Tabletop Skills


Block Happy

Block Happy

Game Stats

Players: 2-5

Ages: 7-107

Time: 20-30 minutes

Cost: $$$$$

Block Happy is a great example of a game that I bought specifically because I saw its teaching potential. I first found it while browsing through Kickstarter; something that I often do despite a lack of available spending money and shelf space. The pitch for the game caught my interest immediately: this was a game that was not only based on emotions, but is designed to make you and your opponents feel those emotions while you play.

 The Basics

The entire game consists of 75 emotions cards. Seven of those cards are Happiness cards, and the goal of the game is to collect them by drawing them into your hand or by stealing the cards from your opponents. The other cards are either basic, being played just to make room to draw up; or have special powers that can affect gameplay.

Rules Overview

Each player is given a hand of seven cards, plus one of the Happiness cards. Remaining Happiness cards are shuffled into the deck.

Each player's turn basically consists of playing one card and then drawing one card, to return their hand to seven cards.

Cards come in a few different varieties:

Simple Emotions are various types of Angry, Sad, Scared, Surprised, or Funny. (For example, Sad cards include Lost and Hurt.) You can play one of these to make room for a new draw, or play two from a category together to draw one card from the draw pile and one of your choice from the discards.

Emotional Control cards are meant to make your opponent feel a particular way (by affecting gameplay). Bored cards skip a player's turn, Cheeky cards let you steal a card from an opponent's hand, Flirty cards allow you to trade a card with an opponent at random, Optimistic cards allow you to look at three cards from the draw pile and keep one, and Curious cards allow you to ask a player for a card (Go-Fish style).

Attack cards let you steal another player's Happiness, by taking one, two, or even all of the Happiness cards that they have collected.

Smug cards protect you from Attacks by canceling their effects.

Emotional Powers are rare, powerful, and unstoppable game effects. Jealous and Magical steal Happiness, Glum and Shocked force opponents to return Happiness to the draw pile, Overjoyed reverses an opponent's Attack back on them, and Tickled Pink acts as a Happiness that can't be stolen or otherwise lost.

Happiness, of course, is the game's currency, and the first person to collect all seven Happiness cards (or 6 plus ticked Pink) wins.

Happiness is placed face-up as soon as it is drawn or otherwise acquired. All players that play or otherwise lose cards from their hands immediately draw back up to seven. Play passes clockwise until somebody wins.

Game Experience

First things first: The cards are odd. Each portrays the "emotional creature" it represents as a cube. This shape means that each card is a small hexagon. This makes the card awkward to hold, difficult to read, and virtually impossible to shuffle.

Luckily, the art is clever, colorful, and creative. It's easy to see which cards belong to which group at a glance. Half the fun, honestly, is just seeing the way that the authors chose to represent a complex human emotion in a quick, cartoonish snapshot, and it's surprising how often they nail it. I don't know how I would have drawn the emotion of glum, but a frowning grey square covered in whiting blobs and accompanied by a guilty-looking pigeon strikes me as exactly right.

Like any game with direct confrontation, Block Happy can feel mean if it isn't played correctly. Having everybody gang up on one player every time they find even a shred of Happiness is an exercise in Frustration and Irritation (which, to the game's credit, are literally the names of the cards used to inflict those conditions). Having everybody start with some Happiness mitigates this somewhat, as does the fact that Happiness tends to cluster together and then sort of travel around the table ask players steal it from each other. There's plenty of Attacks to go around, and no shortage of Smug to deflect them.

Pairing your Basic Emotions allows for strategy, where you can gather an arsenal of Attacks, collect an impenetrable wall of Smug, or simply maximize your turnover to mine for Happiness directly. Being able to dig through both the discards and the draw pile helps to mitigate the random element greatly, and rewards patience as you try to collect pairs rather than playing your Basic Emotions alone.

While the game isn't "rubber-banded" exactly, there's really no way to predict who will win based on early play since so many of the cards are designed to make Happiness change hands. Happily, the game is quick and light enough that you can shuffle the deck (with some difficulty) and play another round right away.

Lessons Learned

First, a quick tip: Calling out your cards as you play them both makes the game more fun and helps to reinforce its emotional vocabulary.

Player One: "I'm feeling IRRITATED by all that Happiness you have, so I'm Attacking!"

Player Two: "Well, all that Happiness has me feeling Smug; in fact, I feel very SNEAKY right now."

Player One: "Gah! Why are you always so Smug?"

Player Two: "Sounds like you're absolutely SHOCKED right now. Say goodbye to all of your Happiness!"

Player One: "Nooooooooooooo!"

Maybe my table is a little more verbal than others. In any case, give it a try; we found that it added a lot to the experience.

Attitude: Empathy

This is the biggest benefit to the game, simply because it expands a person's emotional vocabulary. Adults have a difficult time expressing (or identifying) emotional states beyond the very basic Angry, Happy, Sad, Scared, and Disgusted. Youth, meanwhile, tend toward a binary view where the adults around them are either Happy or Mad. The categories and descriptions of the "emotional creatures" in Block Happy help to dramatically expand those options, and to show how these emotions relate to each other. Research has shown that a larger and more precise emotional vocabulary help with both emotional self-control and with identifying how others might feel.

Attitude: Patience

There is a real benefit in holding more powerful cards until they are needed, and in putting together pairs of Basic Emotions rather than playing them alone. This is also an opportunity for a wonderful metaphor around emotional self-control and choosing how (and when) to express what you are feeling to others.

Analysis: Observation | Analysis: Planning/Organization

One of the biggest advantages that you can have in this game is to know what is in your opponents' hands. Since a lot of what they draw will be from the discards, you know a lot of what's going into their hand. If they have drawn two Smugs and haven't played one since, they're not a good target for your Attack. Watching carefully what your opponents are drawing, then planning your Attacks and other moves accordingly, makes you much more likely to be able to win.

Game Mechanics 

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