Sometime before I gave up on video games, pretty much forever, I used to play Tetris. Not a lot, really, but if forced to choose between counting the dots in drop-ceiling panels or playing a video game, I'd opt to play Tetris. Pretty simple and straightforward objective, combined with a single, repetitive hand/eye exercise; watch the shape as it drops toward the playing surface, determine which way the tile needs to be oriented to maximize its placement, spin the thing and let it drop. What you were after was a high score, but tactically, it meant you wanted to complete the bottom rows, which would then be eliminated from the board, affording you more space to score more points. Keep at it until you can't fit anything else on the board.
Essentially, a race against time, because the program dropped the shapes at an increasingly faster rate as the game went on (or maybe that's just perception). It was simpler than a lot of video games, in that you didn't have to spend hours trying to master one aspect of the game; figuring out, for example, how exactly to twist your controller in just the right way, so that it would destroy a particularly troublesome monster, at the gate of a castle, and as soon as you got that routine down, it was time to figure out something else.
So it was with mild interest that I sought out two games from Reiner Knizia, called Fits and Bits, both with more than just a passing resemblance to Tetris; Fits more than Bits in that regard. Publisher Ravensburger was kind enough to send me copies, and I had at it. They're multi-player solitaire puzzle games, and in fact, come with solitaire options. Fits preceded Bits to the retail market, by about three years.
Knizia began with the closest thing to a board game of Tetris that he could find; otherwise known as Round 1 of a four-round game of Fits. Each player has control of 16 plastic tiles, in various shapes of between three and six squares. Each player draws a 'starting piece' card and must utilize the pictured tile as his/her starting piece. Then, from a common deck with the 16 tiles shown on them, a card is turned over. Everybody playing (up to four) finds that piece in their colored collection of them and slides it onto a plastic, slanted tray, with a cardboard overlay. Like Tetris, you can turn the tile that's 'falling' (being slid down the tray, atop the cardboard overlay), but unlike Tetris, you can't do it when it actually starts to drop on the board. You can fiddle with the thing in your hand, but once you lay it down on the tray, you are supposed to push it straight down to its destination. With Tetris, of course, you could keep flipping the thing until it hit something on the screen.
The key to the whole thing is the scoring. The cardboard overlay in Round 1 is full of dots; 72 of them in a 12 X 6 arrangement. When all 16 shapes (tiles) have been played, you'll score. You'll get a point for each horizontal row completely covered, one point for each covered dot and minus one point for each dot that can be seen. In the second round, your cardboard overlay will contain dots with numbers on them. If they can be seen at the end of the round, you score the numbers. In the third round, the overlay has dots with black and white numbers. Each of the black numbers not covered up by the end of the round will score minus five points. The fourth round has pairs of symbols on the dots; any of these pairs exposed at the end score three points, and if only a single representation of the pair is exposed, it's minus three points.
And that's it. . . . well, except for the multiple expansions, both official and fan-based, which are more cardboard overlays containing more exotic ways to score points.
Bits takes the shapes out of the Fits' tiles (they're uniform, three-square tiles), and bases scoring on shape and color combinations that appear on the board. Players draw task cards, instead of cards with the varied shapes on them in Fits. These task cards inform players as to which shapes and color combinations will score points in each of four rounds of play.
There seems to be a bit more of an attainable challenge in Bits. With Fits, you are forced to deal with shapes that can't be altered, and, significantly, can't be rotated at the last second to accommodate a changed idea. You're at the mercy of the shapes, as they show up on the draw deck. With Bits, there's a uniformity to the tiles, and your job is more about color orientation, and creating shapes as they occur on the board.
Fits was nominated for a boatload of awards, including Germany's prestigious Spiel des Jahres in 2009. It was in contention for BoardGameGeek's Golden Geek awards for Best Children's Board Game, Best Family Board Game, Best Innovative Board Game and Best Party Game. The following year, it was nominated for the Golden Geek's Best Abstract Game, and won it.
It's maintaining a 6.73 average rating from just over 2,000 respondents on the Geek, with the usual array of "utterly brilliant" to "no need for (its) existence" commentary. Bits is running a little lower on the rating scale; 6.58, but with only about 200 ratings at this point. It, too, bears the normal "unique alternative" (to Fits) to "charmless sequel" commentary.
For my part, if I had to pick, I'd go with Bits. While Fits' expansions give it a higher degree of replayability, that has a way of translating into deeper levels of frustration, as you are forced, sometimes, into situations over which you have little control. Prepare yourself for very low scoring games when you start out with either of these games. As you become acclimated to the shapes of Fits, and the colors and uniformity of Bits, you'll learn a little bit that will likely improve scores (as you would, were you to play Tetris, or any other manual dexterity video game).
Their main drawback, from my perspective, is that once you've determined the round's goal (Fits or Bits), you could play this in different rooms of your home, stepping out only to compare scores. There are bound, too, to be some analysis paralysis types (I'd be among them), second-guessing their tile placement through to the 11 o'clock news. Tetris was a fine, certainly popular video game. All things considered, Knizia did a good job turning it into two different board games, retaining some of its essence, and refining the parts that required hands-on, boardgame-type manipulation. The challenge of the game's puzzle (different in both) would be the determining factor in any choice to play or purchase either of these games. If you like that sort of thing, each has its own charm. If not, neither will likely win you over.
Bits and Fits, both designed by Reiner Knizia, are published by Ravensburger. Both can be played in under an hour, by 1-4 people, aged 8 and up. You can bring that down to six years old, with some adult supervision, and recognition that the child is not likely to be calculating as well as his/her 8-year-old brother/sister. They retail for around $27, but (you know the drill) can be found elsewhere at cheaper prices, like Amazon.com, which was recently offering a copy of Fits for $13.