Xiangqi, Shogi, Riichi and Brass: Birmingham

Here are some random notes on games I’ve played recently.

Xiangqi and Shogi. Thanks to a book project, I’ve returned to Chinese and Japanese chess. I tried both about 15 years ago, but those were just single attempts. Now I’ve delved slightly deeper, thanks to a son who is keen to explore these games with me.

Both of these are fine games. Xiangqi is smaller and faster and often an exciting battle with interesting manoeuvres on both ends of the board. Shogi builds up slower but remains very interesting even in the very end, as the drop rule where captured pieces can return to play keeps the game going. There’s no slow attrition of forces like in international chess.

I slightly prefer Shogi; I find the strategies highly fascinating even though I don’t claim to understand much about them yet. Shogi also looks gorgeous.

Both games have a small barrier of entry in the form of pieces marked with Chinese and Japanese calligraphy. Especially Shogi can look very daunting. However, they’re not that bad – if you’re dedicated to learning the game, you’ll do fine after just a couple of plays.

Dark brown shogi board, light wood pieces on the board.
This plastic board from Philos isn’t very pretty, but the contrast between the dark board and the light wooden pieces is nice.

Riichi Mahjong. When I explored Mahjong – also 15 years ago – I tried Riichi, the Japanese style, and found it complicated and swingy. That’s still true, and I still think Zung Jung is the superior Mahjong game in many cases. However, Riichi is what is available for club play and online, so I decided to give Riichi another go.

In addition to the local Mahjong club, I’ve tried playing online at Tenhou and Mahjong Soul. Tenhou seems more professional but also slightly harder to use. Mahjong Soul is very easy to use, but the games are mostly short half-length games, which makes the game even more swingy. I’m also not a huge fan of the suggestive anime girl illustration.

Riichi is still frustrating at times, but I can also see where the charm of the game is. It has some very interesting decision space. I still wouldn’t recommend Riichi lightly for beginners, but once you know the basics, Riichi is worth exploring.

Mahjong tiles on a junk mat.
The aftermath of my first club game of Riichi – look at all the scoring sticks I have. I won!

Brass: Birmingham. My reluctance towards Birmingham has become a running joke in our game group, where everybody else loves this game. I liked Brass a lot but found it annoying when Birmingham took over and nobody wanted to play the original anymore.

Recently, I caved in and gave Birmingham a go. Is it good? Yes, it is. It’s Brass, after all. Is it as good as Lancashire? I’m not sure. Some things have been improved, but I’m not sure I like all the changes. However, Birmingham is a decent game, everybody loves it in our game group, and thus, there will be many chances to play it, so I suppose I’ll explore it then. In the end, I’d rather play some version of Brass than don’t play any Brass.

Close detail of Brass: Birmingham board with pieces on it
The art in Brass: Birmingham is very pretty. Is it usable? Not as much as it could be. The board art should be toned down a bit to help the pieces stand out better.

Finally, a fanboy moment! I went to Ropecon with Nooa. We played board games there, which was fun, but we also attended all three Shut Up & Sit Down events there. Those were great! Lots of laughing with tears in my eyes. The final event, the compiling of the official Ropecon top 100 games list, was just golden comedy.

I also managed to collect the autographs for my Monikers “Shut Up & Sit Down” card. Now my board game autograph collection has SU&SD and Reiner Knizia!

Quinns and Mikko
Me and Quinns from SU&SD.

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