Designer: Manolis Vranas, Jamie Sajdak
Publisher: Smirk & Laughter Games
2 players 20 minutes ages 8+
MSRP $ 30
Light and dark. Connection and separation. Peace and aggression. Shōbu is a game of balance… until it isn’t. Using a series of mirrored moves your goal is to push four of your opponent’s stones off a single game board.You started when you were young. Riding the trails, corralling horses through the wilderness, guiding them through shows and into camp to add to your herd.
Shōbu is a beautiful game and most certainly evokes a sense of the classic game Go.
There are four lovely wooden boards: two dark and two light. Each board has a raised four by four grid.
Each player has a set of sixteen stones: light or dark. These look like smooth river rocks.
Boards are arranged in a square with dark on the left and light on the right. A small piece of cotton rope is placed between the boards to delineate the home area for each player (the two closest boards).
Place stones on the bottom row of each board so they are facing each other and you’re ready to play Shōbu!
A turn in Shōbu has two parts: a passive move and an aggressive move.
Your first move is passive and must be on one of your two home boards (the ones closest to you). Pick a stone and move it. This stone could move one or two spaces in any direction.
Because this move is passive, it cannot interact with any other pieces on the board. No pushing; no jumping. The passive move, in other words, must be unobstructed from start to finish.
The second move is aggressive and is inextricably tied to the first. Your aggressive move must be on the opposite color board (if your passive move was on the dark board, your aggressive move must be on a light board – including your opponent’s). Pick a stone and move it.
This move must mirror the direction and number of spaces of your passive move. And because this move is aggressive, your stone is allowed to push a single stone of your opponent. Two stones blocks pushing. And you can never push your own.
That’s it. Start with a passive move each turn on one board. Mirror that move next with an aggressive move, hoping over time to push four opponent’s stones from a single board.
Connection and backwards thinking set Shōbu apart.
No piece in the game exists in isolation. Each of your stones is tethered to every other stone with an invisible thread. The better you can visualize this web of connections, the more clearly you will see opportunities and dangers on each board.
Because of these connections, Shōbu asks you to think backward on every turn. In order to know the effect you want to create on the board, you start by planning your aggressive move, your last move, first.
Look for a place where you might have the advantage. Find a place where you can push an opponent’s stone off the board. Once found, can you find its passive mirror move on the opposite color home board?
Moments of joy in Shōbu come from winding backward from your aggressive end goal to find a passive stone with clear path.
But be careful! Joy can turn to sorrow quickly if you don’t take the time to also think backward through your opponent’s next move. A careless aggressive move might leave you open to being pushed around.
There are many flavors of fun. Some are obvious, wild, and boisterous. Others are more subtle but no less meaningful. Shōbu shows us play can be an act of serenity. Its simplicity opens a door to so many and gives players the space they need to explore the richness and depth hidden within the game. With its beautiful shifting stones connected by invisible tethers, Shōbu offers us a calm, thoughtful engaging form of fun. And that makes it worth of both our awards!
Written by: Stephen Conway
This review appears in the Winter 2019 issue of Casual Game Insider Magazine.
CGI publishes a wonderful selection of articles and reviews on a quarterly basis. In 2019, a Major Fun review will be featured in each issue!
The Spiel, Major Fun and CGI share a common goal: opening doors to the wider world of play. We hope this cross promotion will invite more people into the game community.