There is a good reason why abstract strategy games, such as Chess, have been around for so long. There is a certain satisfaction gained when you beat someone at a contest where all factors, other than your skill and intellect, are equal. Other abstract strategy games, such as my personal favorite Neuroshima Hex, still tickle the same part of your brain but do so with the introduction of asymmetry and a touch of chaos. Breaker Blocks straddles the line between the two, providing a great perfect-information contest between two players, while having just a touch of chaos; albeit that chaos comes from a shared pool of resources between the players rather than any form of asymmetry or randomness. While it doesn’t quite do enough to bypass Neuroshima Hex for me, between Breaker Blocks and Neuroshima Hex, I don’t think I’ll ever bother playing Chess again.
The core concept of Breaker Blocks is very simple: control more circuits (of which there are three) in the Circuit Core than your opponent when the game ends. You control a circuit when you have more power going to it than your adversary, which is measured with Power blocks—numbered 0, 1, 2 or 3—that slot together like puzzle pieces. Each player starts the game with both of their 0 value blocks in hand, and everything else available to draw. On each turn, you take two actions. You can Draw a new block, Play a block that you’ve had in your hand since the beginning of your turn, or Rearrange one of your already-played blocks. The goal of the game is easy to understand, and the game is easy to play, but accomplishing that goal is anything but easy.
Each piece in Breaker Blocks has a male-connector and 0 to 3 female-connectors, and the physicality of the pieces themselves is a huge part of the strategic depth of the game. The more powerful a Power block is, the fewer female-connectors it will have. On top of that, the blocks themselves have to have room to fit where you want to slot them. It’s entirely possible to block yourself into a corner, and it’s also possible to use your pieces to physically block your opponent.
While the physicality of the pieces is important, the real depth in Breaker Blocks comes in the form of Action blocks. Each player has their own set of Power blocks, but both players share the pool of 7 types of Action blocks. The Action blocks trigger certain effects when played, from the Accelerate tile that allows a player to take three immediate Draw actions; the Agitate block that allows you to rearrange a few of your opponent’s blocks; to the Authenticate block, which triggers game end as soon as the second Authenticate has been played.
The fact that the Action blocks are kept in a shared pool is where the touch of chaos in Breaker Blocks comes in. There is nothing random about it, but the fact that you and your opponent can both see what is being drawn, and because drawing from a shared pool directly limits your opponent’s options, simply drawing tiles can be a move/counter-move situation. Taking tiles you may not want, simply because you want to deny them to your opponent, can be a powerful choice, although using your actions to Draw can easily leave you exposed on the board itself if your opponent spends their time placing tiles. You can also use your Draw, and what you hold in your hand, as a means to bluff, threaten, or worry your opponent. You and your opponent both know exactly what the other person can do at any given moment, so bluffing and misdirection can be crucial to success. Since the game ends as soon as a second Authenticate is played, and you can also use Authenticate blocks to essentially protect your circuits from opponent interference, things can get pretty tense once that second block is drawn.
There are so many things you need to pay attention to in Breaker Blocks, and you really need to try to think a few moves ahead, not only for yourself, but for your opponent. Knowing what they have, how they might play it, and how best to react to, or thwart, their moves really leads to an engaging, tight experience when you are playing against an equally skilled opponent. While there are certain moves that seem to lead you in one direction, especially drawing and using Accelerate blocks to draw blocks quickly early game, there is a foil and a counter for just about everything. I’ve yet to play two games of Breaker Blocks that unfolded in the same way, which speaks volumes for the breadth and depth of this deceptively simple game.
A note on play time: Most games of Breaker Blocks finish in 10 minutes or less. The game sets up in moments, only requiring you to dump out the tiles and flip them etched-side up, so it is an awesome candidate to take with you wherever you go, and it is the perfect length for a lunch break strategy-fest.
A note on “chrome”: Each copy of Breaker Blocks is made of etched acrylic and comes in a hand screened game bag. The pieces are thick and the etching is stylish and nice. The only downside to the components is the lack of a physical rulebook. The rules are available as a downloadable .pdf, but it does make traveling with the game a bit more cumbersome than if it had a physical rulebook to bring along with you.
The bottom line:
Breaker Blocks is a great game. It scratches the same part of your brain that other abstract strategy games, such as Chess and Neuroshima Hex, but it is more easily portable than either of those games. The game’s symmetry and perfect-information style mean that an experienced player is almost guaranteed to win over a less-skilled player, so it’s at its best when you have some dedicated opponents who you like to match wits with. Each game of Breaker Blocks plays relatively quickly; although, if you are matched up against an equally skilled opponent, there can be many brain-burning decisions that you may want to spend some time thinking about. While I haven’t played it with timed turns (like competitive Chess matches) yet myself, it is a great candidate for that style of play, especially for skilled players.
Get this game if:
You enjoy abstract strategy games such as Chess and Neuroshima Hex.
You like symmetrical games where the quality of your play is the sole determining factor.
You like games that force you to pay attention to what your opponent is doing and plan for what you think they will do next.
Avoid this game if:
You don’t like head to head, 2 player games.
You don’t like directly competitive games.
The copy of Breaker Blocks used for this review was provided by Spriteborne.
Breaker Blocks is engaging, fun, and easy to learn, yet strategically deep. I would recommend it to anyone who likes abstract games that require you to plan your moves ahead, and also require you to keep track of what your opponent is doing, and what they might do.