Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Print and Play Deconstruction: Abande

Abande is a 2-player board game designed by Dieter Stein.

For the sake of completeness, here is the website for the game, where you can download the official rules and one of two game boards:
I played using the hexagonal board. Ideally, you should use checkers pieces or poker chips as the game pieces. I printed out some white and black squares and it worked pretty well.

1. Goal
The object of the game is to control the most pieces on the board at the end, by placing pieces on the board, and stacking on top of opponent's pieces to capture them.

2. Core Mechanics
Players take turns placing their pieces along the intersections (not the spaces) of the board, or moving a piece on top of an opponent's to gain control of it. The unique mechanic of this game is that all pieces on the board have to be connected along a single "band" (hence the name). This severely limits not only where pieces can be placed, but which pieces can be moved.

3. Space
The space of the game is composed of 37 discrete spaces, arranged in a hexagonal grid. Players place and move tiles along the intersections of the grid lines. The grid lines define which spaces are connected to which.

4. Objects, Attributes and States
Aside from the game board, Abande has only one type of object: the pieces. these pieces have four attributes:
  1. color: a piece can be either white or black, denoting which player owns that piece. Each player has 18 pieces in their color.
  2. location: a piece can be either off of the board, in the players "hand", or on one of 37 spaces on the board.
  3. stack position: a piece can be unstacked, on top of a stack, or in a stack. Stacks can contain no more than 3 pieces.
  4. relation: a piece either is or is not adjacent to at least one piece or stack of an opposing color. This attribute is important for scoring, which is described later on.
5. Operative Actions
On his or her turn, a player may perform one of three actions.
  1. place a tile on any empty space that is adjacent to at least one piece or stack.
  2. move a piece or stack he controls. A player controls a stack if the top piece on that stack is his color. A player may only move a piece or stack he controls to capture an opponent's piece or stack. He may not move to an empty space, or onto a piece or stack of his color. He may not make any move which results in one or more pieces being disconnected from the rest of the pieces on the board. Stacks may not contain more than 3 pieces, so a player may not make any move which would result in a stack with more than 3 pieces.
  3. pass their turn. If a player passes, he or she performs no action on his turn. A player may only pass if he or she has no pieces left in his hand, otherwise he must either place a new piece, or move a piece. When both players pass in succession, the game is over.
6. Rules
Black plays first by placing a piece on any space on the board, after which players take turns placing, moving, or passing. Moving is only allowed after Black has entered the second piece. That is, Black cannot capture White's first piece on his second turn. When both players pass their turn in succession, the game is over.
Before scoring, players remove from the board any piece or stack which is not adjacent to at least one piece or stack of an opposing color (note that it is possible for this to split the band. that is okay!) These removed pieces are not counted towards the players' scores. Players score one point for each remaining piece they control, meaning any unstacked pieces of their color, and any pieces in a stack they control. The player with the higher score wins the game!

7. Skills Players Learn and Resultant Actions
This game is entirely based on mental skill. There is arguable an element of social skill in trying to psyche out the other player, but that can be said of almost any game.
In playing Abande, players quickly learn that the relation between pieces is much more important than any individual pieces. One of the big turning points is when a player discovers the tactic of placing one of their pieces across from an opponent's piece to prevent him from being able to move that piece (since he/she can no longer move it without breaking the "band"). When you first think of it or see it done to you, it seems like the most nefarious, cunning and dastardly trick, but it very quickly turns into a basic and common tactic. The flipside to that is the act of "supporting" one of your own pieces by putting another piece behind it. This protects the piece from capture by the opponent, since one piece can't be taken without the other piece taking it right back, but also blocks both pieces from moving (for the time being). In midgame, it's not uncommon to see long rows of opposing pieces staring each other down, each player trying to gain the advantage over the other.
Stacks are extremely important to strategy, and the movement of pieces changes dramatically based on their relation to a stack, and the size of the stack in question. If a stack contains only two pieces, that piece is at its most powerful and its most vulnerable. Its most powerful, because it can capture an opponent's piece and be invulnerable to capture afterwards; and its most vulnerable, because it can still be captured by the opponent, and be immune to further capture afterwards. Opposing stacks of two also cannot be captured by each other, which creates a bizarre sort of parity.
Once a stack has three pieces, however, it immediately behaves much differently. A stack of three is completely inert: it can't move and it can't be captured. However, it still functions as part of the "band", so you can play pieces off of it and move around it knowing it will never go away. In that way it functions as both an obstacle and an "avenue". Cool!
The rule about removing certain pieces from the board before scoring seems odd and unnecessary at first, but it prevents the strategy of simply covering part of the board with rows and rows of your own pieces, which would make them virtually unassailable by the opponent.

Addendum: Application to Designing Print-and-Play Games
This game is beautiful in its simplicity. The rules seem somewhat counter-intuitive at first, but don't take very long at all to grasp. It's amazing how the designer was able to create very different behaviors and relations between different pieces simply through the movement rules. All the pieces are completely the same, yet each one has different qualities during play, simply based on its position.