Gaming - Block’hood

The Defective Inspector takes a trip around the block for his newest Case File: Block’hood...

Today I had the immense pleasure of playing something which was more than a game. I say that like a grand statement but it’s genuinely true, there is more to this than playtime and silliness. Block’hood is a game about neighbourhoods, synergy, economy and ecology. Traditionally I don’t touch games like this because it’s dangerously new and early access but it concept has a certain je ne sais quoi. Few attempted building and successful challenges later I can tell what it is, just not in French.

In a slightly lazy fashion I consider this game a hybrid of 4 of my simulation favourites: Anno 2070, TOWNS, Mini Metro and Sim Tower. I know that’s a true mishmash of games but hear me out. The balance of economy smells like the Anno all over as you are constantly trying to balance not just the production of resources but their production effects, similar to the pollution factor of the Tycoon faction. The feel of Mini Metro and TOWNS comes almost completely down to aesthetics as it is colourful but simple at the same time within a 3D multi-level platform. Why Sim Tower? Well have you played that game?! If you can’t make the link I don’t suspect you are able operate a keyboard. A direct point to be made to you the reader and the creators plethora-project, the fact it’s intermingled so successfully 4 very different game styles while also standing out alone as a project is something to be proud of, well done!

So without comparing it to something else, what exactly do you do in this game? Basically you build a tiny little neighbourhood by places blocks (OH! I see what you did… Very clever). Each of these blocks provide particular purposes, products and require prerequisites so a retail shop will produce income, requires consumers and thus balance things off fairly well. In a slight twist of reality but fantastic game dynamics you can stockpile absolutely everything because everything is produced at a constant rate. To clear that up a little imagine you have a water pump, it doesn’t “hold” 20 units of water it continuously pumps and as long as you provide electricity it will continuously produce water. This mechanic applies to just about everything ranging from electrical power to consumers themselves. Yes the theoretical people of the world have been converted to a numerical value, the sociopathic scientist in me just got a little giddy…

Here is the thing, the game is not that simple as frankly if it was that straight forward it would be rather dull and lacking creativity. I’ve used pretty vague values but this game is far from vague, in fact it bends you over and puts your underused GCSE in mathematics to use. Another example? Sure! An incinerator can produce electricity however it requires organic waste, which is produced by apartments, which also require oxygen AND electricity, so you place a tree to produce oxygen, but it needs water… Oh and then there is synergy! Water sources near trees produces more oxygen, but trees are also forms of leisure… Which is needed for apartments! AH! Dizzy yet?! That may all seem horrifically confusing but it becomes a bit second nature with a bit of time and the tooltips within the game are pretty helpful. But before you get comfortable further complications reveal themselves in Block’hood. A few resources cannot be stockpiled without problems such as wheat which is used to make bread for the coffee shop. While things like water, electricity and theoretical humans are limitless in storage food stuffs fall victim to decay. OH! DECAY! I said decay! You’ll love decay! If ANY of these “input” are not accommodated for properly the blocks will literally decay and fall apart. So if you struggle with juggling your little community properly or grow at an excessive rate, you’re going to have problems. So it’s not all rays and sunshine, there is death and decay! BEAUTIFUL!

While I compared this game to others I need to point out the little differences. The biggest one I love is every block is free, they cost nothing at all. I LOVED this feature as it put so much emphasis on the importance of balance and micromanagement of resources and not on capitalism. While there is a stockpiled value of “money” this isn’t money in the traditional sense. You don’t require particular building materials or cash like in TOWNS or Anno but instead you can build ANYTHING without question, you just best be sure you’ve got the right resources being produced to support whatever you plan on creating. THAT is a feature which I absolutely love and as Block’hood continues through its development I hope it remains! Another clever feature of the game are its challenges, less so what they are but how the levels are designed. The challenges are pretty traditional as complete a particular goals with particular restrictions (Usually being limited choices of blocks). What is INCREDIBLY clever is the game gives you options which are destined to fail making you learn the hard way. Say you need to produce “youth”, this is done via a large apartment. In the same challenge you’ll have the option of a small apartment, it produces no youth at all. While this is a very simplified version of clever trickery I have to appreciate it. I love it when a game not only guides you the right way but slaps your forehead for going the wrong way. THAT is another piece of gold inside an Early Access game.

So is there anything negative to say about Block’hood? Barely…. I genuinely love this game. The only criticism I can think of right now is there is nothing driving me to play the game for long periods of time. There is no storyline or campaign and that can be a little frustrating. While I enjoy what I am doing it when I am doing it without a greater goal I get bored fairly quickly and so I cannot stay on the game for longer than a couple of hours. Is that a bad thing? Well not exactly, it’s good to have a game you can come back to for short bursts of time but it does leave a gap waiting to be filled. Though truth be told I cannot conceive a good campaign which would keep me interested but I know it’s needed or something like it. I also get a little frustrated with the UI on the odd occasion. As it stands you can rotate the base of your creation and look at various levels of your creation but…. You can’t drag it anywhere, the city is always directly in front of you. Is it important? I am not entirely sure… What I do know is my gaming instincts want me to move it occasionally and when denied I become an errant child.

The bottom line for Block’hood is pretty damn positive. It’s a colourful, vibrant, quirky and incredibly complex city planning simulation which puts emphasis on management, not purchases. While I cannot find myself playing it for 8 hours solid like I do for some games I do see it as a go to game for relaxing but challenging gameplay. It’s like a digitally evolved Sudoku, tricky but strangely rewarding.

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