Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A knife fight in a phone booth that keeps shrinking

I really like Branches and Twigs and Thorns more than I should. It's one of the slightly obscure Looney Pyramid games. By slightly obscure, I mean it isn't one of the big ones like Volcano or Treehouse or Zendo but it's generally agreed that it doesn't stink.

Admittedly, one of the things that is a blow against Branches and Twigs and Thorns is that it was originally billed as the pyramid version of Go and that is a comparison that it just can't live up to. Go is a colossal game in so many ways. Branches and Twigs and Thorns is a quick little abstract that has only sixteen spaces on the board per player.

So let's not compare it to Go. Let's call Branches and Twigs and Thorns a quick little abstract that has a bit of a knife fight in a phone booth going on. And when you look at it from that angle, it looks a whole lot better.

Branches and Twigs and Thorns is a two or four player game that uses either a checkerboard or half a checkerboard, depending on the number of players. Depending on the number of players, the game begins with placing one or two roots and one or two nulls. After that, players take turns placing one of their fifteen pyramids in open spaces.

Branches and Twigs and Thorns takes advantage of the fact that the pyramids are pyramids by requiring you to leave them on their side so that they're always pointing. They must always be pointing to either a root or another pyramid. They can never point to a null.

If you are pointing at a root or one of your own pyramids, everything is fine. However, when you point at another player’s pyramids, they gain points equal to the size of your pyramid and you lose points equal to the size of their pyramid. And the board is so cramped and claustrophobic that someone is eventually going to have to break down and point at someone else's pyramid.

The game ends when you fill the board, which is going to use up all the pyramids as well, by the way. At that point, whoever has the most points is the winner!

Most of my games of Branches and Twigs and Thorns have been two player. Those games have felt like both players were trying to get the other player in a Go ladder.

I once described Branches and Twigs and Thorns as having one or two major decisions per game. I was wrong about that. Branches and Twigs and Thorns is a game that has one or two confrontations. All of your decisions are working up to that confrontation. It's not just a knife fight in a phone booth. It's all about being the one who is able to stab the other guy.

Branches and Twigs and Thorns isn’t a life changing, amazing abstract. However, I do like how it’s a fast, little dynamic game, every move quickly pushing you towards that inevitable confrontation.

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