Hive

As board games go, Hive is a bit of an oddity in that it doesn’t have an actual board. What you do have is two sets of tiles (white and black), each marked with an insect (or spider) symbol.

Each player takes it in turn to place a tile until the queen bee is placed (which has to happen by the fourth turn). Once a player has placed their queen bee tile, they can then decide to either place a tile or move a tile that is already on the table. The spider moves exactly three spaces, the grasshopper can jump over any number of tiles but always in a straight line, the queen beetle moves one space at a time but can climb on top of other tiles (thus preventing them from moving), the ant can go pretty much anywhere and the queen bee can only move one space at a time.

The aim of the game is to surround your opponents queen bee.

There are a couple of other rules: the pieces in play must be linked at all times (no piece can be left stranded and you can’t split the hive in two) and when you place a piece after the first turn it must be touching one of your pieces and not touching any of your opponents pieces. And finally, pieces move by sliding — if a piece is surrounded to the extent that it cannot physically slide out of its space, it can’t be moved (this doesn’t apply to grasshoppers and queen beetles).

And that’s it. Yet, from these few simple rules, fascinatingly complex games can emerge as you focus on the layout of the pieces, what can be moved, what can’t and how close to being trapped is your queen bee. And with a ‘board’ that is constantly changing as pieces are added and moved, you really do have to think about how things are moving and which pieces are about to become trapped.

It can be easy to forget about the playing pieces and how much they add to (or distract from) the game. In the case of Hive, though, the pieces are gorgeous. The tiles are quite deep and have a nicely chunky feel to them, giving the whole game a nicely solid feel. The artwork is also very well done with clear and colourful symbols indicating which piece is which.

Uniquely, once you’ve opened the box, you can get rid of it as the game also includes a zippered bag to hold the tiles. This makes it a very portable game and one that can be played pretty much anywhere.

Overall, Hive is a game that is easy to learn but one that sucks you into its mechanics and which can keep you engrossed for hours. There are a number of expansions (providing more insects) that I can certainly see us buying in the future but even without these the base game is incredibly playable on its own.

Game Night

Yesterday evening was spent mainly playing board games (and a card game). Specifically, Quoridor, Hive, Onitama and Sushi Go. I have talked about Quoridor in the past and keep meaning to post something about the other games at some point, but for now all I have is an observation about the type of games I enjoy most: Abstract strategy games.

These are games that, in general, have no — or very little — theme. They are also games for which the rules are tend to be very simple allowing for complexity to emerge from the gameplay itself.

The perfect example of this is probably Go, a game that can be summed up with about four rules and one that remains fiendishly to get to grips with. This is a game I started playing about 18 months ago, and I’m still rubbish.

Games with a strong theme can be fun, but for me the emphasis on the theme can get in the way of the gameplay. These games often come with thick, comprehensive rulebooks that attempt to make the theme come to life but which also require you to keep checking the rules. Complex rules can also give rise to ambiguities and, in the worst case, rules-lawyering.

Abstract games avoid many of these problems. A simple and clear set of rules removes ambiguity and, once understood, never need to be looked at again. This allows me to focus purely on the gameplay and become fully absorbed in the complexity that emerges from the game.

These types of games also tend to either remove or minimise luck as a part of the gameplay. When I lose, I can usually see exactly when and why I lost — if not immediately, then eventually. This gives me a clear route towards thinking about strategies and towards improving my game — whatever game that might be.

I’m not particularly exclusive in my game-playing and will try pretty much anything at least once. But over time, I have developed a clear preference for abstract games that allow me to focus entirely on how to beat (or not lose too badly to) my opponent.