Thursday, December 11, 2008

Review -- SALTA


At the turn of the century, well the 20th century, Salta was just hitting the market, and for a time it proved a popular new boardgame, especially in Germany.
Salta was invented in 1899 by the German composer Conrad Büttgenbach, and within a couple years the game had an international following around Europe.
Research into the game on the Internet showed that Salta gained rapid acceptance in the early 1900s. The success might be attributed to a gold medal at the World Trade Fair in Paris in 1900. Following the award the German Emperor, Wilhelm II, ordered a Salta set with pieces adorned with diamonds, emeralds and rubies. Salta magazines were begun in Germany and Sweden, and several books described the game. The Vie Illustrée of Paris and the London Daily Express both offered their readers 12,000 Goldmark for solving some difficult Salta problems.
Salta clubs were organized all over Germany and in several other European countries.
An international tournament was held in Monaco, with a first prize of 20,000 Swiss Francs.
The popularity was short-lived, with the game declining in play significantly after World War I.
However, a near century later this game is still one worth looking into.
As a game Salta might be described as a checker variant, but one with a decidedly different approach in that pieces are not captured. As a result it has often been termed 'The Humanistic Game'.
Salta is a two player game of strategy played on a board with 100 squares.
Each player has 15 pieces: five suns, five moons and five stars numbered from one to five. Play is conducted on black squares only, as in checkers, with the pieces allowed to move one square diagonally in any direction to a vacant square.
One must jump over an opponent's piece if it occupies a square diagonally in front of one's own piece and the square immediately behind the opponent's piece is vacant. Unlike checkers a piece leaped over is not captured or removed from the board. Players may jump only one piece per turn, in a forward direction only, and are not permitted to leap over their own pieces.
The object of the game is to be the first player to reach the goal position, which is to shift your pieces ahead seven rows, in other words to move your pieces across the board to occupy a mirror position to how they started out.
The game strategy comes down to forcing your opponent to make jumps which move his pieces away from their required end positions.
As you might expect with 30 games pieces on the board at all time, the Centre play can be quite crowded, and it takes some time to get your head around the idea of a game where piece capture is not a game element.
As the game progresses, and pieces clear the centre board where interaction with the opponent's piece are the norm, the game evolves into something of a race to the finish. In this phase the key strategy is efficient piece movement to get to the end position required for the different pieces. If too much backtracking is required to achieve the final position a game can easily be lost.
While finding an actual commercial version of this game is a major task, if you have a 10X10 board from another game, such as Omega Chess, it is quite easy to make a proxy of Salta, and the complete rules can be found via an Internet search. It will take a bit of effort, but the unique game mechanics and vintage feel of this century old classic is certainly worth the work to bring it to gaming life.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 16, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

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