Ubongo Junior is a puzzle game featuring coloured gems and cartoon animal Tetris pieces that will delight children as young as 5 into a gem collecting frenzy.
Designer: Grzegorz Rejchtman
Illustrations and Junior Design: Annette Nora Kara and anoka.de
20 minutes play time
Summary of Game
The Ubongo series from Kosmos is filling out nicely now, there are 3D versions, travel versions and now this family oriented kids version too. As with any good kids game, this comes with robust components and appealing visuals coupled with some simple yet solid gameplay. Ubongo Junior is a puzzle game featuring coloured gems and cartoon animal Tetris pieces that will delight children as young as 5 into a gem collecting frenzy.
Upon opening up Ubongo Junior I was a bit concerned that the game was going to be a bit too much of a kids game without much depth to it. This was clearly because I vastly overestimated my own ability to complete these Ubongo tetris piece puzzles. It turns out even if you tell me the three puzzle pieces I need to use in order to complete the puzzle I still will not find it easy to fit them together correctly. Apparently I am not quite as excellent at polyominal puzzles as I had originally thought.
During the game you need to place the puzzle pieces into the shape on your card as quickly as you can. Being the first to do so will get you maximum gems for that round, in a four player game the first person to complete gets 4 tasty gems for their troubles. Tasty as in good, don’t eat the gems! The player who completes their puzzle second gets three gems and so on. This is scaled based on player count which we found really prevents a run-away winner situation as well as being easy to remember. There is an egg timer which adds an additional layer of frantic puzzle-doing. We decided not to use this as it would add a bit too much stress to the littlest one. The game worked perfectly for us without.
Gems mean prizes
I have previously played the travel version of this game, and this one is a huge step up in component quality. The whole game feels like it can withstand the test of living with a boisterous five year old and still look great. The puzzle pieces themselves are chunky and have the most adorable wee animals on them. My favourite has to be the cheeky hippo, but all the animals are just so charming looking!
Rather than boring old points, in this game you are collecting sparkling gems from a black cloth bag. These gems look like any other plastic gems really, they are nice and chunky and come in a variety of colours. The colour of the gem you collect does not matter when it comes to scoring so you can just pick randomly, or always take your favourite colour.
Surely it ain’t perfect?
If I am honest, it is hard for me to find a negative with this game really. I do think it ticks all the family boxes you want for a game for younger gamers. It is not easy to master, but with having both the green and orange levels on each card, it is possible to create an easier puzzle for the younger players whilst all still playing the same game.
We decided not to play with the timer as it caused quite a lot of undue pressure for the wee man, but perhaps we will build up to that in the future. I think that this game is a lovely entry into the series, I enjoy this kind of straight forward game that adults can play with kids and all have fun but not be constantly trying to police rules or fend off cheating. In fact, aside from stealing gems from the gem bank, I don’t think it is possible to cheat on this game even if you really tried, which would have been ideal when playing with my sisters when I was younger.
I really love this game for what it is. It does not pretend to be more than it is, and what it is is a quick puzzle game with high quality components. It plays quickly, requires almost no set up and is simple to grasp. This is only really suitable to play up to 4 players, but with careful choosing of the cards, it may be possible to up the player count a bit as there are four of each animal and each puzzle only uses one or two pieces. If you want a speedy family game that is easy to pick up after dinner or over breakfast then perhaps give this one a whirl.
- Great components and visuals
- Really fun concept
- The pressure of the brain bending puzzling gets the adrenaline pumping
- Varying levels of difficulty to suit a wider age range
- Easy to teach and pick up, and perfect lightweight game for kiddos
- The pressure of the time may be a bit much
- Not really a dislike, but I guess I will have to get the “adult” version to enjoy too!