Thursday, October 10, 2019

Is SHOBU a newborn classic?

While I was at RinCon 2019, I passed by a table that had a bunch of boards on it that were clearly for an abstract. I asked some questions, got a sample game and found myself a substitute for the tournament when someone else had to drop out. I lost but I had a great time.

SHOBU is a two-player, perfect information, 100% determinist abstract, just to get that part out of the way. The game consists of four 4x4 boards, two dark and two light. In the official version, they are made out of wood and it comes with a thick rope so you can separate them into a light-dark pair for each player. On each board, you place four stones for each player on either side.

And, yes, it would be laughingly easy to make your own copy. But I’d still like to get a legit copy eventually. Partially because it is nice but also because I’d like to see more games like this out there and supporting designers and companies is how you see that happen.

Every turn has two steps. A passive move, where you move a stone on one of the two boards closest to you one to two spaces in any straight line. Then an aggressive move, where you move a stone the exact same direction and number of spaces on a board of the opposite color. And with the aggressive move, you can push an enemy stone off the board. 

Push all the enemy stones off of any one of the four boards and you win.

SHOBU is a knife fight in four separate phone booths and that’s part of what makes it so good. While smaller boards theoretically limit the number of moves and make a game solve-able, it also means that you’re in direct conflict by your second move.

And I freely admit that I generally prefer abstracts that are more about each move being a big, board changing move than a whole bunch of small, discrete moves. (Go is amazing but I also don’t get the chance to play Go very much anymore) SHOBU definitely has that.

At the same time, with four boards to keep track of and the restrictions on how you make your moves, SHOBU definitely has layers of consideration to out into each move. The game is definitely not impossible or even terribly hard to read but you have to think about it differently than you do in so many games.

It’s a definite example of a game where your first game will take five minutes and your tenth game will take an hour. But it will be an hour that will make you think and stimulate the little gray cells. Okay, maybe a half hour but the game steadily got deeper the more I played and I know there’s plenty more to explore.

SHOBU combines several ideas I’ve seen before and, in principle, is a simple game. But it uses those ideas to create something new (to me at least) and really makes me think. I don’t _know_ that it’s a newborn classic. BUT, it could be!

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