Intense, One-on-One (usually) Competition
Most abstract strategy games are 2-player games that present a delicious one-on-one gaming session that pits your wits, strategies, reactions, and various other abilities exclusively against those of your opponent. I love being swallowed up in the abstract gaming world as I feel the complete lack of theme helps me concentrate fully on the game mechanics, which to me are the pure essence of any game. The most wonderful theme, the highest quality components, the most interesting scoring or game end, will not win me over if the mechanics are not interesting.
What I mean by mechanics is how you play the game, or what you do on your turn. Are the mechanics interesting, challenging, and meaningful/with meaningful decisions? This is what attracts me to abstracts as once you move your first piece, you are neck-deep in the game.
Simple Rules, Interesting and Challenging Strategy
Most abstracts have very simple rules that encompass interesting and challenging strategies. I like that you don’t have to remember too many rules and can focus completely on your strategy and second-guessing your opponents—in order to thwart them. Because most have simple rules, it does not create a lot of downtime as you can pretty quickly scan your opponent’s possible moves/responses to your possible moves. And even in games that have more downtime, you don’t notice it because you are engaged 100% of the time in what is happening on the board.
I really enjoy this silent back-and-forth and/or mental gymnastics because it presents a fun challenge to me to select the best move possible each turn. Each turn is important and meaningful, and affects the development and outcome of the game.
Changing/Developing Game Board
Most abstracts have a developing or changing game board and I also enjoy watching the board develop—grow or shrink, depending on the title—throughout the game. It might be hard to fathom how a few pawns, shapes, or cubes on a grid or board can encompass such a wonderful gaming experience, but they do—if the game is good, obviously. From the moment the first pieces are placed or removed from the board, the game begins to change, develop, and mature, and continues to do so on every turn. This dynamic nature of abstracts makes them more interesting to me and more challenging.
The Old Cliché…
Many abstracts illustrate that old cliché, One minute to learn, a lifetime to master, which makes it an excellent game to play with almost all ages, intellects, and gaming abilities. It also adds lots of replayability because no two games are exactly the same. After a game is over I almost always want to play again immediately in order to try out something I hadn’t thought of or fix things that I missed or messed up. I always think a lot about my games and abstracts provide a lot of chances for reflection on your gaming moves, strategies, successes, and errors. My daughter loves abstracts and this came about without any prodding on my part. I guess she inherited it, because I really like these games and am thankful that there are so many good, varied, and interesting abstract games available.
I thought I’d just list the abstracts that I currently enjoy: Hive, YINSH, ZÈRTZ, Micropul, Twin Win, and Hey, That's My Fish!. I am undecided on two of my newest titles because I have only played them once and need to get a fuller picture of whether I like the games or not: Qwirkle Cubes and GIPF.
These are the abstracts that I am most interested in trying: Tasso, Volcano, TZAAR, TAMSK, Way of the Dragon, Coffee, Hippos & Crocodiles, Jin Li, and Mutton.
Games I’m not into include Chess, Go, and any other abstracts that require a huge level of commitment and mastery in order to be competitive. Right now in my life, I just don’t have the time and energy to commit to those type of lifestyle games. I don’t dislike them, I just would rather play something else that I at least have a fair shot of playing well.
I know that many gamers would not enjoy or try an abstract if their life depended on it. That’s fine, as not everyone can have the same interests or tastes. I don’t like shooting games and most video games. So my questions to you are: What abstracts do you love? Why do you think you like the genre? What is it about abstracts that intrigue you or repel you?
My next Blog post will explore The Hype Machine as it relates to BGG, games, and game recommendations.