Friday, December 21, 2018

Abalone - a perfectly good abstract I have no interest in

I was actually introduced to Abalone  by a  D&D buddy before I got into designer board games. (He was the same guy who would later introduce me to Carcassonne and Puerto Rico so has serious mentor credit) At the time, I thought it was a really neat game. But that opinion hasn’t really held up. Although, it’s really about my tastes than the game’s fault.

Abalone is a perfect information abstract. The board is a hexagonal marble board with special grooves so you can roll the marbles from one hole to another. You can push up the three marbles when you make a move. The goal of the game is to push six of your opponent’s marbles into the gutter on the edge of the board.

The game was apparently inspired by sumo wrestling and it’s really easy to see that. However, it also reminds me of just playing marbles and trying to shoot your opponent’s marbles out of the circle :D

Abalone is a very methodical game with a lot of discrete moves. At the level of play that I got to, there is a strong focus on defensive play, setting up marbles in groups that couldn’t be pushed and waiting for your opponent to make a mistake. And once a mistake was made, games tended to turn into a death spiral for whoever made that mistake.

What that ended up happening was that my plays of Abalone tended to be very slow with very static boards, punctuated by a few exciting moments. 

However, my tastes in abstracts shifted towards ones with very dynamic game play where individual moves could really change the board. Games like Hive or the Gipf Project took my fancy and have held onto it. Plus, I’ve also come to really love abstracts that aren’t perfect information or totally determined, like Ingenious or Qwirkle.

There are still games that are slower and more discrete that I really enjoy. Go is the prime example of that but Go is also an example of a board that is constant developing. There’s no going back in Go. And I also like the Blokus family, which is also an example of a constantly developing board.

None of this makes Abalone a bad game. Intellectually, I think it’s a very good game. It’s just not one that interests me.

And I also know that if I had played Abalone more, I probably would have come to understand and appreciate it more. I also understand that are alternate starting positions that would address some of my issues with Abalone. AND you can play with more than two players which also might have changed the experience for me.

The game that really killed Abalone for me was Oshi. It has similar ideas but a much more wide open board. To be brutally honest, Oshi is a lighter and definitely simpler game. Abalone clearly has more depth. By many measurements, Oshi is the worse game. But I have more fun with it.

I can see how Abalone is a good game. I just don’t have any interest in it.


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