The Gipf Project is one of the most successful, no make it the most successful, game projects ever in terms of creating winning and popular abstract strategy games.
The idea had creator Kris Burm creating six games over a period of years, all with a commonality of 'feel', yet each able to stand on its own as well.
It was somewhat unfortunate that the first game in the series was also named Gipf. At times the game seems to get lost behind the overall project. Or, perhaps because it was the first of the six games, it is seen as somehow lesser in nature. Either way, that does a disservice to Gipf the game, which offers its own unique challenges and interesting twists which make it a fine game.
Gipf, which was created in 1997, is one of those games, which like many abstract strategy games, works because of the simplicity of design. The simplicity makes Gipf easy to learn, but like the best of the genre, not easy to master, as clichéd as that many sound.
Gipf comes with three rule sets, basic, standard and tournament, which is something I must say I disagree with. Multiple rulesets in my mind simply muddy the waters. In this case I really can't fathom why you would start with the basic game since it really is a watered-down rule set, which leaves out the central 'Gipf' piece. Simply go to the standard rules and start there.
As a game, Gipf is about making connections. Each player starts with a pool of 18 pieces, out of which you begin by making three stacks of two, which creates the “Gipf' piece. These pieces start on fixed positions of a board with 37 inter-connected spots.
From there players take turns placing a piece just outside the actual game board area, and then sliding it onto the board. Each spot around the board provides two options in terms of where a piece enters play after the slide.
The goal is to create a line of four pieces of your colour. Once you do that, those pieces are removed from the board going back into your reserve. However, the beauty of the game comes in that each opponent's piece which directly extends your line of four are also removed, not only from the board, but the game.
The goal then becomes one of running your opponent out of pieces to win the game.
The exception to the rule is that you do not have to remove your Gipf piece if it is part of a line of four. That allows you to keep those pieces on the board, which is almost always an advantage. You can of course capture your opponent's Gipf pieces.
If you do chose to remove your own Gipf piece, it reverts to two single pieces in your reserve.
The game plays smoothly, although the better players will of course wish to review and analyze the positions of the pieces. In extreme cases you may need to place a time limit, although reasonably this game is not so incredibly deep that over thinking is a huge problem.
The tournament rules allow players to create as many Gipf as they want, instead of the standard three. And they are entered onto the board like any other pieces, rather than starting on set spots. Both add a level of strategy that makes sense at a tournament level.
Like all games in the Gipf Project, the boards are nice, the pieces well made, with a nice tactile feel, and the rulebook is thorough, with good illustration, and several languages.
The game stores in a nice moderate size box standard to the series, which makes the collection look good on the shelf too.
The first of the series, but certainly not one to be overlooked. Very well done on all levels.
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 17, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada