Chess is surely the best known and most respected board game in the world. Win a world championship at Catan (Kosmos) and you'll barely merit a nod from the other members of your family; win a world championship at Chess and you'll be feted as a genius. But imagine if Chess were a new game appearing for the first time today. How would it fare in the burgeoning board game market? Many reviewers would probably dismiss it as unnecessarily complex because there were different rules for each of the pieces and several exceptions that applied only in certain circumstances. The royal 'theme' would be be dismissed as paper thin and pasted on. There'd be admiration for the design of the Staunton chess pieces (the Staunton design actually only goes back to 1849 but it's become the standard) but the board would be considered bland. We suspect the game would struggle to make an impact.
How then fare newer abstract strategy games? Every year or two a new game is hyped as being a modern Chess: 'Chess for the 21st Century' if you like. Some of these have been out and out Chess variants - we've featured one or two in the past here on Board's Eye View. Some have taken very different approaches to abstract games while still trumpeting the cerebral quality of the game, which has always been such an important part of Chess' popular appeal. Some have launched with a blaze of publicity in the national press: a few have done well on their immediate launch but then sunk without trace. Who now remembers Kensington (Arxon) which made a big splash amid a blaze of publicity in 1979? Even if you still have it on your shelf, when was the last time you played it?
We mention this only to set out the difficulties that face any new abstract game, and especially a game with relatively complex rules and/or scope for deep strategy. Quin - the new game from Arch & Gravity Publishing - therefore has a tough hill to climb. It's a two-player game that feels like a mash-up of Chess and Stratego (Jumbo)/L'Attaque (Gibsons). Players each have a set of 17 pieces made up of 9 types. Each type has its own distinct rules, including those governing the distance it moves and how it interacts with other pieces. But, as in Stratego, players can only identify their own pieces; their opponent's pieces are turned away from them...
There's a veneer of a theme relating to subatomic particles but this really is a completely abstract game where the object is to manoeuvre your Light piece to the centre spot (the spot that's actually obscured in our Board's Eye View 360º shot as that was where our camera was perched) or to capture your opponent's Light piece. This then becomes a game of bluff and feints. By moving a piece less than its maximum range, you will try to fool your opponent into thinking the piece is different to what it really is. Some special moves, however (for example, the gravity power of your otherwise slow moving Voids) will give away the position of certain pieces but may be worthwhile for the tactical advantage this gives. Pieces don't all interact the same way with opposing pieces. When a piece moves to the same spot as an opposing piece, they 'flash' (mutually reveal). Certain pieces capture certain other types of piece, and mostly when two identical pieces 'flash' they mutually annihilate each other. You'll need a good powers of deduction and a decent memory for holding on to the details revealed to you by 'flash' reveals, so think of Quin as very much a memory as well as a strategy game.
Players get to 'clone' a piece at the start of the game: swapping any one of their pieces (except Light) for a duplicate of one of the other pieces. This means you aren't entirely sure exactly what mix of pieces an opponent is playing with. There is no imposed initial set up - you can lay out any 10 of your pieces in the starting positions - and you hold 7 pieces in reserve to be brought on in a later turn. Quin also allows for one resurrection per game: bringing back on a piece that was captured by an opponent. The rules suggest players choose their own 'Resurrection Totem' and turn it away from the board to signify they've utilised this one-off power. You can see in the Board's Eye View 360 that we've been using knights from a traditional Chess set for this purpose.
There's quite a steep learning curve for Quin. You'll need to learn to recognise the nine different icons and what each means in terms of its movement range, powers, capture abilities and vulnerability. Happily, designers Brian Rooney and Taeleen Woodard have come up with ideas for easing players in. In order to facilitate the 'clone' swap, all the pieces have detachable faces. The designers suggest playing your first few games just using these heads so that all the information about movement and position is open to both players. This rather emasculates Quin as a game (you each know where your opponent's Light piece is and there's obviously no scope for bluffing) but it's a painless way of quickly learning the iconography and the various movement and capture rules. Once you're over that initial hurdle, you can work your way through the very helpful strategy guide that's included with the game and which talks you through setting up the most powerful combos. You'll enjoy, as we have, discovering the many subtleties of Quin and the various tactics you can use to finesse yourself a victory.
In many ways, we've left the best till last. Quin is beautifully produced and has great table presence. The pieces all have magnetic bases to hold them in position on the board. And the board itself is an attractive mix of movement lines which intersect concentric elliptical golden rings: when you move a piece you can usually move it either along a line or around a ring but you can't switch direction mid-move. Set this game up and you're sure to attract a lot of interest, tho' some will be disappointed that this isn't a game that lends itself to casual play.
Quin came to Kickstarter on 30 September. It's a game designed to appeal to Chess lovers and to those who've enjoyed Stratego (aka L'Attaque) and who are ready to take a step up. And don't forget you'll need a good memory to do well at Quin. You don't need to remember the Kickstarter address tho': just click here to check out the campaign.