Treeblox by Philip Olenyk

We were kindly sent Treeblox to review. Treeblox, created by Philip Olenyk, is a 3D game for two players. This game revolves around building trees and attempting to catch more sunlight than your opponent, which may mean blocking their leaves using your branches to block their sunlight.

Sushi likes the smell of this game

Each person gets a set of leaves and branches in their respective colors of Dark (black branches and dark green leaves) vs Light (white branches and light green leaves). Gameplay always begins with the Dark player and the rules recommend switching colors at the end of each game to keep the game more balanced. The board is a double-sided bamboo slab with pre-drilled holes. The game contains two stickers (a flower and pinecone) that can be placed on each side to show that each side has slightly different diameters for the holes. One side is slightly wider, allowing for easier but less secure placement, and the other is slightly narrower, allowing for difficult placement that is more secure. While the instruction manual says to use the stickers to differentiate the sides how you see fit, we did not find that either side felt different. Both sides were rather difficult to place the initial blocks in and once the game is over, removing the pieces can be a chore. This becomes especially difficult if you have sweaty hands, recently washed hands, or have recently used hand lotion.

First moves

The blocks come in four colors, dark/light green and black and white. The blocks are 6 sided cubes with 5 female ports and 1 male port. There is one female port that is slightly more ornate and is slightly less secure than the other 4 female ports. After the initial leaves are placed, each player can play one block (leaves or branches). This is the initial growth rate. The amount of blocks that may be placed changes throughout the game depending on the amount of active leaves the player has (i.e. leaves that are unobstructed when viewed from above the board). Once a player has 3 or more active leaves they can place two blocks on their turn (because their growth rate increased). However if the amount of active leaves ever goes below three, the growth rate returns to 1 block. This may happen if an opponent obstructs the other players leaves when viewed from above. It is important to note that you MAY play 2 blocks as sometimes it is better to see what your opponent will do or when it is obvious that they will block your leaves if you place at certain locations. It is also entirely possible to pass on your turn, this can be advantageous as you can place blocks after your opponent and allow you to “attack” more effectively in certain situations.

View from the top to see how many leaves are active (unobstructed)

Gameplay continues in this fashion until one of three conditions are met. First, if one tree has no active leaves. We took this as a tree that obtains no sunlight will perish and it was quite fitting for the theme. However, we did not come across this situation in our plays of the game. Second, if no cubes have been placed in two consecutive turns, meaning that if the Dark player passes and then the Light player passes. We did not come across this situation either but would imagine that this only comes up if any placement of leaves would hinder the progress of both players. Third, is if one player runs out of available cubes, and the other player completes the Final Growth phase. The Final Growth phase is simply the player who still has pieces left placing all of their remaining pieces after the other player has places all of theirs. This was the most common end game condition we encountered while playing. It could be advantageous to use one piece at a time to draw out the game. If one player can slowly wait out the opponent, the growth phase could be a last attack that could score many points as only one player will be placing blocks. This can be a tricky scenario as you have to make sure your opponent does not have too many pieces to play in the growth phase. However, if this is a strategy you choose to attempt, you must be wary to not get all of your leaves obstructed as this may lead to your tree getting snuffed out. Thus, the game becomes a tricky situation of careful placement and resource management.

Language Barrier Playability: The game is extremely simple and requires only rules to be explained initially. Once the rules are known this is a very easy game to play with a language barrier as it requires little to no communication. If need be, only knowledge of colors and numbers is required.

Replayability: This game is unique in terms of replayability. The game is short, fast, fun and leaves you wanting more. However, the game can be frustrating as pieces will often fall off as you are playing, leaving you confused midgame as to where pieces were before falling off. So you may want to play the game more than once depending on how your game goes.

Artwork: Simple and geometric. The game is built upon a very well made, sturdy bamboo slab that can be decorated with a pretty sticker of a flower and pinecone. The rulebook contains minimal artwork and the artwork it contains are diagrams of the game itself. So while the artwork is not immersive and does not feel thematic, it is well done yet simple.

Quality: Very good. The playing board is a hefty chunk of bamboo and the pieces are a soft/slightly bendable plastic. They fit very well together when attached to a single piece. As you start building weird shapes and taller shapes, the amount of pressure to place a piece may cause pieces to fall off previously places areas. This happens quite regularly and is difficult to predict. This can be quite frustrating to gameplay as it can be tough to remember where pieces were and if other pieces were below or above leaves.

Strategy: Light strategy is needed in order to be successful. As the game progresses you will have to make sure to play pieces appropriately to maintain leaves exposed while making sure to not make it easy for your opponent to block your leaves. Also knowing when to place 1 or 2 pieces is key to victory. Just placing 2 blocks every time is not necessarily a good strategy.

Instruction Manual: Compact and very well made and includes helpful tips, diagrams, as well as a glossary of terms. There are a few page breaks that leave large portions of blank pages unnecessarily and makes the booklet larger. The rules are also available on their website which can be helpful should anything happen to your rulebook.

Organization: Excellent. Everything fits neatly and tidily into the box. The blocks all line up neatly when connected and there are even a few extra pieces included should you ever lose a piece.

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