I love board games of all sorts. Deck building, roll and move, area control, and light card games are some of my favorites, but in general I’ll play just about anything. However board game apps don’t generally appeal to me. They’re flashy and fun, but I play board games for the people, which is probably one reason I’m personally not a fan of solitaire gaming. However there’s a subgenre of board games that mixes the digital and the analog in clever and innovative ways, leveraging technology while still giving me a hands on experience with my friends and family. I’ve previously covered two superb examples in this group: Dropmix from Hasbro and Beasts of Balance from Sensible Object. I’m really excited to show off a new addition to this crew: Blinks from Move 38. Let’s dive in and see what the fuss is about.
Before we dive into the game system, let’s introduce you to a Blink, the star of the show. A single Blink is a hexagonal plastic piece with a plastic shell, a soft rubber top, lights, and a single game.
Each Blink contains not only the instructions for its own game, but also the ability to teach that game to any number of other Blinks, connected by magnets located on each edge of the device. Some games are more entertainment, while others are strategic and puzzly, with player counts ranging from solo to 4 or 5 people depending on the game.
To play Blinks, pick a game then connect the specified number of units together and turn all of them on. Pick the Blink with the game you want to play aside, then long press it to set it to “teaching mode”. Once the light starts to flash blue connect it to the others. Immediately a chain reaction begins, with the active Blink telling the others what game they’re going to play. Once all of them have turned green, their colors reset, the default state of the game begins, and it’s time to have fun!
That’s a really good intro to the system, but let’s talk about the games! As of this writing there are around 20 distinct titles, broken down into four different sets: the Blinks Core Set has six games, the Combo set has the Core set plus six new games, the Expansion set offers another 6 games, and Move 38 has just launched a Kickstarter for new titles this week. I won’t cover every Blink, but let’s take a look at a handful of my personal favorites.
Tip: Once you’re familiar with your chosen game, turn off the lights for a real treat.
I’m putting Zen Flow first because it’s one of my favorites. Zen Flow really showcases the Blinks system because it can accept any number of Blinks, it’s beautiful, and it’s really relaxing. Think of Zen Flow as the Blinks equivalent of a Japanese zen garden; it’s all about pleasing patterns.
Connect as many Blinks as you like, turn them on, and let Zen Flow teach the others. Then a single click on any Blink will change all of them to the same color. Click again to watch the color change sweep across the group. Alter the configuration to see how the color change affects this new grouping. Double click any of them to set each Blink to a random color. Long press any Blink to lock it and force each side to “reflect” the color facing it. In the right arrangements you can see the ripple of signals from one to the next, like a drop of water on a pond.
Darkball is another excellent showcase for the Blinks system. It can also take any number of Blinks, but unlike Zen Flow, this one’s actually a game — and a challenging one at that. Create an “arena” by connecting any number of Blinks in an arrangement with arms extending out from a center fork (one arm per player). Make sure there’s a single Blink at the end of each arm.
Start the game by having one player click their Blink to release the “darkball”. This glowing orb will travel down the path, making decisions about direction at each fork. Once it reaches another player’s Blink they must either click to block it or take one point of damage. When blocked, the darkball will reverse course and keep bouncing around until it damages a player’s Blink. Once a player takes 6 points of damage they’re out. The game continues until only one player remains.
Darkball is an excellent way to practice your dexterity and response times as the darkball speeds up each time it gets blocked.
Tip Toe Volcano
Tip Toe Volcano is the digital equivalent of Skull, an excellent bluffing and betting game. In Tip Toe Volcano players each receive the same number of Blinks and get to pretend whether or not they’re lava.
At the beginning of each round players take their set of Blinks and secretly select whether each Blink will be a lava trap (flashing red) or safe (flashing green). Once players have made their selections they double tap the entire group to turn it into a beautiful grassy patch, then attach all of the groups together.
Then the first player bets how many Blinks they could touch without running into a lava trap. The next player can either up the bet or challenge the previous player. If challenged, a player must touch at least one Blink in their own group then as many other Blinks as needed to either succeed or fail. Players who run into a lava trap lose one of their Blinks, but if they’re successful the player who challenged them loses one. The game is over when only one player has Blinks.
Skull is such an excellent bluffing game and Tip Toe Volcano is a great rendition of it. In games like this you’re playing the player rather than the game and Tip Toe Volcano maintains that tension and uncertainty, with the added benefit of a lava eruption when someone clicks on a lava trap, slowly covering all of the available tiles.
A fun little note, Tip Toe Volcano was designed in collaboration with the minds at Big Potato Games, designers of our favorite snatch and grab game Cobra Paw.
Bomb Brigade is a “hot potato style” speed and dexterity game for 1-10 players. Arrange up to 6 Blinks around a center Blink, then start the game. The center Blink will become a bomb with a rotating light, while the Blinks around the outside act as shields. Players take turns clicking the bomb, ideally while the light is facing a shield. If the bomb goes off while it’s facing a shield, that shield loses 1 of its 6 points of damage. After a shield loses all its points it is removed from the play area. If the bomb goes off while it’s facing an empty area the player who clicked the bomb is out. If the bomb fizzles, it speeds up and it becomes the next player’s turn. Play continues until only one player remains.
The Blinks system really excels at speed and dexterity games. The lights make it very clear what’s happening; it demands lightning fast reflexes. Bomb Brigade is a fun one to play with any size group.
Puzzle 101 is a perfect game to play alone or with a small group. Collect exactly 6 Blinks and arrange them in a circle, with a single empty slot on the outside. Once the Blinks are properly arranged the center Blink will begin sparkling. Double tap it to create a unique puzzle.
Each of the 6 Blinks will set one or more of its six sides to a color. Players must arrange the Blinks so that the colors are paired with the side of another Blink with the same color. But it’s not quite that easy because some Blinks can have 2, 3, or perhaps even 4 colored sides. The puzzle isn’t complete until all colored sides are paired off, at which time the entire puzzle will pulse on and off to show that you’ve finished it.
The puzzles in this game are just challenging enough to be interesting, without being brain burners.
One of the strengths of the Blinks system is its real time nature. Because every Blink can communicate with every other connected Blink, the system is capable of some really cool functionality. Astro shows this off really well by pitting each player as a starship captain trying to mine asteroids, all at the same time. Each player takes control of a single Blink (their spacecraft), trying to be the first to complete 6 missions. The rest of the Blinks are scattered around the playing area and act as asteroids.
When the game starts each asteroid reveals one or more different types of ore, represented by a color. Players attempt to mine this ore by connecting their ship, which displays a specific color, to an asteroid which has a side matching the color of their ship. A mission is complete when you’ve harvested 6 of any color. Then you move on to your next mission until one player has completed 6 missions.
Astro is fast and frenetic, and entire games are won and lost in minutes. The more players you have, the more chaotic the game. Snatch, grab, and drag your way to victory.
Paintbrush is easily my favorite Blinks game, so I saved it for last. In my mind it’s the most strategic and interesting of the available titles: equal parts area control and tile laying game.
In Paintbrush each player controls a single Blink (the paintbrush) with the goal of covering the remaining shared Blinks (the canvas) and ending the game with the most Blinks of their color.
After selecting a unique color, players take turns placing their paintbrush onto an open area on the canvas, touching at least one other Blink. Their paintbrush will fill every adjacent side of a canvas Blink with their color. After the first turn players may move any Blink to an open spot on the board, except Blinks which would split the canvas into two sections. Once all 6 sides of a canvas Blink have been filled with the same color it becomes another paintbrush for that player. After all canvas Blinks have been converted to paintbrushes, the game ends and whoever has the most paintbrushes wins the game.
Paintbrush is thinky and fun, a challenging mix of tactics and longer term thinking. Players can easily get into battles over a single Blink and forget about other areas of the board.
From the Publisher
There are so many Blinks now that it’s worth a bit of time clarifying just what’s available. So Move 38 have provided some details about which Blinks are in what sets, and where you can get each of them.
- Blinks Game System (on Kickstarter) – Astro, Darkball, Group Therapy, Heist, Paintbrush, Puzzle 101, WHAM, Widgets, ZenFlow
- Epic Adventure Expansion (on Kickstarter) – Tip Toe Volcano, Ghost Hunters, Alchematch, Crownfall, Treasure Tumble, Thalassophobia
- Community Set Expansion – Darkball, Paintbrush, Group Therapy, Raid, Reactor, Pirates & Lasers
- Blinks Core Set – Mortals, Fracture, Berry, Bomb Brigade, Puzzle 101, WHAM!
- Blinks Combo Set – Mortals, Fracture, Berry, Bomb Brigade, Puzzle 101, WHAM!, Astro, Honey, Flic Flop, Speed Racer, ZenFlow, Widgets
Become a Blinks Developer
One of the most appealing features of the Blinks game system is that YOU can develop your own game. Buy a Blinks developer kit, download the SDK (software development kit), and go to work. The Blinks SDK is built on top of Arduino, an industry standard in use all over the world. Additionally the Blinks team have a healthy set of documentation, video examples, developer forums, and have made all of the source code for Blinks publicly available on GitHub (along with the code for 20 games you can use as reference). The Blinks team even has a system for licensing, publishing and revenue sharing for developers.
Just when I think I’ve seen every permutation of board games (digital or analog), something comes along to remind me that this hobby is still in its growth phase. Sure board games have been around for thousands of years, but it’s really only been in the last 50-75 years that they really started becoming of interest to the general public. And they really hit their stride in the 80s and 90s with the release of true hobby games like Catan.
So when I get a pitch for something like Blinks I’m a little skeptical. But then I play with them and realize there are still ways to surprise and delight me. Blinks is excellent, in many of the same ways as Beasts of Balance or Dropmix. They’re a great convergence of technology and game theory, they’re superbly well designed, and they’re just great fun.
Let’s start with the portability factor. Blinks come in stacks of 6, each of which come wrapped in a “sushi roll” wrapper that works perfectly with the magnets on the edges of the tiles, and keeps them stacked securely in a package barely larger than a Snickers bar. They’re lightweight and can easily fit in a pocket. And because they don’t require a corresponding app and screen like Dropmix or Beasts of Balance, they’re much easier to play in any situation.
The games themselves are limited only by the imagination of the designers. The Kickstarter features a number of new titles, ones we didn’t cover here, in their Epic Adventure line. With names like Ghosthunters, Alchematch, Treasure Tumble, and Group Therapy, you can feel the creativity oozing out of the white plastic casing.
While I’m definitely in love with Blinks and I’m looking forward to great things from them, they’re not without their faults. The most notable one is that of power: each Blink requires a CR2032 watch battery. While these batteries aren’t expensive (a pack of 6 is around on Amazon), it’s still an extra expense. Several of the units I received needed new batteries before I could use them, but I haven’t had to replace any additional batteries in the few months since I’ve had them. The Blinks material indicates that each battery should provide around 40+ hours of gameplay, but they also suggest some additional ways to extend battery life such as turning off unused Blinks between gameplay.
Another small issue is that the top of the Blinks is a nice tacky rubber surface. I actually love the feel of this, but it does tend to attract dirt and dust. Thankfully Blinks are also water-resistant, which means that you should be able to safely wipe them down with a damp cloth.
Even with these minor flaws Blinks is a really innovative and interesting way to engage with your friends and family. They’re portable, fun, expandable (by adding new sets), and really eye-popping when you break them out in a group setting. Blinks might not be the wave of the future, but they’ll certainly keep you entertained on your way there.