Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Block Game

Stuffed animals like kids. And kids like games. Here is a great game to play with kids.

I have a nice set of blocks—the Japanisches Haus from HABA’s Master Builder series. Unlike some of the other sets in the series, such as the Pyramid, many of the pieces have a distinct, in this case Asian, look about them, but you can put them together any way you want. That’s the only required trait for blocks used with this game—adaptability.

Besides blocks, you need a dice. Six-sided is probably best, although d8 can work.

And you need players. At least 2 and as many more as you can fit round your building area.

1. Roll the dice
2. Choose that many blocks and build something with them
3. Play passes to next player who rolls and adds blocks to the existing structure
4. Keep going until all the blocks are gone.
5. Add rubber lizard, take pictures, knock down, etc.
IMG_2246 by Brayo
IMG_2246, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.

For me, this is much more engaging then just playing with blocks—in ways that suggest what I (and maybe other people) like about games in general.

There is an understated competitive element. Resources are limited and one of the other
players may get the block you want. Also, whatever vision you have for the overall structure will be “compromised” by the other players. On the other hand, if you do something that another player likes (for example, one in a series of arches), that player will likely follow your design on their turn.

It’s co-operative. This is more obvious than the competitive element, since you are all
working on the same structure. But beyond that, by following the rules (turn-taking, dice-rolling, adding blocks, but not taking them away) all players reinforce the sense of structure that governs
the project.

It creates two structures and structure creates comfort. Like I just said, there is the building and
there are the rules—both are a structure. Unlike two or more people just “sharing” blocks, there is no hitting or biting. Also there’s no hoarding. Some disappointment is to be expected. But it’s easier to accept because there’s no need to fight to protect what you think you deserve. Once you’ve built something, you know it cannot be taken away.

It alters one’s perception of time. Really. Time is marked by the turn. When
it’s your turn, there’s nothing rushing you, because nothing else can happen at
the same time that you are happening. And this is a very nice feeling.

It’s random. What’s the point of the dice? Why not let people take turns placing say three or four or whatever number of blocks on their turn. I haven’t tried it but it sounds less fun. It’s great when you roll a big number and can really do something major. But the lower number rolls result in more collaboration rather than a collection of semi-autonomous structures. Adapting to an unexpected situation is fun. When I roll a 1, I’ll choose one of the trees or another very distinct piece and place it somewhere that seems significant—either in a central place of prominence or, paradoxically, somewhere set off from the main structure.

It’s interactive.
Again, unlike “sharing” blocks, you really are building something together and responding to what each other does. There’s an unspoken rule that you don’t tell someone else where to place their blocks. At least not with words. The blocks themselves become a medium of communication.

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