As anyone who either knows me or occasionally looks at this blog knows, I really like abstracts, particularly fast, dynamic ones. While I appreciate everything that Go and Chess have taught me over the years, the time it takes to play a serious game of either of those great giants is hard to find and both games are deep and complex enough that I find them tricky to play by e-mail which would help relieve the time issue.
A recent blog I read (http://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/7523/why-do-i-love-abstrac...) gave me a bunch of abstracts to look into. I’m always interested in learning new games and the tendency for abstracts to have simple play and complex decisions lends them to satisfying this craving.
One that got mentioned a few times was Yavalath, which honestly sounds kind of like one of Lovecraft’s great old ones. Instead, it’s a stone placement game on a hex grid that is five to a side.
The rules are dead simple. You place a stone in an empty space on your turn. The first player to get four stones in a row is the winner and champion! However, if you get three in a row without getting four in a row at the same time, you lose! If you fill the entire board without anyone winning or losing, then it’s a tie.
You got to admit, that’s pretty darn simple. A concussed baboon who is nursing a hangover from a crystal meth overdose could get these rules. And the three-in-a-row-auto-lose is a clever twist.
Since the rules are freely available online, getting the pieces together to play was really just rummaging around the game closet for a few minutes. It wasn’t the easiest do-it-yourself project but it was pretty easy… Oh, wait. Maybe it was the easiest one ever.
So we sat down and played Yavalath. And then we played it again. Then we played it for a third time. At that point, not even five minutes had gone by.
While I am sure if my fiancée and I keep playing Yavalath, the games will actually get longer. However, it quickly became obvious that some fairly simple patterns will quickly emerge and you can block someone with the three-and-you-lose rule pretty easily. Indeed, I am pretty sure that part of the learning curve will involve recognizing the basic patterns. In which case, games will take longer and probably end in stalemate.
I really feel bad saying it but we ended up feeling like Yavalath was a more elaborate version of Tic Tac Toe.
Of course, it has a greater learning curve than Tic Tac Toe and I do plan on trying it out with some of my other abstract loving friends as well. After all, games don’t seem to take very long. The next tier of play could involve some very interesting patterns.
But, as much as I hate to say it, Yavalath just didn’t excite or interest us. It has some neat ideas but it didn’t have anything that made us want to play it again. By no means would I describe it as a broken or incomplete game. It’s all there but it just didn’t have that spark for us. The next time we feel like a quick abstract, we’ll reach for a Mancala board or Six.