Thursday, December 11, 2008



It has been said the name of a product is everything. As an example of that running shoes and cars have had entire advertising campaigns go sour when they find a name suddenly has negative connotations in another language.
Now in the case of the board game Shing Shang, it's not that the name has a negative connotation as much as it sounds like some game designed for little kids, when it's actually a pretty darn good abstract strategy game which is sadly all but unknown.
The game was released in 1970, the creation of Henri Sala, and published by the English games company Nathan Wiggins Teape. It is one of a trio of abstracts games created by Sala and published by the same firm, the others being Samurai and Bushi, both better named, but offering less in the way of game play.
Since it was an English firm the game may be better known in Britain, but from what I can tell from some 'Net surfing, this game sort of slipped through the cracks of time.
So let's get past the bad name and look at what is good about the game.
Shing-Shang is played on a 10x8 grid, well it actually has two extended rows at the centre, but you get the general idea. The object of the game is to advance a piece called the dragon onto one of two of your opponent's gate circles. The gates are basically the goal areas, which no piece other than a dragon can land.
Each player controls two dragons which can only move by jumping over other pieces. They can jump over friendly pieces to gain ground, and when jumping an opponent's piece they are captured. As in checkers multiple jumps are possible. When you capture a piece you get to move an additional piece.
The other pieces on the board are lions (four each) and dogs (six each). A lion can move one space each, or by jumping over other lions or dogs while a dog moves two spaces or by jumping other dogs.
The use of the rock-paper-scissors form of movement and capture requires some definite forethought.
Interestingly the pieces are set up in the two corners closest to the player, with two empty spaces between the forces. The sort of automatic flanking array is also rather unusual in terms of the genre, so creates a different feel.
While the box points to placing a dragon in the opponent's gate is the way to win, by default if both your dragons are ever captured, you lose. The two avenues to victory again open strategies; do I look to move across the board to get to the victory gate, or focus on defending to capture your opponent's dragons?
Since a dragon alone is basically frozen, it moves only by jumping, you also have to keep some supporting dogs and lions close by, or your dragon becomes a sitting duck. With only 12 pieces on a side, with 84 squares on the board, piece density is quite thin, so losing even a few pieces can be devastating because of the dual pull to attack and defend.
The pieces for the game are quite 1970s, made simply of molded plastic, although the detail in the art of the dogs, lions and dragons, done in very Chinese-looking motif is quite good. They come in red and black, set against a gold coloured board, so it has a sort of Imperial Palace feel.
Overall, there are enough twists in the mechanics, coupled with solid game looks, that this game deserves more recognition than it has gotten in the past near four decades. If you get a chance grab this one. A very solid abstract.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 1, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

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