Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Toddlers and the tablets of Babylon

As I have slowly been letting go enough to let our toddler play with some of Daddy's games, Bruno Faidutti's Babylon has come out to play. Since it consists of twelve sturdy plastic tablets and nothing else, it'll take some serious effort for him to break any of it.

I picked Babylon up about five years ago, in large part because it had come across my radar so much as a minimalist game. Back in 2003, having only twelve total pieces was a selling point (although I can think of other games with less that predated it) In fact, most of for Faidutti's comments about it seem to be about how small it was. When the guy who designed it focuses on the novelty element, you know the gameplay isn't that strong.

The tablets come in four different colors and the game starts out with them all just sitting out. On your turn, you combine two stacks tablets. They either have to be the same height or be the same color on top. First person who can't make a move loses.

Babylon is a ridiculously quick game, even by the standards of fillers. The official playing time is five minutes and two minutes is  more accurate. More than that, although I have gone out of my way to not find out how, the game has been solved. 

So basically, Faidutti invented an alternative to Tic Tac Toe.

I got the game when I saw it at the GenCon auction hall all those years ago for the gee whiz factor and intellectual curiosity. Even though I knew I could cobble together a functional version of the game with poker chips or Looney Pyramids in fifteen seconds, I knew that the presentation factor of the authentic tablets was the only way I'd get the Babylon played.

Heck, not only did I know I needed the tablets to interest other people, I knew I'd be a lot more interested myself.

While Babylon isn't a great game and might even be a flawed and broken game, it still has some interest for me. I am amused by how it has a syntax built on two terms, hence the whole Babel connection. There is a variation where it is a move to add tablets to the playing field, which allegedly unsolves it. Plus, it's a quick and easy time filler that isn't dice or cards.

But it's the toy factor that really got it into my collection, kept in my collection (along with the tiny size) and has it seen regular use since the toddler likes playing with them and stacking them up.

And, while he's still not clear about the rules (being able to stack stacks of the same size still alludes him), I am working on teaching him the actual game of Babylon to him. It is looking like it will be part of his introduction to abstracts. And, given its tactile nature, it might be perfect as one of a toddler's first abstracts.

I don't think Bruno Faidutti intended to make Babylon as a toddler game. I'm pretty sure it was just an exercise in minimalism. However, I think it's real value in my gaming life with be alongside Tic Tac Toe and Connect 4 and whatever I decide to first teach the kid with Looney Pyramids.


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