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BLOX

Reviewed by Herb Levy

BLOX (Ravensburger, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, 45 minutes; about $40)

 

In our modern urban world, the rise and destruction of skyscrapers is an ongoing process akin to the heartbeat of great metropolises. This urban pulse has been transferred to an abstract game from a trio of designers: Wolfgang Kramer, Hans Raggan and Jurgen P. Grunau. The game is Blox and the result of their labors interesting enough to carry it to the short list for this year’s Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year) award.

Blox is played on a board with a 9 x 9 grid and comes with 40 blocks, 60 cards (each showing a solid block of white, gray, black or burgundy), 16 player pieces, 4 “jokers”, 60 point chips (in denominations of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 10) and a phase table (with indicator disc). The board is seeded by placing the 40 blocks on the board’s “spotted” spaces. Some of these groups hold more than one block (depending on the number of spots on a particular space). Each player takes a set of four player pieces in his chosen color and a “joker” card. The card deck is shuffled and each player dealt a starting hand of five.bloxpcs

   One of six actions is possible on a turn: bring one player piece onto the board, move a figure, demolish a tower, build a tower, knock an opponent’s figure off the board or change cards.

Playing ONE of your cards allows you to bring one of your pieces onto the board, That piece may enter the play area in a straight line onto the FIRST space in that line matching the color of the card played. (A few restrictions: You may NEVER pass through a block or set of blocks. You may NEVER move through another player’s piece. You may NEVER skip over a like colored space to get to the space you want.) Moving a figure is done in similar fashion by playing a card of any color and moving that piece in a straight line to the next space of the matching color. Demolishing a tower takes a bit more.

   To demolish a tower, a player’s piece must first be aligned in a straight line to the targeted towerwith no spaces along that route the same color as any of the blocks in the tower. Then the player needs to play one card per block in the tower where each card matches the colors of the blocks in the tower. For example, to demolish a tower made of one gray and two black blocks, you will need one gray card and two black cards. That tower is removed from the board, the player token occupies the now empty square, and the player collects the demolished blocks. He also gathers up the point chip associated with the size of the tower. (The more blocks in the tower, the more points it is worth when demolished.) These blocks can now be used on a subsequent turn when you wish to BUILD a tower. (But there is a 7 block rule. You may NOT demolish any more towers if you have 7 or more blocks in front of you until  you have used them to build.)

To build a tower, you need one card for each colored block you wish to use from your accumulated stock of blocks.  That tower is built on the space occupied by your token (which is then removed from the board). You receive a chip equal in value to the size of the tower built. (The new tower is also worth the same number of points when/if it is demolished later.)  Both demolition and building are restricted depending on the phase of the game. During Phase 1, only 1 block towers may be razed, only towers of exactly two blocks may be built. This limits are gradually increased: Phase 2 tear down up to 2 block towers, build exactly 3 block towers, Phase 3, tear down up to 3 block towers, build exactly 4 block towers, Phase 4, tear down up to 4 block towers, build towers of exactly 5 blocks. When only 1 tower of the type that can be demolished still exists in a Phase, the next phase immediately begins.  (The progress of the phases is charted on teh phase table.)

You can also turn your power against an opponent by knocking him off the board. To do this, at least three cards matching the color of the square the enemy piece is currently occupying must be played. The piece is not totally vulnerable, however. There must be no spaces along the route to the opponent’s figure the same color as the space it occupies. That piece is then returned to his owner and you get 1 point for each card you played (i.e. 3 points for playing three cards, 4 points for playing four etc.)  The joker card, which all players start with, may be used for ANY player action. Once used, it is flipped over and may not be used again UNTIL a player decides to discard any number of cards and redraw new ones. At that point, the joker card is returned to its active side ready to be used again.

Play continues until only one four block tower is left. The current round is completed so that everyone has an equal number of turns. Then, players add up their point chips. The highest total wins. (Tie? Whoever has the most blocks in front of him is victorious.)

The progression of Blox is a variation of “slow and steady wins the race”. The game builds as players construct higher and higher towers and keep on collecting those all important point chips. Players should always be aware of the power of their joker as it makes building, demolishing and removing other players a lot easier (and less dependent on a draw of the cards). It’s worth discarding cards to reactivate the joker again and again although, of course, you do this at the expense of taking a different, more aggressive, action. Positioning is important too. Placing one of your pieces in the way of your opposition can hamper their abilities to gain points. Of course, this is a calculated risk as it makes you vulnerable to being bounced off the board (with your opponent picking up some points in the process). Still, you can always bring back your token, your enemy has used up at least three cards to remove you and, late in the game, chances are your opponent will score less for this than demolishing a tall tower.

   The blocks used are solid, plastic pieces that lock together when building (a nice feature reducing the danger of accidental toppling). The color scheme is a bit unusual.  Black, gray, white and burgundy is certainly a different color assortment.  The pawns used in the game are different too: relatively tall and clear with a colored head. Since the colored head is the only way to distinguish the look-alike pieces from each other, be careful about the lighting around the game area. Sometimes it can be hard to tell one player’s piece from another. While I enjoy abstract games, it seems that the minimalist presentation ofBlox could have benefited from a healthy dose of theme. The idea of urban renewal seems a natural for this game. Perhaps that was considered and rejected as it might make people think too much of Manhattan, the SdJ winner by Andreas Seyfarth (featured in the Winter 1997 GA REPORT).

At the present time, Blox is a bit hard to find on this side of the ocean, still readily available only in Europe. Hopefully, that will be corrected by an American game company importing this pleasing game. Until then, Blox is worth searching for. – –  Herb Levy


 

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Fall 2008 GA Report Articles

 

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