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Subject: Sjoelen: A great unknown rss

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Jonathan Morton
Sweden
Vällingby
Stockholm
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Sjoelen (shoe-len to us English speakers) is a traditional Dutch game played with 30 wooden ‘stones’ and a wooden board, the ‘sjoelbak’. The stones measure 50mm (2”) in diameter and are 13mm (1/2”) thick, with both faces being slightly concave. The sjoelbak is approximately 2,000mm (6’7”) long and 420mm (16-1/2”) wide. Here are a few key terms:



A player’s turn consists of 3 rounds. In the first round he or she slides all 30 stones along the board. There are no restrictions on the technique to be used for sliding the stones, but they must pass under the bar. New players learn very quickly to respect the bar – it’s murder on knuckles. Any stones which pass FULLY through the gate are stacked at the back of the lane they entered (generally 4 to a stack before starting a new stack). The remaining stones are returned to the player and fired again. Repeat once more, and add up the score.

Important note: during a round, if a stone flies off the sjoelbak, jumps over the gate, or jumps from one scoring lane to another, it is removed from play for the current round and returned to the player for the next round.


SCORING

The first step in adding up a player’s score is to count the number of complete sets – a set being one stone in each lane. Each set is worth 20 points. Any remaining stones are then added up per the markers on the gate for each lane. Officially the lanes are marked 2, 3, 4, and 1 from left to right.

For example, a player who ends up with these stones in the lanes scores 88.
(4 x 20 + 2 + 4 + 2 x 1).



One common method for delineating a ‘game’ of Sjoelen is to play three turns each, with the player who records the highest cumulative score being the winner.


HOUSE RULES & VARIANTS

As far as I know there are just 2 official rules that are commonly broken on my sjoelbak. The one which directly affects gameplay is allowing a player to retrieve and re-fire any stones that they can reach underneath the bar. The other, purely a matter of convenience, is that you’re not supposed to stack the stones to be played on top of the bar.

When playing with a lot of people, using 20 stones instead of all 30 is a simple and effective way to reduce the down time between turns.


WHY DOES SJOELEN RATE ONLY A 6.4 AT BGG?

I’d like to know that myself! Since discovering the game in Holland in 2000 and building my own sjoelbak, I’ve enjoyed hundreds of rounds of it and introduced the game to dozens of people. Those who found it to be less than great entertainment can be counted on one hand.

The problem can’t be general disdain for dexterity games – Tumblin-Dice rates a 7.4 even with its huge luck factor, for cryin’ out loud! The most similar game to Sjoelen that I know of at the Geek, Crokinole, is revered. (I grew up with Crokinole and think it is an excellent game as well; I do not believe it to be substantially superior to Sjoelen). It could be the fact that Sjoelen is one of those dreaded ‘multi-player solitaire’ games. Let me reassure you, as someone who loves competitive sports and hates solo sports, that Sjoelen provides plenty of fodder for trash talk and spirited competition and angst.

So why no respect for Sjoelen? I do have one theory, in two parts; The first part, on stable ground, is that the game is virtually unknown outside of the Netherlands and thus largely ignored here at the Geek. Moving into purely speculative territory, the theory states that the Dutch rate it poorly because they’re haunted by memories of their crusty old aunts playing it at the torturous family reunions of their youth. The current representative photo for the game may or may not have inspired this theory.


GO BUILD YOURSELF A SJOELBAK

This site has all the info you need to build your own sjoelbak:

http://www.van-vliet.org/dempseywoodworking/sjoelbak.shtml

And if you’re in North America you can buy the stones (or the complete game) through this site:

http://www.gamefishgames.net/

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Bas van der Meer
Netherlands
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Re: Sjoelen: If you only knew it!
Nice review!

Concerning the low ratings: your second theory hits the mark for me. If I think about sjoelen, it does remind me exactly of those childhood family reunions when you had to wear those clothes that you didn't like to wear (but your mom told you you had to wear them just once a year because it was a special occasion) and the day lasted way too long, and then you had to participate in those events where you were assigned to a random group of 5-10 people and you had to do different games together (oh what fun! we have to write a song together and then sing it at the end of the day!). Sjoelen used to be one of those games.
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Jur dj
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Re: Sjoelen: If you only knew it!
don't forget to wax the sjoelbak regularly. That way you get a smooth surface.
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Homo Ludens
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Re: Sjoelen: If you only knew it!
Very meticulous and insightful review! I have played countless games of Sjoelbak but have not played much of late. I too associate the game with childhood, which may be a factor in why I am less tempted by it today.
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Mark McEvoy
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Re: Sjoelen: If you only knew it!
Jonny5 wrote:

WHY DOES SJOELEN RATE ONLY A 6.4 AT BGG?

...

It could be the fact that Sjoelen is one of those dreaded ‘multi-player solitaire’ games. Let me reassure you, as someone who loves competitive sports and hates solo sports, that Sjoelen provides plenty of fodder for trash talk and spirited competition and angst.


I'm pretty sure that's exactly it. Trash talk and spirited competition can be a fun diversion and can even make as simple a game as bouncing quarters into a cup a raucous good time. But any game that is devoid of in-game inter-player interaction is never going to rate well here. That's where this game is fundamentally different from Crokinole and Tumblin Dice and Piratenbillard - in those games the actions of one player can direct or misdirect the results of another player. They're highly interactive on the playfield. This game seems to be as much of a "You do your thing, I'll do mine, and we'll compare scores at the end" as Darts (501 et al), Bowling, and Golf (stroke play). Which may all be magnificent pastimes, and the sight of a fellow player doing well may place pressure on oneself to elevate one's play (or at least take higher-risk-higher-reward plays)... but I would not expect to be rated well on a site where interactive competition seems to be a requirement.

A Crokinole or Tumblin' Dice variant in which every shot was on an open board would not be rated well.

I wonder... is Sjoelen the highest-rated non-interactive dexterity game?
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Danny van Bruggen
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When I was young, I didn't know the rules at all, and neither did my nieces (it was played on birthdays, next to power cricket and destroy-the-soccer-table) which made it a much more fun game: make up some rules where you take turns sliding one stone at a time, and don't clean up the board. Soon, it will become impossible to get your stones into any of the holes, and you will have to jump the gates! Wii!!!
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Nick Diemel
United States
Oregon
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I have played this game when I was young, growing up in Holland, many years ago. But now that I have purchased one once again recently here in Oregon where I live, and have been playing it with many friends, all that play this Sjoelbak game get hooked on it! My wife and I have bought a few games to sell online, since we enjoy it so much with our friends.

It is a great table game for all age groups, young and old. And it is finally getting high reviews & becoming very popular in the USA also. In Europe they play National Competition games with teams & they are very exciting all year long.

Also these Sjoelbak games are so well built, that they last a few generations, and people hand them down to their kids & grand kids.

So you can now purchase these games from different manufacturers, various qualities of craftsmanship, for about $165. to $215. make sure that if you purchase one, that it is well made and a durable game, that will last a lifetime.

My wife and I are trying to introduce this new exciting game (150 yrs old) into the American households, by having local demonstrations and contests. Great for church youth groups, colleges, YMCA, retirement homes & more.

See our Imported Sjoelbak Games at http://www.dutchgirltrading.com
:o) Competition Size games.
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Jeff A
Canada
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My dutch family had one of these when I was a kid. I have just decided to build one for myself and my family. Such a great dexterity game.
Edit: Damn, looks hard to build. Talking to the wife about buying one. Will probably turn out better anyway.
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Ender Wiggins
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Jonny5 wrote:
As far as I know there are just 2 official rules that are commonly broken on my sjoelbak. The one which directly affects gameplay is allowing a player to retrieve and re-fire any stones that they can reach underneath the bar.

I've seen a lot of people play that way, but it does give an unfair advantage, and encourages players to play rather wildly. As you know, the official rules are quite clear that it's not permitted (as discussed in this thread).

Jonny5 wrote:
Any stones which pass FULLY through the gate are stacked at the back of the lane they entered

That's another rule that many people get wrong. A common way of playing is to count a disc when at least half of the disc is past the scoring bar. This is often done by people running their finger along the bar and seeing whether the disc goes in or out. As you point out, the whole disc must pass the front side of the scoring bar. So if you touch the disc at all when running your finger along the bar, it doesn't count (as discussed in this thread).

Great review Jonathan, thank you!
 
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Will McNair

Alabama
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Agree. Thank you for the review(and rock and roll on building that table. Has it held up well for you over these last 8 years?)

I first played sjoelen 25 years ago in college. We had a wonderful brewpub/pizza joint named Shulbok that was later renamed to, somewhat appropriately, The Amsterdam Cafe. I remember many a fun night gathering to have great pizza and share an adult beverage with friends(in Auburn, AL no less)

I have owned a table purchased from Master's Games for about 12 years now and have enjoyed playing with family and friends. I am a pretty hardcore board gamer with usually 3-4 monthly events at my home. Sjoelen is always a game that folks will gravitate towards after a rousing round of whatever the euro or light-euro de jour happens to be. It has also been a good way to bring board game outsiders to a board game gathering.

Without a doubt, sjoelen is my favorite indoor dex-based game. At about $150
for a table and 32 pucks, a sjoelbak table isn't cheap but is also not crazy expensive.

My 2 cents.

McFizz
 
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