When Shobu arrived and I opened the box I was immediately taken by the aesthetics of this beauty designed by Manolis Vranas and Jamie Sajdak.
The components really make this game appealing out of box before even looking at the ruleset.
There are four etched wood game boards, two for each player. Nothing is better than real wood for game boards, especially abstract strategy game boards.
A player gets one dark and one light board on their side which are considered your home boards.
There is a cotton dividing rope which basically divides the play area to define which side is which players. It is absolutely unnecessary but adds to the overall medieval Japanese feel to this game, which of course starts with its name.
The pieces here, 16 for each player, are black and white polished river stones, which is just plain awesome.
Game play in terms of rules is super simple.
On your turn, first move one of your stones up to two spaces in any direction, including diagonally. The move has to be made on one of the two home boards, (those on your side of the rope). The move cannot jump, nor push a stone of either player’s.
You must then match that move with another of your stones on the opposite color board – and this time you may push an opponent’s stone. If you can push that stone off the board’s edge, so much the better since the goal is to remove the four opponent’s stones from any one board.
The game’s website suggests the game is “instantly familiar, yet wholly unique unto its own, Shobu feels like a game that has stood the test of time. The rules are amazingly simple and can be learned in moments, yet halfway through your first game, you realize the game has a depth and spatial challenge similar to 3-D chess.”
Having not played 3D chess I won’t comment on the comparison but as simple as the rules are there is a ‘thinky’ aspect to Shobu. It would be easy for a game to bog down with analysis paralysis for some players, so a clock might be a good idea for some.
This one is a winner. Certainly in contention as my selection as best new abstract strategy game of 2019, although there is nearly half a year to go too.
Check it out at www.smirkandlaughter.com
Thanks to fellow gamers Trevor Lyons and Adam Daniels for their help in running through this game for review