2017 was a special year for the abstract strategy genre. Three of the current top five abstract strategy games, according to BoardGameGeek, hit the market as the year progressed. We had Roxley and Spin Master’s edition of Santorini (which Kickstarter backers received in late 2016), Floodgate Games’s Sagrada and, most notably, Plan B Games’s Azul, which went on to win the Spiel des Jahres 2018 award.
However, it was an important year for another reason. After a decade’s wait, the seventh entry in Kris Burm’s GIPF Project series was unveiled. For those unfamiliar with Kris Burm’s work, from 1997 to 2007 he worked on a series of six two-player abstract strategy games with common elements (and unusual naming conventions), starting with the namesake GIPF, following up with TAMSK (which would later be replaced in the series by TZAAR) and eventually concluding the series with YINSH and PÜNCT.
The overall goal was to create 'potentials' from each game in the project. Each one would add extra mechanics to the 'epicentre' of the GIPF Project. In-turn, this would form the 'Ultimate GIPF'. As ambitious as this goal was, the games by themselves became major successes. Three of them earned the Mensa Select award, among other accolades.
The series was considered complete after the release of TZAAR in 2007. However, Burm decided that an ‘epilogue’ was in order.
The Missing LYNGK
LYNGK, published by Huch!, is described in the manual as ‘a synthesis of the project’ and ‘the umbrella game’. The latter is given as it combines mechanics from throughout the series into a singular title; not far off from what he envisioned with the potentials for GIPF. Indeed, many common themes from the previous games can be found here. The game works its way towards an eventual stalemate, similar to DVONN. Also, the stacking and base movement mechanics are comparable to the ones found in TZAAR.
That being said, there are some noticeable differences. Immediately, you’ll notice that the game uses five colours (plus a ‘wild’ colour which I’ll explain later) for its pieces. This is a departure from the general black-and-white colour scheme used throughout the series. The colours play a large role in the game's mechanics.
The added vibrancy is much appreciated from an aesthetic standpoint, and the pieces themselves are sturdy and quite beautiful to look at, with each piece having a granite-esque appearance.
The aim is to choose which two of the five colours to claim as your own as the game progresses. You then complete stacks of five pieces, each of different colours, with one of your two colours on top. The game ends when neither player can make a move. The winner is the player with the most complete stacks.
In the event of a tie, whoever has the most four-height stacks on the board wins. If there is still a tie, it's resolved by the player with the most three-height stacks. This trend continues until a winner is declared.
All game pieces are randomly placed on each intersection on the board, with five pieces kept aside, which are used as tokens to represent the colours that can be claimed. A player can claim a colour at the start of their turn if they have not claimed two colours already. Doing so grants special movement properties for pieces/stacks of that colour along with also preventing the opponent from moving said pieces/stacks.
Any piece or stack with a non-claimed colour on top is considered neutral and can be moved by any player. As you can only claim two colours, one colour will remain neutral during the game. A sixth colour, mottled white, acts a wild colour. They can’t be moved as individual pieces. However, they can become part of a stack and count as one of the five colours required to complete a stack.
An action consists of moving a piece/stack in a neutral or claimed colour in a straight line while landing on another piece/stack. Neutral pieces/stacks can only jump on top of stacks of equal or lower height. Claimed pieces/stacks can jump onto stacks of any height. For example, if your opponent has claimed green and possesses a stack of four pieces, you can move one of your red pieces on top to complete the stack,if a red piece isn’t present in the stack already.
Once a stack in a claimed colour is complete, it's removed from the board and used during final scoring.
What makes movement particularly interesting in this game is the namesake ‘LYNGK rule'. You can move claimed pieces/stacks through a ‘network’ of pieces of the same colour, allowing for multiple moves in one action. To give a simple example: If you claimed green and there are three green pieces in a row on one line, you can invoke the LYNGK rule to move a green piece from one end of the line to any piece/stack that the other two pieces could access.
A GIPF to the World
Like other games in the series, LYNGK is simply to introduce and explain, yet difficult to become skilled at. There are some elements that may not come very intuitively at first. The stacking rules are easy to mix up, whilst the LYNGK rule takes some getting used to. However, these complexities are understandable considering that Burm’s design aim was to unite mechanics from across the project.
The game has a lot of potential for clever movement, and there are plenty of strategies to consider. Knowing when to claim a colour is a key element of the game. If you claim too early, your opponent can stack pieces on top of the colour you claimed. As a result, you'll be denied future movement opportunities. The game also benefits from replaying multiple times to try a new approach or to see how a different randomised board state affects the strategy you developed previously.
How does it compare to the rest of the GIPF Project? It’s definitely a little more complex to grasp at first. It’s easy to see where certain elements of the game were borrowed from. However, the game feels compact and clean overall, once you’ve played a game or two.
YINSH is a game I consider to be near-perfect. It can be explained in under a minute, yet the amount of strategy involved in playing well is incredible. It's one of the most satisfying games I own. Nevertheless, it’s a much more chaotic game due to how you have free reign over where you want to move your pieces. LYNGK feels a bit more controlled as your movements are generally more restricted in comparison (apart from the LYNGK rule).
TZAAR, my joint-favourite in the GIPF Project alongside YINSH, is a much more stressful experience. In that game you’re constantly keeping track of your three piece types and balancing offence with defence to protect your most valuable pieces. However, when comparing the two, the LYNGK rule is what allows LYNGK to separate itself in particular, leading to much more interesting movement options overall.
Final Thoughts on LYNGK
Overall, LYNGK successfully embodies the traditions of its siblings while defining itself as an abstract strategy game worth your attention. Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never tried the GIPF Project games before; the game is fantastic as a standalone entry. There is a level of clean yet creative game design present that’s hard to find outside the genre of abstract strategy.
Each game in the GIPF Project has its own merits, and LYNGK definitely fits in as the seventh entry. I’m grateful that it has come to exist. It’s a love letter to the games that have come before and a testament to their enduring legacy as some of the greatest abstract strategy games ever created.