Abstract Strategy games are probably the world’s oldest tabletop genre. You’d think after a few millennia we, as a species, would be out of ideas. Well, humanity continues to surprise and every now and then someone comes up with a game so elegant that you spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find out if it IS actually new. As near as I can tell, it is.
Shobu is played on four boards, two light and two dark, with a length of rope between the players. Each board is set up identically, with four black stones at one end and four white stones at the other end. Once set up, each board will be identical, with one light and one dark board on each player’s side. These are their respective Homeboards.
Starting with the Black stone player, each turn is made up of two parts. The first part is the Passive, or Set Up, Move. The player moves any of their colour stones, on either of their Homeboards, one or two spaces in any unblocked direction. On a Passive move, a stone may never push another stone.
The second part is the Aggressive Move. The Aggressive Move is made on either of the boards of the opposite colour. If the Passive Move was made on the light Homeboard, then the Aggressive Move is made on the dark coloured board of either player. The Aggressive Move must match the Passive Move in direction and number of spaces, however, an Aggressive Move may push an opponent’s stone. If no Aggressive Move can legally be made, the preceding Passive Move is also invalid.
The winner is the player who pushes all of their opponent’s stones off any one of the four boards.
It occurs to me, that this game is right up my alley. It’s easy to learn, challenging to master, and the components are tactilely pleasing. Smirk & Dagger could have chosen to make this with standard cardboard and inexpensive fake “stones”. Instead; the boards are made of wood and the stones are actual rocks. The boards have natural imperfections, and the stones are not uniform. I love it. The included cotton rope has no specific function, but its inclusion gives a visual reminder of the player’s Homeboards. Little details.
I’ve played this with a 10 year old, and they had fun. I’ve played it university students, and they had fun. Adults who don’t really enjoy strategy games? Still. Had. Fun.
Whether you’re looking for a date-night game, a coffeeshop game, a killing-time-while-waiting game. Shobu is a great option.