It’s true that we of Major Fundom like our props. Good games aren’t just fun ideas, they are fun items: tactile, colorful, aural, rarely olfactory, but always concrete. Of the world. We don’t need a lot of props, but the game pieces should have some heft and style. Elegance (or the lack thereof) can seal the difference between a game that is Major Fun and one that is Major Oh-So-Close.

Linja consists of two props: short bamboo rods and 24 wooden playing pieces (12 black and 12 red) shaped like hour-glasses. Set the bamboo rods in six parallel line on a flat surface, line up your game pieces, and the strategy is on. Of course, if you are like us, it takes a while to really set up the game because you are re-enacting scenes from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with the bamboo and pretending the wooden game pieces are deadly Linja assassins. First the black Linja infiltrate the palace, then the red Linja neutralize the roof guards, only to discover they’ve been lured into a devious trap…

Where was I?

Oh yeah. The game. So your goal is to get your pieces from your side of the board to the other side. Simple enough. In many respects the movement of the pieces will be familiar to anyone who has played Backgammon. On your turn you have two moves. For your first move you may advance one of your pieces one space. Check out the number of pieces (red and black) in that space—this will control how many spaces you may advance your next piece. For your second move, you must advance a second piece a number of spaces equal to the number of pieces where your first one landed.

The game ends when you and your opponent’s pieces have completely passed each other on the board. Score is calculated by how far you managed to move your pieces. For each piece that made it to your opponent’s side, you earn 5 points. You also get points (fewer points) for the spaces close to your opponent’s side.

I must admit that I thought my strategy was pretty solid. I wracked up several 5 point pieces early. But in the last five or six rotations, my opponent advanced almost all his pieces into my home row or the penultimate row. Crushing defeat.

There might be a sure-fire strategy for winning, but maintaining the balance between advancing your pieces and yet keeping a few back was incredibly engaging. If there is a strategy like you would find in tic-tac-toe, then the game pieces, the elegant rules, and the levels of planning make the search Major Fun.

Game and artistic design for Linja by Stephan Mühlhäuser. © 2003 by Steffen-Spiele and distributed under license by FoxMind Games.

William Bain, Games Taster

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