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Game Preview: LYNGK, or Bringing Everything Together for Success

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game: LYNGK
I first played Kris Burm's games in 2000 during the Mensa Mind Games in Atlanta, Georgia. My parents lived in the area, so I visited them to put in filial face-time (and save money) and traveled to the event each day with my brother, who is also a gamer.

On one of the mornings we ran through a bunch of two-player games together, with ZÈRTZ being the highlight of the pack (and of the entire event), while TAMSK was a strong second and the game I grabbed during the giveaway following the competition (as all copies of ZÈRTZ had already been claimed). I found GIPF shortly afterward, then DVONN was released in 2001, and that was when I bought my official membership in the Kris Burm fanclub.

Burm released a few more designs in the years following, with YINSH nearly equalling the excellence of DVONN in my eyes and PÜNCT completing the GIPF project in 2005, then TZAAR completing it again in 2007 when TAMSK got the boot.

Then that was it. I would see Burm at the SPIEL game convention most years, sometimes playing designs from others and once showing off a new version of Flix, but nothing else seemed to be coming from him — and then in early 2016 German publisher HUCH! & friends announced a new edition of the GIPF line, with a new GIPF project title being teased late that year. The months have rushed past, and now HUCH! & friends has released information about LYNGK, with the new game being scheduled to hit the market in March 2017. Even better, I had the chance to interview Burm about the new game and its place in the GIPF project during Spielwarenmesse 2017.

Even better than that, if possible, is that I convinced HUCH! & friends to let me take one of the three demo copies of LYNGK home with me after the fair. The pieces are identical to those used in the final production (and identical to the material used in earlier versions of GIPF project titles), while the box, game board and rules are items handmade solely for use at the fair. No matter!

Burm noted during Spielwarenmesse 2017 that the release of LYNGK is a test of sorts, a personal challenge given that he feels the game meets the standards of the GIPF project, but not knowing how it will measure up in the eyes of others. Admittedly I'm a fanboy, but after four playings of the game I'll say that Burm needn't worry. LYNGK is an incredibly strong design, one that calls to mind DVONN and TZAAR in the best ways. While I was playing with a friend over lunch, two women sat at the table next to us, one joking, "I'll take the next game", and I suddenly realized — fingers pressed against my temples, thumbs massaging my chin — that the rest of restaurant was still there. It hadn't disappeared after all. I had just forgotten it was there, my mind spinning in the universe that we were creating one move at a time.

Board Game: LYNGK

After set-up — the pieces thrown out at random, then carefully arranged on the intersections — you're confronted with a tangled mass of possibilities, dozens of moves that could be made. The universe is a thick soup of elements, and you start clumping them together, your holy finger providing the initial push from which everything else happens.

At the start, all colors are neutral; you're experimenting with each move, seeding future actions or possibly baiting the opponent into claiming a color that you can ideally submerge in the soup, drowning them through your initiative. Neutral colors — but not the three jokers, mind you — can move only to conquer stacks of the same height or shorter, whereas a color owned by a player can capture stacks of any height (as long as that stack won't contain pieces of the same color) and cannot be moved by the opponent. This rule sets up a great deal of tension from the get-go, with each of you eyeing the board to imagine what will disappear from your world of movement possibilities should the opponent claim this color or that — and which attacks can come out of nowhere should you be the one to claim a color?

In the image below, red and white are still unclaimed by my opponent, so the red-and-white field on the right of the board is transformed into a vast Schrödingerian minefield, with me unable to elevate any of those pieces without strengthening my opponent's hand retroactively. Even if I subsume one of those colors by another, I risk aiding him, giving him a stronger base from which to attack.

Board Game: LYNGK

One special rule in LYNGK — dubbed the "LYNGK rule" — is that if you move a stack topped with one of your colors, you can move it to a space occupied by a piece of the same color, then make an immediate move again with the same stack, continuing to link until you land on something valid. This rule gives you an additional incentive to claim a color because it instantly gives you attack options that don't exist otherwise. Seeing all of those possibilities is a problem, both as an attacker and defender, but that's all a matter of experience. You're going to lose when starting out because it's impossible to see everything, to have bulwarks in all directions because it's hard to contemplate exactly what's at risk.

As soon as you create a stack with all five colors — with a joker being able to serve as a color of your choice — you remove that stack from the field, counting it as a point at the end of the game. Whoever has the most points wins, with ties broken by whoever owns the most stacks of four pieces, then three pieces, etc. When I first read the rules, I had imagined high-scoring games, but you have only eight pieces of each color and many of those end up stuck in standoffs, say, with a black-blue stack facing a red-blue-green one — neither of them being able to take the other due to their shared blueness. Once you notice this, you start creating stacks defensively to protect yourself, and these actions lead to games in which scores of 2-1 will likely be common. Points on their own are meaningless, after all; it's only the comparison between the scores that's important.

Even after you each claim two colors, the fifth color remains neutral, those discs being weapons on the walls that you grab for in the hope of inflicting bonus damage, shields to deflect an attack, islands that you remove from the stream to prevent movement.

The shrinking field of play, an element common to DVONN and other GIPF titles as well, drives gameplay in LYNGK. By moving, you both attack and defend, stranding an opponent's stack and neutering its power. The universe coalesces, planets collide, everything moves toward an end, a final reckoning. The results of small actions become apparent, their effects rippling through all.

Board Game: LYNGK
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