Posted by: gschloesser | March 12, 2014

ZoxSo

Design by:  David Weinstock
Published by:  Mindspan Labs
2 Players, 10 – 20 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

ZoxSo - cover

NOTE:  This review was first published on the Opinionated Gamers website.

I am not a tremendous fan of abstract games, so please keep this in mind when reading this review.  While I do enjoy some abstracts, I tend to find them very dry, calculating and lacking excitement and fun.  They tend to be more an intense matching of wits between two players, something that I don’t mind occasionally, but do not normally seek in my gaming experiences.  I tend to seek more excitement, more varied mechanisms, and a bit more levity and socializing when playing games.  Thus, I tend to avoid playing abstracts.

Periodically, however, an abstract game is sent to me for review.  In most cases, my ambivalence towards the genre is reinforced, as I find nothing new or terribly enticing present.  On rare occasions, however, I will become enamored by an abstract.  Twixt was one of the first strategy games I ever purchased, and I still enjoy it today.  Dragons of Kir completely enthralled me (and still does) and is probably my favorite abstract, although it probably cannot be considered a pure abstract as there is a veneer of theme attached to the proceedings.

ZoxSo is a labor of love by designer David Weinstock.  It is a game of placement and maneuver, with two players attempting to be the first to move their “Xing” piece onto the central throne or capture their opponent’s Xing.  What is new is that pieces can be flipped, changing their movement and capture capabilities as well as the pathways they may use.

ZoxSo - boardThe board depicts an 8×8 grid of pearls, with a 7×7 grid of stones arranged so that there is a row of stones between each row of pearls.  The inner 5×5 grid of stones is protected by a wall, and pieces must be flipped and moved along the stones in order to enter this enclosure.

Players each receive an army of ten two-sided pieces, which are thick, poker-style chips.  There are three types of pieces, differentiated by their symbols.  Players alternate placing their pieces silver-side up on pearls located outside of the wall.  For experienced players, proper placement is critical, as it will largely affect the movement and capture options a player has throughout the game.  Inexperienced players such as me will only be able to formulate a rudimentary plan, so the placement will likely be haphazard and amateurish.

Players alternate moving or flipping pieces in pursuit of the objective of either capturing their opponent’s Xing or moving their own Xing onto the central throne.  Pieces move in the same manner when located on the pearls, but have unique movement capabilities when on the stones.  While on the pearls, pieces may only move to an adjacent pearl space.  However, if a player has numerous adjacent pieces, he may move any piece in that chain to an adjacent pearl, effectively jumping over his other pieces.  The inner wall may not be breeched while moving in this manner, as this can only be accomplished when moving on the stones.

In order to move onto a stone, a piece must be flipped from an adjacent pearl space, revealing its colored side.  The piece can ZoxSo -componentsimmediately move and, if possible, capture an opponent’s piece.  This gives the piece unique movement capabilities. “Ma” pieces move in the same L-shaped fashion as a knight in Chess.  It may move through any pieces located along this path.  However, it may not end its turn on the central throne, which is reserved exclusively for a player’s Xing.  A Dao moves along a vertical or horizontal path, but is blocked by a same-colored piece.  As with the Ma, a Dao cannot end its movement on the throne.  A player can also flip a piece from a stone onto an adjacent pearl, in which case its original movement capabilities apply.

A key objective is to capture an opponent’s pieces.  This is accomplished by moving one of your pieces onto a space occupied by an opponent’s piece.  No one piece is inherently stronger than another, so any piece can capture another.  Take care with your Xing, as if it is captured, all is lost.  It is important to maneuver your pieces so that your Xing remains protected as it progresses towards the central throne.  Capturing opponents’ pieces reduces his options and often makes his Xing more vulnerable.

The game continues with players alternating moving and capturing pieces until one of the two victory conditions is achieved.  Unless you have players who are prone to taking an inordinate amount of time contemplating their movement and tactical options, a game typically plays to completion in 10 – 20 minutes.

ZoxSo is about what I expected.  It is very Chess-like, requiring the same type and level of thought.  It is game that requires concentration, careful analysis and planning.  One must anticipate the probable moves of his opponent and plan accordingly.  It is a game of careful thought that rewards experience.  Indeed, just like Chess, an experienced player will trounce a less experienced opponent almost every time.

Folks who enjoy Chess or similar abstract games will likely find much to their liking in ZoxSo.  The similarities are strong, but the flipping aspect is unique and adds a twist to a familiar genre. No doubt fans of the genre will find much to their liking, and will delight in learning the various nuances and quirks.  It certainly merits careful study and would undoubtedly reward experienced players with an intense gaming experience.  For me, however, the game feels much the same as dozens of other two-player abstracts I have played:  move and capture, move and capture, move and capture.  The few twists are interesting, but not enough to truly set the game apart.  As mentioned, my assessment is admittedly tainted by my aversion to the genre, so please do not let this influence you if you are an abstract gaming fan.

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