Race against opponents! Solve puzzles! Collect jewels! This is the world of Ubongo, a fun little game from Z-Man Games that is as close as the world will ever come to a Tetris board game.

At the start of Ubongo a large number of jewels are placed randomly along several rows on a board. Players put their token at the base of these rows. The winner is the player with the largest number of gems of the same color; if players tie, they compare their next-highest number of same colored gems to see who wins.

So, how do you get gems? Puzzles! All players get a collection of differently shaped and colored pieces. They also have a number of tiles with boxes to be filled, and horizontal rows showing a symbol (on the game's die) and three or four of the aforementioned pieces. Each turn a player rolls a die. Then, when the timer is turned, each player has to fill in their tile's box using the pieces next to the symbol rolled on the die. (Easier games have players using three pieces, while filling it with four is much tougher.)

When the first player completes their puzzle, they shout "Ubongo!" and move their token from zero to three spaces on the board, and take the two gems closest to them on the row. The second player to solve the puzzle can move their token up to two spaces and collect two gems, the third player can move their token up to one space before collecting, and the last player can collect their gems from the row they're in. If a player doesn't solve their puzzle before the sand runs out of the timer, they get no movement and no jewels.

Ubongo is an interesting mix of visual coordination and strategy. Finishing puzzles the quickest gives you more options, but you also have to keep track of what gems your opponent has -- and may go for next. All puzzles can be completed, but after several rounds a player who couldn't solve their puzzle asked other players to solve it to see how it could be done. Games are pretty quick -- usually finished in less than half an hour, even with four players -- and it's competitive without becoming mean or cutthroat. The game is fairly repetitive, but while I wouldn't want to spend all day turning and shifting tiles Ubongo is a terrific game to play to warm up for something else. "Ubongo!"

Overall grade: B+

Reviewed by James Lynch

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