When our group was presented with Blockers the Stacking Game, we did not know quite what to expect. We were presented with a rectangular box, covered in colorful, geometric representations of the blocks within. Inside this was filled with wooden painted blocks, as well as cards featuring all manner of balanced towers and spires in similar geometric fashion. Everything had a lighthearted, vibrant aesthetic which helped lend added brevity to the game’s feel.
(Note: Our group reviewed a previous version of this game, which you can find here)
Blockers is not a game with brevity in visuals alone, as the game certainly did not take long to learn to play; within minutes we were taking turns frantically stacking to our hearts content. Blockers’ rules are simple; build and balance as many arrangements of the colored wooden blocks as presented on the cards as you can, with only a minute to do it. Make sure you stack the right colored blocks in the right places, too! The more complicated the structure completed, the more points, and as an added bonus players can play cards from their hand which can help them or hinder opponents. Each card has both a positive and a negative effect, such as demolishing the structure a person is working on or blocking that same effect from happening to you.
Our group found the game’s pacing to be quite entertaining, as the players watch the builder feverishly stack blocks. Both conceptually and in execution, the most fundamental aspect of Blockers is also the most fun: the stacking. On the stacking cards, the towers and names are very clever, and I was impressed by the creativity of block arrangements that we were presented with. Some of these stacks involved balancing the initial blocks, and maintaining balance as the structure is built. This meant that the blocks stacking was more than just a speed challenge, it was also a question of tactics. We saw a variety of fancy plays using the point multiplier cards, which definitely lent a strategic aspect to the game I would not have otherwise expected.
The one department in which Blockers lacks, however, is game balance. The point values on the stacking cards can sometimes feel arbitrary, and the significantly larger and more complicated structures not particularly worth the values ascribed to them. This is without mentioning the influence the playing cards play in that balance. Overall, the card system in general is poorly implemented. The player building has to manage a full hand of cards where half the text is inverted, playing point enhancing cards while deflecting attacks by other players, all the while trying to stack their blocks! Dealing with a hand detracted from that central aspect of stacking in a way which could have been avoided. Perhaps phrasing cards so that they are played immediately before or after the stacking phase would work better. Additionally, certain cards and their effects seem to be far more effective and important for playing the game than others. One such is the “colorblind” card which causes one to ignore the colors of blocks for their entire turn. This means that half the battle of stacking and keeping track of the block arrangements goes out the window! While our group was playing the game, we found it vital to get the colorblind card in order to win the round – it just sped up stacking immensely. Again, detracting from that central tenet of stacking which makes Blockers so fun and challenging. Other cards, on the other hand, got very little play, such as the card to look at another player’s hand or to take two more cards from the draw pile, which served its purpose only to try to find more colorblind cards. The card I did find the most balanced was the demolition card, which allowed players to knock over the tower being built. It helped keep other players engaged while the builder was stacking, and allowed more active play overall without seeming over the top. It also further added to that challenge of stacking, without detracting from it or forcing the stacker themselves to handle more than they could. Many of these problems can be fixed with some further playtesting and tweaking both of the stacking card values and the effects of the playing cards.
Overall, Blockers is a fun and exciting game stacking game. Gameplay moves quickly and players stay engaged. The game is small, and with almost no setup time the rounds go by fast in a good way. Although with the use of playing cards the game can sometimes get bogged down in details, as a game built on a foundation of simple concepts, it truly follows the model of “easy to learn, hard to master”.