Often when we think of the great abstract strategy games, we look to the past for games such as Chess, Shogi, Go, Camelot and Othello.
However, you don't have to go back quite that many decades to find an abstract that has the intangibles of greatness; simplicity, looks, and of course gaming challenge and fun. In fact, you can stop back in 1987, and look at the modern classic Abalone.
Created by Laurent Levi and Michel Lalet, Abalone has been critically acclaimed since its release. The box from the University Games version of the game suggests Abalone is the “winner of more awards than any other game in the world,” including being named Game of the Decade by the International Games Festival, Cannes French Riviera. That's pretty heady stuff in its own right.
The same box also points out 'Over 4,000,000 sold,” which again is highly significant for an abstract game.
So why did Abalone amass such an interesting resume?
Well let's start with the games simplicity.
Each player starts with 14 marbles, with the simple goal of pushing six of your opponent's pieces off the board. (The board actually has a gutter around the edge which captures and holds the marbles that are pushed from the playing field).
You accomplish the push by what has been perhaps best-described as a sumo match between marbles. On your turn you can move one, two, or three of your marbles in a straight line one space. During a move, if you move two marbles you can push one of you opponent's marbles. If you move three, you can push two opponent pieces. That's it folks, a rule set that you can teach in a few seconds.
Now there are those who will point out the game has been “solved”, basically meaning there are set ways to win. Unless you are one of those people who read the last page of a book first, that isn't a huge issue when you buy a game. It will take many plays to find the secrets and along the way you get a pile of fun.
And, Abalone has also evolved, with several alternate starting layouts now played regularly, which alter what works, and what doesn't. A quick Internet search will discover many of the alternate set-ups.
Back to the game. The look of Abalone is clean, and simple. It will look good out on the coffee table where it will attract a visitor's attention, and you know you can teach the game in seconds, so getting new players to try the game should be easy.
The board is a classic black, made of durable plastic. The marbles are huge, more than inch in diametre, making playing the game a satisfying tactile experience.
The game is not particularly large, so it's pretty mobile as is, although a smaller travel version is available, so you can take Abalone with you.
The game is one of the best in the last 25 years, having had championship tournaments for dedicated enthusiasts. Give this one a try, and you quickly understand why Abalone has attracted the attention the past 20 years.
Mark Abalone as a game to own, and an absolute 'must have' for lovers of abstracts.
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 22, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada