With its attractive box design, colourful components and punning title, Block Ness from Blue Orange has the look and feel of a children's or family board game. And for sure, this is a game with simple rules that can be played and enjoyed by primary school children and their families as a casual entertainment. There is, however, more to this game than meets the eye...
In Block Ness, 2-4 players each have 10 Loch Ness monster segments of various lengths and heights plus a head and tail piece. Interestingly, the sets of pieces are asymmetric: they aren't all exactly the same. You start off with one low-height piece on the board with the head and tail affixed. Each turn you lay another piece in one of the three orthogonally adjacent positions by either the head or the tail and you reposition your head/tail on that new piece. You can loop pieces over your monster's own body or that of an opponent but you need to use a taller piece to do that: you can never go under a piece already on the board. The game is won by the player who gets the most pieces out, so you want to ensure you leave openings where you can place out further pieces while, ideally, blocking rival players so that they cannot place pieces. If the game ends in a tie then victory goes to the player whose monster has the tallest head; so you'll want to try to save to the end the taller pieces.
Loch Ness has spawned myths and legends about a monster ('Nessie') because of its surprising depth, so it is very fitting that this Loch Ness Monster themed game should also have some depth to it. Appropriately then, and under the guise of a seemingly casual family game, designer Laurent Escoffier has come up with a game that also serves as a serious abstract spatial strategy game that can turn into a tight tussle for position. Whether you play it as a casual game or as a cutthroat contest tho', this is a game that plays quickly - you can expect to finish it in about 15 minutes.
The game scales very well for its different player counts, not least because the pegboard playing area is varied in size to reflect the number of players. It's obviously easier to plan ahead when you play with just two. With three or four players, you're more likely to get blocked off, even tho' you're playing on a larger are of pegboard.
Much of the appeal of Block Ness is in the attractive artwork of Christine Alcouffe and Simon Douchy, and full marks to Blue Orange for the production quality of the plastic monster pieces, all of which slot comfortably into the pegboard. It all makes for a compelling package, and it'll be an injustice if this game doesn't make it onto the next 'game of the year' shortlist.
Block Ness is distributed in the UK by CoiledSpring Games.