Shogi and Race for the Galaxy

Shogi king

I met Olli for a quick round of two-player games. Since the ever-friendly postman brought me my Shogi board, that was what we played. Olli has this thing with abstracts: he doesn’t really like to play them, because he basically dislikes their deepness, I suppose. In a sense, I mean, that he sees there’s potential for really skillful play, but achievíng that would take too much effort (he’s played lots and lots of Go, see).

I understand his feelings though I don’t share them, but then again, I also knew he wouldn’t say no to a new game… so we played Shogi. My set is — apparently — a cheap Chinese-made set, all wood. It’s fairly small, but quite pleasant. One thing I like about the board is that it’s hollow: a thin board on a frame. It’s a simple detail, but really enhances the sound the pieces make when played. The pieces have Japanese letters. I was originally going to complain about that and the way Shogi players seem smug, but yeah, it’s really not that big a deal. I mean, it didn’t take long to figure out the pieces. Olli got them pretty fast, too.

They are a huge hurdle to go over with someone less serious about it — just show them the pieces and they’ll certain to say “no way, but then again, are those really the people with whom you want to play a serious, heavy abstract game? If someone wants to learn Shogi, the Japanese calligraphy isn’t a problem, period.

After a slow start in the game, things got somewhat heated. I lost some pieces, but for good uses: I was soon advancing on my right side, breaking my way to Olli’s home base. I had read parts of Fairbairn’s Introduction to Shogi and had some clue about castles, while Olli’s defenses were fairly simple. In the end, I was able to mate his king for victory.

Shogi is interesting. It’s still Chess, though, just slightly more interesting Chess. What makes Chess boring in my opinion is how the game slows down when pieces are captured. I don’t like that. Shogi fixes that problem with drops: when captured pieces can switch sides and return to game — preferably in a strategically very important spot — things get a lot more interesting. Still, there’s the same “if I move here, he moves there, this captures that, that captures that, everything breaks down” mechanism in play, which makes playing the game very heavy on the brain — and playing without thinking enough is just silly. So yeah, in Chess — Japanese or Western — I think I get Olli’s love/hate relationship with abstracts the best.

Anyway, I definitely want to play more Shogi.

Race for the Galaxy box

Then some two-player Race for the Galaxy. We played with the proper variant, playing two action cards each round. Olli won both games, I think he was using some sort of military on both games (well, he did get Sparta twice). Military is pretty good in two-player game, as you can settle twice…

The first game was particularly brutal, as he got plenty of military planets. I had all the essential pieces of a novelty strategy going, but not enough time. In the second game, I was just fooling around =)

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3 responses to “Shogi and Race for the Galaxy”

  1. “he [me] sees there’s potential for really skillful play, but achievíng that would take too much effort”
    That’s well put into words and pretty accurately reflects my view about this niche of games. That is two-player no-luck games. For some reason these tend to be themeless abstracts.
    Funny how a little element of chance gets me to enjoy so much more of this type of games. Recently I have played Taluva and Subulata both of which I liked. Only thing separating them from pure no-luck games is that small amount of randomness (tiles in Taluva and hidden information in Subulata). There is also some theme on both of them but I don’t think that is reason why I seem to enjoy them more.

  2. I’m already playing on BrainKing (which indeed seems to be the only or one of very few play-by-web sites offering Shogi).