Placing tiles one by one from a pool is a cornerstone of lots of games, from dungeon crawlers to train and terrain exploration games, and much more. Carcassonne wouldn’t work without tiles, nor would Betrayal at House on the Hill. Tsuro relies on tiles, as does Takenoko and the rather heavier game Galaxy Trucker.
Abstract the concept so that it’s just about optimal tile placement and you have the terrific puzzle game Framework. Designed by Uwe Rosenberg (who also designed Nova Luna, A Feast for Odin, Caverna, Agricola, Le Havre, and Tulip Fever), it’s the kind of game that takes a few minutes to explain and quite a bit of trial and error to master. It supports 2-4 player competitive, but the solo game is pretty darn intriguing too. I’ll be reviewing solo play in this article.
Each tile in the game – and there are 120 tiles – has both a frame color and a task. Some tiles have only frames, some only tasks, some have up to three frames and some tiles have up to three tasks, or a combination thereof. Here are a few example tiles:
The leftmost tile, for example, has a single frame that’s gold, while the second tile has three frames, green, brown, and silver. The third tile has no frame and the fourth has two frames, red and silver. In the middle of each tile are the tasks and they are most typically like the rightmost: 4 brown means that there need to be at least 4 tiles with brown frameworks orthogonally adjacent to fulfill the task. The tile without any frames has two possible tasks: 4 adjacent green and 7 adjacent green. The leftmost gold frame, because of the included arrow, has two tasks, but you cannot fulfill the easier 3 silver until you have completed the four green.
You start the game with 22 tokens and your task is to place the tiles, one by one, such that you can accomplish the maximum number of tasks in the minimum number of steps. Place all 22 tokens and you’re done, game over. The score for a solo game, however, comes from how well you can stay within a 5×5 grid with your tile placements! Once you’ve achieved all 22 tasks, any tiles outside of your 5×5 count against your score.
Tiles are stored in a cloth bag to ensure random selection:
Setup takes about 30 seconds: Place all the tiles in the bag and pull out 22 tokens of whatever color you prefer. There’s also a Storage Area for solo play you can use to defer one or two tiles since sometimes tiles that are a great placement later in the game are the opposite when you’re just starting out.
FRAMEWORK SOLO GAME PLAYTHRU
As with most tile placing games, the first half-dozen turns are quite speedy because it’s not until you start to build your tableau that you need to really strategize and plan. In the multiplayer game, you’re alternating placing tiles, hoping to be the first to use all of your tokens, while in the solo game there’s a “Storage” card where you can put one or two tiles aside, either for use later, or as a free discard. Which is important: Your goal is to complete 22 tasks in as close to a 5×5 grid as possible.
You can get the gist of the entire game with a single photo. Here I am deciding where to place tile #3:
Notice that if I place this tile underneath the ‘3’ task then I’ll have completed my first task, and in an atypically quick fashion. Why? Because it requires three gold frames orthogonally adjacent, and the left ‘7’ tile already has two gold frames. Not only that, but the new tile I’m poised to place has a task that can be fulfilled with either four silver or four green (the heavy slash means OR, whereas a more flowing dual-color edge around a task means that you can combine the two colors to complete the task) and we already have one silver adjacent. That would be a good start!
That’s not my actual game, however, that was just a setup so you could see how Framework plays. It’s really that easy.
Here’s my actual solo game, with the first 10 tiles placed. Much more typically, I’ve placed ten tiles out of my 25 tile grid (which i can expand beyond if needed, of course) and only fulfilled a single task so far:
I’ve matched the ‘4’ brown frames task, as denoted by the orange marker (because in this game orthogonally adjacent means that any one frame of a grouping needs to be adjacent, not all of them). I’m only a single brown frame away from accomplishing the brown ‘5’ task (approx in the middle), and I have 3 of the 5 silver for the other task on that same tile (at 2,2 if you count from the top left).
This is a much more typical start and you can see that each tile placed has an increasing number of possible spots, so you need to simultaneously balance the current tasks, potential future tasks you can attain, and whether the tile is within your 5×5 grid (for solo play). For what are hopefully obvious reasons, I’m not sharing a tile-by-tile gameplay.
Further along, I have 14 tiles placed and am trying to figure out where to place the brown ‘3’ task / green frame tile on the top left:
You have to really pay attention in this game. If I move the new tile into that top left slot, that fulfills three tasks, because there are three tiles with a green ‘5’ task in that zone. Add one more and I’ll have that green ‘6’ task achieved too. Add another and I fulfill the green ‘7’, and one more lets me also fulfill the green ‘8’, and so on. But look closer, because that green frame tile placement also fulfills its brown ‘3’ task. In other words, one tile will get me four tasks, four markers out of my 22. Nice!
And so, finally, the lower right shows the last tile I need to place so that I will have used all 22 of my tokens:
You can see that I’ve only placed one tile in the “Storage” area, which is pretty darn good. More importantly, when I place the tile on the lower right corner, I immediately fulfill both of its tasks and thereby wrap up my solo game!
Moving everything aside just a bit, you can double-check all my pattern matching in this final placement. I’ve moved the tiles outside my 5×5 grid to aid in counting:
The rules tell you to fill in the holes in your 5×5 with face down tiles, which is where the top right tile comes from, but it’s unnecessary. Your score isn’t the sum of all 22 tasks you accomplished, nor that value minus the number of unutilized outside tiles, it’s just the number of non-grid tiles. Lower scores are better and this one is a remarkable 2 pointer. Most of my solo games are 7-9 points, but that silver 6 & 8 tile was an incredibly good bit of luck at the very end.
THOUGHTS ON FRAMEWORK
Designer Uwe Rosenberg is much respected in the gaming community and this simple puzzler demonstrates why; his games are delightfully “thinky”, requiring you to utiliize at least some basic tactics if not a long-term strategy for winning. Framework isn’t complex and it doesn’t have hundreds of parts or dozens of eye-popping miniatures, nor a stack of expansions for enthused fans. Instead, it’s a simple, elegant game that boils down its concept into an abstract placement game that I really enjoy. While I greatly enjoy high complexity games, sometimes wading through 60 pages of rules and spending the first 90 minutes remembering the nuances of play are tedious and very unfun.
Could the design be a bit more eye-catching? Definitely. But if you want a simple game you can toss into your backpack for between classes or while waiting for a meeting to start or your gamer buddies to show up at the pub, this can definitely fit the bill. Recommended.
Disclosure: Pegasus Press sent me a copy of Framework in return for this candid review. Which I appreciate!