Pentomino-based games are popular with my family. For those unfamiliar with the term, pentominos are the possible shapes made from combining five squares and are the pieces in a variety of games, including Blokus and Callisto. City Square Off from Gamewright is the latest addition to our collection of such games (thank you Gamewright) and gets played often.

Actually, in City Square Off each player gets a set of pieces representing all the combinations of one, two, three, four, and five squares—so it’s not strictly pentominos. Nevertheless, the game is based on the same concept as these other two, fitting the shapes in to the available space. Yet as a strictly two-player game there are significant differences. First off, the players don’t play on the same board. Each gets their own 9×9 grid on which to place the game pieces. Second, instead of choosing the order in which they play their pieces, there’s a deck of cards with pictures of the shapes, and as each card is turned over, both players must place that piece on their board adjacent to one that’s already been played. There are not enough spaces on the boards to accommodate all the pieces, so eventually at least one of the players will be stuck. The other is the winner. (By the way, each player begins with a different six-square starting pieces taking space in the center of the grid.)

City Square Off is an abstract strategy game that’s thought-provoking without being weighty. It’s easy to learn, so works well for kids. Since each player has their own board, it’s competitive without direct conflict. The game also takes almost no time to set up and plays in 10-15 minutes. It’s become our go-to game when two people have a few minutes to spare.