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Review: Blueprints

5

Blueprints - Contents

You just graduated from architecture school and you’ve got your first job, hooray!  But your classes didn’t quite prepare you for this kind of madness.  You and all your classmates have been assigned to building projects all over town and to keep quality high your employer is going to assign prizes to the most impressive designs.  To make matters worse you don’t even know what resources you’ll have to work with until you show up on the construction site.  On the upside you’re given total creative freedom to build so you can stick to your assignment or ignore it and construct the building of your dreams.  Can you make the most of what’s available and put together an impressive structure from your hodgepodge of resources?  Did I mention that you’ll be building with dice?  Who knows what they’re even going to do with these things after you’re done building them.  Oh well, a job’s a job.  Gotta pay off those student loans, right?

How It Works

That’s not far from what you’re going to be doing in Blueprints, the quick and clever filler about dice drafting and construction.  The game plays over three rounds where you’ll be competing with your fellow architects to construct the most impressive buildings in hopes of winning some nice Awards and Prizes.  So let’s see what you’ll have to work with.  To start off you’ll be assigned a blueprint card which will show you what your building should look like when you’re done.  You’re free to follow these guidelines or build the way that you want, however following the rules will impress some judges and get you a shiny Award.  But other judges want you to break the rules and build a tower to the sky, bestowing on you a Prize!  Remember, you’re only building these things to wow those fancy judges and maybe become the head of the board of Architects?  I’m not really sure why you want these Awards and Prizes so badly but they are how you win so they must be important.  Anyways, Each space on the card will show a number which indicates how high to build on that space.  These numbers will add up to 6 as you’ll have a total of 6 opportunities to build on any given blueprint, representing a full round.  We’ll come back to how you’ll do the actual building in a minute.

Various blueprint cards, each with a unique building planning
Various blueprint cards, each with a unique building planning

It seems your employer doesn’t have a lot of time to properly gather resources for you to build with so you’ll have to work with what shows up as you go.  If you didn’t catch it earlier (or from the cover) you’ll be constructing your buildings out of dice.  There are four different colored dice available to you during the game each representing a unique material.  These are black Stone, orange Wood, clear Glass, and green Recycled materials.  During construction all the materials work in the same way but which ones you select and how they are placed will have an impact on how impressive your building is.  To start the round a defined number of dice, based on the number of architects, are selected at random and rolled so that they’ll have randomized values.  These dice form the pool of materials that you will have to select from on your turn.  But be advised, your fellow architects will also be drawing from this pool for their buildings as well so don’t plan on any valuable resources sticking around for long!  There are also two dice of different materials that are selected to be “in-demand” on the current round, they will be valued higher (break ties) when the judges come to assess your buildings so make sure to grab as many of them as possible.

Since you’re going to be competing with the other architects at the table you’ll want to keep your construction a secret until it comes time to unveil it to the public.  Luckily you’ve got a handy screen to cover up your building and keep your progress hidden.  Now put on your hard hat and let’s get to work.  To keep things fair and orderly during construction you’ll be taking turns selecting your materials from the resource pool.  When your turn comes around you’ll be able to select one material (die) from the pool and place it onto your blueprint card.  You can chose to place in one of two ways, either on an empty space or on top of another die with an equal or lower value.  You can build as high as you want as long as you continue to follow these rules.  Don’t worry about running out of building materials, there are new resources being shipped in all the time.  You’ll finish your turn by taking a random die out of the bag, rolling it, and adding it to the pool.  If you’re playing a duel against only one other architect (2 player game) you’ll also get the chance to discard one die before replenishing with two dice to replace those you removed.

Two very different designs each receive a Prize
Two very different designs each receive a Prize

When the sixth die has been placed for all buildings construction is complete and the judges come along to assess your work.  Prizes are assigned first, they represent four goals that remain the same in each round and are all worth 2 VP.  There’s the previously mentioned “Skyscraper Prize” that requires a height of 5 dice but requires you to ignore your blueprints in the process.  The “Structural Integrity Prize” that necessitates four dice of the same value in order to ensure safety.  The creatively titled “Materials Prize” which unsurprisingly requires five dice of the same material.  And lastly the “Geometer’s Prize” which marvels at the feat of collecting one die of each value (this can be quite difficult indeed, truly a Geometer’s feat)!  If only one building meets the requirement for a Prize then the owning architect takes it.  In the case of a tie you then check the In-demand materials.  Evaluating the higher one first you’ll add up the number of the associated material in each building and assign the prize to the building with more of that material.  In the case that no one was able to achieve a particular Prize, it simply isn’t given to anyone on that round.

Once all Prizes have been assigned the judges move on to the effort of evaluating the buildings to determine which are the most impressive and assign Awards.  They will be looking first to see if you followed your blueprints.  If everything is up to code great, have 6 points.  Buildings are then measured by assessing the different materials used in their construction.  Each material scores in a different way.  Glass (clear) dice are worth a number of points equal to their current value.  Stone (black) dice score more points for being higher up in elevation.  Wood (orange) dice score for each die they are adjacent to.  And Recycled (green) dice score based on how many are present in the building, having a higher value for larger groups.  Add up all those points and the highest score is assigned the top Award with second getting a lesser Award and so on down the line (although last gets nothing).  The available Awards are based on the number of players but they range in value from 3 to 1 VP.

The Awards and Prizes, these are the points that matter
The Awards and Prizes, these are the points that matter

With judging complete it is time to move on to your next project.  All buildings are demolished and the dice are returned to the bag to be randomized before replenishing the pool for another round.  New blueprint cards are assigned, player screens are raised, and hard hats are once again placed firmly upon heads.  The architect with the lowest scored building is patronized and may be the first to visit the resource pool to begin construction in the new round.  Three rounds are played this way and at the end all Prizes and Awards are tallied to see who has constructed the most impressive buildings.  A job well done, take off your hard hat and give yourself a pat on the back.

Up To Code or A Clear Violation?

I don’t quite have FarmerLenny’s love for filler games but one thing that I do look for in a lighter fare is still having meaningful decisions while maintaining a brisk pace.  I wouldn’t necessarily feel like it was a waste of time if it was short, sweet, and entertaining but with hardly any real decisions to make but having them certainly goes a long way for me.  Blueprints hits a bit of a sweet spot for me by presenting players with a variety of options while still limiting their total available choices and information about what the other players are doing.

Let’s look at that first point, players are presented with a variety of options.  At any given point you’ll have an array of different types and values of dice to pick from.  This matters for your pursuit of both a high scoring building to get an Award and the conditions that are necessary to achieve one or more Prizes.  Early in the round you’ll want to keep your options open to chase after several prizes or perhaps you’ll focus in on one with the intent to score really well.  When choosing dice you may be looking for a specific combination of material and value but when it doesn’t show up (or gets stolen) you’ll have to work with what’s out there.  Often times this means you’ll have your eye on several dice with the hope that you can pick them up in combination over several turns.  This requires you to prioritize in hopes that what’s left won’t get snatched up by your next turn.  Being able to assess the current pool to select your die, knowing what’s been taken and what’s left in the bag, is a crucial to success.  The dynamic nature of the resource pool is at the heart of Blueprints and the main source of your decisions.  The biggest factor in play are the Prizes, as dice of varying materials and values enter and leave play the Prizes become easier or more difficult to pursue.  Watching other players’ selections gives some idea of what they are shooting for and you’ll have to decide whether to go after the goal that no one is competing for or the easy one that will require you to also win the resulting ties.  All the while you’re trying to maximize the value of your building which may or may not mean following your blueprint in the first place.  There’s a constant balancing act between picking dice specifically to achieve Prizes and those that will let you score well.  It’s nice when they line up but each placement, and you’ve only got six to make each round, takes you one step closer to committing to a course of action with a more limited set of “perfect” dice.  All that to say that you’re going to have some tough decisions to make and lots to consider when you make your selections.

Blueprints - Example: Breaking Blueprints
Should you stick to your blueprint or is it worth the rewards of building high?

But things don’t bog down in excruciating decisions as the round moves on, this is where the limitations of the system are important to keeping things quick.  You’re presented with a large enough pool to give you several dice to pick from but not enough that you can make any significant long term planning.  Blueprints is clearly a tactical game but not one that presents you with drastically different choices each turn.  Over half of the pool will remain untouched in between your turns (even more with fewer players) and only one die will leave and enter play on any player’s turn.  If you’re paying attention then you should have a pretty good idea of what you might want to do by the time it gets back around to you.  Also, having the player screens makes a big difference in not overwhelming players with having to evaluate exactly what the other players are doing when deciding which Prizes to pursue.  Again it helps to pay attention so that you have an idea of what your opponents could be doing to mess with their plans when the opportunity presents itself.  But not having open information makes the game lighter and decisions quicker as players generally won’t find it worth trying to track all of that information in their head.  Plus there are some things that you simply won’t know such as whether your opponents are trying to stack high for the Skyscraper Prize.  I thought the memory element would create a barrier to play but it actually has the opposite result of keeping the pace quick.

Having players compete in three identical rounds presents the opportunity for the game to get repetitive, especially when played several times in a row due to the short playing time.  However, Blueprints has a lot of variation built into the rather simple system.  Not only are the materials coming out in a random order but they are rolled as they show up to produce a random value.  You may be somewhat certain that a given material will show up but you are never really sure what value they will be and that is key not only to several Prizes but also to the placement of dice in your building.  The rate at which materials enter and leave the pool create surpluses and shortages which are important for pursuing the Prizes.  Your odds of success change over the round and you may have to decide whether to push your luck or give up on a Prize in order to try and achieve some VP that round.  You are also given a new blueprint card each round and while they are significantly different, and you can ignore them if you want, you will need to adapt to their requirements.  Different materials will score better in various arrangement so how several players view the same pool of dice may vary based on their initial blueprint.  And since you’re all drawing from the same pool how the other players are picking their dice can have a big impact on how the round plays out.  To top things off you have In-demand materials that not only create a slight rarity in those materials (there is one less die in the mix) but also create higher value if you wish to win ties.  You see, there are lots of factors that create variation.  It’s not going to be a totally different game each time you play, you still have the same Prizes each time and you’ll see all or most of the dice by the end of the round.  There are several paths to pursue based on what Prizes you want to go after but you are limited to six dice so the variation isn’t going to be huge.  But it certainly provides enough variety to get you through three rounds (and many games) without seeing the same buildings every time.

Look at all those dice just spilling out of that bag!
Look at all those dice just spilling out of that bag!

You may also have the fairly standard dice-based concern “you roll lots of dice during the game, does that make things too random?”  Sure your opponent could roll exactly what you needed as your turn comes up and you’ll thank them kindly for their contribution to your building efforts but by and large the game doesn’t come down to chance like that.  There are dice but their purpose is more to randomize the game state, the economy of surpluses and shortages.  Simply put they create variation and present the players with choices.  As the pool changes it may favor your position or work against you but it’s up to players to adapt to what’s available and keep their opponents in check if they start getting exactly what they need.  It’s a shared economy and “good” or “bad” luck often doesn’t single out just one player, that’s the whole point of the communal resource pool.  In the games that I’ve played the randomness is more likely to frustrate players that are playing risky than hand someone the exact dice they need to complete three Prizes at once.  There’s a clear risk/reward system in place and players can choose how risky they wish to play.  Since the game is played over three rounds your luck is unlikely to last the whole game.  Likewise, being behind going into the final round doesn’t mean all is lost as you can make a desperate gamble to win.  I have somewhat of an uneasy relationship with dice in games but I find this system to be quite clever.

If I have any complaints after all that about Blueprints it’s that I feel there was more potential for character and thematic integration.  I found the idea of constructing buildings from the ground up using blueprints and different materials of dice to be intriguing but once you get into the game you kind of forgot all that.  The buildings you’re constructing don’t have any character, something as simple as a name might have made you feel like you were really building something.  When the Prizes are handed out you discard your buildings and move on to the next round with only a card with some points to show for it.  I’m not usually one to complain about a missed opportunity with theme, especially in a filler, but I feel like it really is the case here.  Oh well, I don’t mind my games a little dry and it’s still plenty fun to play.

What are you working on behind there? Can I peak??
What are you working on behind there? Can I peak??

Blueprints is a very clever filler that’s easy to teach and quick to play.  The novel dice drafting and constructing system creates plenty of opportunities for meaningful decisions while still keeping the players engaged and the pace quick.  There’s plenty of variation as the resources that you’re building with show up differently each time you play and having a shared resource pool provides plenty of room for interaction.  Did I mention the reasonably sized box that’s just perfect for slipping that extra filler in your bag of games?  Blueprints is definitely going to join the ranks of my fillers of choice.

Summary

  • Rating 8
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Summary

Pros

  • Easy to teach, quick to play: the perfect filler
  • Lots of meaningful decisions for the short play time
  • Clever dice drafting system
  • Dice randomize game state and allow pushing-of-luck
  • Great player interaction, if you're paying attention!

Cons:

  • Fairly loose theme, a missed opportunity
  • Player shields present a memory element
8.0 Very Good

I love optimization and engine games with tableau builders and card driven ones being my favorite. This usually means medium-heavy euros and medium-light card games.

Discussion5 Comments

      • Andrew

        I can certainly understand how players could easily misinterpret how scoring works. The rules use the same term (points) to describe the in-round scoring that’s used to hand out the Awards as well as the end-game scoring that comes exclusively from your Awards and Prizes. I wish they had used two different terms so things would be more clear. In my review I tried to distinguish by using “VP” to mean end of game scoring and “points” for calculations towards Awards each round. Thanks for point that out, it’s easy to miss. Luckily once you know the rule it makes sense and won’t be confused any further.

        • It also makes sense why you would abandon your blueprint. We were like, at six points, why would you EVER deviate?

          I blame my sleep-deprived brain for glossing over this. Oops!

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