When a boardgame has the tag line 'The New Ancient Game' on the box it accomplishes two things, at least in my case; it draws my attention, and sets a very high bar for itself.
When it comes to abstract strategy games many of the best have been around for decades, if not centuries; games such as Go, chess, Camelot and Shogi.
The tag line on ZoxSo suggests it wants to be thought of in terms similar to the aforementioned classics.
That is a pretty 'heady' expectation. Those games have stood the test of time, and in all likelihood will be played a 100-years in the future.
Will anyone but maybe my descendents know about ZoxSo, if this game warrants being placed in my legacy trunk, a collection of games I am hoping will stay in the family long after I am gone?
Well that is a tough question to answer for a game released only in 2009, and from a smaller publisher at that.
Indie released games take some time to grow an audience. Arimaa is managing to attract growing interest, and yet as fantastic as that game is, it is far from being chess yet in terms of players and interest.
ZoxSo has a long way to go indeed to be a true hit.
That all said, there are many elements designer David Weinstock has put into ZoxSo which remind of older games.
There are bits of checkers and yes chess here. You hear that statement often about new abstract strategy games, but in this case they are warranted. For example the Ma piece actually moves as a knight, so the comparison is obvious.
So let's start with the components. The board is heavy, folding cardboard. In time I'd expect the folds may crack, but still solid enough. A rollable board would be a step up.
The pieces remind of poker chips. They are plastic with stickers on each side. Again quite functional, although if the game catches on a metal engraved set would be amazing.
Each player has 10-disks, four Ma, five Dao and one Xing. Each piece has a silver (Zox) side, and a colour (So) one.
The board too is divided into points called Pearls and then Stones. There is a further division with an inner and outer area.
Only Zox pieces are allowed on Pearls, and move one Pearl to the next, a single space at a time. A Zox piece cannot move, or capture across the 'wall' dividing the inner and outer areas.
The game starts with players taking turns placing the Zox pieces anywhere on pearls outside the 'wall'.
Then the real game begins, with capture by replacement.
When flipping a piece up to the Stone, the So side becomes active. As stated the Ma moves as a chess knight on the Stones, the Dao as rook, and the Xing as a one-space rook. So pieces can move across the entire board ignoring the 'wall'.
The goal of the game is to get your Xing to the centre stone, or to capture the opponent's Xing to win.
There are a couple of other rules, including a rather devious chain movement and capture mechanism. From the ruleset, "On the Pearls, a group of at least two adjacent pieces of the same colour (dark or light) form a “Zox-chain”. On any given turn, one piece in a Zox-chain may make a legal move or capture for another piece in that chain, in its stead. Such ‘chain movement” is legal only for pieces that occupy Pearls."
There is a lot going on here in terms of movement options, although the number of options make defence a challenge. As a result the game plays fast, under half an hour. That is good that multiple games can be achieved at a sitting, but may limit exploration of the diverse game play offered by ZoxSo. Some of the creative play options mean quick ends to game, which can be a bit under-satisfying as a slower game would create more time to truly develop the rich options the ruleset offers.
Still this is a game worth delving into and one which with repeated game play may grow to be a definite keeper among modern abstracts at least.
Check it out at www.mindspanlabs.com
-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper September 7, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada