For anyone who reads these reviews regularly it is probably pretty obvious that I prefer abstract strategy games above all others.
Of course there is a wide range, in terms of depth and quality, within the realm of abstract strategy games.
Some, such as chess, or Camelot are classic. Some such as Hive and Zertz are modern phenomenons.
Then there is a game such as Pacru, the 2004 creation from Mike Wellman. The game is sadly not widely known, yet it is perhaps as deep, interesting, and satisfying as any abstract game ever made.
Wellman has actually created three games using the same board and pieces. Shacru is created to have been created in 2004 as well, and Azacru in 2005. The three games are closely related. In many ways Shacru is sort of an entry level game to get a feel for the unique movement Wellman uses. Azacru takes it up a level. The rules suggest Shacru for players five and up, Azacru for seven and up.
Then you finally get to Pacru which is the true gem of a game. It is the one which clearly incorporates all the best ideas Wellman had in terms of game play. Pacru is suggested for ages nine and up.
Pacru uses a board consisting of a nine equal quid areas, each with nine spots for playing pieces. The board in nicely made, being typical of better checker, chess and similar pressed cardboard playing surfaces.
The pieces are wood, brightly coloured to easily differentiate on a board which will become filled with pieces as the game progresses.
There are two types of pieces, small markers which are simply cylindrical pieces, and chevrons, which have a nice triangular shape.
The game centers on the interaction between pieces and their position on the board. The board starts with neutral tiles in each position and as the game progresses you replace the tiles with your own colour by moving across borders.
The game starts with each player have their chevron pieces on the board, three in a three or four player game, and four in the two player lay out.
The game does allow for three and four player action, but like most abstract strategy games, I suggest two players are likely best, since that tends to be the strength of the genre, two players going head-to-head in a battle of wits.
The chevrons move in one of three directions, easily identified by the shape of the piece.
Where the depth of the game comes from is the wide variety of special actions which are available to players. There are six of these actions in Pacru, and understanding the impact of each, in combination with what the opponent may be planning makes this game deep and dramatic.
For example, when you move a chevron from one of the nine space grids to another, you can place a marker on an empty spot in the new field.
In the end, there are two conditions. You can eliminate your opponent's chevrons, or you can have reached the target number in terms of placing markers, which in the two player game is 42.
The rule set is a tad overly complicated. It can take a couple of read overs, and then you go, ah that is simpler than it reads, which means that younger players may face a road block if they are not being taught by a veteran player. The easiest way to learn is to play for free at www.pacru.com
This is an absolute classic which deserves more players, and is a guaranteed winner for players taking the plunge.
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 15, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada