Introducing Blockers! The Card Game

Designer Kory Heath has enjoyed considerable success with his board game Blockers!, which was first released under the name Uptown. An abstract game at heart, it relies on a Sudoku style board, and the re-themed (or rather: de-themed) version of the game even received attention in industry award lists under the new name of Blockers!. So what do you do after you've rethemed/dethemed a game? Well you turn it from a board game into a card game! But while the transition from Uptown to Blockers! was little more than a new coat of paint, with the card game Blockers! The Card Game we genuinely get a whole new game. Does that mean we'll be seeing a dice game next perhaps? Maybe, but for now we'll settle with playing the card version of Blockers, which already turns it into a very different game. Let's find out more about about this new title from Gryphon Games.



COMPONENTS

Game box

The box is a somewhat new standard size for a number of games recently released by Gryphon Games, including titles like Fleet, Cowtown, and the three members of the Sid Sackson Signature Series.


Game box

The back of the box shows what the game looks like when in progress, and summarizes the basic concept as follows:

"In Blockers! The Card Game you collect Victory Cards from the center of the board while trying to block your opponents from doing the same. Your Kicker Card will keep you in the game for one extra round if you are "blockered" out. Collect the most Victory Cards and you win. Easy rules and fast play combine to make this unique game appeal to all ages - young and old!"


Box back

Component list

The primary components consist of cards, but here's a complete list of everything inside the box:

● 20 Border cards
● 50 Victory cards
● 48 Hand cards (a set of 12 in four colours)
● 5 Kicker cards
● Instructions


Everything inside the box

Border cards

All the cards in the game are square and identical in size, featuring a quality linen style finish. The 20 border cards are used to create a 4x4 Sudoku style grid, with four rows (A through D), four columns (1 through 4), and four quadrants (corresponding to the four standard playing card suits). This is used as the set-up, and effectively constitutes the "board" in each game.


All the border cards

Victory cards

The fifty victory cards are what score you points, and are the cards you're trying to collect during gameplay. They'll be placed inside the 4x4 grid as the game progresses. They come in five different colours, red, yellow, green, blue, and purple.


Victory cards in 5 colours

Each colour has five shapes, which makes for 25 different combinations. With two of each card, there's a total of 50 victory cards in the deck.


All the yellow victory cards

Hand cards

To collect the Victory cards, you'll play "Hand" cards, which entitles you to get cards from various areas in the grid. There are four different sets of Hand cards, one for up to four players, in different player colours.


Hand decks for four players

Each player's set of Hand cards consists of exactly 12 cards, with the letters A-D, numbers 1-4, and four playing card symbols - all corresponding to different rows, columns, or areas in the grid.


All cards in a Hand deck

Kicker cards

The game also comes with five different Kicker cards, and each player gets one random one at the start of the game. These are similar to the Victory cards, but are in your hand and available to use if ever you get stuck during the gameplay.


All five Kicker cards

Instructions

The instuctions are a double sided sheet of card folded into fours. They're quite concise and easy to understand, except perhaps for some ambiguities about what constitutes a "round" in the concluding section. But overall this is a very straight forward game that's easy to learn, and I appreciated the pictorial examples which really help understand how a turn works.


Cover of the instructions

GAME-PLAY

Set-up

Set up the 4x4 grid with the Border cards, and shuffle the Victory cards, dealing out an initial random layout of 16 cards into the grid. Each player gets their own deck of Hand cards, which they shuffle and from which they draw a starting hand of four cards. They also get a random Kicker card, and we're ready to play!


A set-up of the Border cards with 16 random Victory cards

Flow of Play

Players take turns, and a typical turn involves playing a Hand card, claiming a Victory card from the table, and concluding your turn by drawing a new Hand card to fill your hand back to four.


Deciding what to play

Claiming a Victory card

Let's explain how claiming a Victory card works. Playing a Hand card entitles you to claim a Victory card from the table which matches the symbol/letter/number on the hand card, e.g. playing a B would let you take a card from the B row, playing a 1 would let you take a card from the 1 column, and playing a Spade would let you take a card from the top left quadrant.


Example of play: playing a B lets you take a Victory card from the B row

So far so good - that's the easy part. But now here's where it gets interesting! When you claim a victory card (worth one point each, remember!), it is placed face up in a stack in front of you. But now all future cards claimed must match either the colour or symbol of your top card on your victory card stack.

So let's say on your first turn you claimed a yellow circle Victory card. The yellow circle card is now the face up card on your victory stack, so now your next victory card claimed must match whatever hand card you play, and be either yellow or be a circle. So for example, on your next turn, you might play a 1 and claim a yellow star in the 1 column, or perhaps a blue circle in the 1 column, as in the image below.


Example of play: playing a 1 lets you take a Victory card from the 1 column

The concept is somewhat hard to explain, but when you see it in practice and do it a couple of times, it makes perfect logical sense and is quite easy to get the hang of!

Playing a Kicker card

If you can't play a card, you must pass, although here's where your Kicker card can come in to save the day. You'll get a bonus point at the end of the game if you haven't used your Kicker card, but if you're desperate enough, you can play it on whatever victory card is currently on top of your stack, in order to get a favourable match and stay in the game. If it's early in a round you'll sometimes want to do this, rather than pass and exit the round, potentially leaving your opponents to collect points while you watch from the side lines.

Game End

When everyone has passed, you replenish the board by filling in the empty spaces with new Victory cards from the deck. A new round starts beginning with the player next in turn order after the player who was the last to pass in the previous round. And if there aren't enough cards left in the deck to replenish the entire board? Then the game ends, and you count up the number of Victory cards in your stack to determine your score. Remove your Kicker card from this stack if you used it; add it in as a bonus point if you didn't use it. If you wish you have the option of playing multiple times with a different starting player each time, cumulatively adding your scores.


Closing phases of a game

CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

Components: The cards are certainly excellent quality, and although shuffling square cards may seem less than ideal, this shape is obviously a functional requirement given the dynamics of the game. Having an actual board would have been a nice upgrade from the 20 border cards, but I guess one can only expect so much from a small box and what is really a card game. But the card quality is good, and the colours, letters, numbers, and shapes are all very clear and easy to read, so no problem there.

It's not Blockers: The card game has a very different feel to the board game, and in fact they don't really feel very much at all alike aside from the fact that they operate in a Sudoku style board, which in this case is 4x4 instead of 9x9. Unlike the board game, you're not adding to the board to create sets, but taking away from it. The two games thus don't feel very similar, and feel more like apples and oranges than two varieties of the same fruit. And that's fine - it just means that they are very different games. In the board game, it's all about positioning in order to minimize the number of groups, and also strategizing your placement over the course of an entire game. The card game is much more tactical, and about maximizing your chances of removing another victory card on your next turn. This is not at all a criticism, but simply an observation that these games aren't close siblings despite external appearances, and each will have their own appeal for different reasons.

Two player friendly: While the card game is playable with 2 through 4 players, the two-player experience is particularly enjoyable. With more players, the board changes a lot between your turns, and Victory cards disappear very quickly, making it hard to plan further ahead. But with two players, you can start developing longer term strategies, and also anticipate your opponent's plans and try to counter them, giving a greater sense of control. The game is still enjoyable with three players, but with four it can start becoming chaotic, although the resulting frustration can be fun too! But I enjoyed the game most with just two players.

The right length for its weight: There's no doubt that this is a very light and quick game. There's certainly some room for planning, and ideally you'll want to try to claim a Victory card that matches in shape or colour with multiple cards on the board, because that will increase your odds of successfully getting another card on your next turn. Also you'll want to keep an eye on what card is on the top of your opponent's stack, and try to take something that will reduce his options. There's also a small aspect of hand management, because you'll want to keep in mind what cards you have in hand, and ideally try to set yourself up for a few consecutive turns if you can. Yet despite all this, the reality is that you're working in a very small area in which cards are disappearing fast, and you're somewhat at the mercy of your opponents and of what you draw, so your best made plans won't always work. And that doesn't really matter either, precisely because the game does play so quickly. It's a good example of being just the right complexity and level of strategy for its class. The Kicker card is also a fine addition, because it is a good card that can rescue you from a particularly bad situation when bad luck could otherwise eliminate you far too early in a round, and prevents you from being totally and unfairly screwed by misfortune.

Very even: Games we've played tended to be very evenly matched. In two player games scores were typically around 20 points, while three player games scores were around 15 points, and in four player games you're lucky to get as many as 12 points. But in nearly every case the margin of victory was only a single point, and there were several instances of ties. The early plays in a round don't seem to be that critical, and often the game seems to come down to who can get the last match or two, and hang out the longest. While you can try to set yourself up for this, the highly tactical nature of the game makes it doubtful that this is dependent more on skill than luck. In fact, it seemed to us that the player who begins the game has somewhat of an advantage, and although the rules suggest playing multiple rounds with each player getting a chance to begin a round, a "round" is defined earlier on the same page in the rules somewhat differently, so presumably this must mean playing multiple games, to offset what could otherwise create a small imbalance. At the end of the day none of this matters too much, because this is clearly intended to be a light and casual game, and not taken too seriously.



Recommendation

So, is Blockers! The Card Game a game for you? I personally prefer the more thoughtful gameplay that the board game allows for, above the more tactical and draw-dependent play of the card game. But that doesn't make it a bad game by any means, because its very quick play time certainly counts in its favour. Especially when enjoyed as a two player game, this can serve as a nice light gaming snack and appetizer.


A three player game in progress

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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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