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Subject: Bricks and Brains (an iSlaytheDragon review) rss

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Jonathan Schindler
United States
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It doesn’t matter where I go or who I’m with: there’s something compelling about those little plastic building bricks. You can make them into just about whatever you want to. The only limit is your imagination.

Now Renegade Games has released a party game that takes the plastic bricks of childhood and challenges players to build to code in a fast-paced and zany environment. Can you handle the pressure and be the master builder?

How It Works

Brick Party is a team communication/building game for two* to nine players. Each round, players divide into teams of two to build structures. Once each player has gotten to choose a teammate first, the player with the most points is the winner.

Brick Party set up.

Each player is dealt eight cards, two cards of each value. The other number cards are set in the center of the table, and the twist cards are shuffled.

A new twist card is turned face-up at the start of the round. Beginning with the start player and moving clockwise, each player in order chooses a teammate until everyone is picked. All teams have 30 seconds to decide which player on the team will be the architect and which will be the builder. The architect chooses a card from hand as the blueprint for the round.

When the round starts, the architect will describe to the builder what to build to match the chosen card. Each card uses a number of bricks matching the points on the card. The architect can do everything short of indicating how many bricks are in the completed structure or touching the bricks. The first team to complete their structure turns over the 30-second timer, and the rest of the players must finish in the time allotted.

Once time runs out, teams lay their structures on their blueprint cards. If there’s a match, both players on the team score the points. If the match isn’t perfect, no one gets the points, and the blueprint is returned to the center of the table.

The twist cards make each round (and challenge) unique. They add a lot of spice to the game.

Complicating things is the twist for each round. Each round a new rule will be in place, either restricting which color bricks players can use or how clues are given (e.g., no talking, no looking at the structure) or how builders build (e.g., no using thumbs, only using one hand). Whichever team turns over the timer gets to keep the twist card (worth points) as long as their structure is correct.

The game ends after each player has gotten to choose their partner first. The player with the most points is the winner.

* Note: The game comes with a variant (sprint mode) for two to four players.

High-Rise, or Bricked?

Brick Party combines two party game staples–-strange communication techniques and dexterity feats–-into a single package that will delight some and infuriate others. It falls for me on the “delight” side. But let me explain.

I like Brick Party because, like the best party games, it takes a task that most people are not particularly good at and turns them loose in silly fun. It’s difficult to tell at a glance how to build the structures shown on the cards–-it’s often done with a little trial and error–-even if you aren’t hampered by silly twists. But then there are silly twists.

The bricks are what draw people in. Come for the toy building blocks; stay for the zany fun!

And the silly twists are what make the game. Some of the twists are a little anticlimactic (build using all four colors! build using only three colors!), but most of them are great fun to participate in and even watch. (That the game is fun to watch makes the rule of one player sitting out each round when you have an odd number of players easier to swallow.) It’s hard enough for the architect to describe what the builder has to construct, but then the architect can’t use words? Or can’t see whether the builder is following instructions? Building can seem pretty easy, but what if you can’t use your thumbs? Or can only use your off arm? Or what if you have to keep your fingers crossed?

As I mentioned, if my groups are any indication, the tasks in Brick Party–-especially the architect role–-are things that most people aren’t particularly good at, so the game stays mostly lighthearted. But even if players are timid about what they’re good at, because each round players are split into teams of two–-one architect and one builder–-players can usually self-select into what they’re better at. If someone isn’t good at spatial recognition or mental rotation, they might do better as builders (although see below). And those with minds like engineers might more readily take on the task of the architect. There’s usually something that players can feel comfortable participating in.

Here we go. This one is built correctly!

The game also feels balanced. Each player receives a hand of eight cards at the start of the game, so even in an eight- or nine-player game, if someone really doesn’t want to do one of the tasks, they have that option. But if someone is repeatedly the architect, as the game progresses, their options for which cards to choose will dwindle, and eventually they will have to attempt the harder cards (or the easier ones).

Similarly, since players choose their own teams and each player will get first choice once, it’s easy to break up “power teams.” If someone is a particularly strong player, they can be chosen away from a strong partner. Everyone will be yoked to someone else throughout the game, but players win independently. So it behooves players to play well for each team they’re on, even though teams will vary in ability.

It's handy that the blueprints are to scale so you can lay your structure on a card and find out if you did it right.

I also like the balance of the timer. Brick Party, in many ways, follows its own pace. It’s not like some games, where players have a set time limit in which to complete a task. Rather, the first team to finish turns over the timer, and the other teams have until the timer runs out. This serves a few functions: 1) It lets players play at the pace of the group. 2) But it encourages players to play quickly and not to get bogged down in checking/double-checking their work. 3) It gives the team who turns over the timer a small benefit (a few extra points if they’re right), but not a benefit big enough to put victory out of everyone else’s grasp. 4) It makes the 5- and 6-point cards more attractive and makes the 7- and 8-point cards feel like bigger risks.

As I said, I enjoy Brick Party, but even though I’m not great at it, I’m competent at playing. Brick Party does, however, have some serious drawbacks, and not just the usual “not everyone will love this” kind. Brick Party is perhaps the most polarizing party game I’ve played. This is the kind of game that beyond feelings of mild preference for other games produces outright hatred.

This one is so close. SO CLOSE. But no points.

There are a couple of reasons for this. One of them is that this game requires a heavy dose of spatial reasoning. I’m decent at mental rotation, and even I have a hard time interpreting the architect cards to determine what clues I need to give to my teammates. Again, this doesn’t bother me, but I’m also competent enough that it’s challenging without being impossible. And mental rotation doesn’t just affect the architect. The builder has to find a way to position the pieces to do what the architect says. Now, most people would be able to do this without time constraints, but in a high-pressure activity, with zany twists, and especially one where you don’t succeed or fail alone, this game can be utterly disorienting, if not simply debilitating. It’s no fun to consistently miss out on scoring points because you lack the skills you need to be competitive.

And even this wouldn’t be that bad except that Brick Party’s system of divvying partners is reminiscent of schoolyard kickball. The mantle of choosing a partner first passes each round, so teams will generally even out as the game progresses, but every round someone is chosen last. I’ve played with generally well-meaning folk who are kind and strive not to make anyone feel bad, but even in these groups, I’ve sensed some latent hard feelings at players not being chosen. Most have taken it in stride, but again, part of the bummer of not being very good at the game is letting your teammate down. (As one player said, even in Dr. Eureka, if you’re bad, you only hurt yourself.)

The rules for sprint mode. The entire rulebook is only four pages. Nice!

In addition to the main “party” game, Brick Party also includes a “sprint mode” for two to four players in which each player plays for him- or herself. I didn’t try this mode (the interest in this game for my groups was in the “party” more than the “bricks”), but it seems like this mode would alleviate some of the tension described above. Because players play for themselves, there’s less pressure to perform. (Of course, if you have only two to four players and one of them doesn’t want to play the game, you’re probably better off accommodating them with something else.) Sprint mode also seems like it would be a good fit for kids. Since everyone is working on the same card and everyone who gets it right gets points, it seems like a nonthreatening way to get extra mileage out of the game (and introduce it to a younger audience at the same time).

The components in Brick Party are excellent. The bricks, while not being branded and trademarked, are of good quality and stack as well as Those That Shall Not Be Named in This Review. The bricks themselves are a good hook: the toy factor is something that appeals to casual and hobby gamers alike, and the familiarity of building blocks makes the game seem less arcane than, say, Mysterium or other hobby party games. The cartoony art is good, and the cards are clear and of good quality. I love that the blueprints on the cards are to scale, so you can tell easily whether you’ve met the challenge or been found wanting. And one thing that is especially worthy of note: this is a full party game for up to nine players that you can carry in a tiny box! I realize this has been more and more the trend in hobby party games, but I love this. No longer does a party game have to take up shelf space like the jewel of your collection. Instead, this is easy enough to slip into a bag almost as an afterthought–-you can carry it everywhere.

I love this new trend in hobby party games. Small boxes, big fun.

Brick Party is the kind of party game that for some will be a “carry everywhere” kind of game. It provides a fun mental puzzle, includes some zany twists, and boasts a fun toy factor to boot. As long as you know your group and can gauge when it will fall flat, it’s a worthy choice. For my part, I like Brick Party, but there are enough people in my groups who don’t love it that I will make sure the group is right before I suggest another day at the construction site.

This review originally appeared on iSlaytheDragon.com. We were provided a copy of the game for review.
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