Dvonn is an abstract strategy game for two players. It takes about 15 minutes to play, and, despite the relatively few rules, about a half-hour to learn. That’s because there are a few concepts in the game that are, well, different. But it’s well worth the comparatively minor effort. It’s an elegant game. Absorbing. Challenging. Inviting.

The game begins with players taking turns placing their pleasantly plastic ring-pieces on the board – lovely, thick, clickity plastic ring-pieces. It’s highly likely that the first time you play it you’ll have no idea why you’re placing what, where. As long as the other player you’re playing with has as little understanding of the game as you do, then you can think of this part of the game as a pleasant opening ritual. Later, you’ll realize that each placement is pretty much a matter of life or death.

After all the pieces are positioned and all the spaces filled, the next and far more lethal of the game begins. You can move any of your pieces to cover any adjacent piece. Once you do that, you have a stack of two pieces. If you want to move that piece, you must move the entire stack. And that stack can only move in a straight line, and must move exactly two spaces. As the game progresses, the stacks get higher and higher until it becomes impossible to move them (too many pieces, too few spaces). There are also three red pieces on the board. Every piece has to be connected to one of these pieces. They can be adjacent to the red piece or adjacent to a piece that is adjacent to a red piece, or adjacent to a piece that is adjacent to a piece that is adjacent to….etc. As soon as this adjacency is disturbed, all the pieces that are no longer connected to a red piece are removed from play. This is a satisfyingly dramatic, and potentially distressing (in a good way) moment.

You can only move a piece, or a stack of pieces, of your own color. The stack may have may have any piece within it. As long as your color is on top, it’s yours. Which means that there could very well be a red piece in that stack. Which also means that if it’s your stack, you have the power to disconnect.

As you can imagine, though there are relatively few rules, it takes a while to understand to understand all the deliciously intricate implications. Which is why it takes so long to learn them. And once you do, the game takes on a clarity and subtlety that will make you want to play it again and again, as long as you can find someone to play with who knows the game as well as you do. You can accelerate your learning by playing the game online.

Designed by Kris Burm, and published by Rio Grande Games, Dvonn is the kind of game that will be especially welcome by people who like to play games like chess. It is one in a series of 6 abstract strategy games in Project Gipf. This one is clearly Major FUN.

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