After a big silence on the game review front, I wrote two reviews yesterday. The second one was Dvonn.
Dvonn is neat, like most of the GIPF series. Well, at least Zèrtz and Yinsh. The games are close to perfection, when it comes to modern abstract board games: the rules are simple, yet the games are deep. They look elegant and play pretty fast.
In Dvonn, players jump with their pieces, forming larger and larger stacks. Stacks of pieces are controlled by the player, whose piece is on top. A stack jumps as many steps as there are pieces in it, so sooner or later it will have no room to jump. A stack can only jump on top of another piece or stack. A second limitation is the location of red Dvonn pieces, which control the life: once a stack is disconnected from a red piece, it is gone.
Moving is obligatory. Game ends, when there are no more moves left. In the end, players compare their stacks and the player with most pieces wins the game. It’s all over in 20-30 minutes.
Dvonn’s finer features include the shrinking board, which immobilizes the stacks as they grow taller. A sure way to lose the game is to bind all your pieces to large stacks, while your opponent has lots of loose pieces, able to move and conquer your stacks. Since the game end when both players can’t move, you can end up in a situation where you’re unable to move, but your opponent can do whatever she wants.
The game begins with a layout phase, where players first put down the red pieces and then, one by one, their own pieces. When you first play the game, it’s probably something you do quickly, just to get it over with. However, I do believe that when you gain experience, the layout phase gains significance. Since you can only move the pieces on the edges of the board, the layout phase controls how you gain control of your own pieces, thus it is very important.
Dvonn is a fine game. It’s only flaw is the lack of simple handicap system. However, I think it’s more forgiving than Zèrtz. Zértz has certain tricks and tactics that you need to know to be competitive. Dvonn is probably more fun when playing against more experienced player than Zèrtz, where a skill gap can ruin the game a bit.