One of my favourite games growing up was backgammon. I played so many games of it with my mom – regardless of it being fairly simple as far as layout, pieces and even rules, it was something that felt rewarding to play through multiple times and keep coming back to. I feel like this is a sign of a great abstract strategy game – there’s a simplicity in approach, but depth in play that makes replaying them a delight. Games like Quoridor and Quarto from Gigamic have been like this for me, too – going from enjoying the look of them to being enamoured with the play of them. Until recently I didn’t realize they had other games in their abstract strategy line, and I sat down to play Pylos and Quixo. (Both in their mini travel super adorable versions.)
Earlier in the week, David wrote up a piece on why Chess & Go are essential abstracts to try. I’ve definitely played both of those but neither keep me coming back – they’re ultimately just about frustration and being unmatched against opponents despite their definite classics status as essentials. Sitting down to play Pylos and Quixo, it felt like they were overall maybe less complex as something like Chess or Go, while still having that ‘simple to learn and tough to master’ feeling. As I played second, and third, games of each of them I was evolving my understanding and approach to the strategy and it was super fun.
Pylos is for 2 players, and is at its core about placing and re-placing wooden spheres until you manage to either place the last ball on the pyramid created, or your opponent beats you to it. Sounds easy, right? You’ve never sat in front of Pylos wondering if you should somehow put out a new sphere or mess around moving others, then. Each move you make is important and let me tell you, I didn’t make it to the top of the pyramid – I want to keep getting this back to the table until I do, though. Quixo says it’s for 2 or 4 players, but I’d get frustrated playing this as a team, I think – because this is something like tic-tac-toe mashed up with those sliding tile puzzles and anyone messing with my plan would be in for a world of hurt. I love the way you mess with the layout of this, pulling one cube out and sliding it in on one edge to line up your symbols – much like the not-so-abstract Dingo’s Dreams does with its patterns – and when you get 5 in a row you’ve won. A constantly changing battle that keeps you on your toes!
Both these games are different enough that they’d suit different moods for me depending on the kind of abstract I felt like. But they both have you essentially doing spatial puzzles in your brain, constantly calculating the different things you can do until that last moment of OH NO when your opponent wins or YESSS I DID IT when you do. I think the only downside of these games is the rules aren’t written in exactly the friendliest way for learning – but between them and the figures in the booklet, I muddled through. Overall they’re top notch games with a really lovely aesthetic – and these mini versions can be tucked away nicely on the shelf. They’re great brain food, and have a play time that makes them ideal for grabbing to take with you to a cafe or on vacation, or just between other games.
Thanks to Gigamic for providing the mini Pylos and Quixo for us to try out!