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.

Quoridor

One game that was brought out quite frequently over the summer was Quoridor. A large part of this is that, with nice solidly wooden pieces on a nice solid wooden board, there is no risk of anything blowing away while we wait for the barbecue. But the game itself is also very playable indeed.

The rules are simple. The game is played on an 9×9 grid and the object is to get your pawn from one side of the board to the other. On each turn you can either move your pawn or place a wall to hinder your opponent, but not completely block access to the opposite side. And that’s it.

As with the best of abstract games, a very simple set of rules allows for a great deal of depth in the actual play. In the case of Quoridor, the trick is to place walls to ensure that your opponent has to follow the longest path possible while also preventing them from lengthening your path too much (that rule about not completely blocking access to the other side — it can lead to all sorts of mazes).

It’s a quick game to play as well, with each game taking no more than 20 minutes to play. Given that the boys are 7 and 10, this shortness ensures that neither boredom nor frustration have any time to set in. On the downside, it means that we haven’t (yet) needed to explore the four-player version.

But we will.