Some games are said to take a moment to learn and a lifetime to master. Could Yinsh be described as one of those games?
Black Or White?
Yinsh is what is known as an abstract strategy games. These games have little to no luck or random elements. They often have little theme and no hidden information from the other player. But they do have lots of strategic decisions to be made.
The design of Yinsh is very simple. You win by removing three of your rings from the board. To remove a ring, you have to make a row of five tokens in your colour. So far so easy. But your opponent will also be flipping the pieces trying to make their five in a row. So Yinsh becomes an interesting head to head of trying to outthink your opponent.
Flipping The Pieces
Each player starts with five ring pieces. These can be placed on any of the marked intersections on the board. Players take it in turns to set up their rings then the game can start.
Each turn a player places a marker in the centre of one of their rings. The markers are double sided - white and black. When placed out the colour should match the colour of the player’s ring. The player must then move that ring along one of the lines on the board which crosses where the marker was placed. They cannot, though, jump over any of the other player’s rings. If a player's ring jumps over a marker it is flipped regardless of what colour it was. This is something to be careful of as you can accidentally give your opponent five in a line this way!
Once there are five central markers in a line of one player’s colour they can remove a ring. This scores them a point. They also remove the five markers used to score that point. Sometimes you could end up with two lines of five markers at the same time, crossing each other. If this happens you only remove one line and score one ring. Likewise if you made a longer line of same coloured markers, you still only score one ring.
A player removing a ring when they score can act as a kind of catch up mechanism. It lessens their presence on the board. It also may mean it’s more difficult to manoeuvre their pieces to get their next line set up. This means that there is even a strategic element to choosing which ring to remove when you score a point.
Jumping For Joy?
There is a lot of depth to Yinsh. Whilst there may not be the colourful pieces of some other board games, there is a beauty in its simplicity. One benefit of abstract strategy games is that they don’t take long to set up. This is the case with Yinsh. Also, the play time is short. Games typically take no longer than 15 minutes. This means you can easily set up and play a best of three, or even best of five.
The lack of rules overhead can also be refreshing. There are about 2 pages of rules and that is all there needs to be. This makes the basic rules of Yinsh easy to learn. The complexity and strategy comes in using those rules during gameplay.
I enjoy abstract strategy games. There is something about the simplicity of the design which appeals to me. These types of games will not appeal to everyone. But if you like Chess, Hive or Onitama then you are likely to enjoy Yinsh too. I enjoy the head to head battle of wits these games inspire.
It is important to note that Yinsh is a two player only game. If you have more people at your games night who want to play, you will need to have several games.
One negative is that, if you are new to Yinsh, you are likely to be beaten by someone who is more experienced. Whilst removing a ring does mean you have less mobility on the board, I do not think this is enough to offset experience. Yinsh is a game which benefits from a few playthroughs to grasp the depths of the strategy. You also need to get used to looking and planning ahead when thinking about your moves. As you can also benefit your opponent when you flip pieces, you want to be careful you don’t give them an accidental advantage.
If you like a bit more luck in your games then Yinsh may not be for you. There is no randomness for the players to accommodate. Also if you like your games to be a little more colourful Yinsh may not appeal.
Five In A Line
At the start of this review, I asked if Yinsh was a game which could be said to take a moment to learn and a lifetime to master. I would say that it is. The base rules set of Yinsh is straightforward so you can get playing quickly. But the strategy and decisions you make can take a long time to learn.
I think the effort is worth it. I enjoy Yinsh. It distils the key components of games such as Chess, but with even more simple rules. I think that abstract strategy games can sometimes be overlooked. But games such as Yinsh, show how good they can be. I would really encourage you to give it a go!