Words by David C. Obenour
There’s something that feels deeply instinctual about the fun that comes from building with blocks. Maybe it echoes back to our first experiences with play. Maybe it taps into a desire to create. Maybe its part of an evolutionary trait that helped us to first master tools. But maybe it’s something deeper still.
Taking inspiration from the inukshuks/tukilik stone guideposts created by the native Inuit people of Canada, Tuki is a challenging game of 3-D puzzle recreation with brightly colored stone blocks and white snow blocks. We spoke to Mike Young of Next Move Games about Grzegorz Rejchtman’s latest game for the company.
Off Shelf: I have to admit that I’m a sucker for games with blocks and am not even entirely sure why. What appeals to you about playing and building with blocks?
Mike Young: One of the hallmarks of the Next Move Games, Plan B’s imprint focusing on abstracts, is the tactile feel of the components. Tuki’s blocks went through lots of samples to find the material of the right density, weight, and feel. Honestly though, Tuki is an inviting game. As you mentioned, playing with blocks is one of the first activities children perform. There’s something inherent about this style of play that just clicks with people.
OS: I’m always interested in learning about the origins of a game, how did Tuki begin to form?
MY: Tuki was introduced to us several years ago. Grzegorz had mastered the two dimensional space with the Ubongo series. When given the opportunity to work with Grzegorz on this clever puzzle game there was no hesitation. Grzegorz delivered a fantastic game, we did a little refinement and development and sourced the components. We wanted a theme that paid respects to the indigenous people of Canada. The stacking and balancing element really drew parallels to the inukshuks.
OS: How did you first learn about tukilik and inukshuk?
MY: Plan B Games is based in Rigaud, Canada so being aware of the unique artifact – beautiful, but also helpful as it shared messages with other roaming people in the area, such as good hunting grounds. In fact several years ago Canada hosted the Winter Olympics and the inukshuks/tukilik were featured in the art theme. We also included a small write up about the history of the statues. We hoped to draw some awareness of these people and their culture.
OS: Is there anything that struck you about the Inuit people or these Tukilik during your research for Tuki that might not come across in the game?
MY: The indigenous people have a wonderful and rich history. As mentioned, the inukshuks were constructed to transmit messages across generations and from various roaming groups. I would encourage people to do their own research.
OS: Was there anything particular about Chris Quilliams’s art for Tuki that resonated with you?
MY: Chris is Plan B’s in-house artist – He’s incredibly talents and has tremendous range of styles. Our president, Sophie, guided Chris as the art director of the project. Not to toot our own horn, but Chris is wonderful. He’s also illustrated – Azul, Coimbra, Pandemic, Flick ‘Em Up, and more. When we hired him, we knew we had an incredible talent on our hands.
OS: A physical game, can you talk about the process of trying out different materials for the blocks?
MY: Tuki needed blocks with high density. We sourced stone, resin, plastic, acrylic, and wood pieces. Through multiple trials we found several materials that had the right density and some that didn’t. Wood for example was very light and made the game very boring…things balanced easier. After settling on using resin, we didn’t want a smooth, slick surface coating. We got a coating with some friction as it’s important that the inukshuks players assemble slip and slide with accidental bumps of the table. So a smooth coating with some slight friction made it feel and play right.
OS: Beyond just the obvious things, can you talk about how how designing a game like Tuki differs from designing a more “traditional board game”?
MY: From a design perspective, the game relies on the challenge of the puzzle. In a resource management game, there’s a strive to ensure games are balanced. Each action needs to feel of equal weight, but potentially stronger in various situations. Tuki serves as a puzzle ground up. We wanted have variety in the puzzles, hence the various orientations of the cards, but also different skill levels. We have often discovered that there are two tiers of puzzlers… the intermediate, casual player and the expert. So with that in mind, we presented the players with both opportunities in the box.
OS: Games optimized for three player are fairly uncommon. Can you talk a little more about this? Was it primarily the result of budgetary concerns in having an additional set of bricks?
MY: Tuki at its heart a race to avoid being last. We really wanted to keep this core of the game, however it wasn’t unusual to have players fighting to avoid being last. This led to disputes over who was last. In order to ensure no ambiguity, we have the scout role. We wanted to have an unbiased person to help ensure fairness. A side effect is that there is some peer modelling occurring at the same time. Watching how others manipulate their snow/ice blocks gives you a lot hints as to how to play better.
OS: When playing, we chanced upon one formation that seemed all but impossible until we found what we thought might be the sole possible build for it. Have you ever been stumped by a formation?
MY: I can’t speak for Grzegorz, but we have been challenged over and over. So much so that we determined to include solutions to all the puzzles on the website… because yes, they are tough!
OS: What inspired the final showdown mechanism in the standard three player game?
MY: The stakes for sudden death showdown was intended to do two things – first, it makes sure the game had a tense end. We wanted players to feel equally invested and playing their best. The longer you string it out, the less tension there was. Secondly, we wanted to make sure the game had the right play length. Another quality of Next Move Games is to be addictively fun. That is to say, you want to play again and again. Keep the game within 30 minutes struck the right balance. Whether it’s a warm up game, filler, or an all nighter, Tuki’s game length makes it easy to get to the table.