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YINSH is a tempestuous game! The players each start with 5 rings on the board. Every time a ring is moved, it leaves a marker behind. Markers are white on one side and black on the other. When markers are jumped over by a ring, they must be flipped, so their color is constantly changing. The players must try to form a row of 5 markers with their own color face up. If a player succeeds in doing so, he removes one of his rings as an indication that he has formed such a row. The first player to remove 3 of his rings wins the game. In other words, each row you make brings you closer to victory -- but also makes you weaker, because you have one less ring to play with. Very tricky!
GIPF is the first and central game of Project GIPF, a series of 6 games for 2 players. TAMSK is the second game, ZRTZ the third, and DVONN the fourth. And this is YINSH! The Project is a system that makes it possible to combine games -- not only the games of the project itself, but literally any game or challenge. This system is based on the use of potentials. Each game of the project introduces its own new potential into GIPF.
Yinsh is my favorite in the Gipf series; it tickles all the right spots. It is aesthetically pleasing to the eye as you play, the game flows in a fluid manner, it follows the standard sixfold directions of the series, it executes in a reasonable amount of time, and it provides ample opportunities for tactics with a few rules, and, like Dvonn and Zertz, it automatically handicaps the player that is ahead.
The game is a pleasing display of black, white and blue whose patterns shift and change as the players contest. It borrows the reversi/othello mechanic of pieces changing from black to white and back again, with black and white rings flying across the large playing space. Patterns keep changing as you shift your mind through increments of thirty degrees and different viewpoints. It also follows the beautiful yin and yang displays of go, and the recurring shapes of Gipf and Punct. The object is to get five of your color in a row, but beware what happens when your opponent suddenly cuts across your linear intentions!
Like Zertz, with its steadily dimishing board, and Dvonn, with higher stacks limiting movement, Yinsh limits the players as they get closer to victory and they have always fewer pieces with which to score. And since both colored rings block movement of both players, uncareful play can trap you behind a wall of missed opportunity.
Yinsh cannot be improved. It's that good!
If you enjoyed DVONN & ZERTZ, you can safely add YINSH to your collection. The board is better than the DVONN board, and the playing pieces are top notch. The rules are also clear, and you will be playing in 10 minutes. The game has a nice 'catch the leader' play, in that the player in the lead must take off both the pieces that got them the lead, but also one of the rings that let you place new pieces and change others. This is now one of my favorite games.
There is no doubt about the talents of Kris Burm. YINSH makes the 5th superb game in a row from this genius. I started my Project GIPF collection when ZERTZ was new, and I've loved them all. YINSH falls right in line with her sisters. It is simple to learn and challenging to play. I like how it picks up a feature from here and a feature from there - linking the project games together. YINSH uses rings, somewhat like TAMSK, and it is the ring count that determines the winner. There are 5 rings each for black and white, and 51 blue discs with black on one side and white on the other. Each player places their 5 rings on the GIPF-like board. Then turns are taken by placing a disc, with your color up, in one of your rings, then moving that ring along one of the lines radiating from that spot. You may not go beyond another ring, but you can jump over the first continuous row of discs you encounter (picking up a little ZERTZ flavor.) When you jump, you flip all jumped discs over, including your own color. That's the basics of the moves - pretty simple, eh? The goal is to get 5 discs of your color in a row, and do that 3 times. Each time you get 5-in-a-row (remeniscent of GIPF) you remove the 5 discs and any one of your rings. When you have 3 rings removed, you win. Notice how each time you get 5-in-a-row, you lose a ring, which throws the balance of power in favor of your opponent until they take one of theirs off. It's sort of self-handicapping.
YINSH has that same elegance that the rest of the project has shown. The bits are very high quality and the look of the game is very attractive. Actually, I am a little surprised that the price is this low!
If you liked GIPF, TAMSK, ZERTZ or DVONN, there's not much doubt that you'll like YINSH. I can hardly wait for game 6 - or, actually, Kris Burm says this is game 6 and the next one will be game 5 (?!?) - whatever - all I know is that Project GIPF has it's fifth winner!
Never heard of Gipf or the Gipf series? Then read up on those before continuing further, since Yinsh is the anticipated fifth in this excellent abstract series and a great follow-up to last year's Games Magazine top-rated Dvonn. Yinsh has much more in common with its master, Gipf, than the other games in the series. In fact, the Yinsh board looks very similar to Gipf and the goal, like Gipf, is to create lines of five in a row which get removed once created. No one can accuse the fertile mind of Kris Burm to be resting on laurels, however, as Yinsh once again raises the bar for fascinating application of simple ideas.
There are two basic pieces in the Yinsh game: rings and markers. Each player has a set of five rings in their color, while the markers show one of the two player colors on each side (like a Reversi piece). The markers fit inside of the rings. On a turn, a player moves one of their rings along any path on the board, and then ``leaves behind'' a marker in its color. The ring moves single spaces, or can jump over a connected series of markers onto an empty intersection. When it travels this way, each marker passed over gets flipped to its other side, changing its color. Players must create connected rows of five or more in their color using this method, and the possibilities are quite impressive with the six-line set of paths that diverge from each point.
Ring placement is more than just offensive, though. Rings can jump over other pieces, but they cannot land on another ring. Placing rings then becomes an excellent balance among leaving behind critical markers, flipping a row in a way that changes the balance to your side, or positioning it to block the opposition's ring. The best moves do more than one of these, and the pace of the game is quick and almost chaotic but always in control. The game begins with an empty board, and the first ten moves situate the rings on the board before any can move. This set up establishes much of the tension for the game, and it is only after multiple games that certain patterns start to emerge and the initial placement seems meaningfully more than random.
Once a five in line (or more) has been created, five markers are removed and then the successful player must remove a ring from the board. The first player to remove three rings wins the game, and this is a clever balancing mechanism as it requires you to play in a ``one man down'' situation until your opponent gets their next hit. The result is a very satisfying two-player game with almost limitless tactical opportunities and surprise attacks.
As part of the Gipf series, Yinsh could someday link to the others through the Yinsh potential. This piece has not yet been released, but is expected next year as part of the Gipf Set number three. While the ``potentials'' idea is quite appealing and intellectually interesting, I have never actually played the games in this manner despite enjoying each of the games separately. Zertz has a been a surprising hit in my two-player adult education classes; I see no reason not to add Yinsh to this line-up given its fast play but I likely would set up the initial rings in advance for first-timers.
Kris Burm deserves enormous credit for keeping the Gipf vision alive and growing and also for keeping the production so consistent. Yinsh includes a multi-language rulebook like the others, and the packaging and style are consistent with the other games as well. If you've enjoyed any of these games, Yinsh is a clear winner.