- Designer: Gzegorz Rejchtman
- Publisher: Kosmos
- Players: 1-4
- Age: 8+
- Time: 25 minutes
- Played on review copy provided by Thames & Kosmos
I first was exposed to this game back in 2009, bringing home the humongous box (nearly a full cube) from Essen. Ubongo was one of the first puzzle games that really caught my eye, and I thought that the change to a 3D puzzle might be interesting. As it turns out, interesting isn’t the right descriptive term – it might be better to say impossible. I found that I had a hard time solving the puzzles in this game. I wasn’t the only one who felt this way, and as a result, my original copy of the game eventually hit the trade/sale pile.
Now in 2021, Kosmos has released an updated version, now in a more traditional sized box. Though it doesn’t explicitly say it, I think that this is a reprint of Ubongo 3D Family (first out in Germany in 2019). This version has slightly more puzzles, but also in a slightly easier distribution.
To set up, each player gets a set of 8 3D pieces. Nine sets of blue and amber gems are laid out – these determine the length of the game and also the initial “prizes” for 1st and 2nd players. The rest of the gems are thrown in a bag. Players should determine what difficulty level they are going to play in this game, and then each player is given a card of that level.
To start the first round, the die is rolled, and each player consults the chart found on the left of their puzzle card to see which pieces they need. Once the pieces are found, I’d recommend that players turn their board over so that there is no starting early. When everyone has their pieces, the timer is flipped, and the players all race to fit all the pieces on their puzzle board. The puzzle pieces need to be stacked exactly two levels high, with no gaps on either level. And no pieces can extend beyond the white puzzle shape area. When (and if, let’s be honest here) a player completes his puzzle, he shouts “Ubongo!” Other players continue to try to solve the puzzle until the hourglass runs out. In the likely situation to no one has solved the puzzle in the first hourglass run, it is flipped over and everyone gets a second amount of time to solve. If this second hourglass ends without a Ubongo, this particular round ends and no one is rewarded.
If players have solved the puzzle, rewards are distributed. The first player to solve the puzzle gets one of the blue gems from the table and then a random gem from the bag. The second player gets an amber gem from the table and then a random gem from the bag. If there are a 3rd and 4th solver, they just get a random gem. (If no one solves a puzzle, the blue and amber gem from this round are put in the bag).
Repeat this process until all 9 rounds have happened, and then players can calculate their final score using this chart
Red gems – 4 points
Blue gems – 3 points
Green gems – 2 points
Amber gems – 1 point
The player with the most points wins. If there is a tie, there is an additional round played in a sudden death mode. The tied players get one more puzzle to solve, and whoever is able to say Ubongo! first wins the game.
In 2014, I did write up this short session report: “Ubongo 3D – we closed the night with another puzzler, Ubongo 3D. (We did pass on Ubongo Extreme as the other option.) This one is much harder than the basic Ubongo game, and it again proved to be better suited as a solitaire puzzle than a competitive game. In the 9 rounds of the game, I only managed to finish 3 of the puzzles in the allotted time… and I won the game! When I first opened the game up, the newbies chuckled at the fact that there is an illustrated solution pamphlet for all of the puzzles in the game… before our game was over, we had consulted that sheet no less than twice to prove to someone that the puzzle was actually solvable with the pieces listed!”
In 2021, the game went a bit smoother – probably in part to the lower level of difficulty of the puzzles. In almost every round, we had at least one person able to solve the puzzle – well, until we decided to move to the fourth and most difficult level… then it was sad trombone time all the time.
I’m still pretty bad at this game, but I think I have finally figured out that I need to first work with the weirdest shapes first and figure out where they can possibly go – usually there are only two or three places for these to go, and then hopefully the rest of the pieces will just fall into place. In reality, it never works that easy, but I have at least figured out a way to solve the puzzle closer to 50% of the time (when it used to be 1 in 3 at best…).
Though I haven’t written a formal review of Ubongo 3D before, my thoughts remain mostly unchanged from the original. This is a great puzzle activity, as are all of the games in the series – but the random drawing of scoring gems just feels completely artificial. I figure that the reason for this scoring system is meant to combat my other huge issue with speed puzzle games – namely that if a player is consistently 5 percent faster at a task, they’ll win 95% of the rounds – and the game would become a runaway victory. By rewarding solvers with a random draw of gems which result in between 1 and 4 points – now that consistently faster player isn’t guaranteed a win… But yet, it feels so artificial. (And, yes, I realize it’s completely unfair of me to complain about a game that doesn’t have a system in place to fix my problem, and then complain about a game which does provide a solution…)
I have instead much more enjoyed the game as a solitaire activity, just sitting down with the pieces and trying to figure out how to solve the darn puzzles. Unlike the original 2009 German version, this version does NOT include a printed solution book showing you how to solve all of the different puzzles. You’ll just have to trust the designer that each is truly solvable!
This isn’t the only change that I think I have found. As I mentioned earlier, there are more puzzle cards in this box, and that is nice. Also, each player gets their own set of pieces which makes handicapping easier. In the original version, there was a communal set of pieces, and players had to use a matched set of cards to ensure that all players could get the pieces they needed to solve their puzzle. When everyone has their own set, each player can do any puzzle – and this lets you give a younger player (or me) the chance to solve an easier level of puzzle than the better players. Finally, though it seems like you get more in this new box, it is smaller, and I am definitely pleased by that – as I prefer games in smaller packages whenever possible.
Ubongo 3D is clearly the most difficult game in the Ubongo family, and if you are looking for truly challenging 3D puzzles to solve, this is for you – whether you play it competitively (as most people will) or use it as a solitaire endeavor (as I prefer it). In either way, it’s great fun and a neat way to challenge yourself. If you have played any of the other games in the Ubongo family and you’re looking for more challenging puzzles, give this one a try. If you haven’t played one yet, may I respectfully recommend that you try the base game first?
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor