Brainstonz is an interesting game, the way it takes a very old concept in gaming, and really gives it a nice twist. It is also a game that when it comes to production quality, excels.So let's start with the mechanics of this game designed by Philippe Trudel. This is really a modernization of the age-old game tic-tac-toe. The idea is in that respect extremely simple, in this case get four of your stones in-a-row before your opponent does.We've all played tic-tac-toe, so the goal is easily familiar.However, in this version, published by the Canadian firm McWiz Games, there is a neat twist.The four-by-four board has a series of symbols on each of the 16 squares created. There are two of each symbol in what appears a pretty random pattern on the board. Yet these symbols are an interesting aspect of the game.On a turn a player places two stones onto the board (after the first player's first turn on which they are allowed to place only one to help offset the first player's usual advantage in such games). If on a turn you end so that you place a stone in a way that you cover two matching symbols on the board, you can remove an opponent's stone. It can be an important tool in thwarting an opponent's plan to get their four in-a-row, although at times to match symbols you are placing stones that don't help you achieve the game's ultimate goal.It is interesting how you can get so focused on using the removal mechanic you miss simple moves like simply completing your four by the placement of your next two stones. A bit of caution, don't move to quick. Take a second look at what the game board position and mechanics allow.Now let's talk production values for a bit.Some games are tagged with the label 'coffee table games' the reasoning being that they look good enough that you are proud to have them on display almost as pieces of art. Brainstonz wears the label well.The game board is a box of wood, with the symbols having a sort of hieroglyphic look that really does look like an art piece. The pieces are polished stones, the black nice flat ones and the white more rounded. The stones can stores on two tray areas to the sides of the board, so the game is always ready to go. The game board, being a box, also has a storage tray, which allows the stones to be tucked away inside the board. The storage area is huge compared to the 16 stones. If one was handy they'd likely line the tray with some felt and that would add even more aesthetic detail to the game.With the nice detail and materials the game is a bit pricey for what the game itself offers, so I tend to think this will be one often given as a gift. Any gamer would be happy to have it, and it looks so nice it is a great gift idea.Now it should be noted as a tic-tac-toe variant in style, this game isn't overly deep in terms of tactics, but then again it plays quickly, and you can knock off a few quick games as a break pretty easily (we've all done that a few times using pen and paper I am sure).So understand what Brainstonz is, a simple game that looks great. You can set it on the desk in the office and it looks classy. On the coffee table it's just unique enough to have visitors asking what it is, and quick enough to teach that you can have the questioner playing the game in a hurry. Enough to make it worth a look that's for sure, and you will enjoy a game or three on occasion.
-- CALVIN DANIELS
Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Feb. 11, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada