If you are a fan of abstract strategy games, and that is of course my favoured boardgames genre, then you probably recognize that we are in a Renaissance era in terms of development right now.
While abstracts, such as chess, Shogi, Go, Othello and Camelot are lasting classics, for much of the 1900s developers didn't exactly create a bunch of notable abstracts. In fact, truly great abstracts between 1900 and 1999 were a rather scarey thing.
The last decade though that has changed with games such as Hive, Arimaa, and Navia Drapt coming along to impress.
Among the leaders of the resurgence of abstract is Kris Burm, a game designer who in terms of abstract strategy games at least, has to be considered a genius. Burm is of course the man behind the Gipf series of games, six abstracts released over the last decade, or so, and each one becoming an instant classic. This is a set of games that should still be popular a century from now, as long as they manage to keep the games in print so new gamers can easily access them. As a side note, that is the Achilles Heel of most game's in terms of longevity. They go out-of-print, making it difficult to sustain growth because new players can't easily buy them. As an example, I think of Terrace, an abstract gem, which is no longer in print.
But, I digress.
This is a week to sing the praises of one of Burma's great Gipf series games; Yinsh, released in 2003.
Let's start with a look at the components. There are basally pieces which remind of checkers. They are black on one side, and white on the other, and like in Othello, the pieces will get flipped back and forth throughout the game.
Each player also has five rings, which are crucial to game play.
All the pieces are in good quality plastic, and the folding pressed cardboard game board, while not particularly exciting in terms of graphics, or decoration, is very functional.
It all stores in a nice sized box identical to others in the Gipf series, which makes for an appealing collection on a shelf.
The rules of the game are quick to grasp too, with a rule book which is well laid out, detailed, and in multiple languages.
The game has elements of Othello, in the flipping of pieces, and several five-in-a-row games, since that is the short-term goal of the game. As a player you need to get five-in-a-row of your colour, which allows you to remove one of your rings from the board. Be the first to remove three rings and you win.
The board starts empty, and players take turns placing their five rings.
The rings are then moved on a turn. You place a marker where the ring is, and then move it in a straight line to a vacant spot on the board. In the move you can jump over other pieces (no rings) on the board, but then stop in the next vacant spot. The pieces jumped are flipped, which of course can help you establish a needed five-in-a-row, or it can help thwart the opponent's plans.
The game gets more interesting in the sense that as you remove rings, which are the key to victory, it also lessens the options you have, since only rings move. Pieces, once placed stay in the same spot throughout the game, but they can be flipped repeatedly.
What Burm has done is take some classic game features, think again of Othello and various five-in-a-row games, and added some innovative twists with the movement of rings, and the diminishing resource base on the way to victory to create a game which transcends the aforementioned root games.
This is a definite must for lovers of soon to be classic, two-player abstract game.
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Aug. 19, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada