Generally speaking, I am not a fan of classic abstract tabletop games. As a young person, I played a fair bit of chess, but unfortunately, more often than not it left me feeling like I was not a terribly intelligent person. Checkers offers a bit more chaos, but still many of my early experiences playing that game often resulted in a deflating moment when my opponent would find an opening and devastate my stash of discs. Those experiences are absolutely part of the foundation that defines my personal gaming tastes, and even if my strategic intelligence has evolved since those days, I don’t enjoy being the target or the architect of those negative moments of play.
Gridopolis is a three dimensional abstract game system invented by Dave Schultze. The game box includes 217 plastic pieces, comprising seven core components.
In its introductory experience, Gridopolis is essentially 3D Checkers for two to four players. The core game set up is a 3 by 3 battleground, with three floors of space to explore, escape, and exterminate opponents. In addition each player has a home plank extending from the middle floor of the structure. Players move one of their pieces each turn, only moving away from their starting zone – no backward or retreating movement. Pieces mostly are moving to one adjacent space – either on the same floor, or climbing above or below to a space immediately overhead or below. A player’s own units can also hop in a straight line over their own teammates to advance, whether that line be horizontal, vertical, or even diagonal! And of course, using that same hoping maneuver players can eliminate opposing pieces, and even chain hops to eliminate multiple foes. If a player reaches one of the furthest spaces in an opponent’s home plank, they are flipped to become a King (we preferred the team “Royalty” to keep it gender neutral), which allows for movement in any direction, including backwards. In the core experience, the game ends once only one player remains on the board, as in traditional Checkers.
Two important twists are offered to enhance this introductory game. Most importantly, is the option for players to use a turn to add additional components to the structure. Players begin the game with ten extra components, which can be used to extend any level of the matrix or even build an entirely new level on top of the existing grid. Secondly, players can choose to play with a timer, and when that time expires, points are scored based on which pieces have been captured, and which ones remain in play. Both of these options add a sense of relief to an abstract-averse player such as myself.
LITTLE THUMBS : HOW DOES IT PLAY WITH KIDS?
Gridopolis was introduced to my own children, as well as some of the older kids from my after school club. My two beans really enjoyed exploring the components in free play, trying to investigate how everything fits together, and what they can create from those components. There is an intuitiveness to the way everything fits together. The connections aren’t intended for rough play with young children, so it was not a surprise when their creations fell apart rather quickly. The pawns are well shaped to be held by little hands, and have enough personality in their design to allow for some light storytelling, whether it be within the framework of a game or not.
My after school kiddos really enjoyed playing the game, and almost no rules needed explaining beyond the first runthrough. After a play or two, these children began breaking down the structure and making something of their own, which also drew the attention of almost everyone else, wanting to know what they were up to.
In both structured and free play, Gridopolis has been a resounding success!
BIG THUMBS : HOW IS IT FOR ADULTS?
My adult gaming friends enjoyed our games of Gridopolis, but I wouldn’t describe their reaction to be overly enthusiastic. And if the core matrix game is all that Gridopolis offers as a gaming experience, I’m not sure that this review would be a positive one. After all, as previously stated, my brain defaults to “Checkers Bad”, and adding higher and lower angles from which my friends can embarrass me doesn’t add up to an opinion of tremendous optimism. Fortunately, the Gridopolis engine offers much more under the hood!
The Gridopolis website offers a full slate of guides for playing other game modes (including a tricky solitaire game), as well as a fantastic design manual for creating games of your own. With over 200 components in the box, along with bold encouragement for players to craft their own Gridopolis creations, the overall product becomes something much more important than what the base game offers.
It’s worth noting that our review copy of Gridopolis did not include a printed game design manual, but instead directed players to the Gridopolis website to view or download the guides. If your players don’t have regular access to internet or printing services, this may be a hurdle to accessing some key material.
GRIDOPOLIS AS GAME DESIGN TOOL
Ages 8 and up are suggested for the core game experience, but the games I have crafted worked well for players as young as 5 years old. Below are a couple of my own creations, to offer examples of what the game system is capable of offering. To be perfectly clear, these creations have not been thoroughly playtested, and results may vary if you dare to recreate these superficial attempts at game design!
DESIGN #1 : SUPER BALL DASH
To create this two player game, we built a single level 5 x 7 gridopolis grid, with an additional 3 x 3 grid in the center of that larger level, along with a pedestal base to make it look super duper cool. Each player takes five pawns and places them in a single row at each end of the grid. A marker of a neutral player colour is placed in the center of the top level grid to represent the ball. Using the same movement rules as the core matrix game, players send their pawns out to collect the ball and carry it to the opposing end of the field. Picking up the ball is initially done by landing on its resting space, and stealing the flag is accomplished by hopping an opposing player as per the base game rules. Pawns are not eliminated from the game via this hop aggression. From my limited testing, each round lasts about 5 to 10 minutes. Whoever wins the best of three rounds is declared the victor!
DESIGN #2 : GRIDOPOSTACK
In this multiplayer experience, players are attempting to build the tallest Gridopolis structure without it toppling over. Each player starts with a single layer 2 x 2 grid, and the box of remaining components is placed within reach of all players. Taking turns rolling the included six-sided die, players will claim a number of components equal to their roll and add them to their grid structure. Once components are added to a structure, a player may not touch their grid until their next turn. If any tower topples, that player is eliminated from the game. And the game ends either when all but one tower has fallen, or all Gridopolis components have been exhausted. In the latter case, the tallest structure earns victory for its architect.
Personally, I found playing around with design ideas and having an attractive board to be the most satisfying aspect of Gridopolis. If you decide to take the plunge on this package, after playing the basic matrix game, definitely spend some time creating your own games!
The tabletop gaming marketplace has seen many variations on Chess and Checkers over the years, most boasting that it improves or fixes these pillars of classic abstract gaming. Gridopolis doesn’t aim to do either of these things, but rather, uses the classic game as a catapult to some fantastic creative exploration.
In my opinion, Gridopolis is a special product. It is abundantly clear that the system’s inventor has poured immense care and years of development into all of its various elements. Offering a base experience with a classic feel will seem immediately intuitive to many players, the system is one that could replace dozens of other games in a family collection. And the open encouragement for players to create their own game designs is a wonderful platform to participate in some serious play-based learning.
Given the amount of plastic in the box, I was surprised to see that the package is only being sold for $39.99 USD. Products with far less in the box are being sold for far more, so if this a game system that appeals to you, I would classify it as a bit of a steal. At the moment, Gridopolis is not available through traditional retailers, but the game system is available to purchase directly from their website.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, those abstract games of old do not appeal to my gaming sensitivities, but I have really enjoyed exploring what Gridopolis offers. It’s delightful to watch young players get drawn into the creative play of building structures and creating their own game rules, and for this reason, we highly recommend the game system.
TWO LITTLE THUMBS UP!
TWO BIG THUMBS UP!
Little Thumbs was provided with a review copy of Gridopolis. Thank you for supporting our work in this way!