NB: This is an unpaid Kickstarter preview. Photography by Ross Connell, courtesy of Alley Cat Games.
It is a truism in board games that size does, in fact, matter. Once you drop a massive square crate of a game on the table, you‘ve announced to everyone that they‘re in for a time of furiously furrowed brows and intense plotting of long-term plans. It is only fitting, then, that Tinderblox comes in a small tin box, big enough to fit into your pocket.
Designer Rob Sparks, working with Alley Cat Games, has managed to create an accessible dexterity game, that you can easily carry anywhere. It is small enough to be played on any pub table, a reasonably even bar or even a stable barstool (if you’re desperate). More importantly, it can be set up, explained and played to completion in the span of about 10 minutes. Again, a perfect fit for a quick hit of board gaming as you’re waiting for the next round of shots.
Tinderblox’ core conceit is a simple one. You stack small wooden cubes onto small wooden logs onto a pile, vaguely resembling what could best be described as a Minecraft rendition of a campfire. This patently simple task is purposefully made complicated through two additions. First, you are using tweezers to gingerly place the components onto your campfire construction. You pick pieces from the supply to move them onto the campfire’s starting card, without touching any pieces directly. It’s a small change, that turns a distant variant of Jenga into something of sufficient challenge to the modern board gamer. And an amusing challenge at that, as you will eventually find your hand trembling oh so slightly, which is enough to make it all collapse and eliminate you from the game.
The second addition comes in form of cards, that tell you what exactly to place onto the campfire. Sometimes it will be a simple red/yellow cube. It may be a single wooden log. Some cards will have you use your off-hand, disadvantaging those who are not trained in ambidexterity. There are even cards that include multiple pieces stacked on each other, that you need to move and place in once go. It’s another way to increase the game’s difficulty a bit. But its randomness also adds one hilariously swingy and ridiculously unfair element to this small portable game.
Since Tinderblox is a light competitive game, it’s obvious that your best bet is to lay traps for the player following you. Leave logs skewed and cubes slightly unbalanced to all but make sure that the next player will be eliminated for messing it all up. But the capriciousness of the cards can lead to turns in which players can get away with an easy, single cube task, while you somehow have to build the equivalent of the Eiffel Tower on the world’s least stable foundation. It’s a reliable source of laughter, as the hubris of having set a devious trap for somebody else backfires in spectacular fashion.
Tinderblox’ greatest asset is its size and simplicity. It can be played practically anywhere, and explained with ease. Tension builds quickly and snaps in a big round of sympathetic laughter. It’s over quick enough to make you ask for a rematch or ten.
The campaign to back Tinderblox will launch on February 4, 2020.