Balanx is a two-player strategy game – a distant, and perhaps even estranged cousin of chinese checkers (which, as the wikipedist astutely points out is neither Chinese nor checkers), designed by the exceptionally creative game inventor Kris Burm.

Each player gets 10 large marbles (black or white solid, comfortingly hefty glass marbles). The marbles are set up in opposite corners of the board, in a triangular configuration more than vaguely reminiscent of the aforementioned game that is neither checkers nor Chinese.

The other less-than-vague similarities to chinese checkers: 1) one way you move is to jump over marbles (reminiscent, but, then again, not at all like that n0t-checker game, because you don’t jump, you leap over columns of marbles of both or either color), and 2) you win if you’re the first player to occupy the opposite corner of the board (and, like that game that has nothing to do with China, the other player can’t win if you don’t vacate your corner first, but with totally different significance, because if it turns out that if, at any time during the time, it becomes apparent that you haven’t allowed a space for the other player to move, you lose).

Upon careful inspection of the board you’ll notice at least two deeply intriguing properties: 1) the board doesn’t lie flat on the table, but rather is raised off the table by two small legs in the center of the board, causing the board to tilt either fro or to, and: 2) some of the spaces on the board are simple holes, accommodating a single marble; whilst others are lozenges which can accomodate two marbles, making it highly likely that upon tilting the board some of the marbles will shift position. The intrigue? When it is your turn, you first tilt the board towards you, and the resulting shifts in marble-position gives you a board which is often unanticipatedly different from that your opponent will experience on her turn when she tilts the board towards her. So striking is the impact of this shifting balance that one would be sorely tempted to give the game a name that sounds almost like “Balance.” Speaking of which, those metal balls on each side of the board have no strategic implications, but there to assist in keeping a tilt tilted.

Balanx is a different kind of strategy game, different enough to make you lust after it egregiously. It is relatively easy to learn – though you’ll need to play it a few times before you have a deep enough appreciation of the strategic implications of it all. The way the array of pieces shifts on each turn is endlessly fascinating, and learning to anticipate what that shift will be, and to plan your move accordingly, challenges your perceptual skills as deeply as it engages your strategic perplexity. Available from Mayfair Games, for contemplative, but playful thinkers.

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