Shōbu is a gorgeous, modern successor to chess and Go with a head-scratching twist

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26 June 2019
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Hive, Santorini, Tak: three games that have proved that they do make ‘em like they used to, offering up the brilliant simplicity and timeless depth of traditional abstracts like chess and Go. Well, get ready, because Shōbu may well be the latest modern game to capture the magic of a true classic.

Named after the Japanese term for a game or match (the separate characters 勝負 mean ‘win’ and ‘loss’), Shōbu is a contemporary design from creators Manolis Vranas and Jamie Sajdak that just happens to look and feel like it’s existed for centuries.

It starts with the components. There’s not a piece of plastic or cardboard monstrosity in sight. Instead, the box comprises of the kinds of things you could scrape together on a beach or hillside: black and white stones placed on four four-by-four wooden boards (okay, you might have to search a bit for those), divided by a short length of rope. That’s it. 

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The boards themselves come in two shades of darker and lighter wood – one of each tone either side of the rope. A line of stones in each colour begins at the top and bottom of the boards, much like chess or draughts.

This is where Shōbu’s distinctive twist kicks in. It’s a game of mirror moves. Each player takes a turn, moving one stone up to two spaces in any direction without colliding with an opponent’s piece – this is their ‘passive’ move. They then have to repeat the same action on the board of the opposite colour on the other side of the rope as an ‘aggressive’ move, which has the added ability to push the opponent’s stones across and off the board.

The first person to knock all four of their opponent’s stones off of one board – leaving them as the only player with pieces remaining on all four boards – wins.

Shōbu is planned for release in the US early July from Nut So Fast and Koi publisher Smirk & Laughter, following a soft launch at Origins. It’ll cost $30 (£24) – a UK price and date are yet to be announced.


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