Ubongo Extreme (one of several versions of the Ubongo puzzle/game) is a game for 2-4 players who are racing each other to solve puzzle cards showing different arrays of hexagons.
There are 4 different colors, and the pieces from each color are numbered from 1-13. When you first get the game, the pieces get punched out, with die-cut, chadless elegance, from a single sheet.
The “puzzle cards” (54 of them) are two-sided. One side shows a puzzle that requires 3 pieces to solve, the other, 4. Which of your pieces you use to solve the puzzle is indicated in one of the corners of the puzzle card. In each corner a different combination of pieces is required, depending on which color you are using. So, you get 4 different puzzles on each side, and two different levels of difficulty.
You also get a baggie of different color plastic jewels, an approximately 2-minute sand timer, and 4 large hexagonal tokens. You’re going to need to read the rules to figure out what to do with these pieces. However, what you’ll find especially delightful and inviting is that you don’t have to read any of the rules to start having puzzling fun. This, alone, makes the game worthy of collective recognition and delight. It’s actually self-explanatory. Pick a set of pieces. Pick a card. Decide whether you want to solve the . 3- or 4-piece side. And, when you’re all ready, go for it!
Later on, when you’re ready to get more or less competitive about the whole thing, you can read the rules, which, it turns out, are well-written and illustrated.
The 4 tokens and 9 of each color gem are placed in the lovely, black, drawstring, gem-and-token bag. Nine sapphires and 9 pieces of amber are placed in the center of the playing area, the rest go into the bag. Players select their token from the gem-and-token bag, which determines what color pieces they are to use.
The gems are used to keep score. There are 4 different colors: 9 rubies and 9 emeralds, 18 sapphires and 18 pieces of amber. The sapphires are worth 3 points, and presented to the first player to, well, Ubongo (i.e. announce and demonstrate th g – a gem that can be worth from 1 to 4 points. The second player gets an amber gem (a one-pointer) and a free pick. The third and fourth players each get a pick from the bag.
Players each pick their puzzle card. Turn the timer over, and the competition begins.
Everyone is rewarded for solving the puzzle before the time runs out. The first and second players to succeed get more, but the luck of the draw determines how much more. The element of luck keeps people from taking things too personally, and makes the whole thing that much more fun. Since each player can choose to try for a 3- or 4-piece puzzle, each has significant control over the amount of challenge. Given this and the scoring mechanism, it is easy to fine tune the game to help level the playing field. Players who are exceptionally adept can be encouraged to select only the more challenging side of the puzzle cards. Players who have too many more points can be consider not drawing a second time from the gem bag.
Designed by Grzegorz Rejchtman, Ubongo Extreme is one version of a series of Ubongo games available from Z-Man games. Everything about the game is well-designed – the rules, the box, the pieces. There are even little ziplock baggies included so that you can store the sorted piece sets between games. Ah, the sheer, carefully honed fun of it all!