These Gamewright Games Are “OFF Da Hook”: City Square Off & Knock Your Blocks Off

Before we do anything else, I’d like to offer my semi-sincere apology for the title of this review. I’d love to blame someone else – but it’s all on me.

With that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at two of the newer releases from Gamewright Games.

City Square Off

Designer: Ted Cheatham
Publisher: Gamewright
Players: 2
Ages: 8+
Playing Time: 15 minutes

Review by Mark Jackson (8 plays w/a review copy provided by Gamewright)

My wife likes this. Let me rephrase that… my non-gamer wife likes City Square Off. Heck, my wife voluntarily taught the game to one of her friends – a casual family gamer – who went out & bought a copy.

For some of you reading this, that’s really all you need to know. This very straightforward Tetris-like two-player game is winningly produced (nice molds for the starting cities, Gamewright production people!) and the game play is simple enough that my six-year-old can play… though not competitively. And my very significant other likes it!

Ted Cheatham (note: Ted is a long-time personal friend) has created a game that’s squarely (unintended pun – once again, my apologies for going OFF on a tangent…. dang, I did it again!) in the mode of FITS without being an identical gaming experience.

Here, players begin with non-identical city center pieces, an identical set of city “blocks” and their own gridded city board. (If you own a copy of Blokus, it’s the same set of tiles.) One of the players turns up a card which indicates which city block must be placed on the board… and that block has to go adjacent to the city center or an already placed block. The first player to be forced to play outside the grid loses… unless both players do so on the same turn – then the player with the largest single open area wins.

There are four variants listed in the rules – I especially like the “sprawl” version that lets player have city blocks hang off the edge – and there are four different city center pieces to increase the variety in the base game.

Like Take It Easy or Cities or FITS, there’s really no limit on the number of players for City Square Off IF you have enough game sets… but the game is a lot of fun just with two players. As I said earlier, kids as young as 6 can figure out the game, but the ability to play well seems to develop a bit later.

Honestly, I’d be a fan of this game even if my friend hadn’t designed it… but I do have give props to Gamewright for making it a classy & non-gamer friendly production.

Knock Your Blocks Off

Designer: Rebekah Bissell
Publisher: Gamewright
Players: 2-4
Ages: 8+
Playing Time: 15 minutes

Review by Mark Jackson (6 plays w/a review copy provided by Gamewright)

The word “off” in the title is not the only thing that these games have in common – both are thematically city-building games. However, Knock Your Blocks Off allows – nah, encourages! – you to destroy your opponents’ cities.

Each player has a set of 6 dice “blocks” which have a variety of two-color patterns on them. simultaneously, the players roll their “blocks” and then build them into one of six different “structures”. The first player to finish his structure places his king block on the top of his creation then grabs the destruction die from the center of the table, meaning he gets to go first when the attacking begins.

Once all the players have finished their structures, the starting player chooses one of his neighbors to attack & rolls the destruction die. The result determines whether the player will have to flick the die (boulder), throw the die underhand (ogre) or drop it from above (dragon) in his attempt to knock the king block to the table. If he’s successful, he gets a point… but if he fails, the defender gets a point!

Now the die passes to the defender and he in turn attacks the next player. After each player has attacked and been attacked one time, the turn is over and players get ready to roll their blocks & build a new structure. The first player to reach 8 victory points wins immediately.

There are a few wrinkles, of course:

  • each of the five structures (tower, wall, fort, stairs, gate) have a special power – some give you extra points for attacking or defending successfully, while others make it easier to attack or defend.
  • the player who finishes their structure first not only gets the destruction die but also a victory point… unless they build the wall or the tower, in which case the ease of building means they don’t get the point.
  • completed structures must match – in other words, the color on the edge of one block must match the color of the block(s) it is next to… and if they don’t, the player doesn’t get the special power of that structure

So, you ask, how’s the game play? Well, it’s quick… slightly faster with 2 players than with 3 or 4, but even with the full complement of players, it moves at a nice clip. (I think I like it best with 3.)

There are some tactical decisions, particularly as one or more players get close to winning. Do I build one of the quick structures to keep the victory point away from another player, or do I work to maximize my own power? If I do get to decide the order of attack (by being the start player), which player should I attack?

Obviously, there’s a bit of dexterity involved – the game rules specify that attacks take place from about a foot away, which is not as easy as it sounds, especially for younger players.

And that brings me to my one real caution about the game – while it’s very attractive to my 6-year-old son, he can not compete with his 10-year-old brother or his dad in getting his structure built first. He’s also not as able to attack successfully… which can be really frustrating for him in a game that he thinks is cool.

At the same time, Knock Your Blocks Off isn’t substantial enough for gamers unless they approach it as an enjoyable short filler. I’d say that the sweet spot for the game is older kids (8+) and families… and in that context, it’s been a great 15 minute game of construction & destruction.

Opinions from Other Opinionated Gamers

Kris Hall:  Ted runs the Appalachian Gamers group so he is also a friend.  But I heartily endorse City Square Off. It plays in ten minutes and its easy enough for kids to play.  We’ve played it dozens of times.  One time my mother-in-law stopped by with some of her old-lady friends, and we forced them to play it.  The old ladies loved it.  Some of them may even give it as a Christmas present to grandkids.  It’s a great little filler.

Mary D. Prasad: I played City Square Off once at Origins and enjoyed it. If you like FITS, you might like this as well.

Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers

City Square Off
I love it!…Mark Jackson
I like it…  Mary Prasad
Not for me…

Knock Your Blocks Off
I love it!…
I like it… Mark Jackson
Not for me…

About Mark "Fluff Daddy" Jackson

follower of Jesus, husband, father, pastor, boardgamer, writer, Legomaniac, Disneyphile, voted most likely to have the same Christmas wish list at age 57 as he did at age 7
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4 Responses to These Gamewright Games Are “OFF Da Hook”: City Square Off & Knock Your Blocks Off

  1. Frank says:

    City Square off looks like a game my wife would love. We just bought Cathedral, though it hasn’t been played yet. Aside from card draws, the game *looks* similar. Can you make a comparison?

  2. Cathedral involves the same kind of play EXCEPT that it’s on a single board – much more head-2-head competition. One of the charms of City Square Off is that you’re building on your board. Much like Fits or Take It Easy, you get the same pieces but choose to do different (sometimes VERY different) things with them.

  3. Rebekah says:

    Thanks for trying out Knock Your Blocks Off and reviewing it!

    The age when kids develop the skills required for the game seems to vary a lot. The puzzle-solving, especially, can be challenging for younger kids, but the good thing is that it is an easy game to handicap to allow for different skill levels (for parents who don’t mind doing so). When my youngest daughter (now 5) was learning the game, we’d allow her to ignore the color placement, as just making the pattern for the different structures was challenging enough. Now she’s learning to match up the colors and does better all the time. Rather than penalizing her for incorrect placement, we just allow her to correct her structure until she’s ready for the full rules.
    The attacking phase is also easy to handicap by just requiring different distances based on skill level.

    Of course, handicapping can be a little tricky when playing with more than one child, but if the older sibling is understanding, it’s a nice way to include kids under the recommended age.

    Thanks again for the great review.

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