An unimposing little game from Gamewright that I initially overlooked is City Square Off.
City Square Off is a spatial reasoning game in which each player is "planning a city" (placing Tetris-style pieces - oh and get used to Tetris comparisons) on a grid board. Both players start with a "city" in the middle of the board (each of a different shape). Once this incredibly simple setup is complete, each turn a player will flip the topmost card from the deck (representing a tile piece), and both players will have to place that tile on their board. Play continues like this until at least one player cannot place the appropriate tile, at which point the player that can place the tile is declared the winner. If neither player can place the tile, then the player with the largest number of uncovered contiguous spaces is declared the winner.
The first thing that I like about City Square Off is a combination of the city and tile pieces. Initially, I just assumed that this game was going to be a board game Tetris, but these pieces are what proved me wrong. Since the city pieces are each different, this forces both of the players to be playing differently - you cannot cheat and see what your opponent is doing, because that may not even be a valid play on your board. And with the tiles, there are no repeated shapes - once that tile has been placed, it will never be played again. In addition, I like that the tiles vary in number of blocks - they range from consisting of one block all the way up to five (this really helps set it apart from Tetris where they are all four blocks). Since the number of blocks in each piece are inconsistent, it really forces you to actually think instead of going into auto-Tetris-pilot.
The next thing that I really like about City Square Off is the high quality of the components. Normally, I don't really care about component quality - rather, I like high quality components, but I don't bother telling you about whether a game has them or not. However, with City Square Off, I believe that the game would be incredibly frustrating if they hadn't made the components so well. Since your goal is to set these pieces up, and it is crucial that they stay in place, if each player was given a flat board the pieces would slide and you would immediately get annoyed by the game. Fortunately, Gamewright took this into consideration and made sure that there were small "nubs" (for lack of a better word) on each grid point - and the tiles have small holes in them that allow them to lock into place with these nubs. Thus, no sliding of components, and the game is playable!
A very brief third pro that I have for City Square Off is that not all of the pieces fit on the board. Therefore, you can't play the "perfect" game in which you successfully go all the way through the deck and place all of your tiles. You will run into a time where you can't place things - it's simply a matter of "when" instead of "if". I like this.
Finally, as with all Gamewright games, the final pro is that it is incredibly kid friendly. Anyone can play this game, as it is very simple to understand the rules. Yet, if you play this with kids, I think that it will help challenge their spatial reasoning skills and force them to plan ahead. If they don't pay attention to the fact that certain pieces are already used, then they will lose - until they learn that they need to watch for that. Games that children can play, and yet are forced to expand their thinking are really good in my opinion.
The only real con that I see in City Square Off is that, though it did distinguish itself from Tetris to an extent, it does not force me to think in new ways as most spatial reasoning games do. The thing that I love so much about games like Abalone, Dvonn, and Yinsh is that they are so unlike anything that I have ever played or seen - and so they force me to think in entirely new ways. City Square Off challenges me more than Tetris, but feels comfortable enough that I don't feel my brain being stretched. With this, I must acknowledge that Gamewright's games are aimed primarily to be able to be played with children, and I believe that children will not experience this same con - they didn't all grow up playing the same games that I played.
Overall, I give City Square Off an 8.5/10. I debated this back and forth, planning on giving it only an 8 for a long time, but that was primarily because I prefer Dvonn and Abalone, each of which also received 8.5's. (I'm not convinced that I'm very consistent with my scores; but at least I never claimed to be.) Judging it based on it's own merits, City Square Off is a very solid game with the added advantage of being inexpensive and very kid friendly - so 8.5 it is.
If you're looking for games that you can play with kids, then you might try Monopoly Deal, Sorry! Sliders, and possibly Heroscape.
I would like to thank Gamewright for providing me with a review copy of City Square Off.