A Pentomino is a geometric shape that is made of of combining five squares. There are twelve possible shapes you can make this way. They even have a naming convention after the letters each one resembles the most closely.
To be honest, I actually learned a lot of what I know about Pentominos from the kid mystery book Chasing Vermeer. One of the two kids carries a set around and uses them as a thinking aid. I had seen them in games like Blokus before that but that book got me thinking of them as their own idea.
For all intents and purposes, Katamino is a tool box of activities you can do with the Pentominos. It comes with a tray with a spacer so you can make different sized areas to work with. There's a book of puzzles that you can solve with the Pentominos, as well as some smaller blocks to fill in spaces for certain games.
The games include a speed puzzler, like Ubongo, and a tile-laying game kind of like Blokus. But, so far for us, where it really shines is just as a puzzle. Neither Carrie or I are that into puzzles but we've definitely enjoyed the Katamino puzzles and there's a ton we haven't done yet.
On the one hand, I have to admit that I don't think that Katamino does anything in particular special. The actual games cover ground I've seen before (and, at least in the case of Blokus, done better) The puzzles are fun but Katamino didn't invent Pentomino puzzles.
BUT, where Katamino shines is in the quality of the components. This is not the first set of Pentominos I've owned but it is by far the best made. I've had ones made put of cardboard or plastic. Katamino's are made out of chunky, thick wood. These are solid blocks.
They are easily the most durable Pentominos I've ever used by far. And, since they are so thick, you can make three-dimensional structures out of them, which is actually one of the kinds of puzzles. Our two-year-old is still too young to do the puzzles or play the games but he loves building with them.
Katamino would not be my first choice of abstract games to buy. However, as a casual solitaire puzzle and as a family activity, it really sings. It's not something I'd pull out for hardcore gamers but it's something I can see us as a family enjoying for years to come.
DISCLOSURE: I was sent a review copy of Katamino (Thanks!) but I don't have any official connections with Gigamic.