ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
Having found here on BGG both a printable board and complete rules for this game, I went ahead and made myself a DIY version of this game just by printing out the two pages and using pieces of my own. For the record, I mistakenly thought these were provided here on BGG by the designer but now see I was wrong. The game is simple enough that my initial assumption that the game is in the public domain is probably still correct. (Clarifications on this pint are welcomes in replies.) One just won't get the cute little buffalo meeples without buying a professionally produced set for the game.
Now although unfortunately for me my fabulous wife does not share this opinion, asymmetric abstracts (apart from Hunt games which literally cannot be won by one side even before play begins) are a particular favorite of mine. Examples include Tafl games and Ringo. What one needs to make an asymmetric game work is a set of victory conditions for each player which while different are nonetheless well matched and the equipment to fit those conditions. Most often, as with this game, these games will be games about blocking. Bison fits that model very well, albeit the game feels light.
The game is quick and simple to play, but I see more depth in it than one might expect. One does not feel the game is a brain-burner, but I suspect this perception is only the case because the game is so relatively light and quick. Perhaps also the theme which has been pasted on, which personally I do not care for, does the game's reputation a disservice.
I will use terminology throughout common to these types of games. While I apologize if to some this seems unclear and am at pains to avoid a lack of clarity, I really do not like the theme which has been pasted on. Frankly I am deeply uncomfortable with it for reasons of my own and so refuse to do more than acknowledge it exists in at least some published versions of the game.
The board pictured above consists of a 7x11 grid of spaces. Players should sit facing a long side of the board. Then the first and last row are entirely forbidden to the defending player, i.e., the player with fewer pieces. The attacking player moves first. (In the themed version the buffaloes are the attackers and the Indian chief and his dogs are the defenders.) Then play alternates with each player making one legal move per turn, and a player must move.
The attacking player (i.e., the one with more pieces) has 11 identical pieces which start the game occupying completely one row along a long edge of the board; all the attacking player's pieces are identical. They cannot capture and move only one space directly forward.
Defenders are initially placed in the second row from the opposite side to the starting position of the attackers. In the center of that row is placed the king-piece, which in the themed version is called an Indian chief; this is the only piece that can capture and it does so by moving onto a space occupied by an attacker and in so doing removing that attacker from play. Its movement is confined to one space in any direction like a king in Chess but like all defenders it cannot move or capture into either the first or last row of the board, again rows being parallel the long edge of the board. The other four defenders (themed as dogs) start in the same row as the king piece with two directly on either side of the king-piece. These defenders cannot capture but can block by effective immobilization of an attacking piece and move like queens in chess.
The attacking player wins if he succeeds in getting any one attacker onto the last row. The defending player wins if he captures or immobilizes the attackers so that the attacking player cannot do so.
As stated above, this game is a game of blocking for the defending player. For the attacking player, this game is one of overwhelming the defenders so that the attackers just cannot be all stopped.
Because the attackers (from whom the king-pieces is distinguished) cannot capture, they effectively block four columns from the outset of the game. Because the king captures one space in any direction, he effectively blocks three columns. Gameplay then centers about the other four columns and the fact that the attacking player chooses where to advance his pieces.
The defender needs to get his king-piece to the other side of the board as quickly as possible. The attacking player needs to maneuver his pieces so that he coaxes the defenders into blocking each other so that he can slip an attacker past. The temptation so to therefore start by moving pieces toward both extreme edges but if the attacking players does so, the defending player has an easy time moving his defenders diagonally to block so that only the center remains truly mobile and the king can be quickly moved in for the kill. Yet moving initially from the center encounters a similar problem. For the best analogy to the attacking player's tactical problem, one should think of advancing pawns in Chess when the opponent has remaining power pieces.
The result is a fun little game which is light and quick but far from mindless.
I hear so many mixed things about this game. It's been on my want list for a while, and I've seen it up for cheap, but never actually gotten it. This may have tilted me toward it a bit.