There have been some amazing games developed in recent years, especially in terms of abstract strategy games, a genre that has enjoyed something of a Renaissance in recent years.
One of the games that has fueled that Renaissance is Cannon, a game designed by David Whitcher, and released in 2003 by PyroMyth Games.
The game succeeds based on two main precepts in terms of game design. To start with the game has an elegant simplicity, one which really reminds of games from an early generation.
There are basically only two moves in the game that of a soldier, and of a cannon.
A soldier can move forward one space, either straight ahead, or diagonally. It may capture the same way, as well as one space either right or left.
The cannon is a formation of three soldiers in a straight line. The cannon moves ahead, or back one space as a unit. As might be expected with a cannon, it captures at a distance. It does not move, but can capture a single soldier either two, or three spaces in front of it, as long as no other piece is immediately in front of the cannon.
That's it is terms of movement. The game has a simplicity of move that has me likening it to checkers.
The game is played on a 9X9 board, with the pieces placed on the lines, akin to XiangQi (Chinese Chess) a game which has something of a common theme with cannon in as much as the cannon pieces are marked with Chinese symbols.
At the start of the game each player in turn places a village piece along the back line on his side. The goal of the game is to eliminate the opponent's village. Since the village can start on any of seven starting points, a single strategy will not work in this game, since the goal must be attacked from different angles, depending on where the village is.
Each player also starts with 15 soldiers, aligned as five cannons on alternating lines with their opponents pieces.
From there it's a straight forward battle. Since cannons attack at range, it takes only a couple of moves before combat begins. The game sees casualties on both sides in rapid succession, as might be expected if cannons were blasting away at one another.
While the cannon formations are the power of the game, it often comes down to a lone soldier sneaking through the carnage to capture the opponent's village.
With it's Oriental theme, and somewhat checkers like movement, the game has the 'feel' of a game far more ancient than Cannon is. You might well think it's a game created in Japan, at the time of chess, or checkers, by the way the game plays, and that's a good thing.
If there is one drawback, the wooden board and pieces were a disappointment. The board is basically plywood, and while functional, could have been made of nice wood.
Still the board is far superior to the pieces that are made of a wood that has the feel of balsa. There is no weight at all, and the cut job on many was extremely rough. In trying to trim, the cheap wood splintered chunks off easily.
It didn't help that on a couple of pieces the Oriental symbol was badly off centre either.
Recognizing Cannon was produced by a small, designer-led company, the pieces were still a letdown.
There is a plastic version, but from pictures it lacks the vintage look of the wood one.
I do believe the game will soon be produced by another company, and hopefully they will boost production values.
While the pieces are far from perfect, game play is so compelling, the game still comes highly recommended. If a better version is produced, then it will be a total classic.
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 3, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada