Tinderblox is a brand new stacking style, dexterity, board game from publisher Alley Cat Games. Designed by Rob Sparks, the game sees 2 – 6 players sat around a mini campfire for around 5 minutes. Players will be adding logs to the fire with tweezers and hoping that the fire doesn’t collapse, some logs will even be on fire when they are added. However, will this be a warming and enjoyable campfire to be sat around? Let’s crack the tin open and find out!
Setting up is done in a flash. The campfire card is placed in the middle of the table, with three log blocks placed on the denoted spots, forming the unlit campfire. The rest of the blocks are poured into the tin as a supply. The Tinderblox cards are shuffled and put next to the tin, within reach of all players. The starting player, whoever has been camping most recently, claims the tweezers and is first to go.
Each turn the active player will flip over the top card of the Tinderblox deck. These cards denote the block or blocks that must be added to the fire. If it’s only one block the player must use the tweezers to pick it out of the box and add it onto the campfire. If a card shows multiple blocks they must be built into the depicted stack before being placed onto the fire in one go. New blocks cannot be placed onto the campfire card and if any blocks fall off, new or old, that player is eliminated. Any fallen blocks are simply returned to the tin. Note that when a player is building multiple blocks together it is only when adding them onto the fire that blocks falling results in elimination.
Some of the Tinderblox cards feature a hand symbol. These cards are a little tricker, as players must use their non-dominant hand to add the blocks to the fire. So, if a player is right handed they must use the tweezers in their left hand for that turn. Regardless of if successful or eliminated the game continues clockwise to the next player, with each player passing the tweezers on after their turn. When only one player is left sitting around the campfire they are crowned the winner. If the deck runs out all players still in the game are joint winners – though we have been yet to see this occur.
Tinderblox doesn’t have to be a friendly game. Like with other dexterity balancing games where everyone is building on a central base, players are free to build in a way that will make their opponents’ lifes harder. You can place blocks down that opponents will have to work around, place a block that is jutting off the edge and generally make it awkward for others to put future blocks on flat. This style of play seems to come out of players after a game or two, as those involved become comfortable adding blocks and let their competitive side out.
A nice touch is that the campfire card has two sides to it. On the easier side three logs are placed side by side, creating a rather stable base to build upon. On the reverse the third log straddles across two at an angle, instantly reducing the flat surface area to construct on top of. While not in the rules it is advisable to start on the three flat logs side, until players are a touch more skilled. Also not in the rulebook is a definitive answer on whether nudging other blocks on the fire is allowed. It suggests that it would be okay as only knocking blocks off causes elimination – so you’ll still need to be careful when nudging.
There are the occasional games where on the first turn it is already over for a player, or at two players the game is already won. These are relatively rare occurrences though, at least after a game or two. Players quite quickly pick up the technique of using the tweezers to add blocks to the fire, though mastering it is something completely different. Even after many many games there is still the opportunity for something to go wrong when lifting blocks, especially with your wrong, non-dominant, hand.
Tinderblox’s deck reminds me of Men at Work, another block balancing dexterity game. It used the front of a card with the back of another to indicate what players must add to a structure. This technique could have been used in Tinderblox to randomise the cards that require players to use their non-dominant hand. Without the non-dominant hand rule the game would have been a little plain, though it also makes players want more. There could easily have been a symbol for cards with multiple blocks indicating they need to be added one block at a time, rather than all together. Tinderblox is perfectly fine without these aspects, though they could have added more variety to the game.
Tinderblox comes in a very small tin. It houses all the components snugly, without needing to play Tetris to get everything back in after playing. Plus, it doubles as a block holder during play. The size of the tin might be a little big for a jeans pocket but it gives the game a great portability. You can easily throw it into a coat pocket or a bag when going somewhere, ready to pull it out whenever there are 5 minutes of downtime. Complimenting the small tin size, a tiny play area is needed. With the components mostly staying in the tin until being used only the campfire card needs to be on a flat surface, with the deck fine to be passed around or sat next to the tin. This allows the game to be played where most dexterity games boxes wouldn’t even fit. The rulebook, like the size of the box, is certainly on the small side. Despite being a small booklet, the rules are clearly explained with a few example illustrations, and all without utilizing a miniscule font size.
A downside to the small size is that above 3 – 4 players it might seem a bit crowded around such a small game. As everyone is focused on adding blocks on top of the campfire card, which is smaller than a regular playing card, players end up having to either move or lean a lot over the table. Combine this with the fact that 6 players will also have longer waits between turns, until some get eliminated, makes Tinderblox more suited to the 2 – 4 player range. There is nothing stopping 6 players getting involved though, aside from the global pandemic.
The components build together to create what is an abstract visualisation of a campfire. The cute artwork on the game tin sets the scene. Then, the blocks fulfill the building of a campfire, with a cubed look. As a theme it also helps make sense of why players must be careful not to send blocks flying, though perhaps doesn’t explain the tweezers. As a component the tweezers cannot be faulted, still they don’t always make it easy to add the blocks – which is certainly the point. With easy to follow illustrations and symbology, the deck of cards does a great job of telling players what they must add to the fire. Flipping the next card over players instantly know what they have to do, letting the game just be played.
Tinderblox is one of the smallest dexterity games I’ve ever seen, with the tin fitting comfortably into a jacket pocket. This size is the strength and weakness of Tinderblox. To play gamers need next to no table space, it’s insanely portable and with a short playtime the game doesn’t outstay its welcome. At the same time, the small size can be a tad fiddly. The blocks build together to create a cool looking blocky fire, that is eye catching, though it doesn’t offer epic table presence. In balance this epitomizes Tinderblox well. The game offers a fun, small sized, dexterity experience that will provide good entertainment, though lacks that spark. Therefore, when the opportunity to play a full sized dexterity game is there it won’t always be hitting the table.
(Editor’s Note: Tinderblox was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores! Find your local store here.)