PAX West: Hands on with Breaker Blocks

Published: September 9, 2016 10:00 AM /

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When I sat down across from Jake Vander Ende, owner of Spriteborne and designer of Breaker Blocks, at PAX West, I had no idea what to expect of the game. Jake had given me a brief description of the game via email the week before, and I knew that the game was an abstract strategy game, and that Jake cuts and etches the acrylic tiles himself, but aside from that I was completely in the dark. Jake gave me a brief rundown of the rules and informed me that we would be playing the game in what is essentially a simplified "learning mode," and we jumped into our first game.

Jake smashed me.

Breaker Blocks is very straightforward: add tiles (that are cut to neatly and easily slot together) to the shared Circuit Core until the game ends. The player who has the most power in the majority of the three Circuits in the Core sections wins. Players have access to Power tiles that range from 0 to 3 Power. Breaker Blocks also has a few Action tiles that let the players break the rules or interfere with their opponent in some way, and as soon as two Authenticate tiles are played, the game ends.

The tiles have their value printed on them. The higher value tiles have fewer connections.

Really good strategy games are laced with "a-ha" moments. In my short time with Breaker Blocks (Jake and I played twice, adding in everything the game has to offer for the second play), I had a small handful of "a-ha" moments. First, the fact that game-end condition is entirely controlled by the player struck me as a great strategic option. After the first Authenticate tile is played, the rhythm and flow of the game change, especially once one of the players gets their hands on a second Authenticate.

Breaker Blocks clicked with me a second time when Jake positioned his tiles in a way that completely blocked my access to one of the three Circuits. The etched acrylic tiles felt good to play with, and their physicality can be employed as an offensive weapon to block your opponent. Brilliant.

Jake completely blocked my access to the III Circuit.

There are seven total Action tiles in the game, and we played our second game with all seven. Jake beat me down even harder with all of the game's tools at his disposal, but it really hammered home how much strategic depth is contained in this pocket sized game of his. Jake even showed me a move that he himself had been surprised by when he was playing against someone else. He said that, even though he's played the game more times than he can remember, he's still being surprised by the inventive moves and combinations of moves that players come up with, and that's a great sign.

Four of the Action tiles: Accelerate (draw three), Annihilate (lets you destroy an opponent's tile), Agitate (allows you to rearrange two of your opponent's tiles), and Authenticate, two of which end the game, and can't be targeted by other tiles.

Breaker Blocks tickles the same part of my brain as one of my personal favorite games: Neuroshima Hex. Fans of abstract strategy games shouldn't hesitate to order a copy. The rules are very simple to learn, the game plays in ten minutes or less, and even in my two short plays I could tell that there is a huge amount of strategy packed into the tight, minimalist design.

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Maestro of cardboard and plastic, former Tabletop Editor. Now I mostly live in the walls and pop in unexpectedly from time to time. If you ever want to talk… More about Travis