Block and Key Review, An eye catching, three dimensional, board game

Block and Key is a board game that’s hard to miss. With its two layer board (made out of the game box) and its chonky ceramic polyomino blocks, Block and Key has some fantastic table presence.

Even more important than that though, is just how enjoyable it is to play. This is a very unique spatial reasoning and pattern matching game that I think a lot of game groups are going to enjoy.

Read on to find out why.

Disclosure: Thanks to Inside Up Games for providing us with a review copy of Block and Key. Links in this post may be affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from eligible purchases.

What is Block and Key?

Block and Key was designed by David Van Drunen and features artwork by Edu Valls. It was originally Kickstarted back in early 2022. You can pick up the retail version direct from Inside Up Games, from many online retailers, and potentially at your Friendly Local Game Store

This striking board game plays one to four players with games taking under an hour. It features a nice low weight with the basic gameplay being easy to pick up. This makes the game accessible to gamers young and old. 

Block and Key has the players exploring an ancient temple, trying to solve riddles which involves finding and placing blocks to unlock hidden knowledge or something like that. Really the theme isn’t all that important.

This is a very three-dimensional game that has players drafting and then placing clay blocks onto the board in an attempt to match the patterns on the cards in their hands, while also, simultaneously, messing with their opponents’ plans. The most interesting thing in Block and Key is the unique two-dimensional view of the blocks from your side of the board, which is what matters when scoring.

The dual layered board and clay blocks are a key part of this game and you can see them in our Block and Key Unboxing Video on YouTube, as well as the various pictures in this review. They really are nice.  

Promotional image of Block and Key from Inside Up Games.

You will also see me fumble around with setting the board up properly the first time, a slightly confusing rulebook that now makes much more sense than it did when I recorded the unboxing (the flap is so you can keep the examples open and visible as you flip through the book no matter what section or language you are in).

The component quality ranges from fantastic to baffling. An example of this is the fact that the box comes in a very thin, easily damaged, sleeve, which includes a UV coating to make it really shine. After our second play, this sleeve was already showing some wear. We also found the iconography included in the artwork on the sides of the board to be more confusing than helpful.

On the other end, you have the ceramic blocks which are one of the most pleasing to hold board game pieces I’ve ever touched. They have a nice heft to them and do give an ancient stone impression. I also love the way they kind of clink and clack in the bag.

I have some concerns about the longevity of the cardboard stands that hold up the board itself. While they are very sturdy when assembled the correct way, I do wish they were plastic, like the type we saw when we reviewed Mountains out of Molehills.

How to play Block and Key

Block and Key set up at Origins Game Fair. This is a fascinating spatial reasoning board game.

Setting up the board is the first step to actually playing Block and Key. This is easy to do wrong, so you may want to check some images online or look at some how to play videos to make sure you have it right. If done correctly both layers of the board should be very solid.

Once the board is set up players need to sit around it, this sounds like a given, but in Block and Key there are specific seating spots at each of the player counts. Where everyone should sit is indicated on the board, for example when playing two players you need to be next to each other, not opposite each other. This seating arrangement also means that everyone has to sit on a different side of the table which can be an issue if you have a large rectangular gaming table like I do. A lazy susan can help with this.

Once everyone has found their spot, they are each dealt a hand of cards. Each player gets two easy starting star cards, one medium sun card, one hard moon card and one of the four enigma cards. Any remaining star and enigma cards are removed from play. The remaining sun and moon decks are placed on their designated spots on the bottom layer of the board. 

The core cube, the only 2x2x2 block in the game, is given to the start player and the rest of the blocks are placed in a bag. Then the market grid on the bottom board is filled with randomly drawn blocks from the bag. The starting player places the core cube on the designated starting spot on the top board with whichever side they choose facing them. Then, in reverse player order, players will draft a set of starting blocks.

The market in Block and Key found on the bottom part of the two level board.

Whenever you are drafting blocks in Block and Key you choose one column or one row from the market and take all of the blocks in that strip. Usually, this will be three blocks, but near the end of the game, it could be less. After any blocks are drafted they are replaced by pulling one block at a time and placing it on the lowest numbered open spot on the market until the market is full or you run out of blocks.

Each turn players have two options. They can excavate blocks, taking a set of blocks as just described, or they can place a single block onto the top board following a somewhat restrictive set of placement rules. 

The first of these is that a block must be placed so that at least one corner is touching the corner of another block on the board. Next, a block can be placed touching another block but the new block must be taller than the highest face of the stacks that it touches. 

Blocks do not have to be placed on the board surface, they can be stacked on other blocks, but when doing so the maximum height of a stack is six faces.  Finally, bridges are allowed but overhangs are not.  

You can see how this card matches a pattern I can see from my side of the board in this game of Block and Key

Once a block is placed, the acting player can then claim one or more key cards. They do this by playing a card from their hand with a pattern on it that matches their unique 2D perspective of the board. The block you just placed must contribute at least one face to this pattern. This stops players from just getting lucky and being able to play cards for patterns their opponents complete for them incidentally.

The patterns on the key cards can be matched in almost any orientation. They can be rotated in any way, but not mirrored. After turning in one or more cards, replacements are drawn. The player can get their new cards from either the medium sun or hard moon cards.

Play continues until a player has played a set amount of cards based on the player count (twelve cards for two players, eight for three players, or seven for four players). At this point, everyone gets one more turn and then everyone calculates their final score. 

Each card played is worth the points shown on the top of it. In addition, each player scores their enigma card. Each of these cards shows one of the game’s four colours. Each player counts up how many faces of that colour they can see and divides the result by three, rounding down. This is added to their card total to get their final score and the player with the most points wins.

The placement rules in Block and Key can take some time to fully get

Block and Key also includes a solo mode where you will play through eleven turns trying to score as high as possible. To make things interesting, when playing solo, the temple ancients mess with you. Any turn you don’t claim a key card you take a card and place it face down into the ancients deck. 

Any time you draw a new key card you enact an ancients’ turn. which has you flipping over the top card from the ancients’ deck and using it to draft and place a single tile on the board, potentially messing with your plans. There’s also a system for discarding key cards that I wish was part of the main game.

Block and Key is a quite cutthroat spacial puzzle game.

Block and key on display at Origins. This display is what initially caught my eye and had me asking about the game.

Block and Key is a game that almost slipped under my radar. I only discovered it due to visiting the Inside Up Games booth at Origins 2023. I was actually hoping to snag a copy of Earth at the time (sadly, they had already sold out) when I spotted Block and Key set up on a demo table.

Deanna and I went over and took a look at it, immediately being reminded of Mountains out of Molehills from The Op., another game that features a three dimensional two layered board. The two games are similar in look only. Mountains is a light, programmed movement game where every time you move you push blocks up onto the top layer forming hills and scoring for majorities, whereas Block and Key is about strategic placement of blocks on the board and trying to form patterns. 

After a short demo at their Origins booth, my initial thoughts on Block and Key were that it featured some pretty cool mechanics, especially the way you play based on your own two-dimensional view of the very three-dimensional board. That reminded me more of a hidden gem party game called La Boca than anything else in my collection.

Trying to figure out how to create the patterns on my cards, on the top board in Block and Key

The game also looks fantastic and has already proved that it can catch people’s attention. This is something I look for as games like this are always great for bringing out to local public play events.

Now when I did get our own copy home and recorded my Block and Key Unboxing Video I discovered the component issues we already talked about above. I really do hate the box sleeve and the fact that there’s nothing on the box to indicate what game it is without the sleeve.

This was followed by our first play at a local coffee shop where our first experience wasn’t the best.

We had a hard time figuring out how to build the three-dimensional board properly, I found the rulebook overly large and floppy, and the placement rules were not as clear as they could have been. The examples on the odd fold out sheet in the rulebook could have been much more clear or there could have been more of them.

However, everything changed once we got a few turns in and everything started making sense. While the placement rules are a bit wonky and take a bit to get used to, once we had everything down we found a fascinating, quick playing, game. This is a game that really doesn’t feel like anything else I’ve played, and I’ve played a lot of games.

Part way through a game of Block and Key

Block and Key features a nice flow and plays quickly. While some players may take more time than others to figure out what they want to do on their turn, that just gives the other players time to plan out their own turns. However, no one playing Block and Key should hold their plans too close, as it’s very possible the actions of their opponents will ruin all of that planning. Which is a key part of what makes this game work.

While it sounds like Block and Key could be multi-player solitaire it is definitely not. I’ve found that as players get more experienced they start figuring out better placements for their blocks, placements that not only help out them but also mess with their opponents. Players also learn that when they don’t have a good move for themselves placing a block in another player’s face, is sometimes the best option.

Even though your two dimensional view of the board is what matters for points, you still need to keep the third dimension in mind. While it may not impact your scoring it can really impact the other players.

My daughter trying to figure out if things line up right in a game of Block and Key

While the scoring system in Block And Key is brilliant it does come with a pretty big issue of having to get into the position for the right perspective. Being able to see what you need to see is why the game was designed with a two layered board, so that the top layer is close to eye level for most players.

While that works well and is much better than having to lean down to table level, you are still going to find yourself swapping between slouching and craning your neck to see what you need to see. The problem is that you want a level, two-dimensional view, that’s as flat as possible when looking to match a pattern, but you need more of a top down or isometric view when you are actually placing blocks.

Another minor complaint I had at first was that it didn’t feel like there were quite enough blocks in the game. Though the bag does empty quicker than you would expect, after playing multiple games I now find that’s more of a feature than a problem. Any more blocks and the game would become too long.

What you have to watch for is that running out of bricks can lead to frustration for players who aren’t expecting it. I know from experience that it is no fun to be the player who runs out of things to do while everyone else is still taking turns.

Shot from a three player game of Block and Key

Because of this I mention the number of bricks at the start of the game and warn people that they will run out quicker than you might think. I also try to remember to point out exactly how many bricks are left after any bricks are taken out near the end of the game.

Block and Key has gone over very well with my family and also at the local game nights that I’ve brought it out to. The game does a great job of catching people’s attention once it’s set up. I’ve found that if I can get one group playing this game at a public event, other groups will follow, with people asking to play next.

Overall we’ve enjoyed Block and Key even more than I expected. The three-dimensional dual layered board and chunky blocks aren’t just an interesting looking gimmick. Block and Key is a fascinating spatial puzzle that can be quite cutthroat. Placing blocks and nailing a hard pattern can be very rewarding as can hearing an opponent groan as you place a block in a spot that messes with their plans. I’m very glad we took a copy of this one home from Origins. 

If you enjoy spatial puzzles, games with 3D elements, pattern recognition, and/or pattern matching you will probably love Block and Key. While it may take a bit to nail down the placement rules, once you get those down you are left with a fast playing, surprisingly thinky game that also looks cool on the table.

The board in Block and Key can get pretty full.

If you have issues with depth perception, have any spatial processing issues, or vision issues like colour blindness Block and Key may not work for you. My youngest daughter deals with some of these issues and we quickly learned this game was not for her. Now the game is good enough that I suggest you give it a shot at a local event, con or game store, but don’t be surprised if it just doesn’t work for you. 

Due to the light nature of the rules of this game, I think this could be a great game for families. The rules are simple enough and because the game rewards pattern recognition more than anything else, it puts gamers of different ages and experience levels on the same page. I’ve seen this game go over just as well with seniors as with teens. I would think younger kids could also enjoy it, though we haven’t had the pleasure of playing it with younger children.

That’s it for my thoughts on Block and Key, a very three dimensional block placing pattern matching board game from Inside Up Games, that’s sure to catch people’s attention. 

This is a game that really sticks out due to its component quality and composition and its dual layer board. I love games with great table presence and Block and Key nails that.

Is there a game you discovered only because you saw it somewhere and it caught your eye? Perhaps at a game store or a con, there was a game you spotted and just had to walk over and check it out? Tell me about it in the comments below!

Inside Up Games Block and Key
  • Block and Key, A game of puzzling and observation.
  • Adventurers will be placing 3D clay blocks into a centralized raised playing area, with the goal of completing their own request cards.
  • The challenge is made more interesting as each player is limited to their “2d” viewpoint.
  • A game for 1-4 players with an average gametime of 20-40 minutes!
Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Got a gaming question?

Ask the Bellhop!

We’re here to answer your gaming and game night questions.

Hit the bell and send us a Q.

Ding the bell, Send us your questions!

Become a patron of the show and get behind the scenes updates, extra giveaway entries, bonus audio and more.

Looking for more gaming advice and reviews?

Sign up for our newsletter and don't miss a thing!

Looking For More Gaming Advice & Reviews?
Sign up for our Newsletter!

Looking For More
Gaming Advice & Reviews?
Sign up for our Newsletter!