Review: Corners of pieces, pieces for me.

Batik was released by Gigamic, a publisher noted for well-produced wooden games, over a decade ago and has been re-released in a couple of versions including a children’s version since. It was designed by Kris Burm of GIPF fame who also designed Quads for Gigamic.

In a slight departure from the all-wood look of most of Gigamic’s recent games, Batik is played with a set of 9 geometrically shaped pieces which are dropped into a narrow mould formed of two thin perspex sheets held in a wooden frame. If you keep the perspex clean and avoid reflections, the game still looks all wooden at least.

The game itself is super simple. Players take it turns to drop one of their remaining pieces into the frame where it comes to rest on top of the others. The first player whose dropped piece sticks out of the top of the frame loses the game. Each player has a identical set of pieces featuring bold geometric shapes very reminiscent of a Tangram puzzle in various sizes.

This might all sound like Tetris with triangles, but the reality is a little different. Unlike a computer game like Tetris (or something trying to fake it like FITS), the pieces in Batik are real chunks of wood with weight and inertia and corners. As they're dropped, they spin and bounce and shove other pieces out of the way, rearranging the play field in perhaps unexpected, or perhaps hoped-for ways. There's little enough of the main game there, that these sorts of interactions add quite a bit of interest to the game.

Naturally, the temptation to hammer a piece down into the mess can be difficult to suppress when something almost fits, but the rules are quite clear in forbidding it. On the other hand, as pieces a dropped, players should feel free to use gravity and the corners of dropped pieces to rearrange balanced pieces into a more pleasing configuration.

To play reasonably, attention had to be paid to the pieces your opponent has got left, although everyone who has played a couple of times will be desperately trying to keep their smaller and more flexible pieces towards the end of the game, when things can get more tense. Or as tense as a game lasting only a few minutes is capable of getting, anyway.

There's a match style of play suggested in the rules as well. In this, each time a piece is left protruding from the top of the frame, it is lost and a new game starts. The first player to be left without a piece to play, loses. I need to try this longer variant out. I'm hopeful since the base game is super fast, so multiple iterations through is what's going to happen anyway. The extra choices about which piece to sacrifice could certainly make for more interesting choices, since losing either all your large or all your small pieces seems a quick path to defeat.

Batik is cute, but almost more a toy than a game. Consider it an example of Gigamic working to broaden their product line into lighter games, but if you're fascinated with the stratgies of Gobblet or Eclipse, or bought Pylos or Inside to leave set up on a coffee table as abstract art, you should probably think twice before buying this game on impulse. I personally find having super light abstract games around can be useful, too.