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Block and Key

Updated: Apr 3, 2023

Remember the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones has to line up a crystal and a staff of a precise height in order to pinpoint a particular spot? Well there's at least a hint of that in David Van Drunen's Block and Key because players are placing out blocks to create patterns that are seen specifically from their own position around the board. And there's a nod too to the Indiana Jones movies in the underlying theme and art by Edu Valls, which touches on the archaeological remains of an ancient civilisation. In practice tho’, Block and Key is an abstract puzzle game.

Open up the Block and Key box and you'll find a large quantity of very solid three-dimensional polyomino blocks, a large canvas bag, ‘key’ cards showing various block patterns and four cardboard struts. Inside Up make full use of all of these to play the game, including the box itself. The struts are used with the base and top of the box to create the two-level play area. The lower level has nine blocks placed out on it. It also houses, divided into two levels of difficulty (and therefore points value), cards that show the patterns you need to score the card. The top level of the board is where players place out the blocks. Ideally, this will line up with players’ eye level.

On your turn you can either take a row or column of three blocks from the lower level, replenishing them from the bag, or you can place out a block on the upper level. The only rules for placing out a block is that it must be orthogonally or diagonally adjacent to a block that’s already on the board and that it must be at least one cube higher than all blocks to which it is orthogonally adjacent.

You’re placing blocks with the aim of matching patterns to those shown in just two dimensions on your target key cards as seen from your particular position on your side of the board. Other players, viewing the blocks from their different sides of the board, will see different patterns from the same blocks and, of course, they are trying to match patterns from their own perspective. That can mean that when you place a block to help you towards achieving one of your target key cards you might inadvertently complete one of my patterns. If that does occur, I don’t get the benefit: players only score for cards completed by a block they place themselves.

With its hefty 3D blocks, Block and Key is a heavy game – strictly in the physical sense! In terms of game play tho’, it’s light and very accessible – certainly very playable as a family game. Tho’ it’s fun with three and four players, we’ve enjoyed our Board’s Eye View plays most with two players because the two-player tussle offers the most scope for strategic play and even an element of deduction to work out your opponent’s hidden objective and try to hamper them: each player will have an ‘enigma’ key card showing one of the block colours and you get an end-game bonus score of one point for every three cubes of that colour that’s visible to you.

Block and Key has great table presence so it’s likely to command multiple plays. And if ever you tire of the core game, mounting the two-level board on a Lazy Susan turntable offers scope for a fascinating variant…

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