Game Review: Mind Bending Puzzler Katamino

katamino puzzle game - boxYou’ve probably heard of Tangrams. It’s a puzzle with seven shapes, called tans, which are put together to form shapes. Mostly triangles, they might include a square or a rectangle. Katamino is the next evolutionary step of this type of puzzle; a collection of a dozen different “pentaminos”, each of which is five units in size, that you have to fit together to fill a rectangular space. The bigger the grid, the more pieces you need to fill it and, of course, the more possibilities for how they fit together to attain the correct solution. It’s an elegant spatial puzzle that rewards people who can visualize geometric shapes and can be extraordinarily difficult at the higher levels.

Katamino is a wooden puzzle with an ingenious adjustable board and a dozen brightly painted wooden pentaminos, along with a book containing over 500 puzzles, some of which are way beyond my pay grade with puzzle solutions, offering billions of incorrect combinations to attain the right interlocking orientation of the pieces. By choosing wood parts, the kinesthetics of the puzzle are excellent; it has a really good feel and is much better than if everything was in plastic, for sure.

Here’s the board with the adjustable edge moved to the smallest grid area – “3” – and the three required pieces neatly tucked into the solution area with a solution for this particular puzzle. Around it you can see all the other pentaminos that make up Katamino:

katamino puzzle game - easy penta slam puzzle pieces

Three pieces is easy. Now, imagine that the barrier bar is moved back to 8 and there are 8 pieces you need to fit together. Or 11 with 11 of the 12 pieces. Mind-boggling and essentially impossible if you don’t have a good spatial sense.

But how do you know which pieces should fit together so you don’t just randomly choose pieces that won’t actually work? That’s all offered up in a puzzle book full of what the company calls “Slams”, specific puzzles to solve. It takes a bit of study to understand:

slams puzzles in book katamino puzzle game review

The above are the easiest “slams” and if you want to start with the easiest, it’s row “A”, column “3”, with the three pieces to fit together shown on that row: orange, brown, green. On the same row you can add one piece (and move the barrier one to the left) on column “4” by adding the pink piece, then “5” and the green zig-zag piece, then “6” with the Z, and so on. I’m not convinced that row “A” is easier than row “G”, and as the book contains a grid offering 500 puzzles, it’s also unclear whether the so-called “ultimate challenges” are actually harder given that it’s the same size space and the same number of pentaminos you’re trying to fit together.

Here’s a level “5” puzzle, solved:

katamino puzzle level 5 slam

As soon as I left this out on the table, people started to sit down and try to find solutions. There’s almost no instruction needed (other than how to interpret the puzzle book) and it’s immediately obvious if you got it right — hurray! — or are stuck. Here’s my younger daughter contemplating solutions for yet another “slam”: She got so into it she didn’t even take her coat off!

girl solving katamino shape fitting puzzle

I really like Katamino for the aesthetic of the wooden pieces and the simple design of the adjustable puzzle board. There are no solutions in the book so you’re really on your own trying to solve these puzzles, however, so it can be an exercise in frustration for a lot of people. That’s probably good, though, as they try to figure out how to have all the pentaminos fit together without resorting to what we refer to as The Hammer Solution. Definitely not recommended by the manufacturer 🤪

This is also the kind of puzzle that will either frustrate the player fairly quickly or pull them in and engage them for hours on end. My older daughter’s boyfriend, a 24yo who just graduated with a degree in engineering, sat and worked through puzzles for at least four hours the first time I showed up Katamino! This can also feel a bit like an interview challenge for a high-tech company looking for the best and the brightest, so beware. Okay, so maybe that’s just what I think about when approaching these sort of geometric puzzle games. Mea culpa!

Either way, this is definitely one to check out. Oh, and here’s the grid of the most difficult challenges in the book:

slams puzzles in book katamino puzzle game review advanced challenge puzzles

Ready? You can check out the game through its Amazon link!

Katamino, from GIGAMIC, distributed through Hachette Boardgames. On Amazon for $34.99

Disclaimer: Hachette sent me a copy of Katamino for the purposes of this review. Thanks, H!

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