28th Mar2018

‘Abalone’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail


Abalone is a classic abstract game that pitches two teams of marbles against each other in a mind-bending puzzle that feels reminiscent of Othello and Draughts, but with its own unique mechanic based on momentum. It is played on a minimalistic but appealing raised board that houses two chunky sets of marbles and it is among the quickest to learn games that you’ll ever play.

Whilst a four player variant (as well as several other versions) of Abalone does exist, the version I have been testing here is purely the classic, two player version. The opposing teams line up opposite each other in the base variant, but there are also other possible ways to setup the game, each of which presents the players with a different kind of challenge.

The winner is the player that can use her marbles to push six of the opposing team marbles off the board – whilst avoiding the same fate. To do so, Abalone uses a system that is more or less impossible to forget. Simply put, players can move a single marble to any unoccupied adjacent space, or they can move a row of two or three marbles in a uniform way – in any direction.

More importantly though, any two or three marble row can push opposing rows of marbles that are fewer in number. For example, if the black player has a row of three marbles and there is a pair of white marbles aligned to one end of that row, then the black player can push the white marbles back one space and move her entire row one step up one.

By using these simple rules, players will move their marbles into position one by one, before attempting to draw their opponent into making a mistake. Marble formations tend to remain fairly firm during the early game, but as the different coloured marbles draw closer and closer, tension is inevitable.

Whilst there is a possible downside to Abalone in that like in Chess or Draughts, there are only so many possible combinations of move (especially during the early game), the chance of the average player memorising them is quite limited. As a result, what Abalone does achieve is to create a game that is simple to learn and rewarding to play, as well as being recognisable alongside other classic games.

Abalone is particularly worthy of note because there is absolutely no luck involved whatsoever, so whilst a more experienced player will have an advantage, the game really is all about planning ahead, responding to change and spotting (and avoiding) mistakes before making them. It’s a great game to learn and never forget, perhaps as the kind of game that a seasoned gamer will use to introduce basic concepts to a new or young player.

Ultimately the version of Abalone that is currently available at retail is exceptionally well made, with fantastic components that deliver what is needed without any unnecessary frills. The basic game is easy to teach, learn and remember, but it’s certainly not easy to master which lends the game to offering a possible lifetime of play. It’s a very abstract, minimalist game, so it won’t be for everyone, but as an alternative to more traditional classic games, it is very welcome.

*** 3/5


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