Thursday, September 08, 2005

What's the deal with GIPF?

So, rather than sitting here, feeling sorry for myself while I try to hack up a lung, I have decided to be productive. Yes, productive! And so, I will talk about games. Specifically, I will talk about the GIPF Project. I've been babbling about this series for a while on this blog, so I figure that perhaps I should explain why I think that this is a big deal. The GIPF Project is a series of six abstract strategy games, designed by Kris Burm, a gentleman from Belgium. In order of their release, the games are titled as follows: GIPF TAMSK ZERTZ DVONN YINSH PUNCT (to be released in October 2005) Some people have complained about the names. "What does TAMSK mean?" Well, I'll answer you when you tell me what "Chess" and "Go" mean. In the case of an abstract game, I figure that an abstract name is appropriate. Now, many of you know that I am a game nut, but these games are special. First, each of them are quality abstract game designs. Each has a brief, elegant ruleset which results in deep play. However, each of them stand out as having unique mechanisms unlike many other abstract games. For example, in GIPF, you make your moves by pushing your pieces in from the edge of the board, shoving others with you. The only control of the center that anyone has is by using lines of pieces extending into the middle. To give another example, in TAMSK you move pieces around the board, dropping rings on each space as you pass. When a space fills up, it is no longer passable. (This is similar to the lightcycles from TRON, if anyone out there knows what I mean.) This is only moderately impressive. However, the clever bit in TAMSK is that each of your pieces is a 3-minute hourglass, and the sand is running. Run out of time on a piece, and it is dead in the water. Each of the other games demonstrates equal creativity. So there is beauty of function in each game. Second, each game has a certain beauty of form. Probably the game that best exemplifies this for me is ZERTZ. The game does not really need to use marbles; checkers would have sufficed. However, there is an elegant beauty about the marbles that adds a special something to gameplay. In addition, the box art from each game seems to be able to express something of the character of the game. YINSH uses a windstorm as box art, and its play does tend to feel open and breezy. Contrast this with ZERTZ's icebergs breaking off from a glacier into an arctic sea. So there is beauty of form in each game. But there's more. Back in 1997, when Kris Burm released GIPF, he announced the beginning of the Project. He also announced that, when completed, all six games would be able to link together into a larger game. The central game would be GIPF, and the other games would each have a corresponding special piece, called a potential, that could be used in GIPF. Each potential has a special power that is thematically related to the game that it represents. So, for instance, since TAMSK is all about time, the TAMSK potential allows its user to take an additional turn. Of course, you may not want your opponent to use his potential. So, you may challenge his use of the potential. If your challenge is successful, his potential vanishes into thin air. But how do you make a successful challenge? It's simple, really. Just play the related game. That's right. Set aside the GIPF board, pull out TAMSK, and play. If you win, then your challenge succeeds. If your opponent wins, then his potential works. So, each game can function on its own but, with the potentials, they can also be welded together into an ubergame, requiring dexterity of mind as you slide from game to game. This is also a thing of beauty. So far, Burm has released the potentials for TAMSK, DVONN, and ZERTZ. A third expansion, not yet released, will contain the long awaited YINSH and PUNCT potentials. Once this expansion is released, the Project will be truly completed. Some people might think that playing the entire Project sounds like torture, but, to me, it is nearly the perfect game. Each game requires a different sort of thinking, so it is like playing out an extended a battle of wits where the opponents grapple in a changing landscape of shifting environments. Maybe I'm just masochistic. Or maybe, it's because I can appreciate beauty where I see it. (If you're still curious, and not just bored, here is a poetic review of the Project, released when YINSH was released. This was the article that finally communicated to me the niftiness of the Project.)

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