Full disclosure: A review copy of Block Ness was provided by Blue Orange Games.
I’ve been on a real writing kick, lately. Love that, for me, especially because I kind of need to get a few months ahead on reviews so I can take my gaming show on the road again and play a bunch of games. Unsurprisingly, my photography / photo editing setup doesn’t travel particularly well. I’m looking into options, but I don’t think that’s going to actually be a viable thing unless I want to start boxing up a desktop, which, I do not. As a result, to see friends and make plans around travel, I need to start rebuilding a review buffer, and that’s what you’re experiencing now: the fruits of those labors. It’s currently the ninth of May, to give you a sense of where I’m at, which may be good (if you’re reading this in June) or bad (if you’re reading this on May 10th). I never know when I’m going to publish. Either way, new games from our friends at Blue Orange: Block Ness! I’ve been hyped for this one. Let’s see how it plays.
In Block Ness, you’re a lizard. Or a serpent. Are serpents lizards? Now I have to look that up. It looks like snakes evolved from lizards? Now I’m even more confused. And off track. You know what can’t be off track? A giant serpent, confined to a lake, determined to be the only Loch Ness Monster. What, you didn’t know there were more than one? Well, now who looks like they don’t know anything about serpents? It’s me, still, but you were surprised by this startling revelation. As one of many Loch Ness Monsters, you’ve got a limited space to assert yourself in, but you’re going to do your best to take as much of it as possible and force your opponents to settle for less. Will you be able to make Loch Ness your own? Or will you end up going from Nessie to Lessie?
First, remove the segment pieces from the box:
Place the board back onto the box, so that it forms the loch:
Every player takes their starting segment and attaches the head and tail to it, making a tiny serpent. In clockwise order from the start player, they then place their starter segment into the deep waters of the loch (the center, darkest area). You should be ready to start!
This one isn’t too tough. On your turn, you’re going to extend your serpent by placing a new segment in one of the six spots adjacent to the head or tail of your existing serpent. The other end of the segment is placed in a hole that it can fit into, with the following restrictions:
- You can only play vertically or horizontally. No diagonals!
- You are limited by player count. At two, you can only use the central dark area. At three, you may use that plus the medium blue area. At four, you may use the entire surface.
- You may cross over any player’s segments. You may even cross completely over it, if the old piece fits completely underneath of your piece. However, there are a few rules here, too:
- You cannot cross over an opponent’s head or tail. Consider those infinitely tall; even if it would fit, it’s rude.
- You cannot cross over a segment of the same height as your segment. Even if it would fit, you cannot do it.
- You cannot cross under a player’s segments. You can only cross over, following those rules above.
If you cannot place a segment under these restrictions, you are blocked and lose your turn. Note that this means that you may be able to play later!
The game ends when all players are either blocked or they’ve placed their segments. The players with the fewest segments remaining win!
If you’d like to play with the expert mode variant, make this rule change:
When you place a segment, it must be placed two spaces in the same direction away from the old segment. That should change things up for you.
Player Count Differences
Whew, this one changes quite a bit at higher player counts! Even though the game adds more space, you will not feel that way. Additionally, worryingly, with more players there’s more happening between your turns, so you might find that what was once a very useful strategic route to take is suddenly constricted by an unexpected extra interloper. It’s a very real problem. At higher player counts, I would expect to see more skipped turns and more blocking unless your other players all happen to be interested in really specifically optimizing for space maximizing on your board, which … I doubt will actually happen. I suppose it’s possible, but it doesn’t feel like a realistic thing to hope for. At two, this game becomes intensely strategic: you need to focus on blocking them and walling their options off so that once they’re in, they can’t easily get back out. At three or more, I think focusing on survival is about the best thing that you can hope for. And that’s mostly fine! I actually quite enjoyed this at three. I think four might be pushing it for me, personally, but that’s also my skepticism for one end of the player count spectrum showing, again. As long as everyone’s moving quickly, I think four can be viable, but I think, for me, I’ll probably stick to two- and three-player games.
- This game can be tricky! Mind your placements, even your initial ones. You really want to try and leave yourself as many options as possible. If you start by making weird moves erratically, you can end up boxing yourself in, even if your opponents are also not making particularly great moves. You want to leave yourself a few different exit strategies, especially given that all players are competing for limited space.
- Burning through your lower-height segments can be a good way to make sure you’re less vulnerable to getting cut off. This is, at least, a partially good idea. When you use up all your lower-height segments, you’re generally only left with segments that will definitely be able to cross over other segments, so you can’t get completely boxed in. If you only have the lower-height segments, you won’t be able to cross under anything, so you’ll essentially be stuck.
- That said, using the occasional higher-height segment is a great way to box in your opponents. As I implied, only using your lower segments is only a partially good idea. If you stick to only doing that, you may miss out on placement opportunities that will cause you to get boxed in later (keeping in mind that being cognizant of segment lengths is probably your most important thing). Using some higher-height segments can effectively make it nearly impossible for your opponent to build around it. If you create a high-height segment wall, you can pressure your opponent into a smaller space that only they can use.
- I’d recommend slightly against the edges of the board, early in the game. The edges are good, but an opponent that can wall you off into that space if you’re not careful, and you have fewer options by which to navigate on each turn with an edge beside you. It can be useful to leave edges open as escape routes for yourself, but you should make sure if you end up using one that your opponent can’t block you.
- Plan a few moves ahead, and have backup plans. This is pretty critical. Your opponent, on any turn, might make a move that blocks you off. Name of the game, essentially. You should have some backup plans in mind in case you need to shift or cross over or just try something completely different. Don’t forget that you can switch using your head or your tail, as well.
- Crossing over your own pieces is a great way to bail yourself out of potentially sticky situations. It’s essentially a quick U-turn that doesn’t eat up too much space, in the grand scheme of things. I personally try to take up as much space as possible so that my opponents can’t get close to where I’ve effectively set up shop, but that’s not always going to be effective.
- Even losing your turn isn’t that bad! You might be able to play again later. That said, it’s pretty bad. I haven’t seen a player lose their turn and go on to win the game, but I’m also playing with a smallish sample size of games, you know? I’m skeptical that it can lead to victory, especially because, for instance, let’s say I have fewer pieces than you do and I’m blocking you; what incentive do I have to unblock you if I feel like I can make it impossible for us both to play again? Ideally, I’d run out of pieces and still win while you’re blocked, which means I would definitely beat you.
- Blocking an opponent with a piece is excellent, especially when you then leave the piece there so you cut off one of their pathways. Like I said, you have very little incentive to unblock an opponent. It is, after all, Block Ness. The more blocking you do, the better off you are, ultimately. An opponent cannot build over your head or your tail, so you can use that placement to really restrict their options, especially towards the later parts of the game. If you do, you can just build off the other side and leave that head or tail there so that your opponent remains unable to build. Their loss, your gain.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Extremely cute game. It’s just making a bunch of little Nessies in a lake; what’s not to love about it? I particularly like that the game looks good from above and from the side.
- Also a very cute theme. See previous statement, but you could imagine this being a game about pipes or something and being a bit different. Actually getting to build these giant serpents is pretty funny, though it’s a bit odd if you, say, primarily increase the size of the serpent from the tail.
- The toy factor of the game does a lot for it, here. I think it’s probably similar to a game I reviewed a while back (Jungle Joust) in that the toy factor is doing a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of the game’s appeal, but frankly I also enjoy the loose concept of the game even without the toy factor. It’s more an acknowledgement that a good toy factor can really elevate all kinds of games. I’d say it’s also similar to Coatl, in that sense. I first tried Coatl online, so I missed out on the toy factor of the game early on, but just getting to play with the physical pieces was delightful. Big fan, and I think players will really get into it.
- The 3D element is nice, as well, since it adds a bit of verticality to the spatial puzzle. Particularly, having to think about only going above other segments is neat. It reminds me a bit of Tokyo Highway, in that a big part of the game is figuring out how to go above other players’ pieces, but Block Ness has significantly more blocking as a key part of the game. You just need to figure out how to block your opponents in 3D, now.
- Very quick and simple to learn. The major thing to keep in mind is just that you have to place a serpent piece adjacent to the last one, and you can only place pieces such that they go over another piece. You can never place under. That’s a pretty easy concept to internalize, relative to other games. I think this is a nice game for the younger crowd, especially, because you can teach the strategy parts while the mechanics parts remain relatively straightforward.
- The Expert Mode is a cool change of pace. It’s a pretty simple pivot, but it does a nice job of changing how players think about the space required to place their next segment.
- The skipping your turn bit is kind of odd, pacing-wise. I’m generally against player elimination, but a pseudo-eliminated state is even weirder. If I’m blocking you such that you could play if I moved, I’ve probably won the game in some regard and I have little-to-no incentive to move. This means that if I do move, however, then you’ll also be able to take your turn, so you can’t even really move on from the game. It’s just a weird bit of pacing, for a game, I feel.
- The cardboard is kind of delicate, which worries me. My main board arrived a bit warped, which whoops, but it still works fine.
- There are a lot of holes in the box insert, and I cannot for the life of me figure out what they’re for. Again this is less of a problem with the game and more of a “this is a weird thing that I noticed”. I wonder what it’s for?
- Even with the head and tail clearly marked, the game can get a bit snarled towards the end. It can occasionally be challenging to find out where things are, as the game space gets increasingly crowded. It’s not super problematic while playing the game, but I would recommend against taking a break in the middle of the game. That said, the game takes like, 15 or 20 minutes, tops?
- You may see a bit of analysis paralysis from some players, on this one. I think it gets worse in Expert Mode, since you have the extra gap to think about and plan around, but any spatial game that benefits from planning will almost certainly aggravate analysis paralysis for a few players. Just keep in mind that it can slow the game down a bit, but it is helpful that you can only place pieces in six possible locations. There are a lot of pieces to start, but as you progress through the game you end up with fewer and fewer pieces, so your options there start to decrease as well, which also helps.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I think Block Ness is a lot of fun! I liked it about as much as Cloud City, another Blue Orange title with similar energy (building skywalks rather than extra-long lake monsters, but you get how those are similar). I like these spatial games, but even though they’re new-player-friendly, I worry somewhat about my more … given to methodical decision-making friends, to put it politely. Any game with a spatial component can be hazardous for a lot of folks, even ones with giant silly lake monsters, I guess. It’s unfortunate, but I do think Block Ness does some things to try and make it a bit easier, such as limiting your future placements by adjacency and gradually whittling down your options. As you might guess from a game named Block Ness, however, it’s not exactly the nicest game, either, which isn’t always my speed. The game’s so fast, though, that even a little bit of mean space-blocking is over before you know it, which I appreciate. Plus, Block Ness is easy to set up and tear down, especially if you have a harder-top table. Just place the finished game on it, push town, and suddenly all the pegs have popped out, ready to be played again! I enjoy that aspect of it. Blue Orange has been putting a lot of care into making their games appeal to their main market, and I think they’ve been successful here, as well. Block Ness is cute and colorful, with a great toy factor. The pieces are fun to hold and manipulate, and the physicality of the game elevates it beyond a multiplayer version of snake, which is good! It seems like a great way to teach a newer gamer about strategizing ahead while still getting them excited about the art and theme. Who doesn’t like the Loch Ness Monster? Plus, you can move straight to Cryptid after this, probably. Or MonsDRAWsity. Probably MonsDRAWsity. I’m getting off track. I think the final thing worth mentioning is that I think an Expert Mode for Blue Orange titles is a great addition, especially if you’re trying to pitch the games to newer gamers; allowing for ways to grow the game as your co-players’ experience levels grow means that the game starts to retain longevity, and you can grow it with your players. Will Block Ness hit that longevity point for me? Hard to say, but if you’re looking for a quick spatial placement game and you like the theme as much as I did, you might enjoy Block Ness as well!