Full disclosure: A preview copy of Blockers: The Stacking Game was provided by Crab Studios. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
Still giving away a copy of Dale of Merchants Collection to a lucky reader in the US (or with a US mailing address) thanks to Snowdale Design. For more information on that giveaway, check out this link!
I keep saying that it’s rare that I get to review the same game twice, and then I realize I’ve done that a bunch of times? Weird. That’s how it goes, sometimes. Definitely covered Seikatsu more than one time. I don’t really think Dale of Merchants counts, because it’s so modular, but it is the same game system. I guess Railroad Ink counts? It’s all a bit nebulous. Similarly nebulous is Blockers: The Stacking Game, back from a previous preview for another round. Let’s see how this one turns out compared to the previous iteration.
In Blockers: The Stacking Game, well, you’re stacking. There’s still no lore, here. This time, however, you have the ability to fight your friends with special cards in what they call a “deckbuilding” experience. Get cards, go fast, and see what you can build. Will your structures rise the highest?
Shuffle the Structure Card Deck:
Split it in half, placing one half to the side. Shuffle the Playing Cards, next:
Deal each player 15. They’ll shuffle that deck and draw 5 (only use 10 for 5 / 6 players). Give the first player the wooden blocks:
And set the Structure Deck in front of them. Set a timer and you’re ready to start!
Game’s pretty simple. Once the timer starts, you flip the top card of the Structure Deck and build it. Once you build it, other players verify it, and then you build the next card.
Other players may play cards during your Building Phase (or not; check the card) to cause various effects. Additionally, some Structure Cards may be flipped over and built upside-down for more points. After every player has taken a turn, calculate scores. The player with the highest score wins the round! They will become the next dealer / Start Player.
First, every player refills their hand. Now, the uh, “deckbuilding”. The dealer flips two cards off the top of the Playing Card Deck per player. Each player may take two cards, and the dealer gets whatever two cards are left over. Add those cards to your discard pile, and then shuffle them with your deck to form a new deck.
Play until the same player has won two rounds in a row. That player wins!
Player Count Differences
So I really did think I’d enjoy this with more players, but the take-that aspects start spiraling upward in complexity once you get more than two people. With two, you can be reasonably assured that your opponent likely won’t knock your structure down, lest you return the favor when they have fewer cards. The deckbuilding phase is much more underwhelming at two; however, I’d argue it’s more strategic. The winner must still flip four cards, but as mentioned earlier, the winner cannot take cards until their opponent has two, so they can read them and figure out what they want before the winner gets to take the remaining ones. Beyond that, there’s no real functional difference; you still build your structures at any player count. It’s just with more players, there are a lot more players ready and waiting to pile on if you win a round to stop you from winning again, so the game will take much longer at higher player counts if nobody concedes. Can’t say that’s ideal.
- I mean, it’s a take-that game, so, get ready to pick a fight. You’re going to likely dump on at least one player if you want to end up scoring the most points. I’d recommend going after players that go after you do, so that they don’t retaliate when it’s your turn (since your turn will have already passed, by then). Just be careful; you don’t want the same player to win twice in a row; then they win the game!
- Always play Color Blind if you have it. It lets you ignore the color requirements on the various blocks; that’s incredibly useful. Now you can just build, unburdened by the strange color limits that the cards may impose. Similarly, if you can acquire this card, get it; it’s going to make your game a lot easier (and you’ll likely be more successful if you have it).
- Don’t save your cards for too long. I generally recommend trying to play your entire hand before the round ends. It seems to me, from the rules, that you shuffle your discard pile into your deck (along with your new cards), so it’s not like you’re going to lose out on those cards for the rest of the game. If you have not-terribly-useful cards, this is a particularly useful way to get rid of them, as well.
- Cards that let you reorder the deck are great if you can play Bonus to bump the highest-value cards to the top and score them without building them. It’s a good strategy, but it can also be used defensively. Try to place all the not-that-valuable cards at the top of the deck for your opponent. This way, they hopefully will waste a chunk of time building 1s and 2s (or they’ll waste the Bonus card on low-value targets). Either way works, honestly. Benefit yourself or hurt your opponent; a good strategy understands how to do both.
- Watch to see who can’t block being stolen from. Then steal from them, too. It’s mean, but, it also works. It’s alarmingly effective, in fact. They just won’t like you very much.
- You need to block the player who won the last round from winning again. That should pretty much be your only focus; you need to dump everything you can on them if it means that they’re going to get locked out. Is this dogpiling? Absolutely. Do I like it, as a mechanic? No. But I’m writing this bit to give you impartial strategy advice, and that advice is that you can under no circumstances let the same player win two rounds in a row.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Dual-use cards are always a nice touch. Most of them are a mix of offensive and defensive, which is usually nice.
- Speed dexterity games are always a nice combination. I like speed building! It’s just a good mechanic. Quick stacking is just … generally difficult. It’s a good challenge, even for experienced players!
- There are a lot of cute / memey structures you can build, which is fun. I saw one that was the slaps the roof of the car meme. That’s good content. Some of the structures are … less inspired, but they’re worth fewer points, as well, so it mostly balances out.
- I particularly like that you can flip some structures upside down for more points. They’re … much less stable, but, you know, can’t make an omelette without flipping a few eggs upside down. That seems like … what you should do with eggs. I’m 20% sure.
- Putting dots on the similarish blocks is wise. It doesn’t 100% work, but hopefully if the final version gets made, it will.
- Alright, fine, I appreciate that the Pot of Greed card lets you draw two extra cards. My kingdom for a bad Yu-Gi-Oh reference, I swear.
- There’s a card that allows you to either look at or reorder the top 5 cards of the Structure Deck. Why wouldn’t you always pick reorder? It’s just an odd choice, given that you get to look at them either way.
- It feels like a “Skip” option would be nice for cards. Some of those 5-point cards are ridiculously large and tough to build. With 10 seconds left, I’d rather dig through the Structure Card deck for a 1 and get something rather than nothing on a 5.
- Some cards are just … better than others. The particular points go to the card that allows you to ignore color requirements for your structure for the entire turn. There is no single card better than that one. This, as you might guess, means that “decks” are wildly unbalanced, since they’re a collection of random cards. One game I had enough Pot of Greed cards to literally draw my entire deck into my hand. Another player got the cards that block her structures from being knocked over. That’s nice, but, I also had a bunch of those cards because I drew my entire deck.
- The “deckbuilding” aspect of the game is real-time in a way that none of my players particularly enjoyed. Basically, the “market” is that the dealer flips two cards per player and you can grab them in real-time. This … overwhelmingly benefits players who have played before, since they can color-match without needing to read the cards. Even then, it still takes another round for the cards to make it into your hand (since you draw back up before you shuffle), so you may never see the new cards!
- Generally, a lot of real-time take-that cards can feel a bit clunky. No exceptions, here. It seems odd that you have to play a card to allow you to knock over a player’s tower before they start construction when the rules say you should wait until they’re almost done to play it. But then, do you have to wait for the player to say they’re going to block it (that card has to be played before construction as well) or do you have to wait for them to confirm that they want to use it? What happens if you knock blocks off the table? Does time pause for the player to retrieve them? What happens if a player starts the timer before you have looked at your hand and you want to steal a card from their hand? It just ends up not feeling that great during the game itself.
- Lots of take-that. For a speed-stacking game, even the ability to knock over a player’s unfinished structure is more than I want to deal with, personally.
- The game can technically run indefinitely, as written? It’s not a good ending condition. Play until one player’s won three rounds, or use the Oink scoring rules (winner gets +2, second gets +1, loser gets -1; play three rounds). This current state of “a player has to win two consecutive rounds” encourages dogpiling in a bad way and, with players of roughly equal skill, can potentially run indefinitely. At that point, you have to rely on the decks being unbalanced to actually push the game towards a conclusion, which is … not great.
Overall: 3.5 / 10
Overall … yeah, this one’s a hard miss, for me. This is a rare one, though, since I actually reviewed the original incarnation of the game and felt like it was fine. Not my favorite, but, it was a straightforward speed-stacking game and I’m into that sort of thing; the preview was just a bit too vanilla and maybe a smidge clunky (as it is wont to be when the blocks aren’t perfectly cut). This is … an overcorrection. It endeavors to synthesize the Unstable Unicorns / Exploding Kittens sort-of-mood with a speed-stacking game, but kind of lacks the polish that you see in those games (even if they’re not my cup of tea). Part of this is, granted, exacerbated by the preview copy. My cards are not cut very well, and as a result the deck looks like a Svengali deck’s nightmare. That happens; I’m not complaining about that … too much. The polish I think the game is missing is more on the gameplay mechanics. Things like the game end condition aren’t … that fun. It lets the game run on far too long, and generally that doesn’t lead to great outcomes (in my experience). And this is going to be a debated point! You essentially are playing to win a war of attrition against your friends. And while that might be fine, I’d recommend playing more games rather than playing one longer game. The deckbuilding is, at best, kind of hastily put together to advertise a “deckbuilding” mechanic. I think that actually does the game a disservice, since deckbuilding is a loaded term. I had thought that, perhaps, the cards you built earned you points and currency, and you’d buy new cards from a market and add them to your deck between rounds. That could have been interesting, in a Sorcerer City-but-with-stacking way. It’s difficult to strategically build a deck when your primary motivation is getting whatever cards you think are the best quickly in a real-time setting. And that’s a bummer. I’m mostly disappointed because I can see some clever designs at play, here: the deckbuilding around a speed dexterity game is an interesting concept (I had hoped that you were deckbuilding the structures you had to build, not your take-that cards); the Structure Cards themselves are clearly inspired and are a labor of love from the designer; and I think the core of the game isn’t bad. It’s just got too much going on for me to be excited about the game as-is.