I enjoy abstract strategy games. Shobu has been on my radar for a while as it looked intriguing. The game also seemed to offer a departure from the usual objectives you are trying to achieve in an abstract strategy game.
Did it live up to my expectations? Find out below.
The Game and Set Up
Shobu is an abstract strategy game for 2 players from Smirk & Laughter Games. The aim of the game is to be the first to push all of your opponent’s stones off of one of the four game boards.
To set up the game, place the four game boards in a square between the players. The boards should be placed so there is one light board and one dark board close to each of the players. Then place the rope down the middle of the square of boards so it separates the players. The boards on the side of the rope closest to each player are known as their home boards.
Players take all of the stones of one colour and place four on the edge of each board closest to them. Players are then ready to start the game. The player using the black stones goes first.
How to Play Shobu
Each player has two moves on their turn: an aggressive move and a passive move.
The passive move can only take place on one of the player's two home boards. During their passive move a player takes one of their stones and moves it up to two spaces. The stone can move in any direction, including diagonally. But, players cannot move their own stones off the edge of the board. Players cannot use a stone to move another stone (including one of their own stones) during this passive move. You are also not allowed to jump over another stone.
After ending the passive move players immediately take their aggressive move. This move must be on a board of the opposite colour to the one the passive move took place on. The stone moved during the aggressive move must move the same number and direction of spaces as the passive move. Players are allowed to push stones off the board during their aggressive move but they do not have to. They cannot push more than one stone at any time. You also cannot push a stone of your own colour.
If a player cannot make an aggressive move which is within the rules, they cannot make the passive move either. The player must therefore select a different passive move.
Play continues back and forth between the players in this way. The first player to push all of their opponent’s stones off of any one board wins.
My Thoughts on Shobu
Shobu is a game which is relatively new, but which looks like it has been around for many years. It plays like this too. The gameplay is very simple and easy to pick up. But the more you play this game the more you realise the depth of options available to you.
Shobu stands out from other abstract strategy games with its aim of removing all stones from one board. This makes it feel rather fresh and interesting. I also like the tactile nature of the game, with the stone pieces, which, again, makes it different.
My one complaint about the game is that the paint started to rub off some of the stones. This was after only a few games. Some of the paint has marked the boards. Apart from this, I cannot criticise the look of the game. Shobu looks interesting but understated on the table.
There is a lot to look at during the course of the game and that is definitely something which can take a little while to get used to. Too often, when I first played Shobu, I would be so focused on my impending victory on one board, that I would overlook my opponent’s clever move to win on another. The way the game plays means that you must always keep an eye on all of the boards to avoid a surprise defeat!
Players can, by clever movement of stones, prevent their opponent from making moves on certain boards. For example, if a player has all of their stones against one side of their light home board, they cannot make moves going that way on either of the dark boards. This is something to look out for and take advantage of during the game.
To me, Shobu has the balance of simple gameplay with complex options which is at the heart of so many great abstract strategy games. The game also has the clean and simplistic look of some of the classics in this genre. It is very quick to play too, as the options for moves shrink down towards the end of the game.
As I said at the beginning, I do particularly enjoy abstract strategy games. I am pleased to say that Shobu did live up to my high expectations. It has everything I am looking for in an abstract strategy game but with an interesting twist on the usual mechanics on offer.
If you like abstract strategy games, you should definitely check this one out too!