Friday, November 18, 2011

Kid Game Review: Knock Your Blocks Off

Knock Your Blocks Off
  • Designer: Rebekah Bissell
  • Publisher: Gamewright
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 8+
  • Playing Time: 15 minutes
  • Review by Mark Jackson (6 plays w/a review copy provided by Gamewright)
The word "off" in the title is not the only thing that Knock Your Blocks Off & yesterday's review (City Square Off) have in common - both are thematically city-building games. However, Knock Your Blocks Off allows - nah, encourages! - you to destroy your opponents' cities.

Each player has a set of 6 dice "blocks" which have a variety of two-color patterns on them. Simultaneously, the players roll their "blocks" and then build them into one of six different "structures". The first player to finish his structure places his king block on the top of his creation then grabs the destruction die from the center of the table, meaning he gets to go first when the attacking begins.

Once all the players have finished their structures, the starting player chooses one of his neighbors to attack & rolls the destruction die. The result determines whether the player will have to flick the die (boulder), throw the die underhand (ogre) or drop it from above (dragon) in his attempt to knock the king block to the table. If he's successful, he gets a point... but if he fails, the defender gets a point!

Now the die passes to the defender and he in turn attacks the next player. After each player has attacked and been attacked one time, the turn is over and players get ready to roll their blocks & build a new structure. The first player to reach 8 victory points wins immediately.

There are a few wrinkles, of course:
  • each of the five structures (tower, wall, fort, stairs, gate) have a special power - some give you extra points for attacking or defending successfully, while others make it easier to attack or defend.
  • the player who finishes their structure first not only gets the destruction die but also a victory point... unless they build the wall or the tower, in which case the ease of building means they don't get the point.
  • completed structures must match - in other words, the color on the edge of one block must match the color of the block(s) it is next to... and if they don't, the player doesn't get the special power of that structure
So, you ask, how's the game play? Well, it's quick... slightly faster with 2 players than with 3 or 4, but even with the full complement of players, it moves at a nice clip. (I think I like it best with 3.)

There are some tactical decisions, particularly as one or more players get close to winning. Do I build one of the quick structures to keep the the victory point away from another player, or do I work to maximize my own power? If I do get to decide the order of attack (by being the start player), which player should I attack?

Obviously, there's a bit of dexterity involved - the game rules specify that attacks take place from about a foot away, which is not as easy as it sounds, especially for younger players.

And that brings me to my one real caution about the game - while it's very attractive to my 6 year old son, he can not compete with his 10 year old brother or his dad in getting his structure built first. He's also not as able to attack successfully... which can be really frustrating for him in a game that he thinks is cool.

At the same time, Knock Your Blocks Off isn't substantial enough for gamers unless they approach it as an enjoyable short filler. I'd say that the sweet spot for the game is older kids (8+) and families... and in that context, it's been a great 15 minute game of construction & destruction.

This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.


Rebekah said...

Thanks for trying out Knock Your Blocks Off and reviewing it!

The age when kids develop the skills required for the game seems to vary a lot. The puzzle-solving, especially, can be challenging for younger kids, but the good thing is that it is an easy game to handicap to allow for different skill levels (for parents who don’t mind doing so). When my youngest daughter (now 5) was learning the game, we’d allow her to ignore the color placement, as just making the pattern for the different structures was challenging enough. Now she’s learning to match up the colors and does better all the time. Rather than penalizing her for incorrect placement, we just allow her to correct her structure until she’s ready for the full rules.
The attacking phase is also easy to handicap by just requiring different distances based on skill level.

Of course, handicapping can be a little tricky when playing with more than one child, but if the older sibling is understanding, it’s a nice way to include kids under the recommended age.

Thanks again for the great review.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Thanks for the comment, Rebekah - your suggestions make a lot of sense. (And she ought to know - Rebekah designed Knock Your Blocks Off!)