Friday August 22, 2014

Abstract offers some nice play depth

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It amazes me that when it comes to abstract strategy games that there are still new ideas which leads to new games.

It's not a case where I think old games such as chess, Go, Camelot and checkers are the only game mechanics, or that they are the ultimate design. Those games obviously have something special going for them, having remained popular for decades, and in some cases centuries.

But the reality is, there are actually hundreds of abstract strategy games out there, and amongst all those options, you might expect most ideas have already been explored.

Then along comes a game designer like Frank Zazanis who creates a game like Journey Stones.

Zazanis self-published the game through General Nonsense Games, and for a 'selfie' it is actually well-produced.

In creating Journey Stones Zazanis has given it a theme, suggesting it is a game like those which might have been played on a Viking ship in the days of old.

As a fan of all things Viking I will admit the theme, pasted on as it was in as much as it could be Aztec, or Mongols just as easily.

Journey Stones is a two player strategy game, with the aforementioned Viking theme overlaid for a bit of colour. The game is one where players attempt to capture seven stones from their opponent.

In general terms Journey Stones will remind players of checkers, although there are a few added move options here.

The game designer said the game was created out of a love of chess.

"I was inspired by my love for chess and I wanted to create a game that allowed the player to build the kind of pieces they wanted to use," said Zazanis. "I also wanted to pay homage to my wife as she has been so supportive of my development as a designer over the past couple of years, and she loves norse runes."

As such Zazanis said he started the design process with the theme at the forefront.

"Theme came first on this game," he said. "I chose the journey stone as my wife loves the word and rune for journey, I chose the warrior as the second piece because that is my personal favorite rune being a former combat arms trained US soldier.

"Normally in my designs theme is secondary to mechanics."

There are two types of pieces in the game.

The Warrior Stone moves and captures vertically and horizontally (like a rook in chess). Each stone moves one space at a time when a single piece.

The Journey Stone moves and captures diagonally (like a bishop in chess). Each stone moves one space at a time when a single piece.

Capture is by replacement. A player moves a stone, warrior or journey, to a space the enemy stone is on, then removes the enemy piece from the arena. If one player captures seven total enemy stones they declare Hurlov (victory).

The depth of the game comes from the ability to stack pieces.

Stacking is the ability to place one of your pieces atop another of your pieces. This makes a new piece that moves as the top piece dictates and may move up to the amount of pieces in the stack. The added movement being the advantage of creating a stack.

A Stack may not be any higher than four pieces.

On the negative side, stacked pieces may not be unstacked and if captured is worth the number of pieces in the stack; a three piece stack is three points when it is captured.

Zazanis said it took some 18-months to get the game designed to its final incarnation.

"There were many additional rules and pieces removed from the game to make it what it now is," he noted.

Being able to streamline a game can actually be a major challenge for a designer.

"My greatest challenge in designing games in general is cutting out mechanics and rules that don't fit the game," said Zazanis. "I personally love complex games but I design for families with gamers instead of strictly gamers."

In the case of Journey Stones Zazanis said he finds the basic design he achieved gratifying.

"I am proudest of the games what I call 'simplistic deception'," he said. "Many folks I have taught the game to look at it like, 'oh that seems too easy', until about five moves into their first game. That is when you see that "ahh ha, now I get it' moment on their face."

Zazanis has hit it on the head here in the sense on the surface Journey Stones can look over simplistic, but the risk/reward aspect of stacking, creates some difficult in-game decisions. A stack can look like a powerful tool on one turn, and be the piece lost to lose the game a couple of moves later.

Certainly Journey Stones is on the lighter side of the abstract strategy game spectrum, but there is still enough to enjoy and explore to make it a game to own.

Check out the game at

If anyone is interested in any of these games feel free to contact



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