Blinks Bridges the Gap Between Video and Tabletop Games

Electronics Products Reviews Tabletop Games Toys Videogames

When it comes to gaming today, you pretty much have two choices: video games or tabletop games. Tabletop games usually have more personal interaction between the players and require a bit more imagination. Video games, on the other hand, engage with animated images, sounds, and even tactile feedback. Given the choice, many children, and even adults, will tend towards video games. However, what if electronic amazement could be brought to the tabletop? Blinks is a new game system that brings together the best of both worlds. In addition, you can currently save money with a special Father’s Day promotion.

What Are Blinks?

Blinks is the latest creation from Move38.  It is billed as the world’s first smart tabletop game system. Blinks can be played by one or more players and features a number of different games. While it is labeled as appropriate for players ages 14 and up, it can be enjoyed by younger children with an older child or adult to help out. The age requirement is basically for learning and understanding how to set up games. The Blinks Game System comes with 9 different games with 21 additional games available in expansion packs. The Blinks Game System sells for $149.00 with expansion packs starting at $59 and can be purchased directly from Move38 as well from Amazon. There is currently a promotion running for Father’s Day on the Blinks website. Use code FATHERSDAY-VIP to save 20% on the Epic Adventure Bundle (the Blinks game System and the Epic Adventure expansion) and the Game Makers Bundle (the Blinks Game System and the Blinks Developer Kit). Move38 was founded by Jonathan Bobrow, an MIT Media Lab alum. At MIT he earned a degree in Playful Systems and that was where the idea for Blinks was created. 

What’s in the Box?

The Blinks Game System includes the following items:

  • 9 Blinks (batteries included)
  • 9 Games
  • 2 Sushi Roll carrying cases
  • 1 Instruction booklet
Blinks connected and ready to play a game. Image by Michael Knight.

Each hexagonal blink has a hard plastic case with a soft membrane on one flat surface that allows users to press it and interact with the blink. Each of the six sides has magnets that allow blinks to attract and hold on to one another. Each blink also contains a program for a specific game. A decal on the hard plastic side shows the game with which a blink has been programmed. 

sushi roll storage
Store and carry your blinks in this sushi roll carrying case. Image by Michael Knight.

The 2 sushi roll carrying cases use the blinks’ magnets to hold them closed while they keep the blinks together and protected for transport and storage. 

How to Use Blinks

Blinks contain everything you need to play games. There is no need to connect them to a computer or other electronic device. They are a self-contained system. Blinks are often used with the decal side down and the membrane side up. In order to turn on or wake a blink, press the center of the membrane, and the blink will light up. Decide which game you would like to play and separate it from the other blinks. Connect the remaining blinks so they are all touching with their magnetic sides. Press and hold down the blink with the game you want to play for about 3 seconds until a dancing blue pattern animates on the surface. Let go of the blink. It is now ready to teach other blinks. To do this, simply connect it to the cluster of other blinks within 3 seconds. The other blinks will all turn blue as they are learning the game. Once they turn green, the learning is complete and then the blinks will display the startup animation for the chosen game. Now follow the directions for the game and start playing. Blinks will go to sleep after 10 minutes of inactivity. However, you can save battery life by putting them to sleep manually. Just press and hold down the blink for at least 6 seconds and the lights will go out. All other connected blinks will also go to sleep. In addition to a button in the center, each blink also has six RGB LEDs under the membrane which can light and change color independently to allow for different types of games. 

teaching a game
One blink is teaching the other blinks its game. Image by Michael Knight.

The Blinks Game System comes with 9 different games, each on a different blink. The first game which is suggested to play to get the feel for how the blinks work is called WHAM. It is like whack-a-mole. All of the connected blinks start out green. Then a few will turn red. You must press each of the red blinks before their timer runs out. If you fail to do this, all of the blinks turn red to show you lost. If you click on a green blink instead of a red one, that counts as a strike. After three strikes, you lose. If you can successfully complete 40 rounds, you win the game. 

wham game
In WHAM, you need to click the red blinks before their timers run out. Image by Michael Knight.

Other games involve different mechanics and skills. Astro has the blinks spread out around the table and not touching. Players then select one of the “asteroids” and long-press it for 1.5 seconds to make it their ship. It flashes a color of what type of color it needs to mine from asteroids. Players then connect their ships to one asteroid at a time that has their color. Once their ship is full of that color, the color will change. The player who completes 6 missions first is the winner.

Darkball is a game requiring timing and can be played solo or with other players. The blinks are connected in any arrangement with an endpoint for each player, which is a blink only connected to one other blink. A “ball” moves along the path of blinks. When it gets to an endpoint, the player there must press the blink to bounce the ball back. If you click too early, the endpoint goes dark and you can’t bounce for a short amount of time. If you click too late, then your blink takes damage and one of the LEDs turns red. When a player takes 6 damage, then they are out and the last player remaining is the winner. There are also puzzle-like games where you have to connect blinks so matching colors are connected. You can even use blinks for other games. The Widgets game lets you set up your blinks to act like a six-sided die, a spinner, a coin toss, and even a timer which can be set from 1-5 minutes. 

Darkball tests players’ timing as they try to click their blink and send the “ball” back towards the other player. Image by Michael Knight.

Move38 also offers 21 other games which can be purchased in expansion packs of 3 or 6 blinks. The packs focus on types of games such as action, adventure, strategy, solo, or frenzied games. The games which comes with the Blinks Game System requires 6 or more blinks to play, so you are fine with the 9 included. However, some of the games in the expansion packs require 12 to 18 or more blinks to play. For most games, there is a minimum and you are free to add more blinks as you choose to the game. WHAM, for example, gets more challenging as you add more blinks. 

Why You Should Get Blinks

For this review, Move38 sent me the Blinks Game System as well as the Epic Adventure Set, which adds six additional blinks and six more games. As I opened up the boxes and unpacked the blinks, I was impressed with the solid construction of the blinks. A simple press turns them on. The instruction booklet is well organized and includes a quick start guide that explains how to use the blinks and also has some instructions on the basics such as how the blinks connect, the difference between a single-click, a double-click, and a multi-click as well as a long press. There is even a QR code that takes you to where you can learn more about each game and even watch a video showing you how to play those games. If that were not enough, this site also lets you see the source code for each game. Within a few minutes of opening the box, I was already playing WHAM. 

Puzzle 101 game
In Puzzle 101, you must place blinks so that the lit side matches the sides on the other blinks. Image by Michael Knight.

While I liked that it was easy to learn how to use blinks, I was very impressed with the different types of games that can be played with these little devices. While they seem so simple, there is really quite a lot to them. Each blink not only has a button and lights, but it also has a game hardcoded into it and the ability to learn other games from different blinks. The variety of games included in the Blinks Game System provides a great overview of the types of games that can be played with Blinks. In addition to playing with them flat on a table, some games require you to stack them to see how high of a tower you can create. 

Blinks are definitely a novelty in that they are something completely different than typical electronic games. However, what also makes blinks stand out is the interaction they provide between players. Some games have players working together to solve puzzles, while others have them competing against each other with a frenzy of clicks or calm strategizing. Even the solo games are engaging. Plus, in order to play with Blinks, all you need are the blinks themselves. The sushi roll carrying cases are an ingenious way to store and carry blinks. Each case can hold up to six blinks. Whether taking them for a game night or camping, they can be played on any flat, solid surface, and you don’t have to worry about losing small little pieces or having parts blow away in the wind. 

As a computer science teacher, I like how the software is open source. Purchase the Developer Kit for $49 and you have all you need to begin making your own games. In fact, Move38 has created a developer community where people can learn from others and share their games with other developers. Over half of the games published and for sale as blinks were created by community designers. The Blinks SDK (Software Developer Kit) is available for free and built on the Arduino IDE that many students use as part of STEM programs in their schools. I can’t wait to get my hands on a few Developer Kits and turn the students in my Game Design class loose with them. 

The more I play with and learn about Blinks, the more I am impressed. The price may cause some hesitation for some people. However, when you consider the technology in each blink, that each blink comes with its own game, and that you are purchasing a game system that you can add to as you wish, the value becomes more apparent. While I can say that I myself really enjoy playing with Blinks, the true measure of their worth was playing games with my family and watching my children explore new games as they read the rules and then learned to play them. After playing a game a few times, it is so easy to switch to a new game. Just find the blink with the game you want to play, set it to teach mode, and then connect it to the rest of the blinks, and in less than a minute, you are ready to go. I highly recommend Blinks for individuals as well as families. Visit the Blinks website and take advantage of special bundles and discounts which make Blinks even more affordable. 

adventure expansion pack
Expansion packs, such as the Epic Adventure pack, add more blinks and more games to your collection. Image by Michael Knight.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a sample of this item for review purposes.

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