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Subject: Abstract a Week Project #1 rss

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Bill Herbst
United States
Sayville
New York
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This review is the first installment in my "Abstract a Week" project in which I am planning to play through my collection of over 25 abstract games before deciding which ones to keep and which to put in the trade/sell pile.

Stats: 5 plays this week

Abalone is a cleverly designed abstract game that immediately draws attention from passers-by because of the stark beauty of its chunky black and white marbles on a unique hexagonal board. The movement of the pieces is also quite beautiful to see and hear as the board is nicely designed to allow for a pleasant clunking sound when marbles (or more often groups of marbles) are pushed into new spaces.

The game itself is a fairly defensive struggle for position away from the edges of the board as the winner is the first person to push a number of his opponents' marbles off the edge (where they conveniently fall into a well designed little lip that keep track of the score for you). Of course, one must move towards the edge of the board in order to attack your opponents' pieces. It is this balance between pushing hard against the opponent while retaining your own safety that lends the game the feel of sumo wrestling that many people have noted. While in the process of pushing marbles toward the edge, you often develop opportunities to isolate your opponents marbles and manuever them into positions that cannot be escaped.

I have played with both the starting array given in the rules and the "Belgian Daisy" set-up that is used in tournaments. I prefer the daisy as you begin with two separate groups that you can either unite or use independently to attack your opponents' marbles. This leads to a more dynamic game as opposing pieces start the game next to each other and their is no single clump of pieces of one color. For a game that has been criticized as being too defensive, the more dynamic set-up (there are actually several popular variant set-ups that apparently achieve this) is a major improvement.

In addition to the criticism that the game is too defensive, there is also supposed to be a very strong advantage to the first player. This very well might be the case for expert players but I will never reach the level so that criticism has no bearing on my enjoyment of the game.

The purpose of all of my "Abstract a Week" reviews will ultimately be to determine about ten games to trim from my collection as I simply own too many games in the short two player abstract category. My plan is ultimately to rank the games against one another at the end of each reivew and then determine a cut-off line under which all games will be excised. As this is the first game in the project, it is difficult for me to determine the status of this game but it tentatively appears to be a keeper. I will rank it with some public domain abstract games that are beyond the scope of this project as they have no particular trade value. This list of rankings is completely a reflection of my own tastes -- take it with a huge grain of salt.

Chess
Lines of Action

Abalone
Backgammon
Checkers
 
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Michael Howe
United States
Cromwell
Connecticut
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I also think Abalone with the alternative starting array is a pretty good game, but not great. I find it lacking in sharpness of tactics and I can't help but wonder if there aren't better rules for the same equipment, maybe something related to Epaminondas. I'll be reading your series with interest! Maybe I'll even be willing to offer a good home to your rejects!
 
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Bill Herbst
United States
Sayville
New York
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It's interesting that you mention Abalone's lack of tactical "sharpness." I have been unable to put my finger on exactly why I feel this game is good but not among my favorites. I think my favorite abstracts offer a bit more opportunities for clever tacitical moves that can bust a game wide open. This may well be possible to achieve in Abalone, but the game does not seem to lend itself easily to such combinations.
 
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Raul Catalano
Italy
Pordenone
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Yes, I agree that Abalone seems to have great potential ... and then falls because of a lack of good open strategies.
You can only defend yourself with little tactical moves, like when in judo both the fighters are fixed on the ground and they can only move one foot or one elbow ... until it ends. shake
I LOVE many abstracts, I don't find Abalone really fun to play. soblue
 
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