Marketing Manager Kristen Jensen on Staying Sharp With Abstract Strategy Games
Heya! Kristen here, I manage brand and communications for Gen Con. While we’ve had official stay-at-home orders in Washington State for only a week now, our intrepid leadership at the company had the foresight to have us work from home since the first week of March (dear boss and boss’s boss: thank you for looking out).
While I’m thankful that we’re staying home and (hopefully) staying healthy while we’re plugging away at Gen Con 2020, it’s been a little monotonous to not go anywhere besides the grocery store. I live with my partner and our three cats, who have been overjoyed to have us home all the time — although, it has created some confusion on when it’s appropriate to ask for breakfast and dinner (no, we’re not hobbits, second breakfast isn’t a thing).
Anyway, my partner and I have been playing more games than usual which has actually been … great. It’s a good distraction from our current reality and helps keep our minds sharp — it’s been harder than normal to focus, as you can probably tell from the meandering nature of my introduction. My favorite games are two-player abstract strategy games, especially those that simulate a battlefield. I like to think that I was a great military commander in a past life — or maybe I’m just hungry for strategic victory in this one. Who can say?
In general, abstract strategy games are games where there isn’t really a theme, or the theme isn’t important to the experience of playing. Classic examples include chess, checkers, Go, and mancala. While these games will always have a special place in my heart (some day I will have a gorgeous chess set with crystal pieces), I’m more interested in modern interpretations of this play-style. I also appreciate that they are typically quick to play (15 minutes to an hour) and easy to set up. So, if you’re quarantined with a partner or family member and are interested in keeping the ol’ noodle from becoming too soft, try one of these abstract strategy games and let me know how it went by tweeting @gen_con!
Tak: A Beautiful Game
To be frank, I haven’t read the novels that this game is inspired by, but it’s one of my favorites! I enjoy the simple, clean board and pieces. The object of the game is to build a line of uninterrupted pieces from one side of the 6×6 board to the other. However, your opponent is working on the same thing, so you must deploy some defensive strategies in addition to your offensive. You can stack pieces to take control of pieces your opponent has set down next to yours, and block with walls — but walls block your progress in addition to your opponents, so you have to deploy thoughtfully.
This game is very easy to learn and is good for folks who have enjoyed chess in the past or are looking to ease a partner or family member into the board game
I the main thing I like about this game is its asymmetrical nature (when asymmetry is done right — *chef’s kiss*), created when you randomly draft units at the beginning of the game. Different units have different movement abilities (much like Hive or The Duke) that can make your gameplay more interesting. While there have been games when either me or my partner have drafted particularly synergistic units, it’s never felt unbalanced, which I really appreciate. The object of the game is to place your control markers on several capture points, and the game ends when a player has placed their last control marker.
I would recommend this game for people who have a couple strategy games under their belts, but with a straightforward ruleset that doesn’t leave room for questioning what the objective is or how a unit can move, it’s still pretty easy to learn.
This game is beautiful and elegant, yet simple in its design. Functionally, it’s like War Chest, Hive, or The Duke in that there is some asymmetry in movement abilities, but like … make it pretty. It has a martial-arts themed roll-up playmat, and each player gets five pawns: one master pawn and four student pawns. Five movement abilities are drafted at the beginning of the game from a deck, and players pass these movements between one another, with only two abilities available for use at any given time. So, it gets really interesting if you’re trying to plan out your next few moves to victory, because once you use a movement ability, you have to pass it to your opponent — so then they can do the tricky thing you just did. The person who corners the opponent’s master pawn or infiltrates the opponent’s dojo (located on the opposite side of the board from where you start) is the winner.
Onitama is another game I’d say is best for players who have an understanding of strategy games, but certainly not unapproachable for newbies.
Clearly, I have a certain taste. Sometimes, it feels like I’m an old man on the inside… Heaven sounds like puffing on a Gandalf-style pipe in front of a glowing hearth while ruminating on my next move in a strategy game and stroking my long, white, wizardly beard. Oddly specific? Yes, but I know what I like, so what can I say?
Stay safe, stay healthy, stay home, and play more board games, friends!
* Recommendations are the opinion of individual staff members and do not reflect the official position of Gen Con LLC.