On Saturday, FedEx came to our house and delivered Yinsh, the latest game in The Gipf Project, a series of great board games (with barely pronounceable names) from Kris Burm. The games relate to each other in a number of ways. The most obvious relationship is that all of the games are played on hexagonal game boards.
Gipf is the first game in the series. You play Gipf by sliding pieces onto the board from the edge, possibly "pushing" other pieces out of the way to make room. You capture your opponents pieces by forming rows of four pieces of the same color. When your opponent runs out of pieces to add to the board, you win.
I've played a few games of Gipf. It's fun, and looks as if you'd have to play many games to learn good strategy and tactics.
In Tamsk, the second game in the series, the pieces are three-minute timers. You play by moving one of your pieces to a neighboring location. Every time you move a piece, you play a ring onto your piece's new location. Each location can hold a small number of rings, and when a location fills with rings, it becomes unplayable. Eventually, neither player is able to move. The winner is the player who has played the most rings.
Tamsk is the game I've played the least. I enjoyed the first few games, but I never learned how to think ahead, and lost interest after a while. Perhaps a few more games would help.
Zertz, the third game, was my introduction to The Gipf Project. I found it at a Barnes and Noble book store in 2000. The description on the package sounded like no game I'd ever heard of: "The board gets smaller with every move."
I bought the game and immediately loved it! The board is made of 37 circular pieces arranged in a hexagon. You play by either moving a black, white, or grey marble onto the board and removing a piece of the board, or by jumping a marble over a neighboring marble. You capture marbles by jumping. You win by capturing a certain number of marbles of certain colors.
Several interesting features of this game become apparent after just a few games. First, you capture a marble by force only by sacrificing a marble to your opponent. Second, there are some simple patterns to watch out for. If you can arrange marbles and board pieces in certain ways, you can give your opponent a less valuable marble in order to capture a more valuable one.
You can play many games focusing on those few ideas. Eventually, you see a wonderfully frightening possibility: It is sometimes possible, early in the game, to create a situation in which you can sacrifice marble after marble after marble, and end up winning the game. I've seen other people do this. I don't know how to do it yet.
I've played lots of games of Zertz. Zertz was so much fun that I bought the first two games in the series, and eagerly anticipated the release of each later game.
The fourth game in The Gipf Project is Dvonn. The Dvonn board is an elongated hexagon. You play by moving a stack of pieces that you own — that is, a stack that has your color on the top — on top of another stack. How far you move a stack depends on the height of the stack. If a stack has one piece, you must move it onto a stack that adjacent to it (that is, one space away); if a stack has two pieces, you must move it onto a stack that is two spaces away; and so on. The game ends when neither player is able to move. The players count the number of pieces in the stacks they own, and the player with the most pieces wins.
So far, Dvonn is my favorite game in the series, for a few reasons. First, the rules are simpler than the rules of Gipf or Yinsh. Second, it's possible after only a few games to glimpse some fairly obvious ideas about strategy and tactics, and yet there are enough subtleties to keep the play interesting for many games.
Yinsh is the sixth game in the series (though the fifth game hasn't yet been released). Players start with five rings — five black rings or five white rings. Players share a large pool of markers that are black on one side and white on the other. To play, you place a marker, with your color facing up, into one of your rings, then move the ring. If you move the ring over existing markers, you flip the markers over, exposing the opposite color. When you create a row of five markers of the same color, you remove the markers, then remove one of your rings. You win by removing three of your five rings.
I've played only a few games of Yinsh. It's lots of fun. I've yet to figure out how to think ahead.
In addition to being played on hexagonal boards, the games have other relationships. For example in Tamsk, Zertz, and Dvonn — three games "near" each other in the series — the playing area becomes smaller over the course of the game. In Gipf and Yinsh — also "near" each other if you consider the series to form a ring — you make progress by forming rows of pieces. There may be other links that I haven't noticed from one game to another.
Another intriguing relationship comes from Kris Burm's deliberate linking of games through something called "potentials." Potentials are special pieces that affect the play of Gipf by giving Gipf pieces special abilities related to the other games. For example, a "Zertz potential" gives a Gipf piece the ability to jump over neighboring pieces, similar to the way marbles jump over neighboring marbles in Zertz. A "Dvonn potential" gives a Gipf piece the ability to jump onto another piece, similar to the way, in Dvonn, stacks move onto other stacks. For more information about potentials, see "Potentials" link on the Gipf Project page.
One other nice feature about the games in The Gipf Project: the pieces are beautiful, and they feel very nice to hold. How often have you heard anyone say that about a game?