A Selection of Abstracts

I enjoy abstract strategy games. In general, this term refers to the theme-less, dry strategy one finds in a selection of (generally 2 player) perfect information games. Victory in them tends to come down to sheer thought-power or experience (as opposed to luck). Whist it’s not always my cup of tea, like any kind of game, I think it has it’s time and place.

However, one problem with abstracts is the fact that there are hundreds of them, and they are all very deep, elegant, etc. So what really tends to distinguish them is their “feel”, style, or possibly (and ironically) theme. In this article, I’ll include a couple of my favourites.

Lines of Action

This is a recent gem I found in Sid Sackson’s “Gamut of Games”. It can be played with a standard draughts set, but offers more choices, and I’ve also found it to be a quicker game.

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But apart from comparing it to Draughts, what I find so fascinating about this game is that although you can capture pieces, it’s not always beneficial to you, and this can easily lose you the game. The game also has an innovative movement mechanism, so that the way a piece can move depends on it’s location relative to the other pieces. Fascinating!

Go

It didn’t take me long to get back to Go, did it? This game is the most elegant of abstracts (and therefore a better archetype than games like chess for the genre). The rules can essentially be boiled down to:

  • Take turns putting stones on the board
  • If you surround a group, you kill it
  • The one with the most territory at the end wins

As with many abstracts with so few rules, one disadvantage of go is that you simply don’t understand what’s going on until you’ve “lost your first 100 games” (humbling, to say the least) However, once you have done so, the game really starts to become clear.

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I find in go, unlike in many other games, the game is so wide, and the conceptual layering so deep, that it feels more like a conversation then anything. I mean sure, all games really demonstrate this to a degree, but I never found it as clear in other games.

Hive

This is a game about bugs. Each player has a collection of hexagonal insects all connected in a “hive”. Players take turns moving pieces in the hive until one player has surrounded his opponent’s queen bee. Each piece has it’s own way of moving, and there are 8 types of pieces available. The cool thing about this game is that the pieces are also the board.

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Despite the fact that it looks completely different, this game feels more like Chess than any other abstract. The pieces all have a specific way of moving, and one has to to kill the opponent’s leader to win. The game has a lot of tactics, like pins, hops and beetle-pins (which feel similar to chess’s pin, skewer, fork etc.).

I must admit that like, like chess, I do find this one a bit less elegant (and therefore less intriguing) but this clunkiness does give the game more theme, if not “style”.

ERGO

This is a really obscure abstract I found in a charity shop (thrift store) a few years ago. It’s my favourite go-muku (5-in-a-row) variation, though I think that’s mainly down to the aesthetics.

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The basic principles are the same as most go-muku variants: Control the center, watch out for 3’s 1-hole fours, double 3’s etc. but with the addition of piece movement, and the lovely components, I think it really brings out the best in this type of game.

Abalone

Lastly, I would like to say something about Abalone. This game has the elegance of games like Go and Lines of Action, but the Aesthetics of Ergo (ergo: really nice). Players take turns pushing marbles around a board, trying to force their opponents forces off.

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This game has a different feel than most abstracts, but it reminds me most of Othello (or Reversi). In abalone, the back-and-forth of the game is really there, along with the unintuitive thought-process. This game does have a stalemate problem. However, I’m told the Belgian Daisy set up can fix this, and I love variants!

Conclusion

I hope my mini-descriptions aren’t too concise, but I didn’t want to overwhelm people with rules, but rather explain the feel of the games. I have played a lot more abstracts that these four, but they are some of my favourites. Thanks for reading!

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