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Subject: Game overview and initial impressions rss

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Laurentiu Cristofor
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During a recent trip to Europe, I discovered the abstract games published by Huch! The only one I had heard about before was Kamisado. All their other games were new for me and I could only find a bit of information about their rules here on BGG, but not much commentary on how they play and feel.

The games that drew my attention were Carnac, Talat, Ignis, and Azteka. Besides their abstract theme, what attracted me initially was the quality of the components.

I didn't have space to carry more than one game, so I selected Carnac and then I managed to find Talat and Ignis through amazon. This leaves Azteka out with its rotating board. Maybe I'll come across it in the future.

I have played Ignis a handful of times so far, so I got enough of a feel for it to provide a description. When I'll do the same with Carnac and Talat, I'll write down my impressions about those games as well.

So let's start with an overview of the game components:

Components



Ignis consists of:

- a board of 6x6 squares made of a hard semi-transparent plastic. The squares are delimited by rounded ridges.
- 8 fire pieces
- 8 water pieces
- 12 air pieces
- 9 earth pieces

The fire, water, and air pieces are all having earth indicated on their reverse side.

The quality of the pieces is excellent. They are made from a hard material similar to that used for making dice, so they have a great tactile feel. They're nicely rounded so they can slide fairly easily over the ridges of the board.

Other than this, you get the box, a plastic insert, a desiccating bag, and the game instructions.

Rules

The game is strictly a 2-player affair and starts with all fire and water pieces arranged on the board as shown in the following image:



Note that this is just the standard setup. The author of the game has posted additional alternate arrangements in the image section of this game. The general idea is that the arrangements are symmetric and each element dominates one of the two diagonals.

Here's an example of an alternative initial setup:



Now, the rules are quite simple. Players choose between water and fire and then they take turns playing one of the off-board pieces (either an earth or an air piece). The playing of a piece is always done by pushing the piece from one of the edges of the board, potentially resulting in another piece being pushed off over the opposing edge. The goal is to have the opponent's pieces pushed off before yours.

There are a couple of restrictions regarding the play of a piece:

1. An earth piece cannot be pushed off - it can be pushed along a line but not over the edge - these pieces can thus help block possible plays.

2. An air piece must be pushed off through the play of an earth piece; it cannot be pushed by playing an air piece. This sounds arbitrary, but it allows some subtle plays/restrictions.

Pieces that are pushed off join the off-board pile of pieces. Water and fire pieces are turned over to their earth face and thus become available to play as earth (they can never be reintroduced in the game as fire/water). If at any point in the game there are no earth pieces available to play, one of the air pieces can be turned over to its earth face and played like that. If all air pieces are on the board, you can only play earth. There is always at least one piece available to play because there are 36 squares on the board and 37 pieces available.

These are all the rules controlling play but there are some additional rules concerning the board. You see, the board can actually shrink during the game, at which point its limits should be visualized as the smallest rectangular area that contains the remaining pieces - anything pushed out of this area is "pushed off" the board, even if it might still sit on the physical board - you will need to remove these pieces from the board because they can no longer just fall over its edge.

How does the board shrink? This happens when one of the edges of the board (consisting of at least 2 contiguous pieces) is filled with pieces of the same type of element - if this happens then all the pieces along that edge immediately get removed and the edge becomes an off-board area (and you'd better make sure that the removed pieces do not show the element that you're playing). One edge removal could lead immediately to another one, so the board can be reduced several times after a single move.

This is it. It takes a bit to describe, but in play these rules are intuitive and you quickly catch their interplay. I showed the game to my 7 year old and she caught it after just one play.

Impressions

I'm not a fan of shifting games where the board can change a lot due to one move, but Ignis alleviates that issue due to its smaller board and the limited number of water/fire pieces in play, thus making it easier to visualize the impact of a succession of moves.

When I first read the rules, I didn't exactly understand the role of the air, but after the first play when the rules clicked in my head, I realized it's very useful to prevent the shrinking of the board.

The shrinking of the board may also sound strange, but it keeps all edges of the board in play; otherwise, an edge formed solely out of earth pieces would prevent any play from the opposing side (assuming the board is covered with pieces). Removing an edge can also suddenly expose a bunch of pieces that might have felt safe until then. This adds a bit of dynamism to what could have become a more static (and thus boring) board position.

Your concern during the game will be about how to protect your own pieces from being pushed off while looking for ways to push off those of your opponent. In some cases, you may have to sacrifice one of your pieces so as to push off two of your opponent's.

The complexity of the game seems about average - good enough to keep interest, but not enough to become a lifelong affair and to lead to dedicated clubs and tournaments. The different initial setups will help add variety, to avoid settling into specific initial sequences of moves (similar to Chess 960). This feels overall like a very nice casual abstract game.

Final words

Ignis has excellent components and a simple rule set. It provides an interesting challenge and my daughter enjoyed it more than I expected her to. If you're looking for an abstract game of moderate complexity, give this one a look.
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Pedro Pereira
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I'll be interested in your review on Carnac. So far I find Ignis to be the best game in Hutter's abstract line up together with Kamisado.

They are now re-publishing all the Gipf Project games, so that will stir up things a bit.

Carnac looks fantastic and the pieces are made of the same material as the ones in Ignis (Urea), but I just didn't enjoy it as much as most other abstract games I own...
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Laurentiu Cristofor
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Thank you for your comment and for the clarification on the component material. I can't tell apart urea-based materials and bakelite, but I like them both for their durability and pleasant touch.

Hopefully, I'll get to play Carnac over this weekend. And I expect to receive Talat today, so I can play that too.
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Pedro Pereira
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Bakelite and Urea are the same thing actually, some companies started calling it Bakelite.

Nice review by the way. Well written and to the point with good personal points that are relevant to the game
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Laurentiu Cristofor
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I don't know about those being the same material.

Bakelite: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bakelite
It's called polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride

Urea itself is an organic material, it's not a hard plastic type of compound: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urea

Urea is used in producing plastic compounds like Urea-formaldehyde: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urea-formaldehyde

And then there is also melamine-formaldehyde based on the melamine organic material: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melamine_resin

I don't how to distinguish between these. I've had pieces claiming to be made of bakelite and I've had stuff that was supposed to be made from melamine and they all look like hard smooth plastic. Maybe density weight could be used, but otherwise they have the same look/feeling AFAIAC.


Thanks for your review comments. I've yet to play enough games of Carnac and that game requires more playing to get a good feel for it. So that review will be delayed. And I still didn't receive Talat (I received damaged copies that I returned), so that is delayed as well.
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Laurentiu Cristofor
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I just posted impressions on Carnac. They should show up once they're approved.
 
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