speed puzzle game, the Tetris board game is not going to be for you. If you really like Tetris and would like a board game I think it comes down to whether you want more of a strategic game or a speed game. If you want a more strategic game I would recommend Tetris Link. If you are looking for a speed game though I would have no problem recommending that you pick up the 1989 Tetris board game.