“The force of the insurrection is social, not military. But no revolution is possible without a violent break with habit, without choosing sides, and without nerding out with your buds.” – At Daggers Drawn with the Existent, with additions by Io Ascarium
Bloc by Bloc is a semi-cooperative game about people of a city joining together to fight the police and overthrow the government before the army is sent in to crush the insurrection. Bloc by Bloc is one of the only games I can imagine that tries to gamify riots, which is bonkers because riots are incredibly dynamic group exercises in thinking tactically and also so, so much fun. Or so I have been told.
Bloc by Bloc: The Insurrection Game
Out of Order Games
Bloc by Bloc is inspired by Black Bloc street fighting and popular urban insurrections of the 21st century, such as Ferguson, Oaxaca, The Arab Spring, et cetera. It incorporates both the molotovs and expropriating (also known as “looting”) sexy parts of revolutions, yet also manages to nod towards the behind-the-scenes hard work and building that goes largely unreported before, during, and after every large scale uprising (with the building of assembly halls and social centers mechanic). The game does not get bogged down in the why of the revolution, because do you honestly still need a justification? In 2019? The year of our Lord?
My first attempt at this game was with a group of anarchists, and we were all very surprised to find a game obviously made by people with intimate knowledge of radical strategies. It’s obvious this game gets it, and I can confirm that from both the chance I had at PAX to speak with one of the creators and from the zine ALL POWER TO THE BLOCS that comes in each box that briefly explains the inspirations for the game and motivations behind direct action against the state.
But Bloc by Bloc is first and foremost a gamer’s game, which clicked when a more dice-rolly, less smashy-smashy friend of mine remarked, “Serves me right for assuming the anarchist game would not be well put together.”
“Sure does,” I said, and took the opportunity to whip my poorly xeroxed manifesto at them.
To be honest, the complexity of the game’s rules turned off some of my more anarcho-nihilist friends. “This is too complicated! Anarchy is not supposed to have so many rules! Bleeyyy!” Fair enough. Games that take a deal of setup are not for everyone, but I don’t know what anarchism those nerds are living. It’s almost like they’ve never been to an 18-hour consensus meeting for jail support in an affinity group with a very loud egoist and an anarcho-syndicalist who also used to date each other. Amirite folks?!
The game board forms a city of randomly generated district tiles, full of lootable shopping malls, overcrowded prisons, underfunded community colleges, polluted slums, and state districts to occupy and eventually liberate. Each district has a difficulty level that will help you think tactically about how to best barricade your strongholds against police invasion and to expand and travel (using streets not taken over by the police or the metro system). You and your comrades choose factions to embody: Prisoners, Workers, Neighbors, and Students. Each has their own special abilities and choice of starting occupations.
The game is broken up into 10 nights with two phases each, counting down to when the military arrives to crush your uprising. You must win before that happens, or you and your city are doomed. After you build your first occupation you enter the night phase, which is your chance to get coup-coup bananas. Depending on your dice rolls and whether or not you’re in a district with police, you can take safer regular actions like moving between streets or metro stations and building barricades to impede or weaken any police who come to tangle in your district. There are also riskier, advanced actions, like looting and building occupations, that will require a roll of the reaction die and may prompt a police response.
But if you are in a district with police, you are automatically clashing with them and can only attack or retreat. It behooves you here, as in real life, to take action and get rid of the cops. Depending on the district’s difficulty (they are stronger when in state districts and weaker when they aren’t on home turf), you can use each qualifying die roll to defeat a riot cop, kick out two cops, or attack a riot van. Three attacks on a riot van defeat it, so you will need to work together or get unbelievably lucky to do so. A riot van is repaired back to full strength once the sunrise phase begins. All of these actions will lower police morale and keep your adjacent occupations safe. Like my property destruction coach Ms. Ravachol always said, “The best defense is a good offense.”
But when sunrise comes, the police get froggy and attack you right back, breaking down or breaking against barricades and attempting to move into occupations to break up all your hard work. Those guys are just the pits, I swear.
But sunrise also brings liberation to districts that meet the requirements! When the tile is flipped to liberated, the manifestation card beneath it bestows buffs on any faction who was there when it happened. This is one of the many reasons it’s a game that encourages everyone at the table to work together… but as any leftist will tell you, solidarity is easier said than done.
Remember how I described the game as “semi-cooperative”? That’s because the randomly chosen agenda cards that bestow win conditions on each player are mostly social cards that coincide with the collective goal, but you can also draw The Nihilist (who seeks to negate the current political and economic order By Any Means Necessary) or Vanguardist (who seeks to seize power over the revolution) agenda cards. These specific cards come with their own win conditions that the player will work towards, rather a collective win.
For example, the nihilists win by torching six shopping centers and liberating a public district all alone. Players are free to bluster about their intent truthfully or not, but cannot reveal their cards. It is up to the other players to determine their revolutionary commitment. If there was ever another update or expansion to this game, I would love for it to enhance the paranoid mistrust “Werewolf” element these cards add by including, say, a faction of peace police liberals whose agenda would be to deter anyone from looting, building barricades, or attacking the police, thus ensuring no resources, defense, or fun is had and that the revolution/game ends quickly. Or excitable white kids with megaphones in the Revolutionary Communist Party whose agenda would be to take over the mob, lead it in circles, and get everyone trapped and arrested. Or even secret police agents whose agenda would be to instigate bad optics violence at the least tactical moments, collect information from other factions, and handicap player actions until the National Guard arrives.
War games are big business and I barely understand why. What ice-chewing psychopath wants to hang out on their friend’s couch with mid-range beers and roleplay as some black-pilled, death-worshipping imperialist general (no offense)? Why can’t we have more war games for the people? Bloc by Bloc takes the largely untapped common idea of urban asymmetrical warfare, removes the danger of death or arrest, and makes it as fun as possible short of actually including a bank window to smash (maybe in the next update).
You can play as confrontational or subtle, collectivist or anti-social as you want. The reality of the insurrection can morph rapidly with one drawn card, requiring players to stay frosty and remain flexible. Bloc by Bloc is a cathartic game and I would recommend it to rowdy leftists, those interested in radicalism, board game enthusiasts, and anyone looking for new ways to play at creative resistance. Most importantly for a game that celebrates anti-capitalist resistance, you can download and print the entire game for free. Otherwise, you can get it using money from Out of Order Games’ store.
In a nutshell, if you can’t get down with a board game about fighting the police, then… I don’t know what to tell ya.
Io Ascarium is a marauding pillar of salt just doing their best. They make comics and propaganda in an underground bunker in Centralia, PA.