Tom had been on me for years to give Quoridor a try and I finally did. I’m really surprised it’s apparently not some classic game from antiquity. The rules are so simple and yet the strategic complexity is so high.
You and your opponent(s) are each a single pawn on a 9×9 grid, starting from opposing edges. Your objective is simply to get to the other side. Each turn you can move one cell in a cardinal direction or place one of a limited number of walls two spaces long. Walls can never be placed to completely cut someone off from their goal edge. If another pawn is adjacent you can hop over them. That’s pretty much literally it.
But within that short list of rules is a ton of strategy and tension. A reflection of how good it is, Quoridor is completely abstract but for me strongly evokes a classic duel. It’s gunfighters sidestepping in the circle at Sad Hill Cemetery, wary of committing but also of being slow on the draw—felt in the cautious moves to the center or sides. It’s wuxia masters facing off in a courtyard, fighting an entire battle solely in their minds—felt in the mental attacks and blocks made in placing walls all around the board as the pawns sit idle and stare at each other.
Certainly not everybody’s kind of game, in large part because of that tension. Nor is it necessarily a game to play all the time forever, not least due to the abstraction. But Quoridor is a masterpiece of elegant game design.
Another new-to-me boardgame I played recently: Iwari.
Iwari is an abstract area control game by the designer of Coloretto, a longtime family fave, and you can feel echos of that in the design. A couple mechanics can be left out for initial games, making the whole thing quick to explain, just a couple minutes. There’s a map with large colored regions and a matching deck of color cards. You play cards to put tents or totems—your pieces—down on those regions. Halfway through there’s scoring based on how many tents you have in each region. At the end there’s another scoring based on that plus contiguous clusters of tents as well as majority control of totems in pairs of connected territories. That’s roughly it.
Even using just those baseline mechanics though it’s very good. There’s a lot of strategy to consider, like playing for tents or clusters or totems, and where. Lots of tactics too. E.g., the number of totems that can be put on a region is bound by the greatest number of one player’s tents. So, in one game, I had 3 tents in a region with space for 6, and two totems I wanted to put down more tents, but if I did that I’d expose myself to losing totem majority. There’s a lot of decision making like that.
There are some neat elements too, like mountains that get randomly placed on some connected territories so that the board’s not identical every game.
I’d say running time for unfamiliar players is something like an hour to 90 minutes. Setup is fast. Scoring takes some effort, but it’s only done twice, and there are some clever production elements to keep it manageable. E.g., territory connections are numbered, so you can resolve them in an explicit sequence.
I recommend Iwari for anybody but the most casual of gamers.
Note that there is a deluxe version that contains additional maps and optional game mechanics; I have no idea of the price or value difference but it sounds interesting.
I finally got a chance to play Root (the core game, no expansions). It lives up to the hype, it’s a stunning work of game design combined with excellent production.
If it were just the cats and birds it would be an impressively balanced asymmetric wargame. But the Woodland Alliance takes it to another level, and then the Vagabond throws it off the charts. Three things that surprised me:
Root has a reputation for having a deep strategic learning curve until you get a handle on what each faction’s goals are. So in a group of four with two people having played a couple times before, I expected us newcomers to get crushed. But it ended up a close game with only a ~6 point spread and the winner having come from trailing behind until the very end.
The rules are surprisingly short and comprehensible, it’s all pretty elegant and straightforward. Definitely not casual, but the mechanical complexity is modest compared to many many other games.
It plays fairly fast. With four players I did not feel the interval between turns to be onerous at all, I had just enough time to figure out my next steps. And even with two new players and another playing a new-to-them faction we were done well within 2.5 hours.