So, let’s shoot straight for a minute. When writing board game reviews it is hard to say something outright bad about a game because then the publisher or creator might be less inclined to let you review their product in the future. I mean, if someone drove sales away from your product, you probably wouldn’t be happy either. So, more often than not, if something is bad, you say it “could be improved” or find a nice way to say that he game would appeal to a specific group of board gamers, while knowing full well that those gamers you just described don’t exist.
The opposite is also true. Often times praise can be heaped on a game, but it’s usually read with “well, they are just sucking up to the publisher”. And if you look closely, the writer usually won’t make concrete statements. Phrases like “this game is a great family game” might be true, but doesn’t actually say how well it plays. It could also be translated as “serious gamers will get bored with it”. That’s why we try to give specific examples of mechanics and features that readers can recognize. We often stay away from using absolute phrases like “best” or “greatest”. Once a writer uses these absolutes, they are a metric for everything they write to be measured against. I just wanted to get all of that out of the way before I discuss this next game.
Bloc by Bloc: The Insurrection Game is the greatest board game I have ever played.
End of discussion. Wrap it up. Go on home.
Well… don’t really go on home. Stick around and read my review.
Bloc by Bloc: The Insurrection Game (2nd Edition)
Publisher: Out Of Order Games
Designer: T.L. Simons
First, let’s discuss the theme. Bloc by Bloc is a game about social uprising and rioting against an oppressive government. I was raised on early punk rock like the Clash, Sex Pistols and Ramones. The love of rebellion continued as I discovered the Offspring, Rancid, and Dropkick Murphy’s. As I grew older, becoming more aware of the political nature of things, I was drawn to Rage Against the Machine. I take enjoyment in supporting the underground and unloved, where creativity is pure. The biggest divide in our country is not between the Republicans and the Democrats… it’s between the wealthiest 1% and the other 99%. We are the 99%. We must band together. Stick it to the man!
So, a game where you control a faction of the population where it’s your mission to take to the streets and liberate your city… man, that speaks to me. And this game conveys that theme in such a tasteful way, that there’s nothing NSFW about it, which is very important to me as a board gaming parent. The game could really carry a dark tone, but that fact that it doesn’t; the fact that all characters are brightly animated cubes that would seem at home on Sesame Street, is a major testament to the designer.
There are some features in the game that turn rational thought on its head. Typically, looting shopping centers is bad. When I teach my children about the proper ways to riot, looting will not be on the list. But in this game you gotta loot. And if you loot the same shopping center twice, you place a fire token on it because it is now burning. Yep, setting stores on fire. (see: April 29th, 1992 by Sublime). Also, my typical, conditioned, gaming mind tells me that if I fight an enemy, they will get more aggressive. Not in Bloc by Bloc. If you fight the Riot Cops, it lowers their morale, making them less aggressive. The game embraces some stereotypes and bucks others.
I know this theme could be off-putting to some. “But, I know some police officers, and they aren’t bad guys. A game where you fight against the police could send the wrong message.” While that is a valid point, I think we have to remember that we live in a world where some game play themes include supporting Adolf Hitler, letting your park guests get eaten by dinosaurs, or using your own military forces to invade the territory of your opponent’s. Historical context has been used in many popular games, and I think this one is no different.
Now, I know that theme isn’t up everyone’s alley. Some people couldn’t care less what the theme of a game is. It doesn’t matter if the cubes represent people, sheep, energy, or victory points. They are just cubes. Don’t worry, this game has some serious substance as well.
It can be described as a semi-cooperative area control with worker placement in a race against the clock. The game board is comprised of District tiles making up a 5×5 grid. I love modular boards like this, making each play through unique. There’s a beautiful fabric playmat to help keep track of your tiles, making sure they are in the correct locations. There’s also a place to track the Police Morale and the game’s Countdown right on the playmat. The game plays fine with 2 players, in a fully cooperative mode. I’ve had plenty of fun coordinating those strikes against the Riot Cops with 1 other player with full trust in each other.
In 3-4 player games, there’s a possibility of a player having the solo win condition, independent of the other players. This leads to a bit of distrust. The game rules say that you cannot show other players your cards, but you can always tell the other players what your cards are… however, you can lie. These solo agendas can really mix things up, as that traitor player can go along with the team until just he right moment, trying to steal the win for themselves.
You will move you citizens around the city, establishing occupations, looting shopping areas for items, and liberating districts, all while avoiding the Riot Cops. Riot Cops take actions via the Police Ops deck. At the end of each player’s turn you’ll flip over a number of Police Ops cards equal to the current Police morale, and do what the cards say. Also, whenever a player takes an Advanced or Attack Action, You will roll the Police Reaction die. Depending on the roll, they may react by sending a single Riot Cop to the district where that action took place, flipping over the top card from the Police Ops deck and completing the action… or they may ignore the action, not reacting at all. You know how cops can be.
The game is difficult. I think players will lose the game more often than they win. And I think that’s a great feature to have in a game like this. I can’t tell you the satisfaction I’ve had playing co-op games, barely able to eek out that victory in the final moments. It’s incredibly gratifying, and this game is no different. If part of the requirement is to have a few losses along the way to make that victory even sweeter, I’ll take it.
Now, the only bad thing I have to say about this game is that I don’t think it’s for all play groups. What I mean is that it is very easy for “alpha” players to start dictating what they envision as the best moves for each player. The solo agenda win conditions can definitely hinder players from putting all of their trust in someone else, but I think it could still happen easily. It’s difficult because players will need to work together in many cases, taking out Riot Cops in waves to make sure they are all eliminated. So, some discussion and coordination is expected and needed. But I think there’s a line that each play group will have to determine when a player starts playing the game for everyone else. This is a social game without being labeled as a “social game”.
I’ve found the game plays in 60-90 minutes, and once all players are up to speed on the different actions, there’s very little downtime between turns. The game is just the right length that 1 play through might provide enough fun before moving on to the next board game, but playing it twice in a row isn’t out of the question.
Something I usually judge pretty harshly is set up time. This game does require a bit of set up, with 25 different Manifestation cards under the 25 District tiles. Then place the different factions’ cubes. And the Riot Cops’ cubes and vans. Then there’s the loot tokens and blockade markers. I’m a bit more lenient here because it’s not a children’s game. I would have no problem playing this game in front of my kids, but I just think there’s a level of understanding and strategy that’s above my 7 year old. I’d say if your child is an experienced gamer, they could probably handle the depth at 11 or 12 years old. Be sure to keep out of reach of the young ones though, because there are a lot of small pieces.
Bloc by Bloc: The Insurrection Game is, without a doubt, my new favorite board game. I love everything about it. It has the right amount of theme, strategy, and social interaction to make game night fun. It checks a lot of boxes for me as a gamer. The modular board is huge for me increasing replayability and unpredictability. Go support it now on Kickstarter.