by Ichthydion

I love puzzles. And doing puzzles with other people can be so satisfying. But doing puzzles competitively often saps the fun right out of the experience.

Let's talk about the puzzle first, shall we? Q-bitz is a bit like tangram with cubes. You turn up a card with a target pattern and arrange the cubes in the frame to reproduce the pattern. Each cube is identical with 6 sides:

1. solid white,
2. solid color,
3. white circle with colored background,
4. colored circle with white background and
5. half color and half white on the diagonal.

The observant reader will note that this is actually 5 sides and they would be correct. Functionally the two diagonal sides are identical. And that's the first sign of trouble in my book.

It's obviously easy for me to sit in my armchair with a cup of tea and complain that the design of the puzzle is insufficient because two of the cube sides are identical. I imagine the designer fiddling with paper mockups for hours on end until they finally threw in the towel. Five sides are plenty. It certainly results in a pleasing variety of target patterns. But it feels like a missed opportunity.

The bigger problem for the puzzle is that unlike tangram, most of the puzzles are instantly solvable by observation. Now to be fair, they are genuine challenges for some people. It requires a bit of spatial awareness that isn't universal. Because the cubes are laid in a grid and because there are just 5 orientations, all you need to do is mentally divide the pattern into a 4-by-4 grid and fill in the correct cube orientation.

As a game, that means some people are at an advantage since they can more or less skip solving the puzzle. That leaves the other challenge of the game: dexterity. The Q-bitz tagline is "Visual dexterity. Cubed." For some people, that's an apt description. But for people who instantly visualize the solution, it's more a matter of quickly manipulating the cubes to get them in place.

I have an uncle who has memorized all the Oscar winners and nominations. He also memorized Top 20 charts for years and all the other bit of information that make one good at trivia contests. He didn't do those things in order to win trivia, but just because that's the sort of person he is. As a result, playing Trivial Pursuit with him is fun but not competitive. What little suspense comes from wondering if a question will stump him. Even better, maybe I know something he doesn't!

Q-bitz is like that with my family. In fact there are a whole range of games that feature competitive puzzling where the winner is predetermined. My teenage son beats me and I finish before everyone else. One of my children always struggles and finishes last. It's . . . not fun. I don't know how to fix the problem other than play other games. Maybe a timed handicap? That still feels . . . not great.

There are some variations that add a little to the challenge: the second round requires rolling the cubes to hope for the right side to turn up. The third round requires solving the pattern from memory. We haven't tried those variations since they would seem to make the competitive problem much worse. But next time we play, I might suggest one or both variation as a handicap for those of us who usually win.

The cubes are lovely. I like the range of colors and how the patterns look when all four players finish making them. The wood frames work great to keep the cubes in place. It's a very well-produced game. It's just too bad the puzzle itself isn't all that interesting.

Now I'm always evaluating games in the context of my family. It can be a very specific target indeed. I suspect Q-bitz would work better in the context of, say, an elementary school classroom. The box says it's for 8 and up, but it should work fine for younger kids then that. As an activity or a more cooperative game, I think Q-bitz has potential.

Still, I think there better choices. Tangram, for sure. It's exactly the same idea, but a much better puzzle. I am curious about Q•bitz Extreme, which looks like a more challenging puzzle too. Or maybe Robot Face Race, which is a race to spot a random robot face. It uses a similar set of skills, but because you don't see other people making progress, you don't feel quite so bad about losing. Or, and I hesitate to suggest it, you can sandbag the game so that nobody knows you spotted the correct robot head 30 seconds before anyone else did.

Or may I recommend Shiba Inu House, which is the same basic concept, but with increasingly difficult challenges that can be used to naturally handicap better players. I feel like every pattern in Q-bitz is the same difficulty, but Shiba Inu House has cards for 1, 2 or 3 houses. By giving better players harder cards, you can create a fairer competition. It also includes cute dog pictures.

In summary: Q-bitz doesn't live up to the potential of it's production quality.